Photo Taken from The Facebook Page Karl Barth for Dummies.

I took a nine-year break from refereeing wrestling. I had worked with high school and youth wrestling for seven years before moving to Portland and officiating for ten years. Because all three boys had busy schedules, I took a break. Now seemed like a good time to return to this role. I have noticed two major changes since 2009.

First, there are many, many more females wrestling—enough to have their own tournaments and, as in some states, their own sport. In 2009 we would see one or two females on a team, but now their program is very deep in some of the schools. This is a good thing for both sexes.

Second, people tend to criticize, argue with, and try to persuade the referees more than I can remember. At least that is my perspective. I remember the usual questions, harassment, and general disagreements with us in the past. Many coaches do not know the rule book and it was always important to find a coach who knew the rules and reason with them. Most discussions could be answered briefly or stated, “That’s how I see it coach so please sit down.” That was usually the end.

The past few weeks, typically tournaments, I have been surprised at the coaches who incorrectly argue a point with a referee—and when wrong, still continue to dispute what the rule book states. “This is what the rule book states…” doesn’t seem to satisfy some. Getting the call to go my way or claiming “another ref called it this way…” somehow seems, to them, to have validity. I have observed the discussions they have with other officials. These discussions give me SMH (Shaking My Head) moments.

  • The rules state what they state for a reason.
  • The referee is to enforce the rules, not change or accommodate them for someone who wants their “kid” to win the match.
  • The rules are written down so we can follow them, not use them as a starting point for argument.
  • Our role, as coaches, parents, and officials, is to let the two participants compete so that the winner can be determined among themselves, without us.
  • We don’t bend the rules to accommodate those who feel left out.
  • There is a reason we have overtime. Someone has to win, and someone has to lose. There are no more “ties.”
  • For some reason this issue is growing!

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. I hear similar stories when I talk to employers, teachers, other officials, law enforcement, legal advocates, and…you get where I’m going. I am often told that “some people don’t believe that the rules apply to them.” This is a cultural problem—maybe it has always been that way, or maybe it is getting worse.

As a minister who teaches a story of a Savior who gave the supreme sacrifice and asks us to follow him—does it surprise me that people see the rule book as something to dispute? Should I be upset with those who don’t know the book, willing to argue whether it applies to them? Should I be shocked that “grace” is assumed to be “bending the rules so I can win?” Am I going to continue to be puzzled that people argue their case from a book they don’t know and barely read?

Am I referring to ministry or officiating?

From what I hear and see, this is common on many areas of life and not just confined to religion.

Reading that the Apostles, prophets, preachers, and even the Son of God were caught in the middle of angry mobs indicated that this was part of the job. While some might suggest that it was the “hard line conservative interpreters” that were attacking them—the truth is that it was people who believed “the rules didn’t apply to them.” In the stories I read, the preachers were the ones teaching from the Sacred Text, the Manual, the Rule Book, or the Guidebook while the angry mobs were comprised of people who didn’t want to accept what they heard while influencing others to share their rage. Sometimes there was a rational, logical, and open discussion about what “it said,” but these stories were not the norm. Jesus tended to land in the more conservative camp of rabbis—and he asked his disciples to go farther in living the Torah than the teachers in his area.

Some people have a valid claim—referees can make bad calls and ruin someone’s match, tournament placing, career, playoff game, or event. Sometimes preachers, coaches, bosses, teachers, or mentors hurt others and affect their lives for eternity. We need to stand our ground and disagree. But—most of the time leaders help people and sacrifice to help them be better. Yet they are often frustrated because they face resistance and struggle to offer hope. Getting them to focus on those who simply want to “wrestle according to the rules” is hard—but necessary.

Other times people blame these officials because their team lost, they didn’t get their way, they were expected to work, they didn’t get to argue that they were right, or they were called out for their behavior. Losing is a hard pill to swallow but, as we witness in overtime—somebody is going to lose and if it is you, it doesn’t mean you failed. Losing is a normal part of life—we need to learn to compete with respect, honor, and acceptance of the outcome.

In the end, we need people who understand the rules, the book, the story, the manual, not people who can argue a point to get their way. It takes courage to put these words to practice and enforce them. Even if we live in a time where this is viewed as a time to argue and bend the rules to go my way, we need, more than ever, leaders who follow the rules and guide those wanting to compete fairly to do likewise.

I often hear, “Thank you for being here—you couldn’t pay me enough to do your job…” I usually smile and thank them, and say, “I love doing this.”

Am I writing about officiating or ministry?

What do you think?