Sunday, April 10, 2022

The Christian and Sports

Wasn't this year's Masters Golf Tournament a treat? Kudos to Scottie Scheffler for capturing his first majors and to Tiger Woods for his great comeback. Every time I watch professional golfing on TV -- or professional bowling or professional surfing or professional baseball -- I am reminded of what an amazing country we live in, what with the diversity of sports that makes us so unique in the world. When Becky and I lived in Switzerland, I never gave up being an L.A. Rams fan, even though that meant listening to staticky Voice of America live broadcasts of football games from the States. Sure, other countries have tennis and ice hockey, for example, but only in the good old U. S. of A. can you get the whole ball of wax: NASCAR, the Indycar series, golf, tennis, track and field, boxing, snow skiing, kickboxing, wrestling, weight lifting, badminton, American football, baseball, basketball, ice hockey, soccer, motocross, horse racing, lacrosse, volleyball, rugby, cricket, surfing, even professional rodeo. 

Sports plays such an important in our society partly, I think, because they are important vehicles for transmitting values such as teamwork, fair play, and dedication. And, unlike many countries in the world, America encourages its children and youth to play sports. I grew up as a very active youngster, as I'm sure most of you did -- surfing, swimming, sailing, basketball (lots of basketball), and volleyball. The U.S. has won an average of 56 medals in each Olympic Game across 27 summer games and 23 winter games. It therefore doesn't surprise me at all that many churches utilize sports for outreach and evangelism. Here's one church where I'll be speaking shortly that has a soccer league for boys and girls pre-K to 8th grade. Churches with sports ministries have a simple philosophy: invite people in the community to get involved in sports, then use every opportunity to talk about Christ. Finally, there are those fine Christian athletes who leverage their talent for the Gospel. 

I thoroughly enjoyed reading both of these books, written by successful professional athletes in the sport of marathoning. I love how this writer puts it:

Our world can exist without the arrogance and egotism attributed to certain athletes, and it can surely exist without the barefaced disregard several sports organizations have for their dedicated fan base. But, we may question whether or not this world can function without the hidden values embedded in competitors and the communal insight sports gives us on a national scale. 

Ironally, the older I get, the more I absolutely love both watching sports and engaging in it myself. I agree with those sociologists who say that one of the functions of sports is to provide recreation, but we all know that its latent functions are so much more than that. Augustine once said that the ordo amoris -- the proper ordering of one's affections -- is essential to experiencing the good life. Personally, sports has become a way for me to know God better and has given me a better self-awareness of the potential of the human body that God has given me as well as its tremendous limitations and finitude. I suspect that the apostle Paul, through his own use of sporting imagery in his writings, might have agreed.