WHAT I LEARNED WHEN I WENT HOME...
As many of you know by now, Erin and I spent the last few days visiting my parents at their home in the northern suburbs of Pittsburgh. These trips mean a great deal to me as I only get to do it once or twice a year; revisiting various places and seeing people who made the seven years I lived up there some truly memorable days gets me into quite a sentimental mood.
Visiting in the fall is particularly special time for me, as much of our lives in the fall revolved around football. Every fall my friends and I would gather at the church to play pickup games at least once and many times more than once a week (in fact, when the church underwent a major facility expansion, the building committee chair and his crew decided to pave over one of our favorite patches, a decision I still needle the chair - my father - about pretty much every time we pull up to the church, I was none too happy for there went in my mind a little bit of my childhood.)
Additionally, I served as the statistician for my high school team, spending many cold Friday nights in the warmth of the press box with the sportswriters and their spread (along with the screaming and cursing coaches) while my classmates froze in the stands or on the field. Being in the box at Three Rivers Stadium when we played in the regional playoff games is a truly special memory.
The first winter we were there, Penn State beat Miami in the Fiesta Bowl (which is the game to which you can trace back the insanity that is now college football's post-season) while Pitt and West Virginia were programs to take seriously, so Saturdays were spent keeping up with the local college programs. Every now and then we would make it to the old Pitt Stadium. Erin will tell you that to this day College GameDay on ESPN is one of my favorite shows on television, a show that I rarely miss. I've already got 2015 Sugar Bowl tickets with my friends who come for New Year's every year.
My love for the National Football League grew exponentially while I spent my formative middle school and high school years in the 'Burgh, as the Steelers were and are the town's central sports focus (although when the Pirates were good in the early '90's and the Penguins won back-to-back Stanley cups in '91 and '92, we were also a baseball and hockey town.) I remember more than a few games in the old Three Rivers Stadium, including the opening game of the 1989 season, when Cleveland blew our doors off 51-0. There was a crew of us who were pretty serious sports fans that met every morning in the school library to cuss and discuss the past weekend's games and preview what was coming up. I might (might) have even been known to have a sheet or two going around that involved consulting with some guys in Vegas (an activity I'm not about to condone these days...) There's a reason why if you ask most serious NFL guys they will tell you no team has a more devoted following than the Steelers, and as a former resident of the 'Burgh I completely understand it. When my beloved Steelers made the 2006 Super Bowl, it was my turn to preach the Sunday night service, and rather than ask my senior pastor to switch, Erin allowed me to buy a TiVo so I would not miss a bit of the action.
In my first appointment after seminary, I served as one of the statisticians for the local high school for a year, as part of my community involvement, and it was a highlight of my time there.
Why am I writing so much about my love for football and how special it was to me during my formative years and how it has a soft spot in my heart to this day?
Well, I believe that lately I have unintentionally left a few people people with the idea that I have a deep hatred of football. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. I'm writing this column on a flight from Pittsburgh to Atlanta, and while in the Pittsburgh airport Erin and I picked up some Steelers paraphernalia not only for ourselves, but also for Shiloh (since she doesn't have any.)
However, for reasons unrelated to the reasons that many talking heads have been opining about for the past two weeks, I, too, have been evaluating my love of football. For the past 30 years or so, following and discussing football on all levels. With those who love the teams I love, and with the good-natured needling back-and-forth with those who support teams of which I'm not quite-so-fond, shared love for football has caused and strengthened so many of my bonds with so many people. And, yet, I, like so many others, have at times taken my love for my teams to extremes that, upon reflection, are not moments of which I am particularly proud.
On both occasions (yes, there were TWO occasions) when the good Lord gave Moses what we now know as the Ten Commandments, the first was the same - THOU SHALT HAVE NO GODS BEFORE ME.
What is a god? Allow me to quote Mirriam-Webster's second definition - a being or object believed to have more than natural attributes and powers and to require human worship; specifically: one controlling a particular aspect or part of reality.
The reason I have been evaluating football's role in my life, and my love for football, is simply this: It is my firm belief that whenever any of us quit continually evaluating those things in our lives that are most important to us, we may (and I emphasize MAY) unintentionally slip into a place where our priorities can get out of order.
For me, football is one of those things in my life where I have occasionally allowed my passion to blind me to proper priorities.
Work is another place where I have to constantly evaluate where I am focused - I hope all of you know by now how much I truly love and am passionate about my life's work (and how much I care about, love, and want nothing but the best for each of you.) Yet Erin sometimes has to remind me to come up for air, and Kathy sometimes has to throw me out of the office to go home and spend time with my wife and furry ones.
I have two choices when Erin and Kathy step into what is their responsibilities as my sisters in Christ when they see me placing my work above all else - my faith and my relationship with my family and friends. I can get angry and bitter with them for DARING to challenge me because, after all, I AM A PASTOR AND I KNOW RIGHT FROM WRONG. Conversely, I can be thankful that two people that I love and I know have nothing but my welfare and best interests at heart care enough to reach out when I am being consumed by something other that focusing on God's gracious love and spreading, through thought, word, and deed, that gracious love to others.
Do I get annoyed sometimes at Erin and Kathy when they call me out? You're dadgum right. However, the evidence shows that when I get most annoyed and resentful at their interference is usually when I've needed that accountability the most.
To those of you whom I have offended with my passion and zeal for making sure that we keep our love for football and teams in the proper perspective, you have my deepest and most humblest apologies for methods that may have been less-than-helpful.
As we move forward into the rest of this season, I invite you to join me in prayer for us all to keep our priorities in check, and allow others the opportunity to hold us accountable to our priorities. John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, said once, very wisely, that there is no holiness but social holiness. In other words, we are all responsible for one another's Christian journey, whether we like it or not, for none of us can fulfill God's will for our lives in a vacuum.
So, let's enjoy our football...let's enjoy our teams...let's enjoy our traditions...let's realize that if we are going to celebrate our team's wins we must also be open to being razzed when our team loses...and let's be open to being who God has called us to in Christ Jesus - a community of brothers and sisters in Christ who push and stretch one another into accountable faithfulness because of our shared love and concern for one another
(And let's pray - no, let's hope - for the Saints and the Steelers to meet in the Super Bowl so we can all have a lot of fun for those two weeks...)
Grace and Peace, Lamar