On this Super Bowl Sunday, I would point once more to what I take as weakness in church leadership. If your church normally has Sunday night activities, and if they are cancelled tonight because of the Super Bowl, the likelihood is high that a lame decision was made at some point. Either the leaders (referees?) who made the call are football fans who have no idea how to prioritize, or they’re afraid their sheep will flock to the tube without listening to the voice of the shepherds, so they might as well give in. Likely, a combination of both of the above. This is the way of modern humans–making decisions out of convenience and for the sake of leisure.
Anyhoo, on this Super Bowl Sunday, let’s talk about keeping score and how it relates, or doesn’t relate, to meaning and reality.
One Currently, I’m behind in a Univera Health Care ancillary program called “Active Rewards.” This program allows one to record points for fitness activities, and these points ultimately result in dollars that one may redeem for fitness equipment, diet supplements, etc., or cash. I say “I’m behind” because I don’t think there’s any way I can complete enough 8- and 2-week programs by the end of the insurance plan year to log/earn the maximum 500 points for the year.
Nor do I believe for a billisecond that this superfluous system of points has aided me in fitness/health. Far from being a healthful addition to life, the system is actually a stress-inducer — just one more thing to do on my computer or smartphone, keeping me from more important things such as work, prayer, reading to my son, reading for myself, and real recreation. No real gains — NONE — are made in the process of recording these points on the Univera website. My time and energy are taken more in the activity of a) logging points for “taking steps” and eating more servings of fruit and veggies than b) in the actual walking or the actual eating of more fruits than ice cream. The focus is fuzzy, and the end result is not a helpful one. I weigh more than I did a year ago, and I’m less active. Tell me again, Univera — I didn’t quite understand the first time — how your program helps hold down the cost of health insurance by leading us all to healthful alternatives.
Two A couple of lives ago, at the Ridgewood Church in Beaumont Texas, there lived a couple named Stuart and Cecilia Jones. More qualified in many ways as leaders than the ostensible leaders, these Joneses were placed in charge of the “Sharing and Caring” program. (They also taught one of the better Bible classes I’ve been a part of over an extended period, but that’s beside the point.) In this Sharing & Caring program, participants racked up points for doing Christian “one another” things such as calling someone who was sick, visiting someone over coffee, or hosting a dinner in one’s home. I have long admitted that this program got me going in a way that nothing else has. But still, the focus was fuzzy: despite the best efforts of the Joneses to say “it’s not about the points; it’s about the sharing and caring,” the points were fun. It was a contest. And at the end of a six-month period, there was a dinner, and the folks with the highest number of points won, and we all smiled and clapped and hooted, just as we would have at a basketball game.
I know Paul used an athletic metaphor a time or two. Sports are inherently neutral or even good, not bad. I still consider myself to have above-average athletic insight and ability, although I’m pathetically inactive these days. I particularly love the game of baseball; this summer, I intend to teach my son how to use a wiffle bat, and throw and catch better. Sports are fun, helpful in terms of coordination, considering oneself part of a larger effort, etc. I want my son to participate in sports on some level. But sports are not life.
Is there no end to the encroachment of sports into real life? Who enacted the legislation that says life stops because of the Super Bowl? Who decided that high school “mascots” should take over the signs inside and outside a school building, the websites, and everything else about a school? Sports contests do not make schools what they are. The math teachers don’t call their classes “the Tigers,” and yet the school identity is all wrapped up in the phrase “home of the Tigers.” A school is an academic institution, and a sports mascot must not define the institution.
Is the next step (after naming a church hall after a human) naming a church mascot? Community news headlines may soon read “United Methodist Mavericks ride, taking meals to shut-ins” or “Our Redeemer Raiders rob rich to give to poor.” Would you root for the Baptist Barracudas to take the gospel to the third world, or cheer for the Presbyterian Panthers to minister to the homeless? (That was fun for me. Hope it was for you.)
I’m also struck by the omnipresent “team” language in the workplace and in church discussions. If I had a dollar bill for every time I’d seen “must be a team player” in a job description. . . . Team sports can be valuable in more ways than one, but we should be more sensitive to those who aren’t interested in team sports, not marginalizing non-athletes through our lingo.
Points and keeping score. Mascots and other team sports language. Let’s be careful about allowing sports to encroach and to presume that they speak for all of us. And above all, let the meaning and content supersede the superfluous points and sports jargon — so the focus is on the right things.