Last Saturday morning was the last game of the season for my grandson’s Peewee football team (8-10 year olds) which happened to be for the City Championship. By the reaction of the players, parents, and grandparents, you would’ve thought it was on par with the Super Bowl. There was indeed a little ‘trash talk’ going on and some other (fun) stuff, the whole of which I was not privy to. Even though our team lost by one point, becoming runners-up for the first time in a string of years for this particular coach, it was a lot of fun for everyone.
But after the game, in the overall scheme of things, one thing struck me as being rather noble and principled. At the conclusion of the post-game ceremony, which took place at the corner end zone and where the runners-up players and champs were given their respective individual and team trophies, the coach of my grandson’s team asked all the players, coaches, parents, and grandparents to gather round just off to the side on the grass field. It was impromptu and not part of the league’s scheduled proceedings.
He then proceeded to personally, and on behalf of his team and everyone there, congratulate the winning players, team, and their coaches. He remarked at how it was a good season, admitting lightly that his accepted loss was not easy, but that everyone had fun and no one was injured. He thanked all the parents for their support in making the league function, and all the coaches for volunteering their skills and, it was implied, serving as models. And he reminded the players that while on this day they had been opponents, that in the years to come they would be playing with each other and may even be on the same team, continuing their friendships, and in this respect everyone was a ‘winner’.
And then, he invited everyone in a final prayer, removing his cap, and kneeling on the ground with one knee. Most of the men removed their caps, and all bowed their heads, as the coach proceeded to lead everyone in the Lord’s Prayer, which was said in unison.
In the crowd, bowing their heads were black and white players, black and white coaches, and mixed amongst each other, black and white parents. It struck me as another (one of many) anti-Ferguson moment. There were no ACLUs there and no federal judges banning the reality of the moment or the prerogative of those attending to invoke the Almighty in a public arena, and there were no TV talking heads pointing out that some people might be unhappy.
For the coach, and probably most everyone there, it was something that was perceived I’m sure as ‘normal’ and expected, and while I am not sure about this, I would not be surprised to learn that it was something that had become traditional.
When my sons were in their early teens many years ago, I coached their baseball teams. It was very common then for several of the coaches, including myself, to say the Lord’s Prayer as the team gathered down the foul lines before the game. We would pray, acknowledging thanks for the ability and opportunity to play, as well as for no one to be injured during the game. Although I can’t be certain, I’m sure some players prayed silently to win.
But what for many seems to come natural, that is, the invoking of God in a public place, it has for more than a few come to be seen as an infringement of a ‘right’ of some kind. Perhaps the right to not feel someone else who happens to believe in God might be experiencing gratitude, contentment, and appreciation; an absurd right at that.
The Founders of the U.S.A. invoked God in both the Declaration of Independence and in the Constitution. But why should we be surprised at this? Then again, you would expect that if one is going to form an entire nation that they could use all the help they could get in establishing a nation that might last more than a few years.
So how has it come to be that much less profound encounters and institutions, like education, high school football games, graduations, and such, that to invoke the grace and aid of the Almighty is considered to be offensive. In our courts witnesses are asked to declare to the Almighty that they will tell the truth, the implication of which it is understood that one might not be so inclined to be truthful if they know it doesn’t matter in the ‘eyes of God.’ (When will the atheists file suits to stop the singing of ‘God Bless America’ at the 7th inning break in major league baseball games?)
But the one institution you would think, above all others, that one institution that is even more profound than the starting-up of a country causing one to invoke God’s aide, that that one institution more than any other that could use divine assistance -- would be the institution of marriage.
Most weddings I’ve attended over the years occurred inside a church and there was plenty of God present in both words and deeds. In the past years though I’ve been attending wedding ceremonies, as I’m sure you have, that are best and only described as exclusively secular, in which there was no mention of God, or anything to do with the Transcendent, or for that matter, anything to do with Holy Writ. It’s as if by design God was left at the front door, or as the case may be, the gate.
Now this isn’t to say that couples being married in a cathedral or by pastors in a church are any better than secularly-married couples. And God knows, it’s definitely not to claim that their marriage will last longer or be more fulfilling than the secularly-married couple. For it's every onlooker’s wish at any wedding that the couple live and remain happy for all their lives. Is the objective perhaps in leaving God out an effort to avoid offending the attendees? If so, this really makes no sense.
It seems though, with all due respect, at least to me as a believer, and I know it does to other believers, that if one is about to embark on a journey, vowing or promising as the case may be, to permanently and exclusively live the remainder of their lives with another human being, that it would only make sense to invoke God at some point in the ceremony, for his grace and aid, in the happiness, success, and welfare of their union.
I don’t mean any of this to come off as uncharitable or mean-spirited by any means. But does not one still have the cultural permission to voice an opinion about God – even if it is on an unadvertised blog – or to bring to the Gentle Reader’s attention, from those of us who are God-fearing, that God was left out somewhere where, in our opinion, he shouldn’t have been? Or at least express our disappointment in it?
The nice thing about prayer is that you can pray for someone, or a group, without their permission. And we know for a fact, a scientific one at that (for the unbeliever), that petitionary prayer in fact makes a difference and positively affects the lives of the prayed-for recipient. And so it is for us who are God-believing, God-fearing, God-loving, and God-inclusive, that we see a redeeming value in those events and encounters where God is made absent, including the case of the secular wedding ceremony, that it affords an opportunity for us to hope through our prayers that God will bestow on them the graces that will move them towards a life lived in faith, a faith which comes as a gift from God, as well as a faith that enriches a life that opens the door, or the gate, and not only invites him to come in, but embraces him as well. At least, on behalf of many I think, this is our prayer, through our love.
As for the coach, I do not know him well, and I’m sure like the rest of us he is no perfect man – but may God see fit to raise up more men like him. Amen.