More Lessons from the Ball Game

Apparently, I have lost my sense of humor. Apparently, it is okay… and not just okay but perfectly acceptable… to repeatedly tell a player how badly he “sucks.” My ninth grade science teacher would have been appalled at the flagrant use of the word “suck.” Mr. Bedillion, rest his soul, always took issue with his students saying so-and-so sucked. “Sucked what?” he would ask with a mischievous twinkle in his eye. But I digress.

The day started out lovely. The temperature was nearly perfect and the cottony clouds in the sky above made delicate patterns through the brilliant blue sky. I actually listened with interest to the starting line-up and felt a bit a part of the camaraderie in the stadium. Then, the fans around me started booing a player on the opposite team. Like whole stadium booing. I asked hubby what was the offense. Manny Machado apparently took issue a few games back with a play made by the Oakland A’s Josh Donaldson. Machado was thrown out of the game and even had to sit out a number of following games for his poor behavioral performance.

And the fans at the Oakland stadium decided not to let him live it down. Repeatedly, and by repeatedly I mean every five minutes, they started a chant that was some variant of “Machado, you suck.” Yes, they took down his grandmother verbally and booed everything he did.

It was disgusting. Especially because it grew louder and louder each time. And the kids around us were asking, “Why, why are they being so mean?” Leave it to the kids to get it.

Because booing another person is just mean. I don’t care what they’ve done.

We live in a society ever-ready to point out the bully. And often, rightly so. But in a sports stadium, bullying is acceptable. There’s power in the mob and the mob bully is the most powerful bully there is. That still doesn’t exonerate the bully’s behavior.

The mob. It sickened me to watch the first hecklers, for sure, but then to see other people, turning, laughing and joining in, even egging on the original instigators. For me, it was like being in a jeering fun house where all the mirrors reflect back the same evil joker’s face. Ugly en masse.

My kids could see I was getting really upset with the heckling. And trying to set a positive example, each time the chant got going, I countered with a more positive, “Let’s go A’s.” Because that is why we came to the stadium, today, right? To cheer on our team, to encourage them toward victory, to enjoy ourselves? Or did we come to tear down another person? That is not good sportsmanship.

As if us fans have never made a mistake, have never done something we regretted later. As if any one of us was on the field the day of the offense. What right do we have, ever, to ridicule another because they made a mistake?

There was a woman once, in a very dry, dusty place. She was caught in the act of adultery. She lived in a place and a time where and when the law said that she should be stoned to death for this. The mob followed the leaders and led her to the local temple where a wise teacher sat. “Our law says to stone her,” the mob cried. “What do you say?”

The teacher knelt down and began drawing in the dust with his finger. Stalling, perhaps, taking the air out of the mob, probably, weighing his words, reading the heart of the woman, quietly communing with God, definitely.

Finally, he raised his head and gave the ok with one stipulation. Only a man who had never sinned could throw the first stone.

Anxious looks are followed by heads bowing, chins resting on chests, sighs, eyes lost in memories of the past. “There was that time when…” and “I know I shouldn’t have done that…” and “I hope no one ever finds out about that…” and the incriminating past was howling in everyone’s ears. And they dropped their stones and shuffled away while the teacher continued his drawing in the dirt.

When he finally looked up, only the adulterous woman remained. “Where have they gone?” he asked her. “Where are your accusers? Didn’t anyone throw a stone?”

Alone, and yet now surrounded by the realization that she is not alone in her sin, she shook her head. They took their pointing fingers and went home. They took their boos and their heckles, and shamed by them, they went home.

The teacher, standing and dusting off his knees, touched the woman’s shoulder, looked her in the eye, and he who could have thrown the first stone, he who really was sinless, said, “Then I don’t condemn you either” (John 8).

At the beginning of the game, we went through the tradition of singing the National Anthem. I love the words of the song, the imagery it paints, and I remarked today as I often do that the crowd goes wild when the phrase “land of the free” is sung. Why does the crowd rally to that? We love our freedom! We’re a nation of people who believe in freedom… and our rights and our entitlements. But today it struck me that no one really cheered for the following phrase “And the home of the brave.” As I surveyed the faces around me, I was struck by how quickly everyone went back to gorging on hot dogs and popcorn and peanuts and nachos filling an entire helmet. And I wondered if we are really a brave people any more.

When the heckling started, bravery seemed lost. True bravery is forgiving. True bravery is welcoming a brother, loving another, embracing instead of condemning. I can safely and bravely say that from this side of the computer screen. I realize that is a tempered bravery, a less-than-bold bravery. Ugh.

I started crying on the way home from the game. “Why, Mama? Why are you crying? Are you so mad?” the kids asked. “No.” I answered. “I’m heartbroken.” Heartbroken that I still live in a world that is broken, where the mob rules, where people can’t be decent to each other, where booing and heckling a brother is “just part of the game.” I’m heartbroken that this is the world for my kids. And if nothing else, I’m going to be brave enough to teach my kids that this is not how Christ would have it.

You know, for years, I wondered why people made posters with John 3:16 printed on them and took them to ball games. For the first time, I realize that a sports stadium is actually the best possible place for such a message. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son so that he who believes may have eternal life.” And with that kind of assurance, one can be brave enough to look in the mirror and drop the stone in hand.

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