Grace Bats – Rev. Susan Sparks – Baptist Minister – NYC

Baseball and religion are a perfect match. In fact, many people have talked about baseball as a religion.

F. Scott Fitzgerald famously called baseball “the faith of fifty million people.” And who could forget Susan Sarandon’s opening lines in the movie Bull Durham? “I believe in the church of baseball… For instance, there are 108 beads in a Catholic rosary and there are a 108 stitches in a baseball… and the only church that truly feeds the soul day in and day out is the church of baseball.”

My personal favorite observation is the great wisdom from the philosopher, scholar (and comedian) George Carlin. George talked about the spiritual nature of baseball by pointing out the difference between baseball and football. “In football, the object is for the quarterback, otherwise known as the field general to … hit his receivers with deadly accuracy … With short bullet passes and long bombs, he marches his troops into enemy territory … In baseball, the object is to go home and to be safe.”

Right on, George. Baseball has much to teach us about the spiritual path.

For example, in life, there will always be a jeering crowd. There will always be people in this world who prefer jealousy over joy, people who would rather tear us down — than build us up, and people who would rather destroy than delight in something great. I’m reminded of the old saying, “Beware of the masses, for sometimes the ‘m’ falls off.”

Late in his career, Babe Ruth stepped up to the plate in game three of the 1932 World Series. The Chicago crowd went crazy, yelling insults, and even throwing lemons onto the field. The Cubs bench was even worse. Everyone wanted to take him down.

Standing in the batter’s box and taking the full force of the insults, Babe suddenly called timeout. He stepped out of the box and pointed his bat toward center field as if he were calling his shot, and saying to everyone there, “Nothing you can do can touch me.”

After a moment, he stepped back in the box, and the pitcher, Charles Root wound up and flung his best curve ball at him. Babe connected with an earthquake-like crack, and the ball soared deep into center field just where he had predicted. It was the longest home run in Wrigley Field history.

What’s the lesson? Don’t let the crowd bully you into believing you are less than you are. Keep your eye on the ball. As the author Seth Godin says, “If you try to delight the undelightable, you’ve made yourself miserable for no reason.”

There is another spiritual lesson from baseball: we do not play alone. We have a team surrounding us. It’s just sometimes we don’t see them.

There is a great story about a Yankees broadcaster named Phil Rizzuto. One day, his colleague looked at Phil’s scorecard in the booth and saw a notation “WW” which he didn’t recognize. He asked Phil, “What is this?” And Phil replied, “Oh, wasn’t watching.”

Sometimes, we just don’t see the team who plays with us, around us and for us. Hollywood director Billy Wilder once said, “You’re as good as the best thing you’ve ever done.” I like that quote, but I think it should be tweaked: “You’re as good as the best thing your team has ever done.”

NYU President, John Sexton offers this insight from his book, Baseball as a Road to God: Seeing Beyond the Game. “The similarities between baseball and religion abound. The ballpark as cathedral; saints and sinners; the curses and blessings. But then what I’m arguing is beyond that surface level, there’s a fundamental similarity between baseball and religion which goes to the capacity of baseball to cause human beings, in a context they don’t think of as religious, to break the plane of ordinary existence into the plane of extraordinary existence.”

Amen to that. Being part of a team can elevate us to heights beyond our individual existence. As it says in Ecclesiastes, “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow… And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him — a threefold cord is not quickly broken.”

A quote by my favorite author Anne Lamott inspires a third spiritual lesson from baseball: “Grace bats last.” In baseball, people would say, “Grace bats cleanup.” The cleanup batter is always the fourth one in the lineup. The aim is to get the first three batters on base; then, with the bases loaded, the strongest hitter steps up.

We all know that feeling where we have trained, fought, worked and sweated, yet we reach the point where we can do no more. The crowd is jeering. We are being pitched nothing but curve balls and sliders. Nothing short of a miracle will do.

In that moment, the cleanup batter (call him who you will: Grace, God, Yahweh, Allah, Jesus, Buddha, Brahman, the Great Spirit) steps in and brings us safely home.

Where do you hear the jeering crowds? 
When do you feel most alone?
What miracle do you await?

When you’re surrounded by doubters, and the bases are loaded, and you find yourself facing curve balls and sliders, remember that the jeering crowd can’t touch you, or define you, because you are part of a team where grace bats last.

Batter up!

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Understanding One’s Life As Part of God’s Work of Redemption – Amy Butler – Baptist News Global

There is extended to each of us a perpetual invitation to live into the possibility God holds for each of our lives.

By Amy Butler

Butler Amy ColumnThat day as I stood in front of the gathered congregation, I could feel their dismay — an almost desperate exasperation and lack of hope at the state of their community. It was my first congregational meeting as the pastor.

