My friend Joan recently wrote about a group of cheerleaders making news for holding up scripture-laden banners for their football players to run through at their games. (You can read Joan’s article here, and a Huffington Post article about the story here.) As is her usual way, Joan asked for a lively discussion on the topic and, as someone who self-identifies as a Christian who is madly in love with Jesus, I couldn’t resist. So, Joan my friend, here’s my (Christian) take.
While I appreciate the faith of the cheerleaders, as a Christ follower, I find their efforts entirely misguided and yes — offensive. My first issue with their actions is their treatment of scripture. I consider the Christian Bible — both Old and New Testaments — to be a massive love letter from God to us, His beloved children. (For the record, by “us” I do mean all of humanity — Jew and Gentile, atheist and Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, Wiccan, Christian. His love is there for the taking, should you want it.) Their cavalier treatment of such a gift from God is, to me, not so much a statement of faith but rather a big middle finger to those who don’t share their beliefs — but I’ll get to that in a minute.
Perhaps as Christians we might learn a bit from some of our Muslim friends who truly care about the sacredness of their religious texts. Mind you — I am not talking about the physical being of the bound book itself, nor would I stone to death someone who, say, put a Bible on the ground. I am speaking of the message and heart contained within it. And that message doesn’t deserve to be smashed through by brutish force. It deserves to be called upon with the joy of the soul who knows Jesus during times of trouble. In fact — and I just stumbled upon this scripture by accident just now — Matthew 7:6 says, “Don’t be flip with the sacred. Banter and silliness give no honor to God. Don’t reduce holy mysteries to slogans. In trying to be relevant, you’re only being cute and inviting sacrilege.” (The Message)
The specific scripture cited in Joan’s article, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” (Phil. 4:13) is a beautiful message of encouragement from God to us in any situation. It was written by Paul, while in prison for Christ, and speaks not so much of victory on the playing field but rather the peace that comes by having the Holy Spirit dwell within us — which was Jesus’ promise to those who believe in Him. I love the translation contained in The Message: “Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am.” What a beautiful picture of the intimacy we share with God through His son, the Messiah, Jesus! He makes me who I am, and because of Him, I have peace if I win. I have peace if I lose. I have peace on the football field and alone in my bedroom and at work and in all things, because He deeply cares for me in all that I do. He is everywhere and always, the Great I Am, and He cares about me!!!! He wants to hang out with me!!!!! How awe-inspiring. How deeply humbling. How completely beautiful and sacred.
Joan posted her article on Facebook, and one of the commenters said, “Their big error is in thinking that Christ gives a hoot about their high school football team.” I disagree with that. I think God cares deeply about every aspect of our lives — even football. But not in the way these cheerleaders might think. God is concerned with our hearts, and how they respond to our circumstances. Are we playing full out as if for Him? What lesson can He teach our souls in the games that we play? Can something that happens in that game bring us closer to Him? Because always and forever, Christianity is in no way about us finding God. It is about God agressively seeking for us. And if a football game can help us realize that He seeks us, then yes, God gives much more than a hoot. He gives His all.
The second reason I find their actions offensive is because they are inhospitable (this is where that big middle finger comes in). I am tired of this style of in-your-face-Christianity that so many of my brethren practice, primarily because it sends most people running away from Christ — and I don’t blame them! Yes, we are commissioned to spread the good news that there is a God, that He cares so much about each and every one of us — so much so that he actively seeks us out. He cares so much that He humbled Himself so much as to come down from His throne as King of the Universe and became human, so that He could win back our hearts that had been stolen by darkness. Their use of this scripture in this way is more like a chin raised in defiance against an enemy instead of a heart humbled by the depth of an unfathomable love. And when you experience the love of our Messiah, it is unfathomable. And humbling.
God does not force Himself on any of us. This is very much the point of Christianity. Our faith is based on the belief that God created us for His pleasure, because He considered us good, and knowing that true love is not forced but freely given, He gave us free will. We can hang with Him or not. But His desire for us is never-ending. He wants to spend time with us in the worst way. But He will not force it — He will seek us, invite us, entice us. He invites us to enjoy “the unforced rhythms of grace,” and to “Keep company with [Him] and…learn to live freely and lightly” (both scriptures from Matthew 11:28-30).
