Not considering myself a baseball expert, I don't have a reputation to uphold if I make a prediction for the 2014 season. Even if I had such a reputation, I doubt I'd be far out any limb with my prediction for 2014: The Chicago Cubs will NOT win the World Series. Nor will they be National League champs.
No, not the boldest of predictions. The Cubs haven't won a world series since 1908! Their last National League title was in 1945. I doubt many would scratch their heads at my prediction.
I don't predict another non-championship season based on any knowledge of their 2014 roster or spring training games. Not even on something silly like "The Billy Goat Curse. " (See video on this curse in the Related Interest section below.) No, my prediction is based on where the Cubs play. I call it The Curse of Wrigley Field!
I must confess in writing this that I really have no idea of what's in the minds of Cubs owners or the front office. I can't say that I even know many Cubs fans. But I won't let my lack of this knowledge get in the way of what I think is a good analogy for this spiritual Reflection. Here goes.
The Cubs do not have to be good for the franchise to succeed. They don't have to spend big bucks to get or keep star players. Fans will come anyway. Many people go to Cubs games not necessarily to see the team play, but to just be in Wrigley Field. Most baseball fans who haven't been to Wrigley Field have a game at Wrigley on their bucket list. (I know I do.) The old brick ivy-covered walls, bleachers in the sun, seats atop buildings across the street, and singing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" during the seventh inning stretch (even without legendary broadcaster Harry Caray leading the singing) are said to be rememberances for a lifetime.
In an earlier Reflection, "Anything Spiritual in Pittsburgh?" I shared thoughts from John Sexton's book Baseball as a Path to God,Baseball as a Road to God, John Sexton, Gotham Books, 2013 about baseball parks being "sacred space" for many fans. He writes of how the fan in the park can be transported beyond the ordinary, to an experience we know is real ... but we cannot explain or put into words. Sexton likens this experience to the spiritual experience a believer might find in a church or cathedral. With my annual summer excursions to Pittsburgh for a Pirates series, I am beginning to sense PNC park (home of the Pirates) as a sacred space.
PNC Park seems to take on that sacred space feeling not only for the neat place it is as a ballpark, but mainly because that is where I experience what is happening on the field ... the baseball game. The drama, thrills, the crowd's cheers and groans, the subtle movements of the game within the game. While the park is special, its sacredness evolves because it leads one to the beauty and mystique of the game. And the crowds at PNC park have increased as the quality of play has increased in recent years. In the end, in Pittsburgh, it's all about baseball!
In Chicago, I sense there is something similar, but significantly different. The goal seems to be to experience Wrigley Field. Oh, it would be nice if the Cubs played well and maybe won; but, my picture is that the focus is not on baseball. Wrigley Field is a sacred space not because it leads one to good baseball, but it becomes a sacred space because it is ... well, a sacred space in itself. What should be a means to an end becomes an end in itself.
How easy it is for something similar to happen in our spiritual/religious lives. Buildings we construct to help us be near God and hear God's voice can become objects of worship themselves (idols). Our sacred goal of trying to help others form or deepen a relationship with God can become a goal of increasing numbers we can chart and point to with pride. Even the bibles we read and study can become objects of worship rather than sacred objects to lead us to a closer understanding of and relationship with God.
Making an idol out of doctrinal accuracy, ministry success, or moral rectitude leads to constant internal conflict, arrogance and self-righteousness, and oppression of those whose views differ.
Counterfeit Gods, p. 132 We can start relying on the rightness of our doctrine to define our standing with God rather than simply trying to experience God and God's grace in our lives. When Jesus healed the blind man on the Sabbath, the religious leaders' confidence in their doctrine of the Sabbath caused them to be blind to the work of God happening right in front of them. (John 9)
Rituals meant to point us to God become something of a rule to follow or a component of "right" worship. A passage in the Old Testament's book of Numbers says it well in instructing the Israelites to make tassels on the corners of their garments: "And it shall be a tassel for you to look at and remember all the commandments of the Lord, and to do them ..." (Numbers 15:39) To wear the tassels was not the end. The goal was for the tassels to help one remember ... and to do.
Even moral living, which we might hope is the result of trying to be faithful to God, can become simply our personal striving to earn salvation on our own. Perhaps the season of Lent has a purpose to help us examine our deeper drives and motivations. Are those things we consider sacred just sacred in themselves? Or are those things sacred because they lead us to God?
Back to baseball. So how can the Cubs win?
Tear down their home to get rid of The Curse of Wrigley Field? No! Wrigley Field is a tribute to much that is good about baseball. It should remain a sacred space.
Cubs managment should refocus on baseball. Spend money on the game. Get good players. Develop the farm system. Spruce up Wrigley ... but KEEP IT!
(Note to Cubs management: It's fine with me if you ignore my advice. As long as the Phillies and the Pirates are in the National League with you, I'd rather you remain a mediocre team.)