“On the East Coast, football is a cultural experience. In the Midwest, it’s a form of cannibalism. On the West Coast, it’s a tourist attraction. And in the South, football is a religion.”
Football is in full swing around my way. At work, we are allowed to wear football regalia on the weekends. I see co-workers and customers alike wearing their favorite team colors, washes of red and white or blue and orange. It’s how they show their loyalty. They also express their team pride vocally by switching the usual salutations with team mottos “War Eagle” and “Roll Tide” as they pass each other in the store. I just stand there and shrug. I don’t understand their passion for the pigskin at all.
I’m not a sports guy. I don’t like playing sports and I don’t like watching sports. Of course, I try to be neutral and understand that I won’t always share the same interests as these people and so I try not to hold it against anyone. However, my tolerance for the consistent in-your-face fanaticism is low. I don’t go around pushing my passion for zombies onto others and I wish they’d keep their football frenzy to themselves. I’m constantly asked what team I root for and I always respond by saying I don’t care about football. I get weird looks in return, expressions that ask how I could live here and not be in love with the sport.
One day, a lady bought a toddler-sized Alabama team jersey. As I bagged it up, I wondered what the jersey meant to the lady and what it meant to the toddler. He doesn’t realize the gravity of the garment he’s going to wear. He doesn’t understand what it represents or how much it means to those who put it on him. What if he grows up to root for the other team? What if he grows up to dislike football all together?
It’s kind of the same with religion.
We raise our children in the church and in the football stands and teach them to yell out “Amen”/”Hallelujah” and “Roll Tide”/”War Eagle” but do these children ever know what it all means outside of their parents’ and pastors’ influence? Can they separate what they’ve been told from what they want to learn? And how do you introduce God and football into a child’s life without making it seem like it’s only way to live?
Many Christians would argue that God and Jesus is the only way to live. I’m not agreeing or disagreeing. But there are people out there who do disagree and what if your child is one of those people? Don’t they have the right to believe or not believe what they want? And the more you push God onto someone, the harder they will push back, even to the point where they might give up on God entirely.
I’ve seen it happen with me and with others.
But how do you really learn about God? Someone has to teach you, right? But what if the one who teaches you has it wrong? And what if the one who taught them had it wrong? It further complicates matters when we are taught not to question God and his mysterious ways. But I think it’s vital to question. We don’t want to be handed salvation. We don’t want to be told we are wrong or evil and given vague instructions on how to fix it. We want to know for ourselves, to feel in our hearts that we are moving toward something divine and not delegated.
Through questioning, we see why things are the way they are. We can develop a deeper appreciation for them and can explain ourselves when faced with questions and opposing viewpoints. It’s good to not only be enlightened, but educated about it as well.
But that’s hard when all you have to rely on is a collection of books written by man (who put their own spin on the word of God, surely) and a slew of individuals who consider themselves fit to decipher damnation. No one knows for sure who or what God is, although we’ve tried. We’ve conceived this image with these rules and systems of rewards and punishments. But God is not what man conceives. Where is God buried in the B.S.? How do we dig our way through a Christianity perverted by man and get to the heart of Jesus? Who do we turn to to guide us in the right direction and when is it possible to come up with our own conclusions? And when we do, how do we know we got it right? Will we pass down our erroneous prayers the way they were passed down to us?
We sit on the bleachers and in the pews and see the wave approaching, the clusters of undulating bodies standing and throwing their hands up in praise and sitting down in unison and soon we find ourselves swept up in the sea of bodies, standing and sitting because we think we’re supposed to. It’s what we were taught. We go along with it because it’s all a part of the game. It’s how we show we believe. We reach up and touch the excitement, the thrill, the electricity and we feel united. But you begin to wonder if it helps the players at all. With the bright lights beaming down and the ever looming threat of being tackled, does the quarterback even notice us in the stands?
Do we do it for his benefit or our own?