Play Ball! Ethics in a Postmodern World

The World Series in Baseball begins October 22. I love baseball, especially college play. The NCAA limits the number of scholarship players to 11.7 so there’s about 23 out of a total of 35 who are playing because they simply love the game. It’s one of the purest sports left on the athletic landscape. The College World Series in Omaha is a treat that should be on everyone’s bucket list. I’ve been 6 times. Once driving straight-through by myself, once with Cindy, and four times with our youngest son, Caleb. It’s great!

As I think about our postmodern culture wars there are two statements that come to me from my experience with baseball, from my own playing and managing days, as well as from enjoying the game from the seats: “Remember what’s fair and what’s foul;” and “Always think about what you’re going to do if the ball comes to you.”

The chalked lines and foul poles near the stands around the baseball field determine what’s a fair and foul ball. What’s good and kosher, and what isn’t. In our pluralistic culture we are confused about what’s fair and foul. Instead of relying on what is timeless as an arbiter of truth, we make up our own rules. The resulting anarchy of self-defined values has left our culture on a chalk-less field. At best, we are confused, and at worst we are dead wrong.

Christianity has become so enculturated that we often stand for nothing. The means of deciding boundaries of God-endorsed behaviors has been tossed out of the game. For quite some time, what is known as the “Quadrilateral” has been the guide for Christian ethics. Think of the Quadrilateral as a three-legged stool with Scripture as the seat of the stool. It is primary. It is God-breathed and inspired. Using the stool analogy, the Bible is seen through the lenses of the three legs: Tradition, Reason, and Experience. It is also wise to remember that Tradition, Reason, and Experience are also seen through the lens of Scripture. That is a large part of what our world is missing!

In our confused and misguided world, we tend to put individual Experience first and disregard corporate experience that distills the actions that we hold in common as best. Next, we have redefined Tradition to mean just the last 30 years instead of 4, 000 years of Judeo-Christian values. Then we have remade Reason into what science, mostly meaning what psychology and social sciences, tell us. The Mind of Christ and/or empirical studies have given us hard evidence of unwelcome truths about identity determinants. No wonder then that Scripture is last on our list of sources of truth because hardly anyone trusts it, much less, treats it as the primary guide for ethical thought and actions. Few people actually study it, much less put it into practice.

Then comes the last statement that is paramount to a good baseball team: “Know what you’re going to do if the baseball comes to you.” Every day we are faced with moral questions – What’s right and what’s wrong, in other words, the foul and fair line questions. What are we going to do if the questions, the ball, comes to us? Are we going to use Scripture as primary backed up by centuries of a thorough examination of God’s truth through tradition? Are we going to promote selective reason and biased studies over the plain sense of what’s good? Are we going to make our individual experience the most important arbiter of what’s right and wrong?

What are you going to do if the ball comes to you? How are you going to answer the hard questions of life? As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord. I would rather stick with the tried and true than the untried and unsure. Play Ball!

American as Mom, Baseball, and Apple Pie!

I just got back from the College World Series tent-camping for $11 bucks a night with my youngest son, Caleb. We had a great time. I love all college sports but baseball has a special place in my heart. Unlike a lot of sports, it’s still so pure. Very few players on the teams have scholarships. Most will never play in the Majors. They just love the game. There’s a fresh naiveté about it every season.

I can hear the crack of the bat, the ball hitting with a heavy thump into the catcher’s mitt, the sound of a swooshing slide across home plate. I can see the sheer beauty of a diving catch, a perfectly turned double play, or a 12/6 sinking curve ball. Every time I go to a baseball game I experience the little bit of heaven portrayed in the Kevin Costner classic, “Field of Dreams.” I can hear James Earl Jones’ voice as Terrence Mann talking about baseball consistently marking the passage of time as other things have changed about America. Catch a replay and savor the moment! I cry every time – can’t help it.

This game has remained largely unchanged. The numbers still count. Slugging percentages, On Base percentages, E.R.A’s, R.B.I.’s, R.I.S.P., and batting averages all play their part with the added bonuses of baseball’s quirky antics and superstitions to which no other sports can hold a candle. Seventh inning stretches and singing “Take me out to the Ballgame” is a beloved ritual. The cracker jacks don’t come in boxes any more, but I just had a bag with a prize inside the other night. All this is to say that the adage about the U.S. being all about Mom, baseball, and apple pie is pretty darn true.

Caleb and I had a great time together at the ballpark and at Lake Manawa State Park. I was able to read two N.T. Wright books: Simply Christian and Simply Jesus. They were excellent. I did my share of catching up on some favorite novel authors that mix history and mystery. It was pretty hot during the day and we weathered a couple of rough storms. The nights were cool enough to have a campfire. It was good, simple yet profound. Classic!

