Sunday, April 20, 2008

Sports and Spiritual Fervor

Yesterday, I was spending the afternoon at Dave and Buster's in Tempe with one of my junior high students for his birthday. His family and friends were there, and the place was unusually busy. It seems that yesterday was Game 1 of the NBA playoffs, where the Phoenix Suns lost to the San Antonia Spurs in double-overtime. 

As the afternoon progressed, more and more people became mesmerized by the LCD TV's lining the walls of D and B's bar, restaurant, and video arcade. I watched as people stared with anxious looks, wringing their hands and wiggling in their seats. I heard passionate shouts of approval when fouls were called in Phoenix's favor, followed by loud groans when Tim Duncan made--and I quote a number of Phoenix fans surrounding me--"an impossible three" point shot. People were becoming physically and emotionally involved in what was happening on the TV screens.

My wife and I left as the game progressed into double-overtime, but the experience left me with a lingering thought: American sports is a religion. Not only is it a religion, it is likely the largest, most unifying, highest grossing, most engaging religion in the entire world. I know of no other activity that brings people together from all walks of life in order to wear oversized bright-orange T-Shirts and cheer at the television for a group of large, sweaty, athletic men. The majority of sports fans will never meet their sports heroes, let alone have a personal relationship with them. Yet they will spend countless dollars buying merchandise, purchasing game tickets, and paying cable bills in order to participate in the most engaging 2-3 hour worship service ever seen.

It's not that I don't appreciate sports. I do. I even participate in them myself every so often. And participating in sports can teach us many life lessons about teamwork, leadership, discipline, and success. But if we really had to get down to it, do we as Americans spend more time and energy worshiping sports or worshiping God? I know many guys who can tell me a ridiculous amount of memorized sports stats from their favorite teams; I doubt many of them could recite nearly as many memorized passages of Scripture. I have seen many guys spend hours watching a single game, but will complain if a Sunday worship gathering lasts more than an hour. I have heard of people sitting in sub-freezing or blistering hot weather for their favorite football team, but whines if the chairs or pews are uncomfortable, let alone loving the marginalized or lonely.

If our time, passions, and checkbooks reflect our values, what do we value the most in this world? What the world would look like if we gave all of the time, money, and energy poured into watching professional American sports to wiping out poverty, dealing with social justice issues, fighting disease, and sharing the good news of the kingdom of God? I wonder....

1 comment:

  1. How do we make our youth see this kind of idolatry in their own lives? I've got teens that play sports and they give much higher priority to their sport than they do to their faith in Christ. They pursue it passionately with both time and resources.

    Voddie Baucham talks about this subject in his book "Family Driven Faith" and makes the point that fathers who teach their son to keep his eye on the ball, but fail to teach him to keep his eye on Christ, have failed as a father.

    The hard part for us youth pastors is this: how can we teach/motivate them to keep their eye on Christ, when their parents are giving them different priorities?

    I have Christian parents in my church who invest much more time into their children's sports endeavors then they do into their pursuit of Jesus. And those are the "Christian" parents. Most of my youth come from non-Christian homes.

    So much importance is placed on sports that if I but suggest that the gospel is more important than sports and that you should examine your life to see if you have placed anything before Jesus, including sports, then I become a blasphemer of their primary religion and they respond angrily with defenses of their involvement with sports.

    I had one girl who missed every fund raiser we did for a mission trip, because of her running track. But then expected to be able to go on the mission trip with us. we allowed it (probably shouldn't have). once we were in country she directly disobeyed me and left the housing compound to run through the town we were ministering in, early in the morning, so she could stay in shape. Her highest priority during the mission trip was making sure she got to run every day, even to point of disobeying the rules. And she is one the more faithful teens in the group. Her dad is an elder in our church. But track has been lifted up as the idol of first importance in her life.

    It's saddening to see such dedication to something other than Christ.