September 9th, 2010
12:59 PM ET
Editor's Note: Chad Gibbs is the author of God & Football: Faith and Fanaticism in the SEC. He found football at the age of eight, found God one year later, and has spent the rest of his life worshiping one of the two. He and his wife currently live in Auburn, Alabama, with their dogs Bob Vance and Harper. Visit his blog here.
By Chad Gibbs, Special to CNN
When I began writing my book on God and football, the aptly titled "God and Football," the first words I put down were these.
“I was immersed in the waters of Southeastern Conference football twelve months before I was submerged into those of believers’ baptism.”
I go on to say this is not a unique testimony, at least not down south where our God and our pastime scrimmage daily for our hearts and minds.
You see I’m an Auburn fan, and Auburn fans don’t like to talk about 2008. It was our Book of Job. Okay, that may be a stretch. Satan didn’t cover any of us with boils. But we did lose a lot of football games, and for many that’s reason enough to shave your head and sit in ashes.
I certainly did my fair share of pouting, even hid a few of my more vocal Crimson Tide friends on Facebook, but later in the off-season I did something I’d never done before: I took a serious look at how my fanaticism was hindering my faith.
First I asked whether or not I should even care about football. I know many people who say God doesn’t care about sports, He has more important things going on. My view of God is a little bigger than that. I think God can hear prayers about Sudan and Mark Ingram’s knee at the same time. But I think it’s obvious some things are more important than others, and on the list of things that should grieve our spirit, missed field goals are pretty far down the list.
So what is it about football that gets me so upset? I mean in the end isn’t it just entertainment, like a concert or television show? But if I see a bad movie on Saturday night (I’m looking at you Last Airbender), I don’t sulk through worship the following morning.
And I’m not even sure what I do on Sunday can even be called worship, not in light of the way I act on Saturday. You see I’m what you call a sit-on-your-hands Baptist, so clapping in the sanctuary is about as rowdy as I get. If you want to lift your hands above your shoulders, there is a nice Pentecostal church down the road you should visit. But when an Auburn tailback takes a hand off 80-yards for a touchdown, I shut my eyes, lift my hands toward the heavens, and sing until I lose my voice. Shouldn’t I praise the Creator of the Universe with at least the same fervor I praise fast college students? (By the way, Denver Bronco fans are now exempt from this entire discussion, since watching Tim Tebow play technically counts as your quiet time)
I don’t even know if these comparisons are fair, but I do know my passion for pigskin at times feels unhealthy, and after a few months of soul-searching, months that led me to all 12 SEC stadiums, I began to understand what my problem is.
It seems I try to get more out of football than one is meant to get out of it. I look to it for my identity, for my worth as a person. When my Tigers are rolling, I’m the most confident, joyous person you can find. But when things go south for my team, I feel worthless. And as a Christian, as someone who claims God loves me so much He sacrificed His only Son for my redemption, for me to think my worth as a person comes from anywhere but Christ is utterly ridiculous.
But football is just one of many things we turn to for fulfillment in life, only to be left empty. Jesus said in the Bible He is the bread of life, and for Christians, He is the only way we can truly be full. Of course that is easy for me to say now, at the start of the season, before the Tigers have thrilled my soul or broken my heart. Kickoff for the 2010 season is only hours away, I covet your prayers.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Chad Gibbs.
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team and frequent posts from religion scholar and author Stephen Prothero.