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Jesus Christ, Soccer Star
Would the Man of Sorrows squirt a few over getting turned into sports statuary?
If I’ve been a little quiet this week, it might be because I’m in the middle of one of my semiannual technological meltdowns. But since I’ve just recently spent plenty of column inches illustrating my Luddite credentials, I won’t bore you with the particulars. Though I believe I’ve detected why things have been on the blink. Suffice to say, I’m fairly certain there shouldn’t be a rodent’s nest in my Commodore 64, though I seem to have misplaced the owner’s manual some time around 1987, and can’t say with absolute conviction.
But while I get it all straightened out, I thought I’d leave you with some spiritual food for thought. Slack Tide is, after all, one of the Top 5 Substacks in the Faith and Spirituality category, despite my infrequent forays into overtly religious material, and despite a comments section that is rife with godless atheists. But here’s hoping we don’t get forcibly removed from the leaderboard after today’s semi-sacrilegious blast from-the-past, concerning Jesus-themed sports statuary.
I was reminded of the subject this week, while wrestling my machines, when my fishing buddy, The Cool Refresher (he named himself after his jump shot, which used to rain down from three-point land like a refreshing shower when C.R. was in his athletic prime), sent me this recent tweet from Super 70s Sports – perhaps the finest site in the Twitterverse, or at least up there with the fellas from Los Feliz Daycare.
Unbeknownst to The Cool Refresher, not only was I familiar with this blasphemy, I’d written about it exactly 20 years ago. Meaning my Commodore 64 notwithstanding, I truly am ahead of my time. Here then, from the archive, is “Jesus Christ, Soccer Star.”
The first time I recall seeing Jesus, I was in Mrs. Schlaeger's K-4 class at Mt. Olive Lutheran School. My family wasn't Lutheran, but they decided I could pass. As a preschooler, I did my best impression of being a cool customer. I made miracles out of Tinkertoys, and cut a dashing figure in Captain Kirk shirts and dingo boots. Inside, however, I was a frightened child. When the teacher assigned impossible tasks such as spelling our first names, I panicked, wishing myself back home on the couch, watching Mike Douglas with my mom.
It was then that I first noticed him, framed in some sort of gauzy glamour shot, hanging alongside the American flag. The portrait was a knockoff of Warner Sallman's Head of Christ. Jesus was staring into the distance, as if he'd just spotted tranquility over the horizon. Even underneath all that facial hair, he didn't look like a swarthy Mediterranean, but rather patrician, WASPy -- as if he'd prepped at Groton, taken a wrong turn, then joined up with the Pagans motorcycle gang. It brought me great solace.
Several years later, my parents left the Catholic and Russian Orthodox churches of their upbringing in order to enlist as low-church Protestants. (Down with smells 'n' bells. Up with potluck.) Here, they weren't too big on Jesus icons, except in junior church, where my teacher would illustrate Bible stories on flannel-graph. A be-fuzzed Jesus would meet up with Zacchaeus, Mary Magdalene, all the regulars. This was probably my favorite depiction of him. He had none of Caravaggio's gloominess, and none of Picasso's absurdity (Pablo made him a bullfighter). Even in a white frock, blue sash, and open-toed shoes, this Jesus looked hale and hearty, like Dan Haggerty as Grizzly Adams -- minus 50 pounds and the friendly bear.
All this is to say that I have a pretty high tolerance for Jesus iconography. I refuse to snicker when people stamp his likeness on hot-air balloons, poker chips, or as one Venezuelan artist did, on 70 slices of Texas toast. Neither do I mock those who claim to spot Jesus' face unexpectedly, on a halibut egg, on a charred tortilla, or as one Wisconsin woman recently reported, in the trunk of her backyard tree. ("At first, I thought it was Brett Favre," said my Milwaukee-bred colleague, mimicking the woman in a honking 'Sconi accent.)
But every man has his limit, and mine was crossed when someone sent me a link to catholicshopper.com. As if Catholics don't have enough PR problems these days, someone has elected to sell inspirational Jesus Sport Statues. The Man of Sorrows is featured in hand-painted resin, running track, skiing, even biking and rollerblading, in order to show that he is a "friend in everyday activities." The point is well taken. The statues are not.
All of them feature Jesus playing sports with tow-headed youngsters. There's Jesus modestly dribbling a soccer ball, doubtless holding back on his deadly bicycle kick. There's Jesus officiating at a karate match. The kids have pink belts and blue belts. Jesus is stuck with a rope belt -- but one suspects he could still wipe the floor with them. In every setting, Jesus wears his standard rig (white robe, Nazarene flip-flops), except when playing hockey. On the ice, even he might go down like a sack of wet cement if he wasn't fitted with rocker blades.
Basketball Jesus appears to be a terror on the boards. And Baseball Jesus has his arms instructively wrapped around a batter who has an incorrect stance, but who will likely have little trouble laying heavy lumber with the carpenter's carpenter at his back. One might expect Football Jesus to be reenacting the Immaculate Reception or, as the song says, drop-kicking someone through the goalposts of life. Instead, he looks about a half-second away from drawing the sack, but he still has the presence of mind to dump the ball off to his full-back (the benefits of omniscience).
The obvious problem with over-familiarizing the divine is, where does it all end? Will the next Basketball Jesus throw metal folding chairs across the court? Will Boxing Jesus munch off a hunk of his opponent's ear, then restore it, as Jesus restored a cut-off ear at Gethsemane? One can easily visualize Sports Jesuses becoming the next must-have ironic tchotchkes, like snowglobes or Chairman Mao refrigerator magnets.
But I still have confidence that the real Jesus will escape with his reputation intact. As the Book of Hebrews says, it's one of his better qualities that regardless of passing fashions, he remains the same "yesterday, today, and forever." That applies whether Jesus is multiplying loaves and fishes, or blasting the second baseman into center field, breaking up the double play.
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Bonus Track: Here is the aforementioned “Dropkick Me Jesus (Through The Goalposts Of Life),” by Bobby Bare. This version includes the often-excised third verse. Some say the song also doubles as a great centrist anthem. Okay, nobody says that besides me. But judge for yourself:
Dropkick me, Jesus, through the goalposts of life
End over end, neither left, nor the right
Straight through the heart of them righteous uprights
Dropkick me, Jesus, through the goalposts of life
Double Bonus Track: While we’re at it, here’s one I’ve long liked by Bobby Bare’s son, the aptly named Bobby Bare Jr. Old-timers may remember him as the seven-year-old half of the father-son 1973 duet “Daddy, What if.” But he’s all grown up now, and a fine songwriter. This is “Terrible Sunrise,” which Jr. has described as “a song about staying up all night and watching your friends destroy themselves with cocaine.” Some light weekend listening.