Friday, October 17, 2014

Angels in the Outfield

I have probably mentioned this before, but I’m (more or less) a native Kansas Citian. I have lived on the Kansas and Missouri sides both at various points in my life beginning around 1990, and consider it my hometown. Despite having lived in the Twin Cities now for almost five years, there is one thing I simply can’t adapt to, and that’s Twins baseball. The Twins are fine, I guess, but they lack the personal something that I need in order to care about something that generally doesn’t hold my attention for very long (sports). They’re almost too good, having generally done pretty well during each season and have a large and loyal following that just makes them uninteresting to me. It’s no fun when winners always win! Even though I am a transplant to this area, one thing that will never change is that I’m a huge Royals fan. Why? Well, this article here pretty well sums it up.

The Royals are the ultimate underdog. Every season they start out with a pretty promising looking team, and somewhere around mid-season they totally choke and lose sixteen games in a row. Despite their epic losing streak stretching even before my birth, the Royals have something special, and it’s not just because I have fond childhood memories of the guys tossing baseballs to those of us close enough to the field during warm-up (which did happen, by the way). They play a clean game, and they live clean lives. I could be wrong, but I’ve never heard of some big scandal where one of the players beat up his wife or kid, or was put on probation because of his drug habit. What you hear instead are stories about how they buy game tickets for broke strangers on Twitter, and about how they buy drinks for people after games, and how despite their continuous losses, they still get out there and play the game because they love the game. And now here they are standing on the verge of the much envied title of champions.

We love a good underdog story. The movie Angels in the Outfield is a perfect example of the love of the little guy taking on the big guy with the right attitude and winning. It’s the Mighty Ducks, it’s the Bad News Bears, it’s David and Goliath, it’s Erin Brockovich and PG&E. Somewhere deep inside us, we have an understanding that sometimes the winner isn’t the biggest, the most powerful, the richest, or whatever, but the one who simply loves the game, or the one who just wants justice for the little guy. There’s a reason this story resonates with us, and it’s because we so often find ourselves as the “little guy.” Even if you’re accomplished in your career, rich, powerful, respected, or beautiful, we are all subject to the great equalizer. Working in a hospital is showing me that. When it comes time to die, the view from the ICU bed is pretty similar for the construction worker and the banker. We love a story about victory in unlikely circumstances because we live our lives, no matter how rich or powerful we are, subject to the randomness and the forces of death. We need to know that there is hope.

The Royals’ streak reminded me of this movie and how nicely it sums up this sense of the holy meeting the ordinary to transform lives. It’s about a boy named Roger who has lost his mother and whose father is somehow estranged. His father jokes that he can have a family again when the Angels, the dreadful local baseball team, win the pennant. Roger prays that the Angels will win, and his story is soon transformed by the appearance of real angels on the field helping the team, ultimately leading to a pennant and a family for Roger. This is a tale as old as time: in a situation of despair, we pray for intervention in our story. And the joke’s on us, because we often get it in ways we never would have expected!

I’ve been doing a lot of work with narrative therapy, theology, and the place where our narrative meets God’s narrative as transformative. I was, at first, thinking of this as an “intersection” but as I look back on my own life, I realized that this metaphor of two lines crossing is insufficient to explain the impact God has on us. Instead, I started thinking about the Hail Mary catch that Alex Gordon recently made in which he slammed so hard into the fence that he bounced about five feet while still holding the ball, and realized that this point is not an intersection but an all out collision. It’s the place where our underdog story, our lives with loss and sickness and failed dreams and missed opportunities and poverty and depression and despair and shame meet God’s story of victory. The result looks not like a continuation of the same old story of defeat, but like a totally new story in which thirty years of consecutive losses turn into a chance for a pennant, or where ten years of drug addiction turns into the ability to mentor others, or where the loss of your spouse turns into the strength you didn’t know you had.

We love an underdog story because we need hope. I certainly need it when I am bombarded daily in the hospital by the most tragic circumstances I can even imagine, and I need it in my own weaknesses too. That hope is brought by knowing that Jesus promises God’s story will transform ours. In some ways, this point here, prior to the World Series, prior to the ending, is sweeter even than the resolution, because it is pregnant with hope bursting into an unknown future. It’s the anticipation of that moment of two stories colliding that gives us the strength to carry on when it seems like the little guy could never make it. It gives me great pleasure to tell you that you are the Kansas City Royals. You are the little guy playing the game, even if you’ve screwed up a lot in the past, with the faith that it can be different. And that faith can move mountains, and change lives, and change you, because the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is your “angel in the outfield” making your life extraordinary. So I hope you can take a moment to stand in awe of the places where your story has been re-written, and wait with bated breath in the midst of the suffering of the cross and the world, for the ultimate Pennant victory.