I’m refreshed to be back on site greeting new clergy and thinking ahead to the Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference. I am grateful for a few days of Baseball Bliss in Omaha, Nebraska. Play Ball!!!

When the Storms of Life Are Raging

We’ve all seen some storms. We know about the devastation across the south this past spring, and continued natural calamities happening everywhere. What do we think about God when stuff like this happens? You’ve seen the W.I.G.I.A.T. bumper stickers that ask the question, “Where Is God In All This?” I took this photo when Caleb and I were in Omaha for the College World Series. No rain was falling yet. A trash can lid went by going about 50 mph just before I flipped my IPhone up to take the shot. It was dangerous, scary and awesome, too.

I used to love sitting on the front porch during thunder storms when I was a kid. It was so powerful. I was struck by the majesty of nature’s fury. I have felt the same awe when I’m on top of Mt. Mitchell. My dilemma is my tendency to give God the credit for the beautiful things that occur in nature and to blame Nature for the things that are terrible. I get bent out of shape when people say such-and-such was “an act of God,” but I have fueled the dichotomy by my own lack of clarity in answering the question, “Where is God in all this?”

With Narcie’s tumor I want to blame nature gone wild. That’s what tumors and cancer are anyway. When tornadoes strike and people are killed, I want to say Nature did it. Same with hurricanes. Hey, what about the freak accident last night when a firefighter, Shannon Stone, age 39, fell 20 feet reaching for a foul ball in a Texas Rangers-Oakland baseball game. Man, his little boy saw it all. His dad died. Where is God in all this?

Now I know enough about theodicy and am Wesleyan enough to know God doesn’t cause junk like this. James 1 says “every good and perfect gift comes from God and that God doesn’t test anyone. (my paraphrase). This reminds me of the hymn “Stand By Me” which says to me that God in Christ through the Holy Spirit isn’t the source of the bad stuff whatever it may be. God does what the hymn says. He stands by us. That’s one of the strongest messages of Jesus’ incarnation. God has entered our fallen existence and says, “No matter what happens, I’m with you!”

So if God isn’t the cause of junk; i.e., the storms of life – where do they come from? My choices are the first cause. I drove too fast. I chose to disregard my doctor’s advice. I, I, I… but sometimes stuff occurs because of somebody else’s choice. They chose to travel through a stop sign after they decided to drink and drive. They chose…. but sometimes it’s not my choices or those of others that result in mayhem. Sometimes it’s the simple fact that life and natural laws reflect a higher law that was broken a long time ago by Adam & Eve in the Garden. The results of the Fall have reverberated across the centuries. Our doctrines of sin and salvation start with the Fall -wouldn’t need Jesus if everything was pre-Fall perfect, would we? But that doesn’t end the list of why bad things happen to both good and bad people. Lastly, I have to admit in a Scott Peck “People of the Lie” kind of way that there’s evil in this world, sometimes big “E” evil.

However, Here’s the Gospel for my daughter with her brain tumor, the family of Shannon Stone, flood and tornado victims, and the oppressed victims of institutional evil, etc. – Jesus is stronger than any storm. He is the author of everlasting life even when death breaks down our doors. Anybody who believes in an “It was meant to be” world as in the movie “Adjustment Bureau,” better watch out because we believe in a Jesus who doesn’t cause our pain, doesn’t have a perfect panacea safe ride of a life pre-engineered for you. We believe in a cowboy adventuresome Jesus who loves us and the cosmos enough to let freedom deal its cards for good or ill, BUT will be with us no matter what cards we’re dealt.

That’s how I can face tomorrow: Because Jesus lives, not because he holds the future in some controlling grasp, but because only he can beat all the sources of bad stuff. I can face tomorrow because I know that when the storms of life are raging, Jesus never fails to stand by me, us, humanity. So I pray for Jesus’ power to heal my little girl, to soothe the pain of the Stone family, to give rain to those who need it, and to keep it from those poor people ravaged by floods. Please, O Lord, hear our prayers for your presence and your delivering power; in Jesus’ name. Amen.

For Love of the Game

Wow – This is the longest that I’ve gone without blogging. Where have I been? Good Question. On the Wednesday after Annual Conference, Caleb and I headed to Omaha, Nebraska to watch great baseball, and to follow the University of South Carolina Gamecocks. This is my fifth trip since 2002. We usually do things on the less expensive side so we usually stay at Lake Manawa Stake Park in Council Bluffs, Iowa just across the Missouri River from Omaha. Well, God bless the people up and down the Missouri because the flooding this year has been the worst in decades. Lake Manawa and it’s $11 a night fees was shut down because of it. We ended up staying at the West Omaha KOA for around $30 – still better than the $375 a night accommodations near TD Ameritrade Ballpark.

