Good sportsmanship

A basketball referee is alleged to be on the take. A star quarterback is alleged to be mixed up in dog fighting. The Tour de France is awash in performance enhancing drugs. And baseball most hallowed record will soon be held by a cheater. But, there's good news from the world of sports, courtesy of Olympic speed skating medalist Joey Cheek, who challanged the Chinese government over its support to the genocidal regime in Sudan.

The Voice of America reports:

With dozens of onlookers gathered around, Olympic speed skater Joey Cheek rang the buzzer at the main door to China's embassy in Washington, D.C.

"My name is Joey Cheek. I am on the U.S. Olympic team. And I am here to deliver petitions that we have collected over the last week imploring China to continue to act strongly to protect the civilians in Darfur," said Cheek.

Cheek, a gold and silver medalist who last year donated his Olympic bonus money to aid refugees in Darfur, clutched two thick binders containing petitions urging China to pressure Sudan to honor commitments to allow a hybrid United Nations-African Union peacekeeping force into Darfur.

Only Cheek was allowed inside the embassy, after a half-hour wait at the door. He reemerged moments later, saying embassy officials received the petitions and reacted positively to his idea of organizing a joint visit by U.S. and Chinese athletes to Darfur.

Speaking with reporters, Cheek said China, which has invested heavily in Sudan, has great leverage over Khartoum and should be urged to use that leverage to maximum effect when it comes to Darfur.

"We acknowledge the role that China has played up to this point in diplomacy and behind the scenes in trying to move forward on the hybrid peacekeeping force [for Darfur]," he said. "However, now, seven months later, people are still dying. The aid groups have decreased their presence on the ground from last year. And it appears that, financially, the connection [between Bejing and Khartoum] is only stronger."

There's more here.And here. And if you get the NewYork Times, there is an excellent column about Cheek's visit to the Chinese embassy by Harvey Araton, but we can't link to it.

Cheek also supports the excellent organization Right to Play (Hat tip: Ben Naughton), as do a host of other internationally recognized athletes. You can learn more about Right to Play here.

Bonds, Barry Bonds

Beliefnet is exploring Barry Bonds' assault on Hank Aaron's home run record from a theological point of view. Today, Michael Kress, who says he finds himself "overcome by a deep sense of sadness and more than a little outrage when contemplating Bonds's achievement," weighs the issue of justice v. forgiveness and comes down on the side of justice.

Starting to inject oneself with performance-enhancing steroids so late in an already-amazing career strikes me as just craven, a self-loathing act of desperation, a statement that being great isn't good enough, that nothing less than the history books--nothing less than god-like perfection--will suffice. Bonds wasn't--isn't--some striving rookie, he was already an established star, a role model, a leader. He could have become one of baseball's elder statesman, retiring gracefully with one of the best careers ever. Instead he chose to artificially prolong it, making a mockery of the natural aging process and his God-given body, as well as his opponents and teammates, and the game itself.

David Kuo and Patton Dodd offer differing points of view.

The church of football, Buckeye edition

A news brief in Episcopal Life's Diocesan Digest points to the next chapter in Episcopal Cafe's sports coverage:

This fall, hundreds of thousands of Ohio State University (OSU) football fans will receive a little something extra in their game programs -- an invitation to any of the more than 80 congregations in the Episcopal Diocese of Southern Ohio.

Some diehard fans are nearly religious in their dedication to the Buckeyes, as the OSU sports teams and their friends are called; others consider football their fall religion. The diocese thought it would take advantage of that commitment and invite people to follow game day with worship on Sunday.

The diocese will have a quarter-page, full-color ad in each of the home-game programs at Ohio State. About 150,000 programs are printed for the sold-out crowds at each of the seven games.

To see the ad, read the brief here.

Baseball, as it was, is now and ever shall be

If you love baseball—the church of baseball—then don't miss the Rev. Anne Gardner's piece in today's Boston Globe. In addition to being a correspondent for the paper and chaplain/director of community service at Endicott College, she's a loyal Red Sox fan—and a staff member at Fenway Park.

