Anyone who has ever heard me preach knows that I love sports. So when I used a story recently from the baseball movie, “Moneyball,” no one was particularly surprised. In response, a friend said this: “Gardner, just what is it with you and baseball?” She had a point, of course.
From my childhood in Kansas City, listening to the Kansas City A's on my grandfather's old front porch Philco radio, I have been a baseball fan. I need to remember more often than I do that not everyone loves what I love, and that sports illustrations don't work for everyone.
The same thing is true for film, another favorite source of illustrations for me. I also that filmmakers are often the true storytellers of the last few decades, and have shaped our vocabulary and public conversation. The recent film "Selma" has reminded us, for example, of an unfinished conversation about race in our nation. Like it or not, we still have some significant work to do.
When sports and film combine - what's not to like? That's why every new baseball movie ends up on my "must see" list. And from "The Bad News Bears" to "The Natural" to "Field of Dreams" - from "Bull Durham" to "A League of Their Own" to "42," "Moneyball," and "Trouble with the Curve" - they also show up in sermons and other things I write with regularity.
But sometimes real life eclipses anything from the worlds of sports or film on my radar. It has not been a good couple of weeks for Kansas City Royals baseball fans like me. After living in euphoria as the only undefeated team in baseball, it all came to a painful end. Our batters were being hit the most in baseball by opposing teams, and then one of them broke Alex Rios' hand. And the angry season began.
It started when Oakland’s Brett Lawrie swept Alcides Escobar’s leg with a “spikes up” slide into second, and then violence and anger took control of the game. Opposing teams taunted. Fans and players retaliated. One of our pitchers got ejected from a game for hitting an opponent. Then another for nearly doing so. And then, benches emptied and tempers flared. In a couple of games players and managers were ejected and both teams being warned. Then the fines and suspensions came. The losses came right along too.
I support the Royals and even understand. But it isn’t the kind of baseball I like. I’d rather see the aggression confined to strong batting, good defense, to great pitching, great catches and double plays! The other stuff - not so much! But there is a far more important world than baseball where anger is alive in us - and in our culture.
I wish that anger and bad behavior only happened in baseball, but it doesn’t. We live in a time of hot tempers, disrespect, name-calling and bad behavior on all fronts. And it’s worse in that other American sport called politics than it ever is in baseball! I wrote these terse worlds in my Church newsletter column last week - "It’s time to cut it out."
Then just last weekend, as if our angry season in baseball and politics was not enough, the earthquake in Nepal happened. And then, another kind of earthquake came to our shores as the rioting in Baltimore began. The death toll in Nepal is frightening. But for me, even more frightening is the anger and violence in Baltimore and the torrent of angry words which is closer to home. Riots, countermeasures, and opinions, especially of the unexamined, harsh and angry variety, are cropping up all over.
Rioting and looting have no legitimate place in our culture. But neither do race-baiting, unequal treatment of minorities, and acts of violence on the part of others. I am trusting our national leaders and Baltimore leaders to address the anger and outrage in their city and do something about it.
But who will address the angry words and racial hatred and bitterness that is plastered all over Facebook and expressed in coffee break conversations? At Church on Sunday, over coffee Monday morning, at lunch today, in every social media venue I use, people are using angry and polarized words.
Somehow, you and I have to do the hard work of dealing with that and with our own blind spots, secret biases, and barely contained prejudices. And we have to learn to say "cut it out" when racist comments, and jokes, and opinions are expressed. Somehow, especially as Christians, we have to begin to model the politics and lifestyle of Jesus. If we don't, who will?
Friends, and unfriends, what in the world are we doing? And what kind of world are we showing our children and grandchildren? It's time for a different way. Anger and reactivity are like the two rockers on a rocking chair - they provide a lot of activity - but really don't get us anywhere, no matter how much energy we invest. It is time for a different kind of conversation!
I John 3:18 says it this way:
"Little children, let us love, not only in word or speech, but in truth and action."