THE LORD'S PRAYER MAY BE "OUT OF BOUNDS" AT FOOTBALL GAMES

by David Sisler

After a two and one-half hour rain delay, the game started. By the time the seventh inning stretch arrived, I had stretched eight times, standing to allow a little boy and his mother to leave and then regain their seats. But I was ready to stand and sing, "Take me out to the ball game," before the Braves came to bat in the home half of the seventh. It was not to be. The public address announcer exhorted us to stand and join in singing, God Bless America! I leaned over to my wife, Bonnie, and asked, "I wonder what the atheists and the ACLU are singing?"

The Supreme Court has ruled against school-run prayer before football games. Will the next lawsuit say we cannot sing a prayer? Make no mistake, God Bless America is a prayer one America desperately needs.

A North Carolina group, "We Still Pray," held a dress-rehearsal for their high school football season opener. The Asheville rally filled a stadium and backed up traffic for miles. The event included The Star-Spangled Banner, followed by a mass recitation of the Lord's Prayer.

Kody Shed of Temple, TX has formed an organization called, "No Pray, No Play." With a website and t-shirts, he is cris-crossing Texas kicking off support for the idea of voluntary pre-game prayers at football games. Mr. Shed says he's not really suggesting that there be no football without prayer.

Well, why not?

To make such a giant noise about praying before a football game and then not being willing to pay the price for such a decision, cheapens the whole idea of praying before a football game. Is prayer important, or is it not? I know that Jesus warned of the hypocrisy of praying just to be heard by men, but he also challenged at least one group of believers to be either hot or cold. "Lukewarmness," he warned, "makes me puke."

University of Minnesota football star Ben Hamilton said, "Football is not the most important thing in my life." And to prove his point, he turned down a place on one of the most prestigious preseason football promotions a spot on Playboy magazine's All-America team. He understood that "football-wise, it'd probably be bad to turn down something like this," but appearing in the publication is at odds with his Christian beliefs. "I didn't want to portray the wrong idea of the kind of person I am," he said. That issue of the magazine ran without him.

If your faith is important to you, if publically declaring that faith is important to you, then walking the walk becomes more important than talking the talk. Witness Chris Harmse of South Africa. A devout Christian athlete, Harmse will pass up the Olympics because the final of his event the hammer throw takes place on Sunday. Because his faith takes precedence, Harmse has withdrawn from his country's team.

Movie buffs will recognize Harmse's decision as a familiar story line, like the one which inspired Chariots of Fire. In 1924, British sprinter Eric Liddell, who won the 400 meter gold medal, dropped out of the 100 meter race because the final took place on Sunday. When Harold Abrahams won the 100 meter gold medal, Liddell, the son of a Scottish missionary, was preaching in church.

To voluntarily pray at a football game is absolutely within the rights of every fan in the stands, but I have an additional problem with this sensitive issue because of the Lord's Prayer itself. Even in church it has become, or is in great danger of becoming, one more ritual, one more litany we recite without thought. We say the words as quickly as we can, racing the clock to the end of the service so we can beat the church across the street to the best seats at the restaurant.

We really do not want God's will done on earth, "just as it is in heaven," because in heaven, everyone does God's will all the time, and our own selfishness is just too important to relinquish control of our lives.

We really do not want the same amount of forgiveness of our sins as we offer up to others. If we did, grudges would be shaken off with urgent entreaties for personal forgiveness.

We rattle through holy, life-changing words and pay scarce attention to their meaning. When we pray, "Hallowed be thy name," but do nothing to make God's name holy, we become more like desecrators than sanctifiers.

Is a prayer, prayed as a political protest, still a prayer? God is listening, but will he answer? Rabbi David Stern of Temple Emanu-El in Dallas says , "For me, it reduces matters of faith to something like doing the wave."

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Published in The Augusta Chronicle 9/2/2000

Copyright 2000 by David Sisler. All Rights Reserved.

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