Saturday, September 20, 2014

Faith, Family, and Football

Many of my peers would read the title of this post and say, "Yep, those are the three most important things to most southern Christians."  In fact, as I type this blog post, I am working on my sermon for tomorrow and listening to College Gameday in the background, occasionally flipping to watch for a few minutes.  As for the family part, I have never had a lot of family, and at the moment I am not close to any of them.  I have therefore extended family to include the family of God, my fellow Christians with whom I work, attend church, and do other things.

The real reason I am writing this post is to talk about rivalry--particularly the Auburn-Alabama rivalry.  As most people who might read this know, a large percentage of people in our great state have a strong allegiance to one side or the other.  You either yell, "War Eagle," or "Roll Tide."  And you especially yell your phrase of choice when confronted by fans of the rival school.  Perhaps the worst thing I have done in this regard happened a few years ago while driving on the interstate.  

It was 2010, the famous $cam Newton, Camback, Auburn national championship year.  There was a truck in front of me with some sort of Alabama "A" or Roll Tide sticker, I forget which.  As I prepared to pass them, I looked over in the passenger's seat and saw my orange ballcap with the embroidered navy blue "AU" symbol.  As I went past them, I held up that symbol, so that the driver in the other lane could clearly see it, and I silently mouthed several times, "War Eagle!  War Eagle!"  Here I was, a pastor and teacher, setting such a good example for future generations.

While I do believe a good natured rivalry and "ribbing" are harmless, I think we sometimes take it too far.  Growing up, many of my friends were Alabama fans, and they were the first to let me know if Auburn lost.  In return, I hated all things Crimson and moved elephants WAY down my list of favorite animals.  It was all tigers and eagles for me.  My favorite teams were Auburn and whoever played Alabama any given week.  I even stooped as low as to root for LSU.  

This brings me back to the family part.  God has a sense of humor.  He put a die hard Auburn fan and Auburn graduate in the middle of a crimson sea.  While there are a few more of us orange and blue faithful in my part of southwest Alabama, we all swim against a strongly represented tide.  Over the past few years, I have learned to love many of these crimson-clad people.  They are a majority of my coworkers, my parishioners at church, and my good friends.  I have taught many of their children, some for all their years of high school.  And some of them have even gone on to attend that university in the sky, the dream of many Alabama children.

It is for that reason that I can now put two words together that I once considered off-limits.  It is a phrase that has given me more pain than anything physical.  It has been hurled at me in abusive tones, mocking tones, and even children are taught to say it before they can say "mama" or "dada."  Yes, I, Kenneth W. Bowen, orange and blue, through and through, say Roll Tide!  

How? My fellow Auburn fans may ask.  "Traitor!" you are screaming.  It is because in faith, family, and football they are for me in that order of importance.  And since I established that faith and family go hand in hand for me, I can say those words when I am proud of one of my students for making 100 on his first college precalculus quiz.  I can say "Roll tide," when one of the sweetest Alabama fans I have ever known, Mrs. Christine Bryars, also wishes my Tigers well.  I miss her greatly, but there are many others like her who pick up the flag of good sportsmanship.

Don't get me wrong, you still won't find me wearing crimson.  You won't find me yelling "Go Bama!" when I'm watching them play.  And I might still give a little tease if they lose.  But I promise I won't hold up an Auburn emblem and yell War Eagle if I pass you on the interstate.  I won't wish bad things on your team.  I can wish a school well because I love the people affiliated with it.  So for that reason, I say Roll Tide.  But I still shout WAR EAGLE!