As March Madness is now officially fully in gear, a question has continued to grow in my mind: is there a way to root for your team to the glory of God? Is there a way for me to root for the Cats to the glory of God? Most people don’t care, or at least the thought hasn’t ever crossed their mind. Most of the people, however, who have asked this question, would probably say that watching hours or basketball, particularly just to root for one team over against all the others, is a frivolous waste of time. But I think all those people might be missing it…
So I’m on the golf team at Lipscomb University. This is my junior year and it’s certainly been a roller coaster. I played quite a bit as a freshman; I haven’t played in a single tournament as a junior. It’s been fun, however, to be a part of an improving team and to watch the guys who are playing get better and better. Last week, we won our second tournament of the year, and our second tournament in about the last eight years. My roommate ran away with the individual title. This was all really cool to be a part of, and it happened to came on the same day as a riveting discussion in one of my classes about athletics and competition. My professor was making the argument that our standards for what counts as good performance vs. bad performance are downright silly. For example, a team can play great for an entire basketball game and lose on a last-second half court shot and we consider it a failure. But really, we should be applauding them for working hard and fighting their guts out. On the other hand, a team can be significantly more talented than the other team, but play a lazy, careless game with bad attitudes and still win by 10 points. We usually still consider this a success.
So my question turned into something like the following, “should I be applauding my team and roommate for a win, or for the hard work they put in beforehand, their good attitudes on the course, and their mental toughness?” And I think that’s the first key to glorifying God in this year’s NCAA tournament:
1) Change your standard. Don’t let winning be the measuring stick this year; applaud good attitudes, sportsmanship, gutsy efforts, hard work, and courage.
The second key is different. Growing up in Lexington, I’ve been a huge Kentucky fan my whole life, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. Sure, there have been moments, seasons, even, of idolatry, and that is certainly sinful. But as far as just being a big fan, I don’t see a problem. The problem, however, is the attitude that I have adopted towards other teams: “if you’re not Kentucky, I really don’t like you.” In the spirit of applauding attitude and effort, let us not stop at applauding the attitude and effort of our own teams. Sure, we can root for the Cats to upset Wichita St. in the second round (and they will), but that doesn’t mean we can’t also applaud the continuity of Florida’s senior laden roster, respect the amazing, God-given scoring ability of Dough McDermott, root for Stephen F. Austin to keep up their incredible winning streak, and yes, even applaud the masterful coaching job of Rick Pitino in the second half of this season. So key number two for glorifying God this year:
2) Root for your team, but not to the exclusion of every other team. It’s okay to applaud the accomplishments of the other 67 (now 65) teams in the field.
Finally, we come to what I believe is the most important principal. At the end of the day, it’s about the Gospel. And when it’s about the Gospel, it’s about relationships. So many times in my life I’ve been guilty of letting my fandom create and chasm between others and myself that is impossible to cross. I pray that won’t be the case this year. I pray that when I see a Louisville fan in Nashville, I will use that to start a good conversation with them, rather than roll my eyes in disgust at them (yes, I’ve done that, and I know how pitiful it is). I pray that when I see another Cats fan watching the game Friday night, I won’t high-five them and just make a lot of meaningless noise that distracts the people around us. Instead, I would love to use that to find out about that person’s story: where are they from? how long have they been in Nashville? what brought them there? what’s their family like? And so the final key I would like to encourage you guys with:
3) Use your fandom to create bridges, not to burn them. Use it to start conversations, not to end them. And for God’s sake, if you can, use it to share the Gospel!!
I hope this helps a bit, and I promise…I need it more than anybody else who reads this!