In my last pastor’s post, I wrote about a recent vacation trip my husband and I took to Alaska. I described the beauty of God’s creation that we saw: Mountains, ocean, glaciers, forests, lakes, rivers, icebergs, and wildlife. And I mentioned visiting our son who has lived in Anchorage the past year, serving with Service Adventure through Mennonite Mission Network.
So, this post is “Alaska – Part II.” Our vacation in Alaska occurred at the beginning of the 2014 World Cup soccer tournament, which just concluded. Being avid soccer fans, we were on a constant quest in Alaska to find venues to watch soccer games – places that had a TV, got the required TV station, and would turn it on for us. Seeking soccer-watching venues is often a feature of our family summer vacations, since the World Cup occurs in summer. For example, I remember the time we stopped to watch a game in a restaurant in Pueblo, CO, on the way back from time in the mountains. Our waiter was annoyed because he would rather have been watching baseball or golf on another TV station. And there was the time a group of us stopped during the Bike Across Kansas to see a game in a hotel in Baldwin City, KS.
Well, it was no different in Alaska – except the venues were more exotic and the food more expensive. In Anchorage, we watched games and ate burritos in the Los Arcos Mexican Resturant, hamburgers at the Peanut Farm sports bar and grill, pizza at the Firetap Alehouse, and blackened halibut tacos at the Beartooth Theater and Grill. Then there was Thorn’s Lounge down in Seward on the Kenai Peninsula along the gulf of Alaska, where we ate cheesecake and apple pie; and Mike’s Palace in Valdez, where a friendly waitress ushered us back to a separate room with large screen TV all to ourselves, ate Greek salads and watched end-of-the day highlights of the U.S. victory over Ghana.
The next morning, after we had cleaned up our tents from camping in the rain, we came back into Valdez looking for a warm spot to have lunch and watch Brazil vs. Mexico. First we stopped at Ernesto’s Mexican Restaurant, thinking surely they’d be showing the game. But no, they were not even aware of it. So we ended up instead at the Fat Mermaid restaurant, where a waitress cheerfully sat us down at a table right in front of the TV, and enjoyed clam chowder (fitting for a harbor town) and chips and salsa (to honor the Latin American teams playing).
So, why should a pastor tell about her family’s obsession with soccer? Well, there are some parallels to church life. Watching World Cup soccer connects us to something beyond ourselves – a global community that is quickly recognized when kindred spirits meet one another. At the Peanut Farm in Anchorage, we had just come in and been seated to watch the Netherlands vs. Spain game, decked out in orange t-shirts in loyalty to our favored team – the Dutch. Then, in walked a group of Dutch tourists, all wearing orange, carrying orange hats and an orange banner. Upon seeing our orange attire, they heartily greeted us and said, “You are one of us – come be part of our group!” They rearranged tables and chairs so we could all sit together, and they proudly hung the banner on the table in front of us. Instant camaraderie! Soon, a larger group of soccer fans had assembled, some cheering for Spain, some cheering for Netherlands, but all sharing the spirit of fun, good-natured debated over the referee’s calls, and the drama of the game.
Hospitality was another aspect of our soccer-watching. Besides the open arms of fellow tourists, and the friendly welcome at the Fat Mermaid, there was the waitress at Thorn’s lounge in Seward who – after we’d already been nibbling our cheesecake and pie and sipping coffee for a good hour said, “You must be real soccer fans – you have been watching that screen the whole time! Don’t worry, just put up your feet and make yourselves at home. Stay as long as you want!” (We made sure to tip generously.)
Of course, I do not presume to persuade everyone to become soccer enthusiasts, nor do I assume World Cup soccer is without its flaws. I would also not suggest that spending hours in front of TV screens eating hamburgers, nachos and cheesecake should be habitual activity.
But I do hope we in the church can take some lessons from World Cup soccer players and fans. I hope that we can exhibit the same level of enthusiasm for teamwork and goals. I hope that we can take as seriously the training, equipping and effort that are required for faithfulness and some measure of success. I hope that we can embrace with similar eagerness the reality that we are not an isolated group unto ourselves, but are part of a wide community of people who share common loyalty and purpose. And I hope that we too will go out of our way to be welcoming and hospitable to those who come out of the cold and rain and travels of life to seek shelter, food, drink, and the joy of sharing it with others.
May God grant us energy and enthusiasm to join God’s work in the world. May we have open hearts, minds and arms to embrace sisters and brothers in our own congregation, to love our neighbors in the community, and to seek the welfare of strangers and opponents in the wider world. May we strain to watch God’s game – to catch sight of God’s Spirit on the move, to cheer the good news of God’s grace, to lament the losses and encourage the hopes of others, and to keep in view the purpose toward which God calls us. G….o…..a….l !!
– adapted from a devotional presented by Heidi Regier Kreider at BCMC Church Board.