For the past year, I have been part of the game-day operations staff at Fenway Park. I have loved baseball for as long as I can remember, introduced to the game in 1967 by my favorite aunt, a mercurial Red Sox fan who taught me to love my team even when it made my heart hurt.

Now, 40 years later, I am an ordained Episcopal minister, a vocation that shares some similarities with baseball. Both are journeys of faith, full of inexplicable false steps and glorious moments of transformation. How my aunt would have beamed if she knew I would return four decades later to the sanctuary of my youth, but this time, with those emblematic red socks stitched on my own jersey.

Her essay explores what it's like being behind the scenes at Fenway—colleagues who have served the team since before she was born, the respectful boundary between the staff and athletes that allows her to see the team members authentically, a haunting insight into what happens when you become a "famous pariah" like Barry Bonds. But most compelling is her final insight into the truth of baseball:

At the end of each home game, most game-day workers take home $50 of after-tax earnings. We have often been on our feet for more than six hours, buffeted by the cold winds of April and the merciless heat of August. While most fans are clogging the Kenmore subway stop after the last out, we tend to stay a bit longer, shepherding the last few fans to the exits and closing up shop. Soon the lights dim to a faint glow as a hush falls over the park. This manufactured "dusk" feels almost as magical as the game itself.

As in most corporations, working for the Red Sox reveals plenty of politics, turf wars, and egos straining at the bit. But Red Sox baseball remains as pure and as compelling as in the days of Fisk, Conigliaro, Pesky, and Ruth. It is the game that brings us back over and over again. It is the game that has mysteriously become our elixir, a fountain of youth that reminds us of how it used to be, how we used to be, and how we hope to feel again.

October is coming. My heart can hardly stand it.


The whole thing is here.

Meanwhile, in the rest of the world...

While we were focused on the House of Bishops meeting in New Orleans and its aftermath, sane people everywhere were spending their time in other pursuits, such as listening to Magic, the new Bruce Springsteen album, watching last night's season premier episode of Friday Night Lights, and finding other soul nourishing fare in the sometimes toxic stew of our popular culture.

Here is EW on the album, and the The New Yorker on FNL. Please leave a comment if you believe that God is a Red Sox fan. Those who hold a differing view are invited to contemplate it in the silence of thier prayer closets.

And for an old column of mine on the theological implications of the Subway Series of 2000, pay a visit here.

Barry Bonds, Bill Belichick and the average fan

David Kuo of Beliefnet suggests that the sporting public's response to cheating is becoming increasingly ambiguous. And that's bad.

We can't do anything about Barry Bonds anymore. His career is already almost over. His legal punishment awaits. But we can do something about the New England Patriots. We can say that yes, they are having an amazing season, but they cheated and that means that their attainments are marred. There needs to be a certain mark of shame that comes with cheating. Our children need to know that. Other teams and athletes need to know that. And most importantly we need to know that.

Meanwhile, Lee Jenkins of Sports Illustrated suggests that the guy who gave up Bonds' record-breaking home run is more worthy of our respect than Bonds himself.

The lost art of cooperation

In a delightfully incisive essay in The Wilson Quarterly, Benjamin R. Barber writes:

Whatever we make of it, today competition dominates our ideology, shapes our cultural attitudes, and sanctifies our market economy as never before. We are living in an age that prizes competition and demeans cooperation, an era more narcissistic than the Gilded Age, more hubristic than the age of Jackson. Competition ­rules.

We need only look at America’s favorite ­activities—­sports, entertainment, and ­politics—­to notice the distorting effect of the obsession with competition. Sports would seem to define competition, as competition defines sports. But beginning with the ancient Olympics, sports have also been about performance, about excelling (hence, excellence), and about the cultivation of athletic virtue. It is not victory but a “personal best” that counts. In the United States, however, athletics is about beating others. About how one performs in comparison with others. Ancient and modern philosophers alike associate comparison with pride and vanity (amour-propre), and have shown how vanity corrupts virtue and excellence. When Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar protests, “Such men as he be never at heart’s ease/While they behold a greater than themselves,” he captures what has become the chief hazard of a ­hyper-­competitive culture. No wonder ours is often an ­outer-­directed culture, unreflective, grasping, aggressive, and ­cutthroat.

