Why Soccer Hasn’t Risen (and Won’t) in the USA

This is an opinion paper based solely upon my own cross-cultural experiences and observances. If you have any data to support my hypothesis, I’d be glad to hear/read it! If not, I suppose I’ll listen to/read that, too …

 

The 2014 FIFA World Cup is in full swing, and team USA isn’t too shabby in its current standings. It even looks like they’re going to, unexpectedly, make it into the second round! But it seems most conversations, at least in my circles, surrounding team USA are about how much the nation doesn’t know or care about soccer. Sure, news outlets are always talking it up and encouraging further interest in the sport, but we all know it’s just filler until the next “top story” about someone rescuing a cat or something.

Big name players, if they can be called that in the US, try to promote the sport by hosting training camps and speaking up when given the opportunity, but it doesn’t seem to increase interest in the sport among the youth of the nation. Even the big move of the English heavy-kicker David Beckham and wife Posh Spice…I mean, Victoria…to Los Angeles hardly made a dent in the sport’s popularity. If you knew who he was, you were already a fan; if you didn’t, you probably still don’t…or you’re buying his underwear from his post-retirement business.

If you love soccer, you’re probably going to try and get your kids to love it, should you choose to procreate; and if you don’t love, you may let your kids play in AYSO or some YMCA after-school special to let them run off some energy and get more use out of that mini-van. But those who love soccer find it difficult to convert others, and soccer-moms/dads don’t encourage it beyond adolescence. Simply put, soccer fandom in the USA lives and dies with soccer fans having babies. Wow. I just said that.

Why is soccer so popular in most every other nation in world? It’s part of the culture, and it has been for a very long time. You don’t need a reason to love soccer; you just do. You grow up with a nation, a league, and a team. You play before, on the way to, during, and on the way home from school, and then you play some more. Anywhere there is relatively flat ground (emphasis on the “relatively”) and a ball (any ball will do…or anything you can kick will do), there is soccer (real football) to be played. It can be “played” virtually anywhere, and no special equipment is required. Casual play is not determined by equipment, space, or spacing rules; simply kick a ball between a couple predetermined objects on either side of the available space and you score. But you can’t slow down. The sport builds on non-stop action and well-rounded athleticism, which also encourages a healthy and fit body.

The most popular sports in the USA focus on short bursts of energy separated by mandatory down time, fouls, disciplinary action, and strategizing, often with the stopping of a game-clock, if there is one at all (I’m looking at you, baseball). Sure, soccer has its fair share of penalties and posers pretending to be hurt to keep the ball dead, but other than a possible few minutes being added to the clock, the game goes on. If you go to a soccer game, you can expect to be out in less than two hours from start to finish, including a break at halftime! The USA likes high scoring games (bigger is better), and soccer matches often end scoreless or very few goals. A goal equals one (1) point, and “0–0” or “0–1” doesn’t look like much. (Perhaps applying an arbitrary number of points (seven?) per goal would work better for the American mind. Maybe “0–7” looks better.)

The USA also likes athletes who are narrowly focused: heavy-hitters (fat or thin), immovable walls (it doesn’t matter if they can walk very far), those who can move really fast in a straight line (they don’t need to be dexterous), and the like. Of course, there are exceptions, but this seems to be the preference. You don’t need to be “healthy” or well rounded to be a great athlete in the USA; you just need to do one thing REALLY well, and most often not even for very long—there are always breaks to be had.

Breaks: we like our time-outs! We like to see the clock stop, but I think what we really enjoy is manipulating time, the game, and the other side in our favor. (Perhaps that speaks to a bit more than I’ll mention in this post.) We don’t have much respect for, “You have ‘x’ amount of time to do the best you can. Go.” We want it our way, right away. And if someone wronged us, we want to make sure it’s checked, double checked, and righted (instant replay) because we’re American and we’re entitled to our rights! (Has an instant replay amendment been added to the Constitution yet? That’s probably a bit too “Big Brother” for now; maybe in the next generation.)

Let’s take a time-out of our own for a moment. American media pushes agendas and the popularity of most things. Being spoon-fed is such a part of American culture now that people rarely use their “freedom of speech” to express their true preferences. They often wait to be told what their preferences are, and then they repeat the popular expression because…that’s what you do. Marketing is a booming and quite profitable business in itself. It is evident when one takes a look back in time at television and radio shows of the past, for example, and compare the times between commercials as they were then and now. We are inundated with advertisements—being told what we like, want, and need. Okay, time-in.

When we consider that most of us get our sports entertainment via some form other than actually being at the live game and the aforementioned big business of marketing, it’s no wonder we like our sports with a lot of pauses! These provide ample opportunity to push something else in the consumer’s face. In fact, being at the game does not guarantee immunity! I was at a baseball game last week (don’t ask…) and I can’t count the number of audible advertisements and images of something to buy on walls and the big-screen (apparently the away team were a bunch of Girl Scout cookies because those were the pictures that were shown next to their names). You can cram a lot of advertisements into an American sporting even. A lot.

