Fantasy Premiere League teams are being formed around the globe. My team is named for my neighborhood coffee shop and a formula for finding things.
Boomtown is a local coffee shop branded with an adventurous promise of joyous success.
Grover's algorithm is about intentional concessions to meaningfully pursue the hope of finding what you are looking for.
What is behind the buzz for competitors is the principle of indirect companionship through a shared interest. This is especially true for someone like me who has the often awkward task of trying to talk about the most profound areas of life directly. Although it can be exhilarating to open up a connection with someone while expounding on “giving and receiving appropriate love as the hope and meaning of life…” it can also create emotional and mental overload. Through the last couple of decades, global football has been the medium most responsible for keeping me more or less even keeled in the deep waters of applied theology.
“Tell all the Truth but tell it slant-- Success in Circuit lies Too bright for our infirm Delight The Truth's superb surprise As Lightening to the Children eased With explanation kind The Truth must dazzle gradually Or every man be blind--” ― Emily Dickinson
4th’d be fantastic!
I like association football (a.k.a soccer). I like in part because it doesn’t ultimately matter. For all the intensity of the competitions and the passion of the supporters, it still is just a game. My hope with the game is personal forgetfulness. The joy of being absorbed in the drama, of lamenting and/or celebrating not as some guy, but as part of a great tribe of supporters with shared ambitions.
My hope in football this year? I support a few different clubs. For Barcelona, the hope is to continue expanding the frontiers of creativity with brilliant skill, understanding and executing under pressure. The best thing to happen to the high flying team was a pummeling in the UEFA Champions league last year. Instead of a choking fear of having to defeat their own lofty transcendence they have a hill in front of them; a mission to retake the top spot in the world. In the UK I support the historic Liverpool and their so-cheesy-it’s-cool ultra retro anthem “You’ll nevvvvvver walk alone!”.
Liverpool are on a protracted mission to return to their former glory for so long now that the current emphasis is to a penultimate mission: “Let’s give it all we’ve got and go for 4th this year!!!”. Hoorah.
The Boomtown Grovers are my FantasyPremiereLeague team following the top English (and a couple Welsh) teams. My family and friends from Thailand have played over the last few years. I compete more like Liverpool than Barcelona; I compete toward the top of the table, but never dominate.
My earlier successes in the competition were due to lots of exposure: I watched as many live games as I could. Life has changed for me, though. Now I’m reduced to short glimpses of match play, and I resort to reading the reports and ideas of others. It’s not the same. The personal thrill of observing and sorting possible winners and losers has became a mathematical grind. Now, like the once mighty Liverpool, my ambitions are humble. The Scousers are anxiously needing to secure a 4th place finish to enter into to European Champion’s League, with all the t.v. revenue and the allure to attain and hold the best players. My own ambition is to be high enough on the table not to have to scroll down to find the listing for Boomtown Grovers.
Plodding Pursuit of Revival
Pursuing less than best is not as bad as it sounds. Sometimes the goal of not spiraling into patterns of failure is a necessary step in regaining championship form. When my daughter Sophie and some friends were caught in a notorious riptide off of Kata Beach in Thailand they managed to live by swimming not to lose. Aiming sideways, with a steady and barely sustainable pace, they eventually reached the shore. Too often the mistake swimmers make is trying an olympian sprint directly back to the beach, struggling valiantly but succumbing to the overwhelming forces of lunar tugged seas. There is a time to “go for it” and a time to just not “lose it”. Sophie survived, and now is a lifeguard; the other two companions, a nationally ranked triathlete and a US Navy Seal, went on to get married. “Live to swim another day!” proved to be a good anthem.
In my Christian faith, and Christian vocation, I’ve had some excellent seasons. One of my most important stories in life is how my swing from moody existentialist atheist to evangelistically vigorous Jesus follower led to marriage. Resigned to the inability to reconcile love and differences, I had gone to Michigan for my girlfriend’s sister’s wedding to have an appropriately personal breakup. We both realized we were on different trajectories and were both ready to move on.
Over a quick weekend visit, a Lutheran wedding, a Catholic mass and then an Assembly of God revival service contributed to a collision of ideas and feelings for Karla. I shared with her how Christian differences mattered, but only in distant proportion to personal trust in Jesus as saving Lord. On the side of the road, that dark and stormy night, I shared the gospel, assurance of salvation, and then a marriage proposal.
When I returned back to Texas my Christian friends were shocked at my impromptu decision; one even challenging the wisdom of it. I was resolute. I was walking with God and had no fear. I discerned and acted quickly, not out of rashness, rather from confidence. With two dozen years of marriage behind us I still look at that night like a World Cup champion performance. I was a disciple in form, abiding, trusting, experiencing… living.
