For the first time ever I attended a rodeo on Saturday night. This was a junior high/high school event, and it took place just down the road from my home, at the local county fairgrounds.
Few people would associate the word rodeo with Indiana, but there we were–and it was clear from the start that rodeo has a stronger foothold (hoofhold?) in Indiana than one might expect.
I began to understand that fact early on Saturday morning, long before the rodeo was scheduled to start. Doing my usual morning walking/running, I found myself, as I often do, at the fairgrounds. There were dozens of recreational vehicles camped there. Horses were penned in beside many of these RVs.
This is a lifestyle. These families had left home on Friday afternoon, traveling from other towns in Indiana (and probably a few from out of state), and had settled in for the weekend. The rodeo would take place Saturday and Sunday both, then they would head back home. As near as I can tell, rodeos for the Indiana High School Rodeo Association take place every two or three weeks during the season. I was not able to find a full schedule for the season, but that pattern seems in effect for this latter part of the year, and I would guess it holds from springtime on through the fall.
Indiana rodeos, then, are not a rarity. They may take place under the radar, but they take place often, and lots of young people, supported by their families, participate. The amount of time, money, planning, and organizational skill required to pull off even one of these events, must be huge. The adults manage the participation of the young people. But they also have to manage the participation of the animals. The families manage the horses of their children, of course, but lots of other animals are involved. The people running the rodeo have to have the animals there, in the right place, and ready at the right time, good weather or bad. It must be an enormous job. They must do it because they love rodeo.
I was glad I attended the rodeo. The results were about what one could realistically expect–some notable successes, and a good deal of failure. There were many failures, but no quitters. I saw a lot of young people who had become comfortable with riding horses–surely a good thing. The roping didn’t always succeed. The animal would not always cooperate in being thrown and tied. But it must be good for young people to try something difficult and stick with it no matter what the immediate results. Some of the more gifted participates eventually go on to participate on college rodeo teams–another type of rodeo operating under the radar for most of us.
We had a heavy rainstorm on Saturday afternoon. The sun came out after that, but there was no time to dry everything out by the 7 p. m. start time for the rodeo. The arena was muddy, some parts worse than others. Walking to the grandstand seating Saturday night, one had to pick one’s way carefully or one would have soaked feet for the duration of the rodeo. The participants in the rodeo (or more likely their mothers) may have had a challenge in getting some of the clothing clean.
A small handful of the participants were from my county. I think a grandfather of a local girl was seated beside me, filming his granddaughter. There was a good-sized crowd, with plenty of children. A concession stand sold food. The ticket price was reasonable–$5.00, and very well worth the money invested.
Prior to the beginning of the rodeo, there was a public prayer. It is good to see that not everyone is afraid to pray, publicly, to the God of the Bible and His Son Jesus Christ.
But balanced against that fact, was the fact that the second half of the rodeo was scheduled for Sunday at 10 a. m.–precisely at the time when Christians should be in church. So rather than attending church on Sunday, lots of people were attending rodeo.
This seems to me completely typical of the United States at this particular time in our history. Our Christianity is a sort of backdrop to life–there to make us feel good about ourselves, and feel confident that we are not enemies of God, but not something that has a lot to say about our behavior. Miss church for rodeo? There is nothing unusual about that, for other sports, so why should rodeo be different? Christian people whose children play volleyball, basketball, softball, and baseball, frequently arrange their schedules to allow the children to participate in sports on Sunday, which leaves church attendance out in the cold.
Sports, like many other things, are a good servant but a bad master. If parents refused to compromise, the sports world would soon adjust, and the situation would change.
Public prayer, but missing church. Thus the U.S. zigzags to the end–or perhaps to an eventual revival of biblical Christianity. One sees some good signs here and there. Perhaps young people bravely accepting the very real possibility of failure as they do challenging things in the rodeo, is a good sign in itself. We may zig when we should zag, and occasionally zag when we should zig, but we as a Christian people are not quite dead yet.