How Christians Are Ruining My Hatred For An Entire State

How Christians Are Ruining My Hatred For An Entire State

 

 

It was nine years ago.  I had a phone interview for a position at a new church with Tim, the Executive Pastor.

“So tell me a little bit of your background.” He said.

No problem.  I begin with the basics: born and raised in Kalamazoo, Michigan, graduated from Hope College, went on to Western Theological Seminary, did my internship through a church-based campus ministry at the University of Michigan–

“So you’re a Michigan fan, then?” He asked.

“Yes.”

“I’m from Ohio.  I went to Ohio State.  My dad went to Ohio State.  He played football there for Woody Hayes.”

“Well, there goes that job,” I thought.

Growing up in Michigan, college football is bigger than you think.  Even if you didn’t attend Michigan or Michigan State, you had to choose one to be “your team.”  I grew up going to Michigan games.  Some of my most cherished memories are getting up insanely early on a crisp, fall morning and driving eastbound on I-94 to exit 175 and waiting with Christmas Morning-like anticipation as traffic crept along Ann Arbor-Saline Road at a glacial pace until we finally reached the golf course across the street from The Big House.  There we would set up our tailgate extravaganza and throw the football along the fairways until it was time to head in.  These are the kind of traditions that are past down from one generation to the next, and are sacred to the Michigan faithful.  (I took my son to his first game earlier this month and it was one of those special times with your child that are never forgotten.)

There is one other truth about being a Michigan Football Fan: you have to hate Ohio State with the heat of a thousand suns.

There are rivalries, but then there is The Rivalry.  A perennial placeholder as the last game of the regular season for both teams, Michigan versus Ohio State takes precedent over any other sporting event, and it is by far the most intense, most penalized, most emotional game of the year for both sides.  Not only do the two teams hate each other, but often there are bowl games and championships on the line–either to advance one team, or to ruin the chances of the other.  It’s the Maize and Blue versus the Scarlet and Gray.  It’s Bo versus Woody.  It’s Good versus Evil (those change depending on where your allegiance lies).

Back to the interview.

Tim continued, “I think Michigan is a really good team.  They’re a fantastic school, have great tradition, and they’re great to have in the Big Ten.”

I was shocked.  I had never heard such things come from a Buckeye.  We went on to have a wonderful conversation, I wasn’t disqualified as a candidate, and I ultimately ended up getting the job.  Tim was one of the best bosses I’ve ever had.  He was caring, supportive, a fantastic encourager, challenged me appropriately and defended me when necessary.  He has been there for me both professionally and personally, and I thank God for him and his presence in my life.

Fast forward eight years.  I met a local pastor at Starbucks to connect about possibly consulting and you guessed it: a Buckeye fan.  I mean, this guy was great; he loved the Lord and loved the church, but come on–Ohio State? Really?  Well, we also had a great chat, and I ended up spending the next year working with Neil and his church.  One thing you need to know about Neil: he really cares for the broken among us.  He has great pastoral care instincts for those that need healing and the hope of Christ brought into there lives.  He defends the marginalized.  He loves his family.  He is a great friend.  What a blessing it is to know him.

This past summer, Heather and I joined a small group at our church where we met James and Sarah.  James, a native of Ohio has also converted Sarah to embrace his Buckeye passion.  When I became aware of their Ohio State fandom all I could think was, “Just when I thought we could be friends!”

But we did become friends.  When our daughter Emily was born, they brought us an awesome meal.  We’ve prayed together, studied God’s Word together, taught each other’s kids in Sunday School, and talked about how we can support one another and be there for each other.  I’m so thankful for James and Sarah and love that they are part of our life.

In John 13, Jesus tells his disciples that the hallmark of his true followers will be that they love others.  Tim, Neil, James and Sarah are known to me as people that love THE Ohio State Buckeyes, but they are also known to me as friends who intensely love people because of the love that is given to them in Jesus Christ.  All of them have shown me the love of Jesus.  All of them have helped me deepen my faith.

All of them are my friends.

This Saturday Michigan will play Ohio State for the 111th time.  It has been a tale of two seasons for these teams: for Michigan (5-6) it will be the end of a very difficult and tumultuous season to say they least.  For Ohio State (10-1), it will most likely be a very winnable game (favored to win by 20) before they play in the Big Ten Championship.

But crazier things have happened.  After all, this is Michigan versus Ohio State, and all bets are off.  Crazier things have happened–like me having wonderful people in my life that love Ohio State.

So this Thanksgiving, I am thankful for this rivalry but more importantly, I am thankful for my brothers and sisters in Christ that love Ohio State as much as I love Michigan.  I am better because of them.  Oh, and one more thing:

Go Blue.

1 Comment

  1. Jamie~

    I’m blessed to know you, too! And this is weird for me…many good friends of mine are sold-out Wolverines.

    And I love them all.

    O-H!!

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