To say that I was wholly unprepared for leading congregational meetings, much less many of the other pastoral duties I’d been recently called upon to perform, may be rather an understatement. Still, as is my way, I endeavored to be as over-prepared as I could. I read up on Roberts Rules of Order; I scoured past congregational meeting minutes; I made a list of all the office volunteers to thank publicly; I looked and looked for a prayer or devotional reading that might communicate in some deep way all that my young and naïve pastor’s heart believed for this church.

Perhaps it was inexperience that led me to believe that this current state of affairs in the church was not its sad end, as so many seemed to think. Sitting in my very first history of Baptists course in college I learned the astounding idea that God’s Spirit might show up wherever she will, and that her action in the world is unpredictable. This shocking awareness was what allowed me to even consider the possibility that I might become a pastor myself, so it makes sense that as I stood up to face my congregation at that first business meeting, I just assumed that God’s Spirit was showing up, that we should just welcome this force that seems to blow in to the most unlikely places in the most unlikely ways, unhinging certainties and mixing things up, creating new possibilities we’d never considered. After all, isn’t it fundamental to our faith to understand that God’s way in the world is a way of insistent and perpetual recreation, where situations we’re sure are beyond redemption can finally find their way to hope again?

After fumbling through my report, in which I mistakenly left off the list of volunteers to publicly thank the longest-tenured and most difficult older member of the congregation, I finally got to my closing prayer. Earlier that week as I’d struggled to write a closing prayer in preparation, I soon realized I didn’t have the words I felt I needed. That week, in a frantic attempt to come up with something, I stumbled across what is commonly known as the Prayer of Oscar Romero, although it was not written and never prayed by him. The prayer speaks of taking the long view; its theme is blessing the work we do right now, in the immediacy of life, when we cannot see what the future holds, sure that the work of becoming is ever-ongoing. It proclaims the truth that the kingdom of God always lies beyond us, and that the substance of our work is found in living into a future we do not experience but believe with all our heart will come.

Those are lofty words for a novice pastor in her first congregational meeting but they named with such depth the possibility I could see in front of me.

From that lectern on that day, I’m sure I thought the task ahead was a professional task, one for which I’d prepared for years.

Since then, I’ve come to learn that the words of this prayer, words that call for becoming at every turn of this human journey, thread their way through my own life, inviting me to a rigorous engagement that relentlessly unfolds all around me.

I’ve come to believe that there is extended to each of us a perpetual invitation to live into the possibility God holds for each of our lives, and a divine insistence that we — and the world around us — can be about better things.

I think the words of this prayer are truer than I suspected, even as I read them with quavering voice at that very first congregational meeting of my first pastorate. Walking the human journey at God’s invitation plants in each of us, even in the darkest moments, an invitation to something better.

This pull, this understanding of my life and my calling as one small part of God’s grand work of redemption, has saved my life again and again. It has offered me an identity and purpose; it has invited me into holy places I never would have gone otherwise; it has given me words and meaning to ascribe to the darkest parts of my human living; it has planted the story of my life firmly within a larger narrative; it has helped me become the pastor.

Rev. Amy Butlet is pastor of Riverside Church in New York City.

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Twelve Days of Christmas – Follow Through- Three

My third of the extended Twelve Days of Christmas came on February 17th which is the date I have chosen for each month because it is my wife’s birthday and St. Patrick’s Day. I am happy to report that I did follow through and it does feel good.

I have marked my 2015 calendar for each of the twelve months as a way of extending the wonderful spirit of Christmas throughout the entire year. My hope is that others will join in the spirit and make it a wonderful time for all of us. It does not need to be a grand gesture. Just make it something simple. Something you will do.

On March 15, I met a lady in the Honey Baked Ham Store who knows how to spread joy. She was buying ham to take to a family whose mother is in the hospital. She took the time to share some ideas with me and my friend Bob. When I thanked her for her helpfulness, she responded. “Isn’t that what life is all about, helping each other?” Wow!

I am writing this as a part of my accountability to myself to remind me to follow through. Please join me as we go through the year. It takes so little to brighten another person’s day.

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Twelve Days of Christmas – Follow Through – Two

Twelve Days of Christmas – Follow Through- Two

My second of the extended Twelve Days of Christmas came on February 17th which is the date I have chosen for each month. I am happy to report that I did follow through and it does feel good.

I have marked my 2015 calendar for each of the twelve months as a way of extending the wonderful spirit of Christmas throughout the entire year. My hope is that others will join in the spirit and make it a wonderful time for all of us. It does not need to be a grand gesture. Just make it something simple. Something you will do.

I am writing this as a part of my accountability to myself to remind me to follow through. Please join me as we go through the year.

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