By Bob Hiller –
The demise of baseball is beginning to worry me. It’s no exaggeration to say that its downfall is directly related to the undoing of our society. The Washington Post ran an article this past week investigating why baseball is losing our youth and how Major League Baseball (MLB) fears a declining fan base in the future. Though in terms of revenue and fan attendance the numbers are up. The reality is that the fan base is, on average, too old to support America’s pastime 25-30 years from now. MLB worries that kids just aren’t captivated by baseball anymore. That a sport’s popularity declines is nothing to get us all bent out of shape. But, the reason for the decline should raise the red flags. Listen to what 15 year-old Austin says about his choice to play football instead of baseball:
“Most of the time, I was in center field, wondering, ‘When is the ball going to get to me?’” he says. “Baseball players are thinking ahead all the time, always thinking of the possibilities — ‘If I can’t get it to second, do I throw to first?’ Baseball is a bunch of thinking, and I live a different lifestyle than baseball. In basketball and football, you live in the moment. You got to be quick. Everything I do, I do with urgency.”
Let’s get the instant replay on that: “Baseball is a bunch of thinking, and I live a different lifestyle than baseball.” That is a terrifying statement. I was actually impressed by this young man’s ability to speak clearly on his choice against baseball. What scares me about his comment, however, is that he has chosen against a sport because it demands too much mental investment. He’d rather live in the moment than have to think through multiple scenarios and unpredictable outcomes on every play. What scares me is not that many kids are choosing basketball or football over baseball, but rather that this is how the young generation is making life decisions. They are not asking, “What is the good in this decision I make?” but rather, “What gives me the highest payoff with the least demand?” Sure, there is value in thinking through all the potential scenarios in and at bat, but I’d rather live in the moment and react.
The trouble is that what truly matters in life comes with high demand. Things that are true, good, and beautiful force you to exert yourself mentally. Think about this in terms of family life. When it comes to disciplining my children, as every good father should do, I need to think through the rules of my home, make sure they are fair, and set clear boundaries for my kids. I also need to be clear about consequences for crossing the boundaries and mentally prepare myself to follow through on the rules that have been set. It’s a lot of work! But, if I discipline by simply reacting to their disobedience, it will create disorder and fear because they will never know how to act around me.
The same comes with how one lives in the freedom of the Gospel. As has been noted by Thomas Bergler and others, the church has become more and more juvenile in its practices. Far from Christ’s call for us to take up our cross and follow Him, far from St. Paul’s reminder that we have had our minds renewed by the proclamation of God’s grace, far from Luther’s call to the oratio, meditatio, tentatio (prayer, meditation, and struggle) of Christian discipleship, our churches have aimed at creating quick moments that dazzle and excite. These churches don’t renew minds and enable people to think critically, let alone biblically, about what is happening all around them. Worship services are designed to create an experience that impacts the emotions, but doesn’t necessarily deliver a gospel that will force you to rethink everything you thought about yourself and the world around you.
The trouble is, I think that we are bound to this lie which says that faith and reason are at odds with each other and faith cannot stand up to reason. This lie produces a fear of thinking in the church. Thus, faith becomes an excuse for us to not think and just “believe.” Yes, Luther called reason the devil’s whore, but only because the devil sold her out in an effort to make us attempt to out think God. Reason that is formed by the Word produces a fruit that won’t get you kicked out of the Garden, but will only make you rejoice you’ve been invited into the New Jerusalem! Reason is a gift (and Luther would say as much) from the Lord and is to be joyfully, freely, and rigorously used in His service. When we start to view reason and thinking as gifts from God, who gives “us our reason and all our senses and still takes care of them…out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me.” (Small Catechism), then we are set free from the fear that sets faith against reason. Reason becomes the dutiful and useful servant of faith.
To be given a renewed mind and a renewed reason by the gospel means we are free to use our brains and think. As our world continues slouching, further away from baseball and closer to Gomorrah’s anti-intellectualism, the church that engages the mind with God’s Word stands poised to wreak havoc on the devil’s mindless ploys. The world is bored with thinking. To channel young Austin, as the Church we live a different lifestyle than that. Better. We have received gratis a different lifestyle than that. And for that it is our “duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him”…even with our minds.