Thursday, March 3, 2011

Good for her!

This comes from the Associated Press (with a hat tip to CMR):

When 7-year-old Amalya Knapp took the beam at the New Jersey state gymnastics finals last month, her excellent performance symbolized a far more complicated balancing act.

Although she would have ranked fifth in her age group, eligible for a medal, her individual scores were discounted. She was unable to compete on a Saturday because of her Orthodox Jewish family's observance of the Sabbath.

"I was upset," Amalya said, "but my mother told me there are decisions you have to make."
USA Gymnastics made an effort to accommodate her and let her compete the next day, Sunday, Feb. 13, and permitted her scores to factor into her team's overall rankings.

But the national governing body held that because she hadn't competed at the same time as girls of her skill level and age group, her scores: 9.7 on vault, 9.575 floor, 9.5 beam and 8.75 bars — would not count toward individual medals or rankings.

The news disappointed the second-grader, a member of the US Gym team of the United States Gymnastics Development Center in Leonia, N.J. She had placed first in the all-around category in five previous competitions.

"She tried so hard, and practiced for months, and really put in her all, but just couldn't get that final award for her efforts," said Chavie Knapp, Amalya's mother. Knapp emphasized that her family appreciated USA Gymnastics' efforts to discuss the issue with them and try to reach a compromise.

The secular culture sometimes forces us to make decisions between practicing our religion or fully participating in the culture. It's great that this Orthodox Jewish family is making a disciplined stand for their religious beliefs, but the tide seems to be turning against religious accommodations in our society. In what amounts to a misguided attempt at pluralism (which often, in reality, means that no religions are accommodated), society has been less and less likely to accommodate religious customs and practices.

For example, it wasn't that long ago that most public school cafeterias offered an alternative to meat in their Friday menus to accommodate Catholic school children who abstained from eating meat on Fridays. Today, however, while the number of Catholics has grown within our society, our secular culture's religious accommodations have dwindled and it is now rare (at least in this region) to find public school districts which offer meat-free alternatives on their Friday menus.

Perhaps, however, we should be careful to lay at least part of the blame at our own feet. Do we fight to practice our devotions and traditions? Do we fight to protect our right to practice our religion and participate in the larger society? We are often encouraged and reminded by our leaders to take up the grievances of others who are treated unjustly in our society. But how often are we strongly encouraged to live out our devotional and faith lives to the fullest - even in ways that are counter-cultural; to stick up for our own rights as Christians to practice our religion even when it conflicts with the larger society? It should not be an "either", "or" thing - they should both be done for both are important facets of our faith. So I say do both: live out your faith by aiding the poor and marginalized AND by living out your devotional life. When society tries to stop you from doing either, do NOT back down.