There was no way it could happen. Last Thursday afternoon, I was watching ESPN and happened to see that the “biggest series of the year” was about to happen for the Red Sox, as they met the Yankees at Fenway park in Boston. Then it dawned on me that, with the red-eye flight out of Seattle Friday night, I’d be IN Boston on Saturday, which meant that, in theory at least, I could go to the Sox/Yankees, in August, with these two teams tied for first, at one of the few remaining ballparks in the country that has any vestige of history left in it (built in 1912!).
Unless you grew up in a baseball family, you can’t appreciate this fully, but it would be like being in Vail on the best powder day of the year if you’re a skier, or being in Vancouver when the USA is playing Canada for the Olympic gold medal in 2010. You’re there, but on the outside. And for me this past weekend, moving from outside to inside was an impossibility. I visited stub hub and discovered that standing room in right field was going for $109 per ticket. Did I want to sit down? That would be another $35 at least. And even if I had the money, I was due in camp that night, 2 hours north, at just about the time the game would be over.
Still, I decided, “you only live once” so I took the first step, boldly asking the camp director if I could arrive late since I wouldn’t be speaking ’til Sunday anyway. I told him why, writing, “I know it’s shallow, but it’s been a lifelong dream to go to a game at Fenway, and since the Yankees are in town, tied with Boston for first…well, I had to ask.” His response:
“Shallow? You’re talking about light and darkness. Good and evil. An epic battle. Tickets. Ride. Covered. See you late Saturday night.”
We met our benefactor just outside the stadium, and he’d warned us not to eat anything all day because he had something special planned at the game. He treated my wife and I, and another friend, to a buffet, endless salad, chicken, scallops, prime rib, and more – available through the bottom of the third inning, right behind home plate.
We ate, and enjoyed the game from spectacular seats, all because of the amazing generosity of one man, and I learned some lessons that day about grace and gratitude. And though, yes, “it’s just a game” – I was reminded on that day of some important truths about real life:
1. God’s thinking is different than mine. I wanted to get in the park. My generous friend gave me a buffet and club seats. I want to get through the day. God wants to bless me with every spiritual blessing. I want to be safe and secure. God wants me to enjoy the adventure of living generously because God is our abundant source. I need to recognize that God’s desire is to fill me up, and that God’s notion of full are fuller than mine.2. Asking is important. Jesus taught us that it’s appropriate to ask. I like the Boston experience as a teacher here, because though I asked, I knew that I didn’t deserve, couldn’t afford. I just asked anyway, knowing that “no” is a perfectly fair answer. Sometimes we get into trouble because we don’t ask. Sometimes we get into trouble because our asking is really our way of saying, “God, if you really love me then your answer will be yes.” Both of these errors impoverish our hearts. Learning to ask, not demand, is part of maturity in Christ.
3. God’s Yes is a gift to be enjoyed. This side of perfection we all live, daily, in the realities of the fall, and this means we live with unfulfilled desires and longings. Whether it’s in the realm of our health, our sexuality, our finances, our friendship, our vocation, or… , none of us enjoy wholeness.
But it’s also true that right in the midst of our brokenness, and the painful realities of the fall, there are gifts of grace: A sunrise; good coffee; real connection with a friend; a moment in prayer or meditation when our life with Christ opens up; tickets to the Red Sox vs. Yankees, with the Red Sox winning; standing on a summit cross in the Alps – all these things are gifts of grace: undeserved, yet freely given. It’s our job to be like children and receive them freely, and express our delight and love to the giver of the gifts.
This same attitude of gratitude has been expressed by Sophie Scholl just before her execution, Dietrich Bonhoeffer in prison, Nicanor Tamang in jail, and a friend on his death bed, just before cancer overtook his body. Gratitude isn’t the opposite of ease – it’s the capacity to see gifts: Every. Single. Day. …and express thanks.
I have a lot of philosophical discussions with people about the basis of faith in Christ. If you need to, I’ll go there with you: modernity/post-modernity; ontological essence; textual criticism; emergent vs. neo-Calvinist; epistemological foundations in a world of deconstruction and cynicism. Going down these roads is not a problem.
But when the day is done, I tell people this: “I’m a Christ follower, and because I am, I’m like a little kid and every day is Christmas.” Sure, some days are better than others, and some days are really dark. But even on those days, at some deep, deep level, there’s a sense that God is working in the world, bringing hope, healing, reconciliation, transformation. There are gifts, and signs of grace – if we’re willing to pay attention.
Today, in New Hampshire, there are lots of gifts: Fresh rain, new friends, beautiful children all around the camp, rich conversations with adults about faith, and sore muscles from a hike to the top of Lafeyette peak yesterday. Thanks God for the gifts; none of them deserved, all from you, because of your love.