Gabriel Garnica
February 6, 2013
Football and faith
By Gabriel Garnica


As I write this, the Baltimore Ravens and their retiring leader Ray Lewis celebrate a second Super Bowl title in NFL heaven while the New York Jets and their exiled phenomenon, Tim Tebow, languish in the league's version of hell known as incompetent mediocrity posing as comical buffoonery. While Lewis is leaving the field on his own terms, Tebow's future is much more uncertain, for he will soon be traded or, more likely, released to a league which has now found faster running quarterbacks who can throw more effectively and consistently in Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson, without all the religious hype.

The NFL is enjoying an ever-growing and unparalleled popularity, as evidenced by its attendance and profit figures and punctuated by the record ratings of its recent Super Bowl. That popularity seems tied to the sport's ability to provide compelling drama, edge-of-your-seat twists of fate and, not surprisingly, an intriguing reflection of the complex society we live in, which includes a national division between devotion to, and disdain for, Christianity, especially the public kind.

Past football greats such as Kurt Warner, Reggie White, Deion Sanders, and, now, Lewis, have combined football prowess and success with Christian expression and devotion, and have been ridiculed for daring to publicly proclaim their loyalty to the Lord's team. While Tebow's visit to the NFL Hall of Fame in Canton will likely be as a tourist unless he experiences a miraculous development as a quarterback or agrees to change position, he has certainly orchestrated success and overcome great odds as well, not to mention creating a national phenomenon and a loyal fan base.

In typical fashion, the Christian fervor of the above football heroes was met with any combination of curiosity, skepticism, cynicism, sarcasm, patronizing ridicule, or blatant disdain. Critics tempered these players' football success with their religious dedication, as if being a proud and public Christian is some sign of lunacy, arrogance, hypocrisy, or exploitation. All overcame hardships, doubts, and rejection of one sort or another. White even became an ordained minister before his death. Despite the mocking or suspicious accusations of their critics, none of these men considered themselves perfect or better persons, but all believed in their football ability and exemplified gratitude to God for their success. They have made and continued to make mistakes in their humanity, but their example exemplifies precisely why those who hate Christianity either do not get it or choose to distort it.

Christianity is not about feigning perfection, judging others, pointing fingers, or stomping on those who have fallen. The Christian's message, mission, and purpose are not chained to his or her ability to avoid sin and stumbles. Rather, that message and mission, when carried sincerely, devoutly, and passionately, transcends our mere imperfect humanity and failings, to demonstrate what Christianity is truly about.

Ultimately, Christianity is about devotion, love, faith, charity, mercy, forgiveness, reform, recovery, service, humility, and passion. It is about selfless dedication to others despite their treatment of the one dedicated. This secular society increasingly detests successful achievers in general and assumes that they are undeserving or lucky. I suspect that there is a combination of jealousy, laziness, and rationalization in this hatred. In fact, the only thing this society hates more than successful people is successful people who humbly praise God for their success. I think that those who hate Christianity project their own insecurities regarding their own faults as intolerant, judgmental, holier-than-thou accusations by Christians. They ignore the Christian message of love, service, and hope and approach the Christian target desperately and gleefully seeking defects to proclaim as evidence of hypocrisy and worse.

Attempting to tear down the beauty and power of Christianity by mocking the imperfections of its messengers is not some new play in the playbook of those who hate Christianity. In fact, many seasons ago, the opponents of Christ mocked Him as He hung from the cross, seemingly defeated and out of plays, and He was perfect, so we should not expect any better today.

Like it or not, we can each learn a lot from the imperfect, regardless of their faults, who love Christ enough to seek and publicly honor Him despite their imperfection and the ridicule they will face in the process, both on the field and off. Such players in the game of life will win the ultimate Super Bowl and go somewhere much better than Disneyland.

© Gabriel Garnica

 

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