By Bob Hiller –
Last year we took our kids to their first baseball game at Dodger Stadium. Because we have a gracious God in heaven, it was the fastest game I’d ever been to (just around two hours with kids in the heat is perfect). Zach Greinke pitched a two hit gem. If I recall, he only walked one dude as well; only three batters away from perfection! My kids loved it, though they didn’t fully appreciate it. If I do my job as a father, one day they will. For now what my kids remember most about that game was not the incredible pitching performance, nor the poor outing for my Rockies (something they will certainly get used to), nor was it the incredible seats we had that day. No, my kids remember the Dodger Dogs.
If you’ve never had a Dodger Dog you are missing out. A Dodger Dog is a 10 inch, Farmer John hot dog served in a steamed bun. In all honesty, there is nothing particularly exceptional about the hot dog, it is just a rather large hot dog. But, and I can’t explain it, there is something awesome about sitting next to your kids and eating a nearly foot-long sausage filled with God-knows-what, and cheering for the Dodgers. (This is something I think I may allow my kids to do because I want them to experience joy…thanks for nothing Rockies.) It is an all American experience that can only be had at Dodger Stadium.
Now, I am sure someone might say, “Look, why don’t I just go buy some Oscar Meyers, throw ‘em on the grill, and watch the Dodgers on TV? It’s all kind of the same right?” Sorry folks, you can’t get a Dodger dog outside of Dodger Stadium. Outside Chavez Ravine (home of Dodger Stadium) it is only a hot dog. In the ballpark, with the fans, watching the team: that’s what makes the hot dog a Dodger Dog. There is something lost when you sit in front of a TV with a mere hot dog in your hands. Not only do you not get the Dodger Dog, you miss out on the whole glorious experience of being at a ballpark, cheering in one accord with 30,000 of your closest friends, rising almost liturgically during the seventh inning stretch to sing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” I guess you can do that at home. But you miss out on the virtue of being in the community of fans, each enjoying the same meal around the same game.
That is one of the virtues of sports: they bring communities together, cheering for a common end, enjoying life together, even if it is for a short burst of time. In a rather insightful moment of sports talk this week Steve Mason, of the Mason and Ireland Show, suggested that churches used to function as a place for communal gatherings, but now church numbers are down. He said in the last ten years, attendance has dropped from 62% to 38% in our country…and yes, this show was on ESPN Radio! He noted, disparagingly I might add, that people can get their spiritual needs met on the internet so they avoid the church community. Because of the home watching experience, sports teams are worried about similar trends. If your team doesn’t put a good product on the field, watching from home will be better. Heck, football games are so full of drunk idiots making vulgar statements toward children that it isn’t worth the ridiculous price of admission. So now, sports are experiencing a shift where the communal experience isn’t desired like it once was. Modern media has changed the game.
This got me thinking that we as the church may need to think more critically about how we engage with new forms of media. My congregation puts all of our sermons and bible studies online. I actually believe that the proclaimed Word of the Gospel can kill and make alive in person and on Youtube. If this is a way for people at my church to feel confident in sharing the message our church preaches, I am glad to help by giving that resource.
However, I do wonder about some of the unintended consequences of putting all the church’s material online. Though we may be helping some who would otherwise not hear the gospel, we must beware that we might be enabling people to stay away from church. People can now check out my sermons to see if I am a product they want to buy. Folks who prefer to sleep in and avoid people can now get “church” while going for a jog. (This would be my preferred route had I another profession.) As much as I am convinced that the internet is helping spread the gospel and the church should engage with new forms of technology, I am enough of a Luddite to fear that something good is lost in all of this.
Because, you see, you can’t get Dodger Dogs at home. You can’t have community on an iPad. You can’t pray for your hurting brothers and sisters when you don’t see them face-to-face. You can’t be called to account for your sins by people you never talk to. You can’t love or be loved when your relationship to the church is defined by avoiding it. You can’t share the peace with your dog and you can’t have communion alone. Sermons are not interesting theological ideas that you can choose to engage with in your free time, but (hopefully!) well crafted messages prepared by men who have spent time engaging the lives of God’s people in that place so that they know specifically how to deliver the goods to you. Your pastor is not called to spout off interesting philosophies on God, but to preach an enfleshed Word to an enfleshed congregation. That means he needs to see you in the flesh! The entire life-shaping pattern of God’s Word in the liturgy and worship service is lost when you pop the sermon on the TV before you watch “How I Met Your Mother” reruns.
See, you just can’t get Dodger Dogs at home and you can’t commune by yourself. You need the community. The community needs you. God has given you a church to speak His sin-ending, life-giving Word into your ears. For the love of all things holy, don’t avoid that for the sake of convenience.