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Are you salivating in anticipation of watching the great Ronaldinho of Brazil in action? Can’t wait to see Germany’s Michael Ballack use the home-turf advantage to chew up his opponents? Or perhaps it’s the thought of the Ivory Coast’s Didier Drogba out to prove that African teams have the discipline and ability to win big that gets you fired up. What? You mean you don’t know who I’m talking about? It’s the World Cup, baby! Soccer’s crowning glory is back again after four agonizing years to unite the world under the banner of gamesmanship, excitement, nail-biting matches, crazy fans, mesmerizing players, and passionate faith.

Soccer is truly the universal sport, the one athletic game that nearly every youth dabbles in at some point. And the World Cup is the pinnacle of the sport, an event that has fans all over taking off work and dropping all other activities to gather around the television at homes, restaurants, and pubs and root for their favorite teams.

It’s a time when sports prayers reach their feverish climax, when the most non-religious people will throw their hands up in a passionate plea to God at some crucial moment, praying for that player to make (or block) that goal. And that’s what I love about it.

Did you ever get scolded for wasting a prayer on something trivial, like—oh, say—the outcome of a game? I remember a time when my then teen-aged brother was watching his beloved San Francisco 49ers play in the Superbowl (in the late 1980s), and saw some fan cross himself at a crucial moment. My brother was inspired. He dropped to his knees, lifted up his hands, and began reciting all the Islamic prayers he could remember, beseeching Allah to help his 49ers win. My mom lit into him: “Don’t waste your prayers; don’t waste Allah’s time on a football game!”

I turned to her (I must’ve been about 10 or 12 at the time) and said, “Mummy, prayers are infinite. You can’t ever waste a prayer, no matter what you’re praying for! And don’t you think God likes to have a little fun too?” She just laughed and acquiesced to my beliefs. (By the way, the 49ers won that day!)

And so, bring on the World Cup and all its passionate fans. Bring on the hopes and dreams of legions of soccer fans in countries around the world, praying for Ronaldinho to make magic or for the United States to gain some respect in the soccer world. Let the fun and faith begin.

Ole, ole, ole, ole!

My wife couldn’t believe I was interested in attending a screening of “The Omen.” Perhaps being invited to a June 5 screening (as opposed to the 6-6-06 opening date) made me feel better about it. But I think I’d do just about anything to urge people to take spiritual matters more seriously in their lives and to get reliable information to guide their decision-making. For that reason alone, I’m glad for the hype and buzz that “The Omen” has created, because simply the mention and references to demons, Satan, the anti-Christ, 666, etc., have their roots in biblical truth.

But the movie itself stays in the safe zone, suggesting that just about anything can be the cause of evil, including our personal choices, our current government, societal forces, as well as the angel fallen from heaven. And that is a problem.

Either Satan is the sworn enemy of God and is currently engaged in a heavenly battle that none of us can relate to and in which the outcome is not future but present, or he/it is a myth created to explain bad things that happen in the world. The same Bible that introduces us to Christmas, Easter, and heaven is the source of information regarding Lucifer. Either it’s true or it’s not, regardless of how much we want to say our spiritual journey is personal. Satan’s present activity in the unseen realm either exists or does not exist.

The drama of determining our belief about that is far greater, deeper and longer-lasting than this latest horror flick. And more meaningful.

— Posted by Doug Howe

Boston millionaire Larry Baras, whose food services company makes, among other products, Unholey Bagels, has become the driving force behind the Israel Baseball League and is currently seeking out cities and stadiums in the Holy Land to host teams. Baras hopes to gin up enough interest for the American pastime—all but unknown in Israel—to field a team for the next World Baseball Classic in 2009.

Under Israel’s right-of-return laws, any Jewish-American can qualify for citizenship, meaning that Baras’s squad could in theory include Kevin Youkilis and Gabe Kapler of Boston, Shawn Green of the Diamondbacks, and Jason Marquis of the Cards. Former Red Sox general manager Dan Duquette is helping Baras with player development, and team tryouts will be held at Duquette’s sports academy in Hinsdale, Mass,. this summer.

In a culture where quick wealth and instant fame are becoming more and more glamorized on television–think the recent hit game show “Deal or No Deal” and almost every reality show on the tube–it seems the time is right for a drama like NBC’s newest series, “Windfall.” The series, which premieres tonight and is slated for a limited summer run, follows a group of 20 people–some friends, some not–after they win $380 million in a state lottery.

Faster than you can say “Money is the root of all evil,” many of the winners respond to this sudden change in their bank accounts in self-destructive ways. First there are the two couples who immediately compromise their marriages, and then there is the former criminal who becomes romantically involved with a lawyer who may or may not be using him for her own purposes. And then there’s the teen who marries a Russian immigrant because he is too young to collect his lottery winning (she collects the money for him instead).

After screening the first two episodes sent to me by the network, I still liked the concept of the show more than I liked the episodes themselves. I wished that the series producers would have taken a subtler approach to the show’s premise. Every dramatic twist and turn in the various storylines is telegraphed to the audience well in advance of it actually happening. Every character on this show is so gorgeous and already has such a wonderful life–with a couple of exceptions–that feeling joy or empathy for them is a little difficult.

What would make for far more dramatic television, in my opinion, is if the show would take the time to examine the ways that greed and temptation creep into our lives slowly, over time, in numerous subtle ways that we are often unprepared for. But if you are looking for some harmless, soap opera-like escapist fare to watch instead of re-runs of your favorite TV shows , then I guess “Windfall” is just the ticket for you.

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