On Thursday I watched in distress as “my” team, the German national football team, went down in agonizing defeat to the Italians in the UEFA Euro 2012 tournament. Although disappointed, I managed to make it through the remainder of the day and the following day without suffering severe emotional distress. There was a time when this would not have been the case – when a loss by a team I supported would make me irritable and cross for a day or more. Not only did seeing my team lose used to cause me anguish, I really hated the stigma of having sided with a loser. I didn't want to have to face even casual ribbing at the hands of those who supported the winning side. So often I would keep any allegiances I had to myself. That way I could at least avoid any negative treatment from those on “the other side.”
This behaviour extended not only to sports, but to most areas of life. For most of my life I have hesitated to openly take stands on issues for fear that I might offend someone. I want people to like me and I have always worried that in expressing an opinion someone disagrees with I will also incur their rejection of me as a person. I also feared committing myself to a cause or idea lest in the end it should fail to “win,” in whatever sense that might be understood. I have kept my opinions to myself in order that I would be likeable and in order to avoid conflict with others. Not any more.
I do not want to remain silent any longer. I do not want to live in fear of what others might think of me. I do not want to avoid expressing opinions and supporting people and causes because doing so might cause someone else offense. Yes, I want to be tactful and civil in my discourse, but I am learning to overcome my fear of rejection. As I reach midlife I am finally understanding that my identity and my worth do not rest in what others think of me. I do not require their approval. Some issues and causes are worth standing up for; too important for me to remain silent. I'm learning to listen to the voices of those outside the circles of power. I'm raising my voice in concert with those whose voices have been silenced far too long. I'm not the solution. I'm not a superhero who is going to single-handedly solve all the world's problems. But I can take a stand for those things I believe in and let myself be counted – even if it makes me unpopular in certain circles, even if it means I will be misunderstood and possibly even rejected.
Of course this isn't really about football or any other sport – although I apply it there as well in a willingness to affiliate myself with particular teams or athletes that I admire, regardless of their stature in others' eyes. Far more importantly it applies to speaking out and acting against injustice. For me it means standing up for the equality and dignity of women and others who have been silenced by society for too long. It means speaking out in favor of sustainable living and taking care of the creation God gave us. It means taking a stand on the side of immigrants and seeing them as fellow humans, and affirming actions that support and enhance the well-being of society's weakest and poorest. It means raising my questions about theology and Scripture and a host of issues related to the Church, no longer quietly acquiescing to the viewpoints of those around me.
I guess I've become an activist of sorts. I will use my voice and my words to advocate for those things I believe in, regardless of how others respond. I don't want to remain silent and in fear any longer. I don't want to live for the approval of others. I've done that for too long.
I'm okay with Germany's loss on Thursday. I'm learning to take a stand and not be ashamed.