Weird to juxtapose the sacred and the secular in such a way? Holy Week – and basketball? Not weird in Kentucky, where basketball is a religion, if not THE predominant religion in Big Blue Nation. For those who know that I am a living heresy in Kentucky, due to my love of football first, it might seem like a lecture is coming, or a put down of BBN and the revered Cats and Coach Cal. But not so. I don’t make up the stories that reach out to me. I just write about them when they get inside my head and won’t let go until I’ve at least tried to see what truth they hold for me. This team has caught my attention and a bit of my heart. I’m more than a little intrigued by whatever message they hold for me. Especially this week.
In a post- Christian culture, those who take this Holy Week seriously are probably outnumbered by those who don’t. The Ashes to Go with which we began Lent is one of the ways the Church Is attempting to take the Gospel message into the culture.
I don’t really see a competition between the conclusion of this week of March Madness and Holy Week as much as a curious parallel. The parallel is so in-my-face I have to go there. Of course, there COULD be competition if the championship game on the day before Easter and the Easter Vigil butt heads! What I’m wondering about while we’re still at the beginning of this parallel week of weeks is where we’re most free to express our passion for something that’s important in our lives- and how we hold up and celebrate our heroes.
It seems like a good way to begin.
Certainly Palm Sunday is one of the most public ways to celebrate a hero- a grand parade. The triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, with all of the appropriate accolades. His fall from favor – the betrayal, the abandonment- happened as rapidly and ruthlessly as any modern day defrocking of a coach or star who doesn’t live up to their promise as a superstar superpower who sweeps everyone around them into the enchanted circle of ‘the winner.’
This is a basketball team that even people who generally pay no attention to sports of any kind can’t resist. Maybe it’s the number of high school,All- Americans on one team, which could be an absolute nightmare if they weren’t what one sportswriter has called a ‘group of such normal, nice kids’ while others hold up the way each has sublimated his need for individual stardom for the good of the team. To see them together when they’re NOT playing is to think you’ve wandered into a particularly large family and like the way the siblings treat each other. To see them in action is something else altogether. And then there’s the coach that some people live to hate.
Mixed together they’re the kind of team that finds hundreds of fans waiting in the cold when their charter airplane touches down at 1:45 A. M. The crowd is waving blue and white placards , not palms, but the adoration in Jerusalem must have been a little bit like that of the fans who drove many miles to stand in that cold and dark and watch.
I am a coach’s daughter, although the ball is oval instead of round. I know about the short life of heroism when things don’t go as expected; the glow of reflected glory and the human need to have a team with which to identify, live and die. And I know what it’s like when the tables turn and March Madness or its fall equivalent turn mean.
There’s a bigger thing I want to know.
Fresh off a convention sermon about evangelism, which called listeners to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ by sharing what of it touches them, engages them, excites them, makes a difference in their lives, I can’t help reflecting on the phenomenon that stops this part of the world in its tracks. Brings the most unlikely casts of characters together in shared passion for a cause. Has the utmost respect for its heroes, and is more than happy to share their enthusiasm, their passion on Facebook, Twitter , anyplace and every place.
While tickets to the one may be out of the reach for the majority of us regular folks, I know venues free of charge, just waiting to be filled.
And as I begin this holiest of weeks, the question for me remains: what do Big Blue Nation and these particular Cats who have so captivated some and brought intense criticism from others have to teach me about my passions, my heroes, my faith?