Iron Mountain ski jump

Iron Mountain ski jump

Friday, October 5, 2012


CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith from a place of winter For the Years of Winter…
[I try to keep these columns to a readable length, around 500 words. Be warned; this is twice that. I apologize.]

 It was literally, “I live and die with my team.” That’s what we say about our love of our sports teams, especially today as we start the baseball playoffs.
Twenty-two seasons ago, the Cincinnati Reds were entering the post-season. They had won their first game of the regular season and had never given up the lead. Now all they had to do was win out. [1]
I was starting the 8th month of my 12 months of chemotherapy, [2] following surgery on my birthday in February. My first oncologist told me I had one to two years. I wasn’t sure if I would even make it through chemo.
But I had started my chemo season at the same time my team started the baseball season. They got out ahead on the first day and stayed there. Somehow it seemed if they could win, I could, too. For me, it was, “I live and die with my team.”
I wasn’t a Reds fan because I grew up in Oakland City, IN, the home of the Reds Hall of Fame center-fielder, Edd Roush. [3] His twin brother, Fred, was one of my coaches, and sometimes Edd, in retirement, hit line drives to us. Or because my great-uncle, Rufus McFarland, had played on the same teams as Edd and Fred as a kid, intending to go up to the majors together. [4]
No, I was a Reds fan because Grandma Mac was. That’s mostly how we choose our teams. That was good enough 75 years ago, in the days of Ernie Lombardi. It was good enough in the days of Ted Kluzewski, of Johnny Bench and The Big Red Machine, of Eric Davis. It’s good enough now, in the days of Joey Votto, when I’m one of only three Reds fans in the UP. [Helen and daughter Katie are the others.]
They were my team then; they are my team now. Not because they are better players or better people or better for society, but just because they are my team, because they were Grandma’s.
Sports competition is a fun thing. We developed sports originally so we could compete without killing one another. You could be a winner without chopping someone’s head off, or starving them out. If we competed to win at sports, then we wouldn’t have to compete in everything else, to WIN at everyone else’s expense in areas of social life where we needed to cooperate instead of compete in order to survive.
Unfortunately, sports winning has become a metaphor and model and excuse for competing at everything else, even the areas of life where cooperation works better than competition. We are constantly told that “government should be run more like a business” because the competitive element of business gets things done that cooperation can’t. But it’s business that should be run more like business. Government should be run more like government. Education should be run more like education. Church should be run more like church. One model, the sports model, does not fit all.
Vince Lombardi famously said that “Winning isn’t the most important thing. It’s the ONLY thing.” We have taken that idea into government and education and religion. Winning isn’t so we can be useful in society; it’s its own goal. That’s okay in sports, but it’s a killer in the rest of life. Capitalism where only one team wins destroys competition which destroys capitalism
Competition is a useful tool for getting things done, but it is not the only one. More importantly, winning for its own sake actually destroys competition. I want the Reds to win, but not all the time. If one team wins all the time in sports, what you get is an empty field, because nobody else wants to play. If one team wins all the time in government, what you get is Mexico.
 A couple of guys on Jesus’ team, urged on by their soccer mom, argued about who should get the gold and silver medals in the Righteousness Olympics. Jesus said, “Whoever would be the winner among you must be the water boy.” [Matthew 20:27, MSM] [5] Jesus was in favor of competition, but the winners aren’t the ones who get the most power over the people, but the ones who get the most done for the people, not the ones who grind their opponents into the dust, but the ones who pull the most folks out of the mud.
Some future Edward Gibbon won’t need 6 volumes to explain the decline and fall of the USA. He can just use two lines: Winning wasn’t their most important thing. It was their only thing.
You’re never too old to become a fan, but be careful when choosing between the Lombardi team and the Jesus team. You’ll live and die with your team.
1] The Reds were in the NL West in 1990, with the Dodgers as their main challenge, which accounts for Katie McFarland [now Kennedy], who bleeds red, saying about the Groshong chemo catheter Dr. Alan Hatfield punched into my superior vena cava, “Oh, no, it’s Dodger blue.”  The Reds won the division by 5 games over the Dodgers. Then they beat the Pirates, 4 games to 2 to win the NL pennant. No one gave them a chance to beat the Oakland As in the World Series, but they swept it, 4 games to none.
2] I was on a clinical trial to learn if colon cancer patients needed 6 or 12 months of chemo. Naturally I was in the 12 month group. We proved you only need 6. If you’re one of those 6 month people, you owe me.
3] I wrote the biographical entry for Edd in Scribner’s AMERICAN LIVES.
4] McFarlands were not very tall in those days. At 5 feet 3 inches, Uncle Rufus intended to be the shortest man in the majors. Unfortunately, they didn’t want a stop who really was short. In the next generation, my father was the tallest of 7 children at 5’7”. He  married into a family with tall men, so my brother and I tend to look down on the rest of the family at reunions.
5] MSM is The McFarland Sports Metaphor translation of the Bible.
The “place of winter” mentioned in the title line is Iron Mountain, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where life is defined by winter even in the summer!
You are always welcome to Forward or Repost or Reprint. It’s okay to acknowledge the source, unless it embarrasses you too much. It is okay to refer the link to folks you know or to print it in a church newsletter or bulletin, or make it into a movie or TV series or Broadway musical.
{I also write the fictional “Periwinkle Chronicles” blog. One needs a rather strange sense of humor to enjoy it, but occasionally it is slightly funny. It is at}




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