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Aug, 2017

On your mark! Get set!

On your mark! ...Get set! ...

We won! WE WON! WE WON!!

You hear it at ball games and maybe in your den near the video games. You see it on TV and hear it at school or work the next morning after the big collegiate game the night before.

Competition, by Wiktionary's definition, is the action of competing for a contest or a prize or reward. There are many dissertations on the purpose, value, or challenges of competition and competing. So for most of this conversation about recreation and competition, I will assume that competition and competing are between two or more people, groups/teams, and/or institutions/organizations. An individual or group seeks to win, and therefore, someone else will lose.

There is value in having a goal and achieving it. It can give us direction and energy and help us figure out the steps it takes to get to the goal. The conversation can get theological when we look at the cost of winning and losing. Winners can get the best or the most or the title. Losers lose. They aren't the best, don't have the most, or don't get the same recognition.

There is much that we compete with, or against, in our growing up years. I have seen children as young as two or three recognize and have some kind of response to someone getting something they don't have and want. 

The second and third grade children with whom I work can explain "competition" and invariably it is something like 'when someone wins and someone loses.' Their examples often include schooling and sports. Remember "choosing teams" at recess? Remember that feeling of being chosen last or the look on a friend's face when they were chosen last? A third grader I know came running up to me saying, with great relief, "I get into Gifted and Talented! I got in! I got in!." And it goes on from there: young people are prepared for mid-term and end-of-the-year tests and standards. There is pressure to be "the best" in whatever we do. This may not happen for those of us reading this journal, but the culture within which we live often assumes we are working for making the basketball team, being first chair in the orchestra, team captain, head cheerleader, in the top ten percent of the class, getting into the best school, getting the right job, making good money, buying a good goes on and on. 

Yes, some of this is arguable, but this is also our culture.

The mental image of competition and winning is a pyramid. With competition, we try to be at the top of the pyramid. The Gospel doesn't work this way. As Christians we are call to Koinonia. We are called to live in community. Contrary to the pyramid, community is a circle. Everyone has something to share, be a part of, and give. The "running the race" is doing the best we can, not necessarily winning. 
So when we experience recreation as Christians or in the church, what is it that drives us? What is the real goal? What is the purpose of this recreation?

Looking at scripture: we have "the first shall be last and the last shall be first" (parable of the rich young man, Matthew 19; laborers in the vineyard, Matthew 20) versus Paul saying "run the race" (1 Corinthians 9:24; Hebrews 12:1). Paul also says "in our weakness, Christ is strong" (1 Corinthians 4:10). The Matthew passages instruct us on participating in the life that Jesus calls us to, no matter the reward. The 1 Corinthians passages indicate how we should participate - running as a winner might, not necessarily to win. Cultural expectations can call us to win for our sake and personal goals. 

As Christians, we are called to live in community. In Scripture, it's not about being fast, strong, or first. 

The children's book, Hope for the Flowers, illustrates this. The caterpillars, Stripe and Yellow, think they are to follow the crowd and climb to the top of the column. There is something up there to achieve or receive. But Yellow does not see the value of the climb, or the unknown, and climbs down. Stripe becomes a butterfly and comes back to show Yellow, who joins her. Life is not about getting to the top, it's about being who we are called to be.

It's our responsibility as Christians to help check the place and purpose of competition. If we can realign our culture's view of competition and winning, we can focus on the intangible, intrinsic rewards, the ultimate price...being created as Children of God. 
Written by Lynn Turnage. She is the director of children and family ministries at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Greensboro, North Carolina. She holds a Doctorate of Education Ministry (Columbia Theological Seminar) in children, families, and worship. In addition to have served other churches, Lynn has been on staff at Montreat Conference Center. She has two daughters and her mother lives with them. 

Originally published in Focus: The Magazine of Union Presbyterian Seminar Summer 2015 edition. Republished with permission of the author.  

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