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‘Blessings on you, man’

14 Mar

I can’t tell you much about religion. I was kinda-sorta raised a part-time Protestant (I think), as a teenager dated a Baptist and occasionally went to Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, later married a Catholic, and then was baptized, about four years ago, by the Right Reverend Gene Robinson, as an Episcopalian. I went so far as to become a member of our Vestry at St. Stephen’s Episcopal before realizing I had almost zero comprehension of what was being discussed at the meetings. Seriously. It was English, so I understood the words, but conceptually I was 100 percent lost.

It’s not that I don’t appreciate religion. For many, it is the most direct road to faith, and faith is the ultimate game-changer because it is the opposite of fear. Fear disables. Faith enables. Ergo (yes, it was about time to get my Latin on) … for many, religion enables.

So yes, I appreciate region. It’s just that I don’t understand the details.

But I’m a big believer in the power of prayer.

Okay, okay, okay … that should be qualified. I’m not talking about a “Dear God, I’d really like a pony” kind of prayer. That’s a non-starter. And I’m not talking about a “Dear God, please cure Timmy” kind of prayer, either. Timmy may not be cured, and we may be tempted to accuse God of letting us down. To be honest, I’m not even claiming that I’m talking about the same God as you might be.

But I know that for me, this kind of prayer has always made things better: “Dear God, please give me strength.”

I’m pretty convinced that it’s not appropriate to ask for a change in circumstances, as though my plan is better than The Big Plan. But how I handle those circumstances? That, I figure, is on the table. And at the end of the day, where the handling of those circumstances is concerned, it comes down to the other God-chat staple, the Serenity Prayer: “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”

OK, coming down from the pulpit now.

Stephanie Red, the director of Upward Basketball in Bentonville, Ark. (Ding! It’s the home of Wal-Mart), was kind enough to invite me to shoot and speak during a full day of Grades 1-8 basketball at the Bentonville Nazarene Church a few weeks ago, on Feb. 19.

I hadn’t realized that Upward Sports was a Christian-based organization until, about a week before I was scheduled to be there, Stephanie explained, asking if I would have any objection to the group praying for Hoops For Heroes over the course of the day.

I’ll admit, it caught me off-guard, but objections? Of course not. I’ll take all the prayers I can get.

So from Manchester, then Newark, I arrived in Northwest Arkansas late on Friday night and was greeted by Shane Red, Stephanie’s husband.  Shane got me to the hotel, and early Saturday morning was back to truck me to the church annex, a gorgeous gym that includes one full court lengthwise, or two shorter courts crosswise.  My hoop was set up in the corner, and at about 7:45, about 15 minutes before the start of the first pair of Grade 1-2 games, with  Kody Borchert to my left and Koletun Hamilton under the hoop, we got to shooting. The goal for the day was 5,000 through the circle.

The first break came at 8:25, halftime of the first set of games. With 800 made shots in the books, I went to midcourt and told the folks about our project: about our mission to support the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund and wounded Veterans, about how never in our history has there been a greater need for soldiers’ care than now, about the fact that 100 percent of our money goes to the IFHF and 100 percent of their money goes to the aid of service men and women in need — no overhead, no administrative costs.

I then made 10 at the main hoop, walked to my corner basket foul line, bowed my head with the rest of those assembled, and Stephanie Red prayed.

Amen.

The 9 o’clock hour looked much like the 8 o’clock hour had, but with a fresh new group of elementary-aged kids on the court and a fresh new group of family members in the stands, and at 9:25, halftime of the second set of games, I went to midcourt and told them about our project: about our mission to support the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund and wounded Veterans, about how never in our history has there been a greater need for soldiers’ care than now, about the fact that 100 percent of our money goes to the IFHF and 100 percent of their money goes to the aid of service men and women in need — no overhead, no administrative costs.

I then made 10 at the main hoop, walked to my corner basket foul line, bowed my head with the rest of those assembled, and Stephanie Red prayed.

Amen.

And that’s just about the way it went for the next eight hours. In all, they squeezed 10 hours of basketball into the Saturday, and it was worth every minute. Ten times I told our story, 10 times I made 10 at the main hoop, and 10 times they prayed.

Here’s the point: Eight thousand made foul shots later — following assists from the incredible crew of Kody, Koletun, Beau Hamilton, Jace Hatton, Keegan Griffith, Cooper Heasley, Bart Hester, Isaiah Wiemers, Madelyn Galla, Alex Burghart, Cole Lemmon, Hannah Black, Emaleigh Sojka, Sarah Black, Whitney Sojka, Audrey Stanton, Camden Goff, Andrew Martin, Dylan (missed your last name, buddy), Benjamin Egle, Alex Blevins, Olivia Ballinger and Jake Martin — the great folks of Bentonville had dropped $1,028 into the buckets for injured Veterans, and I felt as strong as I had when we began shooting, nearly 10 hours earlier.

Faith enables. Prayers enabled.

In addition to an obvious debt of gratitude for the invitation to Stephanie and Shane Red, who work their tails off to maintain Upward Basketball in Bentonville for the 500-ish kids who participate, The Beautiful Heth and I offer a Wal-Mart-sized thank you to Ben Lacy, who sent me home with a pair of watches and a beautiful note acknowledging the gift of time TBH has given to this project.

Can I get another Amen?

And finally, thanks to Lead Pastor Mark Snodgrass of Bentonville Upward Basketball’s home church, the Bentonville Church of the Nazarene. Between refereeing stints, the Pastor joined us in our corner and introduced himself, along with his wife Lauren and the eldest of their two sons, Paul. We took a few pictures, exchanged a few kind words, and then he left me with the coolest, simplest prayer I’ve heard …

“Blessings on you, man.”

Amen.

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Posted by on March 14, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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