The parson took a deep breath, following the washing of the dishes after the completion of the gourmet dinner he’d prepared (he’d provide the recipe but it would make too many jealous), then he moved into his study, powered up the computer, clicked on PBS, and then selected “American Masters: Billie Jean King.”
The program brought memories of how the parson’s life changed the day after Christmas in 1967, when his daughter arrived. Three years later, Billie Jean King convinced nine of the top professional women tennis players to organize the Women’s Professional Tennis Association. Nine of the top players - Billie Jean King Rosemary “Rosie” Casals, Kristy Pigson, Jane “Peaches” Bartkowicz, Valerie Ziegenfuss, Kerry Melville, Julie Heldman, Nancy Richey, and Judy Dalton - withdrew from the existing professional tennis organization in protest against male player making ten to twenty times as much money in the same events.
Two years later, when the parson’s daughter was five, the United States Congress passed Title IX, which provided for the inclusion of women’s sports in educational institutions.
In 1973, when the parson’s daughter was six, Billie Jean King kicked Bobby Rigg’s ass.
You’d think acceptance of women in sports would by this point become a foregone conclusion.
But change in sports comes almost as slow as accepting women int he pulpit. In the 1982, because there was no female soccer team at the parson’s daughter’s high school, she tried out for the boy’s team. On the last day of the tryouts, the coach cut her. At a team meeting of the returning players from the previous year, some of the male players said to the coach, “But, coach, she was better than the ones you accepted.” The coach replied, “Yeah, but she’s a girl.”
Two days later, the parson was in the office of the Assistant Superintendent of Schools, not a good friend but an acquaintance of the parson. The parson said, “Okay, Herman, hear me out on this. First, I’ll give you a two statements. And then I’ll ask you two questions. the first statement is this: “Coach Jefferson cut my daughter from playing on the soccer team. The second statement is: When the returning players protested she was better than those not cut, he answered in front of eighteen witnesses, ‘Yeah, but she’s a girl.’ Now, Herman, here are the two questions. The first is this: Have you heard about Title IX? The second is this: Do you want to talk to me or my lawyer?”
Two weeks later girls’ soccer was institute in the system the parson’s daughter was a student. Looking back on it, the parson considers it one of his better moments.
Sunday night the parson cacooned himself within the covers early. As was his custom on Sunday nights, no alarm was set to rouse him in the morning. On Monday mornings the parson crawled out of bed when the warmth of the covers no longer protected him from the day.
This night he fell asleep quickly. It had been a good day. The people had received his sermon gladly. A couple had talked to him of joining the church. And the Sunday evening Bible study had gone exceptionally well.
That Bible study the parson had resisted for years. Finally, he gave in on the condition that it be an actual Bible study. And so for the last two-and-a-half years almost every Sunday night had involved a study of the Bible. At first there had been some resistance to the parson's methodology. He had begun at Genesis 1: 1 and was proceeding through the books of the Bible, talking of the events that had shaped it, who wrote it, why they wrote it, pointing out the contradictions.
The “Bible-is-the-literal-word-of-God”-folks challenged him on the third week of the Bible. “But,” said their leader of that group, “the Book of Revelation says ….” The parson cut him off. “Look,” said the parson, “when it comes to Revelation, I will bow to your considerable knowledge. With regards to Revelation, you have read it much more than have I. In fact, I try not to read it. It involves some vision of terrible things that are going to happen in the future. I'm a follower of Christ. I concentrate on the wonderful things that are happening now. But, I don't want to ignore your point. As you're aware, we started with Genesis and we're going book by book through the Bible. We should get to Revelation in about, well, let's see, ah, about five years. So, please, hold that thought until then.”
They never came back. And so it was on Sunday night the parson and the Bible study participants looked critically at the differences in the stories told by the Deuteronomist storytellers and the Chronicler. The study had ended with the group focusing on the fact that the Chronicler left out anything that might reflect badly on David as an ideal king, especially leaving out the women. But the study ended with the observation that the Chronicler made a slip.
