Spitting, licking fingers and high-fiving.
These common practices will have to be curbed significantly by Major League Baseball players in the name of public health as their abbreviated season begins.
This is demanding work because habits, by definition, are hard to break and, in baseball, these habits are deeply woven into the fabric of the sport.
The case can be made that when the biblical writers use the term “hardness of heart,” they are describing habits – ways of thinking and patterns of behaving that are hard to break.
They are speaking of realities deeply woven into societies, cultures and mindsets.
When Moses and Aaron implored the Egyptian king to “let our people go,” the pharaoh, even in the face of devasting plagues, could never quite get himself to do it for his heart was hard.
So practiced was he at viewing the Hebrew slaves as less than, as other, as necessary cogs in the machinery of the Egyptian economy, that he could not break the habit.
He likely had advisers whispering in his ear who had the habit of doing everything they could do to keep from upsetting the ruler. They could not break the habit of enabling.
When Jesus went to the synagogue on the Sabbath, some of the religious leaders often watched intently hoping to catch him in some violation of orthodoxy, like healing on the sacred day.
He was angered by the hardness of heart of these watchers. He was angered they didn’t want to break the habit of placing religious orthodoxy above human well-being.
He was upset they were ruled by the habit of seeing themselves alone as deserving of divine applause.
He was saddened because the habits of their hearts meant they could not embrace their place in the reign of God or accept their home in the beloved community.
We who would identify as progressive Christians, enlightened Baptists or thoughtful followers of the Christ often have habits of our own that need to be broken. Our hearts are often very hard.
We have the bad habit of deeming ourselves forgiven when we haven’t done the honest work of counting the cost of our sin. Thus, we find ourselves seeking reconciliation, but we have completely ignored the needed steps of confession, repentance, reparation and making amends.
This is a hard habit to break. This is especially true regarding the sins of racism and sexism.
We have the bad habit of wanting to be patted on the back for our enlightened views when we have done precious little to earn the trust, gain the respect and make connections with those who don’t begin every conversation with, “I think it’s wonderful that you …”
These habits are the equivalent of the “hard hearts” of the Bible. They are equally difficult to change and to break.
It might be more important we learn to break them than it is the athletes on the diamond learn not to spit, lick or high-five their teammates.
Jim Hopkins has been the Senior Minister at Lakeshore Avenue Baptist Church in Oakland, California, since 1989. He has served as Chair of the Board of Trustees at the American Baptist Seminary of the West and is a member of the Board of Directors of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty.