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Faith and Sports by Eric Jensen
So, I was sitting in church on Easter Sunday thinking, what the heck do I write about next for faith and sports? All the obvious candidates are gone, resurrection, moments of silence, hope. It was time to dig deeper, so I went to the Good Book. That’s right, that old thing we Christians call The Bible: big and thick and full of some words half of us don’t know how to pronounce. How does that relate to sports? That is my mission, and the question that I hope to answer here today.
First off, the rumors are true: college kids don’t really read the Bible. It’s not that I don’t want to. Well, it is that I don’t want to. But it is also because of the fact we tend to be pretty busy. All of us are. I don’t know many people who read the Bible every day. My dad reads it occasionally but not every day. If you read the Bible, good for you! You’re a better Christian than I am. I blow off the dust around Advent for a devotional. That’s about it though. But I truly did want to find out how does this book relate to sports? If religion were a sport (let’s just say it is), what would the Bible be? Is it the rule book, the history book, the hand guide for coaches, or enthralling passionate reporting on the events of AD and BC?
Is the Bible the rule book? In some ways yes, in other ways no. Yes the story of the Ten Commandments comes from the Bible. But the Ten Commandments are the true rule book. Instead I think the Bible is somewhat like a beginners handbook: it puts the Ten Commandments into context and shows us how we should deal with them and the consequences if we ignore them. It’s much like a rules analyst on a TV broadcast. No one reads the rule book when you’re watching a football game. But a helpful voice like Mike Pereria chimes in, gives you the letter of the law, the situation, and his opinion. So yes, Fox sports rules analysts are like the Bible of sports.
Is it the history book? Every great American sport has a history book. For football, that would be America’s Game by Michael Macambridge. It is a hefty 1,500 pages of tightly crammed football knowledge. (I’m a sports nerd if you haven’t picked that up yet. I have read it exactly three times and use it as a constant reference. If you are a football fanatic, you must read it! But back to the task at hand.) The Bible is a history book of sorts. It tells the history of the Israelites and their escape from Egypt. It tells the history of the rise of the Roman Empire leading to the birth of Jesus. Then it tells the history of this Jesus dude and all the cool stuff he does to cement his legacy; and then his downfall, and eventually his resurrection. Then it tells the aftermath of Jesus leaving the scene, and shows the work his disciples do. In the same way, America’s Game tells of how football started as a coal miners game, and developed into the AFL. Then describes the ultimate collapse of the AFL and the combining of the two leagues into the NFL of today. So yes, the Bible is a history book to the Christian religion as well.
At some point in their career, an NFL coach reads one of two books. When Pride Still Mattered, the biography of Packers legend Vince Lombardi, or Education of A Coach, the biography and “look inside the mind” of football genius Bill Belichick. Both books are filled with tips and tricks about scouting, about coaching, about life, and about how to lead people. They give a general outline of what made these men so successful. The Bible does the same thing. It literally gives us a blue print on how to have the Jesus mentality. The Bible won’t make you Jesus, but it will help you think like him; just as When Pride Still Matters will not bring you all of Lombardi’s fame but will tell you the skills we all have that he used to get there. Now reading the words in these books is not the hard part; following them is. You can read the Bible ten times but I don’t care: at some point you are going to do something Jesus frowned upon. The point of the Bible and of these coach’s biographies is to show that everyone has good in them. Everyone can be something. You just have to put your mind to it. So yes, I would say the Bible is like a handbook of religion.
Finally, we have my favorite type of sports writing. Visceral, fiery, passionate sports writing. The kind that is so rare to find: the type that sends shivers down your spine; that makes you want to live the event over and over and over again. The Bible is absoloutely this. The description of Jesus and his torture before being crucified makes me cringe every time I read it. There are so many other examples of how the Bible connects with us emotionally. I think those who wrote it had that effect in mind, in my opinion. They wanted to use that raw emotion to get people to follow Christianity more closely. But I’ll save that for the theology podcast!
So I hate to tell you this, but I basically haven’t been able to make a decision. Sorry I just dragged you along for four paragraphs to tell you this, but I think there is no right way to describe what the Bible is. Sorry, you just can’t do it. The book is too flexible! You may believe you have The way, the way everyone else should; but you probably don’t. Just like in sports, it’s all about opinions. Four different people will tell you four different things about football. Doesn’t mean any of them are wrong; just means there are different lenses. The Bible itself is a sport. It’s nuanced, it’s competitive; at times it contradicts itself. It is human. The Bible is something we view as holy, but I think that makes us miss the point. The Bible, like sports, was created with human error, to reflect the human condition. It is not meant to be read one way. It is meant to be read many different ways, just as sports are made to be watched many different ways and talked about in many different ways. Why? It feels like the same conclusion every time folks: to bring people together.