Iron Mountain ski jump

Iron Mountain ski jump

Monday, April 11, 2016


Christ In Winter: Reflections on Faith for the Years of Winter

Preachers will go to any lengths to raise money for a good cause. And to humiliate someone they love. Which is the nature of sports.

Yesterday was pay-off Sunday at our church. To raise money for the recent mission trip, our pastors had placed two jars, with their names, where people could drop money in. The loser, the one who raised the lesser amount of money, had to pay a penalty. The winner got to enjoy the public humiliation of the other. To make it more interesting, they are married to each other! Apparently love of team comes way before love of spouse!

Both Jimmy and Mary Beth are die-hard Cubs fans, Mary Beth because she is a Chicago girl with generations of forebears who were Cubs fans, and Jimmy because… well, how do you know why a Mississippi boy does anything, except that 108 years of losing comes naturally. [1]

Years of losing served him well yesterday, because he was the loser of the “jar wars” competition. His punishment was having to preach wearing a White Sox shirt! Oh, the humanity! Or lack of it! What could be more embarrassing for a Cubs fan?

You cannot be both a Cubs fan and a White Sox fan. [2] Mary Beth said that as she was growing up, she was taught that if the Cubs won and the Sox lost on the same day, the Cubs had won twice.

Why should that be? The Cubs and Sox are in different leagues. They did not play each other for 100 years. It’s only been in the recent few years of inter-league play that they have met on the same field, and that seems actually to have dampened the intensity of their rivalry a bit. They inhabit the same city, suffer from the same corrupt politicians. Their fans go to the same schools, shop at the same stores. [“The Jewels”] Sometimes they are even members of the same family. Why should they not only enjoy the victories of their own team but enjoy the losses of the other, sometimes even more than their own victories?

It’s like the Jews and Arabs in The Unholy Land, or Catholics and Protestants in North Ireland. They are the same people. They have the same heritage. They look alike. The only way you can tell them apart is by whether they wear Cubs or Sox jerseys.

Not everyone is a baseball fanatic, but we all seem to want competition, the chance to cheer for someone over someone else. I know a couple of guys who don’t know a curve from a Chevy but can almost come to fisticuffs over which opera diva is better in which role.

Fortunately, we have social science to explain this to us. Even better, we have L. Jon Wertheim and Sam Sommers to summarize that research for us in their excellent book, This Is Your Brain on Sports. The only problem is that the research proves both sides of every rationale for our sports competition fanaticism.

It’s not really that much of a mystery. The reason is “original sin,” that tendency in each of us to say, “There is not enough to go around, and so I must get mine at the expense of others.” For every winner there is a loser, and I hate being a loser even more than I like being a winner.

The antidote to original sin is Christ, the one who feeds five thousand on one fish sandwich, who says, “If you just give thanks for what you have, and share it, there is enough to go around.”

Theology and sports are very much alike. God gives them to us for fun. It’s when we begin to take them seriously that we get into trouble.


1] Elaine Palencia, the poet, and her friend, Vanda, once went to Oxford, MS on a Faulkner pilgrimage tour. They were looking at the Confederate monument when an old codger came up and said, “You know what that is?” They thought they knew but declined to speculate. He spat on the ground and said, “That’s a trophy for second place.”

2] That is the reason Barack Obama has been so pilloried and obstructed by so many in Congress and elsewhere. They are all Cubs fans. Or maybe it’s really not because he is a White Sox fan…

One of the strangest baseball games ever must have been Labor Day in 1926 when the Ku Klux Klan beat the Hebrew Stars 4-0.

I tweet as yooper1721.

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