Of late I have been meditating on the sport of theology. Much has been said of the theology of sport; essayists have extracted the last ounce of blood from that allegorical goose. Enough of erudite treatises on sport rituals and baseball as the national religion. Is it not time for serious consideration of the sport of theology? A passage from August Derleth's Village Year, subtitled "A Sac Prairie Journal," caught my eye.
Derleth's observations of daily life in Sac Prairie (Sauk City, Wisconsin), first published in 1941, aren't read much these days. I stumbled upon them in a used book store. Originally kept as a private journal, Derleth's record contains some startlingly sharp revelations concerning the connection between theology and sport. The entry for 5 October reads:
I heard today that young David Bachhuber, having a boil on each leg, is positive they come from kneeling too much at Mass. He avers that the priest says during the service, "Dominus baseball," and "Calling all cars!"--this is his interpretation of the Latin he does not understand.
Most Protestants dispensed with Latin a long time ago but there is much that we don't understand, really understand, in our liturgy. There is a mystery there.
Our family made a pilgrimage to Cooperstown over in Otsego County when the children were younger. Though we were within a two base hit of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and parked about fifty feet from Abner Doubleday Field, baseball's Holy of Holies, I could not convince Matthew or Rebecca to visit these shrines. They were more fascinated by the Cardiff Giant at Cooperstown's Farm Museum. Having grown up as a fan of the old Brooklyn Dodgers and schooled in the myth that Baseball is the most American of sports, akin to a national religion, I wondered where my efforts at parental modeling had gone wrong. Then a few years later Rebecca salved my guilt by becoming a New York Mets fan.
Few of us at the Cazenovia and Nelson Methodist churches can complain of boils from too frequent kneeling, but we may on occasion feel as if our pastors were saying "Dominus baseball" or "Calling all cars!" Maybe they should on some Sundays when the fog of inattentiveness has spread across the congregation. I take comfort in the sameness of Christian worship, but I also know that familiarity can breed sloth and, in advanced cases, downright bad theology. In the same excerpt from Derleth's chronicle of life in Sauk City, we read:
However, Teddy Williams' break remains to me the most classic. Seen one day gazing intently at a crucifix in church, he was asked by the priest what Christ died of. Without hesitation, Teddy replied: "From eating too much sweet corn."
Young Teddy's problem may have been more than the Latin Mass. Gross inattentiveness, perhaps.
Would the Teddy Williams in all of us pay greater attention if Sunday worship had the suspense of a great sports contest? Would we hang on the preacher’s every word if we were in the bottom of the ninth inning of the World Series of Worship, with our souls' fate, our salvation, yet undecided? I suspect we might, but then again I'm not sure we would want to go through the spiritual agony.
The cosmic conflict between Good and Evil has been decided. Christ is the Victor (Christus Victor). Hallelujah!! We need not wait until the last inning of our lives to know that in the victorious Christ we too are winners. I can think of nothing more boring than having to watch a replay tape of a baseball game, the outcome of which is in the morning paper. A fan's vested interest in a baseball game ends when the bats are bagged. Your and my interest in the familiar story told each and every Sunday is of a higher order than that of the sport enthusiast. When the funeral bell tolls for the Christian, it rings no surprises. Give thanks then for the same old story and make sure you have your season tickets. You'll find me in Seat 8, Row 21, Section 42. Those numbers correspond, by the way, to the month, day, and year of my Baptism. You too have a reserved seat.