Faith Works 8-2-14
Tradition is a poor excuse for stupid (or stupidity)
Much ink has been spilled, actual and virtual, over the public report about the Ohio State marching band's history, and the most recent director's role in trying to shape and change that history.
This space is generally reserved for a look at matters that most broadly consider how faith and morals relate to the lives of today's Licking Countians. We often have pastor's columns where any faith community leader is welcome to share their own very specific viewpoints, socially or doctrinally, and the Advocate runs features about particular programs or campaigns run by (usually) congregations or para-church bodies.
To say that Ohio State football is a religion is to make a joke that people almost laugh at. Matters of scarlet and grey, issues relating to cheerleaders and boosters and yes, the marching band, can carry a weight in the community and a central place in people's lives that looks all too much like a secular faith system, with worship on Saturdays in the Most Holy Place.
So talking about TBDBITL is to be on the fringes of faith & piety for Buckeye Nation. And that's part of where I want to go, but really I'm thinking about our common interests in essential beliefs and bedrock convictions far beyond football. This column is concerned with faith and morals, and how you go about raising up a generation from the innocence of youth to meaningful, constructive adulthood is always going to be at the heart of our civic culture.
In years past, over the last few decades, there's been an uneasy sea change around something often called "initiation." There's always been and always will be "paying your dues" and sometimes that means being the junior apprentice and having to go get well water for your elders; it can include some good natured and even rough ribbing from the more experienced who send the new guy to the quartermaster's shed to ask for "fifty yards of timberline and three skyhooks," and so on.
Some locations of transition from childhood to autonomy, especially those in that fuzzy zone between high school and full employment that can be college, or the military, or a journeyman program of one sort or another, can be initiations of a different sort. Who buys the round of beer for the team after work, now that you're 21; the first trips to the Gulf coast without parents; et cetera, et cetera.
And there was a stretch of time there, a duration not quite completed, where initiation included some, well, truly stupid stuff. It was always justified as "bonding," as "sealing the ties between us," as "letting you know that you're one of us now." Drinking, often to excess, has been a common feature; the infliction of pain or embarrassment usually played a part; the marking whether temporary or permanent on the body, in the spirit, of your place "within" the group.
I have nothing more than an opinion and a bit of a speculation based on very little data here, but I strongly suspect that we saw an upsurge in truly stupid, not to mention risky initiation behaviors during the 60s & 70s & 80s ("please sir, may I have another") because a generation came up in the shadow of another generation initiated into adulthood by gunfire, by seeing friends next to you die, by walking into death camps and seeing, hearing, smelling just how much of a gap exists between aspects of your humanity and others' inhumanity.
Lacking that, it became more "acceptable" to bring young adults together through trials and tests not so common in eras past, because "hey, at least it isn't going to war." Just don't kill them, and it's okay.
Today, there's a wider sense that bringing people together through nausea, disgust, intoxication, humiliation, and degradation is really not all it's cracked up to be. Yes, those who got through it insist "it's not so bad" and "it was done to me" and mainly "don't be such a killjoy."
Call me killjoy.
There are casualties of such initiations that do not die, but carry marks long through their lives. And actions are justified that have consequences beyond any one Midnight Ramp (optional my left foot). I think Ohio State erred in simply firing the director of the band, and hope he can return, but so he can continue to help that storied fellowship learn there are better ways to be bound together for life than learning to sing about violent sexual imposition in four part harmony.
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him about killjoys you have known at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.