The Sport of the Gods: and Other Essential Writings (Modern Library Classics)


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In new collection, Dunbar shines as an essayist as well as a poet

He was nearly inconsolable but in great company—grown men have become so upset over a gut-wrenching Alabama loss that they have thrown up. We have to man up when our team loses. There are a lot more important things in life than a football game. Sports give people something to live for—they feed our quest for glory and transcendence—yet somehow we have to learn how to put the cultural phenomenon of sports in its place.


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When the game becomes about me. When we do sports well, we nurture this love as a spectacular gift and remind ourselves of the giver of all good things.

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We have a God-given capacity to play, to compete, to press our physical limits, to excel in endurance, and to discipline our bodies for physical performance. But they are in uniform and psychologically segmented off. Discernment is made more difficult when we are determined to find the silver lining in every aspect of sports no matter how contrary they may be to Christian practice.

If we have to spend time debating the Christian legitimacy of cage fighting, for example, we may never get to the issues that matter most—the valuable role sports play in human flourishing; the thrill of competition and the joy of comradery; the positive impact of sports on physical, emotional, and spiritual discipline; the ways in which sports can reflect the will and way of Christ.

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Cage fighting is to sports what pornography is to marriage. The effort to find redeeming value in cage fighting strikes me as lunacy. The Christian who hesitates to say no to cage fighting on grounds that it may have a cathartic effect on controlling male violence seems blind to the very basic Christian rationale for sports. Are there no limits for acceptable behavior that honors God?

Is there anything in the realm of sports that requires Christians to utter a categorical no? This simple one-liner underscores the life-changing impact of the gospel of grace for each and every believer. Discipleship is the costly, daily commitment of the ordinary believer. We are meant to resist compartmentalizing our faith in Christ into separate categories, as if food, work, money, sex, and sports belong to the realm of personal choice whereas prayer, worship, Bible reading, and evangelism belong to God.

Jesus teaches his followers that everything belongs to the spiritual disciplines and that everything ought to be done in obedience to the will of God. Christian families are bowing to these costly demands. They are willing to make great sacrifices in time, money, and energy, but in the end, they are giving up their children to the all-consuming phenomenon of sports. Eight-year-olds are pulled out of Sunday morning worship to play baseball games.

Swim meets are held on Good Friday. Tournaments are played on Easter Sunday. Travel ball and sports camps take top priority over family time. As parents, coaches, and players, we ought to understand—and not make up for ourselves—what it means to glorify God. Nor does it mean giving a sound bite for Jesus after the game. Sports are just games to Jennie, frivolous passing time with no redeeming purpose. To win is to honor him. He is all in with a passion for competing, but he is never defined by the competition.

His intensity is not wrapped up in glorifying either sports or national athletic pride. When Liddell learns that his meter race will be run on Sunday, he refuses to run because of his deeply held convictions about honoring the Sabbath; Lord Lindsey comes to the rescue.

The Sport of the Gods

Some have suggested that Lindsey agrees to this switch because through his wealth and aristocratic social status he is spared the indifference of Jennie Liddell, the delusion of Harold Abrahams, and the spiritualizing devotion of Eric Liddell. That is, Lindsey can afford to be playful and selfless, to tackle the less famous race, because of his wealth and status. Salvation and self-worth are rooted in what God in Christ has done for us. This frees sports to be what they were intended to be: good clean fun, challenging recreation, joyful competition, extramural pastime.

AUTHOR’S PREFACE

This is the freedom that caring parents and coaches should seek to nurture in their children and student athletes. We are free to enjoy sports without turning them into idols that demand sacrifices reserved for God alone. Jesus was in the habit of driving his truth home in radical ways.

One of the boldest lines he ever spoke contrasted devotion to him with devotion to family. The love of family is an integral part of costly discipleship. What Jesus means by his radical comparison is that family must never become an excuse for not following him, and often following Jesus means loving our family; through our family we have the opportunity for loving the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, strength, and soul, and our neighbor as ourself.

Is the love of sports an integral part of cross-bearing discipleship?

The Sport of the Gods: and Other Essential Writings (Modern Library Classics) The Sport of the Gods: and Other Essential Writings (Modern Library Classics)
The Sport of the Gods: and Other Essential Writings (Modern Library Classics) The Sport of the Gods: and Other Essential Writings (Modern Library Classics)
The Sport of the Gods: and Other Essential Writings (Modern Library Classics) The Sport of the Gods: and Other Essential Writings (Modern Library Classics)
The Sport of the Gods: and Other Essential Writings (Modern Library Classics) The Sport of the Gods: and Other Essential Writings (Modern Library Classics)
The Sport of the Gods: and Other Essential Writings (Modern Library Classics) The Sport of the Gods: and Other Essential Writings (Modern Library Classics)
The Sport of the Gods: and Other Essential Writings (Modern Library Classics) The Sport of the Gods: and Other Essential Writings (Modern Library Classics)
The Sport of the Gods: and Other Essential Writings (Modern Library Classics) The Sport of the Gods: and Other Essential Writings (Modern Library Classics)

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