Looking again at Phillipians, Paul tells believers to “Celebrate God all day, every day. I mean REVEL in him! Make it as clear as you can to all you meet that you’re on their side, working with them and not against them,” (4:4-5, emphasis mine). To Joan’s point, a person of another faith will certainly feel “othered” with this proclomation of a spiritual experience that they have not themselves had nor do they believe in. Sign-waving polarizes people. It does not make them feel like we are on their side. In fact, scripture teaches us that our beliefs will seem like complete foolishness to them. And how kind is it of us to make other people feel like fools? We are not saved because we are particularly smart. We are saved because of what Jesus did for us. We have no right to brag except about Jesus and His love for us.
Yes we are commissioned to share the good news, but this should be done in the spilling-over of the abundant joy we find in being so unfathomably loved by the God of the universe, not by shaking placards and raised chins. It is an uncontainable joy that must be shared with people because it is so complete, you just want everyone to experience it, too!!! Not because you are better, smarter, somehow more spiritually bionic than someone else. Let me reiterate. You didn’t find God. God found you. And the joy of this should be contagious, attractive. If we’re doing this Christianity thing right, people will be so attracted to the peace and love we exude that they’ll come to us and ask — no banners needed, no raised fists and catchy slogans necessary.
Yesterday in my quiet time The Spirit quietly showed me a scripture I’ve read a million times: “Knock and the door will be opened to you,” (Matthew 7:7). I received this image of God waiting on the other side of the door with almost child-like anticipation, like a young kid on a holiday waiting for the special guests to arrive so the party can get started. When we knock on the door, I don’t just see the door being opened. I envision it immediately being swung open with such enthusiasm that a smile springs to our lips unabated. I picture wide open arms and a welcoming embrace — “You’re here at last!!! You’re finally here!!! I have been waiting for you, my child!!! I have been waiting!!!” God shows us hospitality. He shows us hospitality in letting us leave Him. And He shows it in welcoming us back upon our return.
One of Joan’s commenters on Facebook said the controversy around this constitutes a “war on Christianity,” and that we should “proclaim the dogma of our Catholic faith” no matter who disagrees. A few things on this: First, Catholocism is not the only form of Christianity. Second, as per the whole rest of this post, we can proclaim dogma all we want but is that really showing the love of Christ (who was pretty dogma-free) or is it simply about being stubborn? Finally, of COURSE there’s a war against Christianity! It’s been war since the Garden!! That. Is. The. Whole. Point. Our job as Christians is not to stop the war, but to rather to let people know that though the battle wages, the war has already been won. And we want to invite them to the victory party. Personally, I don’t think Jesus would serve dogma at that fiesta. I think bagels and lox would be more His style, but that’s just me.
Every where I go, as a Christian, I am othered in some way or another. But Jesus never promised us anything different. I have been “unfriended” on Facebook for being “very religious” by someone with whom I had never had a religious conversation. I have friends of other faiths who almost daily not only make fun of my beautiful love Jesus, but mock my own faith incessantly. My personal favorite by people who obviously hardly know me (and have never seen the stacks of books in my house): I should “read more” (I assume more reading would rid me of this pesky faith). This is not anything that Jesus didn’t suffer more of, and that He didn’t promise us we would experience as well. Our reactions should be filled with love, as was Jesus’. Some of His final words on the cross after being unjustly convicted, tortured, and while being slowly murdered: “Forgive them, Father. For they know not what they do.” And so should we. So step away from the placard. You can’t hug somebody’s soul while you’re waving a sign in their face.
To the nj.com commenter who called Joan a “dumb-ass”, if you consider yourself a Christ-follower, I hope you’ll read the scriptures and that they will act like some serious Visine for that whopper of a plank you’ve got in your eye (Matthew 7:5). If you don’t consider yourself a Christ-follower, I hope you’ll read the scriptures in order to better understand where we are coming from.
For me, this isn’t so much a political situation (although I can understand how it can be — separation of church and state, which I support, and all that jazz). This is more relational in my opinion. It’s more like someone is making fun of my loved one more than it is a constitutional issue. I don’t disagree with the cheerleaders actions out of a desire to be politically correct. I disagree with them because I believe their actions sully the name of my beloved, Jesus. Their actions don’t demonstrate the amazing love for us that God demonstrated through the mystery of the Jewish scriptures being fulfilled in Yeshua (Jesus). These things simply can’t be demonstrated by marker put to paper. They can only be demonstrated by relationship — which is all God wants from any of us.