The New, New Testament (revised)

A football coach from the University of Nebraska recently stepped into some hot water by speaking out at a Lincoln city council meeting.  The meeting was a debate was over gay, bisexual, lesbian and transgender protections, and the coach spoke out against progressive change.  His position was guided by his deeply held religious beliefs.  Aware of the controversy he had stirred he later went on to say, “To be fired for my faith would be a greater honor than to be fired because we didn’t win enough games.”

While I will reserve any judgment on the coach’s views, for I respect everyone’s right to have a misguided opinion, it does occur to me how much of world history has hinged on a simple collection of ancient sayings.  As today’s celebrities can’t puke outside a nightclub without it ending up on TMZ, imagine how Jesus feels?  Something he may have vaguely mentioned over two thousand years ago is now being taken literally as The Gospel by billions.

Then, that got me thinking.  How radically different would the world be if wording had been changed just a bit?

In Mark 8:34-38, instead of saying, ““If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me” Jesus had simply added, “but hey, if you find another way to live a good life and get to the same place, go for it”, how many wars would not have happened?

In Luke 11:9-10 he said, “And so I tell you, keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives.”   Think what the possibilities would be if he had just tacked on to the end, “And, lots of hard work and a little self-confidence doesn’t hurt either.”

Or imagine if Jesus had made just one comment moderately in favor of the recreational use of marijuana.  Our country would be facing an even greater fight with obesity, but political debate would be much more civil.  The Republican party would be unrecognizable, although the Democratic party would be pretty much the same.  Global differences would melt away as world wars would be reduced to arguments over pizza toppings.

I guess all I’m saying is that in modern times, people take things a lot less literally than they did back in the day.  And maybe Jesus, with a critical eye on the timelessness of his teachings, didn’t say those extra things because he didn’t think he needed to belabor the obvious.  I spent years working in customer service, and I can tell you most of us look at furniture assembly instructions more as a guideline than a rule.  Everyone is looking for that place to rest, and we need to accept that we all assemble our chairs in a different way.

NFL, Amen.

A sports athlete who used to perform in Denver, whose name I forget, recently admitted that he looked at his fame as a platform by which to promote his religious convictions.  Athletic success was nice, but the bigger payoff for him was the attention and promotion that came to his deeply held beliefs.  Upon reflection, it occurred to me that professional football is a sport not only surrounded by spiritual men but is in itself a spiritual endeavor.  Consider the similarities and characteristics:

  • Where other major religions gather at a church, mosque or temple, football fans gather in spaces called stadiums.  If a member of the church of football is among the infirm, the economically challenged or otherwise is unable to attend the main service, there is a support system in place to allow that parishioner to worship privately in his own living room or neighborhood bar.  Instead of wine and wafer, however, the football worshipper partakes of beer and wings.
  • Sunday is not a day of rest for the church of football, but it has significance nonetheless as the holiest day of the week.  Football also has its major holidays, like the Super Bowl, the first day of the draft and the day the Detroit Lions make bail.
  • Like other religions, football parishioners offer tithes, commonly in the form of payments to Ticketmaster or the cable company.  Often these donations are of a shockingly large sum, yet in return there is no expectation of salvation. Rather, the tithe allows the parishioner to watch grown men beat each other to a pulp for a large salary and sometimes intentionally injure each other for a small bonus.
  • Like other mainstream spiritual structures, followers of football hold a belief in a higher power.  However, the power that rules over football does not provide unconditional and unending love.  You hope for some love, but sometimes there is hate, which is often revealed late in a game and usually involves a turnover or stupid personal foul.
  • In fact, unending love from any god of sport is downright dull.  Like wondering if the afterlife will offer you a path towards Heaven or Hell, the whole reason a game is exciting is that you don’t know where you stand in the eyes of the immortal until after it ends.  Take the 40-0 run by the Baylor women’s basketball team, for example.  That was not 40 games of pure, spiritual ecstasy.  That was 38 games of boredom followed by 2 games of, “wouldn’t it be interesting if they made it?”  It’s the unpredictable, flippant, and often petulant attitude of the sport’s highest deity that draws so many followers.
  • Further, the power that rules over football does not love all equally, but instead it displays overt favoritism.  The Jets literally can’t buy a competent quarterback, yet the Colts have less than 90 days after the Payton Manning era ends before the Andrew Luck era begins?  That’s your proof right there.  Who knew the chosen people actually resided in Indianapolis?
  • Ancient religions, like that of Greece, had gods, heroes, monsters, and the Oracle at Delphi.  Similarly, football has owners, players, Art Modell and TV analysts.  The parallel between the Oracle and the TV analysts is indeed striking.  A vague prognostication is handed down, and the masses become obsessed in debate on the intended meaning of the words.  Yet not until after the heroes battle will the true meaning of the prediction come to light.
  • For some, conviction to the church of football takes precedent over all else.  While many vow a devotion go God, country and then family, true football devotees vow first to their team and then their family, provided there is not a pre-game, game, post-game or sports debate show on.  Also, they often ignore their own heath to embrace deeper worship through the consumption of even more beer and wings.

So, before any other athletes look to football as a vehicle to promote their own spiritual path, they should keep in mind that football is not devoid of its own system of beliefs.  And besides, if their higher power wanted singular devotion, why did he schedule church during the pre-game?