Football Rivalry? Not Among Brothers and Sisters in the Lord
With the kick-off of the new NFL season, we wanted to launch our own season: a “Season of Inspiration.” Since we’re in Texas, where football is such a mighty part of the fall landscape, we thought it’d be fun to reflect on God from the gridiron. So each weekend over the course of the season we will feature an Inspiration piece sparked by football, however tangentially. Could be a game, a player, a memory, a news account, an athlete’s testimony, a sports movie, even a Scripture-quoting mascot. We leave that to the Stream writers who’ve joined the team and the Lord’s inspiration.
We hope this series is a blessing.
Our big sports rivals in high school were the Friendly Patriots. I mean, really. What’s a “friendly patriot” anyway? Someone who says, “I beg your pardon” before running you through with a bayonette? “Forget the whites of their eyes. Just don’t fire”? “Give me Liberty, or give me death! Please?” Think “patriot” and you think Nathan Hale. Think “friendly” and you think Nathan Lane.
Friendly was on the right side of the tracks, if you know what I mean. At least by Southern Maryland standards. Their football team didn’t just have trainers. They had masseuses and manicurists. The pyramids formed by their cheerleaders contained the gold of long dead pharaohs. Their fight song was “We’re Just Better Than You Are, Deal With It Loser.”* Ugh. We hated Friendly. And they hated us.
It’s the fall of my senior year. The big game was upon us. This Friday night would see the Patriots battle our beloved Oxon Hill Clippers. Oh, yes. Blood would be spilled. They would get theirs.
Meanwhile, my friend Donna offered an invitation. Donna, a Born-Again Christian, had repeatedly urged me to go to one of her Young Life meetings. I’d resisted, a bit uneasy about the “religion thing.” But this time, over the chants of “Beat Friendly!” prancing in my head, I heard the word “pizza.” I was in.
The pizzeria in Livingston Square was a bit dark when I arrived. Crowded. But two things jumped out immediately. This was one happy, warm and welcoming atmosphere. And — No! No way! — a bunch of the students were from Friendly. Yes, days from the greatest football clash since the Colts and Giants in ’58, the brawny dudes in the Friendly letterman’s jackets were yucking it up with the burly jocks in the Clipper jackets. The Friendly folks greeted me with cheerful “Hey!”‘s
I didn’t know a thing at that point about lions lying down with lambs, but Patriots chowing down with Clippers?
The spirit of loving community shook me. Moved me. “So this is Christianity.”
So This is Christianity
The Young Life leader Pat had a huge smile and one of those mustaches that were mandatory in the 70’s. I’m sure what he said was as inspirational and straight out of Scripture. I don’t remember a word. Amazingly, even though she’d end up my prom date, I don’t even remember Donna there. Only the camaraderie. Only the utter absence of rivalry. As the Bible says, there is no Gentile or Jew, nor Clipper or Patriot. They were one in their love of Christ and thus to one with each other.
Jesus said “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35) Whatever I had seen on TV or imagined, this was Christianity living and breathing.
Was that the moment I was saved? No. But that was the moment I stepped on the road to Damascus, a warm breeze at my back, and had a glimpse of what I’d find when I arrived. It’s when I first encountered the power of the Living Christ.
Did we win the game a few days later? I have absolutely no clue. After the pizzeria encounter, I doubt I even thought much in terms of “us” versus “them” anymore. I’d soon even go out with a couple Friendly girls I’d met on a Young Life-connected ski trip. (One happened to be the daughter of my physics teacher. This is where I first encountered the fear of God. But I digress.)
Getting on the Field
My experience so many years ago serves as a good reminder: As believers, when we go onto the field, the crowd is watching. The stands are packed with cynical or lost people whose boos can be turned to cheers. The person dragged to the game may be the one watching most intently.
When we invite a non-believer to church, or even just a night of pizza, are we showing the game face of Christ? Do they feel His presence from the moment they walk through the door? A friendly smile (pun intended) can do more than a sermon.
I wasn’t the brightest, most attentive Clipper, but I learned this one real quick: We really only have one Enemy. One real rival. And he doesn’t wear a football jersey from another team.
*It is possible some of this description is exaggerated.