Soccer defies and denies competition with itself. You cannot pause for a commercial break for at least forty-five minutes (halftime), and with as few great scoring moments that occur during the games you don’t want to get up to grab a snack or hit the bathroom. Come prepared or risk missing the big moment. It’s that simple. You know what you like, want, and need during a soccer game? Soccer. It’s that pure.

So, to the point, why hasn’t soccer risen (and won’t rise) in the USA? Answer: Companies that present soccer games can’t suck every possible penny out of the viewer, and that doesn’t work with capitalism. That’s just not American. To start, the only way to make big money is through merchandise, and you can’t sell merchandise without creating a culture that desires it, and that culture is not going to be created because it can’t make money because… You get the idea. Until we can learn as a society to enjoy something for itself without an outside force telling us what to enjoy and how to enjoy it, Americans will forever keep soccer confined to obscure homes, pubs, and the occasional mini-van-driving suburban communities that like to watch their kids mosh in centerfield.

 

I look forward to your nasty responses. Love me.  :)

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Book Review: NIV New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, by Jack Hayford (Executive Editor)

NIV New Spirit-Filled Life BibleFirst and foremost, this is a review on the book as put together by the editors, not on the NIV translation or the Bible itself.

The NIV New Spirit-Filled Life Bible may be loosely described as a study bible with devotional leanings. It contains short excerpts in devotional style (usually no more than a few sentences in length) scattered throughout that pertain to one of eight “clusters” on specific topics chosen by the editors (as a whole noted as “Kingdom Dynamics”). Most of these are written by different people; only a few authors have multiple and/or co-authored entries. Several essays of varying subject and length that tend to be more in the “study bible” vein are also included. There is a list of 550 terms (called “Word Wealth”) used in Scripture with provided definitions—these are “hit & miss” in their accuracy or clarity. The “Truth in Action” sections for each book provide “truths” found within sections of Scripture and the “action” on the part of the reader that is intended to follow. Also, as is typically included in most Bibles, are cross-references for verses.

I received an “e-book” copy of this book and cannot speak to the size, heft, and ease-of-use of a hardcopy. The layout of the e-book works well with its thorough linking and cross-referencing to other places within the text, all of which I tried functioned properly; however, any text of this size and “page hopping” does not have the same ease and flow of a hardcopy. As a systematically used text, it functions well; as a text to be simply read and browsed, as many do with the Bible, it is clunky and ill-fitting.

I chose to review this particular book because of the title and accompanied description on BookLookBloggers.com, which reads, “Find the Holy Spirit throughout the Bible. Jack Hayford, founding pastor of The Church on the Way, has led a team of anointed scholars to produce the New Spirit-Filled Life Bible. This outstanding resource offers a fresh look at the Scriptures and the work of the Holy Spirit. This Bible addresses important issues of Spirit-filled living in the context of solid biblical scholarship.” I assumed it was going to be a study bible that traced the Holy Spirit and the workings thereof through Scripture, both the Old and New Testaments. I was mistaken in my assumption. As a whole, its predominant agenda and trajectory is that of promoting a Pentecostal/Charismatic, dispensational, and premillennial eschatological perspective . It does not exclude other perspectives—they are sprinkled around—nor do the editors present information as if all other perspectives are “heretical” or any other descriptors thrown by many at those who disagree with themselves. In no way is there any tracing of the Holy Spirit throughout Scripture by way of notes, essays, or other means, which leads me to think the description I read to be a bit misleading. Perhaps I should have checked out the church noted therein to get an idea of where it might be going—I still haven’t, as I see no need to do so.

In as much as I do not share the same Pentecostal, dispensational, and premillennial views as those espoused therein , I would not recommend this book to others. I did not find it very helpful, it was a little too “light” for a “study bible,” and did not have enough substance, in my opinion, to be a “devotional bible.” For those parts that I believe would be beneficial to other readers, I would simply point them to other resources to use in tandem with studying whichever translation of Scripture they choose. However, I applaud those involved in this book’s editing in that they can appreciate others’ perspectives and believe we are all sincerely trying to follow the same triune God and that we can be unified in Him even in our differing interpretations and understandings of Scripture.

 

*Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Book Review: Enter the Water, Come to the Table: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper in Scripture’s Story of New Creation, by John Mark Hicks

Enter the Water, Come to the TableJohn Mark Hicks has been a brother, mentor, and one-time travel companion of mine since my time at Lipscomb University.  Few academics impress me as much as John Mark in their ability to retain so much information, recollect it without aid, and express it in a way that is fitting for any given audience. (In the loving words of a fellow professor, “We hate him because we all know he can teach all of our classes and probably do it better.”) His website, johnmarkhicks.com, hosts a wealth of information, and I’m not sure where he finds the time to blog as much as he does!

Enter the Water, Come to the Table: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper in Scripture’s Story of New Creation is indicative of John Mark Hicks’ ability to unify differing perspectives by way of addressing their preferred semantics and expressing them in a more cohesive and understandable manner. Some themes and terms specific to this book that fall into this practice are baptism, communion (the Lord’s Supper), sacraments, and eschatology. No matter where you fall on the Christian theological spectrum, there is something to be gained by reading Hicks’ perspective; you may even discover similarities with others that were once thought to be differences over which separation was worth the fight!

