Tag Archives: Sports

Everyday idolatry: Worshipping Nike

Temple in Chennai, India“No weapon formed against me will stand.” -Ray Lewis, quoting the book of Isaiah after his Superbowl win

A couple of weeks ago, when Lance Armstrong was finally forced into laying bare his secrets to a suspicious public, I was disappointed along with everyone else. Because I like Lance Armstrong. I followed his career, I read his book (turned out, it really wasn’t about the Bike), and I was thankful that there were still heroes to look up to.

Earlier in his life, Lance Armstrong has spoken out as an atheist. He doesn’t believe in God. But I think that he’s wrong, not about God, just about how he does not believe in one.

Sports Illustrated did a fascinating article on Lance last year when the world he had carefully constructed was just starting to crumble.

“Armstrong lives as he rides — surrounded by a cocoon of aides and helpers, his gimlet eyes focused on victory…. The self-described atheist has become a deity… but the inquiry’s findings may cause the Armstrong faithful to ask, Was the miracle a mirage?” —Selena Roberts and David EpsteinSports Illustrated, 2011

His eyes were focused on victory.

Victory. Which is a god of the ancient world.

Actually the god’s name was Nike.

You can’t make this stuff up.

The Sport of Idolatry

I think it’s fascinating how easily we dismiss the ancient world as superstitious. But we sacrifice and bleed for the exact same gods they did.

Now I love sports, I love playing and watching them. I’ve been in fights over them as a player on the field and a fan in the stands. (Once I was actually at a Soccer Game in Greece where my section lit the stands on fire…before the game even started!) But I want you to imagine if you weren’t so immersed in our culture, if you didn’t understand and already have categories for what you were watching.

You would see the stadiums filled with people who had painted their face and body, you would hear them cheer and moan, as they watched from a distance someone else perform some kind of act. If you didn’t know what you were seeing I imagine you would reach for religious words like Temple or Clergy or Worship.

Not worship of the team, or the sport, but to Victory.

Back in the first century, the popular religion during Jesus time always showed God as being on the side of winners.  He was the victor for the Greeks.  He was the one who stood on the side of the powerful. He was the God who you were talking about when you wanted to intimidate your enemies. This God took sides, and he always sided with the winners.

So think about this for just a second, it’s not just saying that God loves the winners more. It’s saying to see who God loves, watch who wins.

That was the world that Jesus entered into, and it’s almost impossible to understand just how radically Jesus was changing the way they thought of God. It’s impossible because it has to change the way we think of God. It was ridiculous to the Greeks to think that God could ever lose and even be a God of the losers.

It still is.

We Are All Lance Armstrong

So this is a Nike commercial from 2001, famous for Armstrong talking about the value of hard work, and his support of anti-doping regulations. And we now know that he was filming this while creating the most elaborate system of cheating the world has seen. He sacrificed every friendship, his family, and his body. But don’t be too hard on him, because this is a god that we’ve been worshipping for a while now.

53% of Americans believe that God rewards athletes who have faith with good health and success. 40% of Evangelical Christians believe that God cares about who wins the Superbowl. And as, an article I read this week points out, both the Christian Faith and the NFL make their home on Sunday, and “after 50 years of mixing the two, it isn’t all too clear that faith has come out ahead.”

So maybe we shouldn’t be so hard on Lance Armstrong or Ray Lewis, because they might actually be just revealing the bent that we all have. They are the extreme examples of the ancient assumption that Nike is god.

Now I live in West Texas so I should repeat, I love sports, especially football, and I route passionately for my teams as well. But the tale-tale sign that we’ve made a good thing into an idol, is when it cannot produce what it has promised. I wonder what the Monday after the Superbowl is like for the winners? After you’ve bled and sacrificed and given your life toward one goal. I imagine that one of the worst things of worshipping a goal like this is what happens when you achieve it. (As a 5/7 pear shaped person, I obviously wouldn’t know).

Tennis Champion Hana Mandlikova was once asked how she felt about defeating other great Tennis players and she said, “Any big win means that all the suffering, practicing, and traveling are worth it. I feel like I own the world.”

Then they asked her how long that feeling lasts, she replied, “About two minutes.”

Because winning is nice, but victory really isn’t everything.

Nike isn’t Lord, and God is actually on the side of losers.

Don’t Call it a Comeback

Like most people in the area of the world I live in, last Thursday night, I went from depression to exhilaration within a few minutes, 7 minutes and 15 seconds to be exact. The Mavericks were down 15 points to a Superstar team composed of people who really, really want to win a championship, and who are also really, really good. To say that the Mavericks playing the Heat are like David taking on Goliath is appropriate on so many levels. And the fact that they won the 2nd game away in such dramatic fashion is inspiring to say the least.

Now I know the way professional sports works. I’m writing this post a few hours before game 3 of the NBA finals tip off. There is a chance that the momentum we had from game 2 won’t carry over to game 3. There is a chance that Goliath beats David, that is after all, what Goliath’s tend to do. But as long as I live I’ll never forget one thing about game 2.

Toward the end of the fourth quarter, the ABC commentators started showing video feed of the American Airlines center, but not the one in Miami (where the game was actually being played) but the one in Dallas. It was filled with thousands of people who were watching the game on a big screen. Think about that for a second, thousands of people came to a stadium to watch a TV screen that they could probably have had a better experience watching from home. But they came to a stadium to cheer on a team that wasn’t even there, and couldn’t even here them.

In Genesis 12, God calls a guy named Abraham to leave the town he grew up in for a completely unknown experience, and to trust in a completely unknown God. This was in a day and age where the average person didn’t travel over 30 miles from where they grew up…in their entire lifetime. But Abraham breaks that mold and travels off into the great unknown. If you are a believer in Jesus today, it’s because Abraham did that. But when he did it he didn’t know about you. He just had to trust, which he did, and it paid off. Continue reading Don’t Call it a Comeback

Jonah Serves Chicken Wings

I remember as a kid, watching baseball phenom Darryl Strawberry play. I had a few of his cards, and had the opportunity to follow him somewhat through his career. Unfortunatly, that was not so much because of his raw talent (which was certainly there), but because of his off-field exploits. Watching Strawberry’s life unfold was kind of like a real-life exposition of Romans 7.

You were seeing a man, who did what he didn’t want to do, and just couldn’t seem to do what he wanted to. And maybe that’s why I was always so interested in him. I think Darryl Strawberry’s life was kind of a snapshot into the human condition. And I believe, that most of us who are honest would admit that we know exactly what this kind of failure feels like. Continue reading Jonah Serves Chicken Wings