FAST Blast: Who wants to be holy? Reflections on sports and holiness

Do you want to be holy?

Does anyone want to be holy? After all, why would anyone want to be holy?

Perhaps many associate the idea of holiness with a religious context. And yes, the dictionary goes there too, using definitions such as sacred and consecrated. So anyone turned off by religion may likewise be turned off by the mention of holiness.

By the way, if you’re in that category, you’re in good company. Ironically, you’re in the company of someone who is considered a classic religious figure: Jesus of Nazareth was known to be turned off by religion — or at least the Pharisees’ expression of it. His followers, though, say He is far more than a religious figure.

But the dictionary also dives deeper in its examination of holiness. Analyzing root words in Middle English, to be holy is to be healthy and whole. Perusing root words in Greek and Hebrew, holiness means being set apart and distinct.

So how about a revision of the above questions, with a new take: Who wouldn’t want to be holy?

Those root word definitions resonate with me. Let’s take a look at the latter pair.

While I have a desire to be connected with family and friends, I also long to be distinct — for instance, via excellence in my work. To rephrase the line of questions once more: Who doesn’t want to be distinct?

The world of sports gives a compelling glimpse into holiness — what it means and why, apparently, we crave it.

In “The Natural,” the classic baseball movie, Robert Redford portrays Roy Hobbs, an extraordinary hitter whose budding career became tragically sidetracked until he embarked on one magical season many years later.

In a scene toward the end of the story, Hobbs is speaking with the woman who was his hometown sweetheart, Iris Gaines (portrayed by Glenn Close).

Hobbs tells Iris, “I coulda been better. I coulda broke every record in the book.”

Iris says, “And then?”

Hobbs replies, “And then? And then when I walked down the street, people would’ve looked and they would’ve said: There goes Roy Hobbs, the best there ever was in this game.”

Holiness — that’s what Roy Hobbs wanted. To be set apart, to be distinct, and to be recognized as such.

For further examples, let’s stay in the baseball realm — ’tis the season, after all. Clayton Kershaw, a starting pitcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers, has won three Cy Young Awards and a National League MVP Award. This season he has added another remarkable accolade to his resume: He is the first pitcher in baseball history to reach the 100-strikeout mark in a season with only five walks, according to MLB.com.

Through the month of May this season, Kershaw had 105 strikeouts and, yes, five walks. That’s holiness — distinctiveness of the Clayton Kershaw variety.

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said, “When you put it into context … when 2-to-1 is a pretty good strikeout-to-walk ratio, and now you’re looking at 20-to-1, that’s something you don’t imagine.”

Said Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis: “That’s a big unfathomable number right there, that ratio.”

Something you don’t imagine … unfathomable … holy.

On a major-league team level, the New York Yankees have won 27 World Series, setting the franchise apart — though their archrival, the Boston Red Sox, have a 3-1 edge this century in world championships.

If Yankees fans protest and say their team has two titles this century, I’m not counting their World Series win in 2000 because that actually came in the previous century. In other words, in each century we count to 100, starting at 1 and ending at 100, and 100 is part of that century, not the next century. Even an English major like me can handle that math!

But 27 championships? That’s distinctive — the most titles, by far, for a franchise in American professional sports. And it’s a prime example of being distinctive and set apart … of being holy.

Based on this evidence — and there is so much more evidence if only we had the time — it appears that a longing for holiness is in our DNA.

Most of us won’t experience the baseball distinction — the baseball holiness — of Roy Hobbs or Clayton Kershaw or the Yankees (or the Red Sox, if you prefer). But how can we find the distinctiveness we desire?

Let’s consider that question next time…

To be continued

© Bruce William Deckert 2016

P.S. Speaking of distinctions: While Roberts is the Dodgers’ manager now, he was a player for the Red Sox in 2004 when he made the biggest — and holiest — steal in Sox history. His ninth-inning stolen base in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series helped the Sox rally versus the Yankees, who were on the verge of a sweep.

After Roberts stole second against legendary closer Mariano Rivera and scored the tying run, Boston won Game 4 in extra innings and ultimately took the series — the only time in baseball history that a team has overcome a 3-0 series deficit. Yes, Red Sox fans, you’re right: On that count, the Sox are holier than the Yankees. Boston then won the World Series for the first time since 1918.

And yes, Dave Roberts is a popular guy among Boston sports fans. Surely, in that arena, he’s one holy dude.

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4 Responses to “FAST Blast: Who wants to be holy? Reflections on sports and holiness”

  1. Nancy Lehman Says:

    Bruce that is a very interesting take on holiness.

    In the religious context, holiness came seem otherworldly and unattainable.

    Yet in the distinction you are making, of holiness in the context of sports – a pursuit of excellence that sets one, or a team, apart – it becomes something admirable. Even desirable.

    It is helping me to make the jump in my thinking, that holiness in the religious context, is worth the pursuit.

    *1 Corinthians 9: 25 *”Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training.

    They do it to get a crown that will not last,

    but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.”

    Thank you.

    Nancy

    Like

  2. bwdeckert Says:

    Thank you, Nancy — that Scripture reference dovetails perfectly with the holiness discussion.

    I suppose this is one of the paradoxes of the gospel: that we pursue something we cannot attain, yet in the end, we can attain it with God’s help — with the emphasis, safe to say, on GOD’S HELP.

    Thanks again for taking the time to read and interact…

    Like

  3. Kayla Deckert Says:

    I find this idea of holiness really thought provoking. Something we talk about often on our team is being “excellent” in what we do, and I believe we are using it in a similar way as “holiness” is used in this post. As Christians, we can stand out and be examples in more contexts than merely being the “most religious” or because we act differently than prevailing culture. Yes, we are set apart in those ways, but we can also bring glory to God by being excellent (or holy) in all areas of our lives– sports, work, relationships, or academics. I found this post really interesting! Thanks for sharing!!

    Like

    • bwdeckert Says:

      Kayla, thank you … glad you found this post worthwhile — and thanks for your thought-provoking comment!

      Here’s hoping and praying we learn to be holy as God wants…

      Like

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