O-for Oriole

Chris Davis can’t buy a hit, and if anybody could, he’d certainly have the cash for it. As of yesterday, he’s gone 49 consecutive at-bats without recording a hit. Granted, this guy has never exactly hit for a high average. For his career, he’s recorded a measly .236 average, including an amazingly awful .168 last season, the lowest average ever recorded by a player who had enough appearances to qualify for the batting title.

This is the man who, not so long ago, inked a seven-year, $161 million-dollar contract. He’s scheduled to make $17 million this year, which is better than $100,000 for every game or roughly $20,000 each time he makes an anemic attempt at reaching base. Granted Davis clobbered 53 home runs in 2013 and 47 in 2015, which is outstanding in these post-steroids days. In those seasons, although striking out far too often, he put up respectable numbers to go with his power output. Then he signed that contract, which promised him more money than the GDP of Belize. (I think I’m kidding but I’m not sure.)

I’d be happy to stand out there and make outs for half the money that Davis is bringing home. Think about it. If we use that $20,000 per at-bat figure, he’s earned almost a million dollars since his last hit. I’m just glad I’m not a Baltimore Orioles fan.

What’s the problem with this man? Is he not trying? I doubt that. Nobody achieves as much as he has achieved without having a certain measure of pride. Is he ill or are his abilities simply tailing off? That’s possible. Is he just in an unlucky streak? Given his past tendencies, I rather doubt that explanation.

But here’s the bottom line. Every time Chris Davis walks to the plate, Orioles fans experience mixed emotions. They’d really love to see the return of that 2013 or 2015 Chris Davis, but then they’re also fed up with the 2018 and 2019 version. You can’t read or hear anything about him–including this writing–that doesn’t mention how much he makes. I feel some sympathy for the man . . . at least until I think about what his paychecks must look like.

Davis’ problem is that for a couple of seasons he was really, really good. Had he never been such a slugger, nobody would think that much of his numbers tailing off. We’re used to seeing marginal players come and go. It’s the nature of sports. But Chris Davis did excel, which makes it harder for people, especially Orioles fans, to see him today.

I could try to offer up some spiritual conclusion to all this. Maybe there’s one out there, but it would be forced. So I’ll try to stop coveting Davis’ money and aim to finish the race while simply again being glad that I’m not an Orioles fan.

If You’re Happy and You Know It

Dane Iorg looped a single to right field, driving in the tying run. Then Jim Sundberg slid into home, just beating the tag to win game six of the 1985 World Series. (St. Louis Cardinals fans are even now muttering the name of Don Denkinger, to which I say, “Get over it!”)

The next day, the day of game seven, local Kansas City TV promoted the decisive game’s broadcast by showing that replay as the Isley Brothers sang, “It makes me want to shout!” And here’s the reason I mention this. Every time I saw that little ad, I had a physical and an emotional reaction. I had watched the game live, almost jumping out of my skin. But then, all day the next day, I relived it and felt something powerful each time.

In our examination of Psalm 118:24, we’ve discovered that we’re supposed to do two things as we live in the day the Lord has made. We’re supposed to rejoice, and we’re supposed to be glad. Looking at those individually, we saw that they, while overlapping, are distinct ideas, but now I’d like to take a moment and consider them together.

The distinguishing factor in the verb translated “rejoice” seems to be movement. You may recall that this word can indicate strong positive or negative responses–although it’s usually positive. The key is that those responses involve movement. If you sit in your chair and politely clap in response to God’s day, then I don’t think you’re truly rejoicing.

On the other hand, the word translated “be glad” focuses mostly on a look on the face. This gladness cannot be contained inside the head. Instead it busts out onto the face. You can’t help but show it to the world. If you can glower straight ahead while “being glad” about God’s day, then you probably don’t get it.

Years ago, when I earned by doctorate, I drove from Lawrence, Kansas to my home in Independence, Missouri, a trip of about an hour. My giddiness, my joy, my sense of relief was so strong that I found myself crying out in joy at various points along highway 10. My face probably would have had passing drivers thinking me insane. It was a marvelous feeling.

More than likely, you have that memory of a time when you simply could not contain your joy. Perhaps it attended one of these statements:

  • Yes, I’ll marry you.
  • We’re going to have a baby.
  • It’s benign.
  • We’d like to offer you the job.
  • You’ve been selected to receive this year’s Nobel Prize.

Life, hopefully, has presented you with a handful of such moments, but how often do you feel that sort of joy, how often do you respond uncontrollably in body and face (and probably words) to something God has done? How often do you find yourself overcome by God’s amazing goodness, so overcome that anyone around you can see it?

We used to sing a song:

If you’re happy and you know it, then your face will surely show it. If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands!

That’s a kid’s song, but the implication for adults is serious. If you’re happy and you don’t show it, then maybe you’re not really that happy.


Let’s Join the Baseball Bandwagon!

The Kansas City Royals are going to win the World Series in 2019! They won their opener yesterday (Thursday). At this rate, they’ll win 162 games this season. Let’s get excited. Let’s buy tickets while they’re still available. Let’s.

The second half of Psalm 118:24 contains a statement of intent or expectation:

. . . let us rejoice and be glad in it.

If we were to speak that idea in conversation, we’d almost certainly use the contraction “let’s.” Let’s eat. Let’s go to the movies. Let’s celebrate! Let’s get out of here. These all sound like good uses of “let’s,” but is that the sort of thing going on here?

If you read this clause in a number of different translations, you’ll find that it is almost exclusively rendered in one of two ways: “let us” or “we will.” As much as I generally appreciate the CSB, which I quoted above, I think the translators missed the mark in this case.

