Football season kicks off this week. I can’t say I’m not excited, because I am. Even though the ‘Birds are probably going no where I grew up in Philly – football is part of what being part of this region is all about. After worship this Sunday I will probably be sitting with some of my neighbors, either in my living room or in one of their houses, taking in the game. It’s part of who I am.
Yet, I do have to admit that for a good many people NFL football has become a religion. There is something about football that offers people a transcendant experience that they will go out of their way to get. I really started noticing it the year the Eagles went to the Super Bowl. The night before the championship game we had a massive snow storm that locked up the city. It was touch and go, but by the time worship came around our streets were plowed and our building was shovelled off. Philadelphia, on the other hand, was an absolute mess. We had a dozen in worship here, the Eagles game was full-capacity. I remember thinking, “Why on Earth would people risk their lives to attend a football game, but look for any excuse to get out of Sunday Worship?” It’s simple, really, at the football game people feel like they are being connected to a larger reality where they become an intrigal part of accomplishments they would never be able to achive on their own – in Sunday worship they sit for and hour, stand occasionally, listen to a sermon on a passage of Scripture that they’ve probably never read in context, and sing some songs that must have meant something to someone at some time in the past. There is a serious lack of transcendence, and this is true if you’re singing hymns, or rocking with a praise band – one is not any better than the other in my experience. In fact, a praise band done poorly might be almost as bad as a hymn plays SLOOOOWWW on the organ. In that, your mileage may vary. It’s a shame, really, that we’ve lost our connection with the Story so much that the sense of standing in the presence of all the saints in Heaven and on Earth, as well as the Heavenly Host, in worship. Worship is a mystical even in which we are connected with a reality so immense that we should almost be overwhelmed with it. Instead, we settle for, “Thank goodness we only sang three verses in that last hymn, I needed to get out of that that seat was so uncomfortable.” Or, “Wasn’t that a great time, I loved all those songs!” I don’t know about you, but I crave a heck of a lot more out of a worship experience where we’re supposed to be in the very presence of the Living Lord of Heaven and Earth. Experiences which, it seems, are pretty aptly mimiced for 20 weeks beginning every Fall by the NFL. How sad.
I say this because I was listenin to 610 on Monday and every one was gearing up for “Football Week.” The callers were psyched. They were making plans to clear their schedules on Sundays until after the Super Bowl. They explained their rituals that they had for watching the game. They talked about the community it fostered in their offices and in their homes (it’s Philly, if you have an assumption that women don’t like sports, you’ll have to hang out with some Philly-native women some Sunday). What floored me, however, was what one person said just as I was coming into the house, “I’m psyched. It’s like a 20 week lifestyle change” (obviously, empasis mine). The radio host jumped on it, “That’s exactly what it is!”
A lifestyle change that is consistently practiced for at least a third of the year. One that causes people to rearrange their schedules, fosters community, and includes various rituals which are meant to enhance the experience of transcendance as they watch the game from a god’s-eye view on the all-seeing TV. That, folks, is a religion.
So here’s the thing. The NFL pulls this off season after season, keeping the pilgrims coming and the coffers full with nothing more than the promise of excitement. I am so tired of hearing Pastors and laity, and myself (a Pastor who often wishes that Jesus would let him be laity), say that we can’t expect too much from people. I’m tired of hearing how busy people are, and how tired they are, and how religion is supposed to make their people’s lives easier so we should be happy when people show up and grace us with their presence a few Sundays a year. Enough of it already!
Let’s stop making excuses for the fragile state of the Spiritual development that’s not going on in our own lives and in the lives of all our churches, and go back and say, “Hey, we’re supposed to have the real-deal here – let’s go back and figure out where we lost our way.” People will put the effort in if there is an experience of some value that goes along with the effort – and I think the Holy Spirit might be begging us to pay attention and become deep enough to let the Spirit lead us into Jesus’ presence in our everyday experiences as well as in corporate worship.
Yes, I’ll be watching Football on Sunday afternoon – but I won’t be skipping the chance to have an immanent encounter (alongside my fellow believers) with real transcendance in Jesus Christ.