Sumter Pastor Clay Smith: Torn …
BY THE REV. DR. CLAY SMITH
When my son went to Duke it was fun watching their basketball games and seeing if I could spot him among all the Crazy Cameron. One game, he was in the first row. Such a strange experience, seeing him scream as the team moved up and down the field. Because he went to Duke, I started shooting for Duke.
Then my daughter decided to go to UNC-Chapel Hill. If you are not familiar with this rivalry, it is not that great in soccer, but in basketball it outshines them all. Schools are 10 km away. UNC leads the series, but in modern times (since Coach K) the series is almost even in wins and losses and points scored. Duke students camp for weeks in the dead of winter to secure tickets to the game between North Carolina and the Duke.
Naturally, my sweet oldest daughter asks, “Daddy, will North Carolina be your new favorite team since I’m your favorite kid?” I was torn.
What do you do when you’re caught between a rock and a hard place? First of all, you are looking for a compromise. I told the two kids that I would cheer on the home team when Duke and North Carolina go head-to-head. It seemed to satisfy everyone. Until my daughter’s first year, when Duke and Carolina met in the ACC tournament. The two children wanted to know, “Who are you going to cheer for, Daddy?” I offered to encourage a team in the first half and another team in the second half. This compromise was rejected. Then I said, “I’m going to shoot for the team that’s the lowest seed.” This too was rejected.
Then I understood: my tugging on one side or the other had no effect on the outcome of the match. So I put my parents’ foot down and said, “I’ll shoot for whoever wins the game.”
It’s depressing when two of your kids roll their eyes at the same time. My clever solution simply made the two children angry with me.
Then my youngest daughter decided to go to Clemson. It worked well for me. Clemson’s basketball has improved, but honestly Clemson is about football. Duke is not really relevant in football and North Carolina, while improving, is not a football powerhouse. It was good not to choose sides.
But this week, a new dilemma has arisen. As I’ve written many times, I’ve been a Florida Gator fan ever since I knew football had winners and losers. I endured the horrible losing seasons and celebrated the national championship seasons. Although not an alumnus, I proudly proclaim that I am a boy from Old Florida.
I went to Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama, a good Baptist school. Samford had a tradition of football (Bobby Bowden once coached there) but gave up football before I attended. It had cost two dear, they said. The reality was that the three men who supported him with blank checks all died within six months. After graduating, Samford started playing football again, moving from Division III to Division I – FCS.
Traditionally, large-scale programs like Florida play against an FCS school during the season. The idea is to play a game that is not too difficult before playing the big rivalries and the conference championship games. This week Florida, the team of my heart, is playing Samford, my alma mater. I am ripped.
Do I support Florida who need a win to get back on track after losses to South Carolina and Georgia? Do I encourage Samford, the outsider, to bring about a major upheaval, one that will elevate the agenda to new heights in the Southern Conference?
Sports journalists say that no one cares about this game, but they are wrong. I can’t decide which side to go down to. I don’t bet on games, but I know where I would put my money. On the flip side, my school might join a handful of FCS schools (like Appalachian State) that beat the big school with a game that will be remembered forever.
One day, the prophet Elijah gathered God’s people together to confront them about their divided hearts. “How long will you hesitate between two gods?” he said. “If Baal is a god, follow him. If the Lord is God, follow him. What followed was a showdown to see who would send fire from heaven. Baal was silent – because he was not real. The Lord sent fire.
People sometimes tell me, “All religions lead to the same place. This is not true. Worshiping the god of Islam is very different from worshiping the god of Christianity. Maybe what people are trying to say is that they feel torn. I understand. But deciding which god you will follow requires a choice: not which religion has the most meaning or good, but which god is real? Think about it carefully.
In the meantime, I still have to decide who to shoot on Saturday: Florida or Samford. I think the fire from heaven will be my sign.
The Rev. Dr. Clay Smith is the Senior Pastor of Alice Drive Baptist Church in Sumter. Email him at [email protected]