published Friday, August 24th, 2012

David Cook: A prayer for losing

Years ago, when I was a sportswriter for the Chattanooga Free Press, I had the opportunity — the honor, really — of getting to cover sports on nearly every level. High school. Middle school. College. Even a pro game or two.

(Did you hear the one about the guy whose doctor tells him he only has one day left to live? The guy runs out and find the nearest middle school girls' basketball tournament, buys a ticket and stays the rest of the day. Why, you ask? 'Cause it'll seem like the longest day of his life!)

Unless it was soccer, I knew that as a sports reporter I could count on certain things: One team always won, one team always lost. And most times, I would find someone — a coach or player — praying, thanking God for this or that.

Every time, it was the winner.

I never heard anyone — coach, player, parent, pro athlete — ever give thanks for losing. For getting injured. For not getting to play. For missing the winning shot or dropping the winning catch.

Why not?

Is God not present there as well?

My opinion on prayer within the Hamilton County Commission meetings is no secret. It ought to be replaced by the more inclusive moment of silence. But recent challenges to pregame prayer at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga football games make me rethink my position.

There seems a wide difference between a government building -- where folks are represented, budgets crafted and legislation passed — and Finley Stadium. Regardless of what the U.S. Supreme Court says (they've been morally wrong before) there seems a quantifiable difference between an evangelical prayer at the County Commission and someone asking for God's blessing before the Mocs play.

So I'm pulling for Finley Stadium prayer, but not in the way you might think.

A long time ago, in a land far away, I was a coach. Girls basketball. One season in particular, we lost. Every ... single ... game.

I don't remember if my players or I prayed before games. We were so bad we could have had Moses on the bench and still lost. And man, I sure wanted to win. Heck, some games I just wanted a lay-up to go in.

Often, they never did. And we never won. And I was crushed flatter than pregame pancakes.

Looking back, I've realized that losing season was far more transforming than the season my team went undefeated (better players, not better coaching). My losing season was a blessing that taught me empathy and perspective. God, I learned, is far more present in the suffering, the losses and the defeats in life than in the winning.

Take Ridgeland High School, which has drawn the attention of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. Football coach Mark Mariakas, the foundation claims, merges the sport way too closely with religion — taking players to church, hosting pregame prayers, Bible verses on jerseys.

My understanding — confirmed by several folks within the area's sports community — is that Mariakas is a stand-up guy who's only trying to do what he thinks is right for his players.

"You cannot find a better man," one of his former players told me.

At the end of the day, that's worth something.

But what if we changed our understanding of prayer? What if Mariakas' actions and loyalty to his players was a form of prayer? He doesn't have to say anything to pray; his whole coaching philosophy can be prayer. And with this tough road before him now, there is so much that can be learned, so much he can model to his players about adversity and forgiveness.

I don't think God — creator of universes, black holes and honey badgers — cares whether we pray at football games. I think we do it for ourselves. And I can't see a way out of this mess until we begin to view prayer radically different.

Not something to announce over a microphone, but something we lose ourselves in.

about David Cook...

David Cook is the award-winning city columnist for the Times Free Press, working in the same building where he began his post-college career as a sportswriter for the Chattanooga Free Press. Cook, who graduated from Red Bank High, holds a master's degree in Peace and Justice Studies from Prescott College and an English degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. For 12 years, he was a teacher at the middle, high school and university ...

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Fendrel said...

Why is it that prayer at work only seems to appear in certain types of jobs...namely those that are highly visible?

I remember working for a time at Vermont Teddy Bear. I remember them especially because of the inordinate number of meetings I had to attend on any given day, marketing, sales, IT, strategy meetings for our summer Bocce tournament, you get the idea.

In any case I cannot remember even one prayer, nor a moment of silence ever being held.

Attendees at the county commission meetings must truly think they are making decisions upon which the pillars of the universe itself must rest, if they feel that they require a moment of silence or prayer before moving forward.

Wanna pray, go ahead, no one's going to stop you. Want a moment of silence, then stop talking to yourself in the bathroom before the meeting. Just keep it to yourself so the rest of us don't feel like kids at the Thanksgiving table, just dying for everyone to shut up so they can eat and go out to play.

August 24, 2012 at 1:26 a.m.
Leaf said...

That's a good point, Fendrel. I've never really thought of it that way. Not once in my many years of business has anyone ever considered having a prayer before a meeting, yet somehow businesses still run. And I dare say they get more accomplished then the bubbas we have in our local government.

August 24, 2012 at 9:19 a.m.
librul said...

I will agree with you, Mr. Cook, on the day that an Imam, a Rabbi, a Buddhist monk, a Shinto priest, a Native shaman, a secular humanist or a Wiccan coven is invited to exhort the players to "go out and break a leg."

August 24, 2012 at 2:28 p.m.
LibDem said...

