Email Devotion Pentecost 21
I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me. (Exodus 20:2-3, NRSV)
I’m not sure what the proper term is … heresy … idolatry … spiritual adultery … but I was unfaithful this weekend to my Christian beliefs. I was drawn away by the siren call of a religion that is powerful in our land. It has its own sacraments (pompom shaking) and vestments (anything blue and white) and liturgical responses (“We are …”) It has hymns (The Alma Mater) that teach the faith to the young and creedal affirmations (Hail to the lion) that identify the core truths of true believers …
Every college has a legend, Passed on from year to year,
To which they pledge allegiance And always cherish dear.
But of all the honored idols, There’s but one that stands the test,
It’s the stately Nittany Lion, The symbol of our best.
Hail to the Lion, Loyal and True. Hail Alma Mater, with your White and Blue.
Penn State forever, Molder of men (and women),
Fight for her honor, Fight, and Victory again.
Admittedly, I was worshipping in what I see as the Holy of Holies of Penn State football … the Chapel of the Penn State Blue Band. But worship I did. I wore my Blue Band vestments … ah tee-shirts, I meant to say. I sang the above noted words of idolatry during the band’s Floating Lion drill. I stood for the alma mater. I rejoiced with the prophets and disciples of old, as the Alumni Blue Band took the field to march and play. Oh yes, I was unfaithful … big time. I am told that the undercard of Saturday’s Band Festival at Beaver Stadium– the boys who chase a pigskin around the grass — also did well on Saturday. How nice for them. But the band was the false god I worshipped for the day.
Silliness and tongue-in-cheek humor to be sure. Those who know me, know that I am a band fan first, and a football fan somewhere significantly down the line from there. But whatever my blue and white obsession was this weekend, I was reminded of how easily a person can get sucked into a culture that can dominate your life and identity. I thought about what had to be the tens and tens of millions of dollars that were pumped into these few hours on Saturday afternoon (ticket sales alone would have to be at the very least $8.5 million dollars, and probably much more). I thought of the time invested in everything that surrounds this culture (I gave four days of my life to it). I thought of the energy and devotion and excitement … and what many would describe as “love” for the experience. If that doesn’t sound and look idolatrous, I don’t know what does.
Alright, maybe idolatry is too strong a word. Maybe. This is a leisure activity for those of us who attend, and a billion dollar industry for those who lead it. But does not our investment of our time, talent and treasure (and there are gobs and gobs of each category invested in college football), suggest something about our priorities? Obviously, I don’t “worship” Penn State football, or its band … except when I do … when I let myself get irrationally connected to the event in ways that suggest that this may be the highest priority in my life. I consider it a $700-800 four day weekend vacation with my family, when I add up motel costs and tickets and food and transportation and souvenirs. But that is a hefty chunk of change for a weekend centered on a football game. Hmmmmm….
I’m not really sure what the answer is. But it gives me pause when I consider the investment I made in this weekend. I will do it again next year, because the impact of Penn State and specifically the Blue Band in our case, has been significant in my son and daughter’s lives. But do I tread on the edge of idolatry any time I invest this level of adoration and attention and loyalty to anything beyond the God who fashioned and formed me? It seems an appropriate topic for my prayer life this week. Maybe for yours, too, as you reflect on those experiences in your life that seek to be your idols.