This past weekend Messiah College’s Men’s and Women’s soccer team won their respective Division III national championships. This isn’t anything new. In fact, this is the fourth time they have “done the double” with both teams ending up champs in the same year. It was the men’s ninth title victory and the women’s fifth. People around here throw out the word “dynasty” rather frequently. Others use the word “hate”, as in “I hate Messiah.”
I know this is true because as I watched the game on the NCAA website, there was a Facebook chat room available. During our game against Loras on Friday a number of people felt free to share their dislike for the MC men’s program. On Saturday, someone asked a simple question: how does Messiah keep competing at this level with this consistency. Someone responded: they recruit players who were wanted by Division I schools. And, yes, that is true. Coach Brad McCarty even said so in an interview with the Harrisburg Patriot News published on Friday morning. But, he was quick to mention there is more to the program than that. Another person typed: “They are psychologically tough, they find a way to win.” Well, yes, that is true. Josh Wood came back from two years of injuries to compete in this recent campaign. His mental outlook was greater than his pain. Luke Helmuth worked hard to move beyond an injury earlier in the season to play in the finals. His mental outlook was greater than his pain. And Mike Kovac played injured on both Friday and Saturday to score the game winner in both contests. His mental outlook was greater than his pain. However, there is more.
In the same newspaper article quoting Coach McCarty, the women’s coach, Scott Frey, said, “We’re a christian [sic] college that intertwines faith with soccer and academics….The faith aspect, that’s the key part.” Coach McCarty echoed his counterpart, “The players are more interested in the culture and environment of the program…we play a great style of soccer. More, importantly, the guys are mature christian [sic] kids.”
And that line of thinking gets us in trouble. It causes trouble because Christians have this reputation of being arrogant, self-righteous, hypocrites. If you don’t believe me read David Kinnaman’s book, UnChristian. So when the coaches suggest we play well because we are Christians, people are tempted to roll their eyes and exhale loudly. They have seen this silliness before. You know what it looks like. It is those people claiming they do well or are blessed because Jesus is on their side, as if he is some petty tribal deity who can be controlled for our advantage. In fact, in response to my Facebook status pointing out the teams had done the double, a friend wrote, “How can you lose when you have Jesus on your side?” I wrote back, “If that is the case…why don’t the Jewish colleges win national championships? Jesus’ Dad is on their side.”
It was meant to be tongue in cheek, but serious as well. I really don’t like the idea that Christians do well in sports, or any other field of life, simply because they can claim Jesus is on their side. I don’t know all the guys on our men’s team and very few of the ladies on the women’s side. But the fellows I know would NEVER claim they do well because Jesus is for them. Just the opposite would seem to be the case. They have a sense that they play for Jesus. Jeremy Payne, the sophomore attacking midfielder, updated his Facebook status writing, “Let us not forget who we play this beautiful game for…” prior to the championship game on Saturday. And Jake Berry, goalkeeper, wrote, “Win or lose, my identity is found in Christ alone” before the kickoff.
But here is the “real” zinger: even in the midst of a hard fought competition for another national title and honor, our kids don’t forget who they are. You don’t see the same foolishness you see from other teams. Sure fouls are committed but not the serious fouls that result in yellow cards. And red cards are unheard of…at least I can’t remember one of our players ever being red carded. There is very little intentional tripping, throwing of elbows, and the other teams’ shirts are never torn because they are rarely pulled to hold a person back.
And if that isn’t enough, sometimes one of our guys does something truly bizarre in the middle of a game. Like what Logan Thompson did Friday. It was hot in Texas. And the game with Loras was extremely intense for 90 minutes. As regulation time drew near, people were beginning to cramp up. In over time, one of the Loras guys dropped like a rock with a calf cramp. His trainers were about to come onto the field to assist him. However, if they did that, according to the rules, he would have to leave the game and would not be allowed to return. Logan, himself, walked over to the guy in extreme pain lying on the ground, waved the Loras trainers off the field and worked the cramp out of his opponent’s leg. It struck me as a NCAA Division III contextualization of Jesus’ commandment, “…let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” It may have been the contextualization of “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse”, but good hard competition probably shouldn’t be confused with persecution. So, yeah. Jesus isn’t on their side. That isn’t the reason they win. The fact that they play FOR Jesus, is another matter. They play as if his name, not theirs, is on the line. And they play in a different way than many of their peers.
I am tempted to think the world would look a lot different if everyone who called themselves Christian went about their lives as if they were living for Jesus. I know my little section of the world would improve, if I improved in this area.
By the way, Logan Thompson was named the tournament’s Defensive MVP. Knowing Logan, he would probably be a little embarrassed I put the spot light on him. All I can say is, “Sorry, it is my blog. And beside, I am not convinced me tooting your horn is wrong…so long as God gets the glory.”