Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Losing My Religion

I moved from cold mid-west state to another colder mid-west state. Who would think that moving 700 miles within the United States would mean I would experience so much culture shock?

But I have been experiencing culture shock, that's for sure. In fact, I've been losing my religion.

Now I live in a land that some would call Godless for it's climate, but I know it is Godless for other reasons: It has no NFL team.

Some would laugh, some would snicker, but those who have an NFL team, can you imagine your world without them? But for me, it's more than the loss of a local team to route for (or had they an NFL team, for me to also route against!), it's more than that. It's a cultural loss.

In Wisconsin, land of cheese heads, we have a professional football team: The Green Bay Packers. They aren't just another NFL team, or some sporting event. It's a way of life.

Green & Gold are not just colors to wear on game day. It's an everyday fashion statement, and it goes beyond jerseys & jackets. Wisconsinites dress their cars, their houses, their garages, and in some cases, their neighbor's houses & garages.

For the Packers are our version of The Holy Spirit, with us no matter what.

Sunday, the holy day, we gather with friends & family, eating traditional foods, singing our ‘carols,' such as ‘Nah Nah Nah Nah, Hey Hey, Goodbye.' And, when things are going well, we have Monday night celebrations as well.

Vince Lombardi is Our Father, who now ‘arts in heaven,' and we must be rather Jewish, for we have had several Prophets, such as Bart Starr & now Brett Farvre.

Lambeau Field is our Mecca. We pilgrimage there, year round, not just to see our team play but to visit the shrine at our Hall of Fame. (Yes, I say 'our' as we are the only publicly owned NFL team.)

Some of you might find this to be sac-religious, but I don't know of that term? Is that what you call KGB's dedication?

We grow up listening to the legends, much like the stories in the Bible, to learn life lessons. There are stories of healing, as in the tale of Leroy Butler, From Wheelchair to the Lambeau Leap. And there are the lessons of perseverance as the Heart-Attack-Pack often took us to our feet, breath held, as the team took every last second of game time to come from behind to win. There are The Signs, as in the famous Packer Coach Facial Tick or Twitch - signs that the season is one of hard earned work, no easy ride. And there were the years of Faith, when we saw little winning. I lived through what I call The Lost Forrest Gregg Years, but like the plagues, we each survived our own.

Part of growing up in Packerland, is the indoctrination you get as a child. As with many churches, children learn to be seen & not heard in their early years. Babies are put down for naps at kick-off, and learn early on to cheer along or play quietly, not disturbing parents. Every child learns the difference between a half an hour, and 30 minutes of game time.

Shopping is done, food is prepared, mealtimes arranged all around game times. And you never, ever make sales calls during games. Most of my family, myself included, doesn't answer the phone during the game.

Some of you might think that this warm & wondrous transcendental experience is just in the Fall, or bless us all, into the Post-Season. O Ye of Little Faith!

In Packer Country, we live the Gospel of The Green & Gold all year long. Our news stations bring us stories daily. No, not just pre-season, not just draft talk, but everything. It's the players, the staff, their lives are our lives, their loves are our loves.

We have learned about drug problems with Favre's pain killer addiction. We knew of Brett's wild days & former infidelities, yet remained as stoic as Deanna, his wife, hoping that he would grow into the man that we all needed him to be. We have been rewarded well. And we nod knowingly as Brett now supports Deanna through her breast cancer.

If they die or retire, canonized in the Green Bay jersey, they live on forever. If they are traded, well, we may comment, as with Hasselbeck, that he trained with the best. If they have sinned, as with Mark Chmura & his sexual assault charges, we regret our misplaced adoration - for what we thought was Green & Gold was really just a golden calf that we'd prefer to forget about. But usually, we just forgive & forget them.

We also learn of tolerance. It may seem that we treat each rival NFL team with hatred, and Da Bears & their fans even worse, but that's just game day. We know, deep in our hearts, that it's the place of our birth, or the heritage of our parents which makes us follow different paths -- for underneath our different colored jerseys, we are all the same. There may be jokes & mockery, but that is just the surface. Consider it a ritual, if you will, for we respect the other guy, the other team. Without someone to play with, it's just a scrimmage.

But now I live in a world that is foreign to me. If I lived in Minnesota, I could be one of the minority in my Green & Gold, taking the ribbing from those darn Vikings fans, knowing that the ‘in your face' attitude covered respect. But here, here there isn't any of this. Sure, there is still the TV temple, but I practice alone.

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