Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Spirituality of Sports Allegiances

I began playing "organized" soccer almost twenty years ago, in 1993 (I put "organized" in quotation marks because it really wasn't all that organized--yes, it was run by the city, but the game itself was nothing more than a herd of seven-year-olds trotting after the ball whichever direction it went.  My family and I called it "herdball," and I think I may have my mild claustrophobia to thank in part for wanting to become a goalkeeper).

In 1994, I followed the World Cup as it was hosted here in the US on television and in the papers.  I was hooked.  And I've remained hooked.

Yesterday, eighteen years later, I was at the edge of my seat following the USA-Mexico game that was taking place at the vaunted Estadio Azteca in Mexico City, and started clapping happily to nobody at all when US defender Michael Orozco Fiscal scored the game-winning goal in the 80th minute, creating a 1-0 victory for the US...the first time ever that the US Men's Team has won an away game against Mexico in 25 tries (previous to this, our record was a woeful 23 losses and one lone tie).  I was ecstatic in a way that is rarely replicated by other events, except occasionally by my religion.

While I also follow baseball, basketball, and American football, soccer remains my first love in sports.  Nevertheless, I still understand when my congregants get excited this time of year  for the Seattle Seahawks' meaningless preseason games, or the sure excitement I will see from them this Sunday in reaction to Felix Hernandez's perfect game.  I even grin and bear it when they tell me they will be missing church on a Sunday to make a pilgrimage to that ridiculous temple of football mediocrity, CenturyLink Field, to take in a Seahawks game.

To which I wonder why pro football couldn't just play on ANY other day than Sunday.  Seriously.

Our sports allegiances, though, not only produce the same emotions as our spiritual preferences (amazing highs and occasionally terrible lows), they are sometimes as difficult to explain.  I am a Disciple for the same reason I am a Kansas City Royals fan--I grew up a Disciple, and I grew up a Royals fan.  Even though both organizations are in many ways endearingly and perpetually inept, I cannot bear to part with either.

As in sports, religious preference is simply not (or should not) be subject to the ruthless whims of cost-benefit analysis, or a simple list of weighing out the pro's and con's.  I resisted this reality at first, because at my core I am just as much a "head" person as a "heart" person (if not more so), but religion cannot, and should not, stop at what we think, or even what we do.  It must, by its very essence, affect how we feel...about ourselves, about one another, about the world, and about God.

I can no sooner explain my love of certain sports teams than I can explain my love for the Disciples.  Which is not to trivialize my religion by equating it with sports (hell, for some people, sports comes VERY close to being a religion).  It is to say that the roots of each are more intertwined that what might appear at first glance.

And I'm kinda okay with that.

What in your life has most shaped the preferences and allegiances you hold today, whether in religion, sports, schools, politics, etc.?  Do you see any overlap taking place?  And fundamentally, what makes you who you are?

Yours in Christ,

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