Cowboys in the heartland

christian cowboyThe Arizona Daily Star's Stephanie Innes seems to have the corner of the religion news in Tucson, Ariz. A reader wrote us a note about an interesting feature Innes has on the Rev. Coy Huffman in Saturday's newspaper. Huffman is a preacher who follows the professional rodeo circuit around the Southwest and has a ministry to cowboys. Huffman along with his wife Donna founded Cowboy Church International, which practices a country-style form of worship and Pro Rodeo Ministries.

For some perspective for those of us who aren't familiar with the traditions of the West United States, here's an opener from our reader:

Innes' article opens up a faith window on rodeos, a western cultural tradition that is little known in the east but is bigger than NASCAR among traditional western ranching families. Tucson celebrates La Fiesta de los Vaqueros (rodeo) every year by closing the local schools and putting on a horse-drawn parade through downtown that kicks off the rodeo.

According to our reader, Innes writes frequently on the sort of niche religious faith practices found in the rural west. Innes writes genuinely and without a trace of cynicism about the Christianity and the cowboys. Of course, it's hard to doubt a person's faith just before they climb upon an angry one-ton animal an attempt to hold on for 8 seconds:

Led by the Rev. Coy Huffman, the group's prayers are simple and to the point. He uses the Bible to motivate the bull riders, bareback riders and barrel racers who join him in worship.

"God's helping me every time. It's his will I'm rodeoing," said Joe Meling, 22, a bull rider from Oregon. "I've been injured, but I've also been healed."

Bull riding is generally considered the most dangerous rodeo sport. Riders' injuries are frequent and can include cracked skulls and collapsed lungs. Some riders have broken their backs and necks, and never recovered.

"When you're facing danger every time you do your job, you've got to have some kind of faith," said Texan David Samsel, 36, also a bull rider. "If you don't believe, you'd better not be in this game."

This type of straightforward unquestioning approach to reporting on the faith of people who engage in one of the most dangerous sports is both refreshing and unsurprising. Aside from the idea of a western cowboy, the story defies categorization, particularly from the religious perspective. Not once does the story mention a denomination, but the theology of the cowboys is present in the article as they express how their faith affects their trade.

Innes doesn't try to sugarcoat anything and gets the views of the people who don't necessary believe everything that the preacher says. In that sense, the story is balanced and works at portraying as accurate a picture as possible of the state of religion and bull riding.

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