BoomerBall and the Church
When I was at Harding my friends and I walked out to the front lawn just to see what was going on. It was a warm day. The sun was out and the lawn was teeming with people on blankets enjoying the summer sun. When we walked out, a friend of ours called and said that he was bringing a ball for us to play with.
When he came around the corner, he wasn’t carrying a football, soccer ball or baseball. He was carrying an enormous exercise ball. It was massive. A person could hardly get their arms half way around it. Initially, we were perplexed. “What are we going to do with that? What kind of game can we play with that?” It was hard to take this ball and fit it in with any kind of game we had ever played.
“Okay,” we said, “We have to break into teams.” We divided into two teams and walked to different ends of the field.
“Okay, we are going to kick off.” We placed the ball near the center o the field and the largest among us ran up and kicked it as hard as possible. Someone from the other team ran up to catch it, but were completely knocked over by the sheer size of the ball. However, once it lost momentum, another player from their team grabbed hold and was ready.
“What now?” they asked.
“Umm, run with it!” someone said. And like a football player he ran as fast as he could with it to the opposite goal, deflecting would-be defenders with the ball. He scored.
“No, no…” someone interjected. “You have to dribble the ball, like in basketball.” We all laughed, but the rule was set: we were to dribble this enormous ball down the field.
The scoring team kicked off to my team. Again the massive ball squashed the first person to attempt to rein it in. I grabbed the ball. Surely this must be what it is like for an aunt to carry a leaf on its own, I thought. I began to dribble it down the field. After only a few bounces I was waylaid by a huge guy and knocked on the ground.
We paused, is this game full contact? Is the ball dead once the person who has possession is tackled? Someone else grabbed the ball cautiously, awaiting a judgment but no one said anything. The rule was established: full contact and the ball is never dead, play is to keep going.
In this fashion all the rules of the game began to take shape. Forward laterals were not legitimate unless you did it with your feet. There is no off-sides. You can keep one man back as a last defender of the goal. You did not have to cross the goal-line with the ball, only get the ball across the line by any means. It was not only full contact, but was even more hardcore than that. Contact was kind of the point. Horse-collars were not allowed.
Over the course of playing for about fifteen minutes we had all the rules figured out. We had created a whole new game. Many of the rules came from games that we were already familiar with, but when put together they made something completely unique that really didn’t look like any other game at all.
I think the church is similar to this. There were some Jews out in the world and Jesus came out with his message. These Jews, like us just looked at this new knowledge and said, “What are we supposed to do with that?” Over time however, they were able to take their new knowledge and incorporate it into things that they already knew in order to creat something completely new.
Similarly, some things about this game have to change depending on the setting of the game. For instance, we enjoyed playing full contact on a grassy field, but might not enjoy that very much in a gravel parking lot. That is something about the game that would have to change. Similarly, some things about the church have to change depending on where you are. For instance, church should not be conducted in Hebrew, Greek or Latin if you are in Nicaragua. To remain relevant, enjoyable and appealing to people, some things have to be altered.
We had been playing for a while and we looked around to find that we had gathered quite a crowd of onlookers. They were laughing commending, clapping, and cheering. How strange, I thought. We made this weird thing that is totally cooler than anything else that we could have done that day, and people were watching, enjoying and responding to what we were doing. This is like Shane Claiborne says about the church, “Christianity is at its best when it is peculiar.” This game was definitely peculiar.
And finally, just like the church, the thing that made us all quit was someone inside ruined it. One guy tackled another. immediately the person who was tackled jumped up and started screaming, “You f-ing a-hole I am going to f-ing kill you!” He went on to say the F-word about five more times and say that all of this was a bunch of BS.
We agreed. Right then and there we quit the game and never played again. One person can ruin a game, just like one person can ruin a congregation. The largest threat to our fun wasn’t someone walking by and making fun of us, it was the attitude of those people who were playing. Similarly, it is not attacks from outside the church that are the biggest threat to our success, it is the actions of the people on the inside of the church that put us at most risk.
Boomberball was one great day and serves as a greater object lesson, even today.