What Violent Passion Tells us about our Compass of Worship
This last Saturday, fans of the phenomenon that is College Football had a spectacular, history making event to enjoy.
I’m sorry if this introduction doesn’t capture the attention of the other 6.7 billion people around the globe who don’t follow American football, but in summary: a 109 short field goal return for a come-from-behind win in the final seconds of the game, against one of the most infamous teams and coaches in the game, is a pretty crazy deal.
It was crazy, but not THIS crazy…
Following the game, two women, both Alabama fans, had just finished watching the spectacle at a mutual friend’s party. In the post-game conversation, Michelle Shepherd was conversing with her sisters about how the Crimsontide loss did not affect her as much as the Miami Heat losing. Overhearing the conversation was Adrian Laroze Briskey, who according to the Michelle’s sister present at the party “said we weren’t real Alabama fans because it didn’t bother us that they lost.”
“And then…” Michelle’s sister said, “she (Adrian) started shooting.”
Within several minutes one football fan murdered another with gunfire in a parking lot, leaving Michelle (38 years old, with three children) to die in her sisters arms.
In the past years, we’ve heard about tragedies and violence related to sports. In 2010, there was Bryan Stow, the Giants Fan who was beaten into a coma outside Dodger’s Stadium (the Giant’s rivals). Two years later, 24-year old Dodger’s fan Jonathan Denver was fatally stabbed to death outside of the Giant’s AT&T Park. And these are just a few headliners of many similar stories in America: we haven’t even touched on violence related to Soccer rivalries in other parts of the world.
Two weeks ago, I offered a reflection on the origin and a biblical perspective on competition. Although Sports happen to be the showcased subject in both, the topic is very different. These sports teams related killings don’t come close to belonging in a discussion about “what does biblical competition look like.” The story of Michelle Shepherd is evidence of how sports have become a truly devastating, yet culturally accepted and protected, idol in Western culture.
On one hand, you can argue that these happenings should surprise us. I mean, at least the athletes aren’t attempting to kill each other on the stage like gladiators, or to sacrifice their opponents to gods as in MesoAmerican paddleball. Or, are they? The Sean Payton Bounty Hit scandal, or events such as the deaths of several MMA fighters in recent years (not to mention the often life changing brain damage and injury sustained in this sport), might call this into question.
But today’s concern is not about the heart of the player, but the heart of the fan.
Even if one’s sports team loyalty doesn’t lead them to shoot their own fellow fan because they weren’t agitated enough by the team’s lost, I have seen in the lives of both my friends, and even times in my own life, where the success or demise of my franchise has had a tremendous, and lasting , impact on my emotions, my thought life, my blood pressure, and my ability to live a gospel-centered and focused lifestyle.
Perhaps what is so striking is that the deep convictions, emotional turmoil, and passion that dominates the life of deep sports fan, are so absent from the aspects of our life and society that should demand more of it. And how much more for the Christian! We may be stirred when we hear about genocides and militaristic regimes training of murderous children soldiers, but do these emotions last as long as out heavy breathing and spirit of despair that accompanies the Lakers getting knocked out of the playoffs? Or, how much do we let the anticipation and the focus consuming excitement about a critical game overshadow, and truly dwarf, any life of urgency and conviction for the lost to be saved?
We can give psychological justifications. We could argue that the outcome of a game is something that we become more immersed in because we feel more in control of, or feel more hope in, the outcome, than we do in solving the systemic problems of evil and sin in the universe.
Yet, in this advent season, when we turn to look upon Jesus, the God-Man, the perfect Adam… we see that it wasn’t the score of the Targumim Memory Jamboree that lead him to sweat of blood (Luke 22:44). It was the anguish of knowing the cup of judgment that he was about to drink for the sins of man.
I’ve heard repeated comments from men and women generations older than me that they can’t understand the lack of conviction and apathy towards circumstances that seem to be so critical. The church’s absent conviction with regards to taking action on abortion, and a missing anguish which desires to see the restoration of the state of marriage in our society are just a few of such topics. This is not a blanket approval of support for cultural values of prior generations (many of which may be largely unbiblical, even). It is a blanket call for examination to question “what happened to conviction and courage in the soul of the West?”
As we take time to ponder the incredible reality of the incarnation, and as we contemplate the life and the affections of the Lord Jesus, may we also not shy from taking an inward introspection into the idols of our own life (especially those which society approves and protects).
I can’t tell you if your love for football has become an idol. But I can tell you to look. And, if we are honest with ourselves, and with the Spirit, we are probably more engaged in such worship, and have pledged more of our hearts, to this modern day Asherah, than we dare to confess.