It is, ironically, a culture that tries to pin on the animal world responsibility for human viciousness. Michael Vick, one of our great gladiatorial football competitors, recently admitted to sponsoring brutal dogfights. The real dogfights, of course, are the football games he played in, where injury and even death are not unavoidable costs but covertly attractive features of the sport. Where steroid use is forgivable, or at least understandable, on the way to a winning record. And where dogfighting itself (like bullfighting and cockfighting) is justified by an appeal to the “laws of nature,” though it is men who articulate those laws to rationalize their own warlike ­disposition.

It is much the same with entertainment. Our most successful shows, themselves in a competition for survival with one another (sweeps week!), pit ­on-­camera competitors against one another in contests only one can win. The eponymous show Survivor is the Darwinian prototype, but the principle rules on all the “reality” shows. On American Idol, singing is the excuse but winning the real aim. In the winners’ world of television, nothing is what it seems. Top Chef is not about excellence or variety in cooking, but about winning and losing. Project Runway turns a pluralistic fashion industry that caters to many tastes into a race (with clocks and time limits) in which there is but one winner. The competitive culture hypes winners but is equally (more?) fascinated with losers. “It is not enough that I win,” proclaims the ­hubris-­driven American competitor, “others must lose.” And Americans have shown themselves ready to become big losers in order to be eligible to become big ­winners—­however remote the odds. We are a nation of gamblers willing to tolerate radical income inequality and a large class of losers (into which we willingly risk being shunted) for the chance to ­win.

American politics too is founded on competition. Contrast electoral politics in our representative democracy with citizen politics in a participatory democracy, where the aim is not to win but to achieve common ground and secure public goods—a model of politics in which no one wins unless everyone wins, and a loss for some is seen as a loss for all. The very meanings of the terms “commonweal” and “the public interest” (the “res publica” from which our term “republic” is derived) suggest a system without losers. How different from this the American system has become. As each election rolls around, we complain that ideas and policy are shoved to the background and personality and the horse race it engenders are placed front and center.

What’s gone wrong here? Why, as a nation, are we so obsessed with competition, so indifferent to cooperation?

Read it all.

Hat tip: Arts & Letters Daily.

Religious freedom runs off track

Juashaunna Kelly, a Muslim girl from a Washington, D. C. high school, was disqualified during an invitiational meet in neighboring Montgomery County, Maryland, after meet officials ruled the unitard she wears for religious reasons violated National Federation of State High School Associations' standards. The girl's coach pointed out that she has competed in that uniform for two years without incident.

Follow the Washington Post's coverage of this story here and here. And don't miss this slide show. Update: this morning's editorial.

The most troubling quote in either story is this one:

"What she needs to do is get some religious documentation saying it's part of her heritage and bring it with her to every meet," said Jim Vollmer, the commissioner of track for Montgomery County public schools.

An added twist: Kelly is running winter track right now, but she also excels at cross country. Much of the high school cross-country season takes place during Ramadan, so Kelly runs 30 miles per week or so while fasting.

Slate appreciates the classics

Slate is carrying hymns of praise to Café favorites Bull Durham, and Friday Night Lights. Perhaps it is only coincidence, but we prefer to think it is a manifestation of our vast influence over public discourse.

Sara Mosle's piece is the best yet written on FNL, and includes this perceptive paragraph:

Friday Night Lights is also America as it's seldom been seen. It's astounding how few dramas depict ordinary, working-class life in the so-called red states—without, say, first giving several of the inhabitants supernatural powers. Also, on television, the country's lower classes seem to consist entirely of prison inmates, gang members, drug dealers, and the cops who arrest them, and they all live exclusively on the coasts. Dillon, by contrast, is Thomas Frank country. No one here is enjoying the Bush-Cheney tax cuts. People live in modest homes or, if they're particularly poor, in shotgun shacks. Most of the teenagers don't have cars—quite a statement in rural Texas—and must work after-school jobs. They don't have iPods or sport the latest fashions; they shop at the Salvation Army family store. When one football player lands a date with the coach's daughter and springs for a used Members Only jacket, it quickly gets ridiculed as pretentious. Once you start noticing the absence of consumer goods, it's a shock. Friday Night Lights may be the most radical show ever marketed to teenagers.

