Faith and Football: an allegory

Posted by rjagilbert on April 9, 2019 at 10:30 PM

Halftime and down by 33 points.

I sat with my fellow teammates in the locker-room while the quarterback tried giving us a pep-talk. Suddenly I could take no more.

“Captain,” I said, “somebody is trying to throw this game.”

“The only throwing is coming from me,” the qb shot back, “Unless you want to count how many times you didn’t catch the ball.”

“It’s hard to catch the ball when you tell me to ‘go long’ and then throw it into the sidelines.”

“You just aren’t following the playbook close enough.”

“I’m following the playbook exactly how I’m supposed to, Captain.”

Another teammate piped up, “It’s like the other team is also following our playbook, Cap. Like they know our every move and exactly how to take us down.”

“Yeah,” said another. “Like they’re actually the ones who wrote this playbook, and all the plays are just ways for us to walk right into their tackles.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” the captain said, turning to the bruised and battered running-back who spoke up. “You’re being tackled because you’re giving the opponent permission to tackle you.”

“The opponent had permission to tackle me because you faked the ball to me!”

“That’s not what happened,” the quarterback defended. Pointing to me, he accused, “I told him to go long!”

“I did go long,” I argued. “But every time you tell me to go long, you throw it short.”

“That’s your fault for not following the playbook!”

By that point I had lost my patience. “Let’s just quit the bluffing and review the tapes.”

“We’ll review the tapes before the 5th quarter,” he insisted.

“There is no 5th quarter, Captain!”

“There is if I say there is,” the captain argued. “My Father owns the team, the stadium…everything. He’s promised that we’ll review the tapes and judge each player for how they played. Then, those whom He deems worthy will be allowed to play the 5th quarter.”

I folded my arms across my chest. “How are we supposed to believe you?”

“Because I am the quarterback.”

“But you’ve been throwing the game!”

The captain shrugged. “Just the first half.” He looked reassuringly at the rest of the team. “Don’t worry. We’ll come back in the fourth quarter.” He turned to me, “At the last minute, I’ll tell you to go long again, and we’ll score the winning point.”

I furrowed my brows questioningly. “Are you going to throw it long this time, or should I come up short like how you’ve been throwing?”

“Just do exactly as I say and we’ll win this game,” he said as though it were the easiest plan to understand.

"I’m starting to think you don’t really want me to trust you.” I counted off the plays on my hand. “When you told me to go long, you threw short. When you faked to the running-back, you pulled his defense so he’d get tackled.”

“That was a strategic act of deception,” the captain explained hastily.

“Whatever it was,” the running back inserted, “it didn’t work.” Pointing to the bruises and swelling on his arms and legs, he added, “And it took me out of the game way too early.”

“And it broke the bond of trust a lot of us have in you,” I added.

The captain scowled at me. “This isn’t about trust, player. This is about obedience.”

Holding a pack of ice to his injured leg, the running-back gestured toward me, “I think he’s got a point, Cap. This is as much about our trust in you as it is about your trust in us.”

The captain’s jaw dropped. “Of course you all trust me. I’m the leadership of this team. I’m the one who has brought you the winning playbook. I’m the Son of the Owner of this League!”

“Are you?” Another player suddenly asked. “Or is that just another deception?”

“I don’t lie,” the captain said simply.

“But you faked the ball,” I pointed out. “And when you said go long but threw short—that’s like a lie.”

“That’s just a promise I didn’t keep.”

Shaking his head, the running-back asked, “What difference is there between a lie and a promise that isn’t kept?”

“I’ll keep it,” the captain insisted. “Just wait until the 5th quarter!

“You keep promising us a 5th quarter, Captain, but that promise is only as strong as every other promise you make. If you can’t keep the promise of a defensive screen when you pass a player the ball, and if you can’t connect a long throw when you tell your players to go long, what good is your promise of an extra quarter—or even another whole game?”

“But those are the promises that matter!” The captain waved his hands angrily toward the collection of tapes he insisted would be reviewed after the game. “All these other plays don’t matter. Just the ones at the end of the game, when I tell you to go long and you obey and we win.”

“No, Captain,” I said with both certainty and finality, “the promise that mattered was the first one you broke. The first play that mattered was the first one you fumbled. That first time, we thought maybe you needed to warm up. After a few more, we started wondering if you weren’t playing your best. Then, when you kept breaking your promises, we started wondering if you were trying to throw the game. At this point, captain, we have every right to wonder just who you are and how you and your twisted playbook have managed to infiltrate this team.”

I’ve been writing since I was a teenager. It’s something I’ve always loved to do.

