Don’t Hate the Game

Football: America’s sport. While some may still argue for baseball, it seems that the money, TV contracts and viewership involved in the former have proven a shift in the favorite pass-time of most people in the US. One of the great things about football is that it can be interesting on many different levels. All you really need to understand to enjoy the game is that one team is trying to get the ball to one side of the field, while the other team is trying to stop them. While this may be enough to satisfy some observers, most decide to take their level of understanding up a notch, and learn about some of the more intricate aspects of the game: the number of downs it takes to move the ball ten yards, when to go for one point after instead of two, when to punt the ball and when to try for the first down after three tries, etc. The more you enjoy the game, the more likely you are to try to learn more about it to further enhance your experience.

Of course, there is no substitute for actually playing the game. No matter how many years you sit in the stands, or on the couch, or how many EA Sports video games you play, you will never be as knowledgeable about the game as somebody who has played, or coached in the game. One of the reasons that there are so many ex-players and coaches in broadcasting is because of the understanding they possess. That’s not to say that all ex-players and coaches are good broadcasters (in fact, most aren’t!), but they do typically bring a unique perspective that the average home viewer is at least curious to hear about, having never set foot on an NFL field or in a locker room.

I’ve got a friend from my childhood who has always been zealous and vocal about things he doesn’t agree with. Over the last several years, his favorite target has been any form of organized religion in general, and Christianity and Islam in particular. This week, he put up a long, rambling post about how he had tried to read through the Bible again but couldn’t get very far due to various inaccuracies, inconsistencies, and nonsense that he perceived was in the text. He had, in fact, found exactly what he’d expected to find (funny how that always seems to work out, isn’t it?). I didn’t bother with a response, mostly because his posts are beginning to feel like bait, but also because it’s been my experience that social media debates  always do more harm than good. Nobody ever walks away with a change of heart.

However, it did make me stop and think – how can two people sit down and read the same text, or watch the same game, and come away with such opposite experiences? Mindset is one thing that I alluded to earlier. If you go to a football game expecting to have a miserable time, you probably will. If you go to the same game expecting to experience something new and exciting, you probably will. Something else that might make a difference is how you actually approach your experience. My friend did the biblical equivalent of walking into a stadium for the first time, with the NFL rule book in one hand and a copy of the playbook in the other. As the game goes on, he switches his gaze between the field and his documents, rifling though both and trying to make sense of it all in the span of one 60 minute game session.

He mutters things like: “Why is this play designed to run right into the middle of the pile? That won’t get you to the endzone! That’s inconsistent with the goal of the game!”, “Why is there a play in here to get only 3 points when we’ve already said that you’re trying to get 6? That’s a useless play, and no longer relevant.”, “Wait a minute, on one page it talks about blocking tacklers and on another page it talks about tackling…which one is it? That’s a contradiction!” and finally “Why would anybody ever want to play this game, it doesn’t even make sense! I can barely even stand to watch it from the stands.”.

Whats worse, as the game goes on, some of the players commit penalties, either inadvertently or on purpose, further bolstering my friend’s distaste: “Look! Even the players don’t respect the rules of the game. The game is turning them into a bunch of thugs! It’s no wonder, from what I’ve read today this game makes absolutely no sense and anybody who would just blindly keep playing it must be an idiot. Well, I don’t want to be associated with idiots. I’m never going to another football game. If football becomes more popular, we’ll all start acting like thugs and idiots. Plus, the rules in this book are so constraining, anyway. If the creator of this rule book REALLY wanted the football in the endzone, he would have given the offense the ability to put it in a vehicle and drive it there. What kind of sadistic rule maker tells people to put the ball in the endzone, and then doesn’t give them the tools to do it? All of these rules are just impeding the players’ free will and creativity.”

The truth is that the line of thinking above is fairly logical.  Unfortunately it’s based only on bits and pieces of information and practically zero actual experience. My friend’s mindset and approach to exploring Christianity are both deeply flawed.

I’ve been in the stands a lot. I’ll admit, I’ve also stood on the sidelines a lot. Occasionally, I’ll be out on the field trying desperately to remember my assignment. Sometimes I’ll miss a block, and get yanked back to the sidelines. Once in a while, I’ll even make a play, which feels great. But no matter what’s going on, I still love the game. This is the only perfect game. Our execution of it isn’t perfect, but the game itself is. It hurts when others walk away without really trying to understand it, but all I can do is keep playing, keep studying, keep improving, and keep loving the game.

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