I am getting a lot of weird looks today. And it’s not because I have a bare face.
But a couple years ago, to the amazement of everyone around me, I learned to follow a sport.
It’s no secret that I am a stranger to the sports world, and this didn’t change that. It’s also no secret that I didn’t pay attention to basketball for the love of the game. I had no idea what was going on.
I was blessed that year to have nearly the entire varsity team in class. They truly were a group of extraordinary men. In class and out of it, they were smart, challenging, funny, and considerate men who made my classes more interesting and enjoyable. I appreciated them as students so much, that appreciation overflowed into one for them as athletes–sort of.
The Junior class fundraisers more or less mandated me to be at every home game–which is fine because I loved cheering for these guys. I just didn’t know what I was doing. I loved them, but I had no idea if these guys were playing well or poorly. I could deduce the basics of basketball, sure, but that’s not enough to connect with them in, for many of them, their most important place of performance. It felt so strange to care so much about something I knew so little about!
So I did what all teachers (not really) would do in my situation: I made a class project out of my NCAA March Madness brackets. These basketball guys helped me with my bracket picks, and we did a debrief about the previous night’s games in the morning. I watched the games with a notebook and would bring in my commentary and questions. Five weeks of this, and I am a basketball Jedi. ( Ok. Maybe not. But I can now give a decent play-by-play using the right terminology.)
It’s true that I live to learn and Basketball gave me a new subject to explore. It is true that I have an uncommon affection for my students, and that I would have cheered for these terrific guys if they had chosen to be mimes in boxes. And it is true that it’s very easy to cheer for a team that enjoyed the success and exposure that ours did that year.
But more than all this, Basketball for me was part of my Missio Dei. To develop some basketball expertise was to become indigenous to my student culture. I maintain a Facebook and send text-messages like my life depends on it for the same reason. I even adapt my playlists and learn to love the music they love in order to love my students better.
Basketball became crucial to my scheme of what’s called Missional Living.
According to Floyd McClung, former director for Youth with a Mission,
“Missional living is about investing in the lives of other people. It is not a program. It is certainly more than organized outreach activities. Being a missional person means intentionally building bridges to other people – for the sake of them knowing Jesus and discovering what it means to be a fully alive, free human being. It is an attitude that says, “I will invest my life in others for the sake of Christ and his purposes on earth.” It means I will live that way in every sphere of life and every day of the week.”
And according to Dr. Ed Stetzer and Phillip Nation in their book Compelled by Love,
“In an alliterated sense, missional living is an incarnational (being the presence of Christ in community), indigenous (of the people and culture) and intentional (planning our lives around God’s agenda) focus on the power of the Gospel to bring the reign of God into people’s lives.”
Nation and Stetzer also directed me toward 2 Corinthians 5:14-15 & 18:
“For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; 15and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer C)”>live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf… 18Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.”
I started attending a bible study (of sorts) with my basketball players, and we had open and important conversations about faith and reason and even race and culture (Did I mention most of them were West African?) –the kind of where Jesus shows up and we see a glimpse of eternity. The kind where true reconciliation of race and gender and culture and age and lost and found really begins. I had the privilege of exploring the truth of the Gospel as it applies to all things–even basketball.
For me, I saw there is church and basketball because there is Mission.
And–as a surprise blessing–I am amazed by the power and art of this sport. I can’t believe those jump shots go in from 40 feet away. It’s exhilarating to see the ball run up the court so fast, and when they catch those passes from half a court away and drive in to the basket with precision and agility–fireworks!
This year, there are 6 former students from my old school playing in the tournament.
That loud cheering you’ll hear this week from the cubicle in the back or the lobby during church on Sunday? It’s not me.
I swear. 😉
*Much of this originally appeared in a post called