That professional football is a business I know all too well. Since the day of the unceremonious firing of the honorable Tom Landry, I have been painfully conscious of it. That singular event muted my rooting enthusiasm permanently, but still I clung to my team.
Eventually, and much like in earlier years, a new crop of Good Guys helped me not to notice the occasional rotten coach or player. You see, I still want to root for the guys in the white hats even if in the real world, perfect heroes are not to be found. The Cowboys were just good enough for my willful disbelief to be sustained.
So imagine my horror when MY football team signed the infamous and odious Terrell Owens.
The day after the Owens signing I saw some idiot wearing a Cowboy’s jersey with his name and number on it. At that moment, I though about how quickly attitudes can change when Character Doesn’t Matter anymore. The new mantra has become “whatever helps my team win is good.”
This fundamental shift in what people look for in their sports heroes set me thinking about all kinds of things. Things like who we, the American people, have become. And the more I contemplated our corporate identity, the more it seemed that Americans have changed over the last four decades in fundamental and profound ways.
Whether Americans or I have changed or not, it is my first responsibility to keep my own house in order. When I stop and reflect, I know that my inability to root for the Cowboys this year is truly inconsequential to my life outside of spoiling a few Sunday afternoons. Afternoons should be more profitably spent anyway.
So in my small quest for self-improvement, I quickly noticed that I needed to find more time for prayer. Since I started a new job some weeks ago, the miles involved in that change caused me to lose access to the Church sanctuary I used regularly during the week. I knew that I was overdue to fix the situation.
To my dismay, looking for a place to pray on a day that is not Sunday has made me feel like TO looking for a football team willing to take him. The difficulty has been shocking. I do not begrudge Churches their locked doors even if I find the realities of good stewardship unfortunate. In fact, my old place of respite was always locked and a very nice lady was always there to let me in when I knocked. But Church after Church was the same experience: locked doors and groundskeepers staring at the strange fool who wanted in the Sunday Place.
I went to a LOT of Churches.
At three of them, at least I actually got to see a kind friendly face. The friendly looks seemed to give way to confusion when I asked if I could use the sanctuary or other chapel for prayer, but each did offer places to pray. The one offering that wasn’t a couch in a hallway was a brightly lit glass walled sitting room next to the entrance of a busy day care facility. Sadly, all three of these churches had nice big sanctuaries sitting dark and lifeless.
There was a fourth Church I snuck into. My intention was not to sneak but there wasn’t a soul around to ask permission of. Perhaps this would be a good place I thought as I entered and sat in a pew. I could not help but notice how beautiful the place was. It was so magnificent, perfect and unused as to feel sterile, almost surreal.
As I prayed silently, two older gentleman entered as well. They were talking loudly and examining the magnificent architecture seemingly oblivious to my presence initially. When I noticed their repeated inhospitable glances my direction as they loudly toured the facility, I did as they wished and left as quietly as I had entered. I skipped my usual practice of dropping a small offering on the way out: it was better to let others pay to polish this edifice of excess.
Slowly then it has dawned on me that even here in the Bible Belt the ancient tradition of going to a holy place for quiet contemplation and prayer is essentially dead. Our Churches have become Sunday Places. Not a place for life, but a place for a weekly fill-up. The signs outside our theaters invite us eagerly to the Sunday matinee.
I have to admit, I am jealous of those who can make it on a single fill-up for the entire week. My mileage is not nearly so good.
Perhaps I get poor mileage because of the time I spend in the drive through lines at Starbucks. After all, when I want a mocha, I want it quick. Unfortunately, I increasingly find that when Starbucks is not quick, my anger often is. My defense is that it is all a part of my conditioning as a modern. If a website does not appear in a couple of seconds, the back button takes me quickly to Google where I try the next link on the list. For better or worse, we are all living at the speed of the Internet.
One’s tank can get drawn down pretty quickly in Internet paced plastic America.
Americans have become so comfortable with plastic things that we are remaking our notions of even our most fundamental values with the stuff. A prominent nominally Christian evangelist starts their slick television production with the theme, “This is Your Day”. It is no longer God’s day apparently: the world revolves around me.
I can see now that the future really was plastics.
Truly, both the Owens signing and Sunday Places fit our plastic lives perfectly. If MY Cowboys are to win at internet speed, then how they go about it is of little consequence. If I am to be sanctified, then I need to get it done efficiently in the time allotted on my Outlook calendar for Sunday. I want what I want, when I want it.
The greatest concern of franchise owners and ministers is that back button and the cornucopia of choices.
We are so fortunate in America because our Horns are truly full of Plenty. I would not trade life here in the land of Milk Duds and Honey Buns for that available elsewhere—at least not yet. But when I look a little harder and see that the horn is made of polycarbonate fiber and the fruit is enhanced with genetically modified high-fructose corn syrup, I can not help but wonder if life at the speed of electrons leaves too much of the past behind too quickly.
But then, what do I know. I still pop my popcorn in a pan on the stove top when the world has long moved on to microwave packets. I am a true Curmudgeon, I suppose, finding pan-popped more satisfying because it tastes better. More satisfying like football with respectable players. Like prayer on a weekday when I just need it.
Really, is it any wonder at all that microwave politicians leave most of us feeling empty?