Pod People: Prayer’s place in science, sports and submission

Where is Jahi McMath, and what is the latest installment of her story?

I’m glad you asked! Host Todd Wilken and I talked some about this and other subjects during this week’s installment of Crossroads.

(This is my third podcast, and I like to think I’m not embarrassing myself as badly with experience. This being interviewed business is tough when there’s not a delete key between you and your thoughts.)

As you’ll remember from my post last week, McMath is the brain-dead 13-year-old California girl whose parents won the legal battle to take possession of her still-ventilated body from Children’s Hospital Oakland and move it to an undisclosed location. Early reports indicated the family and their attorney had found a facility and physicians to “care for” the child and use restorative measures, presumably to bring her back to life. And prayer, lots of prayer. And they’ve raised tens of thousands of dollars via their gofundme page.

We don’t know where Jahi is, nor do we know whether her heart still beats, which previously had been because of electrical currents and IV medication. Nor do we know whether they are part of an organized group of believers. We do know, courtesy of the NBC Bay Area affiliate, that her classmates have hope, and that school administrators say they’re honoring the child’s family’s wishes in what they tell the children:

Though a death certificate has been issued for Jahi McMath, many of the 13-year-old Oakland girl’s classmates still believe the “quiet leader” who laughed at jokes that weren’t funny will one day return to school — if they just pray hard enough.

“The school told us that she’s not officially dead yet,” said Dymond Allen, one of Jahi’s friends at EC Reems Academy of Technology and Arts in East Oakland, a public charter school that serves mostly disadvantaged kids. “And we should keep her in our prayers. I still hope. And God has the last say-so.”

Wilken and I also talked a bit more in-depth about my Candace Cameron Bure post from last week that dealt with the biblical concept of wives submitting to their husbands. Media outlets continue to get it wrong, both in headline and story form, by confusing the Scriptural meaning that Bure discusses with the social/relational/professional one.

The comments from readers reflect that inaccuracy. Some cite instances of spousal abuse as a reason wives should not submit to their husbands. Others point to hard-won rights and the feminist movement as proof that women have evolved to a point where they can care for themselves and should be treated in equals.

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A God-decided Super Bowl? 70 million Americans say yes

Super Bowl XLVIII is just two weeks away. And if The Huffington Post is to be believed, a huge number of folks are about to hit their knees. Not in a line stance, mind you, but in prayer.

HuffPo’s top religion story today claims “Half of Americans Say God Plays A Role In Super Bowl Winner: Survey.” (We have to throw a flag here with headline and story agreement, incidentally, as the U.S. population is estimated at 314 million, and the story alludes to 140 million sports fans. Penalty declined. Now let’s move forward with the game.)

How can you not click on that headline? I mean, who isn’t ready for some God-decided football. I, for one, think it would be a nice change from the referees deciding the outcome.

We have a poll, folks. A survey from Public Religion Research Institute indicates that millions of my neighbors, near and far, think the Almighty chooses which team gets the trophy.

“As Americans tune in to the Super Bowl this year, fully half of fans — as many as 70 million Americans — believe there may be a twelfth man on the field influencing the outcome,” Public Religion Research Institute CEO Robert Jones said in a statement. “Significant numbers of American sports fans believe in invoking assistance from God on behalf of their favorite team, or believe the divine may be playing out its own purpose in the game.”

Football fans … pray for their own teams to win, with 33 percent saying they ask God to intervene in games, compared to 21 percent of fans of other sports.

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There’s that Baltimore Ravens faith ghost — again

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The Baltimore Ravens have been playing some really, really wild football games in recent weeks, a few with endings that several commentators have been tempted to call “miraculous.”

Sort of like that playoff game last year in frozen Mile-High Stadium in Denver (sorry, about that M.Z. Hemingway).

Anyway, head coach John Harbaugh was asked, in a recent press conference, to name the X factor behind his team. Here’s how ESPN.com reported the response:

“The thing I love about our football team is that we are a team of faith,” coach John Harbaugh said. “We believe. We trust. Because of that, we’ll fight. We will run the race right down to the end. That’s something that our football team does. I’m very proud of them for that.”

There are times when special moments define special teams, just like the times when the Ravens converted the fourth-and-29 in San Diego and delivered the Mile High Miracle last season. These Ravens are building quite a portfolio of “never say never” moments.

Two weeks ago, the Ravens beat the Pittsburgh Steelers, 22-20, by stopping a two-point conversion with 1:03 remaining. Last week, the Ravens outlasted the Minnesota Vikings, 29-26, by scoring three touchdowns in the final 2:05, including the winning 9-yard touchdown pass to Marlon Brown with 4 seconds left.

OK, you probably didn’t need all of those gridiron details, but I thought they were relevant.

