The impediment usually was the 1952 Buick Roadmaster parked by the neighbor’s front door for it deprived us of the true dimensions of our “field,” its massive front fender an outsized representation of first base. The sewer cover in the middle of the street and the fire hydrant on the opposite side were fixtures while a piece of cardboard served as the plate. Here were the four corners of our “street baseball’ configuration, a location where only day games were permitted. A ball made from discarded cigarette box strips and an old broom handle would finish the ensemble. The dozen or so boys from our block played and practiced in this location. Moreover, we had “home and away series” with our bitter rivals one block over. At a very young age, we learned to play and compete, but most importantly to win and lose. The lessons learned in kindergarten about sharing, playing fair, courtesy, cooperation, and holding hands were now being put to the test in the friendly streets of our Caribbean island.
Here we found a different system. I still have the black and white photos of my first uniform as I became a “high draft choice” in the local Little League. Here we had manicured fields, balls, bats, gloves, coaches, umpires, lights, bleachers, and most disturbing… parents! I don’t remember my father sitting in his rocking chair back home cheering wildly as I hit a home run over the neighbor’s roof. The stands here were full of diligent parents pretending their little ones were prodigies despite striking out more often than not. Yet, the basics remained… competition, teamwork, practice, winning and losing. The stakes increased in high school where representing the alma mater was a sacred task. And here we picked up a disdain for individual sports, such as golf and tennis, which we labeled “activities for the weak.” College and the short stint in the minors was mostly work before the dream shattered and I joined the workforce.
For all its merits, team sports lack closure. During my “career,” this situation raised its ugly head quite often. Whether the team won despite my miserable performance or lost regardless of my outstanding exploits, they both left me wanting for more. And then I found tennis. The hand to eye coordination carried over from baseball with many added features. In my former game, I customarily batted four times during a game; tennis allowed me to hit the ball hundreds of times from warmup to the end of the match, thus giving me a chance to “settle in.” The game was also portable; I would bring my rackets on trips and pick up matches on the road. I also enjoyed a secondary family at my tennis club as the game became a segway into community. And most importantly, after the last ball was struck, there was no question about performance and success; it was my match alone to win or lose… no excuses.
Team or Individual
Christianity was considered mostly a “team sport” until early 2020. Then we were forced to remain within our cocoons to watch the services in our computers and smart phones. At first, most of us felt disenfranchised, somewhat forlorn and pining for the “real thing,” to be able to smell each other’s breaths as we prepared to join in worship during weekends and Wednesdays. But as the pandemic dragged, we got somewhat accustomed to the forced ritual; in fact, for some it became extremely convenient to remain at home and partake of God’s Word in an antiseptic form. We learned to play solo at a game ordained for a crowd.
Does absence really make the heart grow fonder? We have now returned to normal, but for some reason “it doesn’t feel the same.” The natural reaction is to cast the blame on the church, how “they have made unnecessary changes” after returning to action. But if we truly search our hearts, we will probably find that we now prefer the church to be more like a tennis court than a baseball field. We want our pastor to simplify it, not to swing for the fences but rather to keep the ball within the lines. Sometimes it takes sacrifice to score runs but a game at love suits us best. We don’t mind serving as long as the favor is returned; occasional active participation is acceptable as long as we spend most of the time on the bench.
In my humble estimation, Christians should carry a bat in one hand and a racket in the other as “we work out our salvation with fear and trembling.” Being part of Jesus’ team is the greatest privilege ever bestowed upon me despite my modest contributions. Sharing with my brothers and sisters in the faith is the foundation of my most inner being. Yet, daily diligent study of the Scriptures coupled with fervent private prayer makes the church experience complete; without this compliment we become fans and not players. Christians practicing their faith individually does lead to closure… church closures. I am reminded of what the Apostle Paul shared with the Ephesians when he said “speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” If you abandoned your first love, it’s time to get back in the game.
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