If you care about sports at all, you probably know that there was a rather interesting NBA game the other night in Cleveland, when the Miami Heat came to town. However, before we get to that we need to open up our copies of the Authorized King James Version of the Holy Bible and read the famous passage in the middle of the complex story of the prodigal son, who abandoned his home and loved ones to waste his talents and riches in a faraway, decadent land (think South Beach):
And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.
And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son.
But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry.
As it turns out, there wasn't much merriment in the house the other night when LeBron "King" James came back to the city and the state that he ruled for about a decade before turning his backs on his minions and fleeing to South Florida. You can read about the basic facts at ESPN.com or check out the top of this Miami Herald report that captures the bitterness of that night:
CLEVELAND -- They tried to poison him from a distance with the usual combination of boos and signs and T-shirts and chants.
They tried to wound his heart with family references and telling LeBron James that his hometown of Akron, Ohio, hates him.
It was nothing LeBron hadn't heard before, just maybe not this loud, not this concentrated, not this intense. Someone even tried tossing a battery toward the Heat bench.
It didn't matter, though. It didn't take.
And so forth and so on.
So what, you say, does this have to do with GetReligion? As it turns out, the Cleveland Plain Dealer found a perfectly logical religion sidebar to this hate fest, an angle so logical that the New York Times even tipped its hat in that direction. The angle? Forgiveness, of course. Could anyone forgive this wayward son of Ohio who is refusing to come home?
Who is the authority on this subject in the context of this story?
CLEVELAND, Ohio -- WWJD?
In this case, the J stands for Jerry, as in Jerry Birch, the Cavaliers' team chaplain. Traditionally, most clergy would preach forgiveness in a case like this, and Birch is no different.
"As a chaplain, I have a singular focus, because God has a singular focus," said Birch, co-pastor of Abundant Grace Fellowship and a noted speaker on marriage. "God is in the transformation business. He's in the business of transforming sinners into saints, and then he's in the business of transforming saints into the image of his son. ..."
And if a parishioner came to him and asked what to do with his or her anger when LeBron James returns with the Miami Heat on Thursday?
"It's hard," Birch admitted. "The things I would tell you to do would be difficult to do unless you're a follower of Christ, because he empowers us to do the supernatural. The supernatural thing would be to forgive and to love. The classy thing to do would be just to root for your team. It's like they tell the people in high school: 'There's no booing in high school. Root for your team and leave the other team alone.' "
And almost all the people said, in this case? Sadly, they said, "Boo." And many things much worse.
The Plain Dealer found a great angle, methinks. I only wish that they had explored it some more. The chaplain probably had a relationship with James. Was he planning to meet with him? Did James have a church home in Akron or Cleveland?
In other words, what would a deeper story about this topic look like? It's clear that Birch was up to the task.