It's early Thursday evening when I pull up to the parking lot at Oakbourne, lace up my golf spikes, do a few stretches, and walk towards my fellow competitors.
No- these are not tee-time rituals for a late-night round of nine. I am about to play kickball.
I wear golf cleats because the grass is slick and I refuse to buy "equipment" to play the great playground pastime. Also, the league commissioner said I could not wear my metal baseball spikes from college. It had something to do with the possibility of popping the playground ball or Ty Cobbing my opponents.
We are still early into season two of Run Home Jack's quest to attain WAKA immortality, but we are 3-1 and at the top of the standings. It's quite intense- maybe too intense- but I believe we got a legit chance to dethrone the black team and start our own dynasty that would rival any third grade collection of gym class All-Stars.
And yes, our team's and the entire leagues nemesis dawns black uniforms. Cliché, I know. And yes, we have uniforms (t-shirts). We get 15% off our post-game bar tab when we wear them out (my friend to the far right made a rookie mistake and left his WAKA gear in the car).
This year the Jacks are Philly red. Last year we were kelly green. The newest team to join the league, because they signed up first, stole our colors. Our team captain, second from right above, is quite bitter. But we beat them last week. We should have played them for the right to wear kelly green.
I was at a meeting the other day with a few Presby friends of mine, all who are interested in fresh expressions of the church. They asked one of my colleagues and good friends what we do to foster community with the younger adult demographic. We acknowledged the difficulty posed by packaged church programs and intensive studies through books that do not resonate with our generation.
"We play kickball," said my friend, colleague, and (most importantly) teammate.
I think those gathered around the table thought we were kidding.
"Seriously, it's been the most effective means to foster community with younger congregants and members of the West Chester area. It's also awesome."
I am increasingly amazed at how a much more structured, competitive, and officiated rendition of recess can generate so many opportunities to learn the names of your local neighbors and laugh alongside those who are racing to the park just after their nine-to-five.
It's also provided quite the platform for some sacred...stop laughing...reflections I call, "Theology of Kickball."
Welcoming the Stranger
A pastor friend reminded me the other day that the Greek word for hospitality, φιλοεξvία (philoxenia), means quite literally "love of stranger/foreigner." Hebrews 13:2 reminds us, "Do not neglect to show hospitality (philoxenias) to strangers..." (see also Romans 12:13). This year our team has welcomed new additions who were randomly placed with the Run Home Jacks. They signed up as a pair and needed a kickball family to call their own. We welcomed them with open arms and they have contributed significantly to both the on-the-field performance and overall team chemistry. We have demonstrated stranger love/hospitality/philoxenia on the kickball field. They have extended the same to us!
The trick is to demonstrate the same to our competition as we simulatenously quest to kick their... I mean love our neighbor as our self.
Forgiveness and Grace
The kickball field plays no favorites. The game will find a way to exploit your weakness, or at least expose your distraction. You will make errors. Last year, I slipped on the dew-drenched grass and allowed a deep fly to turn into a grandslam. Hence my golf shoes. Yesterday, I lost focus as I tried to assure my foot was on the first-base bag as I received a throw from the catcher, only to drop an easy out. The coach almost made a defensive switch.
When others commit a blunder, the tendency is to point fingers, cast blame, or wonder why the other is not as gifted a kickballer as you are. Then you mess up. We all need grace and forgiveness. Kickball is a team sport and you are only as good as your next play. In order to excel, you cannot fester for long on errors committed by others or yourself. You need grace, forgiveness, and the ability to reconcile and prepare for the next play.
The Fruit of the Spirit Is Self-Control
Yea, about that dropped play at first and my reaction afterwards - not my finest moment. The same rings true anytime I make an error, the Jacks don't capitalize with runners in scoring position, or we lose a game and somebody suggests we still gather in a circle, clap our hands, and shout bang-a-rang. Not feeling it.
Still, we are called to maintain composure and not turn into demons whenever life doesn't go our way. While my grandfather's competitive slogan may sound well and good, "it's not whether you win or lose, but whether you win," the reality is winning isn't everything. I need to maintain self-control and reflect the love and joy of Christ at all times.
Although winning makes playing this game and any game way more fun. I don't care what anyone says.
Another fun slogan: "Bruises will heal. Losses are forever."
Invitation to Authentic Community
While people may struggle to extend an invitation to follow Jesus or participate in the life of a church, inviting someone to play kickball is pretty easy. It's also not threatening. What I have loved about the Run Home Jacks is that we have become authentic community. We have learned the names of church members' co-workers, played with the children of our teammates, supported one another in life's adventures, welcomed strangers as though they always belonged, and shared food and drinks around a table at a bar or in someone's home as a way to celebrate life together.
I am also certain we pray for one another whenever we remember them. I know I do. We also invite others to join us in our faith community, confident that God can use kickball to generate renewed faith and hope in Jesus.
Run Home Jacks and WAKA have become innovative means for younger adults in our community to meet new people, enjoy life's simple pleasures, love on strangers, exercise grace and forgiveness, and enter into authentic community in ways that are not easy to do within the walls of institutional spaces. And God has met us on the kickball field for sure.
I am beyond grateful my wife continues to support this ridiculus spring/summer commitment and evolving passion. I am sure it's not easy to know that while you are wrestling toddlers at home and cleaning up the house after the daily twinado, your husband is re-living third grade.
So, I have decided I will return the favor and encourage her to sign up for WAKA fall dodgeball. I wonder if she'll do it?