Thursday, September 29, 2011

Will There Be Golf Courses in Heaven?

Back in May I discovered an on-line computer game called World Golf Tour. This game allows you to play games of golf on digitized versions of actual golf courses in competition with other “golfers” in a live, interactive computer simulation. Through experience in this competitive context, I have worked my way up to being a “Tour Pro” whose average golf score is 71. Since I am better at computer golf than I am in real-life golf (where 90 is a pretty good round for me), this fantasy golf experience has been a lot of fun. It also has opened up some windows to the world.

Recently my “foursome” was made up of players from India, South Africa, and the Netherlands. If I play early in the morning, my playing partners often are from Europe. Each player has an avatar (mine is a handsome young athlete) and an on-line name (mine is “elfreport”). You can become “friends” with other players you encounter in the competition, and my friends list grows steadily. You also can play various versions of golf. I especially enjoy the alternating shot games where two teams compete against each other with the members of each team hitting alternating shots. You often are matched up with someone you don’t know.

Players communicate through instant messaging. Some games have little interaction; others are constant talk-fests. Encouragement and advice can be shared with your teammate, and good-natured ribbing can be directed at your opponents. Occasionally you will get a “trash talker” who tries to bully, intimidate, and mess with your mind to gain an advantage in the game. Occasionally the game locks up unexpectedly. My biggest frustration so far came when the system seemed to lock up after one of my tee shots and my opponent dropped out of the game. After he quit and I was playing solo, the system came back up. My shot was completed, and I got an unwitnessed hole-in-one.

I’ve played against opponents from age 12 to way past my 68 years. Most of the players are male, but women play regularly and have no compromised skills because of their gender. I’ve played against gentle spirits and fiery competitors. Far too many players quit the game if they are having a bad round that will affect their handicap, and the really inconsiderate quit by closing their game without using the menu and lock up the game for the rest of the players. Some play while they are at work and complain when their play is interrupted by “business” or when their boss interferes with their play.

I’ve been contemplating how a Christian “athlete” should interact on World Golf Tour. Yesterday I was playing against a guy who I think was probably a high school senior. I discovered that he was from Georgia, and I mentioned that I had gone to Georgia Tech “way back when” (only later did I realized this in the 50th September since I started at Georgia Tech). He said that he was thinking about going to a technical college in Athens. I was just about to “introduce a Christian theme” into our interchange by asking if he knew one of my former students who had been a pastor in Athens; but then he hit three consecutive putts that rimmed out and let go with a serious profanity that took the Lord’s name in vain. I decided that that wasn’t the appropriate moment to speak “religiously.”
I have noticed a few “gentle spirits” on WGT who I think are communicating a kind of silent witness. They speak encouraging words to friends and foes alike. They offer helpful suggestions. They are upbeat and positive even when they hit one in the sand trap or lose a ball in the lake. Like me, they may say “ouch” when they hit a really bad shot; but something about their play communicates a positive spirit. I’ve tried to be that kind of player, but is that enough? I know some people are uncomfortable when playing a round of golf with a pastor or religious figure, but I wonder what Jesus would do? I’m sure he wouldn’t “heal” a persistent slice or make a ball “walk on water” across a water hazard onto the fairway. Would his every shot be perfect? If it weren’t, what would his reaction be? How would he deal with fellow golfers whose humanity showed through? And, oh yes, will there be golf courses in heaven?

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