In 2 Chronicles 35: 25, he talks about “all the singing men and singing women” who mourn Josiah's death. So, concluded the parson and his group, the women did have a part to play after all. And supposing this was a Temple activity, the women had a more active part than the Chronicler's version led his hearers to believe.
Monday morning arrived. The parson rose. He switched his iPad on and began to surf the web for the news. After acquainting himself with what was happening, he looked for stories about March madness. There it was on almost every newspaper and magazine available on the device. There were the men's brackets, the rankings, the dark horses, all in the NCAA Men's tournament. The parson spent twenty minutes looking for the brackets, the rankings, the favorites, the dark horses of the NCAA Women's Tournament. He couldn't find any reference. It was as if Women's Collegiate Athletics did not exist.
Amazing, six hundred years before Jesus the storytellers left the women out, and still today few would admit they, also, occupied the court.
Breaking his new commitment to retirement, the parson had traveled halfway across the state to speak at a civic club meeting. The exception to his rule was a response to the request of an old friend from high school. Now, the club meeting over, the parson walked with his friend Roger Gilbert across the high school football / soccer field. Roger had been anxious to show off the complex to the parson.
“Isn't it great?” said Roger.
“It's certainly impressive,” the parson responded. “Isn't this a little expensive, though?”
“Well, hell yes it's expensive, Parson. But over the years we'll save money. No more watering the field, no more cutting the grass, no more fertilizer, no more marking the field before every game. Eventually, it will pay for itself.”
“How long is eventually?” the parson asked.
“Well I don't know how long before the cost saving kicks in, Parson. It'll be a couple of years.”
“How much did it cost?”
“Well, the total cost, now, mind you this includes ground preparation, installation costs and some minor improvements to the stands, the cost was a little over a half million.”
“So, it's going to take more than a couple of years to recoup the cost?”
“Don't be a stick-in-the-mud, Parson. This field is not the envy of every school in this region. When visiting teams show up here they know we're serious about this sport.”
The parson and Roger had now exited her field and were walking toward their cars. Roger made his final point.
“Look back there, Parson,” he said, pointing to the field. “You have to admit that's an impressive sight.”
“It is, Roger; it is.”
“Well, I can't figure you out, Parson. You've played sports all your life. I'd think you'd be more responsive to our efforts here.”
“You know what would be really impressive, Roger, impressive not only to us used-to-be-jocks but to the entire population?”
“What?” asked Roger.
“It would really be impressive, Roger, if you guys would put this much effort into raising money to keep and recruit better teachers for your kids. Football for you and soccer for me lasted as long as our knees." The parson pointed to the classroom building a block down the street. "But the education, Roger, the education is forever.”
I've been a little busy lately. That's not a complaint. It's an admission of fact. The busyness was not forced upon me. I chose it. Maybe it chose me. All I know is I wouldn't have missed it for the world.
The events that occupied my time lately centered around gymnastics, specifically women’s gymnastics. And more specific than that gymnastics events in which my granddaughter was a competitor.
A few weeks ago I made a pilgrimage to Memphis, Tennessee. That trip brought me to the BBQ and Blues Invitational Gymnastics Competition. Let me make three points about that event. Point one: Dizzy Dean said, “If it's true, it ain't bragging.” Point two: My granddaughter came in fourth overall in the competition. Point three: my granddaughter, no doubt because of the superiority of the genetics passed down from my side of the family, competes in an age division well above her own.
I watched her. I was astounded at her athletic ability. I could not comprehend that was my tiny granddaughter turning flips, dancing and prancing in perfect harmony with the music on the floor exercise. I wished I could be her as she flung herself in twists and turns from one uneven bar to the other. I held my breath as she flipped above the four inch wide balance beam and came to rest as though it were as wide and the landing path on an aircraft carrier. And I was amazed at how she propelled herself off that vault into the air twisting and turning before landing almost perfectly and tossing her hands upward to signify she'd completed it well.
I was hooked. I wasn't just hooked on my granddaughter. It didn't take athletic competition to accomplish that. I was hooked on the sport. I was hooked on the physical prowess of these young women. I was hooked on the thrill of it all.
