DMINLGP

DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

When the Pitch Becomes a Cathedral

Written by: on September 5, 2019

I’m a “soccer mom” through and through. Personally, I only played the game once when I was in second grade. Mostly I kicked dirt and turned cartwheels on the field, because I learned quickly that getting to where the ball was located at a particular second, only to then to see it kicked away or taken by a different player, was frustrating and simply not worth the effort.

 

Still, I married a man who loves and has played the game most of his life. Consequently, both of my kids have played the game since age three. My daughter tapped out in ninth grade, but my now fifteen-year-old son continues to play at a highly competitive level. Over the past 9 years, as his skill and competitiveness amplified, I’ve spent more time Sunday mornings on the sidelines of a pitch than in church itself. The community we’ve formed through scorching sun and driving rains continues to be resilient and true, something I have not found in many church settings. Whether on or off the pitch, our family has found a place of belonging in our soccer community. We have been present in the lives of others and have invited them into ours. Few moments in my life are more holy than when I’m standing on the sideline, sharing the hard of life with a fellow parent, and watching our boys warm up for a game on a crisp, blue-sky and damp grass Sunday morning.

 

“4 Billion People

One Tribe

One Passion

One Faith

More Disciples Than Any Religion

More Stars Than Hollywood

More Power Than Politics

Love

Pride

Wonder

Belief

Redemption

Chance

The Universal Power…

Of The World’s Most Loved Sport.

This is Football.”[1]

 

Recently released by Amazon Prime Video, “This is Football” is comprised of six global stories highlighting the majesty and reconciliatory power of a game that transcends socio-economic and political boundaries, ethnicities, and cultures.

 

Sit with that reality for a moment.

 

Now contrast that message to the 2008 statistical evidence that 3% of the total UK population professes to attend religious gatherings, with 71.6% of that 3% being Christians.[2]

 

Great Britain is a country where religion is woven into the very fibers of its being, where evidence of the Christian faith can be found from architectural elements to the foundations of national government. Monuments of the faith stand as “a magnificent testimony” of God’s faithfulness through centuries of historical upheaval. Thousands of tourists flock to London and the surrounding areas to stand in the sacred spaces of worship. Their paid admittance fees and donations help keep the lights on and the maintenance on track for these architectural wonders.[3]

 

Great Britain is a melting pot of the world’s population, a mecca for asylum seekers, refugees, and multitudes of others simply looking for a better life. In London especially, evidence of this diversity is experienced when partaking in the wide array for food options available, or hearing the countless languages spoken when walking down the street.[4]

 

Beneath the surface of this milieu lie the structural components of what it means to be British, such as: speak English, maintain order at all times by obeying the rules, keep to the left, partake in elevenses and high tea daily, be patient in the queues, embrace political tolerance, and recognize class differences, just to name a few.[5]Another British character trait is  “avoid displays of strong emotions” except when in football (soccer) fan mode, and then public scenes of emotion are fully welcomed.[6]

 

It is this last British cultural norm that has grabbed my attention.

 

Why is it churches stand empty while football stadiums are full? Or that football season tickets are handed down throughout the generations, but faith traditions are failing to be passed along? What is it about being in a football stadium or local pub, wearing a particular jersey that brings a sense of unity? Why is it that thousands of people differing in age, ethnicity, socio-economic status, and political persuasion can unite under the banner of a football club, or even more broadly, a game? Why is it that this marvel of a game seems to outshine the wonder of the Gospel and person of Jesus Christ?

 

I have to believe that somewhere along the way, we in the Christian faith have lost our ability to be fully ourselves, to be authentic, to show a range of emotions in a way that is received well by those around us. The “avoid displays of strong emotion” and obligation of maintaining order stem from the Brits deep belief in the “sovereignty and separateness of the individual” and a desire to “protect oneself from involvement in other people’s difficulties.”[7]This deeply woven belief of individualism was carried into the world, and in many ways is evident in the American way of life.

 

Often times in our Christian religious structures, we discuss individual salvation and a personal relationship with Christ. While those aspects of faith are important, the communal aspect is just as important. I have to believe that if true, meaningful, and redemptive community was happening in the walls of our churches, more people would be spending time there than in stadiums and on sidelines of the pitch, looking for the holy of God that comes from rich authentic relationships forged in the scorching sun and driving rains while players pass a ball around on a field.

