Well, whether we care to or not, we're probably engaging in some degree of Super Bowl talk this morning. Word on Fire blog contributor Dave Brenner takes a look at the event and wonders what place it has in our lives as Christians. And yes, there is a place.
Last night's game had a bit of everything: an amazing catch by Mario Manningham near the end of play, a Giants player trying *not to score* but failing, and nearly a game-winning drive pulled off by the Patriots. We got to see two of the best QBs in the sport (Eli Manning haters, hold your comments) duel until the last seconds of play. The final score of 21-17 was quite satisfying for someone who didn't have a particular allegiance at the kickoff.
In fact, this was actually one of my first seasons consistently following the NFL. In prior seasons I mostly had just a general sense of the storylines and they went something like this: The Patriots may be the best team ever; Detroit may never win another game; Green Bay fans are nuts; the Chicago Bears are definitely Super Bowl material next year.
Perhaps it’s my new found interest in the game, but this year seemed to bring a refreshing wave of new stories. Take Jim Harbaugh, for example. In his first year as an NFL coach, he took a San Francisco team that was 6-10 last year and made them 13-3 with no major additions to the team. He was the consensus choice for coach of the year. He renewed my confidence that leadership and vision and expertise can make
a difference regardless of how poor your starting point is.
Tim Tebow is another example. Everything to say about him has already been said so I’ll redirect your attention to this article by Rick Reilly. Is it possible that we have found a Christian
role model in popular culture? Is it also not surprising that he’s been persecuted as he has?
In my own recollections of the season, I can tell you that there was not an insignificant number of hours spent in front of the TV instead of studying. And there was not an insignificant number of conversations with my sister about her strategy for her fantasy team. Now that the season is over, I wonder: was this a
good use of time, energy and attention?
The answer is frustratingly complex: Yes and no. And just how similar is that to the rest of life? Are you glad you took a risk in taking this job even though it didn’t work out? Are you glad you entered this relationship only to have your heart broken? Are you glad you ate those three extra tacos?
On one hand, as a Christian, I look at the NFL and see a major infringement upon the priorities Christ established for us. I’m not just talking about the annexation of a “day of rest” to entail NFL pre-game shows which start at 9 a.m. and are followed by 8 to 10 hours of solid football behind it. Yes, this person may be resting, but I have reason to doubt that they’re cultivating the sort of intellectual and spiritual growth that enables them to go forth to the office on Monday morning with a renewed sense of purpose and passion that all things in life are oriented toward the greater glory
There’s something much more insidious about our nation’s (and my own, too) infatuation with the NFL: Grown men updating fantasy teams for 5 to 10 hours a week, wearing other men’s jerseys and speaking about them as heroes, and then the unreasonable despair and rage people feel when their team loses a game. It’s not a stretch to say that what is going on here is “God displacement.” People may give up religion explicitly, but they’ll never give it up implicitly. They will always find a
way to channel that deep-seated passion for ultimate meaning. God really is, as Paul Tillich says, “the object of ultimate importance.”
On the other hand, Christians aren’t separatists and we shouldn’t be interested in cultivating a separatist mentality. The famous letter written to Diognetus in the 2nd century (of all the links this one is actually worth opening) explains the Christian perspective: “With regard to dress, food and manner of life in general, they (Christians) follow the customs of whatever city they happen to be living in.” So, YES! Let’s be Patriots fans, Giants fans or (gasp) even Bengals fans. The enjoyment of the game and the enjoyment of conversation and community surrounding the game are all things to affirm, for they foreshadow the pleasures of heaven.
Last night’s game was watched by over 100 million people, making it de facto the largest and most unifying experience of our nation over the past year. Connecting with that experience enhances one’s ability to relate and that enhances one’s ability to share Christ and be Christ for others. So while we were cheering on our favorite teams last night, and will be in the fall to come, I think we must also honestly assess whether “there is something extraordinary in our lives” that unites us to the Body of Christ with an eternal allegiance that transcends one’s allegiance to a team.
We can enjoy the gifts that make life special, but never lose the gift of Christ that makes us who we are.
Dave Brenner is contributor to the Word on Fire blog and is a seminarian for the Archdiocese of Chicago.