Basketball hoops, puzzles, and the liberal church

It happened entirely by chance, but by far the best thing I did in my twelve years as a religious educator was something I did at the Unitarian Universalist church in Lexington center, Massachusetts. At some point, I noticed there were lots of rabid sports fans in that church. I’m not a sports fan, so at first I just ignored the talk about football, baseball, basketball, soccer, blah blah blah — but talk about sports pervaded all aspects of church life, from the Sunday school to the youth group to adult committee meetings and social hour, and it finally sunk in to my thick head that sports was central to the lives of about half the church members.

So I got approval to install a basketball hoop. Kids from kindergarten up through high school started to play Horse after church was over. Adults didn’t play, but adult sports fans watched the kids playing. One young person, someone who had been something of a troublemaker, said to me, “Finally we have some sports at this church,” and then sighed with a mixture of pleasure and relief.

Why was this one of the best things I ever did? Because by getting a basketball hoop installed, I acknowledged that religion is a matter for the whole person. If you’re into sports, or if you’re simply an active person, having to sit through a typical worship service at a liberal church means having to deny the bodily-kinesthetic intelligence with which you are blessed. I speak from experience — I am not particularly good at sitting still, and when I am not leading worship I try to sit in the very back of the church because I know I am going to have to fidget and move around.

Psychologist Howard Gardner has developed a theory of multiple intelligences. Gardner claims that we human beings possess at least eight different, including linguistic, musical, logical-mathematical, bodily-kinesthetic, spatial, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and naturalist intelligences. Whether or not you accept Gardner’s theory as valid, it does offer a useful description of the kinds of knowing that we human beings can do; and helps us understand that each person has a unique constellation of strengths and weaknesses among these types of knowing.

But most liberal religious worship services that I have had to sit through focus on the linguistic, musical, and intrapersonal (i.e., internally reflective) intelligences — and that’s about all. If you stay for social hour, you might get to exercise your interpersonal intelligence. If the church is a pretty building, you might get to exercise your spatial intelligence.

Most liberal churches pretty much ignore those of us with strengths in bodily-kinesthetic and logical-mathematical intelligences. Sure, maybe you get to stand up once in a while to sing a hymn. Yes, maybe the minister will offer an interesting logical argument once in a while (but given current homiletic trends, that’s increasingly rare). But that’s about it.

So that’s why we need basketball hoops at church (although some of us with bodily-kinesthetic needs would prefer just to work around the building, but you get my point). And, come to think of it, that’s why we need puzzles at church (personally, I would be much happier sitting through a typical Unitarian Universalist worship service if the order of service had a really good puzzle in it). Religion should engage the whole person, not just bits and pieces of the person. With that in mind, although I can’t install a basketball hoop in this blog, I think maybe I will plan another puzzle….

2 thoughts on “Basketball hoops, puzzles, and the liberal church

  1. Philocrites

    You’ll be interested to know that Mormon churches have basketball courts built into the center of the building, directly behind the last pew of the sanctuary with an accordion wall between the two spaces so that the court can be used as overflow seating as needed. The basketball hoops are often retractable, but are sometimes filled with balloons or other festive frou-frou for wedding receptions. Growing up LDS, I spent many weeknight playing basketball at the church.

  2. Dan

    Philocrites @ 1 — You got me to thinking…. I know of one or two Unitarian/ Universalist churches that had such facilities. For example, Abraham Lincoln Center, the “church” that Jenkin Lloyd Jones built in Chicago in 1903, had a gym. I think there were one or two others, but I can’t confirm that right off. I’d be really curious to know if anyone can name other Unitarian/ Universalist churches that had gyms built in — and if any of those gyms are still being used.

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