Friday, June 29, 2012


I know its not politically correct, but I have a confession to make… I have never really liked soccer (or futball as my friends who are purists like to refer to it) … there I said it. Partly because, in general terms, it seems to be a sport that discriminates against people who have, and/or like to use their hands. While I was in college, one of the members of the track team I was a part of, lived in an Asian country. On a sunny afternoon we were walking on the infield of the track and someone had left one of those red rubber “cherry ball’s” out. As we were beginning our warn ups I picked up the ball and threw it to him to get it out of our way. To my surprise he let it hit him in the chest, then trapped it under his foot and kicked it off the field. My first reaction was to say “What is wrong with you!?” What kind of person lets a ball hit him in the chest rather than catch it?

 It’s not that I don’t understand the game. I worked for several years as a sports reporter for a daily newspaper. That job required at least a basic understanding of most sports including soccer. Two of my close friends in High School went on to college on soccer scholarships, and became national caliber athletes, one now coaches at the collegiate level. I just never “got it”. That is until this last week…

As many of you know (apparently) the Eurocup Soccer Tournament is taking place this month in… you guessed it, Europe. I was given the opportunity to watch several of the matches this last week with some friends. I was attending my denominations annual meeting in Pasco Wa. and during the lunch breaks the group of friends that I usually spend time with at such meetings was heading to a nearby restaurant to watch people who I had never heard of, run around on a field, not use their hands and kick balls for about 90 mins.

 So I sat with them, ordered the lunch special and watched Portugal take on the Czech Republic. As the game … oops I mean match… unfolded my table mates talked smack to one another, jumped to their feel when shots missed the goal by inches, groaned at missed opportunities and compared memories of past matches. Some of my friends pumped fists in the air when Portugal scored the one and only goal of the game while the Czech Republic supporters sat quietly in the face of defeat. It was fun! Their excitement was contagious and I returned with them the next day to watch the match between Germany and Greece . This time a new friend I had met who is a pastor of Longview United Methodist Church, German native and former Olympic Soccer trainer was with us. During this match I cheered along with my friends. I even made a correct call when I said “that goal shouldn’t count, they were off sides” and low and behold the goal didn’t count because… wait for it… they were off sides!

 It seems that when you find some (or someones) who are excited about something it’s easy for you to get excited about it. I have a become a HUGE fan of motorcycle racing in the last couple of years (I have even been on the track a few times) partially because I love things that go fast, but mostly because some friends of mine are HUGE motorcycle racing fans. When I get an opportunity I tell friends about racing. I recount moments from races I have witnessed and I get excited. In the same way, I was never really a fan of jazz music until I saw someone performing a jazz piece and I saw the reactions he had to the music and the reactions of those who were listening to him play. So why is it that when it comes to matters of faith we don’t often see that same scenario? For most of us I would venture to say it was exactly this scenario that awakened us to some transforming experience with God, but I am hearing less and less of those moments from friends. Could it be that our passion around that transformation is easily replaced by the details of the institution we have built around that transformation. Sometimes conversations about faith feel like a conversation about soccer in which the topic is the geometric patter on the ball or the length of legal and illegal cleats on the player’s shoes.

 My prayer for all of us (and I say “Us” because I include myself in this group) who have experienced something wonderful around our faith, is that we would find a joy and passion that others would feel and be drawn to. Maybe not a fist pumping joy, but a joy that exudes “you should come see this”.

I’ll still catch the ball if you throw it at me, but I’m praying for something more in our lives of faith!