God of the goalposts

800px-ben_roethlisberger_throwback Football and Christianity. Christian witness and football-the two are intertwined in contemporary culture.

The synergy is reinforced when a coach like Indiana Colts Tony Dungy or a player like the Arizona Cardinal's Kurt Warner makes headlines talking about his faith.

But what about the team chaplains--the guys who function as spiritual team leaders?

We don't hear a whole lot about them in the mainstream press, although religious practice infuses American football.

A recent story on KTAR.com (which bills itself as Arizona's sports page) quotes Cardinals chaplain Chad Johnson but is more focused on the fellowship that occurs when teammates gather for Bible studies and prayer.

The lede has an illuminating quote in which Chaplain Johnson isn't reticent to use the "d" word to describe his team.

Behind the scenes, away from the field and the limelight, many Arizona Cardinals bond through prayer and faith.

Chad Johnson is the team chaplain and he said this season has been incredible.

"We feel a sense of destiny, and there's been all kinds of things specifically over the last couple of weeks, that we just see God's hand in all of this," Johnson said as the team prepares for Sunday's NFC championship game between the Cardinals and Philadelphia Eagles at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale.

Here's a more profane riff on the "destiny" theme from a column by the "Couch Slouch" on The State website. This commentary just proves that even when satirizing a sport with such deep roots in popular religious culture, it's hard not to take it seriously.

In a recent article on Johnson for the online Baptist Press, writer Art Stricklin echoes that quote, emphasizing once again the intimate relationship between religious practice and sports worship.

A second Baptist Press story focuses on new Steelers chaplain (and former Campus Crusade sports ministry staffer) Kevin Jordan.

Yes, articles written for a religious publication can have a clear bias--looking for the divine hand in the events of everyday life. Factor that in as you read these stories.

But there's also an advantage in such stories. They are upfront about their "agenda."

And this case, we get a glimpse of two men whose work might have gone unnoticed in the blaze of publicity around quarterbacks and coaches.

Stricklin's first few paragraphs in the Steeler's chaplaincy article nicely blend sports and religion, keeping the tone light and a bit wry:

The Pittsburgh Steelers don't believe in putting many rookies in key roles on their team.

Seeking their sixth Super Bowl title in seven appearances, the AFC champions thrive on veteran players and leadership to take the Black and Gold to the football promised land.

But this year, the Steelers turned to a newcomer for matters of the soul: chaplain Kevin Jordan.

And he concludes with a paragraph that reminds his readers that being a football fan isn't an guaranteed ticket to godliness.

But this Steelers rookie, culminating his return to the East Coast with Sunday's Super Bowl test against the Arizona Cardinals, has proven to be a quick learner in helping one of football's most storied franchises score in the things of eternal importance.

What a useful reminder that while football may have its holy moments, it doesn't rank for believers among the "things of eternal importance."

One other comment: if the Cardinals win, then Johnson's words about the team of "destiny' may be acclaimed as prophetic.

And the Cardinals do have a destiny--we just aren't sure yet what it is.

Picture of the Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger from Wikimedia Commons

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