Difficult and Spectacular: Sepak Takraw and the Christian Life

When I was in college I played a fair amount of ‘Soccer-Tennis,’ but Sepak Takraw takes it to a completely different level. In the video above, you see players doing bicycle kicks that are full backflips! This is the equivalent of a spike in a game that combines the “no hands” restriction of soccer with the game-play of volleyball and the acrobatics of kung-fu.

Needless to say organizing a pick-up game would be, for most people, a complete disaster. Sepak Takraw is arguably one of the most difficult sports on the planet. Competitors need to be fit, incredibly flexible, insanely springy, and ridiculously talented with their feet.

But for the same reason this game is so difficult, it is also spectacular to witness. The precision, the skill, and the explosive athleticism that took years and years of painstaking practice to hone, all combine to make this a breathtaking spectacle.

As I watch the back-flip spikes, this text from the Bible pops into my head:

Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ….For it has been granted to you, on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in him but also to suffer for him…

. (Philippians 1:27 & 29)

It strikes me that many of us Western Christians don’t really do much suffering for Christ. Sure we suffer. People we love pass away. We lose our job. We experience our parents’ ugly break-up. We suffer. But how many Christians do you see suffering for Christ in our culture? What does that even look like?

I recently sat in a class session guest-taught by Paul Vander Klay, a pastor and blogger from the Sacramento area, when the professor asked him what one statement he wanted to leave us with. I don’t know if I will ever forget his response:

Embrace the cruciform life. If it took the death of the very Son of God to rescue us from the Age of Decay, don’t think you are getting out of this scot-free.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer - among others - lecturer ...

Image via Wikipedia

Essentially, this is an updated version of the oft-quoted statement by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Christian pastor who died in a concentration camp for resisting Hitler in 1940s Germany, “When Christ calls a [person], he bids him come and die.”

The life of the Christian is not meant to be The American Dream + Jesus. It is not meant to be a life lived exactly as you would without him, only with church on Sunday. That quaint spirituality, the type of ‘Christianity’ that doesn’t make any significant difference in how you live, is the ‘Christianity’ that our culture is rightfully rejecting because it has become pretty clear to many people that The American Dream + Jesus = The American Dream.

What is The American Dream exactly? Well, among many other things, it is the life where personal comfort and happiness become the decision-making standard. The sci-fi satire Brave New World by Aldous Huxley classically portrays a world where humans have shifted “the emphasis from truth and beauty to comfort and happiness.” There is no more self-denial, no more need for patience and courage. After all, you should never have to wait for what you want (so-called happiness) and you should never have to do anything truly difficult or dangerous (comfort). One of the most telling moments in the book is when Mustapha Mond, the Controller, the head-honcho, is explaining the use of soma, a drug with all the pleasant effects of hallucinogens without the pain.

…there’s always soma to calm your anger, to reconcile you to your enemies, to make you patient and long-suffering. In the past you could only accomplish these things by making a great effort and after years of hard moral training. Now, you swallow two or three half-gramme tablets, and there you are. Anybody can be virtuous now. You can carry at least half of your morality about in a bottle. Christianity without tears–that’s what soma is.” 

Christianity without tears. That’s what we want. But it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him. God freely offers you true and abundant life through Jesus Christ, and you must be willing to give that life right back to him. This is not an easy life, but it is a good one. It may not look like the American Dream where comfort and and a version of ‘happiness’ reign, but it is a life that explodes with truth and beauty.

G.K. Chesterton, commenting on how so many have abandoned the Christian life today because “it doesn’t work,” said this:

The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.

In the new biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxas, you get a picture of a man who did not leave the Christian ideal untried. You get a picture of a man who stared a life of committed, suffering service to Jesus in the face and said, “My King deserves my life, no matter what.”

Not too differently from Sepak Takraw, the truly Christian life is insanely difficult. It takes years. It takes tears. But when human beings live this life, this new and abundant life that Christ has called us to, it is a truly spectacular thing to behold.

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