Late last year I was asked by Sports Chaplains Australia whether I was interested in being an honorary chaplain to either Eastwood or Gordon Rugby Club. As a very ex-colts and junior player for Eastwood, where our traditional arch enemy had always been Gordon, it was not a difficult choice. My exact words to the guy who rang me was I was interested in Eastwood, but Gordon could go to hell! He was a little shocked until I explained my tribal humour.
It has been, to say the least, a fascinating ride as Eastwood’s first ever chaplain.
Some in the club have warmly welcomed a spiritual presence, others have been decidedly indifferent, and many somewhat hostile and derogatory. It has probably helped me that the club has arguably had its best ever season, capped off last Saturday with a heart pounding narrow victory in extra time in the first grade grand final.
To be honest, I have loved the rugby. Rugby is far from a universal male delight, but for many the body contact games like Rugby Union, Rugby League, AFL, American Football and Ice Hockey really do challenge and delight the male of the species. While there are some women who likewise love these sports, many others simply scratch their heads in dismay at games that do involve skill and speed, but also seem to be a great deal about brawn. But therein lies the appeal that starts in young boys and seems more enduring as we age. Yes, it is gladiatorial - where the strength, courage, teamwork, speed, skill and brute force of men in their twenties at their physical peak is something to behold. It's hardly noble but it’s better than war.
But young men don’t stay young for long. As their twenties fade, careers move into a twilight stage or are quickly replaced by new younger gladiators. Boys look up to elite footballers dreaming of their day, while we older males painstakingly glory only in our past.
The glory of humans fades so quickly. Games are fun but were only meant to be games. The drugs (normally alcohol) used to sustain and entertain the gladiators, are hard to let go of and often cause a lifetime of relational, physical and psychological pain. Rugby is a great sport but a lousy god. Human glory is a wonder but not our ultimate hope or purpose. To know of a glory that will never fade is to hope in One who delivers the ultimate victory.
His (God's) pleasure is not in the strength of the horse, nor his delight in the legs of a man; the LORD delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love.” Psalm 147: 10-11