Have you ever stopped to wonder why you cheer for the teams you do?
I’m a Chicago Bears fan. My line after a heartbreaking loss on Sunday to their nemesis the Green Bay Packers was “The Bears never fail to disappoint.” It warrants the question: Why do I root for this team anyway? After all – I only lived the first 18 of 38 years around Chicago, and spent my summers during college at camp (both in Wisconsin) – so I haven’t really called Illinois home in twenty years. Our family has lived the last ten years in Connecticut. It probably makes more sense to root for the teams in either New York or Boston – not Midwestern ones almost 1000 miles away.
The Bears haven’t done much in the last few decades. I’m starting to believe that they reached their Zenith in 1985 with the Super Bowl Shuffle. In 2006 they made it to the Super Bowl to face the Colts and Peyton Manning with Rex Grossman at Quarterback. That was ugly. The Bears managed to meet the Packers in the NFC Championship a few years ago only to lose again. For years the Bears were boring to watch – terrible offense with the occasional spark of hope on defense or special teams that kept them alive. This year their offense was fantastic only for the defense to forget how to tackle or cover people. On 4th and 8 and less than a minute to go – you don’t play defensive back against Aaron Rogers by spotting the receiver 5-10 yards. Uffdah.
Yet I’ll still root for those Bears.
I still find the Super Fans endearing and wish Chris Farley was alive to still be part of them. I root for my White Sox in the summer too. They won the World Series almost a decade ago now, and people in Chicago didn’t even care all that much – like it or not, it’s really a Cubs town. My kids don’t root for Chicago teams – they somehow have the misguided notion the Packers are better, and if they had to root for a team other than the Red Sox it would be the Brewers (not my White Sox) that would carry their affections.
So why should I care? Why should you?
Is it nostalgia?
I grew up loving those Bears after all.
Is it loyalty?
A value I learned early is, no matter what your team is – your team is your team is your team.
Is it a sense of belonging?
I’m not sure why people say “we” when they talk about professional sports. “We” didn’t lose. I have no financial investment in the team nor did I play a down on Sunday. They are a team that I cheer for, and that’s all they are. Unless you are a Packer fan and actually own some stock in the franchise (which is a really cool concept) the word “we” should escape our lexicon when it comes to watching professional sports.
Is it to find meaning or purpose?
Sorry, I have more of a life than watching football – even though I’ve always enjoyed it. I’ll still watch the playoffs and find new things to get excited about as I join the Bears organization in watching what happens next from home. A lot of people find meaning for their lives in watching professional sports. Maybe they serve as an escape from the harsh realities of their own lives. Maybe they serve as too much of distraction that pull us away from what really counts. The Bears stink, but I think I’ll get over it 🙂
Is it an affinity for disappointment?
Some people like to suffer. I guess there is something narcissistic about cheering for a perennial loser, or worse, one that keeps showing promise only to fall apart at the end.
In any case, there is a saying I typically say when my favorite team loses a big game or their season inevitably ends short of hopes and expectations… “Dumb Bears.” They are dumb. But I love them anyway.
I wonder if there is any substantive comparison to be made about churches and sports teams.
I think it feels more or less for many people that when we go to church we cheer for a perennial loser – that our “team” might never reach its former glory, that we seek meaning or purpose in a community like this when other roll their eyes and wonder what is wrong with us. We claim being whatever name brand Christian resides on the church sign because we were raised that way, or came to faith that way. We take ownership over buildings or ministries that we call “ours” but all of us, whether we are here for only a season or participate over a lifetime are all just passing through. We know we are diehards when we survive and keep things going during the hard times and we look a little suspiciously when things are going well for the fair-weather fans that come out of the woodwork. Maybe there is a worthwhile comparison to be made between sports and churches. I know at times I cherish my Lutheran identity over my Christian one – and it’s hard not to get disappointed by what I see sometimes. I think some folks jump ship to others churches or drop out completely because it feels to them like a losing effort. Nobody likes a loser. Or do they?
Why do we stay with a loser?
Is it more than nostalgia, belonging, loyalty or purpose that keeps us coming to church, and in particular – your congregation? How many times have you said “Dumb Bears” but in an ecclesiastical way? How we answer this question matters. Because if we are going to invite others and welcome them into this community it is pretty important to know why – and what we might be inviting them to make a part of their lives.
I believe that what sets church apart from any other club, any other story, any other cultural event that people participate in – especially sports – is that despite our best efforts and when things go horribly wrong – church is not about us. We participate in church because we believe God is there. Or to put it a better way – we are church, because God is at work in our lives as we share them together.
Sports are one of the greatest idols of our time. People invest their time, efforts and resources into them above so many other priorities. And like the Bears, most of these pursuits end in disappointments or in celebrations that are short lived, or still leave people feeling unsatisfied.
Church can be full of its own disappointments as well to be sure – it is filled with people after all – but the story we share there is a different one. It is not of victory or dominance or pride or team affiliation – it is a life lived in Christ – a story of sacrifice, humility, undeserved generosity and the great surprise of a new world opening to us as he is risen from the dead. Our life with Jesus is not just another alliteration of “next year” as we say after our team loses and the off-season begins. It is a new life now – amidst our own brokenness and disappointments. God in Christ is doing a new thing – and it starts with you and me.
If the church is about us; it is dumb, and others have every right to shake their heads. But this is Christ’s church – and he is calling us to be renewers alongside him in this world, no matter how many people look at us and shake their heads. In Jesus we don’t have a team to root for that loses – we have God, rooting for us; bringing life to where there is no life.
I think that’s worth sticking around for…How about you?
The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” Then they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. (Luke 24:5-9)