Archive for June 24th, 2009

[Disclaimer or something like it. I realize that such blog posts as the one you are about to read are fraught with danger. Being transparent and honest about our struggles in a public forum exposes one to many dangers. I'm willing to take that risk in this post because I'm convinced that most of you who visit here love me enough to bear with my periodic confessions of weakness without judging me too harshly. Grace and Peace.]

Little League and the Christian Pilgrimage

I am coaching little league this year. We have played 15 games, had two games rained out, and have three remaining on the calendar. My team was an expansion team. Last season, we had enough boys sign up to fill out two rosters of about 12 boys per team. This year, we had so many sign up to play that we filled out three rosters of 12 each. My team consists mostly of first year players, well, first year at this level which is Junior Boys Division One or 13-14 year-olds.

One of the teams in our community had, I believe, 9 returning players and the other team had 7. I have 12 boys, all first year 13 year olds. I love those boys. Managing a little league team is mostly about managing personalities (of the parents too!) and managing the numbers such as pitch count and innings played. At the Junior’s level, play becomes far more competitive. The standings mean something, the score counts, and individual play counts for tournament consideration.

I went into the season, despite what I knew, with a cautious optimism. I hate losing and I thought perhaps if I rubbed enough of that enthusiasm off on my team that they would play harder and faster. I thought, seriously, we could compete-even with the big boys. Through the first 8 games or so I was actually right. We were 5-3. The first game we played was on the road and we crushed them: 17-4. We were, all of us, in a great mood. Love abounded in the dugout that night.

After our eighth game, however, baseball became a chore. We have lost 7 straight games. We have been run-ruled 5 times and we have lost two games in the bottom of the seventh inning after tying or leading in the top of the seventh inning. Currently, in case you cannot add, we are 5-10. I love my team.

During the stretch of 7 consecutive losses things have been rather tough. We lost one player for the last 5 games to a vacation. We lost another young man when he ended up in the hospital because his hemoglobin dropped way below safe levels and needed transfusions and a bone marrow biopsy. Our latest blow was when our starting first baseman broke his finger. We only carry a roster of 12 boys; 3 are out. Things are tough all over for our team. I’m sure these three would rather be playing ball. I love these boys.

A big part of managing a little league baseball team is in managing personalities and egos. Some kids are ‘better’ than others; some are not. Some kids think they ‘deserve’ to play more than others; others are happy to be on a team. Some kids’ parents think their children’s, well, let’s just say their kids never make an error or throw the ball in the dirt or strike out with the bases loaded; most do not. Some kids are natural born pessimists (and have inherited it honestly); many have no idea what it means to quit until the umpire says ‘you’re out!’ or the sun goes down or the last inning is played or the last ball is lost over the fence. I love those kids.

I love those kids who have no quit in them, who play hard regardless of how poorly ‘we’ play. I love those kids who keep on laughing even when we are crushed by a lopsided score. I love those kids who keep on going up to bat after striking out 20 straight times. I love those kids who still think we can win even when the opposing coach has his players stealing home despite the fact that he is already winning by 8 runs. I love those boys who hustle off the field because ‘it’s our turn to bat!’ I love those boys who turn their hats inside out and believe, even though batters 7, 8, and 9 are coming up and we need 9 runs in order not to be run-ruled, that we have a shot at the win. I love those who get really angry with me when they have to sit because I need to get other players fielding time (per little league rules). I love those boys, pitchers, who want the ball when we are playing the toughest team in the league. I love those boys who hate losing even though that is all that seems to happen. I love those boys who hustle out a foul ball and don’t stop running until blue says, “Foul!” I love those boys who, after a crushing defeat, still have the nerve to run up to their teammates after the game and tackle them in the grass. I love those boys.

I love those boys who know what it means to win and never take it for granted because those are the boys who never quit. They never stop running, catching, throwing, and hitting. Nor do they stop smiling, laughing, and loving. They pick up their teammates when they’re down. They show up at the next game with a clean uniform, a glove, a smile, and a ‘where do you need me to play tonight, coach?’ I love those boys.

