The other day, while playing in a tense league basketball game against one of the strongest teams, one of my teammates (who also happens to be my accountability partner) made an aggressive move to the hoop. However, it was a bit too aggressive and he slammed right into the opposing defender and was called for a charge. It was a physical play in a close game, but it was clean and both players recognized it as such. Since most of the players from both teams often play pick-up games together, lots of trash-talking ensued. As teammates were helping them up, one of the snarky guys on the other team quipped, "Hey, hey! Easy now. Don't you guys go to the same church or something?"
In fact, my teammate is actually a college campus minister and the opposing defender is actually quite active in one of the large evangelical churches in our area, where both my accountability partner and I have attended services in the past.
That line cracked me up for a good while, but after thinking about it some more, I started wondering about people's perception of me when I play sports.
In an open gym setting with pick up basketball games, lots of different types of people come in and play. However, when I think about what I know about them, in general, it's usually only by their game and until I know their name and more about them, some description of their body type. It's usually something like, "You know, that little blonde guy, about 5'8, who's quick and throws his body around?" Or, "That big dude, about 6'6, who's athletic, but doesn't seem to know how to use his body and can't finish around the hoop? Man, if I had that height..." It's actually a bit of a minor paradigm shift when I learn more about the players such that they shift to become a real person in my mind versus just another player I'm glad is on my team because of their ball handling or are annoyed at because I know that they can tend to stagnate an offense.
But that got me thinking about whether or not, based on the way I carry myself at the gym, people would be surprised to find out I was Christian? An orthodox, practicing Catholic? Would they be surprised because of the occasional swear word that I yell out when I miss an easy shot (I'm working on it) or how I might respond if things get overly competitive? Or would it make sense based on perceived integrity or lightheartedness?
I guess the seed of this thought was planted when at a noon Ash Wednesday Mass a couple years ago, I saw one of the guys from the gym. I was a bit surprised to find out that he was Catholic, not because of some negative perception I had of him on the court, but because it hadn't occurred to me that these people I had been playing with also had a real life :P.