Blessed are the poor in spirit,-Matthew 5:3-5
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
I always thought that I loved soccer because it was in the air. It was what we lived and breathed as children in the Pacific Northwest in the 90’s, like Lunchables or Captain Planet. Only now am I recognizing that soccer was woven into my religious practice and identity as a Mennonite.
Mennonites love soccer. Maybe it’s the globalism of the sport, or its pointedly less-violent-than-American-football ethos, or its simplicity. It fits Mennonite theology, and is the top Mennonite game (or, at the least, neck-in-neck with Dutch Blitz).
Growing up, we often wore our uniforms–right down to the shinguards–to church, so we could sprint to our Sunday games. My church had both a co-ed and a women’s soccer team (which eventually morphed into a mother-daughter team). At my Mennonite college, there was no football team, and where we gathered on Friday nights was in the stands for the school’s men’s soccer games. I have watched the World Cup at 6am in cafes with Mennonite Voluntary Service workers; in airports on the way to Mennonite conventions; on actual airplanes with youth groups; on my Mennonite host family’s small TV in the rural village of Cuatro Cruces, Costa Rica. Watching World Cup with Mennonites is as central to my faith as the Beatitudes I was required to memorize.
In the 2002 South Korea/Japan World Cup, my mom would wake us up at 2 or 3am to drive across town to watch the games with a family from church. They purchased a cable package for a month and left their front door unlocked on game days so everyone would have a place to watch (cheap and communal–classic Mennonite).
The Christian faith–and Anabaptism in particular–has a legacy of body/mind dualism, an inability and unwillingness to locate the sacred in the human body. Soccer was our path into embodied theology. It was how we found the sacred in the body, whether watching in communal gasps or playing in unharmonious shouts. It filled a gap in our Christian theology; it wove together all of our beliefs about community, hospitality, loving enemies, and letting actions speak louder than words.
Blessed are the poor in spirit. Blessed are those who mourn. Blessed are the meek. All blessings that came through soccer.
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