Not your usual sports & God storyTERRY MATTINGLY
As a culture, we are still in the midst of the great secular holy season called the NFL playoffs.
That means GetReligion readers will have to put up with a few more reports about faith and football, as opposed to the civil religion built around faith IN football.
I know that some readers are especially tired of mega-rich superstar athletes praying all the time for God's blessings or giving thanks for for the power to trample opposing players into the turf. Of course, few players actually say that. Most simply pray for the ability to do their best or give thanks after a game is over.
But the Washington Post recently ran a story that took some of these issues up several notches, all the way to life-and-death status. It focuses on the inspirational role that former NFL special-teams star O.J. Brigance is playing in the lives of players with the underdog Baltimore Ravens. The team's director of player development is working while in a specially constructed wheelchair as he fights amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.
People with terminal diseases say things like this, of course, and there are cases -- often cancer cases -- in which miracles happen, cures that leave doctors puzzled. But in this case, it seems that Brigance is bravely charging ahead in a way that is both sad and inspiring, at the same time.
But this is not the passage that caught my eye.
When you are dealing with Godtalk in sports, it is often hard to separate the faithful believers from people who know how to point toward the heavens, but that's about it. One thing that reporters and then readers can look for is hard evidence that an athlete has been consistently involved in a religious community, especially if that includes consistent leadership in worship or public service. Think Tony Dungy.
However, there is another trait for which one can look. It's a matter of theology. Look for signs of repentance. It is one thing to profess faith that one will be healed. It is another thing to look for the hand of God in the suffering itself, to say that one has learned about strength through the experience of weakness.
Thus, read this passage about Brigance and his trials:
Wait, there is more.
Amen. That is not your usual message from a football story. Read it all.
Terry Mattingly, "Not your usual sports & God story."Get Religion.org (January 16, 2009).
Reprinted by permission of GetReligion.org and Terry Mattingly. The original posting of this article is here.
Photo: From the Baltimore Ravens home page.
Terry Mattingly writes the nationally syndicated "On Religion" column for the Scripps Howard News Service in Washington, D.C. He is the director and writes for Get Religion. He is also the director of the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He is the author of the book "Pop Goes Religion: Faith in Popular Culture." In addition to his classroom duties, Mattingly lectures at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Mass., the Torreys Honors Program at Biola University, the School of Journalism at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, Baylor University in Waco, Texas, and in other settings across the nation. Terry Mattingly and his wife Debra have two children, Sarah Jeanne, and Frye Lewis. The Mattinglys are members of Holy Cross Orthodox Church in Linthicum, Md.
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