May LeBron be with you

LIFEembedDrawGallery(26202); Pastors sometimes rebuke congregations by comparing their subdued worship style to the more exuberant displays among sports fans. "The Chosen One," a report this week on ESPN's Outside the Lines, reinforces the notion that nobody worships quite like a person sitting in a sports venue. (For whatever reason, the ESPN video is no longer accessible. The video is on this page if ESPN ever brings it back by cultic demand.)

"Every sports town needs a savior," says the Outline the Lines report on LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers. ESPN reporter Mark Schwarz backs up this quasi-theological statement with multiple quotes from giddy residents of greater Cleveland. The story is largely a well-reported tribute to James as a "one-man urban renewal program," filled with shots of James' gorgeous slam dunks.

But my oh my is the religious language ever out of control here. One shot shows a fan holding a sign: "The King Lives in Cleveland."

A beaming Pastor R.A. Vernon of The Word Church plays along. "I think I can say unequivocally, as a pastor, that after Jesus Christ, then comes LeBron," Vernon says. "This city needs LeBron James to win a championship."

"Here's a guy coming out of our neck of the woods who has a chance to lead us to the Promised Land -- in a city like Cleveland, which is a blue-collar, you know, get out and dig for a day's pay type of town," says Joe Tait, the longtime voice of the Cavaliers.

But there's trouble in Paradise: James becomes a free agent next year, and he has already committed the blasphemy of wearing a Yankees cap during a baseball playoff game. What sort of fickle redeemer is this guy?

"For him to leave, I believe that the spiritual morale would drop, the emotional morale," Vernon says. "He could go to an established team and get the ring, but to take a team that desperately needs a champion, a city -- oh my goodness, I would have to be careful as a pastor, because people might start praising him, like he is God."

"If he leaves us, it's gonna take our hearts, like so many before him. But if he stays, it kind of reinforces our belief that, gee, God is good and he gave us LeBron," says Nick Costas, who owns a club in downtown Cleveland.

James says, as clearly as one could expect, that he has no plans to leave Cleveland. I hope that's true, lest Cleveland suddenly register a surge of newfound atheism sometime in 2010 and wreak terrible havoc on those important reports from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

Hat tip: physics geek jesus freak, via email.

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