Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The “No All-Star Ballot B4 June 1” Movement

Voting for the Major League Baseball All-Star Game is underway, which is ridiculous. It’s ridiculous because each team has played only about twenty-five games so far this season and so there is simply not enough evidence on which to judge the players’ performance. That is why I will not fill out an All-Star ballot until June 1. I hope, if you care about this issue as much as I do—and I realize that there is a very, very slim chance that you do—that you will join me in the “No MLB All-Star Ballot B4 June 1” Movement.

To vote at this early date is to participate in a popularity contest rather than in a merit-based selection process. That voting for the Mid-Summer Classic has deteriorated into a popularity poll is underscored by the way that the teams encourage their fans to vote for the home team’s players. While I understand the desire of fans to support their favorite team’s players, to deem someone All-Star worthy because of the uniform he wears is silly.

I’m a Braves fan and there are some Braves who will deserve serious consideration from me or from somebody in Portland, Oregon or Portland, Maine. If Andrelton Simmons is not the starting National League shortstop then they ought to cancel the game. Freddie Freeman, Evan Gattis, and Justin Upton should get a lot of votes. But no one who is paying any attention at all should vote for Dan Uggla, Chris Johnson, B. J. Upton, or Jayson Heyward. And, while fans (thankfully) don’t select the pitching staffs, National League Manager Mike Matheney might, the way things are going, have to give serious consideration to the Braves’ entire starting rotation.

While I recognize that without the fans there would be no Major League baseball, I still believe that the entire roster of the two teams, including the starting lineups, should be selected by the managers and players of each respective league, since they are the ones who see all the players play and who know their true contributions to their teams. It’s a good thing that the on-line fan ballot gives each player’s up-to-date batting statistics, but those stats tell only a part of the story. What about each player’s defensive play? Or base running? Or hustle? Or leadership? I say let professional baseball people pick the All-Star teams so that the best teams made up of the most deserving players will be on the field.

The bottom line for me is that players should be judged on as large a portion as possible of their body of work and by people who are truly qualified to know whether they are of All-Star quality.

So join the movement! Show your support! On Twitter use #NoMLBAllStarBallotB4June1. Go to Facebook and like the No MLB All-Star Ballot B4 June 1 page. But whatever you do, please don’t cast your ballot(s) until June 1.

By the way, having the outcome of the All-Star Game determine home field advantage for the World Series is ridiculous, too, but we’ll save that movement for another year …

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Dem Bones

Does any Baptist out there besides me remember “M” Night? The “M” stood for “Mobilization” and the annual “M” Night held in each Baptist Association was a program designed to inspire the churches to ever greater discipleship heights through the program known as Baptist Young People’s Union, then as Training Union, then as Church Training, and then (and finally, so far as I know), as Discipleship Training. The rally was typically held on a Monday night in mid-autumn.

Once when I was a young pastor I was invited to bring the “inspirational message” for a neighboring association. I chose as my text Ezekiel 37:1-14, the story of Ezekiel’s vision of a valley filled with dry bones. In that vision God shows Ezekiel a valley filled with dry bones. The prophet is told to preach to the dry bones (here I resist the temptation to insert the silly line I have often used about this being every preacher’s experience at one time or another) and the dry bones come together to form skeletons (you know, the thigh bone’s connected to the knee bone and all that). Then sinews and flesh and skin come onto the skeletons so that now Ezekiel sees a valley full of nice, fully formed cadavers.

It is only when Ezekiel preaches to the breath/wind/spirit (the same Hebrew word means all of that) so that the breath/wind/spirit comes into those bodies that the bodies come to life. The Lord told Ezekiel what the vision was about: God was going to “resurrect” the people from the graves of their Babylonian captivity and give them new life back in their own land; “I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the LORD, have spoken, and will act, says the LORD” (v. 14).

In my sermon I pointed out that while the bones looked much better when they came together and became covered with flesh and skin, the bodies were still dead until the Spirit of God came into them. I went on to make the (very valid, I thought) point that in our churches, we could have all the fine-looking ministry programs we could manage but, unless the church and its ministries were filled with the Spirit of God, our programs and our churches were still dead.

After the service, this one fellow came up to me, shook my hand, and said, “I liked that if nobody else did.” Story of my preaching life …

I thought about that night because Ezekiel 37 was one of my scripture readings this morning (Tuesday). Sometimes in our churches we find ourselves in search of some new life and to that end we try some new things. Some, and hopefully all, of those new things will go real well and we’ll be rightly excited about it. Let me say, though, what I said at that “M” Night some twenty-five years ago: we can look real good but we are only truly alive when we are enlivened and empowered by the Spirit of God; that Spirit is a gift of God and so the real life that we experience comes to us only by God’s grace.

There is a difference between looking alive and being alive—and that difference is the Spirit of God. We can make ourselves look vital but only the Spirit of God can cause us to be vital.

We can manage resuscitation with our own breath but only God can bring about resurrection through God’s Spirit.

So is there anything we can do to become more open to the Spirit of God? Yes—we can move toward praying regularly and constantly; we can read our Bibles with an ever-increasing prayerful attitude in which we seek to know and do God’s will; we can worship God along with our sisters and brothers; we can enjoy the communion of Christian fellowship; and we can gladly and sacrificially serve God by serving others. Such practices make us more open and available to the Spirit of God who is with us, wanting to give us new life.

Can I get an “Amen”?

Or at least an “I like that if nobody else does!”?