Archive for the 'softball' Category

More Softball, Less Talk

Our friend Bill spent the night with us recently. He and his wife live in a community with a large Catholic congregation, a sizable LDS community, and a variety of Protestant churches. All those religious folks get along well–as long as they don’t get too close. But some in those various religious communities still harbor old suspicions, stereotypes, and self-righteous ideas about other relgious groups. (In other words, they’re at least as human as I am.)

Bill and his wife are both United Methodists, members of a church I once served. His wife worked for the Catholic church for years, so she’s well-connected there. A few years ago Bill and a Catholic deacon started a church softball league. The first year just a few churches fielded teams. Now the league has teams from eight and ten churches every spring or fall season, including Catholics, LDS, and assorted Protestants. They don’t play highly competitive ball—slowpitch, co-ed, 18-years and up (to the 70’s at least). They play a round-robin schedule, followed by playoffs. Then they award some trophies, have a picnic, and go home till next season. Many of the pastors play. Bill’s not sure whether they play to get closer to their flocks, or to be sure none of their sheep wander off—with a little help from their friends in Christ.

Bill says the five years of the league’s existence have been a very positive experience. Folks have related on the playing field at a level that official churchdom seldom offers. When religious differences do surface, they’re handled openly, honestly, and in the context of the relationships that are developing on the field. At the beginning of one season, someone suggested having a short, simple prayer before each game. Knowing the age of some of the players, I can certainly understand that! As the league’s steering committee discussed the matter, somebody expressed reservations about praying with some of the other somebodies. His reservations weren’t well-received. Somebody’s pastor later had a frank exchange of views with him about the Somebodies to whom God listens–and Who decides who gets heard.

Bill described how his team handles a situation that’s come up on most teams in the league. Some of the most faithful, enthusiastic team members are the least skilled players. They always show up. When you have just enough for a team, they play the whole game. Sometimes that helps the other team more than yours. Bill said their Methodist team makes a point of encouraging everyone, giving everyone playing time, and not getting negative when somebody’s having a bad day at the plate, on the field–or just getting in and out of the dugout!

It’s almost softball season again in that very warm Arizona community. It’s also election season in our nation, and General Conference season in our United Methodist Church. The political climate’s highly polarized, and General Conference is certainly vulnerable to many of those same polarizing forces. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Maybe our politicians and our denominational leaders can learn from this church softball league. Even the folks we don’t think can contribute deserve some playing time.  Our whole team will play better when we stay positive and don’t go nastily negative. In fact the game’s better for everyone that way. How we play the game matters at least as much as who wins and loses. If we play too rough, nobody wins.

So here’s a proposal for the political season in our nation, the church, and wherever else we have things to settle: Let’s start with some softball. Playing together can help us work together. It’s a whole different way of relating. When we’re convinced that those folks who disagree with us are evil and not just wrong or different, it’s time to play ball. When we’re so focused on winning that we’d like those well-meaning amateurs to just get off the field, it’s time to let some of them on our team. When we take ourselves too seriously because of the important causes we support, it’s time to go out to the park and play some ball. If that doesn’t restore our perspective, then God help us!