Mine is a house divided along the lines of one of the greatest rivalries in American sports. My spouse went to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, following in the footsteps of his father. When my children were born, they came home from the hospital in tiny UNC outfits.
My loyalties are to Duke, my alma mater and employer. My persuasive attempts at drawing my children to the dark-blue side of the rivalry have proved futile.
When the kids were little, we would sit down to dinner on a men’s basketball “big game” night as the teams from neighboring towns prepared to take the court. One of my children would say the blessing, thanking God for our food and then requesting God’s help with a Tar Heel victory.
Annoyed with their loyalty while also trying to help them better grasp what we do when we say grace, I would respond with something like, “God does not care who wins the game tonight. God has more important things to work on.”
My wisdom concerning the efficacy of prayer did not deter them; they still pray for basketball victories. And my annoyance has continued — until recently.
Last month, I toured Globe Life Field, the new home of Major League Baseball’s Texas Rangers. Several executive officers hosted a group of pastors in the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship’s project with the Thriving Congregations Initiative, helping the pastors learn about cultivating spaces of welcome and memory making.
At the end of the tour, we asked questions and thanked our hosts for their time and expertise. We also asked whether they had any questions for our group. Without hesitation, Mike Healy, the senior vice president of venue operations and guest experience, said, “Pray the Rangers win enough to make it to the postseason.”
Some of us laughed awkwardly.
“I’m serious,” he said. “The longer the Rangers play, the longer our folks in tickets, parking, guest services, concessions, maintenance and facilities are working. That’s a lot of seasonal employees who are better able to support their families.
“When the Rangers baseball team does well, we the Rangers corporate family are able to be a better neighbor to Arlington, Dallas, Fort Worth and all the other areas where our employees live. When the Rangers win, all of the restaurants and stores around us do better. If you really want to help us out, pray the Rangers win enough to make it to the postseason.”
His words blew my mind. My thoughts scattered in a thousand directions.
First, I wondered about Mike’s spiritual background. What church does he go to? What did his early formation look like? Who is his pastor?
Without saying the word “vocation” or “calling,” he clearly articulated how he integrates his lifelong love of baseball and his faith. When his team wins, he is able to cultivate opportunities to be a better neighbor in his community and help others thrive.
Second, I wondered whether his pastor knows what a gem they have in Mike. I wish I had a hundred Mikes in my church. He’s the dream. He embodies the eyes, ears, hands and feet of Jesus exactly where he is.
The ease with which he articulated his vocation makes me think he had said something similar before inviting us to pray for the Rangers.
Years ago, I attended worship at Broadway United Methodist Church in Indianapolis. Liturgists approached the lectern and read texts from the Old Testament, the Psalms, the Gospels and the Epistles.
Then, someone came forward and said, “God didn’t stop speaking when the book went to press. We continue to tell God’s story in our lives and in the life of the world. Hear this Lesson From the Contemporary Church.” They then offered a two-to-three-minute testimony of where they had seen God at work in their life that week.
The Lesson From the Contemporary Church is one of several ways members of the Broadway community share examples of how they are hearing and responding to God’s voice in their lives.
On that blistering hot day at Globe Life Field, Mike offered us a Lesson From the Contemporary Church in Arlington, Texas. He taught us that when the Rangers win, the neighborhood around Globe Life Field wins.
He also made me rethink what I have been teaching my children about God, sports, prayer and the outcome of particularly contentious games against archrivals.
While I do not think God cares whether the players in light- or dark-blue jerseys win a particular basketball game, I now have a fuller picture of what it looks like to pray for a sports team on game night and into the postseason.
Mike showed me that a successful Rangers season leads to employee retention, job security, economic opportunities, family health and well-being, collaborative neighborhood partnerships, and thriving communities. I am confident that God cares about those things, because God cares about people. God cares about how we love our neighbors.
Because Mike asked me to, I pray for the Rangers. I don’t pray in a “Please, God, let the Rangers beat the Yankees” kind of way. Rather, I pray for the Rangers leadership as they guide the collective team — the players, parking attendants, concession stand hosts, security guards, ticket collectors, groundskeepers and all the other Rangers corporate employees — through a hopefully successful season and fruitful postseason.
I pray that leaders like Mike will continue to live into their vocations and seek creative ways to be good neighbors in their community.
About the time Major League Baseball wraps up, college basketball begins. At least twice in the season, my kids will come to the dinner table decked out in their Carolina gear. Before we offer thanks for our food and they sneak in a divine petition for a Tar Heel win, we will have a lesson about the kind of victory God actually cares about — the kind where everyone wins.