It’s a fun time to live in North Carolina. Our NFL team is going to the Super Bowl! It’s an event that has united everyone – Tarheel, Wolfpack, and Blue Devil – in rejoicing and supporting the Carolina Panthers.
Probably the biggest point of conversation about the Super Bowl is the quarterback of the Panthers, Cam Newton. He has been a lightning rod all year, and being in the Super Bowl has just made it a topic of seemingly constant conversation. (Full disclosure – I listen to sports-talk radio a lot, watch ESPN, and have a subscription to Sports Illustrated!)
So the other day I’m sitting in my car, listening again to the list of complaints about our quarterback: he does “the Superman” in the end zone when he scores a touchdown, he dances when he scores a touchdown, he dabs when he scores a touchdown, he gives footballs to kids in the stands when the Panthers score a touchdown, he gets his teammates to take group shots on the sidelines before a game is over when they are winning (which is every time but one this year). All things I’ve heard before, but this time it hit me – they are criticizing him for celebrating.
And that got me to meditating on celebration. Because it’s not a bad thing even if a lot of people don’t like Cam Newton for doing it. Celebration is a wonderful thing, a necessary thing, and even a Biblical thing.
In the Old Testament, God set up several festivals – celebrations – for His people. Deuteronomy 16 is a great place to read a summary of three of them. Probably the best known of these festivals is the Passover which was their yearly reminder that God brought them out of slavery in Egypt. I tend to equate the Passover with Communion in the New Testament which seems more somber than a celebration to me. But over and over in the Old Testament, when the Passover is talked about, the word “celebrate” is attached to it. It wasn’t just a sacrament – it was a celebration of what God had done for them.
Also mentioned in Deuteronomy 16 are the Feast of Weeks and the Feast of Booths. Both are related to celebrating God’s provision in the harvest and, in Deuteronomy, both are supposed to be done with joy! I love how the command is worded in Deuteronomy 16:15: “Seven days you shall celebrate a feast to the Lord you God in the place which the Lord chooses, because the Lord you God will bless you in all your produce and in all the work of your hands, so that you shall be altogether joyful.” (emphasis mine)
God’s people also celebrated major events with joy. For example, King David “danced before the Lord with all his might” and gave cakes to all the people when the ark of the Lord was returned to Jerusalem. This was met with criticism by his wife, Michal, but David’s response was “I will celebrate before the Lord.” (2 Samuel 6) Apparently being criticized for celebrating is nothing new!
And the ultimate celebration is yet to come – the marriage of the Lamb to His church. What a wedding supper that will be! (Revelation 19:1-9)
After remembering different celebrations in the Bible, I then recalled another place I had read about the importance of celebrating. It was in The Leadership Challenge by Kouzes and Posner. In this book, they detail five practices of leadership. And one of them, encouraging the heart, involves celebration. In fact, they dedicate a whole chapter to the topic of celebrating work accomplishments because it’s so important. In their book focused on this leadership practice, Encouraging the Heart, they state, “Scholarly research offers further support for the contention that celebration influences performance. In one study, for example, the investigators found that what distinguished high-performing groups from those performing less well was the wide variety and frequency of celebratory events – events where recognition and appreciation were expressed.” (pg 114) They emphasize that celebration needs to be done in community – not solo.
In some ways I think, as Americans, we are good at celebrating. We celebrate some major holidays well like Thanksgiving and Christmas and the Fourth of July. We celebrate births and marriages. And most of us celebrate birthdays. But then I wonder if there is still a lot more work to be done in our ability to celebrate. How often do we gather to celebrate what God has done? Really truly celebrate? Or how much do you celebrate an accomplishment at work? Or the accomplishments of those you lead? I think that often for me it’s tempting to say a quick “thank you” to God, maybe post it on Facebook, and move on.
Maybe Cam Newton is on to something. He certainly finds joy in his work and in both his personal accomplishments and those of his team. I don’t know if doing the dab in your cubicle is a good idea (although it might make you feel good!), but can you find other ways to celebrate a job well done, a goal attained? Are there creative ways you can encourage those you lead by celebration? Can we create ways to celebrate with our family of faith like King David did? I know it’s definitely something for me to think about.
(For a detailed explanation of the Biblical feasts, this is a great summary. )