As Super Bowl XLI reminded us, the game itself is not sufficient to hold our attention or satiate our hunger for entertainment.

There were the commercials -- a poor batch this year, I thought -- an overblown pre-game ceremony, and Prince's soggy halftime show (which, as is my policy, I did not watch). Oh yeah, and the Colts beat the Bears in a historic matchup of the first two black coaches in a Super Bowl, as Peyton Manning once and for all shut up his numerous critics.

Good, exciting ballgame.

The Super Bowl long ago "upgraded" from game to event status. It's no longer alone, however, when it comes to accessorizing the on-the-field product.

- The NCAA Tournament has turned into a betting bonanza -- and even if the NCAA won't admit it, that's been good for its bottom line -- and now has a meaningless play-in game to determine the field's 64th-seeded team.

- In 1995, baseball instituted a wild-card system that expanded the playoffs to include 12 of the majors' 30 teams. The regular season has been rendered almost meaningless.

- Since 2004, NASCAR's Nextel Cup Series has ended the season with a 10-race Chase, with the top 10 drivers after 26 races duking it out over the final 10 races for the championship (beginning this season, the Chase will include 12 drivers).

- The PGA Tour has introduced the FedEx Cup, a rip-off of the NASCAR format that will determine a yearly "champion." An almost indecipherable points system is used to determine the 144-player field for the final four FedEx Cup Championship Series events. So golf loses some of its dignity as it tries to force itself into a traditional sport mold.

I actually like NASCAR's Chase, but you can have the other gimmicks.

And that's all they are, contrivances meant to keep audiences riveted so more money can be made off advertisers, TV networks and merchandisers. What, you thought these changes were all done for the sake of competition? Well then, you probably watch American Idol to see the good singers.

Seriously, sports as spectacle is the rule now. That's why ESPN has put a lot more emphasis lately on the first letter of its initials (Entertainment). How else to explain the success of Chris Berman and Stuart Scott?

This is our fault, of course. Sports has been reduced to just another entertainment choice because that's to what Americans have reduced most everything. Cell phones, news programs, commercials, education, relationships, religion, etc. -- what good is any of it if it doesn't stimulate any or all of our senses? Forgive me for quoting the late Kurt Cobain, but in Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit," he was dead on -- intentionally or not -- when summing up the attitude of today's youth, an attitude that can be attributed to people of all ages: "Here we are now, entertain us."

We've too often forgotten how to become engaged in mind, body and spirit. As with any bad tendency, this tendency becomes dangerous when present in one's spiritual life. I myself sometimes expect the Bible to read like a gripping novel, drawing me into its truth via entrancement. But no, truth can't always be fully found in a cursory reading. It must be studied, turned over, discussed, mulled, applied.

But that would take real effort, wouldn't it?

The Truth must be presented unvarnished. I've been in church services that left me with a good feeling, almost a euphoria, because of the extremely spiritual -- for lack of a better term -- tone purposefully set by the band and the pastor. I've seen a clip from Footloose used to set up a sermon. I've been made to laugh by a pastor's witty stories or illustrations or -- and this is a favorite gimmick -- alliterations.

Most of the time, when exiting the pew at my church, I feel convicted.

That's not very entertaining, but I think it's better for me than that "good feeling." Nothing wrong with the warm fuzzies, or with a colorful story to illustrate a point, or with some rockin' worship music (as long as it's got meaty lyrics). However, it can be tempting to use such things to gloss over the uncomfortable parts of Scripture, which are in fact as beautiful as the rest of the Bible, because it's all the Truth.

The Truth stands on its own. I want God's Word like I want my football -- honest. As with any sport, there is much more to football than what the casual observer sees. It is a complex game, and studying it can reveal many pleasant revelations about its intricacies.

So it is with faith, and on a much grander scale. God doesn't need accessories. Appreciate Him and His Truth for what they are.

Brad Locke (checkswinger@gmail.com) is a sports journalist in Tupelo, Mississippi.

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