I am a peace-loving man, and I would stop all the horrific violence of this world if I could, except for one necessary hostility: Football. It is a game of combat. It is war. It is a savage, gladiatorial contest, and God help me, I love it.
I’m in agreement with psychiatrist Arnold Mandell who concluded a generation ago that, “Football is not a game. It is a religion.” Amen, and what with the Super Bowl this weekend, I have reached my annual state of pigskin Nirvana. Intensified by the fact, if I can take a moment of personal privilege, that my beloved and long-suffering Atlanta Falcons are playing for all the marbles, but I digress.
Beyond the violence, football requires a special kind of teamwork. Tennis? It’s an individual sport. Golf? You’re playing the course more than an opponent. Baseball? It’s a team sport, but so much of the action comes down to the pitcher and the hitter – mano a mano. Basketball? One person on the team can make all the difference: Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordon, or LeBron James for example.
But football takes all eleven guys working together on the field, and those 11 are in constant flux with changes and substitutions. There are so many different positions; so many different schemes; so many different specialties; so much physical exhaustion. Thus, it is the cooperative team that wins, not the glorified individual.
It’s a lot like this thing called “church.” No, not the building; not the organization or denomination; not the name or the institution: The people. People make up the church, and people working together, everyone playing his or her unique role on the team – not just the flashy megachurch pastor – leads to any real success that might be enjoyed, as there is no room for “selfish play.”
The Apostle Paul, writing to the ancient faith community at Corinth, sounded more like a sideline coach than a pastor: “See how this kind of thing works? Look at your own body. It has many parts – limbs, organs, cells – but no matter how many parts, you’re still one body. We each used to independently call our own shots, but then we entered into an integrated life with the different-but-similar parts arranged and functioning together.”
He continues, whistle around his neck and clipboard in hand, “The way God designed our bodies is a model for understanding our lives together as a church: Every part dependent on every other part, the parts we mention and the parts we don’t, the parts we see and the parts we don’t. No one is important on his own, and no matter how significant you are, it is only because of what you are a part of.”
The maxim, “It doesn’t matter whether you win or lose, but how you play the game,” rings true. Because the only way to play the game is to play together, as part of something larger than ourselves. Win or lose, that’s the only way.