The End Zone
I have been a Minnesota Vikings fan my whole life. But, I didn’t watch much of the 2009-2010 season. I couldn’t. I just couldn’t.
I forbade my children from speaking that year’s quarterback’s name in our house. Even as the Vikings headed toward the Super Bowl, I watched few of the regular season games because of who was throwing the football.
Something changed during the game between the New Orleans Saints and the Minnesota Vikings. Of course, I remained a loyal Viking fan. But, that night I backed that year’s quarterback.
Play after play, the Saints targeted an attack against a man who just wanted to play the game he loved one more time. He didn’t even care it was for the rival team. It was all about the game for him. Although every quarterback expects to be sacked, the Saints developed a strategy that would sack this player for good. I watched that man rise on his battered ankle and throw the ball to the end.
The Vikings lost. I’m used to that. I was okay with that.
I was not okay with that Saints' win. I was appalled at the actions of players touting a name synonymous with love, mercy, and grace.
I applauded that former Green Bay Packer who continued to stand against the opposition and finish. That day he lost as a Viking. That day he won my respect.
My change of heart proves to me it is possible to remove any competitive rivalry between myself and others by considering myself a member of their team.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
The best way to bless and not curse someone is to remain silent. Yet, as in football, there are play calls. Here are a few based on these verses.
Whatever is happening in their lives—“rejoicing” or “weeping”--I ought to act as if it is happening to me. A specific word exists for that feeling. Empathy. Sometimes possessing too much empathy is more of a curse than a blessing. Yet, I would rather have too much than none at all.
Often my deepest weeping has been followed by my choicest rejoicing. But, one caution. The safest place for outward expressions is an empty locker room.
“When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.
“And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.
One of my favorite scenes in the movie Invincible is when Vince Papale (Mark Wahlberg) thinks he is alone in the locker room as he tapes up his ribs during football try-outs. Mid-wrap, he glimpses his coach, Dick Vermiel (Greg Kinnear), in the hallway window. The two men lock eyes, each assessing the implication of Papale’s injury to his fate as a Philadelphia Eagle. Then, Vermiel gives a nod—a chin-up acknowledgment. Papale nods back, wincing as he resumes securing the source of his pain.
I may think I am alone in that empty locker room. But, my Coach is always there, assessing each injury and their implications to my faith and giving me a chin-up acknowledgment.
If He does that for me, I have to believe He does that for my fellow teammates, even those who aren’t rooting for my success.
After all, we are on the same playing field. Whether we like it or not, we are part of a team. When others are in the “quarterback” position, it is my role to protect their efforts. I may not agree with their play calls. I may be the one who sustains the most injury because I am on the front line. But, if our God’s goal is to be attained, the “football” has to make it to the end zone.
We need to remember Who holds the playbook on us. God coaches and officiates. He doesn’t need us doing His job for Him. If we try to control the outcome of the game, the other team always scores. We must trust that God knows His players best. He knows when to sub one for another. He knows when to bench someone. He assesses our injuries and determines whether we are fit enough for the next play or the next game or the next season. He is the one who prepares us.
Why would we knowingly choose to cause trouble for ourselves? Our respect for one another will alter our aspect in the eyes of others. If peace is the ultimate goal, that is our only choice.
We are better off meeting one another's needs. Sometimes we can do that with tangible refreshment. Maybe the simplest way is to give one another a break! Sometimes we have the opportunity to give a dose of sound, healthy advice.
My other favorite scene in Invincible is when Papale’s roommate, the team’s center, shoves Papale onto their dorm floor. The center's counseling session goes something like this.
“What color are my knuckles?” he shouts.
“White!” chokes Papale.
“That means I’m coming for you.” Then releasing his hold on Papale's neck, he softens his tone…slightly. “I’m tired of seeing you get beat up every day.”
“Yea. There’s a Giant’s jersey in my closet. Get rid of it!”
Papale wisely follows his center’s advice. It changes how he plays the game. The rest is history and a pretty good movie.
No matter how the game—whether of football or life—is played, there is always something to learn. There will always be pain. Though one day ends in defeat, some day we might declare a victory.
I always seem to learn quite a bit about myself, too. I can’t bring myself to type that quarterback’s name. But, I wonder, is that necessary?
There is only one name worth calling out.
In Jesus’ name, we ought to remove our face masks, huddle up, and take a knee.
Maybe we can all agree on that play.