2013-01-09

Business, Baseball, and the Spiritual Path

The “miracle” – on 34th street and on your street – is that love is good business. In fact, for a faith community, love is our business. If it isn’t, then we don’t need to be in business. If it isn’t, then we might as well close our doors right now.

Some folks who pride themselves on being hard-headed business realists seem to have missed certain chapters of the basic textbook of business reality. The business reality is that there are ways that benefitting our rival benefits us, too, because it makes the business that we and our rival share go better for both of us.

When radio first began broadcasting baseball games, owners worried that radio listening would compete with stadium attendance. “Who’ll buy our tickets to watch the game if they can stay home and listen to it on the radio for free?” they reasoned. The first baseball game broadcast on radio was in 1921. By the 1930s, many owners were still wary, and radio coverage was a “sometimes” thing. The Chicago Cubs, in 1935, were the first team to have all their games on radio. The last holdouts were the New York teams (Giants, Dodgers, Yankees), but by 1939, all the teams had contracts allowing broadcast of all their games.

The money that radio stations paid to the teams slowly overcame the resistance of team owners, who figured that radio income would compensate for lost ticket sales. What they discovered was that ticket sales actually went up as a result of radio broadcasting. People who heard about Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Walter Johnson on the radio were more likely to want to see them in person. Attendance at the games in 1940 was nearly eight percent higher than it had been in 1920 – a remarkable statistic given the drastic effect of the Great Depression on discretionary income.

When TV coverage came along, the same pattern repeated: initial resistance – why come to the games if they’re free on TV? – followed by realization that the medium was a help.

Radio broadcast and stadium ticket sales were both in the business of promoting baseball. Faith communities are all in “the business” of promoting what we might call “spiritual values” – a way of life that attends to grace, abundance, and fundamental, irrevocable goodness that envelops even the greatest tragedies. Any church, fellowship or other faith community that does that is cooperating with us in the overall project of human growing, deepening, developing. The better they are at that mission, the better it is for us, in the long run: the more people there are who are oriented to any path of awakening from mindless consumerism, awakening to greater presence to the beauty and mystery of life, then the more people will ultimately find their way to the liberal version of that path.

(It’s also true – though this may not seem very comforting to Unitarian Universalists – the other way around. The better UU congregations are at carrying out our mission of deepening and growth, the better that is for the more conservative churches, too. We should recognize that some folks who learn from us the value of a serious religious path will find that path leading them over to the Baptists. God bless them. Their path is not mine, but if they end up helping to build an effective Baptist congregation, some of the folks from that congregation will eventually find that their spiritual path leads them to us. Like Macy’s and Gimbel’s in “Miracle on 34th Street.”)

A scarcity mentality – small, protective, guarded, grasping, ungenerous – hinders the mutual boon that occurs when rivals cooperate simply by recognizing that they always were in the same "business." Love is our business. We are here to make the word flesh. We are here to take the pure and perfect ideas of caring and relationship and put them into the messy flesh of lived human relationship. All the many Christmas stories, as varied and bright as the lights on a tree, are stories of incarnation: love embodied, in flesh. The stories of our winter festival remind us that the joy, the belonging, the love for which we hope, will come from the most unexpected places – an impoverished babe, a hardened miser, a glowing red nose and an island of misfit toys – or the very group we thought was our rival.

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This is part 5 of 5 of "The Word Made Flesh"
Previous: Part 4: "Miracle on 34th Street"
Beginning: Part 1: "The Word Made Flesh"