Friday, June 29, 2007

The Church of Baseball?

"I believe in the Church of Baseball. I've tried all the major religions, and most of the minor ones. I've worshipped Buddha, Allah, Brahma, Vishnu, Siva, trees, mushrooms, and Isadora Duncan. I know things. For instance, there are 108 beads in a Catholic rosary and there are 108 stitches in a baseball. When I heard that, I gave Jesus a chance. But it just didn't work out between us. The Lord laid too much guilt on me. I prefer metaphysics to theology. You see, there's no guilt in baseball, and it's never boring..." Annie Savoy (from the movie Bull Durham).

In yesterday's Washington Post, columnist Marc Fisher wrote about the "unsavory mix of peanuts, cracker jacks and Jesus" at the Washington Nationals ballpark. He was specifically criticizing the initiative of a Christian marketing company to have "Faith nights" at major and minor league baseball games. The Washington Nationals will have their "Faith Night" on August 5th when the Nats play the St. Louis Cardinals, and for an extra $10 Christian fans will be able to hear a concert by the band MercyMe and meet Bob the Tomato and Larry the Cucumber from Veggie Tales.

Fisher's criticism of Faith Night was that it was exclusive to people of other faiths and that baseball is, in itself, a kind of religion (that's when he quoted the character Annie Savoy from the movie Bull Durham). The organizers of the event claim that it's no different from Realtors' Night, Disco Night, 4-H Night or Hispanic Heritage Night at the ballpark and that no one should take offense because all are welcome to come (or not). Of course, part of what is driving this critique has to do with the history of the Nats and their involvement with an evangelical chaplain program, Baseball Chapel, and the message that some of their chaplains were preaching about the eternal damnation of people of other faiths.

Now I am as PC as the next person, and I hear and understand these critiques about Christian exclusivity, and, honestly, I don't really buy it. Not when it comes to Faith Night anyway (the Baseball Chapel thing is a different story). That's not was offends me about "Faith Night." What really offends me is the idea that Christianity is something to be marketed in the first place. That our faith should be packaged and sold, promoted by animated characters, and that there's a group out there telling baseball execs that they should hold Christian Faith Nights because they can deliver "5,000-15,000 more in ticket sales" by holding a Christian rock concert at the ballpark. What would Jesus think about all this, do you suppose?

This week's Gospel lesson from the Revised Common Lectionary is from Luke 9:51-62. In it Jesus is heading toward Jerusalem where he will face his trial and execution, and he's talking with the disciples about what it means to follow him. And as usual, they don't get it. When some other folks come along and also want to follow Jesus he says: "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head." To another he said, "Follow me." But he said, "Lord, first let me go and bury my father." But Jesus said to him, "Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God." Another said, "I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home." Jesus said to him, "No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God."

I could be wrong (it's happened before) but I don't think Jesus is saying here that we should use baseball games as a way to bring people to Christ. I think he's saying that our Christian faith calls us to a life of worship and devotion, of sacrifice and service, of humility and compassion. Our faith is a way of life, not a product to be bought and sold, and exchanged when it doesn't meet our needs any more. And I think there's a very fine line between evangelism and "marketing," between being relevant and selling out. A Christian "faith night" at a baseball game should be different from Realtor's Night. Maybe instead of buying peanuts and cracker jacks, we could take up a collection to feed the hungry children of Washington, DC? Or organize people to walk from the ballpark to the Capitol to draw attention to the suffering of God's people in Darfur? Those might be more authentic ways to combine Christianity and a large secular sporting event.

Coincidentally, Marcus and I have tickets to this game on August 5th. Not because it's Faith Night, but because Marcus also worships the St. Louis Cardinals. We're going to worship at the Church of Baseball. But I'll let you know if we run into Bob the Tomato.

Monday, June 25, 2007

We're Expecting

Well, I made the big announcement in church yesterday...Marcus, Nora and I will be welcoming a new baby into our family around Christmas time!

