Kempis, Chomsky and Briercrest hockey
"The world promises things that are temporal and small, and it is served with great eagerness. I (Jesus Christ) promise things that are great and eternal, and the hearts of mortals are slow to stir." -Thomas à Kempis.
On the face of it, three wins and a tie against twenty-eight losses may seem like a pretty futile season. Although the 2015-16 Briercrest Clippers were disappointed with their place in the ACAC standings, a look at the bigger picture of the hockey program's goals is more inspiring.
Noam Chomsky, famous for linguistic theory and social commentary, is a polarizing figure. One area in which his criticisms are flawless, however, is the theatre of contact sports. Chomsky saw the absurdity of arbitrarily supporting any one group of competitors over another, and spoke out against the way sport is usually consumed in our society: "You're looking at gladiators, you're looking at guys who can do [athletic feats] you couldn't possibly do... And they're gladiators fighting for your cause, so you've got to cheer them on, and you've got to be happy when the opposing quarterback gets carted off the field and so on. All of this stuff builds up extremely anti-social aspects of human psychology... irrational competition, irrational loyalty to power systems, passive acquiescence to quite awful values, really."
Hockey may be the only sport that rivals football for its glorification of violence. A former NHL vice-president told a reporter in 2013, "we sell rivalries... we sell and promote hate." This approach is as common as it is deplorable. Hockey itself is artistic, beautiful, creative. The kinetic poetry of the game is, however, firmly embedded within a culture of intimidation and mindless bravado. Even more troubling is the rationalization behind these tactics as the pursuit of victory and/or money drowns out all objection.
It is here that Briercrest's hockey program stands out. Briercrest's student-athletes are immersed in an educational setting that shapes them both intellectually and spiritually. From day one of training camp to graduation these players labour to more fully embrace the example of Christ as they play. Despite occasional lapses, the sportsmanship exhibited by Briercrest is markedly different than that of their opponents. More importantly, the team's perspective on life and purpose transcends hockey.
Team captain Josh Dufresne summed it up this way: "The hockey program exists to grow and build disciples of Jesus from within as we seek to be a ministry to other teams and officials. The opportunity that we have to share a meal, build relationships, and share the Gospel of the Kingdom of God with our opponents is an amazing privilege for us... It is such a blessing to see people experience God's grace and be changed by it forever."
Second-year defenceman Mark Langford added: "I really appreciate the culture of a Christian hockey team. It doesn't mean that we are perfect, but it means we are aware of our shortcomings and look to Jesus to help us."
The character that has been forged in this environment will be of far greater and more lasting value than a championship medal. It is entertaining to watch their skill on display as they strive for tangible results on the ice, but there is even more satisfaction for supporters of this program in seeing these men mature in ways that have eternal value. Perhaps even Kempis and Chomsky would applaud.
For up to date information on the Briercrest Hockey team follow them on Facebook.