True story. Last night, I went to bed early, because today is Palm Sunday & I knew I would have to be up early. At around 10:45 pm, I got up to go to the bathroom, and checked my phone for the Kentucky/Notre Dame score: for you non-basketball fans, this was the "Elite Eight" game that would determine who made it into the Final Four. It was under five minutes to play and Kentucky was DOWN two points. No question: I got up & went downstairs to watch the rest of the game. As most people know this morning, the game came down to two clutch free throw shots by Andrew Harrison with six seconds left in the game--it's no spoiler by now to say that he made them both, and the Cats won by 2. So, what do you think? Is God a Cats fan? [And, obvious, I don't mean the Arizona Wildcats--it's clear God is not an Arizona fan: they were dispatched by Wisconsin earlier in the evening, 85-78].
Let me provide some context here. I am not ashamed to say that as I was watching that moment, I said a prayer: not that Kentucky would win, and not that Harrison would make the shots; but as I looked at that young man standing at the free throw line, I thought about the weight of the big blue nation riding on his young shoulders, and I prayed for calm for him, and peace. I prayed that he might do his best. [And, full disclosure, as a Cats fan myself--regardless of what God thinks--I was thrilled with the outcome]. Should I have prayed in that situation?
I think about sports and prayer pretty often, primarily because I'm a sports fan--and a Christian, of course. And, if you watch a lot of sports, you certainly have seen athletes who, after a win, both thank God for the win, and give God the glory for their performance. [In my limited experience, I find this is particularly true of African American athletes--especially in Track and Field--for whom the language of faith seems to roll off the tongue much more fluidly than most white mainline Protestant and Catholic athletes. But this may just be my experience, or a reflection of the particular sports I like to watch]. This bothers many people, of course, in no small part, I think, because they feel like it trivializes God and God's relationship to the world--as though God were sitting up on the heavenly throne, beer in hand, eyes glued to the big screen, while things in Yemen fall all to hell.
I find this ridiculous for several reasons--and I'm not talking primarily about the visual I just presented. This kind of thinking reveals an economy of scarcity, where God only has limited attention, focus and care; and if those are offered in one direction, they are withheld in another: you know, you can't pray for a basketball player and a refugee at the same time, because God somehow cannot attend to both simultaneously. But the fact is, prayer is not like a pie, with only limited pieces to go around; I'm convinced that the more you pray for some people, the more you pray for other people. Simply put: the more you pray, the more you pray. In this economy of abundance, prayer becomes a way of multiplying care in the world--not subtracting it. It becomes a way of reinforcing the complex, expansive web of connections that bind us all together in love.
Does God care about sporting events? Sure God does, for the simple reason that God cares for all of God's creation; and if it's true that every hair on our head is counted, and not a sparrow falls to the ground without God knowing and caring about it, then of course God is aware of every single one of those players, in every single one of those moments. [I'm sure God is aware of the fans, too, but frankly, I'm less concerned about them in these situations--and I say this as a Broncos fan who still cannot bear to talk about Super Bowl XLVIII. Talk about godforsakenness....].
Like many of you, I have been watching with much pleasure the college basketball games this month; and over and over again, I have been struck by the pressure that is on these athletes--teenagers, some of them--and the terrible experience some of them have had when, at a crucial moment, they make a mistake, and become the goat. [SMU. Goaltending. Yanick Moreira. Enough said]. I don't want that for anyone; and if it happens, I want them to feel the assurance that, despite all emotions to the contrary--life is not over. I want God to be with them, bearing them up and giving them strength--and that's win or lose. I don't think it's wrong to pray for that at all.
So: is God a Cats fan? Sure--and God is a Notre Dame fan, a Wisconsin fan, and, yes, an Arizona fan. God is a fan of all God's children: God loves them, and God wants the best for them--which, however, doesn't necessarily equate to a perfect season--or a perfect anything, for that matter. [Although, again, full disclosure, I'm hoping for an exception to that rule this year]. As we begin Holy Week, I am reminded of Jesus' words "I came that they might have life, and have it abundantly." Certainly, there are people all over the world who are engaged in much more important, much more stressful, and much more critical activities than sports; however, sports are a part of God's good creation, too--broken by human sinfulness, sure, but good nonetheless; and God cares about them. God cares about the athletes, God cares about the coaches, and yes, despite all appearances to the contrary, God even cares about the fans--even Bronco fans, I hope.