 

There’s more to following Jesus than just being individually secure in one’s salvation. I wonder what would happen if instead of criticizing the allure of the secular world for the demise of our religious constructs, if we took a hard look at the beauty that lies within the secular world, indeed the football world, and figure out ways to incorporate foundational principles of unity into our communities of faith? Is it possible that the line between the secular and sacred is actually more blurred than we’d like to believe? That the Holy of God lies in all things rather than just in a few places or people? Would our sacred buildings, which stand glorious but empty, as a testament of God’s faithfulness, once again be filled? Or is it possible that a stadium filled with the beauty of humanity could actually become a cathedral where redemption and reconciliation reside? Or maybe we figure out ways to care for and disciple people that allow them to stand glorious, both within and outside the walls of those man-made structures, to be a testament of God’s faithfulness and love to all?

I think if we are able to do this, one-day someone just may craft a series that reads more like this:

4 Billion People and Counting

One Tribe

One Passion

One Faith

More Disciples Than Any Religion

More Stars Than Hollywood

More Power To Transform Than Politics

Love

Pride

Wonder

Belief

Redemption

The Universal Power…

Of the Love of God through Jesus Christ

As Lived Out Through God’s People.

 

                  [1]“This is Football” Trailer, Amazon Prime. Accessed September 4, 2019. https://www.amazon.com/Season-1-Official-Trailer/dp/B07T8KTY5L/ref=sr_1_1?crid=AP1P39PRL04H&keywords=this+is+football&qid=1567626525&s=instant-video&sprefix=this+is+%2Cprime-instant-video%2C215&sr=1-1.

                  [2]Terry Tan. Culture Shock Great Britain: A Survival Guide to Customs and Etiquette, Great Britain(Tarry Town, NY: Marshall Cavendish Corporation, 2008), 33-34.

                  [3]Tan, 26-34.

                  [4]Tan, 176, 257.

                  [5]Orin Hargraves. Culture Shock: A Survival Guide to Customs and Etiquette, London(Tarry town, NY: Marshall Cavendish Corporation, 2006) 2-4, 52, 181-182.

                  [6]Hargraves, 57.

                  [7]Hargraves, 54.

About the Author

mm

Darcy Hansen

14 responses to “When the Pitch Becomes a Cathedral”

  1. mm John McLarty says:

    Wonderful insight and a challenging reflection. I’ve wrestled for my entire ministry as Sunday morning gets filled with more and more options. I remember seeing an ad in a magazine several years ago. A retailer that specialized in cookware was promoting a cooking class that would happen outside of regular business hours- 10am on Sunday mornings. “How could they?” I thought. “Don’t they know that’s when people are in church?” Of course they knew. They knew most people actually weren’t in church. But they also knew that people were still looking for community. I don’t know how that promotion worked out, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the class was full. The Church still has something to offer, but we can’t think we’re the only game in town. And we’ve got to be able to speak the language of the people we’re trying to reach. Thanks for posting this. I’ll be sitting with your words for a while.

  2. mm Jer Swigart says:

    Hi Darcy.

    Thanks for writing/weaving this provocative piece. There is so much to consider here with regard to the emptying of churches in the West (and their filling in places like Latin American and Africa).

    I paused at your question: “Is it possible that the line between the secular and sacred is actually more blurred than we’d like to believe?”

    It left me to wonder about the dichotomy between sacred and secular and if the binary is even real, much less helpful. What I mean is, if it’s true that God is restoratively at work within every corner of the cosmos, then wouldn’t it also be true that every space, from cathedrals to pitches, are sacred spaces?

    My hunch, based on your piece, is that you affirm this cosmic sacredness, yet, like you, I wonder about the role (posture, presence, and practice) of the church that, within the US and England, appears to be anemic at best and irrelevant at worst. Could it be that our own misunderstanding of the existence of the sacred/secular binary has misshaped the witness of the church in the world? And, while I’m wondering aloud, how will the church in the West be re-awakened to its vocation of restoration within all that is sacred (yes) yet also divided?

    I’m eager to explore wonderings like these with you in person.

    • Darcy Hansen says:

      Jer, thanks for your questions and observations. Yes, I’m definitely in the sacred cosmic camp, and love listening for the dualistic language used in various settings. In fact, I still use such dualistic language. It’s difficult to shake. But like you, I wonder how that perspective has impacted the Church’s ability to live out its vocation of Love. In my context, it has proven fruitful as many feel forced to pick and choose. But the line that was once clear cut is now dissolving and we will have to figure out how to sit in Grace and extend Love in this reality. Looking forward to learning how best to tackle those issues:)

  3. Nancy Blackman says:

    Darcy,
    “Is it possible that the line between the secular and sacred is actually more blurred than we’d like to believe?” Yes! But I also believe in a holistic God, which, for me means that God is in everything, including soccer, rain, mud and loud cheers. By the way, soccer was my go-to sport growing up. I played well into my 20s.

    Doesn’t that mean that God is at the soccer games? Although you’re on the sidelines of a soccer game many Sundays instead of being at church doesn’t it also mean that one conversation that you have with another person could be more holy than being in church? Forgive me to all the pastors who are reading this.

