Monday, 18 November 2013

Cricket and Christianity

Well, cricket season is upon us in the Southern Hemisphere.  For those reading this in such non-cricketing nations as the US, France, or China, my apologies in advance if you don't understand any of my cricket-related references.  If you want to know anything about the basics of cricket, ask any friend who's lived in one of the cricketing nations (Australia, the UK, India, South Africa, the West Indies, Pakistan, New Zealand, Bangladesh ....).

One thing about cricket is that it exists in three basic formats.  (Interestingly, I can compare these three formats to three different styles of Christian worship and ministry -- more about this later.)

The first format is "Test" Cricket.  (Well, it's only called "Test" cricket when it's a match between two national teams, but this longer, classical format is used between local and regional teams as well.)

This is the format of cricket that people joke about.  A match can take up to five days to complete (and still end in a draw).

When cricket enthusiasts say how much they "love cricket", this is usually the form of cricket that they love.  (Similarly, when some non-enthusiasts say they "hate cricket", this is the form of cricket they hate.)

This style of cricket has inspired many such 19th century "sport-as-a-metaphor-for-life" moralisms as "It matters not who won or lost, but how you played the game."

Nevertheless, when a commentator describes a cricketer as a "great cricketer", the measure of the player's greatness is his or her performance in this longer, classical form of the game.

The second format is "Limited-Overs" or "One-day" Cricket.

In the 1970s, for the sake of television, a shorter form of cricket was devised, and it was very controversial at the time.  (I won't get all technical about the format, for the sake of any readers in Nashville, Calais, or Shanghai who may find all the cricket-speak a bit boring.)  Let's just say that potentially thirty-five hours of play spread over five days has become seven hours of play during a single day.  The playing strategies have changed for the different format.  The game is somewhat more fast-paced.  But the way teams score runs or get batsmen out remains the same.

The third format is "Twenty20" Cricket.

Twenty20 is an even shorter and faster form of cricket.  The match is even shorter than One-day, about the length of a baseball or soccer match.  The style of play is even quicker than One-day.  (It's still cricket, however, in terms of the game that's being played.)  There is a lot of entertaining "razzamatazz" associated with the match.  In Australia or the UK, there is the feel of an American baseball match in the attendant sideshow.  In India, the "razzamatazz" approaches that associated with an American football match.

The three styles of cricket all co-exist with each other.   The first two formats most suit a match between national teams, or teams representing English counties or Australian states.  Twenty20 is at its best when played between professional clubs in India (each with a interesting mix of young Indian players and international veterans).  There are questions about the continued viability of the One-day format, now that Twenty20 has become established.

And I see a real parallel between the three formats of cricket and the diverse styles of Christian worship and community that are available in many places today.

First, we have "Test Christianity".

This format of Christianity is found in the classical liturgical denominations (Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Anglican/Episcopal, Lutheran), particularly those with a wide diversity of theologies and spiritualities within the one fellowship.  These churches regard worship in terms of a balance of Word and Sacrament.  In these churches, "Tradition" and "Ritual" are not dirty words.  (And, for the most part, both "Tradition" and "Ritual" are living, evolving things in these churches.)

The main paradigm for worship, in this format, is an encounter between the worshippers and the living, triune God.  God is present among the worshipping congregation, and the worshippers experience that presence.

Secondly, there is "One-day Christianity".

This format of Christianity is found among the churches which find their historical roots in the "Protestant" Reformation of the sixteenth century, the Puritan movement of the seventeenth century, and the Wesleyan revival of the eighteenth century (including those formed by ecumenical unions in the twentieth century, such as the Uniting Church in Australia or the United Church of Canada).  While these churches have adapted culturally over the years,  the strong emphasis of these movements upon preaching and teaching has still continued.

While the encounter with God's presence is part of the paradigm for worship in this format, the predominant emphasis of this format (whether the particular style of worship is that of a 1950s "preaching service", a 1970s "all-age family service", or a 1990s "CafĂ©-style Fresh Expression") is the need for the members of the congregation to "learn something" about their faith as a result of participating in the worship service.

Thirdly, we also have "Twenty20 Christianity".

Twenty20 Christianity has its roots in various evangelical, Pentecostal, and charismatic religious revivals in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.  Like Twenty20 cricket, Twenty20 Christianity is much more fast-paced than the two older formats, and it has a lot more "razzamatazz" than the other formats.  Its style of worship emphasises the popular entertainment value of worship far more than the two older formats.  In the early 20th century, its music resembled that of vaudeville and the English music halls.  Today, its music reflects various popular styles (pop, rock, country, hip-hop ....).

Many people who are attracted to Twenty20 styles of Christianity wear their affinities with a congregation or a denomination rather loosely.  They are "consumers" of  what their church has to offer, but some are always on the lookout for a different - and more exciting - product.

Now, the experience of God's presence is part of the paradigm for worship in this format, as is also a "teaching dimension" to the service.  Nevertheless, the predominant (or at least the most obvious) aspect of worship in this format is the dimension of worship-as-entertainment. 

The three styles of Christianity, like the three styles of cricket, can - and should - coexist happily with each other, and - at the very least - they should acknowledge each other as various formats of the one "game" (as happens in cricket).

And like good cricketers, perhaps Christians should be increasingly able to "pad up" and "play" in a variety of formats.  For example, in my own case as a minister, my parish ministry has (other than a brief time in an ecumenical parish with a strong Anglican component) almost exclusively been in churches that play the "One-day" format of church life and worship.  Nevertheless, when I attend church as a worshipper in a congregation, my strong preference is for churches experiencing the "Test" format.  (I personally find it very hard, though, to engage myself in the "Twenty20" format, in either church or cricket, however.)

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Constructive comments, from a diversity of viewpoints, are always welcome. I reserve the right to choose which comments will be printed. I'm happy to post opinions differing from mine. Courtesy, an ecumenical attitude, and a willingness to give your name always help. A sense of humour is a definite "plus", as well.