I didn’t think God had an interest in my writing until the summer of 2004, when a powerful spirit of inspiration brought the message to me that would eventually become Men of Renown.

Inspired, I threw myself passionately into my writing. I put my family second. My church and work responsibilities suffered. I truly thought that God needed me to “run with that ball” and bring that message to the world. As I finished up my manuscript and started looking for a publisher, I began to realize how much opposition had mounted against me. Even my family did not want to support me any longer—after all, the entire premise of the book was based on a man and his priorities. Still, I thought God would pull through—that I would “go long”, make the catch, and win the play.

My, how differently the real game went.

In the years since finishing Men of Renown and my several other self-published works, I have learned that God has no intention of supporting my decisions to “go long” with His inspiration.

I’m not saying God has sat on the sidelines, anthropomorphic arms folded across his chest, and done nothing. Through it all, He has sustained me—even provided the funds I requested to promote my work in the online marketplace. But success, like a ball thrown into the sidelines, is still hopelessly out of reach. For all the funding I spent trying to promote my writing, none of it resulted in anything that could be closely described as success.

And all around me I see the situation getting more desperate. As the “game clock” ticks down, I see my team beginning to lose hope. I see good players taken off the field much too early due to injuries they should have been protected from. Even my own body has suffered such brutal “tackles” by the Adversary that I am left wondering if I want to go back onto that field for another play.

None of my physical or financial woes compare, however, to the psychological assault that has come against me since I first started sharing my writing with the world. Each message I present has come back at me in some way as though to make my words a hypocrisy. With Men of Renown, it was my family turning against me. With the Sarian’s Sword it was a sudden twist of legalities that robbed my family of our private property and financial prosperity. After writing the Lucky and the Strong, I suddenly found my own physical strength stolen from me. How can I continue preaching discipline and strength when at any random moment I might find myself lying on the floor or collapsed into a wheelchair?

A few weeks ago, I discovered that a young woman whom I had tried to counsel on her marriage was now divorced. The blow struck me extra hard since I have been working on a romantic-thriller meant to convey to young readers the joys of a long and successful marriage. When I learned she was having marriage difficulties, I offered some of the perspective I had put into the book in hopes that it might help her hold her own marriage together. Sadly, my words did not help.

At the same time, one of the women who inspired The Lucky and the Strong was murdered as a direct result of the character attribute I applauded in the book. Do I want to promote that kind of behavior? Or is the Adversary merely twisting the truths I teach so that I can no longer present them with conviction? I find myself asking, “How can I promote this teaching if it didn’t help these real-life people in their real-life situations?”

The issue is one of tested teachings. I have long seen other Christian leaders promote untested teachings that did not age well. Much of what we consider “modern” Christianity is, in fact, untested doctrine that may very well lead many of our flock to their eventual destruction. I often preach about this—the main premise of The Sarian’s Sword is based on this message. Yet it is also one of my greatest fears; I prayed before every class I taught for God to keep me from teaching or saying anything that might lead my students down a false path.

Now I find that the Adversary has come to test my own teachings—using my own life as an example. Will I maintain the stoicism I taught through Renaud in the Lucky and The Strong now that my physical body has been damaged? Can the friendship and peace-seeking attitude I presented in Dungeon of Illusion truly win out against the corrupted church and political leadership? Will the perspective I share on marriage have any real effect for struggling couples?

As I ponder all of this, I am also aware of a rather prominent Christian Writer’s Conference on my calendar, beckoning for me to take a few days off from my day-job and to pursue my love of writing as though it might, one day, become a full-time occupation. I am forced, however, to ask myself why. Why would I quit the one stable, dependable thing God has blessed me with—my day job? Why would I “go long” this late in the game, running after a dream I’ve been chasing since the very early days of my life, if I have no reason to believe God will ever actually throw me the ball?

At this moment in my life…none of these questions have been answered.

The questions keep coming, more and more relevant as my search for an agent to promote my latest work comes up flat on all fronts. At the same time, I find myself wanting to spend more time with my family. My kids are almost all out of the house. I'm never going to get this time in my life back. Why would I want to spend it pursuing a dream that God has never made an effort to show support for?

I have to wonder, though. How many other Christians out there stop and reflect like this? How many actually measure the "success" that God has given them in their pursuit of whatever dreams they are chasing? Does it come to a point in their lives, as it has in mine, where they start to wonder if their faith is just a delusion? Do they ever stop and look back to see if there was some point, hopefully not to far into the past, where they strayed from the path God set them on?

And do the, like me, start to wonder just who it was that set them on that path in the first place? 

Categories: Communion Meditations, Politics, Religion, and Physics