    I love the prose. Thanks for sharing it!
    Blessings,
    Nancy

    • Darcy Hansen says:

      Nancy,
      I absolutely believe God is everywhere and working at all times. So yes, the sideline of the pitch is definitely a holy space:) As a player, I’m sure you know this to be true. I still love the local church, but feel even more passionate about “being the Church” than always “attending a church.” I know both are necessary though. How do we hold the tension of that when we care for our communities of faith and the communities we live in? It’s an art, for sure.

  4. mm Steve Wingate says:

    You wrote, “we in the Christian faith have lost our ability to be fully ourselves, to be authentic.” I have heard it said, ” we are becoming human as grow as Christ followers and that with all our hearts.” Apart from being in a transformational process: going back to Eden, so to speak. I wonder if we can truly be authentic as God ordained us to be. Good insights , very good personal attention to the project, and additional secondary research!

    • Darcy Hansen says:

      Steve, thanks for wondering with me. It will definitely be interesting to see where authenticity exists within the British context, and how that impacts the culture and its guests. And can we ever be fully authentic? I’m not sure. Such a great question. 🙂

  5. mm Shawn Cramer says:

    The comments are testimony that you are finding resonance here. You do well to focus on the concept of beauty. While there have been great advancements in the faith after the Enlightenment, one downfall is reason’s usurpation of beauty and wonder. James KA Smith is helpful for me to stir my imagination for what could be as well as challenging the daily rituals (liturgies) that enforce our culture’s definition of telos. I anticipate you being an inspiration to lift my eyes to that type of wonder and beauty.

    • Darcy Hansen says:

      I’ve not heard of James KA Smith. I look forward to hearing more from you and Dylan on Smith’s insights. You both seem to be very attuned to his teaching. I’s only in the past few years where I have become more aware of the “wonder” of God and the beauty that exists in that unknown space of Glory. I’m really excited to see how that Wonder manifests during our time in London and Oxford!

  6. mm Dylan Branson says:

    KA Smith also came to mind as I was reading this. I remember being struck by what he wrote in Desiring the Kingdom about how if you want to know what a culture worships, you just need to look at what fills their stadiums. Growing up in Kentucky, it wasn’t soccer but college basketball that brought people together or “filled the stadiums” (especially when the University of Kentucky played Louisville or Duke). I have even heard pastors say at the beginning of services, “Don’t worry, we’ll be done before the game starts.” Whether this was done tongue in cheek or in all sincerity, it shows the things that compete for our affection and love.

    I think what draws people to these events IS the community that is involved. We often talk about how community is central to the Christian faith, but do we actually find it there? I remember in my undergrad that a professor raised the issue of Atheist “Megachurches” being on the rise where people would gather, listen to an “invigorating talk” and sing The Beatles. I have taken note of the different communities my friends immerse themselves in and why they do so. For one, CrossFit provides a supportive community that she sees almost every day. Another was immersed in a rock climbing community. For myself, one of the strongest communities I was part of came from gathering together to play Dungeons and Dragons. We all desire community and the reality is that oftentimes we don’t get that in a church setting. But what’s amazing to watch is how God brings people together in these different settings and provides some sort of redemption in them as He works in the lives of people.

    • Darcy Hansen says:

      Agreed. And maybe that’s the point? I wonder if the local church was never meant to be our “home”? But rather our “home” is in Christ, and that goes with us wherever we interact with the world, whether rock climbing or scrapbooking. It will definitely be interesting to see ways Christians in Britain are navigating these sometimes competing narratives of what it looks like to follow Jesus.

  7. mm Greg Reich says:

    Darcy profound questions and insight. Though I made my way through High School and part of College playing basketball I resinate with your concerns. After all I live near Seattle, a mega sports town through and through. I have often been amazed at how strangers can high five or hug one another at a sports event and shun one another on the street. When looking at Pauls teaching to glorify God in all we do I am not sure as believers we have the right to see life as secular and spiritual. It is easy to compartmentalize our lives into these categories without seeing the wholistic aspects of Christ. The whole aspect of doing unto the least of these as unto Christ shows the sacred and eternal value in how we treat others. One of the things I love about Theology and Vocation is the understanding of the redemptive value of work. How we are gifted and our vocations may have far more eternal value than we think.

  8. Darcy Hansen says:

    Greg, humans are indeed curious creatures. Our behaviors and perceptions change like the wind based on our current context. Like you, I am constantly working to see all as sacred. Where is Christ and how is redemption coming to pass, regardless of the circumstances? It takes a ton of intentionality to remove the dualistic lenses handed to us by those that have gone before us though. But like you, I think once we do, we begin seeing the eternal value and perspective more clearly in the work of our days:)

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