There’s something almost spiritual about how we gather to watch sport. Now, just as the cricket season begins, Rev Tim Winslade writes about how sport gives us an opportunity to reflect Christ to the nation.
Twelve months is a long time in the world of sport. On 27 November 2014 we were shocked at the tragic death of a young Australian cricketer named Phil Hughes. His death led to an outpouring of emotion across the country and many households “put out a bat” in his memory. Although some thought the focus on Phil’s death was overdone, it served as a reminder that sport is a significant part of the Australian psyche that we must engage with if we are to truly incarnate the gospel message.
D H Lawrence (1885-1930) once said that our Australian soul was defined, “not on the battlefield of war, but rather [our] exploits at Lords”, and that “Australians play sport like [our] lives depend on it”. Although we are not the only country that exhibits a passion for sport, it is clear that sport holds a unique place in Australian society that warrants theological investigation. However, apart from the metaphors used by the Apostle Paul, such as “running the race” (Gal 5:6-8) and “winning the prize” (Phil 3:12-15), or his boxing analogy in 1 Corinthians 9:25-27, very little is said about sport in the Bible. Across the ages, sport has often been seen as contesting the same psychological ground as faith. Yet it is imperative that we resolve this sacred/secular dichotomy to engage with this feature that is at the heart of our culture.
Play and playfulness is a gift from God. Play’s only real purpose is enjoyment, and sport, in its rawest form, is just an institutionalised version of play. In the middle ages, Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) introduced the concept of Godly play and suggested that games and play were not “anti-god”, but reflected part of the nature of God, and that we, being made in God’s image, exhibit these qualities. All human gifts and talents, from this perspective, originate from and are supported by God and it is our role to help uncover the treasure placed by God in each sphere of life, including sports.
Following the example of Jesus, who incarnated himself into a context (John 1: 14), we must not stand on the edges of our communities, but get involved in the heart. Our sporting culture needs redeeming, but it also has redemptive qualities that provide many opportunities for engagement, but this can only be done relationally and incarnationally, if it is to have any long-term impact in bridging the divide between the church and our sporting culture.