“A great portent appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pangs, in the agony of giving birth. Then another portent appeared in heaven: a great red dragon… the dragon stood before the woman who was about to bear a child, so that he might devour her child as soon as it was born.”-Revelation 12:1-4
Here is the thing people get wrong about the book of Revelation: we remember it as a great battle between good and evil, but it’s more about how evil permeates the lives of the good and the evil. The good—the woman and her baby—run away. The dragon chases them, and eventually bestows his authority to the beast. The beast is charismatic and sexy and powerful and so the people submit to the beast, whether they are good or evil. Revelation is about the banality of evil, and how evil is all-consuming. You can run from it or submit to it, but submitting will not spare you. When it comes to evil, no one ever wins.
I’ve watched teenagers fall in love with the beautiful game, I’ve watched them train and tryout and compete and break and submit for love of it, some of them at a very high level. In this World Cup, I’ve eagerly watched the early upsets of the group stages. I know developing countries are getting better at beating European powerhouses because the Europeans are drafting and training their children younger and younger. It reminds me of the advice Tressie McMillan Cottom gave to Black people navigating academia: “the institution cannot love you…. Just get your hugs where you can and let them have their institution.”
No matter how much children love the game now, we are marching them to the wolves. It is nearly impossible to teach them to love the game without teaching them to contort themselves for the institution. I wish I could tell the teenagers I’ve mentored that the institution will never love them back, no matter how well they perform, no matter how far they make it. It’s something Lionel Messi and I both learned recently, at almost the same age: he at FC Barcelona and me within the institutional church. Maybe this is why I still wear my #10 Barcelona jersey.
The individuals love you, but the institution will never love you back. Being good and talented and charming does not spare you. Even if you thrive in the institution, it will try to destroy you. Souls can only flourish in the streets, in the pick up games, where two or three gather without uniforms or straight-edged fields or capital investment firms.
The banality of evil is that we know the institution will not love us back. But we still try to love it.
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