It seemed like everybody at the Poplar Park Community Church fellowship after worship last Sunday was trying to predict who the winners would be.

At one table, mainly younger guys argued about who would win the NCAA championship on Monday. “I think I’m going with Gonzaga,” said LaShaun Smith, “because they’re a better team defensively.”

Troy Williams thought for a moment. “I’ll give you that but North Carolina is a better rebounding team.”

“And Kennedy Meeks, North Carolina’s big man, is on fire,” added Eric Anderson. “He scored 25 points and got 14 rebounds against Oregon last night.”

LaShaun came back with, “Sure, but Meeks will be tested by that mountain of a man, Przemek Karnowski. I heard he weighs 300 pounds. 

Each guy at the “sports” table had their opinions, but no one was willing to put his money where his mouth was. Eric summed it up, “We’ll know by this time Tuesday morning.”

At another table some of the over-40 crowd voiced their opinions regarding who would win the mayoral race on Tuesday. 

“I hate to say it,” Mitty heard Sharissa Hawkins say, “but I think Ernie Romano is going to win. What is it now, fourth time in a row?”

Carla Hernandez chimed in, “I agree with Sharissa, and I don’t like the way Ernie is running his campaign. He’s been playing the fear card by bad-mouthing Carl Reiniger for wanting to make Poplar Park a sanctuary village. He says that will allow a huge criminal element to come in and bring down our community.”

“Carl hasn’t exactly played fairly either,” said octogenarian Gerhardt Ashenbrenner. “He’s been playing the age card, making a big deal of the fact that Ernie didn’t know what Yelp was at the candidate forum last week, and saying it’s only because of the seniors in town that he keeps getting re-elected.”

“So our mayor decides to fight fire with fire,” Sharissa added, “by calling Carl ‘still wet behind the ears’ and saying that just because he has an M.B.A. from the University of Chicago doesn’t mean he knows all the answers. He accuses Carl of having his head in the proverbial clouds and not having his feet on the ground.”

Pastor Mitty had been listening to his members’ complaints and decided to ask, “So are you saying that Ernie and Carl have resorted to attacking each other personally instead of addressing the issues like our outdated infrastructure and the village budget?”

Everyone nodded. Gerhardt added, “And people like Alice at the Main Street Café pass all of this nonsense on to the, what, 30 customers she serves every day. And they don’t care if it’s true or not, only if it’s titillating.”

The conversation went on like that until the coffee and donuts ran out half an hour later, and everyone headed out to get their outdoors chores done while the weather remained spring-like. The church members couldn’t reach a consensus regarding who would win the championship game or who would win the mayoral race. What the people at one table agreed on was that both Gonzaga and North Carolina were fine teams. What the other table agreed on was that they didn’t like how either candidate was playing the game. 

After the pastor locked the front door, he sat on the church’s front steps and watched a robin pull a worm out of the now-well-thawed ground. After three hours of interacting with the church members, sitting alone in the warm sunshine and processing the mix of personalities and opinions he had just experienced appealed to him.

“That robin has a pretty simple life,” was the first thought that crossed his mind. “Eat worms, sleep, fly south for the winter, come back in the spring and do the whole thing over again next year. No national championships to strive for. No decisions about candidates to make two days before an election.”

His thoughts then turned to the discussions at the two tables during the coffee hour. “They were both about who would win and who would lose,” he concluded, “yet after all is said and done, basketball is just a game. But politics, now there are consequences. In basketball, everyone agrees on who won and who lost, but in politics there are no points on the scoreboard at the end of a term. Everyone seems to be keeping score on their own personal scoreboards.

Then another light went on in his head. “You know, in the Final Four games yesterday there were referees. There were relatively unbiased, well-trained guys in striped shirts whom both teams acknowledged to be the final arbiters when the rules had been broken and what the consequences should be. And there were rules, which almost everyone agreed had to be followed for the game to continue.”

He paused to watch the robin continue its search for worms. “But in politics there don’t seem to be any rules anymore. Folks seem to care more about coming out on top than about keeping the game going. Blatant intentional fouls are being committed, and there don’t seem to be any referees around that people trust to ensure the game is played by the rules. Do unto others before they do it to you.”

Mitty’s neighbor, Michael Rosenthal, pulled up to the curb, saw his friend and joined him on the church steps. When he asked how the morning had gone, Mitty shared what had been going on at the two tables during the coffee hour. Both sat in silence for a good five minutes before Michael said, “Do you remember how Walter Cronkite would end each broadcast by saying, ‘And that’s the way it is’?”

“I do, and everyone believed he was telling the truth,” Mitty answered, then thought about what he had just said and changed the subject. “I just realized Passover is next week.”

“It is,” said Michael. “Can you think of anyone who can be a Moses for us and lead us out of this truth desert we’re wandering in?”