THE OLDEST TROPHY, THE OLDEST STORY, THE NEWEST OPPORTUNITY
For the last few years, I have been getting a lot of strange looks and responses from people this time of year because I am a huge fan of the Pittsburgh Penguins – who, since 2008, have played for the Stanley Cup four times, winning three. It is usually a sidewards glance, with a ‘huh?’ expression when they see me sporting my Penguins gear or talking about it online. “What’s a guy from southwest Louisiana doing being such a hockey fan?” When I explain that I spent seven years living just north of the city of Pittsburgh, there is a brief acknowledgement of understanding why I am a fan, followed usually with an, “I just don’t get hockey.”
When we moved up there in 1986, I knew nothing about hockey. (My brother-in-law, who is a big-time Bruins fan, might tell you that as a Penguins fan I still know nothing about hockey – but I digress.) However, it did not take long to catch hockey fever, especially as the Penguins developed into a force in the late ’80’s, culminating in back-to-back titles in ’91 & ’92. Come playoff time, the city and region would buzz with excitement. I have hung out in Baton Rouge’s Tiger Stadium on Saturday night, and I can promise you the Bayou Bengal fans are absolutely passive compared to 18,000+ at a Stanley Cup Final game. Trust me.
What I really love about hockey is the tradition of the Stanley Cup being handed not to a coach or owner, but to the team captain, who is the first of many to take the cup on a skate around the ice. There’s something special in that moment as not only a season’s worth of preparation and production come together for the ultimate prize, but years of drive and desire on the parts of so many from so many different places.
However, I know that one of the major reasons I love hockey is that I was exposed to it at a relatively young age, immersed in a community that shared the same passion and energy for the success of their beloved team. However, it is not just initiation of the young – neither my father from Shreveport nor my mother from Tucson were hockey fans before we moved up there, and they, too, are Penguins fans, as is my sister.
In a time where it is evident that Christianity does not have the monopoly on societal norms in many areas of the United States and the world that it seemingly used to, I cannot help but wonder if we might have something to learn from all the puck-heads who took the time to help a boy not from the area become immersed in this great sport to the point that 31 years later my love for hockey is unabated, even as I don’t have the time to keep up day-to-day like in bygone days.
The oldest story in the world is God’s love for all of creation, including each and every person who has, is, or will draw breath. Contained in that story is disobedience, grace, forgiveness, reconciliation, and redemption. Just two Sundays ago we celebrated the formation of the church on Pentecost, when Christ formed us to be his representatives in the world. As the Resident Bishop for Louisiana United Methodists, Cynthia Harvey, reminds us all the time, part of our reason for being here is to, “Learn, Live, and Tell the gospel story.”
A young boy from Lake Charles, Louisiana, is now a devoted hockey fan due to being immersed into a culture of passionate fandom concerning the local hockey team because it was part of the life of the community.
Who is it that we are being called to immerse in the love of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit so that years later they will be passionately in love with the resurrected Christ, embodying and embracing grace, forgiveness, reconciliation, and redemption? After all, it is our responsibility to hand off to others a deeply-rooted faith in Christ with even more love and enthusiasm than hockey players passing around a trophy that has been around for over 120 years. Every day is the newest opportunity to learn, live, and tell the oldest story with the devotion that far exceeds those who celebrate the oldest trophy. Like the Stanley Cup Champions, we are made up of different people from different places and different cultures who come together for one sole purpose – to share the Good News of Christ’s reconciliation and redemptive work through his life, death, and resurrection.
Grace and Peace, Lamar
P.S. LET’S GO PENS!