Bible and baseball

bible baseballSunday’s Washington Post carried an excellent story on faith in baseball. Drawing largely on the local team, the Washington Nationals, for illustrations, reporter Laura Blumenfeld does a fine job of depicting the current state of faith in the dugout.

What follows is my personal highlight, which also happens to be the lead:

Three hours before the game, in the Washington Nationals’ clubhouse, Ryan Church and Matt Cepicky were razzing each other, laughing and dancing around in their shorts.

A sober voice interrupted, “Chapel, 10:45.”

Church and Cepicky nodded. Another player burped. Another swallowed a light blue pill. Another swatted his bat at a teammate’s bare behind.

“Chapel in thirty minutes,” Jon Moeller said, working his way — locker to locker, broad back to back — around the room, distributing a leaflet: “What God Has Done For You.” Moeller, 36, is the chapel leader for the Nationals baseball team. On Sundays, before they play, they pray.

The story touches on some delicate theological issues but appropriately — for this story — the reporter shies away from delving into the details and talking to experts about whether God favors one side or another in a sporting contest. But the color on the subject is fun:

Which raises a theological question. As outfielder Preston Wilson, 31, who also prays during the national anthem, put it: “If the guy on the other team is a better Christian, is the other team going to win?”

Or, put another way: Do the Boston Red Sox, who have the highest chapel attendance in the major leagues, have an unfair advantage?

“I get a ton of people saying, ‘Hey, Wayne, you gotta pray harder for the Brewers,’” said Wayne Beilgard, chapel leader for the Milwaukee Brewers. “I tell them, ‘God doesn’t choose sides in baseball. God is not a Yankees fan.’”

Yet, there is that temptation. One Sunday, during a Nationals game against the San Diego Padres, chapel leader Moeller and his friend Smitley were making the rounds. The game was not going well. Cepicky shattered a bat, and then hit squarely to the first baseman. In the outfield, Church flailed his arms as a ball rocketed over the wall.

“It’s not the Lord’s day,” Moeller mumbled.

With the leaves starting to change, the air feeling crisp, what better timing for a Sunday religion piece tied in with baseball? It’s filled with Bible verses and analogies, with only Nationals Manager Frank Robinson and hitting coach Tom McCraw voicing dissent for personal reaons.

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The P-word surfaces at the Indy Star

Here is a case worth following, not only to see the outcome but to see how MSM outlets cover it — if they do.

The back story to this inside-baseball news story is that The Indianapolis Star — once a very culturally conservative newsroom and, especially, editorial page — has been pulled into the Gannett world, which is always going to lead to some changes. Now this happens:

Two former editorial writers at The Indianapolis Star have sued the newspaper and its owner, Gannett Co., claiming religious, racial and age discrimination.

In a lawsuit filed Tuesday in federal court, former editorial board members James Patterson and Lisa Coffey said top newsroom managers “consistently and repeatedly demonstrated . . . a negative hostility toward Christianity.”

Neither of these people appear to be Religious Right plants in the newsroom. They seem to be, well, fairly normal people in Indiana. Perhaps that is the problem.

Note that, once again, the key word in the script is “proselytizing.” But this raises all kinds of questions, based on the few details we have in print at this time.

Does the P-word apply when people write an editorial that encourages citizens to pray for the U.S. troops in Iraq? Is it “proselytizing” to oppose the Gannett chain’s stance on gay rights? This latter issue surfaces in the Star‘s own mini-story on the case. Does the P-word apply if, let’s say, the editorial page backs some kind of Democratic Party effort to blend faith and economic justice?

I will try to keep tabs on this. Has anyone else seen coverage of this case on j-blogs?

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A simple story: God, Zo and a kidney

Mourning2.jpegAccording to the seminars offered by our friends at Poynter.org, one of the quickest ways to improve religion news coverage in the MSM is for journalists simply to stop removing the faith elements of stories in which they are already present.

This is the opposite of trying to find religion news.

The goal is to stop ignoring it or, worse, editing it out of the lives of oridinary people all around us. Click here for a fine essay on this by Poynter fellow Aly Colon.

Well, Alonzo Mourning of the NBA’s Miami Heat is not an ordinary person — he is one of those stunning towers of mind, heart, talent and muscle that achieves riches and fame in media and sports. Down here in South Florida, he has been a major force in community life, and his life-and-death struggle with kidney disease is more than a sports story. It has been an epic human drama.

And this is precisely how The Miami Herald‘s NBA-beat reporter Israel Gutierrez (is that a South Florida byline or what?) handles a little-known part of the Zo comeback in a sports-page feature about the relationship between the superstar and the cousin, Jason Cooper, who donated the kidney that saved his life.

