My social media timelines are filled with pictures of Serena Williams, arguably the greatest athlete in the world, angrily yelling at the tennis umpire in the U.S. Open.
I don’t watch tennis, football is my sport, but I have to say that I have been a big fan of Serena’s for a long time. It is not simply for her athletic ability but I could not sum it up better than her Nike ad, released last week, does:
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched this ad. I’ve cried: For joy, for sadness, for thanksgiving a woman like Serena exists in the world. I’ve cried because in my own way and in my own profession I’ve identified.
I’ve been too young to be a pastor, too fat, too attractive, not attractive enough, too angry, too emotional, too… too… too…
Like I said, tennis isn’t my sport, so I won’t get into the logistics of what happened at the U.S. Open this weekend or the merits of it. But just days after this ad comes out a man literally sitting on high reminds us all that why this ad needed to be made.
After the full length version of the Nike Colin Kaepernick ad came out I joked that Nike just became the official sponsor of #BlackLivesMatter. And yes, Nike knows where it’s bread is buttered and this is a corporation trying to make even more money for their billion dollar industry, but in my opinion, thank you for doing it this way.
The contrast of Nike’s Serena ad and the interaction with the U.S. Open official shows how we have not won yet. And they’re not talking about that one match, they’re talking about the injustice, the double standard, they’re drawing attention to egregious sexism and racism that permeates our institutions.
No wonder she broke her racket.
I once heard Dr. Anna Carter Florence, the Peter Marshall Professor of Preaching at Columbia Seminary give a sermon on baby Moses in the reeds. Pharaoh had ordered all Hebrew babies to be killed at birth, and Moses’s mother hid him away, and when she could hide him no longer she put him in a basket and sent him down the river.
I always grew up with this story thinking what they wanted me to think in Sunday School, that Moses’s mother did this to save him. But Dr. Florence pointed out that this was not the case, she put him in the basket and sent him down the river believing he would die.
It was a plea, a cry for help to the neighboring region. “LOOK! OPEN YOU’RE EYES! THEY’RE KILLING OUR BABIES!!! HELP US! PLEASE!”
These are the words of the oppressed communities around our nation. These are the words of the traumatized families separated at the boarder. These are the words of the refugees fleeing their homeland.
For 15 years in the pulpit I have preached loving neighbor as oneself, to bind up the brokenhearted, to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God. I have prayed this message be the heart and soul of the church and the people in it.
I will not idolize Nike or the corporation as they are problematic too and there is not purity in any institution. I’ve never been one to make sports about more than what it is, but as a person who preaches and believes that God works all things toward good, I am thankful there is inspiration in the world.
If we can’t educate our children and pay for our schools in the poorest parts of the country then I’m thankful Lebron will. If we’ve made peace with idolatry and false patriotism is equal to God while children are being murdered, then I’m glad Colin kneels. If the larger church stops inspiring because it decided to get in bed with corrupt politicians then I’m glad Nike will.
And if Serena needs to yell and scream at all that is wrong with the world, I’ll be right behind her.
Because until we all win, none of us do.
The Reverend Shannon Meacham currently serves Ashland Presbyterian Church in the Baltimore suburbs. She lives there with her husband Reverend Derrick Weston and together they raise their four children. You can find her musings about any and all subjects on her personal blog pulpitshenanigans.com.
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