Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Baseball & God: Love &...Not

I think it's time to break it off. I have a mistress. I've loved her for years. I knew her before I met my wife. I kept on seeing her even when we got married. Now, here I am, airing my laundry in public, just like one of those losers on Jerry Springer.

My mistress is baseball. It has been a part of my life for years. I remember playing in the backyard with neighborhood kids. I remember riding up to the school field with 1 other kid and we'd hit each other flyballs. I remember taking a tennis ball and a bat and playing 2 on 2 at the junior high school parking lot, throwing up against the wall where we had drawn a chalk outline of a strikezone. And I remember playing whiffle ball with my neighbor.

I remember listening to the local radio station 2 times a week to hear a local sports broadcaster give the final score to our games and see if he'd mention my 4 rbi's or my stellar pitching performance. (I think we actually recorded some of those broadcasts on cassette tapes. They must be great quality.)

Occasionally I pull out the local press clippings of my "career". I wowed my wife and kids with what a great athlete I was.

But my body and my skills and my opportunities went by the wayside. So I turned to SOFTBALL. It was the best I could do. It wasn't fastpitch. Then I went from playing the best around to "church leagues" (codeword for "lesser competition").

(When I admit playing softball, I think of Jim Rome's "softball guy". An overcompetitive, takes this thing way too seriously stereotype. I'm not THAT guy...usually.)

Monday night I was pitching for my church team and this gorilla sent a line-drive-rocket back at me on the pitcher's mound. Now, I know that I should be in a defensive stance after releasing the ball. (Your feet should be spread about shoulder-width, two hands up, ready to react.) I KNOW this, but I wasn't in the stance, nor was I ready for the rocket. So...

The gorilla bounces his rocket-shot off of my left thigh. It reached our thirdbasewoman (did I mention the league is co-ed?) on a hop. Two days and several ice packs later, the bruise is the size of a soccer ball (football for the non-Americans). But I think more bruised than my thigh is my sense of pride. And now I wonder: is it time to let this softball, the last vestige of baseball, go?

I LOVE baseball. I've accepted underhand, slow-pitch, softball, a watered down version of the real thing, in my estimation. But maybe it has served its purpose in my life.

Sometimes I feel that way about faith. I am currently reading through the Bible. (By the way, how many people who reject the Bible have NEVER READ IT ALL THE WAY THROUGH?? I mean, can you really dismiss a whole religion, with thousands of years of history, without investigating it for yourself.)

Anyway, I'm in the book of Joshua. Not a place for the pacifists among us. There is significant violence. The Hebrew people take the city of Jericho. They take the people in the surrounding cities.

But in chapter 8 they stone a guy to death and set "his sons, daughters, oxen, donkeys, sheep, and his tent, all that he had...on fire."

Now, this guy, his name is Achan, had caused trouble for the community and all the nation. Achan had stolen stuff and then hid it from the group. We can agree that he deserved to be punished and that he had brought trouble on everyone else in his group. But stoning? And setting everyone/thing else in his home on fire? Really??

So what are we to make of this?

Well, let me start out by saying that I'm not the Answer Man. I don't have all the answers. I don't think that faith can be all wrapped up in a neat little package with a bow and ribbon on it. I think faith is often messy and unruly, kind of like trying to get the extension cords separated that my kids put away last time. You untangle and untangle and get it untangled enough to use it, though maybe not all the way straightened out.

Now if that sounds like a probably is.

I think Joshua 8 teaches us that God is not simply a God of love. That God is also a God of justice. A God who sets up particular laws and then says, "there are consequences for messing them up." Or "mess up here and you mess up your world too." We could talk about big picture items like the environment or social structures (families, marriages or the poor and prejudice and discrimination).

But none of that helps out poor Achan.

Well, I'd like to give it a little more time and thought, but I've got a softball game.

Grace & peace.

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