Sunday Stretch: Vol. 21
Start off your week with a grounded take on Bible, prayer, the world, and your life ...
Happy Super Bowl Sunday!
This is always an interesting Sunday for me to spend time in worship, because the Super Bowl figures prominently in my own call story into ministry.
As many of you might know, my first career was in journalism, specifically as a sportswriter. I spent about five years working for newspapers and magazines, with my first job famously paying $6.70/hour to cover Big XII sports for the Columbia Daily Tribune while I was still in college. I then was paid what’s still my best-ever freelance rate, at age 21 in 2006, with $2/word to write for Sports Illustrated, a piece that I’m still proud of as one of the first to begin to convict the NCAA for its exploitation of college athletes, especially men’s basketball and football players, most of them Black.
My first post-college sportswriting job was for the Naples (Fla.) Daily News, where I got to go and cover the Super Bowl in 2009. It was then, on the media bus back after an exciting Pittsburgh Steelers victory against the Arizona Cardinals, that I made my final decision to leave Florida just six months later and pursue my master’s in Divinity and ordination in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
Maybe the fact that I just now had to go back to Google and double-check the score of that game tells you that my heart was never fully in the stats and scores of a sportswriting career, but at the same time, I loved the work. I grew up playing all kinds of sports, including volleyball, basketball, and track and field in high school; and one of my favorite parts of being a mom now is seeing my boys play team sports.
I considered it such a privilege and honor to share the athletes’ and coaches’ stories — to help people see more of the humanity behind their uniforms and helmets, and I especially loved writing profiles, like the one I got to write about Edgerrin James and his hometown of Immokalee, Fla., during that Super Bowl week.
Still, I was called to go from writing truth about sports to hoping to share the greater Gospel truth of love and justice for the world that came through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, and I really haven’t looked back since. I still use my past as a sportswriter to expose Gospel truths through sports stories, like in 2017 when I wrote about Colin Kaepernick’s NFL kneeling protest against police brutality towards Black people, and the NFL and then-President Trump’s backlash against it.
Lots of sports fans and church leaders can see this story as two independently existing events, one built on consumerism and violence, and the other built on an antiquated tradition that doesn’t have relevance in modern-day America, and so we forget to talk to each other and learn from each other. The truth is that the NFL is built on consumerism and violence, and the Church in many ways has become a decadent and irrelevant institution, or worse a purveyor of Christian Nationalism and white supremacy.
But those aren’t the only truths on display today, this Christian Sabbath and Super Bowl Sunday day. There are also stories of courage and conviction, of hope and promise. Of ordinary people and their dogged hard work and perseverance. There is the way that people who have little in common can don the same colors and shout the same cheers. I see the best of these attributes all the time in little local churches, and on sports teams. So there’s hope for us all.
And for my husband, a KC native, Go Chiefs!
Now let’s get to the texts …
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