I consider myself the least cerebral of any of the bloggers here. If you’ve been reading this blog long, I am sure that you’ve probably seen ample evidence of this. I say this less to denigrate myself than to give kudos to my colleagues. They are doing a great job on this blog. But as an example of the differences between us, Molly reads Miraslov Volf in her spare time. I read the Chicago Tribune sports page online in mine.
But every now and then, even the sports page turns up an item related to peacemaking. Here’s the headline that caught my attention:
Time for Cubs, their fans to forgive Durham
Now for 99% of you, this won’t mean anything. If you are a baseball fan, it might ring a bell. But if any of you are doomed to the lifelong affliction of being a Chicago Cubs fan, as I am, you’ll know exactly what it means. I still remember exactly where I was when it happened: milking the cows (now there’s a piece of information I’m sure you didn’t know about me). It was 1984, and I was a high school kid who couldn’t stand to miss any part of the game, and since the cows didn’t grasp the importance of the moment, I brought the little black and white portable TV out to the barn and propped it up on a hay bale. As the ball went through Leon Durham legs, the Cubs began to crumble, as did the hope for a Cubs appearance in the World Series. And I was left to cry in my milk, so to speak.
As an aside, let me just say that I don’t think athletes need to be forgiven by fans for an on-the-field error. It was a mistake. There’s nothing to forgive. Sure, it was a heartbreaking moment–the suffering is real (why else would I remember the moment so clearly after all these years?), but it certainly pales when compared to sickness, hunger, death and other deeper suffering that happens in this life. Let’s move on, OK?
There are many other examples of an individual changing the course of a major sporting event — Scott Norwood’s kick, Chris Webber’s timeout, Nick Anderson’s free throws, Bill Buckner’s fielding gaffe in the ’86 World Series. And again, those names may mean nothing to you, but to the fans of their respective teams they sure do. Each one seemingly snatched defeat from the jaws of victory on one of sports’ biggest stages.
Bill Buckner’s story is what prompted the sportswriter above to write his article. You see, Bill Buckner was “forgiven” by the Boston fans this year. After years of abuse at the hands of disappointed fans, when Buckner threw out the ceremonial first pitch of the season, he was greeted by a loud and lengthy standing ovation. Tears reportedly streamed down his cheeks as he experienced this moment of “redemption.” The fans had moved on and had finally embraced him again.
So why did they do it? Were the Boston fans just being altruistic? Umm… just ask a Yankees fan if that’s the case. Did time heal the wounds? (After all, it’s been 22 years!) Well, through 2004 (that’s 18 years), Red Sox fans still felt the sting of his error, so it wasn’t time that healed those wounds.
But everything changed for those fans in 2004 (and again in 2007). The Red Sox won the World Series. Twice. Bouyed by the euphoria of a couple of championships, they were now able to let bygones be bygones and embrace as a hero the one who had formerly been a goat.
I know I need to bring this back around to peacemaking for “normal folks” here. (If I haven’t already lost all you non-sports people a long time ago.) What’s most interesting to me about this whole thing is the tendency for us to offer forgiveness (or absolution or whatever you want to call it in this case) much more easily when things are going well for us. When we are in a good place and feeling good about life, we are more likely to brush off a critical comment or other offense against us. Like the Red Sox fans and Bill Buckner.
But it’s a rare thing for most of us to be in such a place (rare as a Cubs championship, for some of us). We are much more likely to be struggling in one form or another, experiencing great suffering in this life. And that tends to magnify our feelings toward what is done to us. In that situation, our tendency is point outward and to look for someone else to blame. “Look what they’ve done,” we think. “It’s all their fault that I’m experiencing this suffering.” We look for a scapegoat, and somehow, feel a little better to find one.
The concept of a scapegoat actually had its beginnings in the Old Testament — in Leviticus 16, it talks about how one goat was to be sacrificed and one was to be sent out into the desert; the two goats represented the payment for sin and the complete removal of sin. The peoples’ sin was on the goats, and as the “scapegoat” was cast out, so was their guilt.
Remember how Jesus is the fulfillment of that Old Testament image. Christ took the scorn and ridicule of the crowd. He was spit upon, mocked, and beaten. He was taken outside the city, and though he had committed no wrong, he became the scapegoat and bore the sins of many. The cross allows us to look rightly at ourselves and at others, giving us the ability to extend to others the forgiveness that has been so graciously given to us through Christ. Alleluia! What a savior!
So as we think about scapegoats in sports or our tendency to blame others, let’s remember Christ. The gospel even applies to baseball.
And by the way, Mr. Durham, you owe me nothing. We’re good. I’m over it.