As I lie on my back, paramedics shine a single pen light in my eyes. Bright enough to push through the noonday sun that streams without strain out of a cloudless blue sky.
It was a mild concussion, which given current research on head injuries from football, I'm grateful to say the word "mild." It was my only season of organized, pads & helmet football.
I had run headfirst into another player, who had his head down as well. The cracking of plastic was muted by the dull thud of hitting the ground and grabbing my face mask.
I took the rest of the game off.
The next game, ironically, was against the same team. The wicked providence of midget league football scheduling. Devious.
I didn't want to walk on the field. Fear gripped me, deeply and fully, and I couldn't imagine hearing the thud again. Feeling the impact, letting my mind dip into that sweet unwelcome darkness, all of it caused my stomach to turn in on itself.
A family friend was nearby - hearing my fear he said:
"You can't play scared. If you play scared, you WILL get hurt."
Granted, the whole purpose of American football is pain and injury so there's a bit of a hole in the proverb but I get the general principle. If you are constantly trying to avoid getting hurt, you create awkward landings and steps that welcome injury.
While I realize the truth in this proverb, I didn't realize how truly it applied to the rest of life.
When we play scared, we get hurt.
When we walk completely guarded, walled up against God and everyone else fearing that one more searing blast to our hearts and our trust will do us in...
When we allow ourselves to carry beliefs or support others who are contrary to our political or personal beliefs, simply because we're afraid of what we don't know (or WHO we don't know) and give into the doubt that says "what if that person/politician/theologian is right and I'm not on board with them...?"
When we ignore that inner darkness, the place within us that begs us to come and encounter the phantoms of our souls that haunt us...
What a backward thought - we'd rather be haunted that whole. We'd rather be safe than surrounded. We'd rather be comfortable than compassionate.
"That's not fair, Casey," you say. "Those are not either/or situations."
True. But also untrue.
I don't believe fear allows for nuance. Fear makes us reach for "this" or "that." It can never be "both" and God help us if it's "neither."
You are either right or left.
Progressive or conservative.
Trump or Clinton.
Predestination or free will.
Nuance says, "What if it's not so definite?"
We don't have souls, on the whole, that are prepared for less-definite boundaries because frankly we don't like them. We don't like them because we REALLY like drawing boundaries. Maybe more than anything else.
From childhood, we learn the word "Mine."
We modify it in adulthood, but we rarely escape it.
It's hard to escape.
Unless, that is, we lean into Jesus. Here's the really beautiful but unsung part of Jesus' work and life - Jesus was a "both" kind of guy:
Whoever is not against you is for you.
My Father makes the rain fall on the righteous and the unrighteous.
I have not seen such faith in Israel.
He made people scared.
Jesus lived the poetry of nuance.
He kept the law but broke it too.
He threatened the powers but never really went on the record.
He was conservative.
He was progressive.
He was liberal.
Fear of all the above, at the core, put Jesus on trial and eventually on the cross.
Fear still evokes the cross, even today. Every time we choose to play scared instead of knowing that the one thing that generates fear, which is death, has met it's end, we lose track of Jesus. He knows fear. He knows our fear, and in exchange he gives us nuance.
And God is with us in the midst of it.
We can't play scared.
There are only injuries waiting for us.