"You know how it works in South Philly," said Max to his pal Vince Papale in the sports film Invincible, "Our strength has always been in our numbers."
Guts. I don't even know how to tell the story. I don't. It's a true story and I can't tell it. This movie's fronted by Vince Papale's story. A hard-up, "you ain't nutten" part-time bar-tender named Vince Papale attends open try-outs for the Philadelphia Eagles Pro Football. Vince eventually makes the team, carrying the boys at Max's bar and the streets of Philly itself along with him.
"Vincy, I don't know how long the Eagles are going to need ya...but the boys could use a little help here."
I can relate to retreating to what feels safe. The unemployed men with broken families and confusing lives left their feelings alone, but found a safe place where friends found something normal. They might've had a few beers at Max's, but the film never portrayed any of these battered guys as drunkards, but as steely tough, vulnerable and broken men. I sympathized with them. I've retreated to my haven, hoping I could trust the place.
The Eagles ran open try-outs one day somewhere in 1980. A relatively uneducated part-time bar-tender athlete from Philly's inner hallways made the team and took a city, doubled over in gray and racked with double digit unemployment, with him.
Sports people would like to think that a city relies on a professional team's reputation. But most average people can't remember who won the Superbowl last year. What they do see for a time though, is potential. I remember how I felt when a tiny, thin, short quarter back named Doug Flutie threw the century's finest college ball hail mary to win a championship game. The game was a very long time ago, but I've gone back to that game from time to time--a tiny Canadian quarterback inspired some of what I believed was possible after that.
Max at Max's bar ran a tab for the "guys." Max never "sewed up" his tabs. I suppose one day he figured they'd pay him back. I'm not sure they ever would--I don't know--it's a true story, maybe I should go ask him. For a time Max simply ran a safe=-house called "Max's bar." The guys would get cranky, they'd hack on each other, they'd talk, they'd drink in silence, they'd...they simply did what they did.
Vince made the team and practiced every day, trying to avoid final cuts. It's understandable that he might not have taken much time for everyone else. None-the-less, his buddies had gotten together every week well before he made the team to play a scratch game on some dirty gridiron, hushed by stolid dreams and accidental enthusiasm. They grappled on no-where streets, tapped by time and economy, a citified desert. Vince drove up to the shadows, hoping for anonymity...embarrassed by his own plight maybe. Great purpose means nothing if you stand alone. Haven.
He couldn't hide and a friend noticed him. "You're friends could use a boost, y'know?" the friend said.
"I got practice..." was all Vince could say.
What's he practicing for? A bigger purpose? Maybe.
I have to think that none of us can avoid purpose. But you don't leave your friends behind, you take them with you. My two RAGBRAI's might've been fun without the team. But I'm sure I've got better stories than I would've because they were there with and for me, and I them.
Friends most likely allowed you to survive this far. They come along.
Rain came. Mud became what was to overcome and rain washed them. The storm mirrored the boy's scratch football game-- there was no money in it for 'em. There was the plan, the play, the obstacles and triumph. The guys bent each other in blood and brotherhood. They became men of steel and dreams again.
Homes don't protect if there's a hole in the roof. Storms get through. Chains can't hold if a link is missing.
Vince, whetted for his real story hit the melted gridiron and joined his guys. Let the storm rage because nothing could touch them that night. The hole was patched, the link mended.
Leave no man behind.
Christians live in a culture of Skepticism. Maybe they always have.
But we've become more about doing church than following Christ and living amongst his work today. If you could see you wouldn't ask what he'd do and simply follow what he's doing. "Church" is a weekly convocation of the converted and the content. Discipleship is a daily grapple between huddles, plays and action. So many are antagonistic towards working out our faith, crutching their doctrine and theology to their inaction.
I've said it before--I can't win the world for Christ as if He's dead--no, Christ is winning the world to himself and I must be a part of it. If I didn't know better, I'd say a good portion of the Church thinks that church programs fill the void between conversion and heaven. How many of us see the propriety of “church” as the relationship with God? Congregations maintain an 1800’s culture which didn’t change very quickly and didn’t have to react quickly either. Congregations love their schedules, patterns, rituals. Being recessed in ritual blinds you from what’s happening outside the sanctuary’s four walls. We need to change our focus of church from elegant and eloquent apologetics to building the fruits of the Spirit.
No man left behind.
Realize you need the dust and the gridiron because that's where your friends are, and that's where Christ is working. The power of even small pieces of generosity make huge differences in the lives of your friends.
Pastor Harvey Carey said, "How many binders do you need to do ministry?" Everyone has a binders that give them information about this program, this song, this plan... All those binders are now on the shelf! No more binders! Be the church and do the work of the kingdom."
Break from studying the play-book. Find the storm and the mud-spray because the grapple, the tussle wages heavily there.
They're more than a purpose. They're friends. They're havens.
Vince wasn't pretty, but he was passionate. "The boys can use you right now Vincy, their strength has always been in our numbers..."