Saturday, October 22, 2011

Saturday Sports Y.A.P.: The NBA, NHL, jilted fans, and church entitlement

I've been giving my relationship with professional basketball the silent treatment.

If anything about the National Basketball Association comes across my ears or eyes, I look past it. I read something else. I engage in another activity. I'll read Leviticus if I have to (no offense to Leviticus scholars).

I am a jilted Seattle SuperSonics fan. They were the first team to reward my sports love with a championship in 1979 when I was 9 years old (okay, maybe it wasn't just for me). I went outside and danced in the streets of my subdivision with my neighbors after the big win. The Sonics always had a special place in my heart. After the team departed for Oklahoma in 2008, after the spectacle of failed leadership, of disingenuous deals, greed and politics, I chose the silent treatment in my relationship with the NBA. I refuse to acknowledge their presence. Some folks in Seattle continue to be NBA fans with heavy hearts. Some chose to respond with anger. Others chose to respond with endless analysis of the systems and people involved that produced the departure of NBA basketball from Seattle. My lips are essentially sealed.

Some people I read, watch and listen to have mentioned that the NBA is in a labor negotiation. I don't know the details. I still don't really care. The parties involved couldn't possibly expect any sympathy from the fan base. Look at the activities of the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street. Look at the unemployment that hasn't been this high in decades. Who wants to read stories about millionaires and billionaires arguing about a game, especially when the integrity meter is at swamp level? If millionaires and billionaires want to argue about something that will be truly beneficial for people, argue until you're blue in the face. Sure, the NBA provides jobs for many people besides the players and management, but they have no voice at all in the negotiations. My caring doesn't mean much in this equation. So be it.

I broke my media engagement with the NBA recently. If there was anyone who was going to do it, it wasn't going to be the local Seattle metro sports or news talking heads. It was going to be Bill Simmons. Simmons has been the one national media figure (I would argue that he acted like a good pastor in many ways) who has consistently delivered emotionally, skillfully, humorously and analytically writing about how Seattle was hosed regarding the Sonics. I found some solace in Simmons' words. He continues being a NBA fan (he's from Boston and lives in LA), but he became a de facto Seattle advocate in the NBA world. Simmons named my pain, listened and legitimized that pain. I was tricked into reading his recent article because I thought it was going to be more about hockey and the NHL, but Bill Simmons is juxtaposing hockey and hoops to illustrate the issues with the NBA as an organization. The NBA has wrongly assumed that their fans will stick by them if they can't move forward in the midst of their problems soon.

No organizational loyalist should expect relational harmony and bliss all the time. Especially in the church. While I look at the NBA, I can't help but think of the church (well, it's what I do). I expect the church to strive for justice and live in the midst of human struggle. I expect there to be a lot of unease, because in the church we deal with life and death (well, it's what we do). What bothers me about conflicts in the church in this day and age on multiple levels is the sense of entitlement leaders of the church have (and I am one of those entitled leaders). We talk about people as commodities--we track worship attendance, baptisms, and demographics of all kinds. In the midst of how we treat each other in the church, we often look at society and blame the masses for not wanting to be part of our cantankerous little club, and that our numbers don't match our bloated sense of entitlement. People find other things to do.

I think about how I haven't watched more than 3 seconds of an NBA game in almost 4 years. I have found other things to do. No one is entitled to my participation or anyone's participation in a community. In church or in sports. That giving of blood, sweat, tears and allegiance comes from a delicate balance of trust and risk. I think "NBA" and "church" can be interchangeable words the equation about trust, risk, and allegiance.

Maybe this trust/risk/allegiance/entitlement equation is one of the reasons I am called to serve the congregation that I do. St. John's Lutheran Church in Lakewood, Washington, had a near-death experience. They nearly had the votes to close in 2011. But they didn't. What I do see after 4 months of building relationships in the congregation is that the sense of entitlement I have seen in many communities of faith over the years is minimized (as far as I can tell). I think they've helped me get over my own sense of entitlement (to a degree). It's not a perfect congregation by any stretch of the imagination, nor do I think I am the perfect pastor to build a renewed congregation. But with a minimized sense of entitlement, we have some trust with which we can build.

Maybe God can still do something with us.

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