You already know I am a baseball fan. I come by that naturally and by means of spiritual adoption: my dad loved baseball, so I grew up watching the NBC Game of the Week, as well as listening to the Braves on a transistor radio. And our Father loves baseball (note: just consider the 1st 4 words of the whole Bible, “In the Big Inning!”).
The Church Adele/I belong with orders life around small, spiritual communities called link groups (our lives linked to God and to each other – get it?).
So, when our link group decided to take a night to go out to The Yard (Baltimorian for ‘Oriole Park at Camden Yards’), I was all in!
Only 6 adults from our group were available the night selected. Adele/I (2 of the 6) had an appointment in Annapolis at 5 PM so we knew it would be close, but the traffic angels were with us and we met up with the other 4 fans at the Babe Ruth statue just outside the gate.
It was a classic-summer evening in Baltimore…sticky, warmer-than-I’d-like (anything above 75 is warmer-than-I’d-like…), and with a threat of rain.
The game had a little history to it… this Orioles franchise moved to Baltimore in 1954, from St. Louis where they were the old St. Louis Browns (short for Brown Stockings… or Brown Sox).
This game was an inter-league match-up (For the record: I am not a fan of interleague play, multi-divisions within the leagues, or the unbalanced schedule!). The old St. Louis Browns (present-day Orioles), who shared a city and a stadium with the Cardinals for decades, were hosting the Cards in The Yard for the 1st time in a regular season game. Baseball is a sport of such obscure-history moments!
In the 2nd inning the Cardinals strung together 1 walk and 3 singles, back-to-back-to-back. What baseball fans would call the merry-go-round approach to scoring worked like a charm and the team from Charm City never could crawl back into the game.
I think it was George Will who said, “Every team in baseball wins 60 and loses 60, it’s what you do with the other 42 that matter.” I walked away hoping that game was not one of the other 42.
The game moved at a good clip until the middle of the 6th when the scattered threatening clouds finally found each other, reached up into the heavens for some energy, and dumped on us with rain like I haven’t seen in years.
I thought of Forrest Gump describing the weather in Vietnam [As you read, read out loud and use your best Forrest Gump voice… if you’re at a coffee shop, all the better!]: “One day it started raining, and it didn’t quit for four months. We been through every kind of rain there is. Little bitty stingin’ rain… and big ol’ fat rain. Rain that flew in sideways. And sometimes rain even seemed to come straight up from underneath. Shoot, it even rained at night…”
We showed up. The Cardinals showed up. The rain showed up. The Orioles did not (‘nuff said).
I love the pace of baseball – it gives you time to consider next moves, time to assess the last move, time to shell and enjoy peanuts, time to visit with friends… time for community. Throw in a rain delay and you have more time than you even dreamed!
But, as I sat with 4 other friends from the very same link group I was suddenly silent – not because I was contemplative, reflective, pensive, or any other ‘ive you can think of – but because I didn’t know what to talk about.
Here I sat, in a wonderful venue, with people who are my spiritual family, and I didn’t know them deeply enough to ask shaping questions, nor did they know me deeply enough to move the conversation to a place of transformation.
We have something past an acquaintance, but nowhere near community.
I want to be clear: I am not faulting the structure/intentions of my Church, nor the other 4 people. This one is all on me.
Many authors have written about community as a place “to know and be known.” That initial know demands that I give time to relationship with another, granting them the grace necessary to expose their soul to someone. The second known requires that I live honestly before those people, over time, so that they can see what’s behind the curtain I keep closed most of the time. On both sides of the equation stands risk.
I spent two whole chapters in my book asserting that community is the atmosphere in which disciples of Jesus are formed, concluding one illustration like this:
“When people begin a spiritual journey toward an encounter with Jesus and the expression of His likeness, their lives might well be filled with all the right ingredients, in the right order and just the right amount. However, they cannot adequately travel that journey without the right environment – the environment that they should have come to enjoy as friendship while they searched and they should come to discover as fellowship once they are in the family. The environment in which disciples are made is the atmosphere of community….” [To Love and To Cherish From This Day Forward, p 138]
In short: no community; no disciples.
This past Tuesday, sitting in the rain at The Yard, I again realized both the value and the price of community – a price I have not yet ‘paid in full.’ The question is not “should I” or “could I.” The question is, “will I?”