A story of reconciliation and sports

Today's New York Times Book Review includes a review of John Carlin's Playing The Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game that Made a Nation, which describes how Nelson Mandela used sport to help reconcile South Africa:

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If it worked for the Boston Celtics... can work for the Episcopal Church. The theme of the 2009 General Convention is ubuntu, a Swahili word meaning (roughly) "I am because we are."

Turns out, as these videos attest, it was also the concept the Celtics coach Doc Rivers instilled in his team during its NBA championship-winning season.

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March Gladness

Sports-crazed Americans may not have been looking for a way to follow the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament while supporting the Millennium Development Goals, but that didn't stop the Rev. Mike Kinman of Episcopalians for Global Reconciliation from developing one.

As Mike explained in a recent email:

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Episcopal Cafe catches March Gladness

The NCAA's Selection Show airs this evening and Episcopal Cafe has caught a case of March Gladness. We are offering a $100 bonus to the MDG-related charity designated by the winner of March Gladness, an ingenious bracket-related competition devised by the Rev Mike Kinman of Episcopalians for Global Reconciliation (e4gr). The only catch is that you have to leave us a comment on this or some subsequent posting, telling us what organization you are playing for. And that info has to be in before the tournament tips off on Thursday.

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March Gladness reminder

Just a reminder that the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament is about to begin, and Episcopal Cafe is helping to support the March Gladness competition sponsored by Episcopalians for Global Reconciliation. To participate, all you do is:

1) visit their March Gladness page, contribute $10 bucks and fill out a tournament bracket (maximum 5) BEFORE the first round games on Thursday.

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Take that, Karl Marx

In The Chronicle of Higher Education, David Barash writes:

Marx was wrong: The opiate of the masses isn't religion, but spectator sports. What else explains the astounding fact that millions of seemingly intelligent human beings feel that the athletic exertions of total strangers are somehow consequential for themselves? The real question we should be asking during the madness surrounding this month's collegiate basketball championship season is not who will win, but why anyone cares.

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Should Michael Vick have a second chance?

Maureen O'Connell, assistant professor of theology at Fordham University, asks about second chances for criminal offenders focusing on NFL player Michael Vick who was sent to prison for participating in illegal dog fighting.

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Hope and joy through baseball socks

From the church of baseball

Iraqi baseball team finally in uniform, thanks to U.S. donors

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Separation of church and sports?

Sam Cook: Florida Gators' Tim Tebow's mission should be to win games, not souls
From the Fort Myers News-Press

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Onward Christian athletes

Religion Dispatches posed 10 questions to Tom Krattenmaker, author of Onward Christian Athletes: Turning Ballparks into Pulpits and Players into Preachers:

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Drew Brees is an Episcopalian!

And we're glad he is.

Looking for Episcopal mushers...

The Alaskan Fur Rendezvous World Championship Sled Dog Race is looking for its next home-state champion. The powers that be might want to look to Episcopal sled dog mushers, as the last home-state champion, the great Roxy Wright, is a faithful Episcopalian and is Senior Warden at St. Matthews Episcopal Church in Fairbanks.

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March Gladness is back

UPDATED: Bracket released.
Episcopalians for Global Reconciliation's 2010 installment of March Gladness is ready to roll out.

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Keeping the Sabbath aerobic

How to balance cultivation of one's faith with athletic pursuits? An article in Runner's World reflects on this question:

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Final Four challenge

As anyone who has ever watched a post-game interview knows, God takes a rooting interest in the outcome of American sporting events. So here are the questions: Who does God want to win the NCAA Men's Basketball Championship--Butler, Duke, Michigan State or West Virginia? Why?

