In the 1988 movie Bull Durham, Annie Savoy, one of the lead characters (played by Susan Sarandon) refers to the "Church of Baseball" with these words: "I believe in the Church of Baseball. I've tried all the major religions, and most of the minor ones. I've worshipped Buddha, Allah, Brahma, Vishnu, Siva, trees, mushrooms, and Isadora Duncan. I know things. For instance, there are 108 beads in a Catholic rosary and there are 108 stitches in a baseball... It's a long season and you gotta trust. I've tried 'em all, I really have, and the only church that truly feeds the soul, day in, day out, is the Church of Baseball."
For those of us who are Chicago Cubs fans there is a special version of the Church of Baseball, one that has required patience and an enduring sense of hopefulness. Now as we celebrate the Cubs playing in their first World Series since 1945, we give special thanks for what it means to be a faithful member of the Church of Cubs Baseball with a new hopefulness few of us could even imagine just a few years ago.
I joined this "church" when my wife and I moved to the Chicago area for me to go to seminary in the late 1970's. We lived there for ten years altogether and I have been a faithful Cubs fan ever since, cheering them on year after year, regardless of their place in the standings. Back then all the games at Wrigley Field were day games as there were no lights yet and so the games regularly conflicted with my seminary classes. This created an ongoing conflict regarding which "church" I was going to attend on any given day. Its fair to say that my fellow students and I divided our attendance fairly equally during baseball season between seminary classes and the church located at the corner of Addison and Clark, Wrigley Field.
Even if you are not a member of our Chicago Cubs "church" I am happy to share some of the spiritual lessons we die-hards have learned and practiced for decades.
Perseverance and Patience
Most churches teach the importance of perseverance and patience, of believing and keeping the faith, day in and day out, even when the fruits of doing so are not immediately obvious. The Church of Cubs Baseball excels in teaching these lessons. We Cub fans have kept the faith since our last World Series victory of 1908. We keep being patient and believing always that this year will be the year we will finally win the elusive World Series. We believe that one of these years, perhaps even this year, our faithfulness and patience will pay off.
The Importance of Community
All churches (and other faith communities) stress the importance of community. We are stronger together and we can better face the difficulties of life with the support of one another. Comfort those who need comforting and cheer together when there is reason to cheer. How else could we Cub fans have endured all these years?
Honor Your Elders and Those Who Came Before You
Churches also regularly give thanks for the "communion of saints" who have gone before us, for those whom "we love, but see no longer." And so it is for those of us who remember and give thanks for saints such as Ernie Banks, Ron Santo, Jack Brickhouse, and Harry Caray. Countless Cubs fans have sacred memories of going to Wrigley Field with our parents and grandparents, many who have passed away having never seen a winning team, and know they are with them in spirit watching every pitch, particularly now in this World Series.
We have had plenty of practice with this spiritual virtue. It comes naturally for all Cubs fans. In fact, we are really not quite sure how to act in response to our relatively new found success. We, who are used to being "the doormat of the National League," are not used to these winning ways. Over the years you certainly wouldn't find many Cubs fans who were boastful or arrogant, because they simply didn't have much to boast about. Even now most Cub fans are happy and grateful, but not boastful, as they know things can change in a minute and nothing is guaranteed.
So enjoy the World Series, learning all you can from this great sport. And even if it's just for this week, I invite you to join the Church of Cubs Baseball. Come cheer and pray for our Cubbies. Like any other church, we are always open to welcoming new members. If we lose, we will continue our lessons in the practice of humility, patience, and perseverance, and honoring our elders. And if somehow the Chicago Cubs win it all, every one of us we will have the opportunity to witness first hand a core teaching of the Christian faith.
And the first shall be last, and the last shall be first.
Go Cubs Go!