If you ask my friends and family to tell you something about me, it is likely that they would include my love of college sports….specifically Tennessee sports. Being a Tennessee football fan over the last few years has been quite difficult…and the start of our season has been in a word….dismal. Because I follow the teams so closely, my social media feeds are full of articles, comments, memes, publicity and advertisements related to the team. Although I tell myself to keep scrolling, I have gotten stuck far too many times over the last few days perusing the comments and opinions of all kinds of “experts” discussing Tennessee football. I’m not sure why I continue to be surprised by the behavior of some who hide behind their computer screens (a colleague of mine this week referred to those folks as “keyboard warriors”….they get so brave when they have a keyboard), but I have found myself almost in tears at some of the hateful that has been spewed across those mediums. Even more alarming is that it is often Tennessee “fans” who are posting the worst of it.
Now before I start shining my halo, I’ll admit that I stormed out of the stadium week one as disgusted as anyone. I pouted like a two year old who had been denied the cookie jar when we lost to a team that should have been a walk in the park to the victory column. Week two, I sat in amazement as I watched the last 61 seconds of regulation end in the one play that cost us the victory. I questioned the efforts of some players and the play calls of the coaches right along with my frustrated peers. It just felt ridiculous that “we” couldn’t put together a successful four quarters of football. I grumbled and groaned and shed my orange vowing to not put it on again until the team deserved my loyalty as I laid my head on the pillow that night.
Every weekend we are in Knoxville, we look forward to attending Sevier Heights Baptist Church services. I could go on and on about what this church does for Knoxville and specifically for students at UTK, but I’ll save that for another time. On the Sunday morning following the BYU loss, which did not end until almost midnight by the way, my husband and I had already watched two separate re-cap shows with coach Pruitt as the guest while having breakfast and getting dressed for the 11 AM service and we had replayed the “what ifs” numerous times, still not believing that the game had ended in such disappointment. We picked up our “young adults” (aka….kids) from our daughter’s apartment and continued to discuss the frustration of the night before from their perspective. In fact, we were complaining about it all the way from the parking lot to the door of the sanctuary where we took our seats. I would like to say that the worship leader asking us to stand and sing changed my focus, but if I’m being honest, I was probably still quite distracted. Nonetheless, we rose to our feet and the music began.
One verse into the first song, we noticed a tall, bald man with a lovely wife and young son, as well as two other young women who appeared to be friends of the family, slide discreetly into the seats only a few rows in front of us. Because the room was dimly lit for the worship portion of the service, I wasn’t completely sure that it was who I thought it was, but within moments, I, along with everyone around me, recognized the man without a doubt. Coach Pruitt and his lovely family were worshipping with us. And the guilt that came over me in that moment has stuck with me for more than a week now. Not just guilt about my complaining about UT football, but guilt about how often my spirit is critical of people and things I know so little about. I realized in that moment that I don’t know Coach Pruitt as a person. I really don’t even KNOW him at all as coach. I know the soundbites that are presented to me. I know what I can observe through a television screen or from seats far above the football field. But I’ve never had a conversation with him to hear his heart about anything. Then to take my guilt further, I began to realize that I was angry with a team of 18 – 24 year old men who each have parents and siblings and lives outside of Tennessee football, yet they sacrifice a great deal to entertain tens of thousands of fans each week. Many of whom, like me, have never even stepped onto a football field for a photo, let alone strapped on pads and a helmet to give that kind of effort.
Aren’t we like that about a lot of things though? Don’t we just love to comment on things we often know very little or absolutely nothing about as if we were an expert? Aren’t we quick to point out the shortfalls of others when we can’t even begin to imagine what it’s like to walk a single step in their shoes? As a self-proclaimed superfan of the Vols, shouldn’t I be always rooting for the successes of the team rather than being critical and tearing them down? Aren’t there plenty of other folks who support other teams that are going to do that anyway? Who will support them if it’s not those of us who call ourselves fans? We’re on the same team, right?
Using that same line of thinking, I can’t help but generalize to the body of believers. If we call ourselves Christians, how do we so easily tear one another apart without ever pausing to try to understand what is going on in each other’s lives. How are we so quick to condemn those who sin differently than we do? Why do some of the most hateful things I’ve ever heard (or seen written) come from the mouths of those who are part of the family of God?
David writes in Psalm 55,
12 It is not an enemy who taunts me— I could bear that. It is not my foes who so arrogantly insult me— I could have hidden from them. 13 Instead, it is you—my equal, my companion and close friend. 14 What good fellowship we once enjoyed as we walked together to the house of God.
All my life I’ve grown up hearing that sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me. I’d like to argue that we are living in a time with more print than ever before, so I believe words are causing some of the greatest hurt I’ve ever seen. We have young men and women who are literally taking their own lives because of words written or spoken about them.
In James 3: 9-10 we are reminded, " With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.”
I hope that like me, you will find cause to reflect on the words that come out of your mouth concerning others. I pray that all of us can practice what we are taught in Ephesians 4:29, “Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.” And I hope that we pray for those we want to criticize so easily.
Oh how God loves me that He would take the time to gently discipline….even over my criticism of Tennessee football. I so don’t deserve a love like His. And, as always, GO VOLS!!!