The Pharisees of professional sports came out of the woodwork in the wake of allegations that the New England Patriots illegally deflated their footballs to gain an advantage in their recent game against the Colts. NFL balls are required to be inflated at a range of between 12.5 and 13.5 pounds per square inch. The rule sounds like the start of one those math questions we all hated when we were children. QUESTION: If an NFL football is inflated at 12.5 pounds per square inch and the barometric pressure rises from 30.06 to 30.51 on game day, how much will the pressure of the football increase or decrease? ANSWER: It depends on which team will use the football.
ESPN said 11 of 12 balls used by the Patriots in the AFC title game were two pounds per square inch under the minimum. Judging from reactions of fans and the media, you’d think the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse had been let loose upon the earth. Granted, if I can’t trust the integrity of a quintessential American football team, who can I trust? Wasn’t professional sports supposed to be one of the last bastions of integrity? I guess there’s too much money at stake even for sports to remain pure and innocent. The love of money is indeed the root of all evil.
I don’t know if Patriots coach Bill Belichick is guilty of cheating, or if someone else in the franchise is responsible for the deflated balls, or if atmospheric conditions contributed to the deflation of the balls. Nobody knows. But many lovers of the game are calling for severe consequences in this apparently scandalous breach of the rules. To some folks, the breaking of even a minor sports rule justifies harsh penalties. (Someone throw a yellow flag, or two, or three.) Apparently grace has no place in the NFL fan base. It does not matter that the Patriots would have won even if they played with a flat ball; their performance on the field was that good. Common sense tells us that they did not win because their ball was underinflated by two pounds. So why all the brouhaha by many fans and media talking heads? Ultimately the real question is this: why does our culture seem to care more about the alleged violation of a trivial sports rule than we do about, oh, I don’t know … violations of our Constitution and unethical behavior of our political leaders as well as some of the shady practices of our financial and industrial leaders?
Granted, professional sport is entertainment and does not demand that followers have a detailed understanding of the nuances of the game (unless you are a bookie or a Fantasy Football acolyte). You can know a lot or little about the game and still enjoy the action. Interestingly, ancient Rome used sport in the Coliseum to keep the masses distracted from the many problems looming in their society. Today, our leaders know they can get away with murder as long as people have a full belly, a six pack of Pabst and their favorite team to watch each weekend. I’m not suggesting our society needs to abandon professional sports. I am suggesting that it is dangerous for a society to care more about the violation of rules regarding air pressure in footballs than it does about issues of integrity in high places. Additionally, if we the people decide to start caring about integrity in high places, it would be hypocritical to make exceptions for our favorite players, organizations and ideologies.
Matthew 6:21 says “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” Do we treasure the right things, or just the fun things? Professional sports are cool and glamorous. It’s hard to compete with that for the minds and hearts of the people. I get it. But our culture won’t survive unless the people find a way to enjoy, and take seriously, their crucial role as an essential force that holds our leaders accountable … ALL of our leaders.
I’m not much of a prophet. I’m more like an acolyte. (No I did not say a cola lite.) Nevertheless, I do follow current events and I have read a history book or two, including the Old Testament. History has a way of nagging at me about our country’s current economic malaise. In other words, if the past is a portent of the future, I think it possible that things could get much worse in America. A worsening economy is possible if corruption and self-seeking values have reached critical mass in the hearts of the people, leaders in business and government, and especially believers. Yes I know there are still many good people who live and work without succumbing to guile and avarice. The question is: Have we reached a tipping point? I don’t know the answer for certain, but it’s time we at least acknowledge that it is indeed possible.
If the economy worsens, how will the church respond? I haven’t heard church leaders talking about this very much. Most churches seem to be hunkering down while trying to ride out the storm so they can get back to business as usual. But what if there is no return to business as usual, at least for the foreseeable future? I don’t know if the Lord is smiting our economy or we are just reaping what we’ve sowed. It’s probably the latter . . . or both.
It would be prudent for the church to start talking about ways we can prepare to help believers and our local communities should things get worse, even dire. You know, do some emergency planning. I’m not talking about buying a fortified compound in Montana and stockpiling canned goods, ammunition, and water purification systems. I’m talking about collective soul-searching and modest planning.
First, it’s very important for believers to ask ourselves if we have been unfaithful to God. That is, have we made other treasures more important to us than God? If so, the only proper response is prayerful contrition and reorientation of our priorities. We have to fall in love with God all over again, make him our only first love, and set aside our idols. If we sincerely return to God, I believe he desires to restore our spiritual and tangible blessings.
If we have not been unfaithful to God, then we simply need to prepare to help believers and our local communities with things like food, clothing, shelter, medical care, job-finding assistance, and counseling. Each church doesn’t have to do it all, just do something. I admire churches that offer simple services like food banks and second-hand clothing distribution because providing such services helps the church get in shape should life get tougher for our fellow citizens. Waiting to the last minute to provide for physical needs means a sharp learning curve. I don’t know about you, but I despise sharp learning curves.
The older we get, if we obtain any wisdom, we grow increasingly wary of offering advice. That said, I’m going to venture a hazard and offer young folk a precious, painfully earned, dainty of wisdom. If you are just starting out in life—maybe you just got married or you are entering college—focus very little on acquiring possessions and more on freedom from the grind. Why? Because unless you are blessed with enough maturity and tenacity to work in a field you were born for, you will likely reach middle age (55 and up) and experience and urgent change in priorities. Things become less important. I have a house (and a garage) full of crap I could care less about. What I crave more than anything at this toilsome stage of life is—time! Oh I don’t mean a longer life (though that would be nice). I mean time to do what I want, or feel called to do, rather than performing the duties of an employer fulfilling a different mission from my own. Yes, time is more precious than status, position, a mcmansion, a second home in Hawaii, or a net worth in the seven figure stratosphere. Forget about BMW’s, boats, Harleys, ATV’s, or snowmobiles. Focus on achieving early retirement or building a successful business to the point where you can leave it in capable hands while you pursue your passions. Don’t think you’ll just squeeze in the things you want to do. The truth is your energy will fade and the little remaining will be consumed trying to keep doing your job at peak performance. Yep, time is king for people of a certain age, and everybody gets there. Shun debt whenever possible. Pay off your home early. If you must work for wages, make sure you work for a flexible employer. Do whatever it takes to position yourself to take advantage of time in middle age. So there it is: you can’t say nobody warned you!