In his latest book, Hicks aptly pulls his readers into the biblical narrative and shows them how both baptism and the Lord’s Supper have been and are expressed from the beginning of creation to the renewal of all things in the new creation (the new heavens and the new earth), demonstrating their far reaching influence and importance in and on the lives of God’s people. Rather than summarize or provide bullet points that may be found therein, I simply encourage you to get a copy and read without any preconceived notions as to that with which you may or may not agree.

For readers of this blog in my more immediate geographical location, what Hicks extensively describes as “bringing back the table” has been demonstrated in our house church (Durough House Communion), with fewer specific formalities, since January 2012. For those interested in learning and experiencing more about bringing back the table in communion, feel free to contact us!

 

*Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from ACU Press/Leafwood Publishers as part of their ACU Press Bookclub Program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Book Review: Serve Strong: Biblical Encouragement to Sustain God’s Servants, by Terry Powell

Serve StrongEven before my last review of an ACU Press/Leafwood Publishers book, I eagerly anticipated receiving a copy of Serve Strong: Biblical Encouragement to Sustain God’s Servants by Terry Powell for my next review. I had not previously heard of Powell, but after reading online others’ quotes on the book cover, on which there is a painting of depicting Jesus washing the feet of a disciple, I had in my mind that I’d be receiving a book of wisdom from an aged shepherd in grandpa-like style, encouraging those in what is often referred to as “formal ministry” to keep going and how the author has persevered through the decades. Perhaps I set my expectations too high or simply misconstrued what others had to say, but I don’t think I got that book.

Here is my admittedly gross summary of roughly the first half of the book: Preachers and preacher-like people, memorize Scripture, and when in need of anything, quote it. (Yes, for those who will critique my critique, there is much more, but in my opinion this speaks to the heart of the matter.) Of course, reading the Bible should be understood, and having Scripture memorized for immediate recollection is great—I’d hope it would also work on the heart and become part of who we are—but I don’t think reading or reciting words is a fix-it-all. Even the written Word of God can be read/quoted poorly and the meaning missed altogether. From my perspective, much of the first half really seems to be geared toward the fundamentalist preacher (those “proclaiming the Word of God,” which speaks to that which I’ve already noted) rather than anyone who should find him/herself dealing with people in some sort of ministerial fashion for much of their time and get discouraged and burnt out.

Fortunately, Powell does offer further thoughts by way of explaining particular Bible passages, providing examples of others who have been through particular situations, and a few anecdotes. There are a few chapters, all rather short and self-contained, I thought were quite nice (e.g., The Power of Owning Up) and would recommend these sections to others.

I’d considered providing more detail and specifics, but have considered those thoughts to be unnecessary in this particular kind of review, noting this only for those who would prefer I had provided them. So, with that in mind, I will only further note that I find there to be too many theological inconsistencies and sections I would want others to actually avoid. And so, all things considered, I would not recommend this book as a whole to anyone, and would rather, given a particular need, point someone to any number of biographies on those who have been through similar situations or to other more fitting devotionals and/or books of encouragement.

This is, of course, a book review, not a review of its author.

 

*Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from ACU Press/Leafwood Publishers as part of their ACU Press Bookclub Program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Book Review: The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative, by Christopher J. H. Wright

The Mission of GodAfter a lecture given in 1998, Christopher J. H. Wright was approached by Anthony Billington and questioned “about the validity of using a missiological framework as a hermeneutical approach to reading the Bible. Is it possible, is it legitimate, is it helpful for Christians to read the whole Bible from the angle of mission? And what happens if they do?” (531). Thorough and dense, though still not exhaustive in its 535 pages, The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative is the result of Wright’s journey in attempting to answer those questions. Just as it changed Wright in the process, I believe the journey will aid its readers in understanding what it means to be part of the mission of God, that which Scripture exclaims in its entirety.

Divided into four parts (The Bible and Mission, The God of Mission, The People of Mission, and The Arena of Mission), The Mission of God progressively brings the reader into the biblical narrative and a better understanding of what it means to be a fellow pilgrim in God’s creation as intended by our Creator, recalibrating our posture from one of self-focus to God-focused participants in the continued narrative of God’s mission. I strongly recommend reading through the book in its entirety—it’ll take a while—in order to fully appreciate the journey as intended, but there is a detailed outline at the beginning and lengthy index at the end for those wishing to jump to particular sections for personal study and/or research.

As a proponent of reading the Bible in its narrative context and encouraging others to find and live out their place within this continued narrative, I appreciate Wright’s work and the result of his efforts in wrestling with this hermeneutical quest. It is a “must read” in my opinion, especially for those teaching, promoting, or looking for a particular method, form, and mode of “doing missions,” as it is often described. A proper reorienting of one’s perspective on what it is to be on God’s mission will better (rightly!) enable one to address the pragmatics of living out that mission in one’s own (or “target”) context.

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