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1/2/06

Bowl Game Day...

For a while, I've thought that the civil religion of America, and much of the world, is sports. I take that idea from my fuzzy memory of Plato's Republic. Plato says he doesn't believe in the gods as they are portrayed in the traditional pantheon since they often act immorally. But, he still thinks the traditional religion is good because it promotes community and patriotism and charity. Or something like that--I could have it all wrong.

Anyway, in my head the parallel is that almost all sports fans would admit that, considered objectively, sports and their outcomes have little to no lasting significance, and besides, both professional and college leagues are full of corruption. At the same time, we sports fans all care deeply about teams and players and games and scores. Sports cause us to be happy or sad, satisfied or angry, proud or drunk. And it often provides people a sense of brotherhood or community among those who would otherwise have little in common or little desire to associate with one another. Sports is also a source of funding to the "public good" through donations and subsidies to charities and educational institutions.

I'm not saying it's good that sports fills this role in our society; I'm just making an observation. I wish people were drawn to the Church and the Gospel the way they are drawn to the NFL and fantasy baseball. Heck, I wish I was. Since my wife hates (HATES) sports, I've had to think about why I like them so much. In large part, it's because I don't really believe that my identity, security, and significance are to be found in Jesus Christ. My life indicates that I find those things in how much I know about who will win the Super Bowl and whether a bunch of strangers who play baseball in San Francisco will move around the bases more times than their opponents. I turn to sports for a diversion from my experience of this broken world, rather than turning to God and His unfailing promises. Let me add, though, that I'm not saying sports are all bad either. Like many things, they can be viewed and received as a good gift--until they are used as an idol, put in a place of devotion that should be reserved for God alone.

Well, for our country's civil religion, today was a holy day of obligation. There are several of these each year: day of the Super Bowl; the first two and last two days of the NCAA basketball tourney; the final day of the Master's and U.S. Open golf tournaments; and the opening day of the Major League Baseball season--among others. Today was college Bowl Game Day. This used to be a higher, holier day back when there were about 10 or 12 games all on New Year's Day, including all the big ones: the Cotton, Sugar, Orange, Fiesta, and Rose Bowls. As it is now, there were a good 6 games stretching from about 10 a.m. until about 11 p.m. But the "national championship" game in the Rose Bowl won't be until Wednesday.

From my perspective, this was a tough year for the pantheon. Sure, the greatest of them all, the Nebraska Cornhuskers, triumphed over Michigan in a truly outstanding game. But it was in the Alamo Bowl, one of lesser prestige and held all the way back on Dec. 28. For the most part, few of the teams I was rooting for (to be more precise, the teams I picked in a pool) lived up to my expectations. I was especially disappointed by my boyhood-favorite Notre Dame's performance in the Fiesta Bowl. They were clobbered by The Ohio State University. And all that is the bad thing about idols. They let you down more often than not. And they don't offer you much comfort after they do. And more importantly, they don't offer you forgiveness when you let them, yourself, or someone more important to you down. Fortunately, the True God is exactly opposite of all idols. He is never-failing, always-present, and ever-gracious. And when you find you've more or less ignored Him for a day in favor of devoting yourself to a substitute. He doesn't leave you feeling cold, but speaks words of comfort and promise to you--as He always does (even when you think you've done well). In the end, I think I'll choose Him over sports, and even over the Huskers. Not because I have enough love for Him in me, but because He loves me enough to be ever drawing me away from foolish things and unto Himself.

1 comment:

W Sofield said...

Need to do more work on this. Sounds like you've got a good start. I'm not much of a sports fan, but I've long recognized that we need a good theologian to do some hard work in this area for us. If you work hard here, you can become the expert, because nobody else is writing on it.

G.K. Chesterton...

"The Bible tells us to love our neighbors, and also to love our enemies; probably because they are generally the same people."