By Pastor Paula Burchill
About a week ago, Geno Auriemma, head coach of the UConn women’s basketball team, a team with a 110 game win streak [they haven’t lost since 2014], gave just over a two minute talk on the number one thing he looks for in his recruits—enthusiasm.
The coach laments how hard it is to find enthusiastic players. By enthusiasm, he means a player who is upbeat, loves life, loves the game and has a tremendous appreciation for when her teammates do something well.
He thinks the pervasive lack of enthusiasm in sports today might be due to kids watching sports on TV and the belief that to be “cool” they have to remain aloof like the pros. At one point he says, “they don’t even know which foot to use as their pivot foot, but they know how to be cool.”
So on his team, they put a huge premium on body language. He even watches for it on the game tapes. If you are not into the game, cheering for your teammates, you will never get in the game, he says. He has been known to bench his best players for not showing that they care and are engaged in the game. He says he would rather lose than play an aloof player.
There is a bible passage I think about more than almost any other that reminds me so much of what the coach is talking about. It is from Revelation 3: 14-22 and is a letter John wrote to a church in Laodicea. At the beginning of Revelation, there are letters written to 7 different churches, each with their own issue. The issue in Laodicea is that they are lukewarm. He writes, “I know your works; you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spit you out of my mouth. For you say, ‘I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing.’ You do not realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind and naked.”
Did the church think they were too cool? Does the enthusiasm problem actually go back further than we thought?
I do notice a prevailing sentiment of cynicism in our culture and in my own life as well. I don’t want to get too excited about stuff because it always seems like I end up getting disappointed. I sometimes wonder if that is what happens with kids. They are able to see so many epic fails on their computers or phones. So many people “caught in the act” of lying or getting too excited when it didn’t really matter. They are told outright and subliminally to curb their enthusiasm. No wonder they protect themselves and act cool—or should I say, lukewarm?
But what kind of life is that? John wonders that for the church. I wonder if it was that they were wanting to protect themselves, to trust in their own possessions that they could see rather than the God they could not. It is easier to act cool on the bench than to have to get in the game and maybe make a mistake or let your team down.
This Wednesday, I will be preaching at the Lent service about the freedom we are offered through Christ–the freedom to be hot or cold. I think that means the freedom to just let it all go. Luther once said, hey, just sin boldly. And God’s forgiveness will abound.
You know what that means to me? Let go of how you look. Let go of what others might think. Get in the game. You will fail. You will mess up. You might even foul out. But the alternative of staying on the bench your whole life—no thanks. That church was wretched, poor, pitiable and blind, but Jesus still wanted them in the game.
So I am going to talk to my kids about enthusiasm. But I’m also going to start noticing it in my own life. Am I holding back? Am I fearful of what others think? Am I lukewarm and unenthusiastic? Because Jesus invites me to let it go. I might end up sinning boldly, but there is forgiveness to cover me. And I would rather have enthusiasm and be engaged in the game. Because frankly, I don’t like the lukewarm alternative.