Here in Charm City, the newspaper that lands in my front yard eventually printed that quotation, like this:

“We’re playing our best football right now and we’re going to have to continue to improve with what we have in front of us down the stretch,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “You look at our football team and the thing I love about our football team is that we are a team of faith. We believe. We trust. Because of that, we’ll fight. We will run the race right down to the end, that’s something that our football team does. I’m very proud of them for that.”

Now, that faith language is rather generic sports talk, methinks. What struck me was a football coach using that interesting language connecting this faith factor to finishing a “race,” as opposed to a football game.

That sounded rather familiar, coming from the organizer (or endorser) of the weekly Ravens Bible studies.

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The ghost of abortion in adoption stories

Like many Americans, I’ve been developing an interest in Colin Kaepernick, quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers. I came across a blog post that asserted something provocative:

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick should not be playing in the National Football Conference title game on Sunday.  In fact, if anyone were taking book on these sorts of things back in 1987, they would have bet that a “Colin Kaepernick” would never have existed at all.

In the early part of that year, Kaepernick’s birth mother made a culture-defying decision.  She chose not to have an abortion.  Instead, she hung in there through the pregnancy and birth and gave up her baby for adoption.

Now that my husband and I are trying to adopt, we spend a lot of time thinking about the birth mother of a prospective child and what she must be going through. One of the things you learn when you are aiming to adopt an infant from this country is, to put it bluntly, there aren’t that many infants available for adoption. The process to adopt one is unbelievably cumbersome and expensive. Much more than it should be, in my opinion.

In any case, now read this story about adoptions plummeting as Russia closes its doors, printed in USA Today. It begins:

Russia’s decision to close its doors to U.S. adoptions is making a critical shortage of children Americans can adopt even worse.

Later we’re told:

Yet even domestic adoptions are a growing challenge, said Jenny Pope of Buckner International, an adoption agency, because as single parenthood becomes more acceptable, “there are just not as many women placing their children for adoption.”

As a result, the number of U.S. infant adoptions (about 90,000 in 1971) has fallen from 22,291 in 2002 to 18,078 in 2007, according to the most recent five-year tally from the private National Council for Adoption. The group’s president, Chuck Johnson, expects the number has remained fairly stable since 2007, citing efforts to promote adoption.

We frequently look at how bias affects the words and themes that are mentioned in a news story. But it has more deleterious effects with what is left out. Forty years and 55 million pregnancies “terminated” after Roe v. Wade, we don’t even mention the effect of abortion in a story on infant adoption in the United States. Just fascinating.

Baby picture via Shutterstock.

Manti Te’o, fake girlfriends and confirmation bias

Way back in my guilt file is a story I wanted to highlight from CNN about Manti Te’o, Notre Dame’s star linebacker. The story is a detailed account of the role religion plays in his life and I found it fascinating. Te’o is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and is from Hawaii. My husband was raised Mormon and is from Hawaii, so I’d been following Te’o’s story. He’d been a leader in the top-ranked Notre Dame team that went on to the National Championship game. A sample from that story:

Graduating from Punahou High School in Hawaii, Te’o had his choice of the best football programs in the country. His Mormon faith was a serious factor in the decision-making process, said his former high school coach, Kale Ane.

“A lot of that weighed on him,” Ane, who coached Te’o for three years, told CNN.  “The final weight was getting his message out on a broader scale.  A Mormon at a Catholic school was a good way to say, ‘You can keep your faith no matter where you go.’ “

Team chaplain Father Paul Doyle is interviewed:

“Manti is a very religious guy. He seeks out his Mormon congregation and attends off-campus faithfully,” Doyle said.

Te’o has been a member of the local Notre Dame Ward the Mormons’ rough equivalent of a Catholic parish in Mishawaka, Indiana, for four years, according to ward Bishop Jim Carrier.  The five counties in and around South Bend, Indiana, are home to about 2,000 Latter-day Saints, Carrier said.

A common practice in the LDS Church, which has no professional clergy, is having members give testimonies during Sunday worship services.

“I asked (Te’o) to talk about what influenced him to come to Notre Dame and how he used prayer in prompting him to make that decision,” Carrier said.

Carrier said Te’o spoke about leaning toward attending the University of Southern California. But as he prayed about his decision, coaches from Notre Dame called to check in. “He said he just felt an overwhelming feeling it was where he needed to go,” Carrier said. “He said, ‘It was an answer to prayer for me.’”

The story discusses whether Te’o plans to serve on a two-year mission and how other football players handled that.

What turned out to be the most interesting part of the story, as you may have heard today, was inserted pretty late in the report:

Te’o has been vocal about the role his faith plays in his life and how he leaned on it earlier this year after both his grandmother and girlfriend died in the span of less than two days during football season.  His girlfriend died after battling leukemia.  Te’o stayed with the team throughout the ordeal, playing one of the best games of his career the following Saturday.

Turns out that there may not have been a girlfriend, that she didn’t have leukemia, and didn’t die.

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