Thursday, November 4, 2010

Are you ready for some football?

Rick Reilly ESPN Sports The Oddest Game

This American Life Show #378 from April 17, 2009 This I Used to Believe

Two of my area High School Football teams are in the playoffs, so it’s a good time for a football story. This one came to me via “This American Life”, or you may have heard about it via Rick Reilly on ESPN.

It is the story of a High School football coach at a Christian school who didn’t just teach football, he tried to instill some sense of values in his kids. They put their faith into action, such as the time they helped raise money for an opposing team affected by a hurricane. You might want to read the ESPN story first, that is where the story really starts. The executive summary goes like this; a Baptist High School team plays a team from the Gainesville State Boys School, criminals in other words. The Boys School team rarely wins a game and has almost no fans, no family support, so this coach gets half of his fans to learn about and root for them, even providing them with cheer leaders for the game. It is a great experience for the kids on both sides of the ball.

When Rick Reilly of ESPN picked up the story, it went viral on the Internet, follow up stories are still being written, two years after this happened. One of the people who heard about it was a woman, Tricia, who recently had a friend who died of cancer. While her friend was dying, she prayed. When her friend died anyway, she no longer believed in God. On Christmas morning, she finds herself alone in her apartment and decides to email the coach and acknowledge him for doing this great thing and for setting a good example for Christianity. She also tells him a little about herself.

Coach Kris Hogan has received a lot of email about his game against Gainesville State. Six hours after sending her email, on Christmas morning, the coach sent a reply. Her story touched his heart, and he wants to “witness” for her. At first she declines but he is insistent. This is when Ira Glass from “This American Life” gets involved. If you want to listen to that story, click on the link above, it is “Act 2”, about 19 minutes in.

For all his interesting approaches to Christianity, it is surprising how poorly the coach does in his discussions with this woman. She is experiencing a pretty standard lapse in faith. Survivor’s guilt is a common reason for questioning God, it is exactly when any good Christian would look to the sky and ask, “WHY?” Baptists frequently use funerals as an opportunity to preach to that very question. That always seemed in poor taste to me. In this conversation, he does very little listening to what she is feeling and focuses on technical discussions about what God is and the truth of his existence.

For Tricia, some time has passed since her friend died and she is still feeling that she should have been the one who was taken. She feels her friend was a better person. This is definitely someone in need of a good listener, or at least the shoulder of a good friend. Coach Hogan should be looking for the comforting passages in the Bible, maybe something from Psalms, instead he gives her Christian apologetics.

It seems coach has not thought this one through too well. When she brings up questions of subjective judgments of good and evil, he brings up Hitler. In the language of Internet discussion forums, this has been labeled Argumentum ad Hitlerium. If someone mentions Hitler, it is an indicator that the discussion has gone as far as it can go with those currently participating and no new insights are on the horizon.

I’ll give him a little credit that he leaves decisions of life and death to God, and does not claim that God answers all prayers. His worldview is that we live in a broken world, one where everybody sins, and we can’t know the plan and we can take comfort knowing everything is in His hands. This works for him, but not for Tricia.

Instead, it is Ira, the atheist, who senses what Tricia needs to hear and helps her to accept that things just are the way they are. To Ira, she is comfortable saying that she wants to believe, something she never said to Hogan. I wish this story had an ending that wrapped everything up nicely, like a half-hour television sitcom, queue the voice over with some words of wisdom. But all we get, and maybe we all we have for now, is a definition of the gap between believers and non-believers.

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