The ubiquitous Matt Moore and Rob Mahoney have started a project called Voice on the Floor which is described as an “audio blog,” and “NPR for the NBA.” They ask bloggers and other sports personalities to discuss issues of interest.
Matt Moore asked me to speak about my Faith and sports and how they intersect. I try not to push any religious agendas on CelticsBlog because that isn’t what the audience is looking for. But this was a subject near and dear to my heart and I wanted to share it with everyone.
Here’s the link: Voice on the Floor – “Faith” by Jeff Clark
If you can’t hear audio from where you are, here’s the essay written out.
Faith and Sports
I rise from my seat in unison with the crowd around me. I raise my voice as I raise my gaze skyward. My soul aches with longing for the desires of my heart. I have yet to see, touch, or feel the ultimate goal, yet I believe in it with all my being. In many ways I’m just a spectator, though I know that I am also an active participant. I do my small part, but it is not small to me or the people around me.
What have I just described? A sports fan or a devout believer of a religious faith? Well, both actually.
I just described myself – both on Sunday morning and on game day. Two of my greatest passions (along with my family) are my Faith in Jesus Christ and my faith in the Boston Celtics. These passions are very much a part of me and I would argue that they share many similarities. The same could be said for believers of other faiths and fans of other teams and sports.
The parallels are unmistakable. Here are four that immediately come to mind.
1. The first parallel is Inspiration:
Faith and sports can both inspire us to greater things than we would have even dreamt of otherwise. Who doesn’t get a rush watching their favorite player score the game winning bucket? Its similar to the rush you might get walking out of an action film. You feel like you can take on the world. The same can be said about someone inspired by a sermon or a particular passage of scripture. When we ponder the amazing love that our Lord has for us, we can’t help but share that love with those around us. In short, witnessing greatness inspires the greatness in all of us.
2. The second parallel is Devotion:
Faith and sports also produce an intense level of devotion. Often times that devotion starts in the cradle and takes us to the grave. We will stick with our favorite sports teams through the absolute worst; look no further than long time fans of the Red Sox and Cubs for evidence of this. Likewise, there are many famous Christians who have displayed amazing levels of piety through some of the worst situations imaginable. Consider the story of Job for example. In fact, if everyone in this country was as loyal to their spouses as they were to their teams and beliefs, we wouldn’t see divorce rates over 50%.
Of course that devotion is not always understood by outsiders. “Why would anyone spend so much time and energy on something like that?” they ask. But this isn’t work. It isn’t a burden. Its a passion and a labor of love that is simply a natural outpouring of our overflowing hearts.
3. The third parallel is Unity:
We are drawn together with other believers with a common passion that unites us as one. We even make regular trips (or in some cases pilgrimages) to a common meeting place to share our devotion with complete strangers. For me this would be both my church and the TD Garden in Boston. Historically speaking you could make parallel between the old Boston Garden and the Temple in Jerusalem.
On the flipside, we are divided from other fans and faiths based on on fundamental principles that we are unwilling or unable to compromise. I have several friends that profess a belief in another faith and I have several friends that dislike the Celtics. If you can believe it, I even consider a few Lakers fans to be good friends! I love them all unconditionally and without bias or prejudice …but there is that wedge between us that will always be there. I will never be truly united with them as I am with those that share my faith.
4. Finally, the forth parallel is History
Faith and sports are characterized very much by their rich history. Bethlehem Shoals of Free Darko compares James Naismith to John Calvin. Red Auerbach might as well be Abraham since his legacy developed many generations of coaches. Bill Simmons even joking refers to Larry Bird as “Basketball Jesus.” And the story hasn’t ended yet. History is made every day as players strive for greatness and missionaries strive to spread the gospel.
There is also a tremendous amount of cultural crossover between faith and sports. How many times has a new star athlete been deemed “the savior” of a franchise? How many times have you heard a pastor use a sports analogy to make a point? In the book of Hebrews, Paul himself encourages us to “run the race with endurance” – which I’m sure has been quoted countless times at Fellowship of Christian Athletes meetings over the years.
You often see athletes praying after a touchdown or praising the Lord in post-game interviews. In case you are wondering, …no… I don’t think God cares who wins the Super Bowl. But I’m all for giving him praise for the blessings he has bestowed upon us.
There are countless sports figures that blur the lines between faith and sports. In basketball you can’t speak at length about David Robinson or AC Green without mentioning their faiths. Lew Alcinor and Chris Jackson became Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf in the name of their faiths. In football Tony Dungy has used a Super Bowl ring to open doors for him as a spiritual counselor to athletes. I would argue that the latter is far more important but it wouldn’t be possible without the credibility of the former.
On a personal level, I find the intersecting of faith and sports in my life to be very rewarding. On one hand, I make a point of not using CelticsBlog as a pulpit to preach to the masses because that isn’t what the audience is coming to the site to read. On the other hand, the blog is an extension of who I am and how I manage it is very much founded upon the principles of my Faith. Even though I share the same target audience that gambling and adult sites target, I remain steadfast in promoting a family friendly environment that discourages disrespectful behavior. For each person that has been upset by our moderation policies, there are 20 people that thank us for creating a safe forum to discuss our favorite team.
I’ve also developed many close friendships with people that I’ve never met in person and otherwise would not have had the pleasure of meeting in any format. I’m not trying to be a mini-Tony Dungy, but I’d like to think that my friendship has blessed some of them as much as their friendships have blessed me.
With all of this said, I must also point out that the parallels between faith and sports only stretch so far. The sheer magnitude of the importance of Faith puts it in a whole other category from sports. We’re talking about eternal impact here. Nobody is going to try to convince someone to root for a different sports team – because we know its all in good fun. But when you believe something like the Gospel; and like me you think it is the most important thing that anyone could ever hear because it could mean the difference between going to Heaven or Hell, …well, wouldn’t you have to share that with as many people as you could?
By the way, the short version of the Gospel that I believe is this: We are all sinners that make mistakes. There’s no sin in Heaven, so to get right with God we need to let Jesus step in and wash us clean. You don’t have to be “good enough” to be saved, you just need Jesus to do the saving.
Now, I’ll leave it at that because I’m fully aware of how turbo-charged this topic can be. Just allow me to strongly encourage you to at least research this for yourself and even speak to someone that you respect about God.
I guess the point I’m trying to make with all of this is that if you were to draw a venn diagram representing Faith and sports, you might be surprised to see how much overlap there is between the two circles. And by the way, you could plot me on the chart with a dot right in the middle of the intersection. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Hebrews 11 tells us that “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” As fans we are sure that someday, against all odds, our team is going to win the title and we can’t wait to be there to witness it.
In short, we have faith.