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Football and Faith in Cascadia

I was pleasantly surprised a few weeks ago to come across an online journal called Christ and Cascadia, which “explores the cultural challenges, opportunities, and responsibilities for Christianity in Cascadia. The journal is committed to cultivating thoughtful conversations that are contextually aware, theologically rich, and culturally creative”. It is the online journal of the Fuller Institute of Theology and Northwest Culture, who also hosts conferences and creates courses designed to raise the dialogue for engaging with these communities.

Proposed flag for Cascadia

Proposed flag for Cascadia

“Cascadia” is the name of the bioregion shared by Oregon and Washington (sometimes Northern California, Alaska, Idaho, and Montana), USA and British Columbia, Canada. At times a political movement, the name has come to refer more generally to the culture of the peoples that live in the Pacific Northwest of North America. You can read more about that culture here- Cascadian Culture: Grasping a Slippery Salmon.

As an example, the blog titled “God and the Seattle Seahawks” uses distinctive facets of a professional American Football team to illustrate Cascadian culture. Matthew Kaemingk, PhD and Institute Director, then adapts these cultural patterns in defining propositions for Christian engagement:

  1. Pete Carroll (Head Coach) and a Theology of Fun
  2. Pete Carroll and a Theology of Creative Competition
  3. Pete Carroll and a Theology of Community and Individuality
  4. Fan Worship in the Clink Cathedral (separate post)

Propositions 3 is especially pertinent to understanding the identity of Cascadians and the reluctance that they possess to engage with traditional forms of Christian community. As a highly educated, socially mobile, and pioneering culture, there is an inherent value placed upon individualism and self-determination.

As has been discussed a number of times in Christ & Cascadia, developing deep Christian community in the Pacific Northwest can be extremely difficult.  Cascadia is a culture of deep individualism. Cascadians consider themselves unique, special, and autonomous individuals. They are extremely wary of thick communities that might stifle their individual freedom, gifts, and desires. Cascadians look at the Christian church as a place where their liberty, creativity, and individuality will be threatened.

Cascadians are tragic victims of the false modern dichotomy of individuality and community. Cascadians readily accept the false choice and opt for a lonely individuality.

While there are important differences and caveats to be made, the Seattle Seahawks offer an excellent example of overcoming this modern dichotomy. Their team is made up of unique individuals who can only flourish when they are brought together.

Dave Wyman calls the Seahawks an “Island of Misfit Toys.” Is there a better name for the church? Are we not, after all, a motley collection of weird, gifted, and broken cast-offs called to a higher common purpose?

The dogma “deep individualism” found in the Pacific Northwest claims that human beings can only be their “true selves” when they are “free” from communal restraint. Pete Carroll and the apostle Paul demonstrate that the opposite is true. We can only become our “true selves” in community. (Link to full article)

Century Link Field with downtown Seattle in the background

Century Link Field with downtown Seattle in the background

Proposition 4 looks more directly at spiritual life through the lens of religious behaviors exhibited in following the Seattle Seahawks football team. The article details the preparations, rites, and ceremonies associated with attending a game and following the team.This analysis would likely mirror other sporting events (especially club football in Europe) as it displays the devotion, fanaticism, tradition, and cohesion that marks a deeply religious commitment.

A significant and growing number of people living in the Pacific Northwest claim little or no interest in “organized religion.”  Religion with all of its rituals and traditions, liturgies and structures, stories and saviors, hand waving and bowing all feels a bit too superstitious and old fashioned.

Many Cascadians claim to have risen above religion, grown out of it, become reasonable and rational. They’ve learned to “think for themselves.” They refuse to “follow the crowd.”

And yet, any trip to a Seahawks game at CenturyLink field (aka “The Clink”) reveals that Cascadians might be more “religious” then they would like to admit. In fact, one might even wager that a Sunday evening at the Clink is the largest and most significant liturgical event in the life of Seattle. (Link to full article)

As a member of the Cascadian diaspora and a student of the interaction of culture and theology, I was intrigued at the prospect of the Institute and its journal and have not been disappointed in the content. The articles on the site reiterate that there is a need for cultural evaluation in every context, not only those deemed “exotic” by anthropologists. The insight that they gain (and the process by which they do it) can be illustrative for Christian leaders in other contexts, as it demonstrates the need to critically engage our assumptions about our local context and also find the positive means of entry for understanding and relating to our neighbors.

Michael Shepherd is a graduate of Fuller Theological Seminary and Hope International University. He is editor of GlobalTheology.org


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