Rigorous Truth: Baseball, Errors, and Resurrection

By Adam Ericksen 04-09-2014
Black and white image of baseball player, Richard Paul Kane / Shutterstock.com

Black and white image of baseball player, Richard Paul Kane / Shutterstock.com

When I was growing up, I had three older cousins who were my models for being awesome. They were funny, smart, athletic, and they loved baseball.

And so I wanted to be all of those things, but the one thing I could do without any effort was love baseball.

But I had one major problem. I’m missing the athletic gene of the Ericksen family. While I could share in the love my cousins had for baseball, I couldn’t share in their athletic ability. I lack coordination, which creates problems in every aspect of baseball. I once tripped while running to first base. Embarrassed, I ran back to the dugout and insisted to my teammates that I didn’t trip – I dove. But by the fourth grade, every baseball player knows that you never dive into first base. You run through it.

In sixth grade I played third base. I fielded a grounder that took a bad hop – right to my forehead. I laid on the dirt, crying, and thinking that I never wanted to play again. I finished that game, but never replay organized baseball again.

So, my baseball career was a failure, but I still love the game. The smell of the grass, the crack of the bat, a diving catch – my total lack of athletic ability allows me to appreciate those who have honed their athleticism.

Athleticism is not the only reason for my love of baseball. In fact, I love baseball for a much more important reason. Fay Vincent, a former Commissioner of Major League Baseball, explained my love for the game when he said:

Baseball teaches us … how to deal with failure. We learn at a very young age that failure is the norm in baseball and, precisely because we have failed, we hold in high regard those who fail less often – those who hit safely in one out of three chances become star players. I also find it fascinating that baseball, alone in sports, considers errors to be part of the game, part of its rigorous truth.

I love the last part of that quote. Errors are part of the rigorous truth of baseball.

That truth about baseball is the truth about life: Errors are part of the rigorous truth of being human.

Mimetic theory teaches that the big error that we constantly commit is scapegoating, or the act of exclusion. Christian tradition has called this error “sin.” Now, before I lose you because I brought up that nasty, dirty word that we moderns hate because of its moralism, read what theologian James Alison says about sin in his book The Joy of Being Wrong: Original Sin Through Easter Eyes. James says that in Jesus:

Sin is revealed as the mechanism of expulsion which is murderous, and those are blind sinners who are involved in that mechanism without being aware of what they are doing…The notion of sin is subverted from within, in the light of the resurrection of the crucified one, in such a way that what sin is is shown to be much more drastic than previous interpretations, but from quite a different direction. Sin is not what excludes in the person of the excluded one, but the dynamic act of excluding in the persons of the excluders.

Every culture, just like every sport, has rules and regulations that provide a structure. Those rules and regulations are necessary – baseball wouldn’t be fun without the rules and I wouldn’t want to live in a lawless culture. But the problem with those rules and regulations is that it is impossible to follow them without committing errors. Errors are part of the rigorous truth of life. No one can follow the rules perfectly. So, the question then becomes how do we respond when people – when we – commit errors?

Do we respond like I did? I felt shame when I tripped over my feet on the way to first base and I lied to justify myself to my peers. Ultimately, I responded to my sense of failure by quitting.

Do we respond by blaming others for their errors? Bill Buckner’s error in the 1986 World Series has, unfortunately, defined his otherwise very good career. Red Sox fans needed an outlet for their frustrations after losing the World Series, and they found an outlet by blaming Buckner for the loss and continuing the “Curse of the Bambino.”

Do we, the good and law abiding citizens, respond to error by condemning those who break laws? Do we condemn them as criminals so that we can justify ourselves as good people?

The problem gets compounded, as James suggests, when we respond to our own sense of shame and failure over our errors by scapegoating. That’s what happens when we exclude certain people from the circle of good guys when they make errors in order to hide from taking responsibility for our own errors. What we are blind to, and what Jesus continually reveals, is that we are all get caught up in committing errors of exclusion. Or in the language of the Bible, we are all sinners. When an athlete or politician or neighbor makes what we think is an error, we are quick to pounce on them. We are quick to form a sense of unity with others through gossiping, blaming, and scapegoating.

But Jesus show us another way. When we live in a society with rules and regulations, errors are inevitable. And so Jesus’ prayer about forgiveness take on greater significance:

Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.

The resurrected Jesus reveals that one we exclude, even kill, is actually the Son of God in our midst who, oddly enough, doesn’t count our errors against us. Rather, he comes back to offer forgiveness and reconciliation. Not even a violent death wrought by human sin can stifle the forgiveness and love of God.

So, next time someone trips on his way to first base or a politician gets caught in a scandal, remind yourself that errors are part of the rigorous truth of being human and that the greatest error is the act of excluding those accused of committing errors.

And then give thanks for the Resurrection of God’s universal love and forgiveness in our lives.

Adam Ericksen blogs at the Raven Foundation, where he uses mimetic theory to provide social commentary on religion, politics, and pop culture. Follow Adam on Twitter @adamericksen.

Image: Black and white image of baseball player, Richard Paul Kane / Shutterstock.com

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