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Soup of This Day #314: Want A Little Grace But Who’s Going To Say A Little Grace

May 29, 2013

Roger Staubach
The Dallas Cowboys at the St Louis Cardinals Busch Stadium home in 1970. On the bench at right is No.12 Roger Staubach. The quarterback was a Heisman Trophy winner with Navy in 1963 and following that served a 1 year tour of duty in Vietnam. In 1975, in a tight game against the Minnesota Vikings, down by 3 and with time almost up, he threw a 50 yard completion to win the game. After the match he joked that the throw was so desperate that he’d said a quick Hail Mary with the ball in the air. Consequently the play is now known as the Hail Mary Pass – Photo: Blake Bolinger, 1970. Blake Bolinger is not affiliated with Longworth72. Image cropped by Longworth72.

The other day I caught a brief radio program via the public Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC). It was an episode of the weekly Correspondents Report entitled ‘Freedom to worship and the freedom to not’. In essence it looked at the role of religion in the US as opposed to how it plays out here in Australia.

It got me hooked because, while I get the sport of baseball, this was a reminder that I really don’t know the country that nurtured it. That’s ok by me by the way – 1 of the great attributes of my country is that we can be blessed with an easy affability.

This kind of laid-back attitude underpins our differing approach to religion. We’re generally ok with it but we’re also ok without it. Our Prime Minister doesn’t have to be religious for instance in order to get elected (Our current 1 is an atheist). I’m almost certain that the same is not true of the American President. You see, in Australia we take that whole separation of church and state thing seriously.

Actually we like to separate the church from pretty much everything, including sport.

In the US by contrast God seems to be everywhere, which in fairness is pretty much a key tenet of the faith. And God isn’t just invoked with tornadoes or other natural disasters – God’s a pretty big thing in sport as well where his/her involvement seems as natural as breathing to your average American. Which fits because faith is not really that if you’ve got a lot of questions and doubts.

Very few people doubt breathing.

Here in Australia though we’re pragmatic about more than taking in oxygen. We tend to not drag God into sport as well, and with some logic too. Say for instance the Dockers are playing the Cats at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) in an Elimination Final. In this scenario both teams pray hard for God to side with them. Who wins? If it’s Freo, does that mean that God was more impressed by them? Or is God just over Geelong? These questions look to be difficult to answer but I’d think it would be not in God’s mission statement to significantly impact the outcome of an Australian Football League (AFL) game.

Unless he’s wanted to reward the Dockers faithful for their long wanderings in the desert of football failure. In which case he might just rack up an assist in a 14.12 (96) to 11.14 (80) victory.

And thank you benevolent deity.

That’s surely unlikely though. Mostly because down here we hardly seem to invoke God before eating a meal, let alone prior to a sporting contest.

For instance, that whole prayer before the racing thing in NASCAR is unlikely to feature soon before Australia’s own V8 Supercar racing. That’s not because we’re apathetic – It’s more that we’re ambivalent, having mostly assumed that if there is a God (or gods) that he/she/they have better things to do than look after a bunch of folk who are driving really fast for entertainment, as opposed to say, piloting an ambulance to hospital. And anyway, if the deity (or deities) did feel like catching some track action they’d probably throw in some isolated but torrential rain, and a random and unexplainable oil patch smack in the driving line of turn 1, just for an omnipotent laugh.

The whole is just a little discordant – It’s righteous and rebellious at the same time and while it’s everybody’s choice on how to practice their faith, at 1st look oval-track motorsport just seems like the wrong church. Especially when you account for stuff like this:

On 2nd thought, that’s some Old Testament driving from Kyle Busch right there – Fire and brimstone stuff. Although the nudging the real bumper does have a kind of Sodom thing going on. Not that there’s anything wrong with that – Rubbing is racing.

In fact the only God-related mention I can find in Australian motoring is a grab-bar conveniently located close to passengers in some vehicles. It’s called the Jesus bar because right before an expected crash the passenger will invariable grab a-hold of the bar, while screaming out the imprecation:


Sometimes there will be a mysteriously mispronounced mention of trucking in there, even when no truck is involved in the incident. Regardless, Jesus is the son of God but confusingly is also God and therefore this surely counts as a prayer to God, albeit a bit of a last-minute 1. Sort of a Hail Mary really.

Which is another curiosity of American sport – The Hail Mary pass – A last-ditch, desperation throw that presumably draws its name from an accompanying plea to the Blessed Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ, to intercede in the outcome of the play.

That jars a bit – You’re blessing the fruit of her womb in the hope that your long toss can somehow be favourably plucked down to earth and thus offset your obvious offensive short-comings. It highlights that American contradiction, the mix of deep spirituality with the novelties of human existence. – It’s kind of feels like they’ve taken the most wondrous of cloth, spun of gold and spider silk.

Then used it for a jockstrap.

See, that’s both tacky and classy. And probably comfortable. Here in Australia though we find it hard to take ourselves seriously enough to wear that kind of jockstrap. It’s just not us. We prefer to deal with the truly solemn stuff in a quiet and reverential way. Take Anzac Day for instance.

The approximate equivalent of Memorial Day in the US, Anzac Day falls on the 25th of April. This is a day of reflection for Australians and New Zealanders, a time for us to remember the sacrifices of those in our armed services. At its core are the Gallipoli Landings, which occurred on that day in 1915. The campaign was an attempt by the British, with Australian and New Zealand support to take control of the Dardanelles from Turkey and ultimately capture Istanbul. 1 of it’s architects was a young Winston Churchill but that didn’t stop the entire operation from going horribly wrong from the off.

The boats, carrying many 1000s of young men went substantially off course. The landings, instead of being at relatively sheltered and lightly defended beaches were by-and-large on short strips of sand with steep cliffs barring easy entry inland. Worse, and those cliffs were often topped by Turkish defenders with clear lines of sight and ample ammunition. Still, the invading force established grim beachheads and pushed uphill to establish lines of attack.

It was a doomed strategy.

Nowhere in the 3 month campaign could the allies get more than a few kilometres away from the shore and for the most part they got nowhere near even that far. By December of 1916 their position had become untenable and they were evacuated. Sadly, the entire 12 month long offensive had claimed the lives of approximately 131,000 with 261,000 wounded. Australia amassed 8,709 dead and 19,441 wounded while their New Zealand comrades lost 2,721 of their number and had a further 4,752 hurt.

Gallipoli was, bluntly and in military terms, a cluster @#$%. It was a massive failure and an utterly pointless waste of life. Perversely it is also 1 of the defining incidents that shaped modern Australia. Yep, it’s a little strange but we hang our hats on a military disaster.

Mostly because it wasn’t our fault. The Anzacs were chiefly led by the British and in a sense were forced into a desperate set of circumstances. Given that, the stories of valour and of young Anzacs standing by their mates, take on an epic quality. The British leadership floundering actually gave us an excuse to fray the strings that tied us to the mother country and we got to assume an identity of our own.

So Anzac Day is sacred here and generally wherever Australians reside. The day itself is dominated by dawn services, timed to commemorate those landings, followed by marches of returned and active servicemen and servicewomen. In the afternoon clubs and pubs host reunions and the whole day is tinged in a kind of camouflaged sepia.

For the recent Memorial Day in the US, the outside view seemed to be that it was just as reverential, but brassier and with much more colour. It was a celebration perhaps, more than a commemoration.

Whatever approach is right (And they both feel ok to me) there’s 1 thought that I reckon I’d share with a fair number of Americans:

It’s a prayer for the safe return of all of our military personnel and an end to armed conflict. I might need some advice on where that prayer needs to go though.

Want A Little Grace But Who’s Going To Say A Little Grace

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