On Faith and Football

Sunday morning, I awoke to the soft light of dawn with a contented smile on my face—not because it was the second Sunday of Advent, not because the ground glistened with a lovely morning frost, not because the greatest guy in the world lay beside me—but because on Saturday night, Alabama won the SEC Championship game against Florida.

It’s hard to describe the level of fanaticism to which we Bama fans are accustomed.  I share a similar experience to that of Warren St. John, who wrote in his bestselling book, Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer:

“I grew up in Alabama—possibly the worst place on earth to acquire a healthy perspective on the importance of spectator sports. If you were a scientist hoping to isolate the fan gene, Alabama would make the perfect laboratory… A recent poll by the Mobile Register found that 90 percent of the state’s citizens describe themselves as college football fans. To understand what an absolute minority nonfans are in Alabama, consider this: they are outnumbered there by atheists.”

Saturday night was the night Alabama fans had been waiting for ever since last year’s fourth-quarter loss to the Gators in the same championship game. On Saturday night, Alabama beat Florida 32-13. On Saturday night, Heisman Trophy candidate Mark Ingram rushed for 113 yards and three touchdowns. On Saturday night, quarterback Greg McElroy led the team to one of its most decisive victories of the season, complete with an 88-yard drive, 239 passing yards, and some sweet ballet-like moves along the sideline. And on Saturday night, Tim Tebow cried.

It’s that last bit that bothered my mother a little, as Florida quarterback Tim Tebow has a reputation within the evangelical community for being a strong Christian witness A missionary-kid, he gives credit to Jesus after every win, wears Bible verse themed eye black under his eyes, and, to his credit, is well known for his charitable efforts on and off the field.

However, I’m more cynical than my mother, and during the game couldn’t help but make a few snarky comments to the effect of, “I guess that pass was intended for the Holy Spirit.” Just to push her buttons.

The truth is, I have mixed feelings about the integration of faith and sport.

It seems to me that thanking Jesus for a win has the potential to make Him into little more than a good-luck charm, and assuming that God intervenes to alter the outcome of a sporting event shows a lack of sensitivity to the millions of hungry people around the world who cry out to God each day to no avail. Furthermore, I’m pretty convinced that when Jesus told his disciples ,“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world,” he was not referring to tribulations brought on by the Alabama defensive line, as Tebow’s face subtly implies.

On the other hand, I respect Tebow and other players who use their platform to give generously and share their faith. They have the ability to reach people who might not otherwise be inclined to think about spiritual things, and I actually think it’s healthy to acknowledge the fact that our talents—be they athletic, academic, musical, entrepreneurial, or whatever—are gifts from God  that compel us to be good stewards who give glory to Him.

Both Alabama players and Florida players have been known to thank God for their success on the football field. But I can’t recall any of them thanking Him for failure, acknowledging that He is good despite the largely inconsequential ups and downs of a football game. 

Of course, this comes from the girl who woke up on the second Sunday of Advent thinking not about Jesus, but about football. I guess it's always easier to make calls from the sofa.

What do you think about players thanking God for wins?

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Fall, Football, and the Excitement of Starting Something New

Fall has always been my favorite time of year. There’s a sort of shared anticipation in the air as the days grow shorter, the breezes get cooler, and folks everywhere begin new journeys together—a new school year for teachers and students, new jobs for recent grads, new projects at work, new Sunday school classes at church, new shows on TV, a new session of Congress in Washington, new routines, new people, new information, new schedules.  I’ve always felt extra hopeful in the fall, and I walk with a little bounce in my step….(which may also be attributed to lower humidity and the profound effects it has on my hair’s volume and shine. )

On top of all this, September marks the beginning of college football season. For me and my family this means four months of  long, lazy Saturday afternoons together yelling at the television in hopes that this year, Alabama will win the SEC Championship, maybe even the National Championship. (We came awfully close last year!) It means cooking out on the grill, digging out our crimson sweatshirts, nearly peeing in our pants after a last-second field goal attempt, and falling asleep on the couch to the sound of the crowd noise from another, less consequential (Big 10) game.

I love the months of August, September, and October because they feel alive with excited tension.

This fall holds some exciting events/changes for both the Evans and Helds.

Going to the Chapel: My little sister is getting married in October, which means the Held household will be a flurry of activity, excitement, and nervous breakdowns.  The most important thing is that she is marrying a really cool guy who we know will love her and take care of her. The second most important thing is that our shades of lavender will not clash.

High School Reunion:  My 10-year high school reunion is scheduled for September. I’m getting old!

Evans Family Reunion: The sixth-annual Evans Family Reunion is also scheduled for September. To give you an idea of how big this thing is, Dan is the youngest of six, and we currently have a combined total of eleven nieces and nephews! 

The Book: I’m finally moving on to the marketing stages of the painfully long book-publishing process. If you’ve signed up for my newsletter, expect to hear more over the next few months as I work with Zondervan on a title, a cover, and a marketing strategy. The official release date is June 1, 2010! That may seem like a long way away, but there’s a lot to do between now and then.  I’m also planning to launch a speaking career, so if you know of a church/conference/group that might be interested in my message, let me know.

The Next One:  To stay in the publishing rhythm, it’s time for me to start working on my second book. I’ve got a few ideas, and will certainly let you know when I get another contract with a publisher. Let’s hope that this time I won’t gain 10 pounds while writing!

So what changes does this fall have in store for you? New job? New school? New activities? And, perhaps more importantly, who’s going to the BCS Championship this year?

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Roll Tide

Having grown up in Alabama myself, I had to appreciate the following lines from Warren St. John’s hilarious book Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer (fellow college football fans will understand):

“I grew up in Alabama-possibly the worst place on earth to acquire a healthy perspective on the importance of spectator sports. If you were a scientist hoping to isolate the fan gene, Alabama would make the perfect laboratory. People in Alabama have a general interest in almost all sports-the state is second only to Nevada in the amount of money that its citizens bet on sports, despite the fact that in Alabama, unlike Nevada, sports gambling is illegal."

"But the sport that inspires true fervor-the one that compels people there to name their children after a popular coach and to heave bricks through the windows of an unpopular one-is college football. A recent poll by the Mobile Register found that 90 percent of the state’s citizens describe themselves as college football fans. Eighty-six percent of them pull for one of the two major football powers there, Alabama or Auburn, and 4 percent for other teams…To understand what an absolute minority nonfans are in Alabama, consider this: they are outnumbered there by atheists.”   

All I can say is: Roll, Tide Roll!

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Comment Policy: Please stay positive with your comments. If your comment is rude, it gets deleted. If it is critical, please make it constructive. If you are constantly negative or a general ass, troll, or hater, you will get banned. The definition of terms is left solely up to us.