The NHL playoffs are upon us! This year, with four of the five Canadian teams not really expected to be in the playoffs and making an exciting run to beat out recent defending champions [LA Kings and Boston Bruins], it has been particularly engaging for many of us. Unfortunately four are playing each other but we know that at least two of the five will make it to the second round! Some people have said that hockey is Canada’s national religion and there is evidence for this: a television altar around which the faithful are gathered to witness the battle of good vs. evil, heroes vs. villains; they wear special clothing indicating allegiances; they consume a special version of bread and wine, i.e. chips and beer; there are prophecies about the outcomes; the psalms of both praise and deprecation are uttered with deep emotion, the playoffs are the high point of the liturgical year… we could go on.

I feel some ethical ambivalence surrounding professional sports and I am keenly aware of my own hypocrisy. There are the multi-million dollar contracts, the drug use and mental illness, the media analysis ad nauseam, greed and exploitation, and all the other industrial characteristics of what has indeed become an industry. And then there are the racist and militaristic team names and logos… Some would say it is merely a modern sanitized version of the brutal and bloody activities that took place in the Roman coliseum of old. At the same time I believe that play and “re-creation” is fundamental to being human. I enjoyed playing a number of competitive sports with some tenacity [track & field, baseball, football, soccer, hockey, volleyball] as a young person. Due to my aging body, my competitive spirit is now channeled into watching my children and college students play sports. I also enjoy watching sports on TV, especially NHL hockey. It’s almost a Sabbath activity: a cessation of the stress of work and the temporary suspension of life’s harsh realities.

I find watching hockey a nice diversion from real life. Professional sports is not real life. Although I understand that athletes have become entertainers who have the “job” of amusing people and providing temporary relief from the humdrum of daily existence, it is not exactly an essential service. I appreciate that athletes and others in the entertainment industry are including other auxiliary activities in their work: hospital visitation, raising funds for worthy causes, speaking out on behalf of marginalized and hurting people, etc. It is good that these activities continue whether a team wins or loses. But let’s put it the whole thing in perspective: even though I will cheer mightily when a Canadian team wins and sigh deeply when they lose, it really does not matter one iota to real life.

This reminds me of Tripp York’s satirical prayer included in his book, Third Way Allegiance. Here are a few excerpts [I have Canadianized it by substituting hockey teams for his baseball teams]:

Dear God,
Could you please stop fixing sporting events? Seriously. Your unpredictability is killing me at the betting table. I can never figure out who you’re helping. One moment you’re hooking up a player with the Canucks and the next another player for the Flames. How am I supposed to figure out which one you love the most, or which one prayed the hardest, if you keep flip-flopping? Could you be a little less fickle with your handouts?

You are after all immutable. That means you are unchanging. It says so right here in the Bible, Malachi 3:6 “For I the Lord do not change.” Yet when it comes to sports, I am far more consistent than you. I have been a Leafs fan since 1961. Other than those few Cups in the 1960’s where you clearly graced us, do you know what misery I, along with other Leafs fans, have had to endure for decades? What do you have against Toronto? It’s no more pagan than any other city (though you have been a little more generous to the Raptors lately). Perhaps I should speak to the owner of the Maple Leafs about requiring team prayer before each game?

Anyway, do you think you could just pick a team and stay with them? No one likes a bandwagon fan. I just thought I would ask. I assumed, since you are so concerned about touchdowns, home-runs, and over-time goals, you wouldn’t mind.

Oh, and another thing (sorry to be so needy): I know you are omnipotent, but it seems you have been giving more attention to Saturday night scores than to a few other things in the world. Granted, I know extremely affluent athletes who own multiple cars and houses are crucial to you, but do you think you could, oh, I don’t know, do something about the ongoing genocide in Syria? South Sudan? Tibet? Perhaps you could send a little help to ease the tensions between your followers in Israel and Palestine? There is also this AIDS epidemic occurring in Africa. Cancer is not good. Nor are blindness, paralysis, global warming, and the near extinction of pandas…

Perhaps (I’m feeling a bit like Abraham here), perhaps you could tone down the number of tsunamis, earthquakes, and hurricanes you’ve been sending lately? While I’m asking, any chance you might convince your world leaders to stop making nuclear missiles? I know it’s a longshot, but since all governments are ordained by you, I thought it wouldn’t hurt to ask. Also, did you know that almost every four seconds someone dies of starvation? Of course you did. You’re omniscient.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not questioning your justice; I’m sure their prayers for food and the basic necessities of life deserve to go unanswered. If I learned anything from the book of Job it is to tread quietly and not ask too many questions. But since you are overtly concerned with who wears championship rings, and Jesus did, after all, say that whatever we ask for you will provide… well… could you please make sure the Leafs have a better team next year?

Sincerely,
A distraught fan
(With apologies to fans of the Leafs. Go Jets!)

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