Saturday, April 23, 2016

Listening to Ted Williams

Ted Williams hits one of his 521 Home Runs.
Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful.
Colossians 3:13-15

Ron Fairly had a fairly good Major League career. He played 21 seasons in the majors and then was a broadcaster for 27 more. His lifetime average was .266. He led the USC baseball team to a College World Series championship in 1958, and then helped the Los Angeles Dodgers win three World Series in 1959, 1963, and 1965. He was an All Star. He is also the answer to a baseball trivia question that will stump all but the most obsessed fans: Ron Fairly is the player who hit the most career home runs without ever hitting as many as twenty in a single season.

Fairly was good, but he wasn’t Ted Williams. Of course, no one was Ted Williams other than the man himself. But there is a vast gulf between Ron Fairly’s exceptional talents and the best hitter who ever played the game.

Years ago I heard a story about Fairly talking to Williams about hitting, and he told the Hall of Famer that there was a particular pitch, that he just couldn’t hit. Williams responded by asking him, “Then why do you swing at it?”

If you can’t hit it, Ted told him, then don’t swing at it.

In baseball and in life, that is good advice. 

It’s not perfect, of course, there are times when you have to swing even if your chances of getting a hit are not very good.

But in his twenty-one seasons, Ron Fairly struck out just 877 times.

As I contemplate our upcoming United Methodist General Conference, I find myself thinking about Ted’s advice.

I was reading “The Renewal Agenda for General Conference” proposed by the ironically named “Good News” movement, and I found myself feeling physically ill. It’s an agenda which is apparently aimed at making us more rigid than the Southern Baptists. And then it occurred to me that the “Good News” people probably feel the same way when they read about the agenda proposed by the Reconciling Ministries Network. 

This is a pitch we United Methodists just can’t seem to hit.

We can’t even agree on what sort of a pitch it is. One side calls it “the issue of homosexuality.” The other side talks about the exclusion of our LGBTQ sisters and brothers (although we are not really comfortable with the gender binary).

Both sides believe that they are very serious about biblical authority and each side believes that the other is profoundly and perversely wrong.

We can’t hit it. We need to stop swinging at it.

To my mind, that would mean two things.

First, those of us in favor of inclusion need to give up on changing that grotesquely offensive statement about “homosexual practice” being incompatible with Christian teaching. Maybe we can modify it slightly and maybe not, but we probably cannot eliminate it, and we just need to let it go. 

And second, those in favor of the continued exclusion of LGBTQ persons need to give up on the penalties for pastors and bishops who celebrate same sex marriages and appoint LGBTQ pastors. Just let it go. We don’t have penalties for any other comparable infractions.

My guess is that plenty of people on both sides of the issue would find this idea deeply offensive. But it would be better than where we are.


  1. I enjoyed the Williams story... but I wonder about the wisdom of applying it to this issue. At first it seemed apt... a kind of realistic compromise in keeping with "the politics of reality" we find being marketed elsewhere today. "Let's go for what we can get..."

    Then I began to think some more, and what may be wisdom in deciding what pitch to swing at may be, in more serious areas of human life and human spirituality, a mater of moving past realistic compromise and into defeatism and betrayal of central values.

    Are you seriously suggesting that we "just let go" "that grotesquely offensive statement about “homosexual practice” being incompatible with Christian teaching"? Really? But if we retreat into making our peace with that "grotesquely offensive statement" where does the retreat end? Who else do we sell out?

    And what is the nature, purpose and vision of the Church that remains after we "let it go"?

    1. Thank you for your thoughtful comments. I wasn't suggesting that we "let it go" forever, just for now. But in the larger sense, I think I was wrong and this and I have written a new post on how I was wrong.

  2. In the age of the Religious Freedom Act - and who knows what other wonders of human decency ALEC has in store for us down the road - I'd be sad if, as we "let it go," we simply affirm the perception - or even worse, the reality - that the Church prefers to align itself Biblically and socially with those who brought us - out of the rich resources of bigotry - 250 years of African slavery, 100 years of Jim Crow and centuries of oppression of women. Because, by "letting it go" that's who we'd appear to stand with.

    1. Thanks, Bill, for taking the time to comment. I thought of correcting places where I was not clear, but then I decided I needed to say I was wrong and write a blog about that. This is especially painful since I totally love the Ted Williams story.