Skating in another’s sledge

February 16, 2011 | Viewpoints | Number 4
Phil Wagler |

Where were you on Feb. 28, 2010? For Canadians, that was the glorious day of the golden goal: St. Sidney’s slick shot that eluded American goaltender Ryan Miller. Not only did Canadian water consumption ebb and flow with the intermissions of that game as fans left Sidney, Roberto, et al to visit “John,” but the day showed again that Canadian culture is increasingly entwined with the new myth of hockey.

Eighty percent of Canadians watched some part of that gold medal game. We were dragged willingly into the meta-narrative of a new patriotism, as the vast majority of us wanted to be identified with this moment of national self-definition.

Where were you on March 19, 2010? Unless it’s your birthday, chances are you can’t remember. That was the day Canada’s sledge hockey team lost the bronze medal game to Norway at the Paralympic Winter Games in Vancouver. It passed almost totally unnoticed and without the angst that would have filled the airwaves had Canada’s other Olympic men’s hockey team had to settle for silver. We are selective in our devotion and prejudiced in our “religious” affiliation.

Until a couple years ago I played hockey regularly and loved it. Then life with a quiver full of little people caught up to me, and mustering the time, energy and money to get out with the guys became a challenge. As it’s been over two years since I’ve laced them up, that makes me a Canadian backslider of post-biblical proportions.

But in this new year, my son and I decided to return to the ice. We wanted to do it together, but it’s difficult finding a place where a teenager and 38-year-old can play together—until we found sledge hockey. Once a week we strap on the pads and slide our heinies into a sledge and “skate” with people of various ages who see the world from a completely different angle. The vast majority of participants are disabled.

We have chosen to do this, but this is life as they know it. The experience has become a great teacher. Not only am I keenly aware of new parts of my behind that can go numb, I am also newly aware that life as I see it—even from a mere 172 centimetres (5’8”)—is not the be all and end all.

As I bomb around the ice knowing I can get up and walk away, I see able-bodied people watching me like I’m from another planet. I am an anomaly to them, an alien, a peculiarity. They gawk and leave, wondering at this strange sight. I overhear conversations between parents and their kids: “Just be glad you can walk!”

Then the missiologist in me kicks in and I realize many Christians look at their world this way. “Be glad you’re not like them,” we say, whoever “them” is. Or we just stare, bewildered by strangers and their strange ways.

I am learning once again the need to leave the world as I know and want it, to engage the world from an unfamiliar angle. Is this not the essence of the incarnation that has wrought my salvation? Have we forgotten that this way of life is not only a command—“As the Father has sent me, I am sending you” (John 20:21)—but also what has made Christians of every age strange? Maybe that’s what Peter means when he reminds us we are a peculiar people (I Peter 2:9). Perhaps, saved by grace, we are to skate that grace in another’s sledge.

Phil Wagler has sore arms and a renewed heart from pushing in a new direction. Reach him at

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