Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Week of August 30, 2015

It begins!  Being in a college town for the first game of the 2015 season is pretty cool.  I'm reminded of living on campus at NC State University back...what...14 years ago now(?).  Other than being about as interested in this game on Thursday night as a Clemson University fan might be, I absolutely can appreciate the cultural shift underway.

College students are dug in to their classes now (though that graceful drop/add day approaches!), and the final traces of whoever they thought they had become over the summer all washes away at the sound of the their school's marching band and at the pyrotechnics preceding that initial blast onto the field by their warriors and hype leaders.  Crowds will roar.  Flags will wave.

These events, while seemingly meaningless on the surface, really encapsulate the core of what it means to be in the process of living out a major American right of passage.  For a few hours, college students--past, present, and future--will gather in an arena with thousands of folks who share their everyday experiences of life away from the familiar and on a college campus.  Only two things separate this crowd: the locations of these schools; as well as the colors, symbols, and sounds representing those schools.  To emerge victorious from this gridiron battle somehow validates these everyday experiences--the stress, aggravation, drama, and oft-overwhelm-ness.  When WE win, it's easier for me to live out my new identity within this crowd of victors.  When WE lose, maybe something of my identity gets lost.  Winning makes one feel indestructible.  Sometimes that translates into herd-stupidity: burning cars, destroying property, and all sorts of revelry.  Losing makes one feel deflated and vulnerable.  Yet, as the greatest Basketball coach alive puts it (Coach Krzyzewski...wrong school, of course, but the greatest nonetheless), "Mutual commitment helps overcome the fear of failure."

At least in those opening moments on Thursday night, prior to kickoff, there will be mutual commitment for respective teams from all in the crowd and from those watching at home.  That swelling hope of what-could-be will unite like nothing else can.  After that, the gods will orchestrate and manipulate that mysterious momentum that determines the flow: too real not to feel; yet, almost too elusive to notice.

I know church workers and committed church volunteers will often lament the taxing on attendance that comes with these cultic tides.  Honestly, I find it hard not to find some sense of joy in the human spirit during such seasons.  The sound of the crowds, the display of symbols, and the sheer magic that happens in the moment during these contests reiterate that we are alive!  (A cool book that really elaborates on these mysteries is All Things Shinning by Hubert Dreyfus and Sean D. Kelly.)

I don't know where you'll be Thursday night at approximately 18:00.  Battle will ensue on a shared proving grounds in Charlotte, an arena where "Carolina" means both North and South in the symbol of a Panther.  On Thursday, though, I'm told the real Carolina will leave the stadium with their first win of the 2015 season.  As a NCSU grad, my allegiance lies elsewhere; but, you can be sure that I'll tune in, if for no other reason than to relish in the joy of a new season of humanity at its cultural height.

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