Wednesday, June 23, 2010

All together now

What a day for a sports fan! We barely had time to register the US national teams' stoppage-time goal, miraculously lifting them out of the Group C doldrums into the round of 16, before it was time to switch over to Wimbledon where two relative unknowns were slogging out a 118-game fifth set that by itself was longer than the previous longest tennis match in the championship.

I love moments that bring the nation together in breathless anticipation of an unscripted result And today's examples are stellar. Anything could have happened -- and that made what did happen supremely unbelievable. More than anything, we simply marveled at the unpredictability of it all, so striking in the moment and so difficult to recover in hindsight.

It's instructive to compare those moments with the other cultural event recently that brought millions of Americans to their TV sets at the same time: the Lost finale. Whether you thought it was a hit or a miss, the conversation afterwards is about what should have happened. Control of the outcome by the little gods of Lost is presumed. What makes sporting moments like today's matches so mind-boggling is that they can only be about what happened. Praise or blame, even if apportioned liberally to players and coaches, can't be absolute, because a sports event is so supremely contingent. I've argued theologically that only in the presence of the contingent is a true response of faith and wonder elicited from human beings. The awe of these moments and the gratitude of those privileged to witness them speaks to that point.

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