It was no wonder, then, I found myself last week at the Atlanta Crown Invitational Gymnastic Competition. I got there early due to a meeting not lasting as long as I'd anticipated. My granddaughter wasn't scheduled to compete for a couple of hours. But I'd been captured by that competition so I went into the arena anyway.
Opening the door to the Gwinnett Convention Center I was assailed by the squeals and the chatter of girls, ages eight to eighteen. My mind processed the visuals of these young competitors texting away to their friends, whispering to each other about passing male teens, and wearing t-shirts proclaiming:
Push-ups make you pretty. - Gymnasts don't defy gravity; they defeat it. - Girls can't what? - Why walk when you can cartwheel? - You know you're a gymnasts when boys won't arm wrestle with you. - My boyfriend asked me to choose between him and gymnastics. I miss him. - If gymnastics were easy it would be called football.
Okay, yes! My granddaughter was competing. And she did well, really well. But despite that I walked out of that facility wondering if something were not askew. I watched my granddaughter and her teammates as well as the members of the other teams compete. They competed on vault, on floor exercise, on beam, and uneven bars.
Suddenly I realized men compete in floor, pommel horse, still rings, vault, parallel bars, and horizontal high bar, more and different events than the women.
Here's my question: Do you guys seriously think my granddaughter couldn't kick your you-know-what on those other events?
The parson was hanging out with his friend, Dr. Gary, pastor of Saint John's United Methodist in Augusta, Georgia, the oldest still worshiping congregation in Georgia. Gary and the parson had been friends in seminary. That friendship was cemented when the two discovered a phrase in the school's catalog that read, “Class attendance is not a perquisite for a passing grade.” The two had taken that literally and adjourned to the pizza establishment across the street.
Gary was on his way to speak at a church in Tennessee. He'd stopped to visit his old friend along the way. Now the two sat on a bank overlooking some soccer fields not far from the parson's abode. Below them a game between two girl's U-14 teams was in progress. The parson watched intently as he and Gary talked. Two of the girls below attended his church.
The parson and his guest had enough time to catch up on their individual activities since last seeing each other as well as share plans for coming years. And then the game was over. The girls the parson had come to see were victorious. He and Gary waited to greet them.
“Hi, Parson,” shouted Susan, who played sweeper on the team. “Thanks for coming.”
“It was fun,” said the parson. “This is my friend, Gary. He was really impressed with your team.”
“Thank you,” Susan said to Gary.
“You're a good player,” Gary replied.
Rhonda, Susan's best friend and a midfielder on the team now ran up.
“Hi, Parson,' said Rhonda. “Hi, I'm Rhonda,” she said to Gary.
“I'm Gary, I'm glad to meet you,” Gary replied.
“Did you ask him?” Rhonda said to Susan.
“Not yet,” said Susan.
“Ask me what?” the parson asked.
“Okay,” said Susan, “you used to coach soccer in college, right?”
“I did,” the parson admitted.
“So, if Rhonda and I wanted to get a soccer scholarship for college, what will we have to do?”
“Make good grades,” said the parson.
Susan smiled, “I know that, Parson. I'm talking about a soccer scholarship.”
“I am, too.” said the parson.
“Okay, okay. You sound like Mom. But what else?”
“You have to master the basics,” the parson said.
“Like what?” asked Rhonda.
“Well,” the parson asked. “How many times can you juggle the ball without missing.”
“Maybe twenty,” said Susan.
“Yeah, twenty or sometimes thirty,” Rhonda said.
“Keep practicing until you can do it a couple hundred times,” the parson replied.
“But, Parson,” Rhonda protested. “You don't ever have to juggle the ball that much in a game.”
“You're right,” the parson said, “but if you can juggle it two hundred times in practice you'll always be able to do it one time in the game.”
The parson and Gary rose from their seats, brushed the grass off their butts and headed to the car. Halfway there, Gary commented. “I don't know squat about soccer. But I know a good sermon illustration when I hear it.”
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