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February 29, 2008

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

When I was kid, my brothers and I would often play football with the other boys in the neighborhood.  I was the youngest.  (That meant, according to Darwin, that in order to survive, I had to make up with wit what I lacked in height and weight).

We had two sets of rules for football:  Playground Rules and Backyard Rules.  When a neighborhood game started up, one of the older boys would call out one or the other just before the kick-off.  My heart always stopped when I heard “Backyard Rules.”

“Playground rules” meant two-hand touch, above the waist, below the head, no tackling, no blocking.  It was the way we were forced to play football in P.E. and on the playground at school.

“Backyard rules” meant that anything short of global, thermonuclear war was acceptable.  “Backyard rules” meant that you were not safe at any time or at any place.  “Backyard rules” meant that even if your brothers each grabbed your legs and threw you to the ground until you had several compound fractures, you were NOT allowed to tell Mom.

Any intelligence I might have developed in my life comes not from college nor graduate school nor seminary, but from staying alive through years of “Backyard rules.”

We teach our children the equivalent of “playground rules” in the ways we encourage them to interact with one another.  Amongst those rules is one that I think is quite important: “No name calling.”  As some of you have heard me say, one the biggest lies we were told as children was that saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”

Just as words can heal, can cure, can express great love, words can also inflict pain, suffering and express inconceivable hatred.

As the season of Presidential campaigning becomes more and more intense, both within the two major parties and between the two parties, I fear that we demonstrate a double standard to our children.  While they are not allowed to call one another names, nor lie about one another, nor attack one another verbally, that seems to be the lingua franca of contemporary politics.

If the politics of name calling were restricted to the candidates themselves, or even to their staffs, I would not despair.  But that which is said by the candidates and their representatives is too quickly disseminated throughout the country until those names and verbal attacks come up far too often in conversations between adults and appear on signs, bumper stickers and t-shirts.

Our children listen to us far more than we ever realize.  They are acutely attuned to our words and the tone in which those words are said.  Even when they appear not to be listening, it is amazing how much of what we say to one another is absorbed by the children around us in school, in the grocery store, in the parking lot and at home.

It is not sufficient to say that it’s different for adults.  It is not sufficient to say that we can speak to and about one another in ways we would never tolerate from children.  Christianity, brothers and sisters, is an incarnational faith – we embody our God in this world, we are the body of Christ.

As far as I know, the New Commandment, given to us by our Lord and Savior on the night before he died for us was given without caveat or footnote.  “Love one another as I have loved you,” is an absolute statement, not a conditional statement.  The more we make it conditional, the more we apply human logic to a divine command, the more we erode the edges of that absolute statement, the more we chip away at the very heart and soul of our faith.

Let a new world begin with us.  Let us stop playing “backyard rules” in our own conversations, and let us adopt the same “playground rules” we believe are so important for our children.

After all, the worst thing that could happen is that no one will get hurt.

Yours in Christ,

Fr. Geoff


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