Answer in the comments. The best answers will be published. Actually, all answers will be published.

Nike, Ben Rothlisberger and corporate responsibility

Timothy Egan of The New York Times wonders what celebrity athletes have to do to offend the marketing executives at Nike:

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Phoenix to wear 'Los Suns' jerseys

The owner of the Phoenix Suns condemns Arizona's immigration law, and expresses solidarity with the Hispanic community.

The team will wear 'Los Suns' jersey in today's game 2 playoff with the Spurs. Robert Sarver decided - with unanimous support from his players - that the Suns would wear their "Los Suns" jerseys for Game 2 tonight on Cinco de Mayo, a Mexican holiday.

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He's good at sports, and also a good sport

"Sportsmanship." What does the term bring to mind for you? Little-league lessons about shaking the other guy's hand, of being gracious both in defeat and in victory? Or maybe a coach's lecture about how to comport yourself off the field in accordance with the image you project on the field?

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Host archbishop offers prayers for the FIFA World Cup

From the Church of Southern Africa:

‘Let us all pray that God will bless the World Cup!’ said Archbishop Thabo Makgoba on Monday as he launched a special prayer for the tournament.

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Practicing football in Ramadan

ESPN reports:

DEARBORN, Mich. -- A Michigan high school football team is holding preseason practices in the middle of the night to help its Muslim players practice both faith and football.

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Score! Houston church gets assist!

Trinity Episcopal Church in Houston got the "assist" for this incredible hoops shot by Will Duson, who took the shot from the belltower and scored it through the hoop in the parking lot below.

You've got to check out the video!

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Tailgate Eucharist

Our friend the Rev. Dan Webster of the Diocese of Maryland recounts his adventures in bringing the Eucharist to Baltimore Ravens' fans in a stadium parking lot:

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Jesus was a shutdown corner

The Atlanta Journal Constitution
brings us our latest installment in Adventures in Bad Theology. Wide receiver Steve Johnson of the Buffalo Bills dropped what would have been the winning touchdown pass in his team's overtime loss on Sunday to the Pittsburgh Steelers. He blamed God.

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Sacrilegious? Or just nacho cheesy?

This advertisement, in which a church reverses its declining membership and solves its budget problems by offering communion-goers Doritos and Pepsi Max, was yanked from the Doritos Crash the Super Bowl ad contest.

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The dean will have the large, please

Ah yes, ye olde friendly wager. The Diocese of New Westminster reports:

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Tim Tebow: protestant saint?

Sean O'Neil reflects on the rising of a Protestant saint Religion Dispatches:

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Tebow unifying religions of Christianity and Football?

Is Tim Tebow unifying the "religions" of Christianity and Football?

My Take: Is Tim Tebow performing miracles?

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The Denver Broncos are 7-5-0, having consecutively swept their last five opponents. Commensurate with this attention over the past several weeks, Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow has come to the fore of the conversation, and, of course, has famously brought his unshakable faith in Christ along with him - for example, having long noted Ephesians 2:8-10 in his eye black.

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Drew Brees breaks passing record

The Lead's bloggers are excited to add to Episco-trivia. Episcopalian Drew Brees, quarterback of the New Orleans' Saints, broke Dan Marino's passing record on December 26.

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Football season to end this evening, sources say

The Café has confirmed that the National Football League season will end tonight, following a conclusive competition.

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Super Bowl distractions

I was one of "those preachers" who mentioned the Super Bowl during church today.

(My blog is called One Step Closer: Religion and Popular Culture. Feel free to visit sometime, but the whole sermon's here for your convenience. Hope the sermon speaks to you, and enjoy the game!)

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In Indianapolis, standing up to human trafficking

From the sexual-slavery eradication project Shared Hope International, a grim reminder about what also happens other than the Big Game when folks gather to celebrate their teams.

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Linsanity vs. Tebowmania

Stephen Prothero of Boston University compares and contrasts the way Jeremy Lin communicates his faith on and off the basketball court with the apporach of another evangelical sports celebrity Tim Tebow.