There is a faith element to the story and Gutierrez does not play it up, but he also does not ignore it. He just lets the people tell their story, and that is enough.

This was, apparently, one of those private, personal stories in which chance events took place that the people involved later decided were not chance at all. It was, they said, a God thing. Here is the key passage. You need to read the whole story to understand the part about the television set.

Cooper offered to take the necessary tests to see if he could donate one of his kidneys to Mourning. It was an eerie coincidence that Cooper decided to make the trip to visit his grandmother on that particular day, and that the news came across the TV screen at that particular time. Some would say it’s more than a coincidence. Whatever the explanation, that moment put in motion an act of selflessness and kindness that would reinvigorate an NBA star, and created an unbreakable bond between two cousins who didn’t figure they would ever be this close again.

“Jason, man — he’s a lifesaver,” Mourning said. “It’s just God sent how it all worked out. Things don’t happen like that just because it happens. People just say, ‘Oh, it’s a coincidence.’ No it’s not. There’s a reason why Jason went to that hospital to see his aunt on her deathbed and I just so happened to come up on the television. I mean, come on, that’s not a coincidence. That’s somebody higher than us planning all that out.”

It’s a simple story, the kind that people tell all the time. It’s nice to see it in the sports pages of a major newspaper, where fans are more likely to read about steroids and sucker punches than faith and the family ties that bind.

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Revved up for God

nascar_bg.jpgBack in the 1980s, while working as the religion editor for the Baton Rouge Morning Advocate, I interviewed a man who was a chaplain to NASCAR racers and their families. The chaplain was kind, and patient with my astonishment that NASCAR drivers would feel any interest in his services.

I mention this to confess straight away: I’ve never really understood the lure of NASCAR. As someone who is phobic about dying because of a tailgater dialing the wrong number while trying to order a takeout meal from Applebee’s, I can think of no better approximation of hell than driving in a NASCAR event.

That chaplain was a good example of the church taking its presence into NASCAR culture. From a lighthearted story by Bill Freehling of The Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg, Va., comes an example of NASCAR culture stepping into the church — albeit at the church’s invitation. Freehling describes the scene at Salem Fields Community Church in Spotsylvania:

Pictures of NASCAR drivers were throughout the Gordon Road church. A mini No. 8 car and Goodyear tire were on its stage, where a band played country. Church officials wore black T-shirts saying “NASCAR Sunday pit crew.” A big-screen television was set up for the race.

The point, said co-pastor Buddy Marston, is to attract people who love NASCAR but haven’t been going to church.

. . . Salem Fields is decidedly more casual than most churches. Most people wear blue jeans and T-shirts — attire that church member Ken Lardie said is more welcoming.

Yesterday’s service opened with a band blasting out the lyrics of “I’m From The Country.” But then the service got serious.

Marston, who is co-pastor with his wife, Gaye, delivered a sermon about the importance of never lying. Using a NASCAR metaphor, he said his marriage was troubled until he started being honest.

“We were on this giant oil slick,” Marston said.

Last Friday, Baptist Press recently published this report comparing NASCAR culture with FAITH, the Southern Baptist Convention’s program that combines Sunday school and evangelism:

An off-site tour of the Daytona Speedway was part of the National FAITH Institute, Jan. 24-27 in Daytona Beach. About 200 pastors and church leaders participating in the institute heard how NASCAR and FAITH share similarities when it comes to teamwork: Everyone on the team is important; if you have to make a pit stop, make it quick, then get back on the track; and there may be a lot of personalities involved, but everyone has the same goal.

. . . The Daytona 500 race brings thousands of visitors to Daytona Beach each February. Institute participants were reminded that those who watch the race are excited about things that don’t last — speed, noise and celebrities — whereas FAITH teams become excited about the one thing that matters for eternity — bringing people to saving faith in Jesus Christ.

There is, perhaps, a case to be made for NASCAR Sundays at churches — especially those hyper-Protestants that want to break away from churches’ traditional image. But these would be questions worth asking: When a church incorporates the events that compete with worship for members’ attention on any given Sunday, how does this affect its identity? Do churches really believe they offer something more important than TV access to a sporting event? Do people who attend NASCAR Sunday show up again before the next NASCAR Sunday? And how should a church differ from our TV rooms at home?

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God bless you please, Mrs. Robinson

graduate.jpgOn Thursday I asked if anyone recognized the church featured in the ill-fated “lusty cleric” Super Bowl TV ad for the Lincoln Mark LT pickup. Thanks to Tim at Random Observations, here is the answer: It’s La Verne (Calif.) United Methodist Church.

