I love baseball because it fills me with many happy childhood memories.
I love it because the goal of the game is to return home and because the game proceeds at its own pace – it isn’t completely bound to a time clock.
I love it because, as a game in which failure abounds (the best hitters fail in their task seven out of 10 times), it is a game I can relate to.
I love it because it is a game of beautiful voices, among them Vin Scully, voice of the Los Angeles Dodgers from 1950-2016 who died recently, and I join with the millions of others who mourn his passing.
In recent years, my love for the game has taken the form of umpiring youth baseball games.
Undeniably, my love for the game surpasses my skill as an officiant, but I try to do a credible job of helping young people and their families have a positive experience through the game of baseball.
Every time I am on the diamond, I try to remember to take a deep breath and tell myself, “It is a gift to be here.”
As part of a training series for umpires last fall, we were taught that it would help us in our work if we remembered the letters E, L and M – Effort, Learning and Mistakes (Bounce back from them).
It is not hard to see how each of these – taking an extra step to get a better look at a play, studying the rule book and accepting critique while not dwelling on perceived mistakes at the expense of focusing on what is happening on the field in front of you – can improve one’s performance as an umpire.
I would argue that these are good tools for life and, most certainly, for the life of faith.
In Isaiah 1, the eighth century BCE prophet pleads with the people of Jerusalem to wake up to the sad irony that, in a city dedicated to the worship of God, injustice runs rampant.
The prophet declares the Holy One’s anger with the leaders who pay great attention to the details of religious ceremony while completely ignoring the plight of society’s unprotected members.
The prophet doesn’t use the words effort, learning or mistakes (Bounce back from them), but they seem to apply.
The prophet pleads with the people, particularly the leaders, imploring them to put as much effort into meeting the needs of widows, orphans and the oppressed as they put into getting worship just right.
He pleads with them to learn anew the lessons of loving justice, doing kindness and walking humbly with their Creator.
And he urges them to see that though the situation is desperate, there is still hope. Though their injustices are real, many and profound, with the grace of God they may still choose a different course. They can bounce back from their mistakes.
The prophet’s promise is “though your sins … are red as crimson, they will become like wool” (1:18, CEB).
Clearly, the effort, learning and bouncing back entail more than a single decision. They are part of a long process, requiring God’s leading and recognition, repentance and reparation.
Nonetheless, the acronym ELM is a good summary of both the prophetic plea and an umpire’s task.
The practice of effort, learning and mistakes (bounce back from them), serve to keep us from mistaking religiosity for faith, doctrinal adherence for acceptable service, and impressive performance for the imperative of justice.
Senior pastor of Lakeshore Avenue Baptist Church in Oakland, California, since 1989, and a board member of BJC (Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty).