by Eric Muhr
A good game is like the gospel. In the imaginative world of play, people perform foolish acts for no good reason. It’s fantasy that teaches us something about reality: what it is to live without inhibitions, what it means to be real together.
Imagine a six-year-old girl teaching adults to wriggle around on their stomachs like snakes. Imagine two friends on a road trip, reading billboard messages backwards, pretending to speak in a foreign tongue. Imagine a group of students using dictionaries and a long cafeteria table to create a schoolhouse shuffleboard.
Jesus prayed that God might make us one with each other in heart and mind. But we live in a world where people are valued for what they accomplish, not for who they are or for who they are becoming. Our culture pushes people apart, demands that each human be an island. Reliance is weakness. Need is next to sin.
Playing together turns topsy-turvy the world as we live it by making everything both new and strange. We enter the game like explorers. We play the game together, creating shared experiences that break down barriers to vulnerability and transparency. When we learn how to play, we cease to be islands. And every time we touch, we experience a taste of God forming us into a living breathing body.
The game can be an experience of worship.
Dualism claims spirit is holy while the flesh harbors sin. In American Christianity, we separate sacred from secular. This is why so many churches engage worshipers in parallel play. We are in the same place and doing the same things as other believers. But we are alone.
Games bridge the spaces between us. Games bring us together.
I once took a group of youth and adults to a grassy hill on the edge of town where we spent hours speeding down the slopes on blocks of ice. As the sun set that evening, we gathered at the top of the hill, recounting stories of close calls and heroic deeds. We dreamed up new adventures. We marveled at the orange-topped buildings in the city below set off by deepening shadows and fiery clouds that shifted from red to pink to purple to midnight blue. We spoke of secret longings and of God. That night, we stumbled down that hill in the dark, drunk with the joy of connecting, of trusting, of being known. That night, we experienced worship.