Monday, September 15, 2014

College Football and Christianity

  I was born in Louisiana, and when you are born in Louisiana, the doctor holds you up and asks you if you are a Saints fan. If you say  'no' they drop you off at the Arkansas border. So as a dutiful native of the Bayou State I sat through literally decades of bad football. Remember,  Saints fans  were the  original 'brown paper bag over the head' fans, and we were encouraged that, even if you had to hide your face, you still backed your team.  So I watched the games and cheered for the players and  was excited when they won, and discouraged when they lost. I spent a lot of time discouraged.  I know  of what I speak when I talk about  team loyalty.
   But one day, when I was  maybe 14 or so, it struck me that although the team was  headquartered in Louisiana, most of the players weren't natives.  Here I was supporting  what I perceived to be the 'local boys' when the truth is they were all carpetbaggers who  wore my  team's colors for a paycheck.  Taking this even further, it wasn't my team, it was Tom Benson's team, and above that, the National Football League's team. They managed to extract years of loyalty to me out of the simple coincidence that they established a franchise of their business in the same vague geographical designation as my birth.
  I mention this because  college football season in the South is in full swing, and people who never attended, for example, the University of Georgia will  deck themselves out in red and black, bark like dogs, and talk about what a good game 'they' played. Otherwise rational people will sit on their couch at home (after dressing up) and  talk about how 'we' beat them when 'we' wasn't even at the game.  My current residence is near the  Florida-Georgia border so we have people that have lived in Georgia 99% of their life, but because they were born 10 minutes south of the border, proclaim themselves lifelong Florida fans.  It's a little odd.  They will drape their kids, who weren't born in Florida, in Florida colors and begin the  inculcation of regionalistic tribalism.
  People are, at their  heart of hearts, tribal, in nature. Everybody wants to be part of something; they want to be part of a group. They want to be able to identify with something larger than themselves, and  they will pay through the nose for the privilege.  The great college rivalries, are , in essence , the exact same thing as warfare, but with less bloodshed (unless it's a Raiders game) and they are basically, no different than the  great  inter-tribe contests of the Incas or the Mayans. The dynamic is the same; my group can  beat your group. People  identify themselves with the group and  glory in the accomplishments of the group whether or not they contributed anything to the 'victory'.
  For the most part, this stuff is  harmless escapism and good-natured fun.  It gives people who aren't athletes somebody to cheer for, and I'm certain that's all good and well.  Where I get a little  confused is when people who claim to have been redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ, and claim to have passed from death unto life and claim to have had all their sins washed away and claim to have been placed in Jesus Christ  show very little interest in identifying themselves with that particular tribe.  People who will paint half of their face blue  so they can  sit at home and watch a millionaire play a child's game show  no interest in bearing any sort of reproach for the one who  suffered and died for them.
  Shouldn't being part of that group, the blood-washed band, trump all other groups? Shouldn't  the excitement over what  Jesus has done make all these other team accomplishments seem  silly by comparison?  People will attend these games and be  confrontational towards the opposition.  They will wave signs  and learn chants, knowing that those guys in the other colors aren't really their enemies,; it's just a game. Some of those same people will   become oddly silent when it comes time to express opposition towards the  very real enemies of  their Saviour in a contest that is not a game.
  Every year  myself and a  small group of dear friends attend the Georgia Florida game in Jacksonville. We  stand outside the stadium and  we  preach and hold signs and try to tell people  about Jesus. We get opposed by drunks, but that doesn't bother us. Drunks should be opposed to us. What does bother us (or more accurately, me) is that in a crowd of over 100,000 in and around the stadium, there will be, maybe 30 people standing up for Jesus.  Maybe.
  Even in our church, I can tell you, with a fair amount of certainly, who will be going and who will not, even this early on.  I know who will probably take off work to be able to go and I know who  wouldn't be caught dead with us.  I'm not saying everybody has to do what we do, but if you pass up a chance to root for Jesus so that you can stay home, watch TV, dress in  funny colors and root for  nobody special, I'm not mad at you, I'm just very very confused.

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