Fellow Passengers: This week’s Prophetic Passage* (Micah 7:14-20) transports me to Chapel Hill’s historic Carmichael Auditorium, January 26, 1977, when the #4 Tar Heels, led by Phil Ford and Walter Davis and Tommy LaGarde, took on their tobacco road rivals Wake Forest, led by Skip Brown, Rod Griffin, and Jerry Schellenberg. I heard about this game many times once I married into a deeply rooted Demon Deacon family (my father-in-law even bears a striking resemblance to the mascot). This game brought as much sweet satisfaction as another storied game brought bitter disgust– the overtime thriller that Wake should have won when a floor-length pass reached its target for a game-winning lay-up at the buzzer, only to have the points discounted after the villainous Tar Heel coach Dean Smith, jumping up and down, frantically pointing at the scoreboard and yelling, convinced the refs that the pass had hit the scoreboard. Aaaggghhh!!! Father-in-law Ed, long-time chaplain of the university, traveled with the Demon Deacons and sat on the bench at one away game each year, and in ’77 he chose to go to the revenge game at Carmichael. Rod Griffin, who would be ACC Player of the Year that season, kept Wake within striking distance with a double-double performance. They were down 1 with seconds to go, and they were bringing the ball in under the Carolina basket. Jerry Schellenberg set a beautiful screen on Bruce Buckley, drew the foul and went to the line to sink 2 free-throws and give Wake a stunning 67-66 victory. Ed couldn’t contain his enthusiasm. As the Deacons celebrated and the dejected Tar Heels left for the showers, Ed ran out onto the court and made his way to the spot where a blue tarheel logo was painted on the floor. He started jumping up and down, trampling the tarheel, stomping and yelling to demonstrate his euphoria at the victory. The story goes that a frustrated Carolina fan yelled at him, Calm down old man, calm down, and Ed looked up long enough to respond, I’m trying, but it’s hard! It’s very, very hard!
The emotion of victory in a long-held rivalry is indeed strong and uncontainable. It gives us a clue as to the depth of feeling and the uncontainable enthusiasm the Hebrew prophets had regarding the long-hoped-for victory of God over the evil forces, both external and internal, that threatened to destroy the covenant community. The prophet Micah got carried away in his ranting about the external enemies, envisioning a day when these oppressive powers would be slinking away, eating dust like a snake. And then he turned his attention to those internal threats, those spiritual powers that led people away from covenant love and grace, convincing them to succumb to the siren seductions of greed and violence and bigotry. Victory over these destructive forces was equally sweet, as the prophet envisioned God storming the court to jump up and down and stomp the life out of the iniquities. In Micah’s vision, all these enemy forces, all these rival voices that create so much anguish and angst in our every day lives, will be summarily hurled into the sea in one final act of triumph. Anyone who has been victimized by these voices of iniquity, by these seductions into a grace-less life of judgment and addiction and violence, can understand how cathartic such a vision of wild stomping could be.
Ed Christman is in his mid-80s now, living in a great retirement community with his wife Jean. While he’s coping with the challenges of physical decline and memory loss, at times he can be as animated as ever, with uncontainable enthusiasm for life. It’s been a long time since Ed invested that animated energy in Demon Deacon athletics, though. Basketball no longer captures his attention. It’s family and friendship that draws him and energizes his spirit now. He’s especially connected to his church friends. These are the people he marched onto the battlefields with over the years, treading and trampling together on the iniquities of racism and homophobia and other ills plaguing campus and community. In one of the ironies of life, it turns out that coach Dean Smith was engaged in those same prophetic battles at Carolina, fighting the good fight for social justice. The Tar Heel and the Demon Deacon were on the same side all along.
How about you? Where does this Prophetic Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment, and share with friends on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, email, etc.