the spi’ritual’ity of tailgating

January 24, 2006

tailgatingMy wife doesn’t understand tailgating. I’m not talking about following closely behind the car in front of you. I’m talking about the gathering of a bunch of rabid fans in the parking lot of a football stadium before kickoff. I think the combination of grilled meats, cold pavement, refreshing beverages, and toxic exhaust from passing vehicles just doens’t quite jive well with her. Or it could just be that she’s not a footall fan…

Yesterday we were having our standard church ‘staff’ meeting at the Spotted Cow. We got into a conversation with another regular who has season tickets to the Seahawks, and had been at the NFC Championship Game the day before. He was sharing about what a fascinating thing the tailgating phenomenon is. People who may be complete strangers welcome anyone into their temporary domain and share food as they are united in love for their common team. Sometimes, they even share with opposing fans.

Yes, I know that you could argue that much of the goodwill is based on how many drinks people have had. Yet it is hard to find a similar example of such a uniting of common goodwill among strangers, at least in North American culture. It is a ritual that thousands do extensive preparations for and anticipate for months.

Many strands of Christianity today have an anti-ritual mindset. They feel that the repetitive nature of rituals drains them of any meaning. For the most part, I come from one of those strands and have probably felt the very same thing…and that’s too bad.

Perhaps the problem with rituals is not the fact that their repitition sucks out the meaning, but that we forget what they meant in the first place. Thousands of people love tailgating because it is a celebration of something bigger than that. My wife thinks tailgating is just a peculiar activity, but that is because she thinks the same thing about football.

The value of rituals is that they connect us to something far greater than ourselves. For example, when I take communion each week, I celebrate because it is about something far bigger than a tiny little snack. it ties me to millions of people around the world who are doing the same thing.

May we not abandon rituals because we find them empty. Rather, let us use them to celebrate something bigger than ourselves. Let us remember that we are part of a greater community that is sharing in the ritual with us.

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