Tuesday, September 16, 2008

A Game of Two Halves

It was just bad planning by the Union bosses to organise a meeting in Glasgow for a weekend where Celtic were playing away to Motherwell! My better half being a Union man was at the meeting and took the time to catch up on family. I joined the party on the Friday night.

We planned to watch the Celtic match in a bar that had Santanta. We were somewhere near Glasgow Cross I think, just a few hundred yards away from the Barras.

We watched the first half of the match in a bar diner. There was a huge screen, with a couple of big sofas parked in front of it. Being a bar diner, there were menus everywhere, appetising aromas and plates wheeled in with carefully arranged food on them. The sound from the match was turned off.

The times that I have watched football matches without any kind of commentary have not been good times. I don’t know who has just kicked the ball to whom, or who had committed what foul, or who had just scored the goal. They run around in enforced silence hugging one another and I am trying to get a glimpse of the name on the back of the jersey.

Football is not the number one item on the menu. It may be up on the big screen, but the food on the plate takes precedence. People are not really involved in the game, it is just background flickers and is not allowed to interfere with conversation – and eating.

We were there simply because there was a blackboard perched outside the door telling us that they were showing the game. Showing was all they were doing. We decided to find another place showing the game for the second half.

A hundred yards down the road we went into the Sarecen’s Head – or the Sarry’s Heid. The same game was playing – a different audience was watching. There must have been a half dozen small screens in addition to the big one, so that no matter where you sat in the bar, whatever direction you faced you could see the game.

The volume was definitely switched on, but you couldn’t hear it so well on account of the commentary given by the watchers. The commentary was sprinkled liberally with choice swear words most often aimed at the Celtic players for not scoring in the second half.

Eating and drinking played second fiddle to the game. Every kick of the ball, every throw in and every corner was scrutinised. The game was centre stage and every person watching was drawn in. It mattered who won and who lost. Somehow there were no spectators in the room, but everyone was a participator.

Two places, involved in exactly the same activity and yet two very different experiences. It made me think about church. You can have two churches involved in exactly the same activity – worshipping God – and yet end up with two very different experiences. I have been in churches that have been very well-behaved. There is order and structure. Everyone knows what happens next – like the menu on the tables. Sometimes, although it says so on the poster outside, God is not really at the centre. The minister might put Him there, but the congregation might there for other reasons – they always go because they have always been.

And then you get churches like the Sarry’s Heid. God is centre stage and there are no spectators. You cannot help but be affected by the enthusiasm and the involvement of the people around you. I admit that there isn’t a sprinkling of choice swear words, but people are not quiet either. They allow what is on their hearts to spill out.

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