Sports fans in America like me are living in the season of glory. First, the Super Bowl stocked full with Seahawk cheerleaders wearing blue sequined leggings and a white bronco leading the Broncos passed pyrotechnics, the Pepsi half-time show with Bruno and the Chili Peppers and a fireworks show, beer and truck commercials saturated with celebs galore, and left-over Gatorade dumped on coach Carroll. The Seahawks, after a game of pure physical domination, were named the “world champions” amidst confetti. The MVP, Malcolm Smith, was awarded a Chevy truck in addition to his ring. Russell Wilson in a post-game interview, mentioned taking full advantage of his “God-given talent.” At game’s end, we point out that Scarlett Johansson made a grammatical error in her sexy Soda Stream commercial. We look up the Esurance Super Bowl commercial on Youtube and have to watch an ad to get to the ad. We forget about the Broncos completely. We pay for all the wings and nachos we ate. Glory.
Matthew Skinner, in his article “Enjoy the Super Bowl; Be Suspicious of Its Values,” points to the wealth behind the game by reminding us that “The commissioner of the NFL has “earned” a salary of $30 million in one year, working on behalf of the rich owners of the league’s 32 teams. Full-service luxury suites for the big game are renting in the neighborhood of $500,000.”
The Olympics are starting, followed by March Madness. More glory. More America. More winners. More excess. More wealth.
Now don’t get me wrong, I love playing and watching sports. I watched the Super Bowl, and I will probably catch moments of the Olympics and March Madness. I allow myself to get emotionally involved in the storylines of the athletes. I appreciate people pushing their bodies to their limits. But the season of glory leaves me feeling empty, dirty, and a little embarrassed for us. I find myself thinking of my friends in other countries (and my country) with so much less than I have. I find myself wondering about the losers, the meek, the rec league kids, the countries that don’t go to the Olympics. I find myself wondering about our country’s obsession with power, wealth, gluttony, excess, and winning. We are trained to look toward the winners for definitions of happiness and success. Little kids are watching, with less constructive criticism than me.
The season of glory inspires me to go straight to Matthew 5 with Skinner as a corrective. Jesus preaches a theology of the cross, not a theology of glory. It is clearly seen in the beatitudes. “Who will be made content and gratified by participating in what Jesus offers now and in the future? The kinds of people who suffer brokenness and grief. The people taken advantage of by friends and strangers. The people who always come out on the losing side, whether the field of play involves their economic well-being, their social respectability, or their physical health. Jesus announces he intends to invert our taken-for-granted expectations about where happiness and achievement can be found.”
I know, as an American sports fan, I play a role in the season of glory. But I don’t have to be complicit. I can be self-critical and also play a role in living out the theology of the cross. I believe in Jesus, and I believe he came with good news for the losers. His message was so threatening to the empire that he was killed. So I, for one, will be reading a lot of Matthew 5 this season, and praying for a blessedness that is reserved for the people far away from the glory.