Rugby and religion
So by this time everybody in South Africa knows that the Super 14 rugby final is being played this weekend in Durban. The excitement is surreal – history is being made in SA!!! Never before has 2 SA teams played in a Super 14 (or Super 12 or Super10!) final. The Sharks is the only SA team to ever have played in a Super 14 final and now the Bulls got their turn as well. It promises to be one of the most fascinating ends to a tremendous tournament. Well done to all the teams and thanks for making it so very interesting to watch!
If you have been in Pretoria at all last week prior to the semi-final against the Crusaders there is no way in hell that you could have missed what is going on. People painted their houses blue, jammed up their cars and bakkies, had rugby players at schools and I just read about a birthday party for a 5-year old that had the whole Blue Bulls theme as he couldn’t make it to the game on Saturday. There were flags everywhere and people stood in crazy queues at the beginning of last week to get their hands on tickets to the game, which they sold, afterwards, for ever so crazy prices!
And what a game that semi-final was. It was worth every penny of it (though I got my ticket for free from my future brother-in-law!) and I’m glad I got to see it first hand. The whole Loftus-experience is just something else.
Imagine if that was the way we thought of our religion or went about it. People standing in crazy lines to reserve a seat at a place where they could worship, jamming up their cars to go with the theme of that specific religion, singing songs for specific “(P)layers”… now that would be crazy!!
But as you know I’ve been thinking about this for a while now and please differ from me but there are some unmistaken parallels between sports (read:rugby) and religion.
1) a place of worship: Loftus Versfeld is the shrine of the Blue Bulls in Pretoria and there is no other way of putting it. It is a big stadium with many entrances and a very open door policy: as long as you pay for your ticket you are welcome. There are certain restrictions on what to bring with you and what not, but you are more or less free to enter on your own terms. What you are not allowed to bring in, you can obtain inside. There are workers and cleaners and people keeping the place in shape…just like at a church
2) songs to sing: Everyone who has ever been to Loftus during the past year or more knows the chorus to Ge Korsten’s “Liefling” of by heart. The same goes for Steve Hofmeyr’s “Die Blou Bul”. People sing it at the top of their voices in honour of a certain player (in this case Derick Hougaard) or team (The Bulls). There is no pipe organ that gives a little dramatic 16th century intro to start the songs, people just burst out and sing it! A lot more spontaneous than they would in a regular protestant church service…
3) Rites and rituals: “Biltong, Bier en Braaivleis” (biltong, beer and barbecue) – that is rugby’s eucharist. It usually starts before the game, everyone involved gather together around their parking spot (if they are at the game – this can be done at home too) and their Cadac gas braaier. A few tjoppies, a piece of sausage and many six packs of Castle Lager round off the picture. Often there are also a bottle or two of Brandy involved, with Coca Cola as the mix for that drink. A rugby enthusiast that cannot braai properly is seriously lacking education. And everyone eats his or her meat differently – some like it juicy, others prefer it so dry you can break it while others still eats it when a good vet could have saved the poor animal who gave up his chops.
It is also appropriate to have biltong, chips and other snacks while you are watching the game. Depending on where you are and who is with you, you could consume alcohol or settle for soft drinks and ice cream. How is this like church? Well, people in different congregations have their eucharist in different ways, although there are some lines which they all keep to. Bread and wine is consumed by young and old mostly and celebrates a Victory that has been won. With rugby the braai can also happen after the game, and then it has the same purpose – celebrating victory.
4) Attire: “Church clothes” – we all know what that is. Your best dress, your neatest shirt, your nicest shoes, tie and belt. Luckily the perception around that is changing slowly but surely, but not so much for rugby supporters. There is no “less is more” approach here. Around the rugby field “more is more”. The Bluer you are, the better! Now, everyone does not need to go to the extreme of painting themselves blue from head to toe. It suffice if you are wearing at least a proper Rugby shirt and cap/hat (if you have one). Having a flag is also optional, but it is a “nice to have” and are welcomed most of the time.
The cheerleaders do not fall into this category at all and the less they wear, the better!
With the reverend’s (heavy traditional) white tie and black cloak and our own “sunday clothes” this is certainly a parallel to consider!
5) Communion: Finally, this is the one thing that churches can really learn from sports and especially rugby. There is feeling of belonging, because as long as we support the same team, we are ipso facto on the same team. You are “one of us”, even if I don’t know you from Adam. I experienced this last weekend also in a strong way: after the game we went to a Retief Burger-dvd recording (he’s an Afrikaans Gospel singer) and a few of the people there wore Blue Bull shirts, myself included. As soon as someone wearing such a shirt saw me, they started talking about the game – complete strangers, sharing fellowship because of something that binds them together.
That is what church really should be about: not about the clothes we wear, the songs we sing, the place where we worship or the rituals we perform, but about the fellowship that binds us together and makes you feel welcomed and loved, no matter who you are or what you’ve done. Maybe for the upcoming Algemene Sinode of the NG Kerk (General Synod of the Dutch reformed Church) the people that is going to attend should go to a rugby game together more often to see what the church really should be about…