Tuesday, June 10, 2014

I Love the Smell of Soccer in the Morning (Double Classic)

The following post is a DOUBLE classic post - the original post was written during the World Cup in 2002. Then in 2006 - during the next World Cup - I updated it again. I didn't recycle it for the 2010 World Cup... but I refuse to let another celebration of "the beautiful game" go by without bringing this back out for your enjoyment!


When we think about things that unite us around the world, it's easy to come up with bad stuff... the way we respond to disasters or terrorist attacks. Political crises turn our heads... and deaths of celebrities can break our hearts. Every two years now, a chunk of the world focuses on the Olympic Games (Winter & Summer). But for sheer international focus, absolutely nothing compares to the World Cup.

Here in America, it's a sporting footnote... something to watch on ESPN2 during the early morning hours when they're usually running the umpteenth rebroadcast of Sports Center. In the rest of the world, however, things are grinding to a halt as people gather to watch these games & cheer on their teams. (I read an article last week that movie studios try to avoid making worldwide releases during the World Cup, as most of the world doesn't care much about the latest shoot 'em up action flick when there's "futbol" on!)

I'm not a huge soccer fan - but I love watching the World Cup. Each game feels like Game 7 of the World Series... and the level of play is stunning. (And the endurance these guys have... yikes. I couldn't play that hard for 9 minutes, let alone 90 minutes!) Here in the Central Valley, that means I have to watch games in the morning, as they're actually playing in Germany. (The last World Cup, in Korea, meant I was getting up at 5 or 6 am to watch games live.)

So, almost exactly four years ago, I stumbled upstairs to my computer following a particularly important World Cup game. As the sun rose and I blearily stared at my monitor, I managed to pound out the following e-mail.


I'm not expecting many of you to be soccer fans... let's face it, most of the people who receive this e-mail are Americans, and that means that soccer is something OTHER countries do. We Americans are perfectly happily to watch heavily-padded guys slam into each other at high speeds (American football) - not that, IMHO, there's anything wrong with that! :-)

Worse yet, we (the Americans) aren't the best in the world at soccer. This is a problem - we have a bit of a complex about not being #1. (And when I say we're not the best in the world at soccer, I'm not kidding. We were 32nd place out of 32 teams in the last World Cup.) [2006 Note: Of course, we came into this year's World Cup ranked #5, so we've definitely improved. Just ignore our performance against the Czech Republic the other day.]

So, when the U.S. team is dangerously close to advancing into the second round of World Cup play (the first time since 1994) by either winning or tying the game we play against Poland tomorrow (heck, we can still advance with a loss if the right things happen in the other game in our group!), it's major.

Naturally, my mind drifts from World Cup Soccer to one of the other great themes in my life - following God. (There's a short detour in the twisted paths of my brain to "really good board games about soccer" but I won't dwell on that.)

So much of soccer - and so much of following God - is set-up. Scoring (doing something big & obvious) happens, but not all the time. Scoring is a matter of playing the WHOLE game well, of playing defense & offense, of trying again and again, of being patient & having endurance.

So is following God - a life of patience & endurance & faithfulness... even  when the Big & Obvious Stuff doesn't seem to be happening.

Though the cherry trees don't blossom
     and the strawberries don't ripen,
Though the apples are worm-eaten
     and the wheat fields stunted,
Though the sheep pens are sheepless
     and the cattle barns empty,
I'm singing joyful praise to God.
     I'm turning cartwheels of joy to my Savior God.
Counting on God's Rule to prevail,
     I take heart and gain strength.
I run like a deer.
     I feel like I'm king of the mountain!
Habakkuk 3:17-19 (The Message)

So play the full 90 minutes... or 90 years... or whatever you're given.

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