Soccer…The beautiful game… I hate to say is growing on me. (I only pray that Mike Ditka forgives me for saying that!) It’s growing on you too. While it is a long way from nearing the top of our favorite past times, it is on the move upward recently passing cricket and darts on many lists of sports to care about.
The USA versus Portugal match on Sunday had almost 25 million viewers – a record for American viewers for soccer. While the Super Bowl will top 110 million viewers every year, 25 million is a good number for a game without championship implications involved. Ratings will only go up the further Team USA advances. El futbol es vivo y bien!
Still, in order for that sport to capture the attention of our culture and become relevant for the mainstream, there are significant challenges. For starters, Americans like our sports with a little bit of violence and with the exception of the Uruguayan who is biting his opponents, soccer appears void of tough guys. We don’t like rules that are subjective either. There have to be fundamental laws in place, or there is chaos on the field. (How can you just add minutes at the end of a half? Why doesn’t the clock ever stop? How can you just add a rule that allows for a water break because you are playing in the South American heat and the Europeans are tired?) Americans also like clear winners and losers. A tie is a waste of time and ticket money. No game that ends 0-0 will ever matter to me or most of my friends. It just won’t be relevant to our “win at all costs” psyche. And perhaps most importantly, Americans need to be able celebrate individual success so we can properly idolize the champion. Soccer is too team oriented. Even the coaches are given high praise when a team wins. Americans want more than pretty boys to put on poster. Give us a dominator, a humiliator, a SHAQ-a-nator!
Violence. Fundamentalism. Relevance. Individualism. All challenges for soccer to capture the short attention span of the American sports culture.
Those are also challenges for the church. How can the church capture the culture if the values of the culture – violence, fundamentalism, relevance, individualism – are the very things that we are called to confront, cast out, and cut from our spiritual lives? If the church plays the game that the culture is playing we offer believers/seekers/atheists/agnostics/others nothing that changes the empty life that culture has sold them/us.
Soccer may be the beautiful game, but the beautiful news for our world/culture/church is that salvation has come from God, and we can never be the same as we exchange all of the habits/obsessions/sins of our world for wholeness in Christ. May God help us lose our infatuation with violence, fundamentalism, relevance, and individualism so that we may be personally fulfilled through the pursuit of peace, freedom, generosity, and insignificance.
God is waiting to tell the world a beautiful story through the church. When will we show up to play our part?
How beautiful upon the mountains
are the feet of him who brings good news,
who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness,
who publishes salvation,
who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.” (Isaiah 52:7)