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Jeremy Lin goes to lunch with ESPN editor who was fired over headline

An interesting continuation of a past story: Cindy Boren of The Washington Post reports that New York Knicks point guard Jeremy Lin asked Anthony Federico to lunch. Federico was fired for a story on Lin that used an ethnic slur for its headline:

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Pacifism has a mean left hook

Reuters reports professional boxer and current WBO welterweight champ Manny Pacquiao has cleaned up his partying ways and gone biblical - or at least, started reading the Bible with regularity - with the result that he's a better, more focused fighter.

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"I have my family, and I have you as my family"

Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith lost his 19-year-old brother to a motorcycle accident Saturday night.

Smith, the oldest of seven siblings, was a primary caregiver as their mother worked to support the family.

He shared a sad but powerful post on Twitter the next morning:

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Should Catholics root for Notre Dame's football team

Michael Leahy takes a long hard look at Notre Dame's football program and its iconic status among some American Catholics in a piece for the On Faith section of The Washington Post. He writes:

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God's pick for the Super Bowl

Public Religion Research Institute has issued a poll just in time for the big game: nearly 3-in-10 Americans say God plays a role in outcomes of sports events.

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Bishops of California, Maryland make Super Bowl bet

From the Dioceses of Maryland:

The Rt. Revs. Marc Andrus and Eugene Taylor Sutton have each placed bets on their local National Football League team competing in the Super Bowl on February 3.

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Super Bowl Sunday is also Sex Trafficking Sunday

Sarah Dreier, legislative representative for international policy for the Episcopal Church's Office of Government Relations and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America's Washington Office, writes:

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Who is God rooting for tonight? Besides Beyonce

In which we invite you to make a theological case explaining why God is rooting for your team in the Super Bowl. Have at it.

Keeping in mind the following prayer offered this morning at the Unvirtuous Abbey (@UnvirtuousAbbey): "For those who think God alters the outcome of a football game while today 30,000 children die from preventable disease, we pray."

Ray Lewis, good linebacker, bad theologian

Updated: Tim Schenck's column has been picked up by the Huffington Post.

In the wake of the Baltimore Ravens' Super Bowl victory, Ray Lewis the great Ravens' linebacker who had just played his last game invoked the Letter to the Romans to explain why his team had won. "If God is for us, who can be against us," Lewis said in response to a question from Jim Nantz of CBS Sports.

Leaving aside the question of whether God cares who wins the Super Bowl, the notion that winners win because it is God's will that they win is dangerous in all kinds of ways, not least that it excuses all manner of structural injustice. Lewis' remarks created an opening for Christians who believe he is mistaken about the nature of God's favor to tell a different kind of story, and the Rev. Tim Schenck stepped up to it quickly, writing this column this morning:

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Ethics on the basketball court

When Faith Baptist played Grinnel on the basketball court last November, Grinnel's Jack Taylor shot an NCAA-record 138 points as his team went on to win 179-104. Was their star a hero blessed by God or did the winning team--representing an evangelical Christian school--simply humiliate their opponents?

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"Winning takes care of everything" Really?

We're a little late to this party, but Joshua Case has a column on Tiger Woods, Nike advertising and Holy Week at Homebrewed Christianity that is well worth reading. It includes this passage:

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A sermon to dedicate a marathon

The Rev. Jackie Cameron, a priest of the Diocese of Chicago, preached this sermon at the dedication service of the London Marathon on Saturday night at All Hallows by the Tower. The next morning, she ran the marathon, her fourteenth.

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NBA center comes out

UPDATE: statement from Wizards

“We are extremely proud of Jason and support his decision to live his life proudly and openly. He has been a leader on and off the court and an outstanding teammate throughout his NBA career. Those qualities will continue to serve him both as a player and as a positive role model for others of all sexual orientation."

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US Open and Church Bells

Professional golf tournaments are known for the hushed tones and silence while the players are making their shots but this year's US Open will compete, at least on the sixth green, with the bells of St. George's Episcopal Church, Ardmore, PA, ringing the hours and half hours according to the New York Times:

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"Man-up" culture: the Miami Dolphins bullying case

The Miami Dolphins scandal concerning the treatment of Jonathan Martin by veteran player Richie Incognito is the major story currently in the sports world.

