DISCLAIMER: This is an analogy, and only an analogy. While I enjoy Johnny Damon’s style and “passion” for the game, I am not suggesting that he is the second-coming of anything. And while I admire Curt Schilling’s character and boldness, I realize he is no Billy Graham. With that said, I invite you to look at this analogy with me, whether you’re a Bostonian (naturally or honorary), a Yankee fan (heaven forbid) or even a soccer fan (gasp!).
Being a baseball fan from the south and not necessarily loving the Braves leaves you in a dilemma. I tackle this every year by reading up and watching preseason reports and picking a team to root for. I try to pick a team that I think embodies baseball in its purest form. A few years ago, I picked the Oakland As because they play well as a team and have a lot of guys who contribute that wouldn’t even crack the line-up card on other teams. I’ve picked the Cincinnati Reds in the past, because of a few players whose style of play and personalities give me the feel of true baseball. Don’t ridicule me for being a band-wagoneer; after all, most of these picks end in heartbreak. Being used to this heartbreak, my official pick for the 2004 season happened to be the Boston Red Sox. At the time I made this pick, I assumed that they would probably let me down like they’ve let down Bostonians for the previous 85 years. I steeled myself for the possibility of a good season followed by disappointment.
People ask me why I picked such a scraggly bunch out of all the well-disciplined, clean-shaven, talented teams in Major League Baseball. To this I reply, “Look at these guys, you gotta love them. How can you not love a team affectionately referred to as ‘the Idiots’?” This nickname didn’t just fall to them. They earned it. They were so determined to be the anti-Yankees that the General Manager allowed virtually anything as long as it didn’t negatively affect their play. Instead of the legalistic style of cropped haircuts and clean-shaven faces, Boston opted for afro-puffs, jerry curls, cornrows (on a white guy) and a JC look-alike. Instead of repressing each guy’s self-expression like the management of the Steinbrenian Yanks or Marge Schott’s Reds, the Sox instead allowed their talent to focus on applying that talent in a way that was comfortable and individualistic, without being stifled.
I saw them play both live and on TV and couldn’t help but be drawn to them. I was drawn to each player’s originality, drawn to the crazy beards and hairstyles, to the clubhouse antics and managerial style. Most of all, it intrigued me that all of these things that could be detrimental and distracting somehow worked. Somehow they made the unlikely Bill Mueller batting champ last year of the A.L., somehow they made a team full of egos mesh and somehow they pieced together a team complete with misfits and superstars into a cohesive unit. A unit that, in retrospect, achieved more together than any Boston team has achieved on the diamond in nearly a century. I’ll certainly concede that this didn’t happen overnight, but over time the pieces of the puzzle started to come together.
How does this apply to the church? Over the past year, I’ve been hammered with the call for unity in the Church. I’ve been challenged by Paul’s letters, by the Acts of the Apostles and by reading about true community from other writers and pastors. This unity is so elusive to us. We seek it, but often our methods are wrong. We seek unity through homogeneity. We seek unity through blandness. We repress some gifts and misuse others. The more I learn about unity the more I realize that this is not Christ’s vision for his Bride. So I draw inspiration from the Ragamuffin Red Sox. I see how organically they work. The affect is a well-oiled machine, deep and alive. This team, in the truest sense of the word, thrives. It is noticeable and outrageous; it dares to be an inspiration and to be mimicked. It takes its hands off of each member’s appearances in order to gain a more complete unit that it unique and multi-dimensional.
I am drawn to the Red Sox the way Christ hopes for non-believers to be drawn to us. He promises us abundant life (John 10:10), but He wants us to achieve it in its fullness, together. He tells us to sharpen one another (Proverbs 27:17). He tells us about one Body with parts in First Corinthians. He tells us that we will be noticed, and people will be drawn to us by our love [for our neighbor] (John 13:35).
If the Sox can break through the curse of the Bambino, I’m pretty sure we can achieve this unity too.