I will admit, straight up, that I’m not a soccer fan in general.
I hate the flopping, the low scores and — though I’m becoming more OK with this — the ties. Is there anything more un-American than a tie?
Yet the World Cup still holds so much allure for me. And honestly, for most people around the world. The thrill of a last-minute corner kick to win the game or the tiebreaking penalty kicks has left my family and I with a sense of amazement that may not be topped for some time.
The only challenging part in watching the World Cup lay in deciding for whom we would pull. Since the United States didn’t qualify, I had to go back to some of my default settings.
I typically pull for the poorer countries over the wealthier ones because I think that they might need it more. I typically pull for the smaller ones over the larger ones because in my mind they’re kind of an underdog. Even when they aren’t.
But some countries have proved problematic for my older son and I, namely Germany and Japan. You see most of my pleasure reading these days comprises rescue stories from the days of World War II, when Americans valiantly sacrificed their lives to stop the spread of Nazi tyranny and Japanese imperialism.
Fresh off watching Netfilx’s “WW2 in Color,” my son expostulated, “We can’t pull for Germany Dad, they’re Nazis!” And of course the same sentiment fell upon team Japan as well.
Perhaps that was why he could pull for Russia over Croatia because Russia was our ally at the time. But at some level, I agreed with his sentiment. I just had enough sense to realize you don’t say that out loud.
Yet how much has changed in our relationship with these countries. Japan and Germany are allies and you could say our relationship Russia has fallen down to the level it was during the days of the “Top Gun” and “Rocky” movies.
The World Cup hasn’t just been fun to watch; it has taken on a devotional element for me, increasing my appreciation of, and allegiance to Jesus.
We all have a past
Our past doesn’t define our present, and we all have a past.
My family watched the wonderful Jackie Robinson movie “42” the other day. It embarrasses me to have to share with my children that even during the American sacrifice of World War II, racism existed alongside such heroism.
But perhaps the most racist empire the world has ever known has become the most welcoming to refugees today. No, they are not Nazis anymore. Countries can change. Churches can change. People can change.
If we aren’t afraid to see and share our past, and believe Jesus has done enough to redeem our past, we can change (Philippians 3:13-14).
A good reminder
America cannot be the center for the Christian.
While in no way am I glad America didn’t qualify for the World Cup, this is a good reminder that America is not the center of the universe, nor should it be the center of the Christian’s thought processes.
I say this as a Christian, whose citizenship is in heaven. We are to think Christian values even before American values. Sometimes they don’t mix well if you read the Sermon on the Mount.
Now Christians are all over the map on how best to deal with racial reconciliation, poverty and immigration. But we must let heavenly citizenship remain prominent and practical in our daily operation, and treat each other with grace when views drastically differ.
In order to display a greater love to the country I love — and I do love it and think it’s the best — I cannot love it more than Jesus. I will actually end up loving it less if I love it more than Him.
Celebrating other cultures
The World Cup is unique in that we are pulling for countries (not just teams) to succeed, even when our own country has lost or didn’t make it.
We are celebrating the victories of “the other.” What if our relationships with other cultures around us today looked a little bit more like watching the World Cup? Instead of pulling for a win, we could pull for them by befriending, listening, and celebrating their successes while not feeling threatened.
I’ll probably not watch much soccer again until the Olympics or the Women’s World Cup. But I hope the lessons from watching the Cup spill over into how I watch other countries when I’m face to face before them.
Contact Pastor Geoff Henderson at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @theapostleGH. Faith Matters is a regular feature of Saturday’s Bradenton Herald written by local clergy members.