Guest Post: Ben Howard

Yes, I am rooting for laundry!

Every sports fan knows that no matter how hard you try to avoid it, you will inevitably run into that one person who is absolutely incredulous that you follow sports. One day, maybe today, maybe tomorrow,  you’ll be at a party and you’ll ask someone for the score to some random game that has little to no existential significance and they will look at you, roll their eyes and smugly state that, “You’re just rooting for laundry.”

When that time comes you will stare back at this incomprehensible fool, this titan of arrogance and dismissive snark and…you will say nothing, because they are pretty much right when you think about it.

Emmitt Smith (Bahr/Getty)

For instance, I grew up as  Cowboys fan and have fantastic memories of rooting for Troy Aikman, Michael Irvin and Emmitt Smith (true story, I once wanted to go as Emmitt Smith for Halloween, but was highly unaware of the racial undertones of an 8 year old in blackface). I knew all the players. I knew what it meant to root for the Cowboys. I knew about the pride and the tradition. This is America’s Team.

Fast forward two decades later. None of those players are still on the team. None of those players have been on the team in ten years. The only connection between then and now are the fans and the owner and I’m pretty sure the fans didn’t choose to root for Jerry Jones.

But it’s the same laundry. And that laundry carries a tradition. For the Cowboys it’s a tradition of outsized personalities and being the best of the best. It’s about being bigger than the game. For a team like the Pittsburgh Steelers it’s being tough and rugged and consistently great. On the flip side for a team like the Cincinnati Bengals or Arizona Cardinals it means being a perennial underachiever.

It’s true for all sports and at all levels. Technically, you’re rooting for laundry and the names and the players change all the time. Sometimes even the game evolves and it looks different than it did in your youth, but the tradition of what it means to be a fan of your team still shapes the way you watch the game.

I grew up watching Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, Darren Woodson and Deion Sanders, so when I watch football I don’t just want to see a win, I want to see that special mixture of efficiency and artistic brilliance. In baseball, I grew up watching Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux pitch for the Braves and so artistry defines my way of understanding the sport. I’m shaped by the tradition I grew up in and I’m shaped by what it means to be a fan of my team and by what my team means.

This happens in churches all the time. We are defined by the legacy of those who came before us even though they are no longer apart of our present community. For some that tradition is rich and vibrant like the Pittsburgh Steelers, for others it can only be seen as a series of disappointments and failures.

So what to do with this tradition? What should we do with this inherited meaning of who we are?

Rich Rodriquez (AP File Photo)

Our natural instinct I think is to jettison it in favor of our own hand-crafted identity, but this is a dangerous response. Former Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez broke many Michigan traditions when he arrived in Ann Arbor to try and restore the once powerhouse program. In breaking these traditions, he made many enemies and eventually was unable to find the sort of success that he envisioned for his program. We run the same risk if we break away from tradition too harshly. It is entirely likely that the backlash of breaking tradition will define us instead of our new hoped for identity.

I have seen this especially in non-denominational and evangelical churches who have become so enamored with breaking the chains of tradition that they become defined by what they are not instead of by what they are. They do not use the liturgy, the do not have priests, they do not practice the eucharist, but in this cacophany of do nots they are no longer able to communicate what they do.

The other extreme is to hold too tightly to tradition in the hopes that you can recreate the past. I’ll title this John Elway disease, but there could be many names. John Elway was the Hall of Fame quarterback for the Denver Broncos from 1983 until 1998. In his time with the Broncos he established them as a perennial contender and brought them back to back Super Bowl championships during his final two seasons. John Elway was irreplacable, but that hasn’t stopped the Broncos from trying. First they tried Brian Griese, who was good, but he wasn’t John Elway. Then the same thing happened with Jake Plummer, and once again with Jay Cutler, and finally with the magical woodland fairy creature known as Tim Tebow.

For Denver, John Elway became a ghost instead of an honored part of the tradition. He has haunted the franchise instead of enriching it with his legacy. I feel like this especially is true in mainline protestant churches who are haunted by a time of prominence and power that they no longer experience. Instead of transitioning to something different when the time has come, they continue to fight in an effort to recover a ghost.

Aaron Rodgers and Brett Favre

I think the proper way to deal with tradition is to respect it and let it guide you even while you transition into something new. It is still your past and you deal with it, good or bad, accordingly. However, while the church is shaped by its past and needs to understand where it has come from, it is not shackeled to its past. Maybe this is the Aaron Rodgers ideal of the church. Brett Favre was great and he did great things and Aaron was taught under Favre’s tutelage, but it’s his turn now and that might not look like the exact same thing. That’s okay, it’s healthy and it’s growth.

So yes, I root for laundry. I root for what it means, what it has meant, and what it might mean in the future. I root for the story it tells and how that story shapes me and how I view the world. I root for the way that laundry might be redeemed and renewed and how it might look like something entirely different to a future generation.

Thanks for making me think Incredulous-Fellow-At-Party!

Ben is an aspiring writer and accidental iconoclast from Nashville, Tennessee. In December he will be graduating from Lipscomb University with his Master’s in Theological Studies. He is sure this degree will lead to instant wealth and celebrity. You can read his other ramblings at www.onpoptheology.com and follow him on Twitter @BenHoward87.

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