Coming off last year’s World Series win for the Boston Red Sox, it’s a sure thing that Red Sox Nation is eagerly anticipating (nay…salivating for) the annual signals that America’s Pastime will resume. Thirty days from today, pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training.
Plus…it’s been (already) enough of a miserable winter that any sign of spring approaching is most welcome.
Of course, given the vagaries and complexities of modern baseball, the 2014 team will not be identical to the 2013 team. Some of the names that we got used to during last year’s playoff run will, sigh, be playing for other teams [Jacobi is off to the Bronx…though he did leave with class].
One of the highlights of last season’s really fun run was Boston Designated Hitter, David Ortiz (Big Papi). He had an incredible .959 On-Base Plus Slugging Percentage (OPS) and led the team in his inimitable style. That style included the tide-turning pep talk to his posse during game four of the World Series. Baseball writer Kevin Paul Dupont called it Ortiz’s “Fall Classic carpe diem” and the “series’ seminal moment.” That’s our Big Papi, wading in unscripted to engage Fenway’s baseball boys with his own brand of insight and determination.
National audiences had previously seen this when, post the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings at the very beginning of the baseball season, Ortiz dared anyone else to mess with “our f_____ng city.” Did I wince (well, simultaneously wince and smirk) at the choice expletive? Yes. Did I resonate with the voice of determination? Absolutely. That same determination led Ortiz to challenge his teammates to be the team they had been all season long and bring the World Series title home to Boston. They did.
David Ortiz is apparently, at this writing, in talks to extend his contract with the Red Sox. I don’t have any special insight; I just know what I’ve read. He wants to stay another year and I think the team wants him to stay another year.
After the 2014 season, Big Papi will become a baseball Free Agent. He will have more room to maneuver with respect to his contract negotiations, but he will also be on the edge of player viability. He doesn’t seem to be slowing down but you never know.
Besides the fact that I love to watch the Red Sox boys play (hence the Big Papi preamble), I am fascinated by this notion of Free Agency…the movement of talented (and sometimes not so talented) players between teams. In baseball’s yesteryear, players were often married to the same team (for better or for worse) for their entire career. Now team rosters are much more fluid from year to year–that fluidity a byproduct of Free Agency.
As a Christian I am also fascinated by the Church’s own version of Free Agency. Players (a.k.a. church members) who regularly migrate from place to place (church to church) in search of that perfect place that dispenses perfect ministry that perfectly matches their needs (desires, whims, preferences…insert your own noun).
While recognizing that there is no such thing as a perfect church, I am puzzled by the seeming fragility of contemporary church connections–a fragility that rests on this notion of Free Agency. Of course, I suppose it is largely a blessing that there are so many “options” for believers for worship and service. But, there it is, the tendency to think more in consumerist North American terms than biblical terms: options.
I pastored a church in Colorado for several years. By “steeple envy” standards we did alright. We may even have done well by God’s standards. All that to say, we weren’t the “coolest” place in town but we were in the “top tier” [I know…worldly standards misapplied to Kingdom endeavors] of places to be “checked out” by the town’s new arrivals and by those who were somehow disenchanted with the place in which they worshipped.
In that resort community, during my eleven or twelve years there, I was regularly amazed at the number of people who had been “called” to plant churches amongst the sun and winter frolicking destinarians (yes, I made up a word). At the time, by my count, there were about 25 evangelically minded churches in a town of (then) 6,500 in a county of (then) 14,000. If you spent a year at each church, you could move from place to place to place for a quarter of a century before having to start over. By then, presumably, the church(es) fostering the disenchantment would have been able to get their act(s) together…or not.
Then came the archetypal Christian Free Agent. She was in her 60s; she was grumpy; she had a mild-mannered (rarely heard) husband and she (one sunny winter’s day) alighted in our worship center. She engaged pretty well and was initially upbeat, but after five or six months came a litany of “concerns.” Upon further exploration with her it seemed that the church had failed to meet her expectations on several fronts.
I was younger and dumber and less full of the kind of grace, tact, and diplomacy (and warmth and fuzziness) for which I am known today (sarcasm is hard to render blogwise). I finally said, “Junia [that’s not her real name and perhaps me using that name is one of the reasons she huffed so…not really…I actually used her real name when I spoke with her, but I have changed the name to protect the guilty…and dodge litigation]…Junia,” I said, “You’ve been to eight churches in the last ten years [I am not making that up]. Is it at all possible that perhaps there might be an issue with you that has nothing to do with any of those churches?”
Her husband slunk out of the room like a dog who had messed the carpet. If I had been smarter, I would have left with him. What followed was an explosive airburst not seen since the first hydrogen bomb (“Mike”) was tested at the Enewetak Atol in 1952. Well…it probably wasn’t that bad…it just seemed that way. Leaving her house that evening, shaking the fallout from my brain, I again pondered the fragility of church connections and the multiplicity of options available to those in the Body of Christ who largely think of themselves in “Free Agent” terms.
This is not to say that some churches sometimes aren’t egregious in their wounding of the gathered saints. This is not to say that some solid saints haven’t gone the extra mile (or hundred miles) to try and redeem church circumstances such that they can remain and thrive. Sadly, the church sometimes grossly disappoints, dissatisfies, and disheartens, thwarting even the most committed Christ follower’s attempts to make a go of it.
It is to say that, in my view, the threshold for moving on to “another team” in our Christian Free Agency system is much too low. It is to say that a distorted view of “freedom in Christ” tends to minimize the biblical call for perseverance, restoration, forgiveness, and plain old “hanging in there.” The Bible commends persistence through difficulties and the beauty of brethren and sisteren dwelling in a unity based, not on preference satisfaction, but on commitment to Christ and each other, even when we disappoint.
“Do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature,” the Apostle Paul said, “Instead, serve one another humbly in love” (Galatians 5:13).
© All rights reserved. Scripture from the NIV, Zondervan.