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A religious case against offensive sports nicknames

Marking perhaps the first consecutive sports story on The Episcopal Cafe...

Rabbi Aaron Frank and Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld have written an op-ed on CNN:

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Brandon Marshall and the culture of the NFL

The last week has seen a lot of discussion of bullying in NFL locker rooms and the effects on players as highlighted in the incident featuring Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin. Brandon Marshall, receiver for the Chicago Bears and mental health advocate, has made a strong statement about the need for the culture of the NFL needs to change. He says for that to happen there needs to be a cultural shift for men and boys.

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Fighting human trafficking at the Super Bowl and beyond

The NFL playoffs, particularly the two weeks leading up to the Super Bowl, are high season for human trafficking. But trafficking is a year round problem, one the Rev. Brian McVey of Davenport, Iowa has devoted himself to fighting. Rekha Basu of the DesMoines Register writes:

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What can we learn from the life and death of Dr. V?

Has anyone been following the saga of the story involving Grantland, a home for long form sportswriting that is part of the ESPN empire and edited by Bill Simmons, and its story on Dr. V's Magical Putter. In the process of writing about a golf club whose backers made far too enthusiastic claims for it, the author of the story discovered that not only was its inventor's resumé heavily fictionalized, but that she was a transgender woman.

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A Super Bowl challenge to do good in the world

Here's a Super Bowl challenge that allows you to do some good in the world while showing your team spirit. Bishop Greg Rickel of the Diocese of Olympia in Western Washington and Bishop Robert O'Neill of the Diocese of Colorado have issued a Super Bowl challenge to football fans.

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Is religion losing ground to sports?

With Super Bowl XLVIII upon us, Chris Beneke, associate professor of history at Bentley University, teams up with Arthur Remillard, associate professor of religious studies at Saint Francis University, to ponder what's more important in modern society, religion or sports. They write at the Washington Post:

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Football and a Father's Dilemma on Superbowl Sunday

Before the Seattle Seahawks and the Denver Broncos take the field in the Super Bowl, Patton Dodd, editor-in-chief of CNN's OnFaith, reflects on his role as father and as a Christian who struggles with the morality of American football because of the Incarnation. CNN's Belief Blog has more:

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Offering spiritual support at the Winter Olympics

Teams of chaplains have traveled to Sochi to offer spiritual support to athletes competing in the Winter Olympics. They include Christians, Muslims, Jews and Orthodox priests. From the Huffington Post:

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Feast day of Olympian Eric Liddell, missionary to China

Today is the feast day of Scotsman Eric Liddell, Olympic athlete and missionary to China. In this clip from "Chariots of Fire," Liddell, portrayed by Ian Charleson, explains what it takes to run a great race.

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Sports stories intersect with Church and ethics

Three stories in the sports world have caught my attention:

The San Francisco 49ers (NFL) have traded for Jonathan Martin, who was the central figure of the bullying saga in Miami. Martin will be reunited with his coach from college, Jim Harbaugh. Bill Williamson of ESPN writes:

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NFL star gives anti-bullying talk at Episcopal school

DeSean Jackson, a new member of the NFL franchise based in Washington visited St. Andrew's Episcopal School in Potomac, Maryland, earlier this week to talk about the need to put an end to bullying.

The Washington Post covered the visit, and there is more information on the school's website, including this:

Jackson was inspired to take up his anti-bullying campaign a few years ago when he heard the story of Nadin Khoury, a 13-year-old boy from Philadelphia, who had been tormented by kids in his neighborhood. Since then, Jackson, through his DeSean Jackson Foundation as well as public speaking engagements, has let young people know that “Bullying doesn’t lead to anything good. Be positive in your interactions with others. And don’t be afraid to seek out help if someone is bullying you.”

If you follow sports closely, you may tend to regard events like this one with some skepticism. Jackson's reputation has taken a bit of a hit--perhaps unfairly--recently due to his association with childhood friends who are now alleged to be gang members. And Dan Snyder, the owner of the Washington football team (whose daughter attends St. Andrew's) is under pressure to change its racist name.

