I have always found people’s reaction to sports bizarre. People painting their chests and going half naked to a ball game in the freezing cold to cheer on their team…what’s that? Or even closer to home, my husband’s inability to eat before the Aggies play on television. I even heard of people suffering from anxiety attacks on their way to watch their favorite team play. Some of the biggest battles Chris and I have had in our early years of marriage centered around us having to plan our weekends around football games. You can imagine the turmoil he experienced the years my birthday fell on Super Bowl Sunday!
However, Friday night, I was one of those crazy people who put the world on pause while I watched the Texas A&M Aggies play against the LSU Tigers. I was the one jumping up and down when we scored and saying some words unfit for this publication when our defense failed to do its job. In the end, my husband and I felt the agony of defeat last night – an agony which will be replayed when we have to face all the LSU Tiger fans at next year’s family reunion.
During the game, I was on Facebook with all my fellow Aggie Facebook friends and family during the game. Some I have not seen since I was a student at Texas A&M. There was this weird connection between us. It was like I could feel their presence with me through their posts – the sense of elation when we scored – that pain of failure when the tigers scored. We were mysteriously one with the players, the fans in the stadium and across the world. As we intently stared at the TV praying for our team, we were connected. I know it makes no sense. But, I bet most of you know what I am talking about. This morning I am trying to make sense of this strange phenomenon.
Recently I went to a conference that was hosted by an Australian. He talked about the crazy obsession that Americans have for sports. He said that through sports we experience a “tribal” connection. His theory goes something like this. In our busy, detached lives where individualism is so highly valued, American’s are starving for connection and identity. We want to feel a part of something bigger than ourselves. In the heat of the sports battle, we feel that camaraderie that we seldom feel anywhere else in our modern world.
Yesterday, my daughter Caroline played her first basketball game of the season. My husband and I joined the other parents in the bleachers and felt such pride as our lovely twelve-year-old daughter took to the floor. Chris and I, who are typically mild mannered introverts who have always told our daughter to play nice, began yelling things like “KILL THEM!…GET HER!…GET AGGRESSIVE!”
Caroline is on a new team this year and we do not know any of the other parents. However, the “us” and “them” was clear. I instantly had a connection to parents cheering for the same team as me. There is just something hardwired into our biology that makes us respond this way. It honestly does not matter who wins the game. It is just a game. But for one hour, it was the most important thing in the world. For one hour, I was surrounded by a community of believers who believed our team could win. All our energy, all our attention was on this one thing. In the end, we lost. But today, we will do it all over again.
I woke up this morning wondering, “What if for one hour per week, Christian across this city showed up for a different kind of battle, a battle that really matters – a battle that truly was life or death?” What if we showed up in the streets where kids are being literally killed and believed that God could work through us to stop the terror that is ripping apart our urban communities?
Over the New Year’s weekend, there was another double homicide in Hillside Court. A man and a woman were both shot to death on the streets of that community. This week the police were walking the streets of the community trying to find anyone who knew the victims or anything about the crime. The residents, too fearful to speak out, “knew nothing.” There are terrorists right here in our own city, yet we pretend that the only war being waged is “over there.”
In the work we are doing in Hillside, we are trying to help the residents to see that as a community, they have power. We want the residents to feel that same sense of camaraderie that we all experience through sports. We want them to feel that same pride for their team. We want them to feel it so deeply that they themselves will get into the game. I wish I could bottle that sense of connectedness I felt Friday night and sprinkle it over the Hillside neighborhood. I wish I could find some way of bringing that community together that would ignite that “Never Say Die” spirit of my Texas A&M Aggies in Hillside. That sense of identity, connectedness and belonging is what is most needed for community transformation.
That is where people of faith from outside the community come in. We are the cheerleaders, the fans in the stands, cheering them on. Rather than read about Hillside in the paper and dismiss it as “just another tragedy.” Our job is to get behind the team that is in the street fighting this battle. While our Hillside team is not big, God has raised up a small force for good. They need your prayer, your attention, your support, you cheering for them on. I truly believe this is the most valuable role people outside the community to play. I know my daughter plays harder because my husband and I are cheering her on. Everyone needs cheerleaders in their lives!
This week all my teams lost, the Aggies, my daughter’s team, and my Hillside team, but in the end we will have the victory!