My dream began driving Roman Emperor Constantine to the local high school on a Friday night. He is in the passenger side sitting stone-faced as I debrief him the basic intent and rules of American football. He does not appear to care or be paying attention, leaning dramatically when vehicles pass by traveling the opposite direction.
I ramble on, unsure whether or not Constantine understands English much less the procedures I’m describing.
“…And so we sometimes refer to football players as modern day gladiators. Even today we use many words from your time.”
I hand Constantine my Bob’s Subs and Sandwich Shop T-shirt and a pair of khaki dad shorts. I try not to act surprised when he accepts my advice. We begin walking as Constantine breaks the silence.
“This is your stadium?”
Constantine is not impressed. I try to describe how there are perhaps hundreds of larger stadiums that hold three times as many people as his great Coliseum, and why there are thousands of small stadiums like this scattered throughout the land. I add why we no longer keep slaves for building and upkeep, except for the large stadiums where we still sort of do.
Constantine ducks and puts his arms overhead when first hearing the announcers on the speaker system. He watches the game, and after a while seems to enjoy the battle cries of the drums and brass instruments.
“What nations battle here?” asks Constantine.
“Nations don’t battle in football. These teams are made up of young men between the ages of 16 and 19. They represent their towns and cities, but we’re all part of the same nation.”
“Do they battle to control the land?”
“Definitely not. I know it looks pretty serious; everyone looks serious, but it’s just a game. The players on both teams are supposed to shake hands afterwards, and each returns to his town and family at the end of the night.”
Constantine seemed puzzled.
“Then why don’t they just play dice or backgammon?”
“Yea, you’re right. But everyday life is a lot less physical these days. Most of us don’t battle or work the land or anything like that, so we battle for sport. But everyone gets caught up in it because there’s a lot at stake.”
I go on…
The loyalties are confusing. In most sports these days, the athletes and fans clash violently against each other as hated enemies, then in the next year or sometimes the next weekend they play on the same team. Sometimes it ends up being for individual achievement”
“They have no loyalties or unified cause?”
“Well not really. We don’t have a school belief or religion. People are free to believe and practice what they want. No state religion, Constantine. Since your time we have found out that it makes people ugly and even worse, greatly cheapens the religion. All this freedom is great, but it comes at a cost. We have to put up with a lot of stupid ideas, but they always seem to contain a few good ideas.
Constantine shook his head in amazement.
“Interesting! So there are many religions and values represented within each team? How do you expect the team to function optimally?”
Well, yeah. Exactly. Many of the athletes around here are Christians, but not all of them.
“So the Christians have a team and get along well with each other but not others.”
“Well, you would think. But not exactly. We have denominations.”
“I know. Sometimes it doesn’t make a lot of sense.”
After a few moments of silence, Constantine asked, “Do your more mature, absolute best gladiators,…er, football players have unified beliefs and vision?
“Not even close…rarely.”
At the end of halfime, the home team played the classic song Sweet Caroline over the loudspeakers.
Constantine listened closely. “Parents, players, coaches and students on both teams are singing! Why do they all pay homage to the Queen at this point.”
“No Constantine. It’s just a recording of the song. We don’t have a queen. But I guess right here is something that everyone agrees on. And every Caroline that I have met is indeed sweet.”
Constantine chuckled. He was beginning to fade and I could tell that our time was drawing to a close.
“Well maybe you should get a king or queen that you all believe in.”
“Yeah, well….we’re not even close there either…”
Constantine cut me off.
You think Romans were crazy, but YOU are. You can’t agree on what you’re for and get triggered about games and have been so watered down with very little to fight for as a team. Hardly any shared beliefs and values. ”
Constantine faded as I replied.
“Maybe singing Sweet Caroline together on a Friday night is as good as it gets. Let’s hope not. In the very least, we can say it’s an ideal and a good place to start. And I’m sure that you cannot beat John Denver playing in the September dusk.”
The last thing that I remember of the dream is sitting in the bleachers completely by myself.