The Church of Tiger Woods


Despite the title this post isn’t really about Tiger Woods.  It’s not at all about the problems and challenges that have beset his personal life, and it’s only tangentially about his struggles inside the ropes.  No, I started thinking about this topic and what would eventually become this post while I was reading the picks of the Sports Illustrated golf writers prior to the just completed Open Championship.  In particular I was struck by the choices of  Michael Rosenberg, one of the SI panel.  Each panelist was asked to pick a favourite, a dark horse, and an old golfer (a la Tom Watson in 2009).

Rosenberg’s picks were as follows:

Favourite:        Tiger Woods
Dark Horse:    Tiger Woods
Old Golfer:      Tiger Woods

Now you may notice a theme in his choices.  Given the state of Tiger’s game at the moment such confidence seems a bit overweening.  If Tiger was playing the kind of golf where he had three great rounds undone by one poor round, I could express a little more of the same confidence Mr Rosenberg had.  Unfortunately Tiger’s game this year has been more a case of one great round undone by three mediocre ones.

I believe Mr. Rosenberg’s choices are simply wishful thinking, or perhaps wishful dreaming.  When Tiger came on the scene he took the sporting world by storm.  Tournament prizes increased, memberships grew, equipment sales soared and there were lots more jobs for golf writers.  In the last 18 months, both Tiger and the economy have been in a period of recession.  Purses are starting to shrink, perhaps soon there will be fewer golfers, less equipment sold and fewer jobs for golf writers, and so as a result, writers such as Mr. Rosenberg, (and there are many others, he just is one of the more egregious examples this week), continue to shower us with Tiger Woods stories. 

Why?  Because they have gotten to the point where they have confused the story of Tiger Woods with the story of golf.  The story of golf is still about who can put the little white ball in the hole in the fewest number of shots.  Yet because for so long, Tiger was the one who did this the best, and Tiger’s ability to this well led to such unparalleled growth for the sport that these writers have developed the belief that the only thing that can save the story of golf is the story of Tiger Woods.

Why this resonates with me is because it reminds me so much of the approaches that churches and Christians use take for dealing with things such as declining memberships.  We forget that the story of the church is still a simple one:

Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus.* ‘Teacher,’ he said, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ He said to him, ‘What is written in the law? What do you read there?’ He answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.’ And he said to him, ‘You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.’  Luke 10: 25-28 (NRSV)

We forget that:

And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’  Matthew 28:18-20


Instead we look back to the day when the church benches were filled with warm bodies.  We look for our own Tiger Woods, the dramatic personality who will help fill those seats, help sell those worship Cd’s.  Or we talk about a minister being the next Billy Graham, all the while forgetting that Billy Graham came to tell the story in a particular way for a particular time  As clergy, there always a danger of endorsing things that will chiefly help enhance the church budget thereby reducing the anxiety of wondering how long will keep getting paid, and all the while that we are doing these things we are missing the opportunities to get involved with the new things that God is doing in our world.

In his “Letter to Malcolm:  Chiefly on Prayer,”  C.S. Lewis say that he thinks, and I don’t have the exact quote in front of me, but it is to this effect, Lewis says he thinks that the one prayer that God doesn’t answer, albeit remembering that we can never put any constraints on what God does, is the prayer “encore.”  God is not into duplicate and replicating events just to make us feel good.  Instead God sends us new joys and challenges that force us to fall back on God’s care for us, and not our own.  However, like the writers who miss out on great stories of golf because they’re so concerned about the Tiger Woods story, we often become the individuals who miss out on the great stories of the church because we are trying to recapture past glories.

Lord, please free us from such a view.  Amen.

 

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