This isn’t the church’s first brush with fame — or, for that matter, with comical depictions of lust. GetReligion readers may remember it as the site of a pivotal scene in The Graduate, in which Benjamin rescues Elaine. (Tim also points us to this webpage, which explores the background of many key Graduate scenes.)

Another GetReligion reader, Andy of Rest Across the River, remembered the church from a scene in Wayne’s World 2 (in which Wayne attempts to stop a wedding but goes to the wrong Presbyterian church).

Internet Movie Database lists these movies (in addition to The Graduate and Wayne’s World 2) as shooting on location in La Verne: Bubble Boy, Inventing the Abbotts, The Magic Christmas Tree, Torque and Uncle Sam.

Worship at La Verne United Methodist (here is its bare-bones description on the denomination’s website) and you’ll see part of showbiz history.

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"Lust" is now taboo during the Super Bowl

ford_superbowl.jpgThe past few months have been strange at the intersection of faith and advertising, beginning with the big three networks’ rejection of the United Church of Christ’s TV spots and continuing with Rolling Stone‘s temporary rejection of an ad promoting a new gender-inclusive version of the Bible.

Now Ford Motor Company has withdrawn an ad it had bought during the Super Bowl, after protests by members of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.

Stuart Elliott of The New York Times explains:

The withdrawn commercial, by the Dearborn office of Young & Rubicam, part of the Young & Rubicam Brands division of the WPP Group, was intended to introduce the Mark LT, a successor to the failed Lincoln Blackwood pickup. In the spot, an actor dressed as a clergyman finds a key to a Mark LT in the collection plate after services, then covetously appraises it in the parking lot — only to learn from a congregant that it was a prank by his mischievous daughter, rather than a donation.

The spot ends with the clergyman posting “Lust” as the theme of his next sermon.

“Our members find it offensive,” David Clohessy, national director of the advocacy organization complaining about the commercial, said before the withdrawal became known. His organization is called Snap, for Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.

Mr. Clohessy, who commented after watching a version of the commercial on a Web site about Super Bowl advertising, superbowl-ads.com, complained that the actor was dressed as a Catholic or Episcopalian priest and described the child, an actor about 6 years old, as looking “shy and compliant.”

After learning that Ford Motor had withdrawn the commercial, Mr. Clohessy said the decision would “spare a lot of people a lot of pain.”

“We certainly understand that people can interpret the ad in different ways and we never alleged maliciousness,” Mr. Clohessy said. “But anything that avoids rubbing salt into a deep wound is good.”

Ford’s decision has led to outraged posts on the superbowl-ads.com message boards (sample topic: Pride and Christian idiots).

As the Chicago Tribune notes, one prominent Catholic doubts the ad would have rubbed salt into wounds:

Other groups who joined SNAP in their displeasure were the Catholic lay group Voice of the Faithful and StopFamilyViolence.org. Feminist groups were expected to join the protest Thursday.

But at least one religious organization said it was baffled by the idea that the ad was connected to the abuse scandal.

“To say that it trivializes and exploits the sex scandal is absurd,” said William Donahue of the Catholic League. “In short, it does no one any good to read into this silly ad malicious intent on the part of Ford/Lincoln.”

The San Francisco Chronicle provides this link to the ad, which seems to have disappeared. (Truckblog offers this link, which it says will work if you allow popup windows. No success for me, but maybe it’s a Mac-hostile site.)

lincoln ad.jpgA few observations:

• Would there be any irony in an Episcopal priests — the vast majority of whom are not bound by vows of celibacy — feeling lust for a vehicle? The implausibility here is that any theologically correct Episcopal priest would yearn for an ostentatious and gas-guzzling Lincoln Mark LT pickup. A sporty Toyota Prius would be another matter.

• The ad shows a pastor changing a sign at an unspecified “Community Church,” which meets in a white elephant of a building suggesting the worst of post-Vatican II architecture. But as we’ve noted in this space before, ugly church architecture is no respecter of denominations. Might any alert GetReligion reader help us figure out which church rented out its property for the ad?

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Many gods, but no saints in Costas commentary?

I didn’t have a chance to watch the opening ceremonies of the Olympics last night. People in South Florida were more interested in the Weather Channel, to be honest.

So I cannot comment on the following letter from a reader, which was — for lack of a better location — sent to the comments page on the coven and state commentary. It’s worth pulling out front, because we are interested in what readers see in the media — really, really interested. You guys have more eyes and mice than we do.

