A few weeks, ago my seven-year-old son, Bennett, tried out for the travel baseball team in our town. Until a few weeks ago, I had a pretty strong opinion that seven was way too young for the intensity of a travel sports program. When my daughter, Peyton, was seven, we succumbed and allowed her to try out for a travel soccer program. After the parent meeting, in which the intense schedule was explained, we decided that Peyton was too young to declare a favorite sport and we politely declined the invitation for her to join the team.
However, as the parent of three children with distinctly different personalities, I’ve learned that one rule doesn’t fit all. Since Bennett was old enough to keep a baseball glove on his little hand, he has been asking if this would be the year he could play travel baseball. He is passionate about baseball. He plays other sports to fill his time but Bennett is a baseball guy.
Bennett made it through the first round of cuts for the travel team, which landed me a spot at the parent meeting. I have heard all the horror stories about the prototypical Little League parents and coaches and I was ready to bolt at the first hint of any obnoxious, hyper-competitive machismo. During this meeting the coach went through his list of rules: uniform jerseys were to be tucked in, equipment was never to be thrown, the boys were never to argue with an umpire over a bad call. They are expected to pay attention to the game and be supportive of their teammates even when they are not on the field.
The coach closed the meeting with his commitment to make my son a better young man. He proclaimed his two goals for the program: first and foremost, the boys would become better people and secondarily they would become better baseball players. They would have respect for themselves, their parents, their teammates and their opponents. There would be no mockery or belittling allowed.
This is not a religious program and at no point was there any mention of God. The coach didn’t tie his rules to any sacred book or religious dogma. We’ve never discussed religious views and honestly, I don’t know if he believes in God. He does believe in little boys becoming respectful young men.
In addition to my issues surrounding the intensity of travel sports teams, it also bothers me that games are often played on Sunday mornings. Each week we are asked to decide between attending church and playing a game that my children love. I don’t think that Sunday morning at 10 is any more sacred than other times of the week. But I do believe it is important to worship with a community of believers. This community of believers is sacred to me.
Recently, the state of North Carolina voted to amend its constitution in order to ban same-gender marriage. The post-vote analysis suggests that churches were instrumental in getting this amendment passed. Videotaped sermons addressing this issue are starting to appear on the Internet. In one of these videos, Charles Worley, the pastor of Providence Road Baptist Church in Maiden, NC, says that lesbians, queers, and homosexuals should be rounded up and placed in a 50-mile pen made of electrified fence. He suggests that within a few years, all the queers will die off. Sean Harris, the pastor of Berean Baptist Church, told his congregation that they should punch their male child if he is effeminate or limp-wristed. Sunday mornings in these churches don’t feel very sacred at all.
I honestly believe that if those messages were preached in my church, the congregation would storm the pulpit and demand a retraction. These hate-filled messages are not the norm in our churches. I believe that congregations all over North Carolina also heard the message that we may not all agree on this issue, but we believe Jesus when he says that the most important thing we do is to love our neighbors as ourselves. Love them whether they are gay or straight, Muslim, Jew, or Buddhist. There is no mention of putting them in a pen or punching them. Just love them like we love ourselves.
I don’t think a well-intentioned coach can take the place of a pastor. The baseball field is not a replacement for worship with a community of believers. Christianity is expansive; not everyone aligns behind the same set of beliefs. At minimum, all of our churches should have the ethos of a Little League team: respect for ourselves and respect for our opponents, which perhaps in this case means those who do not believe like we believe. In our churches there should be no room for mockery or belittling. The Church isn’t perfect, but we must be at least as good as a Little League team.
Have you ever been in a situation like this? What do you do when the lessons that are supposed to be taught in one institution aren’t being taught and instead are taught in the other?
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Andrea Denney is a middle-aged, mini-van driving, Sunday school teaching, softball-coaching mother of three (Peyton, 9; Bennett, 7; and Emerson, 3) who lives in the south suburbs of Chicago. When she isn’t extracting petrified chicken nuggets and fermented juice boxes from the back of her van, she is the Vice President of Operations and Finance for a qualitative market research company. In her spare time she is pursuing a Master of Divinity degree from Chicago Theological Seminary and falls into bed each night hoping to muster just enough energy to recap the day with Beth, her partner of 23 years.