Think about it. What does “let us” mean? “Allow us”? Generally when we say it, like when we say “let’s eat,” we’re trying to recruit another person or persons to eat with us. I suppose that could be what’s going on here. Rather than hungry, the Psalmist is sensing the provision of God and thus recruits others to rejoice with him. Okay, but let’s try this another way.

In the KJV and a number of other translations, the phrase here is “we will.” It’s possible, if you are of a certain age or (especially) were taught English by an exceptionally old-school teacher, then you learned to conjugate that auxiliary verb “will” like this:

  • I shall; we shall
  • You will; You (all) will
  • He, she, it will; They will

Nobody talks or writes like that any more, but a hundred years ago you would have likely been taught that way. Certainly, in 1611, when the KJV appeared, they were taught that way.

The oddity of that approach to “will” is that when you’re not simply stating something that will happen in the future but stating a settled purpose or a command, you reverse the word. Therefore, you’d say “You will have a birthday next week” but “You shall clean up your room.” Or you might say “I shall eat breakfast” but “I will lose thirty pounds!” (My italics are simply for emphasis.)

When those four-hundred-year-ago translators said “We will rejoice,” they were not saying, “Hey, let’s all get together and rejoice!” or “I have rejoicing scheduled on my day planner.” They were saying either “We have no choice but to rejoice” or “We need to make a point of rejoicing.”

The Psalmist says “let us rejoice” or, better in my opinion, “we will rejoice,” and he’s not urging action based on a whim. It’s not the rejoicing that we might–might–do when the home team starts the season well. Instead, it’s more like the compulsion that put hundreds of thousands of Kansas Citians in the streets when the Royals won the World Series in 2015. We couldn’t not rejoice.

Although I eagerly joined that mob in 2015, I recognized then that I should feel an even stronger compulsion to rejoice because of what God does every day. So let’s rejoice!


A Shortstop’s Kind of Readiness

I’ve just suffered through one of the worst seasons that the Kansas City Royals have ever played. The team that won the World Series in 2015, lost 104 games, topped (bottomed?) only by 106 losses in 2005. As painful as their season proved, they showed signs of hope with some promising young players.

Watch baseball for very long and you’ll see that there are players who are in the lineup mostly for their fielding and some mostly for their bats. When you see a powerful hitter who plays in the field like he’s competing in a sack race, that player will normally be positioned in right field, the spot where he’s least likely to do much damage.

On the other hand, a shortstop who cannot field is a terrific liability. Sure, you’d like him to be able to hit, but he absolutely must be able to range around the left side of the infield, snag balls hit his direction, and make long, accurate throws to first base. Without that talent, the team is sunk.

Any shortstop worthy of playing professional baseball wants the ball to come his way in critical moments. With the game on the line, he should be not just thinking, “What do I do when the ball is hit to me?” but also, “Hit it here. Hit it here. I dare you.”

On the other hand, that right fielder, the one who wouldn’t be on the team if he couldn’t smash the ball with his bat, might be excused for standing out there at the crossroads between victory and defeat, whispering, “Don’t hit here. Please don’t hit it here!”

Which player do you more resemble in the ballgame of Christian service? Are you the shortstop, eagerly wishing for the chance to start a game-winning double play or the right fielder hoping beyond hope that the ball goes somewhere, anywhere else?

Esther initially wanted to hide in the outfield. When encouraged to bring the Jews’ problems to the king, she tried to get off the hook. In Esther 4:14, Mordecai lays it on the line for her. Unlike in baseball, God’s tasks will get done if we don’t do them. But if we fail, if we try to avoid the play, then the glory will go to someone else.

In 1985, when my Royals won their first World Series, the right fielder, Daryl Motley, caught the twenty-seventh out in game seven, clinching the series. I’ve remembered that for thirty-three years. My guess is that I’ll remember it for another several decades.

While we might be frightened to see the ball coming our way, we need to overcome fear and get ourselves into the game. A bad season for a baseball team is no big deal. A bad season for the church is regrettable. And the individual Christian often gets only one significant season to play.

The Eternal Yankees–1 John 4:4

You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. –1 John 4:4

Back in the 1950s, Kansas City had a baseball team, a team that was perhaps more consistently mediocre than the Royals of recent years. What really riles longtime Kansas City baseball fans, even after fifty years, is the sense that the A’s of those years were an unofficial farm team for the New York Yankees. As evidence of the supposed collusion between the two team’s front offices, students of the game note a series of sweetheart trades–sweet for the Yankees, but sour for the A’s–that sent washed up has-beens west and up-and-coming stars east. The two most notable exports from Kansas City were Bobby Shantz and two-time-MVP Roger Maris.

Maybe it wasn’t a setup, however. Maybe there was something in the water. There’s something about putting on the pinstripes it seems, that brings out greatness in players. Similarly, there’s something about putting on the uniform of a perennial loser to help a player underachieve.

Can you imagine giving the pep-talk before the Yankees take the field? “You’re the Yankees! Go out and win.” How easy must it be to go out into the field knowing the Andy Pettite or Roger Clemons is pitching? That is, I suppose, why Joe Torre received no love after last season. Handed a slew of superstars and the keys to the game’s most storied franchise, he couldn’t deliver championships for years on end.

How much more confidence should we have, Christian? We’re on the greatest team in history with the ultimate teammate in Jesus. It’s like having Cy Young, Nolan Ryan, and Sandy Koufax all rolled into one with plenty of ability to spare. Why, then, do we behave as if we’re playing for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays or some other long-time loser?

Greater is he who is in us. That’s too easy to forget.