All over the United States this weekend, sports, while providing a diversion from some of the immediate problems facing this country, also embraced the historic in remembering the past and in its own way tried to offer a bit of hope for the future. It was an example of what is good and what is not so good in our public culture and its infatuation with sports.
Yesterday was kickoff Sunday for the new season of the NFL, as well as the fourth anniversary of 9-11. In addition, the country is still sifting through the aftermath of hurricane Katrina. The league decided to open the day with a tribute staged at the Washington Redskins game in suburban D.C. That they chose the daughter of a former Baptist minister, Jessica Simpson, to sing God Bless America demonstrated their attempt to bring a semblance of acceptable public religion to the event. Jessica represents, at least from my viewpoint, the kind of religion our secular culture can support, a religion that knows its place and doesnt get in the way of having fun in life.
When the New Orleans Saints took the field in Charlotte, North Caroline for their game with the Carolina Panthers, they ran out of the tunnel and through a path lined with cheerleaders and well wishers and to the cheers of a usually hostile opponent. Even the announcers had a hard time trying to restrain their enthusiasm for possible Saints victory, which would and in the end did provide the NFL and the sports world with a heartwarming byline. The Saints won on a last second field goal. Everybody felt good, even those who had lost, prompting Fox analyst Daryl Johnston to opine “everybody is a Saints fan today.”
At the University of Arizona, whose team was playing the LSU Tigers on Saturday, the LSU team entered the stadium across an end zone painted with the message Together We Stand flanked by maps of Louisiana and Arizona. We may compete but we stand with you.
At Giant Stadium across the Hudson River from the former twin towers, the NFL team went all out with New York police, firemen, A-10 flyovers, and surviving spouses and children of those who died, as well a the obligatory moment of silence for the victims of 9/11 and the hurricane. To some it was over the top, while at the U. S. Open Tennis Tournament, in a stadium named after a sports hero and figurehead, Arthur Ashe, where you can see the now empty New York skyline, the remembrance was subdued. A contrast that was somewhat related to the differences between the culture of the two sports.
Like it or not, America culture is heavily sports-driven and growing more so. Some call it a diversion. Some call it a means for character growth, where you learn to play by the rules and submit to authority, represented by referees and umpires. Some call it a job where they can earn remarkable amounts of money unheard of in the past. Some see in sport the best of human endeavor, something that can uplift even the most broken hearted, as was seen in countless shelters yesterday as people crowded around television sets. Others see a shallow excuse to turn play into a lifelong pursuit or an endless circus for the masses to keep them from dealing with more important things.
Which is it? It can be all those things. Yet, the Apostle Paul, the writer of Hebrews, and the Apostle John all use imagery taken from athletics in several places in the New Testament without condemnation or comment, assuming their readers know and understand. Athletes are used as examples of the dedication and focus necessary to live and grown in the Christian life (1 Corinthians 9:23-27, Hebrews 12:1), the need to adhere to the rules (Galatians 5:7, 2 Timothy 2:5, 2 John 1:9), and the fact that no race is run in vain (Philippians 2:16).
What is the key? How, using Francis Schaeffers famous aphorism, then should we live? In one word, the same thing that is the key in all things, balance, knowing how to keep everything in its proper place and never letting anything come between you and God, between you and your pursuit of your discipleship. Whether that is a particular sport, a sports team, games of any sort, especially video games, or your appreciation of a successful athlete, we need to keep everything in balance. You need to use it to your advantage, not let it use you. You need to take the good and discard and not support the bad.
Among all the things that God will do for you today, I pray he improves your balance so that you can better walk that narrow path that he has laid out in front of you. Grace and peace.