Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Jesuit Football?

I almost threw up during the 1994 Orange Bowl. Florida State vs. Nebraska. I wanted to win so badly it hurt – to win that game and the national championship. I had endured the racking pain and heart-break of FSU’s loss to Notre Dame a month earlier. This was too much. I had to leave the room. But, in the end, we won. Whoo hoo! High-five! Yeah!!

Here’s the question: is there anything wrong with being so emotionally involved in a football game?

The Recent Mining Tragedy

I can’t get the images of the miner’s families out of my mind. There are two distinctly different pictures: the triumphant, God-praising families gathered around a small town church in song, and the grief-stricken, angry, weeping families spewing invective at nearby cameras. Both pictures are of the same group of families – families on a hellish roller coaster of emotion.

What happened is this – after hours and hours of searching and waiting, the mining company erroneously reported that the miners were all safe. Praises erupted spontaneously. Shortly thereafter, the report was corrected, throwing the families into confusion and deflated despair. Only one of the thirteen had survived.

What bothers me about this? Let us set aside the emotion for a moment. The responses of the families are understandable, given the situation. What concerns me is how we imagine God’s part in all of this. We evangelicals have a troubling tendency toward triumphalism. We are, after all, Americans, and Americans are, first and foremost, winners. Watching events unfold for us is like watching a football game. We are so emotionally identified with the home team, that a win brings shouts and cheers, jumping and hugging. But a loss brings tears, sorrow, and anger. We want God to win for us. We expect it – after all, who can beat God?

When God doesn’t win, we are thrown into a tailspin. The spiritual horizon whirls out of control, and we no longer know up from down. The families in West Virginia openly questioned their faith and God’s very existence upon hearing the truth. I would probably have felt the same way. This only exposes a shallow and distorted understanding of God. God is not our football team, marching down the field to our cheers to score the winning touchdown.

St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus, wrote something that has stayed with me since the day I read it. He said that we should live in this world with an attitude of “active indifference” (indiferencia). With a grain of salt, I think this rings true. We are not here to “win.” We are here to bring glory to the Lord and draw ever nearer into the pleasure of his company. The final score of history is not our main concern. Ingatius knew that an unhealthy attachment to or an over-identification with the things of this world hinders our service and intimacy with God. We are not uncaring nor passive, but we do not take sides – only the Lord’s side. We are free to hear God’s voice and obey what he commands.

Watching Football Like a Jesuit

This year FSU was in the Orange Bowl again. Once again, the game came down to a last second field goal. Three of them. Somehow, it wasn’t so hard to watch. Granted, it wasn’t the national championship, but that didn’t really matter. I’ve learned to watch football like a Jesuit. Active indifference. I noticed two things during the game – I didn’t get quite as giddy when we were winning, and I didn’t get quite as distraught when we lost. Maybe this is how we should view life. The operative word being should. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to do that when it comes to my family, and I don’t want to criticize the families who lost loved ones in West Virginia. I mean to criticize myself and the Church for our spiritual superficiality.


Anonymous abe said...

DA BEARS!! Who wins in a fight, Ditka vs. God? Trick question, Ditka is God. Who wins in a fight, Ditka vs. A Hurricane? What if the Hurricane was named Hurricane Ditka?
Bill Swerski: Now, gentlemen, let me ask you this: What if Da Bears were all 14 inches tall, you know, about so high? Now, what's your score of today's game?

Carl Wollarski: Against Da Giants?

Bill Swerski: Yes, give 'em a handicap.

Carl Wollarski: Bears 18, Giants 10. And that would finally be a good game.

Pat Arnold: Yeah, it would be a good game. Mini Bears 24, Giants 14.

Todd O'Conner: What about Ditka? Would he be mini, too?

Bill Swerski: No, he would be full-grown.

Todd O'Conner: Oh, then, uh.. Mini Bears 31, Giants 7.

Carl Wollarski: Oh, hold on. Then I change mine, too. I thought it was Mini Ditka.

Bill Swerski: Okay, gentlemen, another scenario: Da Bears, they don't make it, the plane is delayed.. and the only one who shows up is Ditka. Ditka vs. Da Giants. Okay, score, gentlemen.

Pat Arnold: Alright, after da heart attack, I gotta say Ditka 17, Giants 14. He just barely gets by.

Bill Swerski: Alright, that sounds exciting. Perhaps, you know, a late Ditka field goal.

Todd O'Conner: Bears!

Superfans: Bears!!

1:00 PM  
Blogger chris said...

Abe -- That was random. Funny, but random.

2:23 PM  
Anonymous abe said...

there is no better example of this obsession with winning than the Superfans.

7:28 PM  
Blogger The Bearded said...


Regarding FSU...I think you're just becoming more accustomed to your team losing.

The Bearded <><

ps--Abe has it right with the Da Bears.

12:24 PM  

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