Thursday, June 24, 2010

Are You Superstitious?

At first thought, I would have said, "No!" I don't have triskaidekaphobia - the fear of the number 13. Every Friday the 13th is just another Friday, which is a good thing - because it means the weekend has arrived. I've never once thought that I needed a rabbits foot to bring me luck. I don't eat an apple a day, and I haven't been to the doctor in years apart from my yearly checkup. Though I'm a Notre Dame Fighting Irish sports fan, I don't appeal to any luck to help us (finally) win - nor do I get overly excited about four-leaf clovers. I'm not scared to walk under a ladder. I love black cats and can't wait to have one (no room in the inn right now for one more cat!) I have a broken mirror hanging in my house (a very slight defect that I created when hanging an antique mirror - you can't tell unless you're looking for it, but it's there). I recently opened up an umbrella inside a store before I purchased it to check it out - that freaked the cashier out. I step on cracks in the sidewalk all the time - and as of Father's Day (when I last spoke to my dad and mom) my mothers back was not broken. You won't find garlic hanging from the doors in my house to keep evil spirits and vampires from entering (that was free for all you Twilight addicts out there). I can promise you that I have not had beginners luck. I've never gotten a wart in my life and I played with toads all the time as a kid on the farm. I could go on - the list of superstitions is long. 

As I was thinking about this I did recall something I have always done, and it's in relation to sports. As a former athlete, I can think of numerous ways that I exhibited superstitions in the past, and, for that matter, even now. When I was younger coming out of Junior Varsity basketball into Varsity, I became aware of how some of my body was growing faster than others. And I used to be self conscious about that, and how I looked in general. As a Sophomore, I sat the bench mostly so the crowd seldom saw me play, but I was told one day by the coach to be ready - I had earned playing time by how I hustled and played defense in practice. I was so excited, but also nervous to be seen in my tank top jersey. I know it sounds silly, but let's just say I was certainly the scrawny runt of our team. I was all arms and feet. So I wore a white t-shirt under my tank top. The game started, and the star player from the opposing team was tearing us up. Coach put me in and told me to stop him. We went to a "Box and One" defense where I shadowed that guy all over the court. He didn't score another point. I even blocked his game winning three point attempt. Not only that, but I cherry-picked my way to 18 points, contributing on both sides of the ball off of the bench for a big win for our team. Now, no one else knows this, but I attributed that to the white t-shirt. So the rest of my high school career I wore a white t-shirt under my tank top jersey and experienced good success as a result, or so my superstition would have me believe. 

Just this past year during the NFL season, I was watching my beloved Bengals. It was the fourth quarter. We were driving the football down field as time was running out for what needed to be a game-winning score against the hated Pittsburgh Steelers - and at Heinz Field no less. As the drive started, things started going well, so I froze in my position on my couch. I didn't move a muscle. I hardly blinked. My breath came in very measured lengths. It was as if the success of the game-winning drive depended solely on how I was positioned on my couch, in my living room, in Lebanon, OH - hundreds of miles away from the action. My wife, Erin, came in to ask me something, and I - almost like a ventriliquist told her to leave the room. The Bengals were driving for the game winning score, and I couldn't move - much less talk. And you know what? The Bengals won. I've done that probably hundreds of times - for Bengals games, Reds games, Bearcat games - you name it. I have practiced that same ritual over and over again, because I superstitiously believe that in doing that - I am helping the home team. Crazy stuff, but that's what I do.

I have read a couple of recent articles about superstitions. The world is full of them. A recent study by the University of Cologne shows scientific data that "believing in luck-related superstitions boosts confidence and leads to better and faster performance in what you're doing." The researchers "took 28 students, over 80% of whom said they believed in good luck, and randomly assigned them to either a superstition-activated or a control condition. Then they put put them on a putting green. To activate a superstition, for half of them, when handing over the ball the experimenter said: 'here is your ball. So far it has turned out to be a lucky ball'. For the other half, the experimenter just said 'this is the ball everyone has used so far'. Each participant had 10 goes at putting on the green, trying to get a hole-in-one from a distance of 100 cm: and lo, the students playing with a so called lucky ball did significantly better than the others, with a mean score of 6.42, against 4.75 for the others." Another article I read in the New York Times Freakonomics blog centered on pricing a superstition. In Hong Kong, at license plate auctions (sounds like a lot of fun) researchers "found that plates with an extra '8' (a lucky number in Hong Kong) sold for 63.5 percent higher on average; an extra (unlucky) '4' decreased the average plate value by 11 percent.  The authors also found that three- and four-digit plates with an extra '4' are particularly shunned in bad economic times:  A ‘4’ is bad, but it is even worse in bad times.” There are many stories like this with every culture the world over.

What does it all mean? Is it bad to be superstitious? Is is wrong to believe in good luck? In a general sense, probably not. While many people are sincere in holding to some sort of superstition, there is humor in it all (at least to me). But specifically speaking - people can go to far with their superstitions - even worshiping them. And let's face it, we all worship something. People who truly believe in superstitions do so because they believe that nothing or no one exists that is greater than their superstitions. So, it can be worship. If one is not worshiping God they are worshiping something or someone else. They are relying on anything apart from God to show them signs, make sense of it all, show the way. They rely on luck in all things. They see good or bad omens in everything.

Believe it or not, the Bible has a very specific stance on this topic. Colossians 2:6-10 has this to say, 

"6Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, 
7rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. 8See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. 
9For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, 
10and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority." 

Basically, Paul's day - as in ours - there was a whole lot of superstition going on, which flies in the face of the sovereignty of God. Being a superstitious Christian is an oxymoron. If you're a Christian, you have:

1. Received Christ Jesus the Lord (6)
2. A responsibility to walk in Him - rooted and built up in Him, established in the faith. This corresponds to faithful teaching and leads to abundant thanksgiving. (6, 7)
3. A warning to avoid philosophies, deceits, and traditions that are of this world and not of Christ. (8)
4. A realization of who Christ is - wholly sovereign God. (9, 10)
5. A recognition that we are in Christ and Christ is in us. (10)

So it comes down to - do you and I trust in the superstitions of man or the sovereignty of God?

(photo by Andy Mangold)

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