Since those days I’ve had other times amongst glory, as well as heart breaking losses and confidence tempering struggles. Some things I brought into my identity, as essentials to my faith never belonged. Like players transferred into a team for ridiculous sums who then under perform, there comes a time when some things need to be released. You take your losses and move on. There may come a time when I work through a memoir and carefully describe some of those misplaced convictions, but that time is not yet. Right now I am in the midst of a long rebuilding phase and I need to focus. Leaping back to championship form would be great, but revival enough to swim another day may be an anthem to consider. It is not that I don’t want to flourish, it is that I am aware of what bit of magic accompanies flourishing.
Kids and “love of the game”
Even great players need something more than technical ability, fitness and a great team. To truly thrive, to play beyond themselves, we all need the love of the game. Yes, it must be great to be a professional athlete, to get paid for playing the game you love. But that is only true if you still truly love the game. Fernando Torres, once the hero of Anfield became excessively critiqued at Chelsea, not just for his outrageous £50 million transfer fee, but for his anxious demeanor. Even when his stats began to support him the perception remained that “El Niño” needed to rediscover his joy.
Late into Jesus’ ministry he delivers a challenge to his increasingly experienced disciples:
“I assure you,” He said, “unless you are converted and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child—this one is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one child like this in My name welcomes Me." - Jesus (Mt 18:3-5)
The experience of great things can lead to an obsession with greatness. Craving greatness crowds out the greatest hope: the freedom not to be a “god”. As much as a child delights in dreaming of overcoming great odds and unexpectedly winning it all, the essential part of the story gets forgotten: we dream of being David, not Goliath. But what happens when David has killed Goliath, and more like him, and in some weird ways becomes a Goliath?
The disciples had been brought together in a more unlikely manner than Moneyball style baseball management. They had gone from spiritual nobodies, or worse, to being inner-circle champions, overcoming all variety of physical, relational and spiritual challenges. The experiences of greatness led them to focus on greatness even though a focus on experiencing greatness had never been a contributing element to their experiences. Jesus reorients them to their own stories, how they had been child like in their trust of Jesus, walking away from their well shaped identities in the world. Their fascination with Jesus, and the Kingdom of Heaven, the rule of God right here and now, had reordered reality. As they learned to abide in who he was and how he led, they were continually delighted and amazed and stretched and changed. But when they became aware of how much had changed, their self-awareness competed against the source of their hope. Their childlike awe was replaced with self-conscious swag.
Hope without Hype
I can edit the footage from my Christian vocational life to make more than one overall story. With slow motion, a bit of CGI, some intrusive deep voiced narration I can produce a fairly credible story of accomplishment. I’ve been places, I’ve seen things, I’ve done things. Some of things are pretty cool. But what happens when Tuesday comes? What happens when the movie star is not accompanied with editing, CGI and the confidence building narrator? Who would I be to myself and those around me? Just another guy. And in very important ways, that is true and necessary to remember. I am just another guy along the lines of Jesus’ advice toward greatness:
Humbling yourself helps.
Humbling oneself is not the same as humiliating oneself. While avoiding the delusion of hype, I also struggle to avoid the gallows of despair. Jesus does not call his disciples to disparage themselves, even though he does call them “little faiths” from time to time. He calls them to continually reset the story to be the shepherd boy. That is what the apostle Paul did. Not only was his name “Saul” changed, he intentionally rejected his own set of armor amassed as Saul. An armor of accomplishments and identity from the past which would tempt him in his current battles.
"...although I once also had confidence in the flesh...everything that was a gain to me, I have considered to be a loss because of Christ. ...so that I may gain Christ... through faith in Christ —the righteousness from God based on faith... to know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings... not that I have already reached the goal or am already fully mature, but I make every effort to take hold of it because I also have been taken hold of by Christ Jesus. - Philippians 3
The freedom from the past, failures and successes; the exhilaration of being a rookie; a child… is joyful and hopeful. This is the game plan for the season ahead. This is the idea for a story that is not a sequel. This is the opportunity which must be seized. Forgetting last season’s story, I launch the Bootown Grovers unafraid of failing to win it all. By taking the cyber-field of guessing whose playing form will result in good stats, I am living.
And for faith’s sake? Will I launch off to distant lands again? Not now. I will offer myself as a bargain transfer, a decent player with potential to rise back up to quality once assumed. Hope without hype, I live to love another day.