Just like last year when Caleb and I said that we would stay as long as the Gamecocks did, we ended up being there for 13 nights, went through horrific storms, tense close games and watched one extraordinary play after another to see South Carolina win back to back National Championships! Wow! Man, the 13-inning marathon against Virginia and getting out of bases-loaded jams was UNBELIEVABLE! We may not have had the best of anything except what won it for us – scrappiness! These guys have grit and they love the game. College baseball is the closest thing to a true sport in my opinion. Only a handful of players get any scholarship money. Most will never play for the Big Leagues. So why do they play? They play for love of the game.

Goodness, what if everybody did what they did for the love of the game – whatever the game, the calling, the job,  the hobby. Mediocre is not USC Baseball. Mediocre doesn’t make you just one of 6 teams to win back to back championships, or set a record for CWS or NCAA wins. “Medi” means “middle.” “Ocre” means “mountain.” Therefore, “Mediocre” means “halfway up the mountain.” My Daddy would have said it another way and, boy, was he a Gamecock fan! Nobody needs to settle for mediocre. Halfway doesn’t cut it! The Gamecock Baseball Team proved that ordinary can be extraordinary if  one gives their all, for love of the game! Go Gamecocks!

All Curses Are Dead


What a time Caleb and I had in Omaha for the College World Series. We promised each other that we would stay as long as Carolina was still in the hunt. Well, we’re home and the Gamecocks prevailed. USC has its National Championship, and the “Chicken Curse” is over! But, wait a minute – as a person of faith, hasn’t the Curse been over for a long time? Yes, it has! No matter what the problem or who the opponent is – The Curse is over! I think what made this USC team special is its non-superstar journeymen (Michael Roth; et. al.) and fun approach (Nick Ebert, Scott Wingo; et. al.) to being a team. These guys enjoyed each other and it showed. They broke the Chicken Curse through their relationship with something/someone(s) bigger than themselves.

I hope that I can live into that belief this week as I reconnect with folks in the UM Center, Columbia District churches and clergy, and continue to encourage our piece of United Methodism. I’m a bit tired after all of the Omaha and back driving; and then this past weekend, staying with Narice and Mike and having a blast with Enoch and Evy. They’re great, and Narcie is doing so well though our anxiety lingers. I just saw Caleb after being with him non-stop for 2 straight weeks. I’ve missed him and told him so. It’s good to reconnect with those that you love. Caleb has been living at home these past 4 years in Columbia and just graduated from USC. It’s been a saga and we’ve tried to maintain healthy distance in his personal life, but our 2 weeks in Omaha was absolutely wonderful. Sure, Narcie stayed on my mind, and Josh is great; but it was so good to just “be” with Caleb. It was good for our relationship.

Someone said you have to be relational to be relevant. Isn’t that the truth. If one wants to make a difference in a life, a country, or a community – you have to be connected, relational. As a family we have felt that through Narcie’s illness. I felt it in Omaha with Caleb and new found friends. I want to feel it in church, too, but I have to admit that’s a bigger task as a District Superintendent. I think it’s one of our biggest challenges for Christianity. Thanks to being a DS I think I kind of get it about those who stay home on Sundays because they’re so beat up by the work week. We have to make church a relational family, not an entertainment center or a dull dirty monument to yesteryear.

Personally, you guys are winning the battle for relational Christianity when it comes to me and mine. Sure, I don’t have one church or a church home, it’s more like 70 of them, but after 4 years of quality time with each clergy, multiple charge conferences, UMM Retreats and Events, UMW Events, and myriad meetings of every ilk; I feel connected to the entire Columbia District; and through the Connectional Table, SC Annual Conference, and the Worldwide UMC Study Committee, I feel as close as a phone call or email to our whole denomination. I am grateful for how relevant you all are because you have chosen to be relational with my family. Thank you! Thank you!

I am very grateful for Caleb choosing to reconnect and relate to his old man for 2 solid weeks of baseball and camping in Omaha, Nebraska. And, of course, we now relate to a bigger Gamecock Nation. There’s a lot of truth in the saying: There’s strength in numbers, and the song that says “reach out and touch someone” is playing in my head. Here’s to us on this Fourth of July weekend: E Pluribus Unum, “Out of Many, One.” You have to be relational to be relevant!