Sunday, September 13, 2009

Traditons Do Not Define Baseball . . . Or the Church!

Note: I have been going through some of the bulletin articles I have written over the years. In the next few weeks, I'll be posting a few of the better ones here on my blog. I hope you'll find them worth reading. I published this article on June 22, 1997 in the Fairview Church of Christ bulletin; Childress, Texas.

During the past week history was made. For the first time the clubs of Major League Baseball's National League competed against clubs from the American League in official, in-season games. Since the beginning of the World Series' era in 1903 these match-ups had not occurred during the regular season. Many who identify themselves as baseball purists have cried afoul at the innovation. "The uniqueness of the game is being challenged," said some. "Another of baseball's long-standing traditions has been thrown by the wayside," bemoaned others.

Most certainly, Major League Baseball is a sport with a rich history and one filled with many revered traditions. It is a unique game in that it is both individual- and team-based. The dynamic of a lone batter facing an opposing pitcher and defense is unlike what you will find in any other sport. Young boys (and maybe a few girls, too) grow up knowing the stats, like Roger Maris's 61 homers in 1961, Big Train's 416 lifetime victories, DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak, and Nolan's 7 no-hitters. These individual feats, and other such marks, contributed to team success and triumph.

The uniqueness of Baseball is under assault claim the critics of inter-league play. These are the self-appointed guardians of the game who reviled expansion of the Major Leagues, the introduction of divisional play, the designated hitter, and the inclusion of wild card teams in the playoffs. They claim it is the traditions that make baseball great.

These purists are right to an extent. Traditions have enhanced the game's charm. However, traditions can lose their significance over time. Personally, I wish that the Major Leagues would not have expanded beyond the 16 clubs that played during the first half of the 20th Century, but I know that expansion has brought the game closer to millions of fans. I do not like the use of the designated hitter, but I must admit that it adds an element of excitement to the game. (And, writing in 2009, I long for the days when the Red Sox were as the Cubs, in the midst of a decades-long championshipless drought, but grudgingly admit that the rise of the Red Sox Nation since 2003 has been a boon to the sport.)

Traditions do not define Baseball. The essence of the game remains constant, despite the changes that come. As long as a tradition is beneficial to the play and enjoyment of the game it is benefactory, but once it outlives its effectiveness and logic it is outdated and should be modified or discarded. Tradition should not be an impediment toward progress. (Just think, expansion of the Major Leagues has provided many more teams who have taken advantage of the Cubs ineptitude!)

And, now, to a more important point . . .

The church, like any long-standing institution, is filled with traditions. Traditions do not define God's people, they simply can enhance who we are and make us more effective in our mission. However, even church traditions lose their effectiveness and become outdated. As God's people we must continually evaluate our practices, in the light of God's direction, and determine if our traditions make sense in a changed world. All living things change over time--it is the nature of life.