Sermon for Today

It is Super Bowl Sunday.  This year on I-70 we will mark the end of the football season, which is subsequently the beginning of the baseball season, with guest posts from various writers.  The writers will provided with one subject to write about: Why Baseball Is Better Than Football.

What follows is a submission from Steveo Sama from The Baseball Enthusiast.

“Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.” – Philippians 4:6

Throughout the ages, anxiety has been that emotional state of mind that tends to taint our lives in often undesirable ways.  Anxiety leads to confusion, confusion leads to stress, and who doesn’t know how stress can get in the way of that which we are all longing for in our world, in our society, and in our lives…peace.

In modern times, not so much to capture a sense of nostalgic equilibrium but to harness the core essence of the sport itself, we tend to summarize what is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, gracious, and excellent about the game of Baseball in terms that usually evoke literary handles such as “pastoral,” “bucolic,” and my personal favorite, “idyllic.”

When I say “we,” of course I mean baseball fans.  The rest of the world may read the essence of the game described by these terms, but may not necessarily subscribe to their meaning.

In terms of pop culture, what could be more “pastoral” than The Andy Griffith Show?

In what I certainly believe to be more than just a coincidence, for many years Superstation TBS would run an Andy Griffith episode marathon on Super Bowl Sunday.  In my household, for nearly as long as this was a TBS programming staple, it was tradition for us to enjoy the pastoral throes of several consecutive hours of The Andy Griffith Show in lieu of participating in any Super Bowl Sunday programming whatsoever.  The citizens of Mayberry and their well-loved adventures (and in a greater sense, the Mayberry way of life itself) were truly the antithesis of Super Bowl hype and hoopla, and indeed the antithesis of the game of Football itself.

…and Baseball, in many ways, is the antithesis of Football.

Consider, if you will, Episode 100: “Sermon for Today.”  This is arguably one of the most popular Andy Griffith episodes ever, as it cuts to the core essence of the Mayberry Mythos in a series of perpetual comedic circumstances the occur around the central theme of how one’s strive for inner peace can be usurped by the villainous tentacles of anxiety.  What is crucial to one of the many points of the episode is the irony of the struggle for inner peace, among the perception of anxiety.

In the episode, a visiting pastor (Dr. Harrison Everett Breen, coincidentally “from New York City,” more recognized for Baseball lore than Mayberry) captivates the parishioners at All Souls Church with his inspirational message from the pulpit entitled “What’s Your Hurry?”

“As I stood there during the singing of the hymn, I asked myself ‘What message have I to bring these good people of Mayberry?  And I was reminded of an instance.  A young man came to me recently and said he: ‘Dr Breen, what is the meaning of it all?’  And I said to him, ‘Young man, I’m glad you asked.’  My friends, I wish more of us found the time to ask that question.  Whither…whither are we headed and why?  Why this senseless rush, this mad pursuit, this frantic competition, this pace that kills?

…Consider how we live our lives today.  Everything is run, run, run.  We bolt our breakfast, we scan the headlines, we race to the office.  The full schedule and the split second: these are our gauges of success.  We drive ourselves from morn to night.  We have forgotten the meaning of relaxation.  What has become of the old-fashioned ways, the simple pleasures of the past?

Who can forget…the old-fashioned band concert at twilight on the village green.  The joy, the serenity of just sitting and listening.  This is lost to us, and this we should strive to recapture, a simple innocent pleasure.

And so I say to you, dear friends, relax…slow down…take it easy…What’s your hurry?  What indeed, friends, is your hurry?”

As the episode goes, the Taylor family has their brains firmly wrapped around the idea of how relaxing that band concert does sound, and as we know, they spend the rest of the episode rushing around quite anxiously to make this event happen in a few hours.  They meet with failure, and as they are gathered on Andy’s porch, exhausted from their fruitless labor, continuous quarrelling, and other disasters (“Look at this…mildew!  You can’t expect me to do anything about mildew!!”) Dr Breen stops by on his way out of town, and infamously assesses the situation, commenting how relaxed everyone seems, as if they had just enjoyed a band concert on the village green!

Baseball fans understand the correlation I’m making here; I could have launched into any number of humorous comparisons or methodical reviews of why Baseball is better than Football, but it didn’t take long for me to go to this episode, this event, this lesson.

In his excellent book The Way Back to Mayberry, author Joey Fann emphasizes the well-understood notion that Mayberry is the epitome of a simpler life.  Addressing this episode in particular, Fann cites these events as a vivid illustration of the trouble we go to just to slow down our lives.  The older I get, the more I realize on a personal level, how Baseball adds years to my own life, as well as its intrinsic value of tangible peace.

The pace of Baseball is the pace of life; the pace of Football is a destructive path towards an event that ends unequivocally with the running out of a clock…the “pace that kills.”  The folks in Mayberry, even as they lounge listlessly on their front porches, or in front of Wally’s filling station, exemplify the potential kinetic energy of Baseball…you are waiting patiently, almost peacefully, for an event that may occur, and time literally freezes during that period.  A Baseball fan who wholeheartedly subscribes to and involves themselves into the pace of the game as its played knows full well that when the game is over, 3 or 4 hours may have passed, but to the fan it never feels quite that long.

The pace of Baseball is the pace we’d like to have in our lives…we need relaxation, we need inner peace…we need to know that runners can cross the plate as many times as they like as long as there aren’t 3 outs.  We don’t need anxiety.  We don’t need to know that there are only 30 seconds left, so hurry up and do something…I can feel my blood pressure change just thinking about it.

When Paul wrote his letter to the Philippians, he did it while he was in prison.  The offseason is the Baseball fan’s prison, the Football season and Super Bowl itself is what occurs during imprisonment.  We look forward to the advent of Spring Training, we look forward to the return of the sunshine and the green grass, we look forward to our release from the prison we are in, against our will…where the journey to inner peace is obfuscated by the full schedule and the split second…where the simple, innocent pleasure of Baseball is lost to us, if only temporarily, due to the imprisonment of Winter and the Football season.

There are many words to guide us; and we do have hope…Spring Training is really, really just around the corner.  Super Bowl Sunday proves this!  Soon, pitchers and catchers will report and we’ll return to Mayberry…even if TBS isn’t running an Andy Griffith marathon on the 5th, we can dwell on the message Paul had for the Philippians:

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” – Philippians 4:8

I am thinking about these things now, on Super Bowl Sunday more than ever.  Football be darned, Baseball is almost here!!!

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