It’s hard to believe it is April already! It means that I have been at Lebanon Mennonite for five months, that summer is just around the corner, and one of my favorite days of the year is upon us: Baseball Opening Day. As many of you know, I suffer the dreaded curse of not just loving a sport that plays 162 games a year, but am hopelessly tied to the Chicago Cubs who have not won a championship since 1908 (but I think this year is the year). As one of my favorite theologians, Stanley Hauerwas, writes about moving back to the Midwest:
I accepted my destiny and again became a Cubs fan. This commitment came at the same time I was convinced by John Howard Yoder that I had to become a pacifist. I like to think that being a Cubs fan and a pacifist are closely-linked—namely, both communities teach you that life is not about winning.
As Opening Day draws near I will most likely take time to watch one of my favorite movies, Field of Dreams. Now if you live outside of the world of baseball you might not know that for many people baseball has a kind of poetic nature to it that crosses over from just being a game to being a pastime. Field of Dreams is just one of many movies that exemplifies this kind of mystical picture of baseball.
But none the less, baseball season draws near and that means I get sucked into this thing I would not desecrate. For instance, during the off season stories have been reported that a Toyota sign is being considered to be put up at the hallowed Wrigley Field (where the Cubs play). Now plenty of baseball stadiums have signs and advertisements all over them, but since 1914 Wrigley Field has always been one of the few places that has not been touched by the marketing craze. The ivy in the outfield kept ads from being put there and for the most part the park remains clean of the visual distractions most modern facilities have. Yet as we all know about some of our favorite places, they can’t stay pure forever. Many of us know of a beautiful park that was torn up for a strip mall, a childhood playground paved into a highway, or a remote spot that now has become a tourist destination. And so at some point what was sacred for us becomes exploited and Eden fades as only a faint memory of what once was.
So, why am I talking about baseball in the church newsletter? Part of the explanation for doing so comes from a scene in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel, The Great Gatsby. At a luncheon, Gatsby introduces Nick Carraway, the book’s narrator, to a man named Meyer Wolfsheim. After lunch, Gatsby explains to Nick, "He is the man who fixed the World Series back in 1919." Nick is staggered. "It never occurred to me," he reflects, "that one man could start to play with the faith of fifty million people…" The feelings that many of us share around baseball, running, fishing, quilting, cooking, or woodwork are comparable to a notion of faith. When we participate in these activities or go to these special places we sense a sacred quality that God has connected to these parts of life, a sense of the good that we feel here that shows up rarely, but it is something that needs to be protected and not merely played with. What we see even faintly is a picture of the goodness of God and a peace that aches for Eden.
Recently I read an article in a Christianity Today publication that explored this exact turn in baseball. The article follows the story of the Brooklyn Dodgers leaving for Los Angeles and the turmoil it caused. The article closes with this though:
All fans know that three words, whether spoken by villains or saints, kill the spirit of whatever sport of which they’re said: It’s a business. Baseball is not a business, any more than is marriage, or teaching first grade, or playing four-square. If we want to raise boys and girls who will come, like the aging Satchel Paige, to preach "the sanctity of the double steal and the blessedness of the bunt," we will find ways to preserve and protect this treasure. And chances are, if our children learn to feel the sanctity of the double steal, they’ll come to know other realms of sanctity, too—and perhaps gain the courage to construct ways of guarding them.
I understand that many of you don’t feel the way I do about baseball, but shortly after Opening Day we will celebrate Easter, the resurrection of Jesus. And the question that spurred these reflections is what sacredness do we want to celebrate on that day? Do we want to model for the younger generations among us that our Church is a place among places, that Easter day is just another day, that the communion we take is merely a remembrance of something we know only on the inside? Or, do we want to speak in wonder, poems, and whispers about a secret that is sacred that we are both dying to share and wanting to protect from being trampled upon by the forces that would seek to commodify it, sell it, or turn it to from sacred to profane? So, as excited as I am for Opening Day the day, what I greatly anticipate the most is the day when we celebrate, pray, and tell the stories of the One who defeats the powers that enslave our world and frees us to worship without fear because of Resurrection. Easter is always better than Opening Day.