Get Your Head in the Game

By Bob Hiller

As I sit down to write this here Jagged blog on this lovely Tuesday evening, the Los Angeles Dodgers have just shut out the Chicago Cubs for the second straight game, taking a two-games-to-one lead in the National League Division Series. Post-season baseball is about as good as it gets for America’s pastime. Thus far, this series has been no exception. Even though the 6-0 Dodger shutout in Game Three may not have been a nail biter. It makes for great intrigue going into the rest of the series. The Cubs have been the best team all season long, but can they come back to take the series be one step closer to ending their 108-year championship drought? Or will the Curse of the Billy Goat live on?  Will the Dodgers hold on and head to the World Series, sending Vin Scully off with a championship season (If only he’d call the Series!)? Or will they let the Cubs back in? Great story lines, great games, great teams—even the casual sports fan must admit that the MLB Postseason is fantastic.

Something tells me that the commissioner of baseball and the major sponsors for the MLB are watching this postseason with a particular interest. It has been said that the Cubs and their “cursed” championship drought are the last great sports story. The last century plus has been a comedy of errors for the Cubbies. This is one of the most popular sports teams in the country, but something always prevents them from winning. Getting them a championship would not only be a great sports story; it would be great for the game of baseball. Ratings would go up, post-season popularity could produce more attention for the next season, and the game of baseball would be center stage for a few weeks in October/November (a season traditionally dominated by football). Success for the Cubs is good for baseball.

And the Dodgers couldn’t less. I hope the Cubs couldn’t care less as well. All I hope they care about is playing hard and winning the Series. That makes for good baseball. To my mind, if these two teams are focused on what is good for the game of baseball, they are not going to be focused on the game they are supposed to play that day. What makes for a great game is players 100% invested in the moment, not allowing it to be bigger than it needs to be, focusing on each pitch, each swing, each out. It would be bizarre to listen to a player in a post-game interview talk about something as abstract as “the game of baseball.” For example, say an interviewer asks pitcher Clayton Kershaw what he was thinking as he was preparing to strike out a certain batter. You would not expect him to say, “Well, I was thinking about what this pitch would do for our sport! I really knew it would make a big impact on the popularity of the game. I was making that pitch for baseball.” Now, if it was a big pitch in a big situation, it may have that kind of impact. But if that is where Kershaw’s head is, then he’s not focused on finding the right location and putting the ball across the plate to strike out the batter.

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To say that focusing on something as abstract as the game of baseball will prevent the players from focusing on the game they are playing that day is kind of an obvious point, if not a forced one. But players are often told to keep their head in the game. Players who focus too much on, say, their legacy or their impact on the game, tend to get stuck in their own heads and struggle to do the work at hand. Focusing on such abstractions actually hinders the sort of work one needs to do to actually have a positive impact or leave a legacy.

I wonder if there isn’t something for us to think about here in the Church. A lot of talk in the church these days hovers around culture change and social impact. Churches and pastors are encouraged to be culture changers. Our mission, it would seem, is to make this world a better place to live. Thus, many churches find that their effort and activity is focused on “society.” You could say the work they are encouraged to do is said to be for the good of the game.

I wonder if this isn’t a bit misguided. As I read through the New Testament, I don’t believe we have a great deal of instruction on how we as the Church are to work for a better, healthier society. Rather, Jesus entreats His people to love their neighbor. He calls us to keep our head in the game. Our focus is not on what is good for society, but rather on the need our brother or sister has at any given time. Before the Church thinks about her “impact on the culture,” she needs to put Jesus in the ears of the sinners in the pews. She needs to “equip the saints” for works of love and mercy to the neighbor. She needs to preach repentance and deliver forgiveness to the real life people standing in front of her, not offer up moralistic solutions cultural problems. Her focus is the same as her Lord’s: getting the love and mercy of Christ to the very sinner who may not be good for “society” but is loved and died for by Jesus.

Few things could be more detrimental to a church than being so set on fixing culture that they leave Jesus and sinners behind. Giving Jesus to real people may or may not be good for society. Society (i.e. this world) never was really big on Jesus. But that didn’t stop Him from dying for the sinners who live there. Perhaps we as the Church need to get our head in the game, stop worrying about society, and simply preach Jesus while loving the concrete neighbor in our lives.

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