Since there are already going to be four new babies in the nursery in the next six months, we figured we ought to do our part, too, to keep the church growing. So, make that FIVE new babies!

We are so excited (and nervous and anxious and tired already), and it was such a good feeling to hear from so many other folks at church how excited they are, too. Because it's a wonderful thing when a baby is born. Babies are signs of new life and hope. And babies also bring big changes. Things are a bit more chaotic for a while. There's less sleep, and lots more laundry. Eventually everything adjusts--we adapt, we survive, we learn how to cope. Even big sisters (so I hear). It's all a good thing. And what a blessing to have a supportive, caring community gathered around you when the new baby comes.

The funny thing, however, about the pastor having a baby is that it doesn't just affect one family system (the Meeks/Cornwell family will definitely be rocked!) but it affects the church family system, too. I will be away on maternityleave for 8 weeks, may possibly miss Christmas at Woodside all together, and there will be no one "in charge" while I am gone (not that I really have the delusion that I am ever really "in charge" even when I am there, right?)

So just like at home, at church we will plan and prepare, delegate and empower--I have already asked Dr. Warren Ebinger, beloved Pastor Emeritus, if he would be on call for Christmas and for pastoral care and some preaching while I am gone. We do the best we can to get ready, knowing that there will always be some things we can't anticipate. But we will adapt and survive and learn to cope. It's all a good thing! And what a blessing to have a supportive, caring community gathered around when a baby comes.

Baby being baptized
Originally uploaded by jaja_rita

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Blood and Tears

Twice in the last three days Nora has had accidents that involved blood and tears.

On Sunday night, we were getting ready for bed and she was bouncing on her new "big girl" bed. Just as I was asking her not to do that ("you might fall and bump your...") she hit her chin and front teeth on the head board. First there was the bloody lip, then there was the inconsolable sobbing. She finally stopped crying when she just fell asleep in my arms about thirty minutes later.

Then tonight we went for a walk with Sojo along the Sligo Creek Trail and she was begging me to stop by the creek so she could throw some rocks in. So we stopped and she was standing on a big, stone block in the middle of the creek that--I realized too late--was a little wet and slippery. One good, strong toss and she ended up face down in the water, nose scraped, mouth bleeding, again, all wet. And more of the inconsolable sobbing. I finally got her calmed down enough to convince her to go back in the jogger so we could go home, but what had started out as a lovely evening, ended up with both of us wet and miserable.

It's wonderful being two years old. Nora has discovered that there are more and more things that she can do for herself, and her independent spirit is a beautiful thing. But I am also realizing more and more that, as her mother, I cannot protect her from everything. I can't prevent her from making mistakes, getting hurt, even falling on her face.

In her book The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion writes about her daughter:
You're safe, I remember whispering to Quintana when I first saw her in the ICU and UCLA. I'm here. You're going to be all right...It occurred to me during those weeks that this had been, since the day we brought her home [as a baby] from St. John's hospital in Santa Monica my basic promise to her. She would be all right. It also occurred to me that this was a promise I could not keep. I could not always take care of her...Things happened in life that mothers could not prevent or fix.

Of course, Didion's daughter had a brain aneurysm and mine has a bloody lip and scrapes on her nose and chin, but it's still the same feeling. Things happen in life that mothers cannot prevent or fix. And it's really scary and painful to realize that. Because I love my child more than anything in the world. I never want her to experience pain or suffering. But she does and will, and I can't do a damn thing about it.

And then I wonder--is this how God feels about us?

I will be the first one to admit that the parental metaphor for God is limited and, at times, unhelpful--even hurtful--for some people. But then there are other times when, as a parent, I think, if I love my child this much, and want to protect her and comfort her and see her live and grow and thrive this much more does God want that for us?

I feel certain there are times when God watches us doing something and thinks don't do that you're going to fall and bump your...oh, ouch. And yet God loves us enough to let us be free to mess up, to fall on our faces, to bump our chins. And when we cry inconsolably, God's there, too, ready to wipe away the tears.

Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.
Revelation 21:3-4 (New Living Translation)