Idol Chatter

One day in my junior year of college in 1997, I excused myself from my favorite class because my stomach was cramping so hard. When I arrived at my apartment, I tossed my backpack into the corner, collapsed onto the couch, and grabbed the remote control. I groaned–not from stomach pain this time, but because the main event on television was The Masters golf tournament. I loathed golf, but given a choice between Oprah, CSPAN, and golf, I’ll go with the one that most closely resembles a sporting event.

Plus, Tiger Woods was playing. He was at the beginning of his career, and his story was interesting even to a non-golf fan like me. It was a Friday. My stomach started feeling better sometime Saturday afternoon, but I barely left the couch all weekend. I was transfixed by The Masters. Even though I couldn’t grasp the subtleties of the game, Tiger Wood’s dominance was mesmermizing. He blew the field away, eventually winning by the largest margin ever at The Masters–12 strokes. That first green jacket is the one I’ll always remember.

All this is a long explanation–maybe an apology–for how I spent this Easter Sunday afternoon. I went to church with my family, and afterward we went to a dinner party. I didn’t know many people there, and, well–The Masters was on. I’ve never become a dedicated golf fan, but I am a dedicated Masters fan. So I found a television, which was in the host’s office and removed from the din of the party. I tuned in to the golf tournament–“Just checking the leader board!” I called out when some people walked by.

I was glad I did. (And so was the host–he had just needed an excuse to watch it.)

On this Easter Sunday, Zach Johnson was (nearly) the 2007 version of Tiger Woods in 1997. Although he didn’t dominate the field like Tiger in 1997, everyone was transfixed by him. He was clearly going to win, even as Tiger fought back in the final holes to come within striking distance of Johnson.

I didn’t stay in the office and watch Johnson’s entire performance–come now, I’m not that rude–but I left the television on so I could check back in every few minutes–yeah, I am that rude. Zach Johnson delivered one of those freaky underdog performances. The guy missed the cut in the last three major tournaments last year. He had never finished above 17th place in a major. But yesterday, he stared down the best golfer on the planet–and didn’t blink.

Johnson offered an explanation for his success: He said Jesus was with him “every step of the way.” It was a fitting comment for Easter. And as post-game statements go, it’s much better then anything we’d hear from, say, Terrell Owens. But I always flinch a little, and sometimes a lot, when an athlete thanks Jesus for victory.

And I know I’m not the only one who is confused about how we should hear such remarks, and whether Christians should say them. Maybe we need a clearer theology of athletics, a more refined grasp of how Jesus might be involved with winners and losers on the playing field.

But Johnson’s remark was teary and heartfelt–he didn’t seem like he was doing anything more than naturally saying the first thing that came to mind. And to face a giant like Tiger Woods and come away victorious–well, you can understand why he might believe a higher power was on his side.

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