God loves sport. I'm convinced of this by the extraordinary narratives that emerge so consistently in great sporting events – last-minute goals, glorious triumph-over-adversity stories, incredible comebacks and more. Not only am I half-certain that he actually intervenes at crucial moments just to make sport more romantic and exciting, but I am absolutely sure that as Eric Liddell famously put it in Chariots of Fire, 'when we run we feel his pleasure'. There's a good theological case to make for why sport is important as a community-builder, a way of ensuring we keep our body-temples healthy, and a natural mechanism for us to explore and use the gifts that God has given us.
That is not this article.
Because it turns out that as well as being a huge sports fan, God so loved the world that he sent his only son into the world in order to coach sport. We learn this from the emergence of a popular line of faith-based ornaments, which depict the Messiah in a variety of coaching situations. That's right – an entrepreneurial company has spotted a somewhat surprising gap in the market and has grown a surprisingly diverse range of 'Jesus is my coach' models for all sorts of sporting contexts. And here they are...
#1 Baseball Jesus
Here's the Man Himself teaching a young boy to perfect his batting grip. If this was on your mantelpiece, you might be constantly distracted by the worry that the boy kneeling behind them is about to get a bloody nose, but it's a great reminder that the first ever baseball game happened right at the start of the Bible. You know, in the big inning...
#2 Basketball Jesus
I've got a slight issue with this depiction, in that it appears that rather than coaching the children, Jesus appears to simply be taunting them with his superior height. As in so many of these models, I'm worried that the Messiah's usual robe-and-sandals combo is going to hamper his efficiency at both teaching and playing the game, which perhaps explains why he's currently just holding the ball out of reach.
#3 Wheelie fun Jesus
This rather too non-specific ornament depicts the Lord teaching two children to master two completely different skills. To his left, a child on a bicycle clearly hasn't worked out that you need to take your feet off the floor in order to pedal, whereas to his right, a small girl is frankly being held back from her attempts to pull some cool rollerblading stunts. Perhaps he knows that despite her all-action pose, she can't actually skate. It certainly doesn't look like he believes in her, which is somewhat ironic for a Jesus-based statuette.
#4 Kung-fu saviour
Jesus might often be classified as a pacifist, but that doesn't necessarily mean he's not a big fan of martial arts. Here we find him with two young trainee ninjas, a boy and girl, who are by absolute coincidence currently a blue and pink belt of whatever fighting code Coach J has them subscribed to. The worrying thing is that apart from the female combatant, no-one appears to be looking in the right direction in this model, as if Jesus and the boy have been momentarily distracted by something in your living room. That's going to end in tears for the boy, once that left hook lands. Don't miss the clever little detail here - Jesus is of course a black belt.
Another pair of gender-colour-coded kids are racing downhill in this more elaborate scene, holding makeshift ski poles which they seem to have fashioned from particularly unsturdy sticks. Most confusing of all is the way Jesus appears to be floating on the side of a ski slope as he looks on, but then I suppose if he can walk on water, he can hover on snow.
#6 Golf coach Jesus
This one is just all wrong. He might have turned water into wine, healed the sick and even come back from the dead, but there's no way Jesus is setting this young golfer up for success. Her eyes are straight ahead, her feet are in the wrong place, her grip is weird; this ball is going nowhere near where she's aiming. And her smug competitive little brother, forced to play the humiliating caddy role, knows and loves it. On this evidence, golf is just not Our Saviour's game.
#7 Soccer Jesus
Not to be confused with his namesake who plays up front for Manchester City, this is Jesus demonstrating a 'show' rather than 'tell' coaching model, running rings around his primary-aged mentees/opposition. I'm not entirely convinced that the gentle shoulder barge that Jesus is using is strictly theologically sound, but in this ornament, there's no doubt about who the pro is.
#8 Ice-hockey Jesus
Now he really is just playing the sports, a bit like a competitive dad who lines up against kids in order to finally fulfil his long-held sporting ambitions. In this scene he's clashing sticks on the ice with his two young friends, so it's totally unclear which side he's on. Perhaps of course, that's an important thought-provoking statement about how while God loves sport, he doesn't favour individual teams. Or maybe it's just because even the manufacturers didn't feel comfortable putting Jesus in a hockey costume.
#9 Prize-giving Jesus
Finally, Coach Jesus isn't just the guy that puts you through your paces for hours and hours of painful training sessions – he's also the man with his eyes on the prize. Here our multi-talented athletes are receiving their just rewards for all those weeks of hard work. The young lad receives a beautiful golden trophy with a 'No.1' emblazoned on it; the girl inexplicably gets a massive magnifying glass. Like the Mona Lisa, this may be one of those works of art in which you never cease to discover new layers of meaning and nuance.
The great thing about all of the models of course is that the central metaphor is biblically sound. So with Christmas approaching, I'm sure you know what to do. Pick your favourite sport, and your least-favourite friend, and send them this heart-warming reminder that indeed, Jesus is the God who shows us how to live by his own example, and then asks us to do likewise.