Wednesday, February 4, 2004

It was a total embarrassment

Religion Columnist

It was all very embarrassing. The Super Bowl, that is. Not that I am a fanatic of football, with the exception being Georgia Bulldog football. But some men in our church invited me over for a Super Bowl party to see the Patriots and Panthers have at it. Of course I pulled for the Panthers of Carolina because I don’t want anyone from New England to win anything this election year.

I read Monday morning that sport enthusiasts may have been embarrassed by a game lacking in some respects. I read also read that CBS was embarrassed by the halftime show of Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake in their little striptease act. Timberlake was quoted as saying it was a costume failure. Oh yea!

The dynamic that was embarrassing to me was that as I watched all the hoopla, I was aware that another set of eyes was also watching. Those eyes belonged to a pastor from the East African country of Uganda. As he watched, some of the men thought it would be helpful to throw in some interesting statistics. That some of the players held multi-million dollar contracts to play football. That a 30-second advertisement cost upwards to $2 million. That the halftime show was a multi-million dollar extravaganza. All so impressive.

Of course these outlandish statistics emerge from a nation that spends more on dog food in one year than we spend on Christian missions. Don’t you think that’s a bit skewed? Should not Christians in America be able to outspend dog lovers? And of course these same statistics arise from a country where we pay our rookie policemen $25,000 a year while we pay a rookie baseball players, just up from the minors, $1 million a year.

As we watched the Super Bowl game, one of the men told me that tickets for the game were running $600 a piece. Yet, when we pass the place in church for one of our super events like a Living Christmas Tree the average take is $3 per person.

My friend from East Africa, who makes about $200 a month as a fulltime pastor, could only think what all that money could do for the Kingdom of God. Indeed, it was somewhat embarrassing as we all sat down, chowing down on chicken wings and pizza, to watch the game on a big screen television, fully knowing that materialism had become one of our gods in America.

The Romans, one time, luxuriated in materialism. When all roads led to Rome, their stadiums, too, were filled with fans intoxicated on wealth and the demand to be entertained. Maybe they saw more blood than we saw Sunday night, but they would have been impressed with the armored combat of the Panthers and Patriots.

With its nod to patriotism and its ignoring of God, the Super Bowl has come to represent all that counts in America. Church houses have totally capitulated by canceling their evening service or by showing the game on wide screen television in the very worship center where only that morning they had sung songs of praise to the one and true God. I wonder how pastors explained to the children the Jackson exposure at halftime.

Next time you are tempted to revel in America’s worship of materialism, try seeing it all through the eyes of a pastor from a third world country. The poet Robert Burns lamented, “Oh, the power to see ourselves as others see us.”

John Hatcher is pastor of Outreach International Center, 1091 South Jeff Davis Drive, Fayetteville, Georgia 30215. 770-719-0303

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