Yet anyone who works with children knows the power of celebrity and the importance of Jackson's message. As the former Bishop's Representative to St. Andrew's board and the father of two alums, I am glad Jackson made his visit, and I hope it is the first of many in the Washington area.

Notre Dame launches campaign to welcome gay athletes

From the Huffington Post:

The Catholic Church in the U.S. has taken a lot of heat over its stance against gay rights and for policies that often bar openly gay people from participating in church life.

But the University of Notre Dame, an icon of American Catholicism, increasingly has been going against that current when it comes to gay athletes. On Thursday (May 8), the school launched a new campaign to reinforce a message of inclusion wrapped in the wider message of the Catholic faith.

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As World Cup approaches, churches launch campaign to protect children

Churches in Brazil are working together to battle child sex abuse during the World Cup games, which begin June 12. From Religion News Service:

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Native Americans and the NFL's Washington franchise

The Executive Council of the Episcopal Church is in session in Phoenix. At its February meeting, at the behest of the late Terry Star, a member of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, the Council urged the Washington Redskins football team to change its disparaging name.

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Church of England World Cup Prayers

The Church of England has published prayers for the World Cup and for the England team.

The Church of England has released Prayers for the World Cup, including prayers for the England Team ahead of England's first match against Italy.

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Ramadan poses a challenge for World Cup athletes

Ramadan begins today, posing a challenge for World Cup competitors who are Muslim. From Religion News Service:

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Church prays for LeBron to stay with the Heat

bruikylcaaakayz.jpg.CROP.rtstoryvar-large.jpgThe Root notes Episcopal Church that is praying for LeBron James to stay with the Miami Heat:

A group of fans desperate for James to continue his career with the Miami Heat has created a Twitter account (@BandForBron) to get the four-time NBA Most Valuable Player to keep his talents in South Beach, according to the Bleacher Report. The account is asking fans to tweet a photo of themselves wearing a headband—LeBron is notorious for playing while wearing a headband—and using the hashtag #BandsForBron.

ESPN West Palm, the creator of this movement, is encouraging fans to tweet photos of themselves, their children and even their pets wearing sweatbands in signature LeBron fashion.

Participants took the campaign to another level Sunday when congregants and clergy of Holy Spirit Episcopalian (sic) Church in West Palm Beach, Fla., wore headbands and dedicated part of their service to “King James.”

Baseball and Little League

The Little League World Series showcased all that is good about baseball, while highlighting things that might need to change in the professional game. The kids clearly had loads of fun, worked hard, were good sports, passionate, supportive of one another, and clearly loved by fans (and even many professional players, who not only watched games, but some were involved in getting parents to the game) from around the world.

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Turning off football

While we are on the subject of morality and personal choices to participate or not in cultural practices:

Patton Dodd discusses Steve Almond's book on choosing to stop watching football and asks if we can have a conversation about football and the morality of supporting a sport that does so much damage to its players. Can football be saved from itself?

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Anglicans beat Vatican

The Church of England has beaten the representatives from the Vatican in the first cricket match between the two Christian denominations.

Canterbury Times:

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We need to talk about football

The approach of autumn in the United States is usually marked by the joyous frenzy of football's onset once again.

But this year, football's beginning was overshadowed by a horrific videotape of Ray Rice attacking his then-fiancée, followed by the arrest of Adrian Peterson for alleged child abuse, then the arrest of Jonathan Dwyer of the Cardinals for domestic violence as well.

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NFL flags self for penalty on Muslim prayer

ESPN's reports:

Husain Abdullah should not have received a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty after dropping to his knees and bowing in prayer following a 39-yard interception return for a touchdown during the Kansas City Chiefs' 41-14 victory over the New England Patriots on Monday night, the NFL said Tuesday.

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Sports, and the separation of church and fate

Phil Mushnick writes in his New York Post article that he wants football coaches, and other sporting types, to stop trivializing religion:

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