God on Monday
‘Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also’ (Matthew 6.19-20).
Football deserves its synonym the Beautiful Game. Like any sphere of culture, it of course has ugly components. Corruption and greed, often running mates, are just two of them. But at its best, football is about the intrinsic values of play, joy, artistry, competition, teamwork and community. It is also about more instrumental values like health, fitness, entertainment and economic livelihood. All these values are the game’s true trophies.
Football’s beauty strikes me every time I watch a match. This includes the times I have seen it played by children in low-income countries. Surrounded by the ugly sights, sounds and smells of grinding urban poverty, the sheer exuberance and skill of its fleet-footed yet bare-footed players invariably give me a kick. Even their footballs share in that beauty in the inventiveness they reflect. They are often made of plastic bags stuffed into an old t-shirt and held together with string.
My wonder for football stimulates my thinking about purpose. Soccer has both an aim and a purpose. The aim is to win a match by getting the ball into the back of a net (or between two discarded plastic bottles) more times than the opposing team. But the purpose of the game lies in the values noted in the first paragraph above. It is perfectly possible for a team to succeed in the aim of the game but to fail in its purpose – as in the case of play that is overly-defensive, time-wasting, or foul.
The same holds true for our work. In business, for instance, making a profit is a legitimate aim, for the only alternative is bankruptcy. But the purpose of a company goes way beyond profit. It includes the intrinsic and extrinsic worth of a product or service, reflected in its excellence and in its capacity to make life better. Profit enables but does not constitute the company’s purpose.
Tangible achievements - like goals in football and profit in business – are undoubtedly easier to measure than the intangible ones flagged up in this reflection. But that is true only for human beings. Jesus’ words above suggest that God has no difficulty in keeping a broader score card that includes heavenly goals. It is in the scoring of those goals that the beauty of human play and human work will triumph over all ugliness forever.
Peter S Heslam, Director of Faith in Business
Sport, like business, often gets a bad press. This is nothing new. In 1945, George Orwell wrote in Tribune: 'Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play. It is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence: in other words it is war minus the shooting'.
Several premier football clubs, however, have their origins in churches. To read this forgotten story, see Peter Lupson’s Thank God for Football! The same author writes an article on the historic role of purpose and profit in business in our co-published journal Faith in Business Quarterly, 21.2. The editors have kindly made that article available for free download here.