This year has been a particularly good example of such optimism. In addition to the Giants’ rather redemptive season, I am also a long-time St. Louis Cardinals fan. (My wife was born in St. Louis and we met there.) This was a team left for dead near the end of August. They made a remarkable comeback to get into the playoffs, and then, down to their last strike in the World Series, they came back not once but twice to win Game 6, and then finished it off with a win in Game 7. Right down to the end, as the famous theologian Tug McGraw once said, “You gotta believe.”
Guy Nicholson: It’s rare to see a waiter thanking God for that big tip during the lunchtime rush, or a taxi driver praying for fares while working overtime. Is that because it doesn’t happen, or because they don’t get asked about it at a press conference?
Peter Stockland: As far as I know, neither waiters nor taxi drivers have Madonna singing during their coffee breaks, either. But there have been cabbies in Montreal who have been disciplined for having too many religious symbols in their cars. If you drive in Montreal, you know why people would want to have religious symbols on hand. It’s the same faith impulse, but in a lower key.
Lorna Dueck: It is certainly because they don’t get asked about it, or they don’t have a platform for it. I have no doubt there are many Canadian waiters who say “Thank you, Jesus” when they survive a lunch rush and have a tip bonus. What’s been so interesting about this sports praying phenomena this winter was how talked about it became. Why it became a big deal and how it polarized commentary is what got interesting.
Peter Stockland: It’s true, Lorna. Athletes in Action and similar sports ministries have been around since Paul Henderson scored in the Summit Series. That was – yipes – 40 years ago.
Howard Voss-Altman: Perhaps if 100,000 people came to watch us work, or if we knew that millions more were watching at home, we might engage in a public demonstration of faith. Jews, by and large, do not engage in such demonstrations, because we are not commanded to spread the “good news.” But for others, it is absolutely essential to their religious lives, and it’s not surprising to see it when millions of viewers are watching.
Guy Nicholson: Speaking of spreading the good news … was “ Rainbow Man” with his iconic “John 3:16” sign an irritating publicity hound, an amusing distraction or a faithful servant?
Peter Stockland: Message for Rainbow Man: “Be still and know that I am God.”
Lorna Dueck: All three of those labels are relevant for the Rainbow Man, who flashed us the “John 3:16” card for what seemed like decades. I don’t know his background or his motivations, but I think people saw him in all those categories. Now, Tim Tebow has taken up the job of publicizing John 3:16 in his war paint.
Tim Tebow is a good role model for sport, he’s not a publicity hound (I have been working on getting an interview with him – his defence appears impenetrable) and I think he’s keenly aware of the struggle for Christian humility. His trademark tweet of “Mark 8:36” tells me he’s trying his best to be a faithful servant.
Guy Nicholson: Sheema wrote about the Summit Series in a recent column for The Globe. She talked about hockey as part of our collective identity as Canadians. Perhaps this identity element is a key area of overlap between faith and sports.
Howard Voss-Altman: I once gave a sermon that began with Stephen Harper’s statement that the Hockey Night in Canada theme song was “a national treasure.” It’s the sport that defines Canada and, to a great extent, one’s sense of Canadian identity.
Lorna Dueck: If what we’re dealing with is an identity element, which I think it is, then I wonder what it will take for some sports commentators and comedians to just let it exist as normal, instead of insisting it has no place in sport. For example, Jeremy Lin just quietly insists his Christian faith is the anchor for how he keeps his character in the NBA pressures. You can’t ignore that component of him, or his attendance at a Harvard Bible study group, in commentating on Lin’s career.