On Winning

I’ve been on a bit of a blogging hiatus lately, partly planned as I’ve just had several responsibilities pulling me several different ways (I’ll never understand how so many people find so much time to regularly update their blogs), and partly unplanned as I had strep throat and the whole family was sick with something or another three weeks ago and it took me awhile to catch back up after that bout.  In addition, I’ve had a bit of a hiatus due to fatigue.  I’ve grown fatigued of talking politics and theology.  I’m tired of the same old arguments.  I’m tired of people’s inability to communicate sanely and respectfully.  I’m tired of political lines defining theological agendas . . . and constantly being accused and labeled in discussions.  Me: “Socialism is nowhere condemned in Scripture.” Others: “OMG You’re a Socialist!!!”  I feel more pulled to a position of Christian anarchism every day . . . and feel more on an island every day.  In any case, I’ve grown weary of those posts for now.  However, there is a related topic that I have felt a growing interest in writing.

To my knowledge, no one has ever written a serious theological treatment on the concept of “winning.”  This is a multi-faceted topic and I’ll simply offer an introduction here, but I think that this is a topic more American Christians need to wrestle with.  I can speak to this issue from several different angles: as a Cleveland sports fan I’ve never really had a lot of experience cheering for teams winning championships constantly (my affinity for the Buckeyes does balance that out, however); as a high school football official I can affect outcomes in games and help determine who wins and loses, as a parent of young children I watch my kids play sports and coached Clark’s baseball team this fall hoping for wins, as a youth minister I have been to countless sporting events and sat in the stands rooting for my teens to do well, and on and on it goes.

Sports, obviously, is not the sole proprietor of winners.  Just last week the Republican party were crowned the big political “winners”  of the mid-term elections.  Salesmen regularly fight to win sales; bidders to win bids, and even in churches we talk of “winning” souls.  But for all this time and attention on winning, how often do we ask ourselves whether or not winning is godly.  To be sure, winning isn’t always godly any more than losing is always godly.  I don’t think any well-intentioned Christians would say that.  However, I’m already wondering if there will be a time when my son’s or daughter’s faith will be better impacted by a loss than win – if there will be a time when I find myself rooting against my son/daughter.

The bottom line is that our culture is obsessed with winning.  We stand behind our labels, logos, and allegiances throughout the years honoring them by what we wear, tickets to attend their events, and, most priceless of all, our time (like the three hours I spent yesterday on the couch watching the inspired Browns take down the Patriots).  “It’s the uniform,” we often hear people say.  As Christians, though, there is so much else at stake.

Some of my humblest moments in recent years have come in the high school football games.  Watching teams without a single African American player line up against a team without a single white player illustrates how there is more than winning and losing at stake in sports.  The Christian must be able to set aside their allegiances in sports (as much as in politics) and interpret the larger context of their sports experience.

The extent of our theology on winning often goes little further than, “It’s not about winning or losing, but how you play the game.”  It’s time we move beyond that trite statement and explore the deeper contours of something so central to our American culture.  Over the next several posts I’ll be exploring some of the more challenging issues of sports, winning, and losing, and hope to begin a longer focus on the topic.

In May I’ll be taking Craig Detweiller’s class “Theology and Pop Culture.”  I hope to be focusing specifically on the intersection of theology and sports culture – and no I’m not just trying to find an excuse to watch a few extra games along the way (Hey, I wonder if I can write off Buckeye tickets as educational expenses?)  I look forward to the discussion.

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3 thoughts on “On Winning

  1. One time I asked a guy who was getting his PhD in Systematic Theology the following question: Is “competition”/”competitiveness” one of the many traits which was born out of the Fall of man? Or is it a trait which was once good/intended as part of our created nature, then became corrupted, and now awaits redemption by God (like, for example, sexuality & all the many ways it has been corrupted, even though it was meant for good originally)? I think you’d need to address this question in relation to winning/losing, since the basis of sports is the desire to compete. Myself, it seems that you could make an argument that divine competition is at the basis of the larger Redemption Story — God is ready to fight for humanity. Thus, winning/losing is one of the vantage points of the cross & resurrection. The real paradox is that God had to lose first to win. But maybe I’m stealing some of your thunder here. Look forward to reading more of your thoughts.
    — Ray

    • I like the things you bring up . . . help get things rolling. It’s interesting that there hasn’t been more done on the topic. The idea of competition has so many implications beyond sports – immediately thoughts turn to economics and capitalism in general. If we determine that competition was a trait born out of the Fall – it calls into question our entire economic structure. Hmmm . . . seems like that would fit in with discussions on this blog.

  2. Nice correlation w/economics. By the way, your post here “on winning” reminds me of a reference Donald Miller made in “Searching for God Knows What”, in which he cites the unconventional winning/coaching strategy of John Gagliardi, who is the winningest coach in Football (Miller, p. 138). If you haven’t read it yet, go check it out. Funny how the coach with the most wins doesn’t play by rules of power, cutthroat competition, and pride.

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