The Michigan Wolverines have two great rivals, one in-state, and one out-of-state: the Michigan State Trojans, and the Ohio State Buckeyes. We are definitely a Go-Blue household. My partner has been a fan since she was a kid, and graduating from UM only increased her lifelong devotion. Any trip back to Ann Arbor includes shopping for Michigan gear, and when we return to Alaska, she wears that gear two or three times a week. An “M Go Blue” sign hangs above our patio door, and on the deck a Michigan whirligig twirls in the breeze.
There’s a store in Michigan called The Great Divide. When we lived there, it had storefronts in multiple cities, but I think the recession has reduced it to the store in Flint and an online presence. The Great Divide had a simple organizing principle: maize and blue Michigan gear on one side of the store, and green and white Michigan State gear on the other side of the store.
Our recent trip to Tennessee felt like more than a mere step or two over the line into Green and White territory. It felt like a full-on immersion into the Scarlet and Gray of Columbus, Ohio.
We were deep in the territory of Team Jesus, and everywhere we looked, people were sporting team paraphernalia. Fish on bumpers, crosses on T-shirts, Laughing Jesus paintings in the gift shops. Gatlinburg seemed to be a place where Christianity is the default setting, where there is no visible Divide. I felt like I needed to hide the fact that I am a fan of Team UU.
In a few weeks I’ll be traveling to Minneapolis for the UUA’s annual General Assembly. I imagine there will be plenty of opportunity to buy Team UU gear. Jewelry. T-shirts. Bumper stickers. Maybe we’ll throw a few tailgate parties. It will feel good.
But no matter how good it feels to be with people who share my values, I don’t want to be the kind of person who only associates with people who are like me. It is so tempting to sort ourselves into safe groups of like-minded people, but I want to resist that temptation.
I’m not sure what I’ll buy at the UU gear store. I’ll probably give in and buy a pendant, or at least a bumper sticker. No matter what I buy, I hope it will invite questions and spark conversations. And I hope that those conversations will be one small piece of bridging the divide.