Monday, April 30, 2012

Of ultimate importance

I am continually amazed at how we get confused about what has ultimate importance. I've been pondering this as I wrestle with a culture where kid's sports seems to have become a religion unto itself. My friend and colleague The Rev. Grant Barber wrote the following letter to his local lacrosse league:
To the Officers and Board Members of the Scituate Lacrosse Winter League:
Once again children and families have disappeared from churches on Sunday morning because of the conflict in schedules created by lacrosse matches.
When I have (respectully, gently) asked parents about this choice I've heard the same calculus: church is always there, lacrosse provides one more lynch pin in making sure kids are popular, maybe have something additional to put on their college applications if the kids can continue to play into high school, and the rigid rules that mean if a child misses a practice/game on Sunday mornings there will be consequences for the child in future games.
Almost all parents with whom I have this conversation will also offer up that over-scheduled lives--and they point specifically to sport team demands in general and this winter lacrosse season specifically--are not what they ideally want for their kids. It is not a coincidence that we see rising levels of anxiety and depression in children at younger and younger ages.
I feel that I'm facing a losing battle here with something almost as intractable as an ocean tide coming in, and one change we are making is to offer alternative service times. Still, I would be remiss in pointing out that the program over which you have oversight is being disrespectful of the traditional day and time of worship, Sunday mornings.
Admittedly, our Jewish and Muslim friends have not had the privilege of their sacred worship day being "off limits" to sports and other activities and in light of this, my friend's email might seem a bit off base. However, it points to the deeper spiritual dis-ease in our culture which elevates sports to an idolatrous status while ignoring the spiritual life of our families and children.

Don't get me wrong - I do think there are important lessons to be learned by playing team sports. Learning to work with others, putting your own ego needs aside for the good of the team, supporting fellow team members and developing physical and emotional skills on and off the field are important life lessons. But when it comes to ultimate importance, sports falls very, very short and leaves our children and youth spiritual bankrupt.

What do I mean by ultimate importance? Ultimate importance has to do with our core identity as children of God, who are beloved of God, and accepted by God just as we are. Sports can never teach that because sports always is about measuring and comparing who are the "best" and "better" players - these are values which leave some as winners and others as losers. As my friend pointed out, we have rising levels of anxiety and depression among our children and youth who often feel under the microscope and under tremendous pressure to achieve more and more. This is not of God.

And so this lowly parish priest asks of the parents out there: Who do you trust to teach your child about their truest identity as beloved of God? Their sports coaches or the church? Where will they learn the spiritual lessons which will help them weather the storms of life?

I know where I learned about what is of ultimate importance: at church (and thanks Mom and Dad for making sure we went to church on Sundays).

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