Mr. Cook, I appreciate your essay and don't doubt your sincerity. I disagreed with your original position on a moment of silence. In my opinion, a label ("Moment of Silence") doesn't change a government sanctioned prayer period to anything other than exactly what it is.

The comments above are excellent. As far as the particular venues selected for prayer (business meetings vs. school events), my guess would be that young, malleable minds are the target. (Commission Meetings being a huge exception. These would be simply politicians collecting votes.)

August 24, 2012 at 3:01 p.m.
pinochle0528 said...

many religions believe that our daily lives are a form of prayer. how we parent, how we are as employees, how we respect other motorists on the road... all forms of prayer.

August 24, 2012 at 3:36 p.m.
Fendrel said...

While the sentiment is nice, I think the more lax we become in what words mean, the more difficult it becomes to have any type of meaningful discourse.

Just because I don't raise a single finger to the driver who just about ran me off the road while they were talking on their cell phone and looking under the dash for the pen they just dropped while entering the freeway is hardly a form of prayer!

Now, I may indeed be uttering a form of prayer under my breath..."God where the hell are the cops when you need em?", simply refraining from giving them the bird really doesn't qualify.

August 24, 2012 at 4:57 p.m.
Rickaroo said...

I think that all public prayer is superficial and pretentious, a mere self-indulgent whim by a group of like-minded people who believe that there is a God who actually takes notice of their obedience to and reverence of him.

I agree with Mr. Cook's statement: "I don't think God — creator of universes, black holes and honey badgers — cares whether we pray at football games. I think we do it for ourselves. And I can't see a way out of this mess until we begin to view prayer radically different."

The problem is that Christians, being Christians, are not about to change their ways and restrict their prayers to only quiet, solitary places. For them, public prayer is a form of witnessing and proclaiming their faith in God and Jesus. Many, if not most, fundamentalist Christians believe that witnessing (praying) publicly is an integral part of their faith and that they are not really being a true believer unless they do so. It's not so much a matter of whether their prayers are even answered or not but the fact that they are making a statement about their faith. Unfortunately we who see things differently are forced to "witness" the spectacle of their self-righeteous "witnessing." I think it's disgusting, but they are even proud that they are looked upon with disgust - something to do with being a martyr and all that. You can't win with Christians. I'm just glad I've got my ticket to hell in hand I won't have to deal with their insanity and BS in the next life. Hell will be heaven indeed without them in it. Halley-loo-ya.

August 24, 2012 at 5:31 p.m.

Fendrel said...Just keep it to yourself so the rest of us don't feel like kids at the Thanksgiving table, just dying for everyone to shut up so they can eat and go out to play.


Feel like and sound like.

August 24, 2012 at 8:19 p.m.

Rickaroo said... they are even proud that they are looked upon with disgust - something to do with being a martyr and all that.

and (two sentences earlier): Unfortunately we who see things differently are forced to "witness" the spectacle of their self-righeteous "witnessing."

Are you incapable of composing two or three consecutive sentences without revealing your hypocrisy?

You can't win with Christians.

Certainly not when one’s arguments are as bad as yours.

August 24, 2012 at 8:19 p.m.
bret said...

Does anybody think for a second that if a North Ga high school football coach named Muhammad Ibrahim shuttled his players to an Islamic Mosque so they could be preached to about Allah, he wouldn't be fired in a quick second and would suffer threats on his life as well?

August 25, 2012 at 12:08 a.m.
NGAdad said...

Note: Jon Ross is a criminal who does not respect our laws. He also can't be trusted in any business relationship. His god is ill gotten gain. His pleasure is yet another ex-wife he won't pay child support to. hmmmm

Yeah we should all listen to this guy. He preys, not prays.

August 25, 2012 at 2:55 p.m.
Rickaroo said...

Excellent point, bret.

WWWTW...your "logic" is so convoluted, I sometimes wonder if we're even talking about the same thing. You are so far out in right field, or wherever you are, that you're not even in the game. It's a complete waste of time trying to reason with you.

August 25, 2012 at 4:59 p.m.

Rickaroo said... WWWTW...your "logic" is so convoluted, I sometimes wonder if we're even talking about the same thing. You are so far out in right field, or wherever you are, that you're not even in the game. It's a complete waste of time trying to reason with you.

You are a tireless crafter of fallacious, ad hominem arguments while pretending to be a defender of logic and reason. You crack me up. I simply pointed out that just as you are accusing religious believers of displaying a martyr complex, all the while, in post after post, you snivel about suffering such grievous injury and hurt feelings at the hands of these allegedly “invasive and insidious” religionists. The coach went too far and needs to be corrected, but you (and others) are using this abuse to justify depriving religious believers of their right to free speech, free religious expression, and full participation in the political process. You would know logic or reason if they beckoned you to their temple and commanded you to implement a reign of terror.

August 25, 2012 at 10:08 p.m.
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