Several years ago I recall watching that not-very-good science fiction movie “The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy” and jumping out of my skin when the film came to one of its dramatic peaks. The intergalactic quest leads the miserable characters to a supercomputer which was designed to discover the meaning of life. After millennia of waiting the answer is finally found. The meaning of life is 42.
That movie was dreadful and not very enlightening, but I’ll always have a fond place in my heart for it because of that answer, “42.” As a country boy who grew up in the deep woods of East Texas, I knew that the computer was talking about dominoes. 42 is a regional domino game in East Texas and Oklahoma. Legend has it that it was invented by farmers who were told at their church that playing cards was evil and a tool of the devil. So these deacons and Sunday school teachers designed a game that worked like spades or hearts but involved regular dominoes. It wasn’t long before 42 was played all across the dusty prairie on hot summer afternoons and cold winter nights.
This trip my wife and I are playing a lot of 42 with my father, mother, and sister. Now, for Mrs. Greenbean and I it is all just fun; something to pass the time. But for my folks, it is almost a bloodsport. 42 means so much more to them than to us. There are years of implied meaning, history, and ancient curses behind every “trumped trick” and a convoluted past behind each glare. One can almost hear the voice over for a movie trailer, “This time, it’s for real . . .”
Each family has its own sacred games. I’ve visited in homes where Scrabble is played with vengeance or Monopoly determines inheritance. We Greenbeans like chess, Clue, and solitaire. I’ve seen my wife and daughters play solitaire for hours. My oldest daughter likes to play Sims on the computer. When I analyze it, I can see that we four just do not have that competitive edge that I see in my parents or in other families. Perhaps that is why I do not understand professional sports.
Life does not have a score; and I am busy living life. The things which really—really—really matter are measured in time, sweat, tears, and thought. So, how do I reconcile why so much is invested, emotionally, into 42 by my parents and in other games by other families? Ah, I think I have it. Games have become the ultimate metaphor for life; so much so that the moron Charlie Sheen can coin, “Winning!” as he describes his life.
Here is where I work at it harder than I probably should and begin to think in sociological or theological terms. Maybe competition has come to mean so much because deep down most of us do believe that life is competitive and that only the winners survive. Games could be the life-metaphor of choice because of some psychological outworking or manifestation of Darwinian Theory. Economics is certainly about winning and losing. So is politics. Then there is war.
Is a spirit of competition compatible with my calling as a follower of Christ? The New Testament calls me to share my resources. The church as a faith community is about koinonia not cutthroat. The reality of fellowship demands that I view myself in partnership with God helping those around me—not in competition with them.
I’ll have to think about this for a while, but the implications of how competitive churches often are with one another might betray a certain Darwinian view of the Holy Spirit, and that would be heresy.