The Blinding Friday Night Lights

We’ve just moved from Middle America to Texas. To say there is a bit of culture shock is an understatement. Things are a bit different down here. Don’t get me wrong. I love Texas. I married a Texan. I’m a Spurs fan. I remember the Alamo. We eat breakfast tacos. I even have a cowboy hat, which I dutifully wear at each commencement at graduation at SWBTS where I teach. (I don’t, however, have cowboy boots—I’ve drawn a line in the sand on that one). It’s just going to take a bit of getting used to, that’s all.

We moved to Aledo, which is a big football town, west of Fort Worth. To try and understand how big a deal football is in Texas, I thought it might be fun to read H.G. Bissinger’s Friday Night Lights. The book was as captivating as it was sad.

The author chronicles his year in Odessa, Texas as he follows the 1988 Permian High School Panther football team. Football in Odessa is a religion. Beginning in kindergarten, young boys begin dreaming, working, and practicing so that they will one day have a chance to play Friday night football under the blazing lights and watchful gaze of 15,000 fans.

The book was captivating because you can’t help but admire the winning tradition, the rugged commitment, and the sense of community that is Odessa Football. Oil money comes and goes, but Permian football remains forever. It is the glue that holds the town—or at least the white half—together.

It is saddening because these kids are fed the not so subtle truth that winning is everything, that the culmination of one’s life is senior year in High School, that academics are not as important as athletics, and your worth is dependent on your ability to tackle or run or catch the ball if you are black.

Worse—I’m just going to say it—football in Texas, at least in 1988 in Odessa as reported by Bissinger, is an idol.

What is an idol? Here’s what Tim Keller says in his book Counterfeit Gods:

It is anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give.[1]

He goes on:

A counterfeit god is anything so central and essential to your life that, should you lose it, your life would feel hardly worth living. An idol has such a controlling position in your heart that you spend most of your passion and energy, your emotional and financial resources, on it without a second thought….An idol is whatever you look at and say, in your heart of hearts, “If I have that, then I’ll feel my life has meaning, then I’ll know I have value, then I’ll feel significant and secure.”[2]

Perhaps it isn’t that way now in Odessa (I have no idea). Hopefully it isn’t that way in Aledo. But, given our propensity to find our hope and meaning in created and temporary things rather than the creator, I wouldn’t be surprised if it does still functionally play, in many people’s life, the role traditionally ascribed to religion.

Christ pushes pack on our rank idolatry, continually working in our lives to strip us of anything that would keep us from total devotion to Him. There is a way to play football, or any other sport for the glory of God. It begins by seeing and savoring Jesus for all that he is. This is the antidote to overcoming our temptation to idolatry. This is the antidote to Friday night blindness whether on the football field, the movie theatre, the shopping mall, or the comfort of our own home.

For an excellent clip by Tim Keller on idolatry watch this:

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[1] Keller, Counterfeit gods, xvii.

[2] Ibid., xviii.

 

This article first appeared on the blog of Paul Gould, assistant professor of philosophy and Christian apologetics at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Follow him on Twitter at @paulmgould.