As a bias disclaimer, I must note that I am a major fan of Bob Costas. I have cruised the WWW a bit this morning and have found no other references to the possibility of religious ghosts in the Athens rites. I would post a link to the Dallas Morning News review of the broadcast, but I am on a Mac right now and the Dallas site is very Apple-phobic, or at least the browser Safari. I wonder what that is all about. (I got a different browser running and got that Dallas link.)

I digress. Here is the letter. By the way, the nickname is “tmatt.” Gotta watch those case-sensitive style issues.

TMatt — I’m putting this here for lack of anywhere else i can think of to put it, along with your meme of “ghosts”: i may be overreacting, but on the Olympic opening ceremonies broadcast, there was not a single odd bit of trivia Bob Costas did not share, nor an attention getting variation from the US norm that did not earn his explanation (it’s still going on in the living room, as i type this).

But when all the “Saint Blank” countries came first in the alphabet, no note of why that would be; in the parade of the millenia, his only significant silence was during the delightful live action ikons as they passed — he muttered, to Katie’s counterpoint, something about the Byzantine era, and may have mumbled the word “church” once (i’d have to see a transcript).

Small items, but glaring to me in how Bob seems to assume that the only trivia too trivial to tell is faith-oriented, and the only gods worth mentioning are carved in marble with colonnades around them. Or maybe i just can’t stand Costas’ commentary.

Peace. And enjoy the Olympics! (And i’ll keep watching for Terry’s ghosts!)

Posted by: Jeff | August 13, 2004 09:59 PM

I will keep looking around a see if I can catch some kind of replay in the next day or so. Please use this post as a chance to share what you are seeing, or not seeing. If there is a show transcript out there, please nab the URL for us.

UPDATE: Did anyone else hear the reference to Athena as the “patron saint” of Athens?

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Is the NBA ready for CCB? Contemporary Christian Basketball?

When the Kobe Bryant sex scandal first hit the headlines, one of the first things that NBA insiders began discussing was its impact on his multi-million-dollar endorsement contracts. But the discussions had a twist. While some worried that a sexual-assault rap might hurt him, others decided that this might actually boost his stock “on the street,” in the urban marketplace of hip-hop, macho credibility.

Clearly, the NBA is a highly tolerant environment, when it comes to the personal lives of its superstars.

But what if a hoops phenom was a born-again Christian, one who saw the court as a platform for evangelism and, oh my God, even the advocacy of conservative moral beliefs? How would this affect sneaker sales? Will this hurt the NBA brand name? What’s next? An “I love this game” NBA ad featuring Franklin Graham?

This was the issue raised in a feature over at ESPN.com focusing on this year’s high-school verson of LeBron (King) James. Dwight Howard is a 6-10 power forward and everyone agrees that this young man is a star on the rise. But what about those hymns he sings? What about that 10 Commandments poster in his room? Is the NBA ready for a stud who says things like: “I want to be able to speak to non-Christians so that I can get them saved or change their lives around.”

This is not a new issue. There have been stories in the past about born-again tensions in major-league baseball locker rooms. People have asked if a linebacker can be as tough as he needs to be when he is involved in Promise Keeper rallies on Saturday with some of the players that he needs to crush on Sunday. But it is Howard’s openness about his evangelistic goals that has some people freaking out. Can the NBA tolerate this kind of intolerance? The ESPN.com feature notes:

“This is the first time an athlete will be able to overcome what (former San Antonio Spurs center David Robinson) couldn’t do,” said Sonny Vaccaro, the Reebok executive. . . . “David was a leader in the crusade of being religious and being a great athlete, but Dwight’s plan could work because we’re in an era of niche marketing. He’s taking a stand saying, ‘I’m going to do this and some company is going to buy into it,’ and that fact is that these companies have millions and billions of dollars to brand Dwight as their hero.

“If he’s as good as I think he will be, he’ll be the perfect role model for this segment of the population.”

To state it crudely, does the NBA need to consider the impact of those box-office numbers for The Passion of the Christ? Can professional sports afford to be “Left Behind” in this age of niche marketing?

Maybe that would work. But maybe, notes ESPN reporter Darren Rovell, it would not. Everyone knows that there are believers out on the court. But the jury is still out on whether that is good for marketing.

About 50 percent of the league’s players attend at least one service during the season and seemingly every team has a player who considers himself a devout Christian, said former ABA and NBA guard Claude Terry, executive vice president of the Pro Basketball Fellowship, which oversees the NBA teams’ chaplains.

“I would hope that Dwight’s beliefs wouldn’t hurt his chances to market products,” Terry said. “I would think that marketers would want to embrace someone with such values. At the same time, I can understand that we live in an age where people are supposed to be tolerant of the choices others make and it could be interpreted that he is imposing his beliefs on them.”

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