I’m sure it may come as no surprise to most of you that I am not a particularly sports-minded person. (it’s OK; you may laugh : ) Honestly though, it hasn’t always been that way. Like many young people around me growing up, I DID follow some sports… even owned a Dallas Cowboys jersey-jacket in elementary school. I loved playing little league baseball, and had tennis lessons for a time. I leaned more towards individual sports, though — and never understood any obsessive or fanatical team sports ethos. Perhaps it was a responsive reaction to my own extended family’s preoccupation with sports, which runs quite deep. My North Carolina-based family has had a UNC-Chapel Hill vs. Duke rivalry as far back as I can recall. While my father attended UNC for college, many of the other family members work and live near Duke University/Duke Hospital, so it’s “everything Duke” all-the-time for them. I know that this rivalry exists outside of my family as well, and that the passions (and sometimes concurrent disgust) can be highly-charged!

No doubt many of you are aware that this particular March Madness season was especially noteworthy since UNC and Duke were playing against one another in a Final Four game of the NCAA tournament — which apparently had never happened in the history of the college sport. Furthermore, it was the last season of legendary Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, who folks apparently love or despise, depending on affiliation. Normally, my Dad has trouble even watching UNC games, because he often gets so worked up that his anxiety causes him to leave the room. I have always been somewhat flabbergasted by this, as I cannot understand nor wrap my head around any nervous condition caused by a “game”. But perhaps I don’t get it. In any case, for that important game, I just so happened to be home visiting my Dad for his birthday, so we watched it all together as a family. He handled it pretty well, and of course UNC won — woohoo! (Take that, Coach K…) While UNC ultimately lost the championship to Kansas, they certainly proved their mettle throughout the Final Four. During the semifinal game, I was particularly amused by my mother’s excitement as well — she kept yelling at the TV and all the players… her typically demure southern countenance really taking a backseat to her emotional investment in the outcome of that evening!

I also recall being in Europe on tour as a musician back in 1998, the first time the country of France won the World Cup. I was in Toulouse at the time, and I remember sheer pandemonium in the streets — screams, chanting, car horns constantly blaring for what seemed like hours upon hours. While I know that we Americans joyously (AND often raucously) celebrate our own victorious wins as well, this kind of energy and mania around a soccer event abroad was definitely a new experience for me. While this type of overt passion for sport will likely always puzzle me, I certainly don’t judge others occasionally extreme, sometimes even fanatical displays of team fervor.

During this past weekend’s congregational Group Relations Workshop (GRW), I had time and pause to reflect a little on the history of our congregation, and some internal rivalries of our own that we have had in the past. Of course, these are not sports rivalries — more like terms of rivalries for competing interests, such as where we should invest our time, energy, money. There have often been great tensions around these preferences and priorities, and I always wondered why we couldn’t somehow find a way to support all the things that we wanted to do as a congregation. As in sports, sometimes passions regarding priorities run high, and folks complain and/or criticize that too much attention is placed on certain specific items or agendas. True, there is certainly never enough person-power or funds for the things we all deem important. Yet, I think we function better when we find ways to support ALL the missions of the congregation — from worship, to environmental-social action/justice, music, religious education, etc…

Although I hardly think our healing and reconciliation work as a congregation is complete, I had great hopes for the Group Relations Workshop as a potential good beginning, and left feeling a bit more hopeful at the end of the process. We are always better, healthier, and more empowered when we align, rather than rival. When we commit and passionately advocate for what we think are the most important and urgent agendas, we must also understand and respect one another’s equally valuable priorities… priorities that might be focused around passions we may not personally understand or completely comprehend. During last weekend’s workshop, I sometimes experienced a profound sense of patience and deep listening, which I found quite heartening. I hope it is a sign that we are learning how to best love and behave in community with one another in the future.

In solidarity,


  1. Becky Reese

    Thank you, Michael! Well said, and thank you for tackling this topic! I eschew organized sports, largely because of the associated passionate rivalry. Even worse is to see this behavior in national politics – or at UUCC.

    I strongly prefer aiming for harmony, which requires people to actually talk to each other about the issues of concern so they can mutually work toward solutions. People need to be enabled to speak for themselves in conversations across differences. This is as true for learning about the experiences of people with different social identities than our own as it is for addressing complex issues like what is “church” for, how do we accommodate widely varied perspectives on spirituality, and how to we distribute power in our organization?

    I was also deeply heartened by the productive sharing and cooperative spirit in the groups I participated with in the workshop. I am appalled that it took us 3 years from identification of the need for a neutrally facilitated broad-scale discussion to actually holding it. The path to this point was unnecessarily slow, work intensive, and contentious. The workshop was as successful as I could have hoped, within the parameters the board set.

    There is, indeed, much more work to be done as we move forward, but my hope is restored that we are on the right path. We need to continue to listen deeply, with patience, curiosity, and commitment to find a mutually acceptable path forward.

    Though it has certainly played out this way, I see UUCC’s disagreements as less about one “team” or the other, and more about how we distribute power. I joined an organization in which congregation members collectively discussed and defined priorities. Democratic process is a deeply held value. That is at the heart of UUism for me. I have learned over the past few years that I can’t tolerate a top-down authority in my religious organization. For me, the specific “team” issues are a symptom rather than a cause of our conflict, especially since we all agree that working toward racial justice and equity is important.

    I look forward to many more opportunities for deep, respectful dialogue about “how we do things around here” that move us forward. I love UUCC and I am deeply committed to supporting us to thrive – together!

  2. Kathy Parker

    Thank you, Michael. Your thoughts have helped me think about our reconciliation work at UUCC in a different way. The process of finding the places where we can align is so worthwhile, and I felt that our GRW time together put us on that path. Like Becky, and so many of us, I love UUCC (even after only two years as a member) and I want us to succeed together.

  3. Jennie Fitzpatrick

    Thank you Michael. I am grateful for your kind and insightful words. I, too, am feeling hopeful. I think that is a good first step for all of us.

  4. Barbara Jean Wright

    Thank you for addressing this topic Michael as well as our very recent Group Relations Workshop. I also believe the Workshop was a success in helping all of us better understand and appreciate the many dimensions of our UUCC community and define what we would like to see in the future. I feel more optimistic that we can choose to work together so that each of us can fulfill our aspirations for a Beloved Community. I believe UUCC can provide sanctuary, facilitate trust in our relationships and inspire a spiritual dimension to our multi-faceted lives.
    I am also looking forward to defining a workable method for assisting us to see and utilize conflict as a potentially positive stepping stone to more creative and valuable outcomes. I am very hopeful that we can begin to see healthy conflict as a path to a more engaged and productive religious community.

  5. Carol Zika

    Amen to your beautifully expressed reflection. I’m with you on the sports thing. Remember the time I scheduled a Chalice concert on Super Bowl Sunday? BIG mistake!

  6. Susan Hartnett

    Hi. I know well the basketball rivalry between Duke and North Carolina and would not wish a church congregation the amount of heat generated by the schools. Living six miles apart up Franklin Blvd from Chapel Hill,. Duke is universally hated in college sports, the obnoxious rich kids. No school was despised more than Duke by University of Maryland fans. Well done.

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