Speaking of football.
Jerry Seinfeld once observed that rooting for a particular sports team is a lot like rooting for laundry. Players get traded between teams, but it doesn’t really matter who was on the team last week. Whoever is wearing the correct jersey today is the guy you want to win. Players have gone from devil to hero (and vice versa) with nothing but the change of a shirt. Like my father always said: the clothes make the man.
Loving a sports team requires a certain amount of mental contortionism, but this could be said of many belief systems.
Growing up religious, I’ve always felt I had a firm understanding of the workings of the universe. They gave me a book that answered all of the questions and explained all the behind the scenes stuff in a way that made plausible sense. I could fit all of my daily experiences fairly neatly into the framework of angels and sacraments and communion. My logical mind took to it strongly and studied it enthusiastically. Obviously I read the Bible cover to cover. Then I started reading through the writings of the various saints and church leaders, as well as any official or otherwise useful teachings (C.S. Lewis had a lot to say on the topic, for instance). Most weekends were spent attending seminars and retreats, well into my twenties. Anything to help me understand the world around me.
Eventually folks started to ask me to teach. I began to give educational talks at prayer group meetings and retreats, then eventually went on to host discussions with larger audiences at seminars and special events. I once played the opening act for Hall of Fame coach Vince Dooley at a religious banquet in his honor. Nothing fulfills a life like finding that intersection of talent and interest. People were reacting well to the message I was spreading and things were really coming together.
Of course there were always those pesky corners of the story that didn’t make perfect sense (“Hey, weren’t we booing that guy last week?”). Being an inquisitive sort, I started asking some tougher questions and I didn’t particularly like the answers that came back. I found that religion is terribly specific about some topics and oddly evasive on others. These dead ends are usually labeled as “mysteries of the Church” and spoken of no further. But didn’t you hear? I love to solve mysteries. That was the whole point of this journey to begin with.
Where is heaven and what does it mean to attain it? How does prayer work? What exactly is salvation supposed to be saving us from?
It’s time to talk about the mysteries. It’s time to expand and shape our explanations so that they can include all of our observations and experiences instead of politely declining to comment on those that don’t quite fit. And don’t think for a second that religion holds a monopoly on dodgy explanations: I’m looking at you too, science.
Rather than throw it out, I’d prefer to make it work. Angels are as good an explanation for attraction as a magical force called magnetism. I’m rooting for religion to reclaim its rightful place in our lives: explaining the world in a way that is poetic, meaningful, and cohesive. Stranger things have happened. Was that Brett Favre in a Vikings jersey?