…regarding rivals…

In the 22+ years that I have lived in South Carolina I’ve been entertained, though sometimes with a wince, at the back and forth that takes place between fans of Clemson University and the University of South Carolina. I say entertained because I am a fan of trash talk and verbal grandstanding when it comes to sports. I think it adds to the tension that surrounds the competitions we watch so intently (far too intently to be quite honest).

At breakfast on Tuesday my wife and I were talking about the venomous endeavor that “talking football” has become. She showed me a few posts on Facebook by people that we knew and then the subsequent replies and threats to “unfriend” and “unfollow” them. Colors run deep here, of that there is no doubt, but I am forced to ask why. What in the world could be so important about a college athletic event that to take one side or the other would compel the emergence of a social rift?

The answer to that question is, nothing. There is nothing about a football rivalry that is valuable enough to spark legitimate embers of disgust. But, the issue still stands that it happens. There are fights and arguments and jabs and excuses and un-follows and un-friending and shirts insulting one team and hats insulting the other; and all of these expressions of passion are awakened not by the team or the state or the history of the schools, but by our Western proclivity to place infinitely more importance on temporary things than they could ever warrant or deserve.

Rivalries are supposed to be fun, not divisive. Banter about whose better and whose “going to win” is designed to live in the realm of friendly ribbing. But we stake our very pride upon our team’s ability to play better on any given Saturday, Sunday, Friday, or any other day that they happen to be playing on. We take it as a personal attack on our character if someone besmirches the name of “our team” (teams often that we never played for or even attended the school of). This, encouragingly, indicates that there is a great deal of passion in our hearts and minds, but it also betrays the fact that this passion is being spent on things that are trivial.

The most important part of any form of entertainment (of which football, basketball, baseball, or any other sport at its core is) is not the thing doing the entertaining, but those that are sharing the experience. Entertainment is not designed to terminate on itself but is wired, by God I believe, to be a memory made with old friends, or new acquaintances. Even watching a game alone must be about the joyful recounting of that game when in the company of others who watched it as well. How empty and futile are sports if they begin and end for their own sake? How sad and pathetic would ANY football game be if there were no one in the stands? That should point us toward the reality of these games that we take so seriously.

The irony of people elevating the importance of “team loyalty” to the level of social division is ridiculous. It says nothing about team spirit and everything about the disorder of the soul. And to be clear, I am not anti-football, anti-sports, or anti-fun. I am pro-trash talk, pro-team loyalty, and pro-relationship. But those things can’t exist in a world where wrists are close to being slit over a close game.

There is a passage in the life of Abraham that would be wise instruction for our game-saturated culture. Abraham and his nephew, Lot, are standing together on a rise that overlooks two areas of land. They have each grown quite prosperous as individuals, so much so that they can no longer keep their animals and servants together in the same fields, the land just won’t support it. As they look over the land there is an obvious difference in the two choices. One side is lush and filled with resources, the other side, while not barren, is clearly not the better of the two. Abraham offers his nephew the pick of the two sides. Here is how the text plays it out:

So Lot chose for himself all the Jordan Valley, and Lot journeyed east. Thus they separated from each other. Abram settled in the land of Canaan, while Lot settled among the cities of the valley and moved his tent as far as Sodom.
Genesis 13:11-12

Listen very closely…can you hear it? Listen to Abraham’s reaction to Lot’s choice of the “good land”. It is so profound. Abraham, the older and entitled, when subtly dishonored by his nephew, watches the young man take his stuff to the good land and then shrugs his shoulders and walks on. No pouting, no crying out to God for vindication, no struggling to make sense of it all, no “why’s”; just an inner satisfaction with whatever it is that comes his way. Abraham wasn’t a glutton for work, poverty, or disrespect, but he was a man who understood the nature of eternal things versus temporary things.

Abraham, unlike many college football fans, had not wrapped his destiny, pride, success, and honor up with something that could pass away quicker than a flood – or a 4 and 7 season. Abraham’s life was defined by the Biblical term “sojourn”. This meant that he was satisfied with the reality that there was an ultimate destination for he and his family, but he wasn’t there yet.

Disappointment will always find fertile ground where there is a misappropriation of importance. When we try and lay an eternal weight on a temporary surface we ought not feel betrayed by God and the head coach because that surface crumbled in front of us.

So enjoy the rest of the bowl season, and if you are in the hospital or seriously hard up for entertainment watch the NFL, but friends don’t make the mistake of thinking that any relationship should ever hinge on a game or any other trite bit of entertainment. Games are tools to build relationships, not destroy them. Plus, I like the trash talking, and if there are no friends left that follow different teams, how am I going to get my fill of insults?

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