On baseball gloves and liberal religion
|Willie Mays’ baseball glove|
A short “thought for the day” offered to the Cambridge Unitarian Church as part of the Sunday Service of Mindful Meditation
In 1974, the liberal, process-theologian, Bernard Loomer (1912–1985) told a story about his father. One day, after overhearing the young Loomer complain in the playground about the thinness of a baseball glove he’d inherited from his older brothers, his father asked him what the glove was for, a question to which the young Loomer replied, “To protect his hand.” Loomer’s father continued that, although he’d never played baseball himself, it seemed to him that one should be able to catch the ball bare-handed and that a glove wasn’t to protect the hand but to give a person a bigger hand to help them catch balls that were more difficult to reach. He finished by pointing out that the young Loomer needed to learn how to catch with that glove for two reasons. First, because he wasn’t going to get another one right at that moment in his life and, second, because he didn’t need protection from life (see William Dean’s Introduction to “The Size of God — The theology of Bernard Loomer in Context”, Mercer University Press, 1987, p. 1).
A key image in this story is, of course, “S-I-Z-E”. Here’s Loomer unfolding the importance of this idea for any decent, liberal theology:
“By S-I-Z-E I mean the stature of a person’s soul, the range and depth of [a person’s] love, [their] capacity for relationships. I mean the volume of life you can take into your being and still maintain your integrity and individuality, the intensity and variety of outlook you can entertain in the unity of your being without feeling defensive or insecure. I mean the strength of your spirit to encourage others to become freer in the development of their diversity and uniqueness. I mean the power to sustain more complex and enriching tensions. I mean the magnanimity of concern to provide conditions that enable others to increase in stature” (“Religious Experience and Process Theology”, ed. Harry James Cargas and Bernard Lee, New York, 1976, pp. 69-76).
The first is that despite the fact that we find ourselves deeply critical of our own community’s liberal Christian inheritance there is no way we can, immediately, right here and now, get hold of another one. Consequently, although our inherited theological “glove” is now very, very thin in places — and we’ll surely need a new one sometime soon — the one we have still increases our size and can help us catch balls — i.e. insights and knowledge — that, otherwise, are more difficult to reach.
The second is that although much of what we might miss catching without a glove is irrational and even evil, these things must be caught as well. We forget at our peril that reality is not only shaped by the forces we like to label “reasonable” and “good.” Liberal religion has got itself into serious trouble before by forgetting this truth. We require, therefore, a theological “glove” that does not give, and must not seek, protection from this painful truth.
So, although our own liberal Christian tradition’s glove is, today, very thin in places, let’s not forget that, like the young Loomer’s baseball glove, it can still do real, liberal religious work by genuinely increasing the size of our souls, hearts, minds and hands so as to be able to catch and better understand more of reality’s breadth and depth.
When the opportunity does finally come for us to get hold of a new glove, I hope our experience of using the old one well will help us choose the new one wisely.