This article was first published in the State of Faith newsletter. Sign up to receive the newsletter in your inbox each Monday night.

If you’re feeling guilty about the many hours you’ve spent glued to your TV in recent weeks watching college basketball during March Madness, I’ve got some good news: All that game time may have boosted your spiritual health.

Feeling skeptical? I would have been, too, had I not just listened to a talk on the links between Christianity and basketball from Paul Putz, assistant director of the Faith & Sports Institute at Baylor University.

Putz argued that basketball, which was created by a man, James Naismith, who hoped to be a preacher, in a gym at the Young Men’s Christian Association, or YMCA, International Training School, has more than Christian roots.

It also holds lessons for Christians today, he said.

Here are the three specific lessons he outlined in his 20-minute remarks:

  • Basketball shows how to shape individual players into team players. If you watch a team over the course of a season, you see how they’re growing together. Churches are meant to be focused on this kind of formation, as well, Putz said.
  • Basketball celebrates both freedom and boundaries. Players are rewarded for being creative, but everyone has to operate within the same system of rules. Like basketball players, Christians thrive when a church provides structure without demonizing individual expression, according to Putz.
  • Basketball is a celebration of “pluralistic work for the common good,” Putz said. It shows how people from different backgrounds with different skills can come together to make a beautiful product. “Basketball would not be the game we know and love if it had not been developed by a variety of people from a variety of traditions,” Putz added.

Putz closed by reminding listeners of Naismith’s attitude about his famous invention. He didn’t really care if he got credit for it; he just wanted people to enjoy playing the game and to be shaped by it in positive ways.

We would all benefit from living that way, Putz said, noting that “Basketball encourages us to ask, ‘What gifts for the good of the world can we create together?’”

Fresh off the press

The pandemic changed many churches. But did it change church attendance?

Why Pope Francis was hospitalized last week

These 3 UConn players are fighting for an NCAA title. They’re also fasting for Ramadan

Place of the week: Quinamayó, Colombia

Quinamayó is a town in Colombia with a unique Christmas tradition: Residents celebrate the holiday in February, 40 days after Dec. 25, in recognition of their ancestors’ experiences as slaves.

“In the early 1800s, the town’s Afro-Colombian population was enslaved and forced to work through December, attending to slaveholders’ holiday festivities. So Christmas was celebrated 40 days after the traditional birth date of Jesus — the amount of time that the Virgin Mary is said to have rested after delivery, and right after the end of harvest season,” The New York Times recently reported.

One of the featured events is a festival procession, with costumed kids, dancers and sparklers. Participants often stay out all night dancing and spending time with loved ones, according to the Times.

“While the Christmas-in-February tradition has been commemorated since it began nearly 200 years ago, the celebration has exploded in popularity over the past 20 years,” The New York Times reported.

What I’m reading ...

One day after a shooting at a Nashville Christian school left three children and four adults (including the shooter) dead, the Rev. Barry Black, who serves as Senate chaplain, delivered a pointed prayer on the Senate floor about gun violence. “Lord, when babies die at a church school, it is time for us to move beyond thoughts and prayers,” he said, according to The Washington Post. “Remind our lawmakers of the words of the British statesman Edmund Burke: ‘All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing.’”

Several churches in the Nashville area and across the country referenced last week’s shooting at The Covenant School during their Palm Sunday services. “Heartsick pastors sought to bring comfort to those seeking answers to unanswerable questions,” The Associated Press reported.

Last week I learned that not all Woodstock participants were free-spirited hippies. Some, including Bobbi Kelly, were young Catholics, who stopped by the major concert after telling their moms they were headed to church. Kelly, who later went by her married name of Bobbi Ercoline, passed away in March at age 73. Please take the time to read The New York Times’ beautiful obituary for her.

Odds and ends

Pope Francis was released from the hospital Saturday, three days after he was admitted for treatment for a respiratory infection. During his stay, he enjoyed a pizza party and baptized a baby. Afterward, he comforted grieving parents and took part in Palm Sunday Mass.