SOCCER vs. FOOTBALL – Viewing theology as World Cup collaboration not as NBA championships

It’s ironic that the NBA and the FIFA World Cup have overlapped at this juncture in history.  Having won the NBA championship, Lakers’ fans and everyone else turn their attention to the World Cup of Soccer.  What is striking for a theologian, is that presently, the US has the opposite effect in global theology that it has in the FiFa World Cup. Soccer, as a truly “international” sport, has left the US in the dust and only recently are we catching up. Soccer, or Football as it is known internationally, hails from almost every nation on the planet.  This map shows the popularity of football around the world.

The various shades of green (more) and red (less) indicate the number of players per 1,000 inhabitants indicating very strongly that the US is behind the game (literally) and in the last place group which includes countries such as Finland, Japan, Bangladesh, etc…  An indictment that we can no longer evade is that we generally do theology like we do our own national sports.

The American public focuses primarily on the MLB, the NBA, and the NFL, with the NHL in tow.  Interestingly, we cannot join the globe in naming soccer as it is globally call “Football” because we have reserved that name for a natinoal sport that we have created.  Yet, recently a statistic came out that revealed that Americans were the largest purchasing nation of tickets for the World Cup.  So, even though two decades ago the Chicago Bulls symbol was the most popular symbol on the planet at the height of their championship run in the 1990’s, football emblems have taken over as the internationally renowned and recognized sports symbols of our planet.  The U.S,’s recognition in Americanized symbols is fast waning both in sports and in theology.  We can no longer afford to ride the wave of our hegemonic influence in the world.

We need to get back to the field and start competing, not violently, but generatively and cooperatively and realize that we may not come out on top for much longer – and that that’s o.k.  Many of the wounds we’ve inflicted both on the “other” as well on ourselves, will no longer go unchecked.  Healing for the nations as well as ourselves may begin, and as a result cause our hearts to grow simply in community instead of simply growing cold in isolation.

Our historic policy of isolationism was replaced by its opposite extreme of hyper expansionism.  It seems that if we cannot run the show, we go and create our own show.  Without the entrance of the US into WWI and WWII, many more lives would have been lost, but the benefactor mentality that we adopted does not entail the right to neglect or disrespect the sovereignty and identity of other nations.  So let’s stop wearing the “world police” badge and discontinue our infantile isolationist policies and join the international communities’ need for us in a way that also includes our need for them.  We’ve gone too long hiding our national pathologies behind the wall of our perceived international strength.  The pathologies have had their undue influence for too long in our theologies all the way to our foreign policies.  It’s time to truly need the world so that they we understand what they truly need from us.  Am I being too hard on us?  Well, as far as a track record, we don’t have the worst record on the planet, we just get away with the most.

What if this map represented the influence that local and national (contextual) theologies had on the big picture of global theology?  The question is not what if, it is when?  I would like to be part of where this is going and contribute to that direction. It might take some time, but the US will soon be doing theology like they’re playing Football – world Football – and the results will be astonishing.  We need a dedicated group of theologians, activists, writers and organizers, much like the theologians at NAIITS (North American Institute for Indigenous Theological Studies), who will take this direction and run with it.  Many already are, but the numbers are truly dismal compared to the need.  The need is simple – the primary focus should be taken off of “Lakers'” theology (not because it is unhelpful) and be given to “World Cup” theology.

Some say that the US has this focus when they are in the Olympics except that the sports designated as sports within the Olympics have been distinctly and historically influenced more by the West than by the globe.  Football is inherently global because of its access (save the frigid conditions of northern countries, which is easily remedied), its notoriety, its affordability, etc…  Doing a local Lakers’ Theology  will always be necessary, but it should not be primary.

So…the answer – join the World Cup of theology.  The results will blow our minds, enlarge our souls and expand our knowledge and awareness of God more than ever before in the history of our dear planet.  As the voices of each country roar from its borders when their team scores or ooohingly lament at the scourge of a bad call, let us raise our voices from respective borders, roar our applause, and lament our losses in our pursuit of knowing and loving our Creator together.

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  • Hey Nathan…good read! How was NAIITS…i wanted to make it but couldn’t
    Tim H