I've been amused by the fallout over the use of replacement referees in the NFL. I think there was an important lesson for us to learn in the experience, and we missed it. The lesson is about taking responsibility for oneself, and not scapegoating others.
Replacement officials started the NFL season because the regular officials were on strike. Over the course of three weeks, fans and sports journalists documented a lower quality of performance from these replacement refs. The issue seemed to come to a head during a Monday night game when a pass interference call was missed. The missed call led to a last minute touchdown that "robbed" a win from the other team.
Between 120-140 plays are executed in the average NFL game. It's almost human nature to pin the win or the loss on a last minute play. Nevertheless, the impulse to use less than one percent of the game as the measurement of it all is unfair. Such an assessment makes us feel better, but it doesn't help us grow. Such quick-fix answers stem from an almost universal human need to scapegoat; to find an easy answer, a convenient person to blame, and load them up with all the responsibility we can. Scapegoats relieve us of the need to look inward and claim our own responsibility for our lot in life.
Replacement refs gave us the chance to be better than any one call. Replacement refs gave us the chance to be resilient in the face of adversity. Replacement refs gave us the chance to notice that football is like life in that it isn't always pristine, and then ask how can we learn from this? Instead we just moaned.
Life is always complex, at least as complex as a football game. If we ever think we can isolate all the problems in our life down to one call, one person, one event, we've got bigger problems than that one call, person, or event. The bigger problem is our inability to learn, our inability to look inward and see our own responsibility for our life, and our inflexibility when it comes to adapting to life as it unfolds.
Jesus showed us that when we continue the practice of scapegoating we end up killing God. God has all kinds of things to teach us and show us. We cannot, however, learn very much until we can let go of the many scapegoats in our life, look inward and accept our responsibility, and trust that God wants to give us even greater things that what we expect. I think this is part of what Jesus meant when he told us, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now." John 16:12 (NRSV)
I understand the need to get as many calls right as humanly possible. We all want justice. But only God is perfect. So in the meantime, may God's grace be with you and all the missed calls in your life. Let's pray that with God's grace we can bear what Jesus wants to give us through them.