Piling On

By Bob Hiller

I know, some of you are tired of me posting about sports and theology on my blog about sports and theology (not to name names Flanagan). But, I have a really good analogy about how the Broncos defense was like the gospel for Peyton Manning. He got on the field and did nothing to help the team win, and yet was given all kinds of accolades for another’s work…anybody? You like it? Fine…I’ll move on…

But, I won’t move on very far. In fact, I want to revisit my blog from last week on Cam Newton. While the ladies and gentlemen of the Jagged Word debate the finer points of feminism in the Lutheran church, I am going to argue with myself about sports. See, after last week’s post I began to rethink this whole Cam Newton debacle in light of the season of Lent. Let me explain…

Last week I piled on poor Cam for his post-game press conference in which he stormed off before the questions had come to an end. I’m still not very impressed with his attitude there. However, I’m also not impressed with the treatment he’s received from the fans and the media. Cam was at his lowest possible point in that moment. He was angry, frustrated, irritated, and depressed. Everything he’s been working so hard for his entire life was sacked away from him by a superior defense (oh…they were so good…). He was hoping to be full of excitement; doused in champagne and victory. But he lost. And he hated it.

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But, far be it from the media or the fans to have any sympathy for that sort of thing. This is no real person with emotions. No, this is a quarterback who is to stoically accept whatever may come his way, in victory or loss. Like other losing quarterbacks, he should follow the scripted platitudes: “We got outplayed.” “I’m proud of our guys.” “We’ll be back next year.” It’s all garbage, but it keeps the masses happy.

Instead, Newton sulked, pouted, and bitched. He lamented. He was actually mad and didn’t hide behind fake nonsense meant to appease the masses. He actually complained. He hates losing. He hates answering those questions at the moment of defeat. He expressed anger and defeat because he was defeated and angry.

But, we couldn’t handle actual emotion. So, we labeled him. We called him immature. We questioned his leadership. Unlike Newton on a loose ball, we pounced on him to make sure he knew our righteous indignation. And we felt quite proud of ourselves for doing it.

At least I did. And shame on me for my self-righteousness. Shame on all of us, even you.

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We simply cannot have someone be upset. We cannot stand frustration and sorrow in others. Especially when it is over something that we consider to be so inconsequential, like football. So, we won’t let show-boating Cam be upset. Chin up, Newton! It’s only a game! Live and learn! But, for goodness sake, don’t show us how you feel. We’ll destroy you for that!

It struck me that we all too easily turn into Job’s “friends.” This Lent, my brother pastors and I are preaching through the book of Job for our midweek services. It is amazing to me how his friends simply cannot handle the suffering laments of their dear Job… and how much we are like them. Job’s lost everything. He demands an answer from God and prefers death to life. He’s at the point in his suffering where he finds himself coveting the fate of a stillborn. His friends won’t have it.     They turn on Job with platitudes and their orthodox theology. They condemn Job for his sins. They speak for God where God has not spoken. Where Job, a true theologian of the cross, calls his suffering unjust, his glory-blinded pals correct him with ideas. Nothing helps a person at a point in suffering quite like rebuking their heart-wrenching prayers.

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Yet, we Christians do this all the time. We don’t allow one another to suffer and lament. We try to dodge the pains of our brothers and sisters with platitudes and de-contextualized Bible verses. “Chin-up! God works all things for good! We are more than conquerors!” We speak for God where God has remained in utterly horrible silence. “Maybe God is teaching you patience in this trial.” We fear suffering so much that we’d rather blasphemously explain it away than enter into it with another. We’ll turn funerals into celebrations and grieving as an excuse to theologize. If they don’t change to our view? Well, then, we’ll dust off our feet with labels of heterodoxy or references to a clinical psychologist (which is a noble and good profession, but not an excuse for us to think our work is done). We have not wept with those who weep, we’ve piled on with our orthodoxy and our self-righteous wisdom.

At least I have. And shame on me for it. Shame on you, as well.

Not so with Jesus. Jesus knows no platitudes. Jesus knows only your suffering, your sin, and your death. Jesus speaks only promise, forgiveness, and hope. He calls our sufferings to pile on Him and speaks not an accusing word to the one crushed by death. For you who suffer, He has only the promise to never leave nor forsake you, and to carry you through the valley of the shadow of death to the beauty of resurrection. Glory be to Jesus, who in bitter pains, poured for me His lifeblood, from His sacred veins. At least He’s done this for us! Good news for all of us, even you!

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3 thoughts on “Piling On

  1. Just teasing about your sports connection to theology. I understand it is how you tie it to serious spiritual issues. But you should know by now that I can be as much a prick ( pardon my colloquialism) as any opinionated person you have encountered. In the spiritual game of life (baseball – connection), I am now in the top of the seventh inning, and the view from this perspective is often skewed.

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  2. If your posts were related to baseball, I’d read them more frequently. Since they’re usually about football, I just skip past them. Not sure why, but professional football just annoys me. I played defensive end for a few years in school, but I can’t stand to watch the sport.

    On the other hand, your podcasts from Faith Lutheran Moorpark are pretty good.

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