What if church was more like football?

On my way back from San Antonio yesterday, I stopped in Austin to join some friends for the University of Texas vs. West Virginia football game.  

There’s just something thrilling about being in a massive crowd of people all gathered for a common purpose. 

To wind your way through all the tailgaters – through the huddles of tents and charcoal grills, coolers and flat screen TVs, lined up for miles outside the gathering place, with people eating, drinking, swapping stories, reconnecting with friends.

To take your place in the sanctuary, looking out across over 100,000 people – almost the same size as my hometown – and see all those shades of burnt orange. 

And of course a few Mountaineer navy shirts and coonskin caps were scattered throughout.

One of the amazing things I noticed, though, was how respectful the home team fans were to the visitors, and vice versa, at least in our section.  Everyone continued to root for their team without it turning personal and ugly. 

As close as the game was all night, it’s pretty unusual that someone didn’t get out of line.

It’s amazing to me that you can get people to pay that much for tickets and invest an entire day, way into the night, to attend an event like that.  And they didn’t just come for the snacks.  They weren’t that good. 

They didn’t even serve Dr. Pepper. 

I liked that the real fans knew all the rituals.  They knew what’s going to happen at certain times during the game – they knew when to yell back and forth across the stadium, they knew the hand gestures and all the words to the songs, and they sang them when the band played.  They knew when to stand and when to sit. 

Some of them knew because they’ve been going to games like that since they were in school there.  They’re alumni, so they’ve been taught the routine. 

Some knew because they’ve been coming to games all their lives, because maybe their parents, or even their grandparents were alumni, and it’s just something they’ve always done.  They knew all the words to the songs and their fingers just naturally formed the “Hook ‘em Horns” sign.  They didn’t even have to think about it. 

But others of us had never been to a game there before and we weren’t familiar with all the rituals.  We didn’t know when to stop clapping.  We didn’t know the words to all the songs yet.  I liked that it seemed to be okay that I didn’t know.  I could participate or not.  I could learn at my own pace.  And they still let me be a part of them.  Maybe they were even glad I was there.  

The thing is, I really did want to learn.  Because I’ve been watching from a distance – even though I’ve seemed skeptical and at times downright hostile to the whole idea of going to a game.  It looks like it might really be a great thing to be a part of you, though – to be part of something  bigger than myself. 

To be part of a group of people who are nice to everyone in their midst, even though we’re different, as though we belonged, too.  So that we, too, could have something to believe in that draws us all together like that – something that inspires us to sit through cold wind, on uncomfortable seats, and walk for miles back to our parked cars.

And feel like we’ve really experienced something grand, even when our team doesn’t win.

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