THE MESSIAH COLLEGE SOCCER PROGRAM has been chronicled by a multitude of media outlets, including ESPN.com … and, yes, this blog!
(If only ESPN.com could boast the page views this blog enjoys — wait, maybe the reverse is the case. But I digress…)
Savvy sports fans and media mavens alike would agree that Messiah soccer has warranted the coverage. Messiah women’s soccer has been to 12 Final Fours and won five national championships, which is tied for the most titles in NCAA D-III women’s soccer history.
Messiah men’s soccer has also been to 12 Final Fours, winning 10 national championships — the most titles in NCAA men’s soccer history across Divisions I, II and III.
Messiah coaches and players will tell you that while they aim for on-field success, it isn’t the be-all and end-all of the program. They’re also aiming for something more intangible yet more enduring than their on-field achievements.
An ESPN.com/espnW feature on Messiah women’s soccer highlighted the distinctive signature of a program which endeavors to achieve success that’s defined by more than a win-loss record.
Full disclosure: I’m a Messiah soccer parent — my daughter Kayla completed her Messiah career this past fall. Plus, I was a copy editor at ESPN.com when this feature appeared.
The espnW feature quoted several players, including Marisa Weaver. Kayla and Marisa are part of a senior class that graduates from Messiah with a four-year record of 86-6-7, having reached back-to-back Final Fours and the 2016 national championship game.
By the way, the previous class was 88-4-8 — and when you have to go back only one year to find a record that surpasses 86-6-7, that tells you something about the quality of the program in the win-loss realm. But the wins and losses don’t tell the whole story … or perhaps the plentiful wins are the result of intangibles that aren’t evident to the casual observer.
Marisa outlined that reality for the ESPN.com reporter:
“What makes our team so good and so together is that we love each other,” Weaver said. “But we wouldn’t be able to love each other just from ourselves. You get annoyed with people, you say things you shouldn’t have said and all that kind of thing. It’s just kind of impossible to love someone else unless you have the love of Christ in you. I think that’s what is different.”
There is ample room for reasonable disagreement on the exclusivity of such sentiment, but it bonds those who share it.
I appreciate the clarity of Marisa’s comment. And I can understand the reporter’s follow-up thought. Let’s take a closer look at the life-and-faith motifs that are interwoven with Messiah soccer and this media report.
The reporter offers a philosophical phrase that’s well-stated: There is ample room for reasonable disagreement on the exclusivity of such sentiment….
First, let’s examine exclusivity.
Exclusive claims are a hot topic in this postmodern world, which declares that no absolute truth exists — instead, truth is relative — and asserts that no science, philosophy or religion can explain life and existence for all human beings.
Yes, I realize the ESPN.com reporter didn’t refer to postmodernism directly. Yet since a distrust of exclusivity weaves like Kevlar thread through postmodern thought, the mention of this theme gets me musing.
I grew up in a distinctly postmodern world, and I grew up in the church — seemingly a paradoxical tension.
The church makes absolute truth claims and professes a traditional morality, while the culture at large embraces a more fluid take on reality and morality.
Perhaps differences between worldviews — Christian, postmodern and otherwise — are comparable to differences in scientific opinion.
For example, some scientists assert that one universe exists: i.e., a traditional cosmology. Other scientists maintain that multiple or parallel universes exist: i.e., the multiverse, a newer theory — or a quasi-theory, depending on your definition of the term theory.
These concepts of the cosmos are mutually exclusive. In other words, if there is one universe, that rules out the possibility of multiple universes (and vice versa). You know, Logic 101.
Which leads us to the contradiction of the postmodern protest against exclusive claims: When a postmodern thinker says, “There is no absolute truth because truth is relative,” we can see after minimal reflection that this statement is — you guessed it — exclusive. Such a statement is an exclusive claim because it excludes the possibility of absolute truth … while inconsistently affirming that something is absolutely true — namely, that there is no absolute truth!
Bottom line, the statements we human beings make tend to be exclusive by definition.
If you disagree, clearly you’re entitled to, and correct me if I’m wrong — you can post a comment below. Yet I can’t seem to escape the notion that exclusive/absolute claims are a nonnegotiable component of human experience. And it’s virtually impossible to avoid making them.
So anyone is free to disagree with a Christian worldview which proclaims that Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of God, the Son of Man, and the ultimate source of love and truth.
However, when people object to the claims of the Christian faith on the grounds of exclusivity, they apparently are overlooking the multiple ways they make exclusive claims.
A proponent of New Age philosophy once told me, “It doesn’t matter what you believe — as long as you’re comfortable with it.” Such an approach, it appears, is cut from the same cloth as the truth-is-relative camp.
On the one hand, that comment sounds welcoming, warm and fuzzy. On the other hand, do you detect a pitfall in this thinking? I do too — to wit: What if you’re comfortable with something that doesn’t line up with what’s real?
Let’s look at some examples of exclusivity in everyday life and society — we may not think of these as “exclusive claims” … but again, with minimal reflection, we can see that they are:
• Directions — To travel by plane from New York City to London’s Heathrow Airport, a pilot utilizes specific latitude and longitude coordinates — exclusive to Heathrow — or the plane won’t end up in London.
• Finances — Your bank account says you have $10,000 in savings … because, in fact, you deposited $10,000 when you opened your account yesterday. (No, this math question is not on the SAT.) However, you want to withdraw $20,000. You’re comfortable with it, but the bank balks. Why? Because banking truth isn’t relative.
• Law — A prosecution witness says a murder suspect was in a shopping mall at 5 p.m. on Christmas Eve, but a defense witness says the suspect was at a restaurant 10 miles away. These contrary reports are, safe to say, mutually exclusive.
• Medicine — A patient undergoes heart bypass surgery but learns afterward that the doctor bypassed the wrong artery. Whether or not the doctor was comfortable with the relative truth of his surgical work, the patient’s heart problem remains.
• Sports — The New England Patriots won Super Bowl LI in February, defeating the Atlanta Falcons in overtime via a historic 25-point comeback. Falcons fans may still be in shock, and surely wish their team won … but the game featured an exclusive outcome.
The advocates of a truth-is-relative approach might object to the above examples.
Perhaps they would say that truth is relative, not in everyday concrete matters, but in more mysterious matters. Or that exclusive claims are unavoidable in our day-to-day lives but should be discarded when considering ultimate reality.
Yet, even as I continue to wrestle with this topic, I wonder — how could truth be relative in the realm of ultimate reality when it’s the absolute opposite of relative in the rest of our experience?
Stay tuned — in my next post, we’ll examine the ESPN.com reporter’s reference to reasonable disagreement … and more.
© Bruce William Deckert 2017