U is for Umpire

U is for Umpire

    You want sports analogies for God? Here’s one. Actually, it’s not even an analogy, it’s just a fact. God is the umpire in the game of life. You want to know if a play was fair or foul, if a ball was a strike? Ask God.

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    We don’t have a game without rules, and rules are all about drawing lines between right and wrong, in or out, fair or foul. Of course, just following rules doesn’t make you a good player. There’s more to a game than its rules! But rules establish the boundaries of a game; they give it its shape. Rules are necessary.

    Therefore, umpires are necessary. There has to be an authority who says what has just happened. “It was a strike” is an interpretation of what has just happened between pitcher and batter and catcher. We need umpires just so the game can go on. We need good umpires so that we have a general sense that the game is being fair.

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    Consider this. Yesterday you got angry with a friend. You’re wondering, was I right to be angry? The Bible gives you guidance about anger. It turns out to be a rather complicated thing. Saint Paul in Ephesians says “Be angry but do not sin!” It seems there are instances of anger in the game of life where anger is a good play. But there are also times when to be angry is to foul or strike out—that is, to sin. How can you know which is which?

    Were you right to be angry? Well, you study the rules and you study your heart. You ask your teammates. You get your coach to help you. But at the end of the day, what you need is the umpire to speak on the matter authoritatively.

    That’s something God does. At the end of the day, God calls the rightness or the wrongness of every play of your life. Some things you did were simply sins; other things were not sins; and a lot of things were mixed up. God makes it all clear.

    Human life would be a hopeless mess were it not the case that there is an ultimate judge of what is human and what is inhuman. To have a meaningful life, we need a really good umpire. That’s why it is good news that, in the divine alphabet, U is for Umpire.

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    Out & About. I will be leading a discussion of Our Town by Thornton Wilder in October. It seems to be in the post-covid, coming-out air. Recently, Terry Teachout, the awesome theater critic of the Wall Street Journal, reviewed an outdoor performance of it, this summer, at Peterborough, New Hampshire. One wishes one could have been there: https://www.wsj.com/articles/our-town-thornton-wilder-stage-manager-portsmouth-players-gordon-clapp-11628200433?reflink=share_mobilewebshare

 

Trust in Institutions

I am thinking about the CDC. Monday last week they not only issued their confusing message about masks, they said don’t travel to Spain. The State Department accordingly said, with regard to Spain, “Do Not Travel.” It is their highest cautionary level. Although I could still go on my planned pilgrimage of walking the traditional Camino Frances to Santiago de Compostela—Spain would admit me, being fully vaccinated, and the route is open—I have decided to delay it (again).
    In my mind is the voice of an old New York friend, who some years ago said, “Victor, you ought to go while you still can.” The Grim Reaper ever lurks in the shadows. On the other hand, another friend has pointed out that anybody can walk the Camino; what you need to do is go at the pace that is right for you. (So, don’t worry about the delay.) Yet another friend, a person confined to a wheelchair, wants to go someday; and “with a little help from his friends” (forgive the Beatles’ near-quote) he could.
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    A bit more than a year ago, I read in The New Atlantis, a journal of science and culture, this old saying: Trust is gained in spoonfuls but lost in buckets. It is hard to build up trust yet mighty easy to lose it, and having lost it, exceedingly hard to regain it. It is not a judgment but simply a fact to say that major scientific institutions have lost trust in the past year. They will find it hard to regain.
    Thus, by presumption, I bristle at new CDC guidelines. I have seen the New York Times (even the NYT!) mock the CDC for bone-headed declarations; one NYT headline dripped with irony when it said (of a long-delayed accommodation to the exceedingly flimsy evidence of outdoor transmission), “CDC decides to follow the science.”
    And yet, and yet . . . just because trust has been lost does not mean that any particular declaration is wrong. If Covid is on the increase in Spain (as it is), and if Spain is, relatively to us, under-vaccinated, then it seems good to delay my pilgrimage to the spring, grim reaper to the contrary notwithstanding.
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    We need to be honest with one another and to expect clarity and humility from such institutions as the CDC. At the same time, we need to be open to the possibility that even a much-beleaguered institution can still get something right. We need to be willing to acknowledge, indeed to hope to find, those spoonfuls by which trust can be reestablished.
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    Which is just another way to say: Because God has made us social beings, there is an essential place for authority in our lives. (I seem to be unable to escape from my first book, Up with Authority.)
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    Out & About. For the first time, I have preached on the elder brother in the parable of the prodigal son. It seems to me that he is in danger of squandering—of throwing away, which is something like the literal meaning of being a prodigal—the most important things of all. (So he has a claim of being the “prodigal” too.) Preachers who will be visiting this parable in Lent of 2022 might want to bookmark this for homiletic provocation! I called it, “Can this family be one family?” You will be able to find the sermon here: https://incarnation.org/worship/sermons/#speakers=victor-lee-austin

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The Rev. Canon Dr. Victor Lee Austin is the Theologian-in-Residence for the diocese and is the author of several books including, "Losing Susan: Brain Disease, the Priest's Wife, and the God who Gives and Takes Away."