Baseball and religion are both in decline

Religion News Service reports:

“Tom Johnson loves baseball. And he loves the [Christian] church. Both, said Johnson, a former Minnesota Twins pitcher turned pastor, are in trouble. They’ve lost touch with their past and with ordinary people. They’ve become too much of a show, their leaders too disconnected from their audience, he said. Both religion and baseball see the people in the pews and the fans in the seats as sources of revenue rather than valued partners or supporters. They’ve betrayed the people’s trust, he said, and trust is hard to regain.”

The article goes on to talk about how boring baseball has become “boring and joyless.” That’s one of the reasons I no longer follow baseball — it’s not longer a game, it’s all about algorithms and analytics. My reaction to the postponement of Opening Day — yawn.

As for organized religion, in addition to religious leaders becoming disconnected from the people in the pews, Johnson offers this pointed critique:

“‘The [Christian] church has shot itself in the foot by not adhering to the values that have attracted it to people down through the centuries — that is, caring about the poor and those who are on the margins,’ said Johnson….”

Johnson may be on to something here. Organized religion does sometimes feel as boring and joyless as baseball, with leaders who only see the people in the pews as sources of revenue. This is even true for non-Christian religions like Unitarian Universalism. All too often, I’ve heard UU leaders saying, “We need to grow our congregation in order to increase revenue.” All too often, I’ve seen UU congregations very concerned with their own bottom line, yet with little energy left over to help unhoused persons find food and shelter.

Maybe this is the real reason behind the rise of the Nones (those with no religious affiliation) — religion has become too much like baseball.

A clear causal chain

I did not follow the World Series.

I wore my Hebrew Red Sox cap during the Series.


The Red Sox won the World Series.

You can talk all you want about there being a big difference between correlation and causality. I know better.

The Red Sox won because I did not follow the Series, and because I wore my Hebrew Red Sox cap during the Series. I know that there is a direct causal link, because the world revolves around me.

Red Sox clergy

What’s the well-dressed clergyperson from Red Sox Nation wearing today? Well, obviously it depends on which faith tradition you’re part of. Since I’m from a faith tradition that requires Biblical knowledge in its clergy, an obvious choice for me is some kind of Red Sox garb in a Biblical language. No, not Koine Greek — that message of loving your enemies is not a good fit with the World Series. The teleology of Revelation is not exactly the kind of thing I’m looking for either. Definitely not Koine Greek.

Hebrew, on the other hand — the language of Moses and the story of the journey to the Promised Land — and, in case the Sox lose, the language of Jeremiah — Hebrew strikes me as a good Biblical language for Red Sox clergy. So today I’m wearing the hat that my friend the rabbi gave to me:


Yeah. Go, Sox!

Can’t watch

Now that the Red Sox are in the World Series, I can’t follow them.

No, no, you don’t understand. I first began following the Sox in 1967, during the Year of the Impossible Dream. They lost the Series. I followed them through the 1975 Series. They lost. In 1986, I watched the Series with my then-housemates. The Sox lost again. I followed them through the 2003 AL playoffs. They lost.

In 2004, when they made it into the Series again, I didn’t watch any of the World Series games on TV, nor did I read any coverage in the sports pages. They won. I followed them in 2005. They lost in the first round of the playoffs. I didn’t follow them in 2007, and they won the Series.

I’ve learned my lesson. If I want the Sox to win, I can’t follow them. So don’t talk to me about the Series, OK? I don’t want to know.

Calvinism and the American League East

The Red Sox are in the cellar, sixteen and a half games behind Baltimore and the hated Yankees, who are tied for first in the division. The Sox are so bad that when manager Bobby Valentine was asked where the team could use help, he replied:

Are you kidding? This is the weakest roster we’ve ever had in September in the history of baseball. It could use help everywhere.

The Red Sox are obviously the virtuous team; so why have they been relegated to last place in their division? It is because of Calvinism: according to Calvinism, God does not choose the Elect based on any actual merit they may have. As this Web site on Calvinism puts it, “chooses the elect according to the kind intention of His will (Eph. 1:4-8; Rom. 9:11) without any consideration of merit within the individual.” The Yankees are in first place, not because of any merit they may have, but simply because God put them there.

No wonder I’m a Universalist.

It’s that time of year

It’s that depressing time of year. The Red Sox not only just got their butts whipped by our local American League team, the A’s — the Sox are also 15 games back in their division with little hope of even breaking .500 this year. To make matters worse, the SF Giants have been rocked by yet another PED scandal, so that every time I see orange and black I think it’s an ad for steroids.

The baseball season is coming to another sad, wheezing end for me. Sadly, baseball teams keep trading players so fast I can’t even keep track of who is on the team, which means I’m merely depressed by the abysmal performance of the Red Sox without the luxury of enjoying watching longtime favorites like Yaz, Jim Rice, and Tim Wakefield. And do I want to invest any time into following someone like Daisuke Matsuzaka, knowing that the Sox will probably trade him just when I’m beginning to like him?

Worst of all, football is beginning to take over the front page of the sports section. Why would I want to look at steroid-enhanced, brain-damaged football players, when I can look at a bunch of steroid-enhanced — oh, never mind.

Funeral etiquette

Bill “Spaceman” Lee, famed left-handed pitcher who played with the Boston Red Sox for many years, and now 65, was on the mound yesterday pitching for the minor league San Rafael Pacifics. He not only won, he pitched a complete game: 94 pitches, with 69 strikes and a fastball clocked at 70 m.p.h.

Daniel Brown, a sports writer for the San Jose Mercury-News, reported that Lee came to the Bay Area immediately after a trip to Boston. There Lee attended the funeral of Johnny Pesky, who played second base when Lee was with the Sox. This was back in the days when baseball players actually stayed with a team for more than half a season, so they got to know each other, and we got to know them, and they and we were all loyal to the local team.

Anyway, back to Johnny Pesky’s funeral service. I’ll let Daniel Brown tell the story from here:

Lee said that when his cab from Fenway Park pulled up curbside for services, he noticed a New York Yankees fan in the car behind him.

“So I flipped him off,” Lee said.

Wait. At a funeral?

“Johnny would have wanted it that way,” Lee explained.

[Daniel Brown, “‘Spaceman’ touches down in Marin,” San Mateo County Times, p. 1,3.]

So you can add this to your funeral etiquette book: when in Boston attending a funeral of a Red Sox player, can you give the bird to someone wearing Yankees paraphernalia? Heck, yeah. Bill Lee said so.

Back in the homeland

Carol’s flight into Boston was on time, but mine was delayed, and it was late when i got to the hotel. I went straight to the hotel bar to get a burger.

The Red Sox game was showing on the TV in the hotel bar. Bottom of the eighth, the Sox leading the Orioles 9 to 3, and big David Ortiz is at bat. Gregg, the Baltimore pitcher throws a pitch so far inside that Ortiz has to take a step back. “Didja see that look Ortiz gave him?” says the guy next to me in his Boston accent. Two more pitches exactly like that, and Ortiz yells something at Gregg. The guy sitting next to me says, “Jeez, Ortiz is not happy with that.” One more pitch, Ortiz pops up to center field, Gregg makes some kind of gesture at him, next thing you know both dugouts and both bullpens are out in the field mixing it up — desultory commentary provided by two guys with Boston accents sitting at a Boston bar.

OK, I live in the Bay Area now, and of course I like northern California weather better, and yes everyone is friendlier there, and people don’t drive like crazed maniacs the way they do in Boston. But for someone who grew up in eastern New England, there’s nothing like sitting in a bar watching the Sox with other people who speak God’s own English. It’s like being back in the homeland or something.