I want to write about something entirely different today. I want to write about baseball. We are getting closer and closer to Opening Day, and my Philadelphia Phillies have undergone a massive transformation this winter. Almost half of the guys who will presumably be in the lineup on Opening Day were not with the team last year. Naturally all of these changes have led to a great deal of optimism, and I hope that the optimism is justified. After a disappointing finish to last season with a nearly historic collapse, all of these changes will hopefully be enough to put us over the edge and push us into the playoffs.
Notice how I lapsed into discussing myself as part of the team. I am in no way part of the team. It is not even like they are the Green Bay Packers where you can purchase shares of the team. I have no ownership interest in the Philadelphia Phillies. I have never played for them or been associated with them. The closest I have ever been to them was thanks to the Make-A-Wish foundation when I was able to meet several players and go on the field. However, that does not establish any type of relationship between me and the organization, yet I still refer to myself like I am somehow part of the team.
I have noticed a lot of people do this when they talk about sports in particular. There is some identification as part of the team even if you are not at all related to the team beyond being a supporter. Why do we identify ourselves as part of a greater community that is practically artificial? I will not be pushed into the playoffs no matter how well anybody on the Phillies actually plays. I will be cheering for a team that gets pushed into the playoffs, but I am not part of that team. My supporting them has functionally no impact on their success. In fact, their success also has very little impact on my life. Beyond inspiring me to purchase World Series Champions memorabilia and a general feeling of everything being right in the world, this type of success would really not change my life whatsoever. That being said, I still identify with the success that this team has and feel like it is part of my own success in some way.
Maybe I am reading far too much into this expression that a lot of us use, but I think there is something there. We all desire to be part of a greater community. We want to think that our support matters to our baseball team. We want to think that they appreciate the fact that we specifically cheer for them out of all the other teams that we could possibly be cheering for. I am in New England. Most people around here cheer for the Boston Red Sox. I like to think that the Phillies appreciate the knowledge that they have at least one family of fans in Vermont.
Of course they certainly economically have an interest in the fact that people support them, but again, I like to think that they want me to cheer for them. I like to think that they want me specifically to be a part of the team.
Why do we have this desire then to be part of this type of social group? What is it about desiring community that speaks to us on a deeper level that we create it even where it doesn’t really seem to be all that relevant?
Over time, you all have seen me write a lot about community and what a difference it makes. We are created for community. We are created to associate with other people and to come together around common goals. We find our similar passions, and we strive together. Is any coincidence that God tells people to not forsake assembling together? He designed us, and He knows that we crave relationships with other people.
A little while ago I saw a news story that detailed the serious health problems associated with isolation. At the end of the day, we do not do well if we are not coming together with other people.
Consequently, we find community even in things that are not incredibly serious. I love sports, and the Phillies are my favorite team. However, even I realize that sports are not the end of all things. They are important to me, but certainly there are tons of things that are more important. Nevertheless, I like to feel like I am part of the community around the Philadelphia Phillies.
You even get that feeling when you go to the ballpark. When my family has gone to games in Philadelphia, we don’t go with anyone that we know. That being said, it is not all that uncommon to end up talking to the ushers or other fans who you run into around the stadium about this shared interest. You can always find someone to commiserate with about the latest loss or celebrate the most recent victory. You have no idea who these people are, but there is some common ground that brings you together and makes you feel like you belong.
Our desire for belonging must be incredibly powerful for a game to bring us together. We must really desire community if we will voluntarily form them around a leisure activity. We build our tribe, and we like it. We find our common enemy a.k.a. the New York Mets, and we like to oppose them. It is us versus them, and we want the good guys to triumph over the bad guys. And then we remember it is still just a game, but we put so much stock into it that it really is remarkable. Like I said, this desire for community must be really powerful if it matters that much.
As we start to move into baseball season in the very near future then, I have to remind myself of a few things. First, community is wonderful. Voluntarily associating with other people who share a common interest is a great thing. It is consistent with the way that we are designed, and if I am satisfying a God-given desire, then I think that is important. Even though a baseball community is certainly not the most important type of community we can be part of (the Christian community is infinitely more important; make sure you are part of that family if you are not already), it is still a societal good. Just like it is good to belong to your local singing group and enjoy community there, being a part of a larger community of baseball fans is similarly a good thing.
Second, isolation is dangerous. You might hate baseball. You are tragically wrong, but that may describe you. Find a community. Find something you’re passionate about and voluntarily become a part of it. If you are a Christian, obviously the local church is where that begins. If you are not a Christian, become a Christian and find a church. If you are still not quite willing to do that based on my amazingly persuasive argumentation in that previous sentence, there are still remarkable benefits to finding community. Get involved in local theater. Join a book club. Volunteer at a soup kitchen. Do something that helps you get around people who are committed to a similar cause. It matters.
Third, don’t fall prey to the myth of individualism. In America, we talk a lot about being self-made people. We stand on our own two feet, and we don’t need anyone else. Independence is a good thing, and we do have to have a certain degree of it. However, we are deceiving ourselves if we don’t think that we need other people around us. Don’t think any less of yourself for wanting to be with other people. In fact, exhibiting that desire proves that you are part of God’s wonderful creation, the human race. It is not good for man to be alone. The fact that you feel that desire as well is highly consistent with your nature. Therefore, don’t be ashamed of it or hide it. Don’t think that you are being tough and rugged because you don’t need anybody else. Embrace your humanity. That is a good thing.
As we begin baseball season in the near future, I really would encourage you to use it as an opportunity to think about community. As I cheer for my team (that is not even really my team whatsoever), I identify with them. I am happy when they are happy, and I hope that I will be happy a lot this summer. Maybe it seems weird that we care about these things, but I think it actually shines a light on our humanity. That is a good thing, and while it is not the most important thing we can do, it is nevertheless significant. Find what you are passionate about and join that community.