These are the ones who continue to believe we can win even when all external indicators point in exactly the opposition direction.

It is terribly difficult to want to show up for three more games when all outward appearances seem to be dictating that we will end our season, at best, 6-12 or 6-14 if we make up two rain-outs. It’s difficult to show up for three more games when you know you are going to be stuck in the outfield for 21-35 more innings. Baseball will break your heart, said A. Bart Giamatti. And even though I’m no fan of the late Giamatti (he banned Pete Rose from baseball), I agree with him 100%. It’s hard to find passion in something that continues to beat you down, game after game, inning after inning, pitch after pitch. How I love those boys who find a way to keep going back on that field that continues to break their hearts; those boys who continue working on their game and making every play even when the team is losing.

It’s terribly difficult to want to coach when there are some around who don’t think it even worth the effort. It’s terribly difficult to love those who are natural born pessimists, but as a manager I am called to do so anyhow. It’s easy to coach the lovable, the excitable, the manageable, the hard-worker, the player; the winners. It’s terribly difficult to coach the perpetually negative; the losers. Anyone would want to coach Derek Jeter; not too many would want to coach Barry Bonds.

And it’s like that in our pilgrimage too. It’s easy to love the lovable. Not so easy to love the unlovable.

I can love those folks who crank out an enthusiastic ‘Great sermon Pastor!’ all day long. It is much harder to love those who show up but never uncross their arms or wipe the scowl off their face or sing a song or even say hello or are more interested in where to go for lunch than they are about the call to put feet to faith.

I have to be honest: I’m not there yet. I am a complete failure in that regard. I know I should. I know the Spirit enables me. I know they need to be loved. But Oh, God it is so difficult. It is so hard to love those who know better and act worse. It’s terribly difficult to love those who show up at board meetings but won’t show up for worship. It’s hard to love those who do not love you. Seriously. It is beyond imagination hard.

Love is such a strange thing. If I love those contrary people…am I not giving up my rights? Am I not allowing my ego to be destroyed? What about my pride? I happen to know for a fact that I am right. Oh God this twisting inside me is killing me. I want so badly for God to do what is right and yet the only thing that seems to be making progress is the weakness that is pushing me closer and closer to the edge of a breakdown.

I keep telling God, “God, why won’t you do what is right?” And all I keep hearing him say in response is, “Why are you not loving my people? Those people, yes, those people.” “I am unworthy-how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth” (Job 40:4). Or, maybe it’s, “I am unwilling-why should I? I clench my teeth and harden my heart.”

Jesus could have said anything else to us; frankly I wish he had. He could have given us any other command or any other idea or any other teaching or any other way of demonstration. But he didn’t. He didn’t. He didn’t. The one he gave is the one that is killing me, killing us, killing the church because it is the one that is daily refused, especially here in the blog world, to be practiced.

“Love one another.”

He didn’t tell us to discriminate or separate the church into groups of sheep and goats and only love the lovely.

“Love one another.”

Die to your life; kill your pride. Love those he loved. Love those he died for. Feed his sheep. Lord, do you know what you are asking?

“Love one another.”

Lord, isn’t there some other way for me to show you that I love you? Can’t I memorize a book of the Bible instead? Isn’t a clanging cymbal a nice thing at times?

“Love one another.”

Lord, I can’t. They have hurt me. It’s a matter of principle. What about truth? What about right? Lord why do you seem to care more about their feelings than mine?

“Love one another.”

Lord, you are killing me. I’m dying here. I can’t breathe. I have no strength to do what you are asking.

“Love one another.”

Lord, they don’t. They make no effort. They don’t even care if I love them. They are sinning.

“Love one another.”

Lord, have mercy. Isn’t there some other way? How about if I serve poor people? Or give my body to save a dying person? How about if I preach a sermon in Greek? How about if I explain in great detail your Scriptures and defend truth?

“Love one another.”

“Love one another.”

______________________

See you at the field, thursday evening. I’ll be there. Managing. Coaching. Loving…all my boys.

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