Tuesday, September 18, 2007

What Does the Church Have to Offer Patriot Fans?

For at least 40 years I have been a football fan. I am a one-team-at-a-time fan. During my formative years I followed the Pittsburgh Steelers (during the 1970’s). Those were great years to be a Steelers fan. I watched as the team grew into a powerhouse. During my Pittsburgh time I celebrated four Super Bowl wins. When I moved to Maine, in 1982 I transferred my loyalties to the New England Patriots. It took a little while, but once more I was able to follow this exciting team as they won three Super Bowls.

Why do I follow football (and baseball and basketball)? I’ve wondered about that. I spend hours watching different players as they play hard, improve and sometimes even mature into superstars. I’ve always admired those who give it their all. I especially like those who have to try harder because they are too short, too small, too slow or just do not fit the ideal model of a professional athlete. (It could be because I’ve always been most of those “toos” in my sporting activities.) I give my allegiance to a team. I try to stick with them through the joy of victory and the pain of defeat, through the ups and downs which come to every team.

So this last week I found myself hurt and disappointed when I learned my football team was cheating. Now before we go into all the rationalization about “everyone does whatever it takes” and “pro sports are about winning at all cost,” let me say I’m hurt. People I have admired have fallen in my eyes. They have cast doubt on a remarkable team and on the validity of my loyalty. So I am hurt.

What does my faith and my church have to say to all of this?

First, we all fall short. No one lives a perfect life. No one is immune to the pressures of fame and the fear of failure.

Secondly, what we do affects other. This cheating scandal does not merely affect the head coach. It splatters all the coaches, players and employees of the New England Patriots. We fans wear a bit of it as well. I am reminded that we are interconnected, one to the other. We do not live isolated lives. So when we sin others are hurt by our sin.

Thirdly, there is a place for repentance and forgiveness. This does not mean forgive and forget. Rather forgive and care enough to help see it does not happen again. To repent is to change, to turn around, to go a different way. Only time will tell if true repentance takes place. But, at its best the church is a place which offers both forgiveness and the possibility to change. True Christian community doesn’t simply let it go, but encourages and supports persons on the hard road to change.

Finally, trust is something which is earned. Following a betrayal it has to be re-earned. This takes time. Christian community is a place where we take the time to be committed to each other through the long process of forgiveness, repentance, change and renewal of trust.

On the grand scale of things, this incident in the life of a football team is not that important. After all it is only a game. But it reminds us of the importance of honesty, of maintaining trust, the power of sin to hurt far beyond the individual and the possibility for new life.

What does the church have to offer the Patriot fans? Certainly not a place where everyone is perfect and no one sins. But just maybe a place where we can heal together. At its best it offers a community who sticks by each other, honestly, lovingly helping each to grow into the person God has made them to be.

This week I am hurt and angry that the team I’ve given my loyalty has betrayed my trust. But I’m going to hang in and watch for signs of change. I bet many fans will do the same.

If a church or someone in the church has failed you, betrayed a trust, fallen short, I hope you will give it another chance. Seek out a community of faith which seeks to be faithful and loving to each other. It will be marked by truth telling, mutual accountability all shaped by compassion and love. They are out there. Such communities of faith are a gift from God. They are a gift for you.

Grace & peace,