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Playground Politics

Do you remember the politics of the playground at school? When the bell rang for recess, kids would pour out of the school eager to have a few minutes of fun. Time was limited, so quick organization was essential. Captains claimed their position- usually the popular kids… and the selection process commenced- first the big kid… the athletic kid… then came the selection of friends- because games are more fun to play with your friends on the team. The choice narrowed down to the remaining stragglers- a toss-up with little consequence to the outcome of the game. And finally, someone had to pick the new kid. That was usually me since my dad’s work with the Navy moved us on a regular basis. I hated those moments… standing there… being measured and found wanting. The truth- they were not wrong in their assessment. When it comes to ball sports, I have always been a bit lacking in skill and talent. But I never thought I deserved my last place selection time and time again. As a child, I dreaded the politics of the playground. Little did I know in those embarrassing moments, that the playground is just a training field for life… how those playground politics follow us into adulthood!

Think Eagles’ football… The schedule for the 2023 season was just released showing that our first game will be against the New England Patriots on September 10th. We will face the Cowboys on November 5th and December 10th. And Christmas day we will host the Giants with a 4:25pm kick-off, putting the game right in the middle of our Christmas dinners. Last year was a very good year for Eagles’ fans… will 2023 follow in like fashion? It all may come down to how well we have done in the NFL draft- playground politics for big kids.

The goal of the football draft is to select the best college athletes and make them NFL ready. Unfortunately, over the years the Eagles’ front office has been rather hit-or-miss in their selections. Remember Nelson Agholor, JJ Arcega-Whiteside and Jalen Reagor? Thankfully they are but a bad memory. Last year, we made a very good pick in Jordan Davis. But in that selection, we missed the super-star on the board- Kyle Hamilton- who turned out to be one of the best safeties in the NFL last year. In 2018, the Eagles made an unusual 7 th round draft pick that has turned into gold on the field. Jordan Mailata was an Australian rugby player, who had never played American football, but he has become a strong left tackle for the Eagles. The success of this year’s draft class remains to be seen, but I am encouraged that we picked up some of Georgia’s defense players. Remember, Georgia won the National Championship this past year, beating Texas Christian 65-7. Hopefully Georgia’s best will help to make our defense impenetrable. It all comes down to playground politics- picking the best and brightest for your team.

Admittedly, those politics do not always translate into winning the big games. The 76ers fell again in the second round of the playoffs, even with our MVP Joel Embiid and his very expensive partners on the court. In baseball, the Phillies’ new superstar Andrew Painter has been sitting on the bench with a sore pitching elbow, and Bryce Harper is still working out the kinks after elbow surgery in the off season. We have picked some of the best out there… we are still hoping for the big win this season… but right now those playground politics do not seem to be playing out in our favor.

If only playground politics stayed on the playground! On Monday, May 8th the headline on the front page of the Philadelphia Inquirer read: Charter School Accused of Rigging Lottery. PA state law guarantees equal access to academic opportunity in all public charter schools. The 800 families vying for the 200 available seats at Franklin Towne Charter High School expected a fair chance of getting their child into the National Blue-Ribbon school with a 97% graduation rate. But the school’s CEO decided to rig the lottery to assure the selection of the best and brightest so that his school’s academic success would continue to shine- playground politics yet again. Those playground politics follow us from school to work to extra-curricular activities. Some of us even fall prey to those politics in our social relationships. Is there anywhere that is free of those pesky playground politics?

Hopefully, we find a respite from the pressures of the playground in our faith community. Think about Jesus’ sensibilities… he turned the world upside down with a rather motley team of misfits. He chose Simon- a malcontent Zealot terrorist, and Matthew- a tax collector who sold out his own countrymen to get rich. Jesus picked a variety of men who had no distinguishing superlatives. Some are mentioned only once- the day they were chosen- only to fade into the background. Matthias was a last round draft pick- selected off the practice squad after three years of training. And the superstars of the team were uneducated, illiterate fishermen. Few, if any on Jesus’ team, would have fared well in our modern game of playground politics. One could argue that even Jesus would have been a last round selection, if at all- a carpenter’s son with little education, who had been homeless and at one time even an illegal refugee. Jesus describes himself as the stone that the builders rejected… then he reminds us that the rejected stone became the Cornerstone. (Matthew 21:42) I hope that we will allow Jesus to transform our sensibilities from those playground politics to a worldview informed by His grace. Imagine if we brought grace-full opportunities into our homes, neighborhoods, workplaces, and schools. St. Paul tells us that “we are God’s masterpieces” (Ephesians 2:10) not because the world says we are the best and brightest, but because we are His. Speak that truth on the playground of life!

With you, glad to be on Jesus’ team,
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