I am not much of a sports guy. I rarely know who is playing in the Superbowl. A pilot announcing the score on a Boston flight was the only reason I knew who was in the last World Series. Before I read a newspaper, I carefully extract the classified and sports sections, and discard them before ever engaging the paper. I have never held a golf club in my hands. With waterboarding torture being a hot topic these days, I would say that all they would have to do to me is tie me up and set me before a televised golf or baseball game. I would confess to anything. I firmly believe that professional sports is the scalpel by which modernity has lobotomized American popular culture.
I do make a few minor concessions. I enjoyed the Tour de France as long as Lance Armstrong was competing. I take a bit of an interest in the World Cup every few years--where you can root for an actual country. On the weekend after Thanksgiving, I usually have the television or radio on, to periodically check and see how bad my alma mater (The University of Texas at Austin) is whupping-up on the little school down in College Station. Even then, my interest is not such that I would actually sit down and watch the game.
Several years ago, I was walking past our school's ball fields. It was summer, and Little League was in full swing. I heard one of the coaches yelling at his young charges, trying to motivate them, I suppose: "It's not all fun and games out here, you know!" Oh really, that is what I thought it was supposed to be. Therein lies the whole problem, in my view.
The meshing of our sports mania with religion has always baffled me. Years ago, one of my very oldest friends--too clever by half--commented on the mad rush among Southern Protestant churches to build basketball gyms. He called it "sweatin' for Jeezus." I continue to find the remark applicable to so many situations.
Recently, a golf pro won some tournament somewhere, and in his acceptance speech, he said he "gave all the glory to God." That is well and good. But glory is one thing. Hitting a little ball with a stick into a hole for money is something altogether different.
Back in my Protestant days, we were in the habit of closing out Wednesday night services with a devotional message. Indeed, it was almost an unwritten creed that you could not have a Wednesday night service without such. Anyway, one of the leaders of our little church was fond of using inspirational, hut-hut, locker-room motivational stories on these occasions. I remember sitting in the pew, wondering what in the hell any of that had to do with our faith, failing to grasp the least bit of significance any of it had to the real questions of Christian living. I saw it all as just insipid, superficial fluff, a cheesy refashioning of Christianity along the lines of our Southern sports culture.
We once had a preacher who delivered a Sunday night sermon using hunting analogies. He walked up to the front of the auditorium in hunting cap and vest, carrying a rod and reel, shotgun and other hunting props. I remember sitting in the pew, cringing in embarrassment and thinking to myself: "Just don't lay the shotgun on the communion table. Just don't lay the shotgun on the communion table." He did. That preacher didn't last long. But apparently, his only problem was that he was just a little ahead his time.
This Sunday morning, I caught a bit of the televised broadcast of our local Baptist megachurch. Their new auditorium--nicknamed by some cynics as the "Baptidome"--seats 3,400 and it takes 3 back-to-back services to handle the crowds. The church's parking lots have quite literally consumed what was once one of our cities prettier neighborhoods. Buses are needed to taxi worshippers parking in the more remote lots. Membership here carries a lot of weight in this town, and has the reputation of being where you need to be to do business around here.
But I digress--back to this Sunday's service. The church has a full-fledged orchestra to accompany their praise team. They opened with a peppy song of some sort. I don't remember exactly what it was, I just remember there was a lot of clapping and bebopping around. And trumpets. These are not your father's Baptists. Then the preacher came out--dressed head to toe in a full baseball uniform and cap, carrying a bat and a ball. His entry set off lots of laughter and clapping. Who knew worship could be so, well, fun. This get-up was to inaugurate their new series called "GSPN." Get it. Obviously, this is inspired by ESPN, which--I am told--is an all-sports network. The preacher explains that the GSPN stands for God's Spiritual Player Network. He goes on to detail how the purpose of this program is to make every member a "spiritual player." Next week, there will be Bass Pro theme, where the lesson will be on "God's Fishing Tips." The following week will be golf-themed, "Keeping it within the Fairway." After that would come the football sermon, but by this time I couldn't watch anymore. Years ago, I thought our preacher's hunting sermon was sappy and silly. This is much worse. Don't ever think that things can't go any lower.