By Paul Koch –
Small talk at a recent wedding reception:
Guest: “So you’re a pastor, huh? I enjoyed that sermon. What sort of pastor are you?”
Me: “I’m a Lutheran. Missouri Synod, if you know what that is.”
Guest: “Lutheran, no kidding. I used to go to a Lutheran church, grew up in a Lutheran church. Do you guys still do the traditional stuff, or do you have a band?”
(Why do they always want to know if we have a band?)
Me: “My congregation doesn’t have a praise band but a lot of Lutheran churches do.”
Guest: “Yeah, I kinda miss that stuff, I miss the good solid teaching most of all. I can still remember some of my confirmation stuff. They don’t do much of that at our church.”
Me: “What church do you go to?”
Guest: “We go to insert name of large non-denominational community church. I don’t necessarily agree with everything they teach but they do a good job of keeping the kids involved and they do a lot of interesting things. We don’t do much with the Lord’s Supper but the other week we finished a whole series on insert name of latest evangelical best seller and then we did a special interfaith service with a whole bunch of guests. It was kind of weird at first, but my kids thought it was cool.”
Me: “So you actually willingly worship at a place that has no perceivable core teaching, at least not one that you embrace, not to mention a blatant disregard for the sacraments because it is entertaining for you and your kids?”
(Okay, I didn’t say that last line – but I was thinking it)
Against the rules of etiquette, we didn’t actually stay until they cut the cake. My wife and I slipped out of the reception to head down to our favorite neighborhood bar. My tension eases as we enter through the doors and the bartender asks if we will be having the usual. I hand my wife her cocktail and hop on to the barstool next to her, bending the straw over the edge of my Rye on the rocks. Things are beginning to look up as we get lost in conversation. However, during one of the lulls, I stare at the TV behind the bar and I’m greeted with the spectacle of soccer. I watched for a few moments wondering how this happened. How did we get to a place where soccer was being regularly shown in glorious little dive bars like this?
Now, I know the answer to this is simply because soccer is a growing sport, it (for some reason I cannot understand) is becoming more and more popular in this country. So when there is a lull in the broadcasting day, they will fill it with this stunted sport. No one at the bar was cheering on any particular team; no one was cringing at a missed opportunity or celebrating a brilliant play. It was just on as visual background noise to accompany the jukebox.
As I watched the game for a while, I think I stumbled upon a connection between the rise of soccer and the conversations I’ve had, like the one at the wedding.
The key comes with what is arguably the worst feature of soccer – the blatant overacting to draw fouls. These sweethearts don’t just sprawl on the ground like a basketball player taking a charge or flailing their arms to draw a shooting foul. No, when they go down, they do so with the dedication and passion of Oscar worthy actors. They roll on the ground writhing in “pain” grasping at their knee, ankle, or whatever body part happened to touch the opposing player. This “pain” is there long enough to move the official to reward the penalty at which time the “injury” is miraculously healed with no further side effects.
The thing is the fans know this is fake, they know that they aren’t really hurt. The players know it’s fake as well and so play along acting out their outrage over their teammate being brutally mauled by the other team. In many ways, this isn’t much different than when I watched the WWF as a kid. We were all in on the fact that it was fake but we willingly participated in the lie for the fun of the event.
It is the refs, though, that really drive me nuts. They are the worst. They are the frauds who perpetuate the lie. In the end, the European Championship or the Copa America are not the WWF, but the refs play along as if they believed every one of these method actors was really hurt. About half of the time that I glanced at the TV set, I didn’t see any actual game action but a bunch of grown ass men standing around arguing passionately with a guy holding up a little yellow card. Everyone looks so victimized, and no one just calls “bullshit” on the whole proceeding.
More and more, this is what I find in conversations about what is going on in churches across this great country of ours. People like the gentlemen I spoke to the other day know full well that the church they go to has departed from the faith as it has been delivered faithfully by Word and Sacrament. Because they no longer examine the Word for the faithfulness of the teaching they are caught up in a lie of false gospels and heterodoxy. And yet, they continue to go because it’s entertaining, popular, or fun for the kids. They willingly participate in the lie along with all the other members because it’s simply become part of the sport of church. It’s all a game that is encouraged by the refs (pastors?) who play along.
In this way, everyone is able to continue to enjoy the whole experience. They can grab their hearts and writhe in pain at one moment and they can shout, cheer, and dance the next. And apparently, no one is going to just call “bullshit” on the whole proceeding.