One of my favorite days of the year occurs in mid-February, when pitchers and catchers report for their first day of work at spring training.
This year, the first day of spring training not only served to clear away some of my winter doldrums, but also lined up nicely with the start of the college baseball season at Angelo State University. In fact, such an alignment of events even turned out to be like one of those supernatural-double-portion miracles I hear about from our televangelist brethren. I obtained my double-portion miracle for the grand total of $40, the cost of a baseball season pass—not a bad harvest for a few dollars of seed money.
Now, let me tell you about the miracle.
I took in an early season baseball game at ASU on a dreary day, complete with a 36-degree wind chill while simultaneously watching spring training news on my phone. I could not have been warmer, though, even if it took some skill to eat popcorn with gloves. Among the smattering of shivering people in a small but enthusiastic crowd, I noticed a man with booming voice who cheered for the visiting team. When the crowd argued a particularly bad call, this man even yelled an encouragement to the umpire.
Variety of response
The man with the booming voice certainly knew how to cheer for his team, and it soon became apparent that hometown fans noticed him. Some stared. Others performed the patented over-the-shoulder glare that unruly children can receive in church. Most others just ignored him.
I tried my best simply to tune him out, and my brain’s sarcastic voice internally declared, “There’s one in every crowd.” Interestingly, the Spirit’s voice also spoke to my heart in that moment. And thus the miraculous moment occurred.
The Spirit took me on a journey back through some interesting situations in church life when brothers and sisters in Christ resembled the man with the booming voice. These were folks who seemed to cheer for the other team.
The one in that crowd
In fact, I remember one man in particular who rather regularly could be counted upon to cast a “no” vote in about every church business meeting. This man was a little different than other folks who typically vote against everything. He usually told me—and others—his reasoning after much contemplation and prayer. I had no reason to think he was in the church to cause trouble, because he was a respected member and got on well with most folks, including me. He simply spoke up and voted his conscience.
Yet when he would speak his mind, some others stared at him, glared over the shoulder or just ignored him. It’s interesting and difficult when a church body simultaneously grumbles, “There’s one in every crowd.”
Conscience & conviction
Could it be, however, that these ones in every crowd may be used by God to convict the conscience of the majority? Even if the one is wrong in his/her views, does it not do the body good to hear from those who insist we look at issues through a different lens? Theological reflection keeps the soul in good shape.
Consider the Apostle Paul, who taught the Corinthians both to expel a sexually perverse member and to treat each other as the body of Christ. He understood the tension and paradox of our Christian experience. The Christian life is one of constant theologizing. It also is one in which dialogue vastly outdoes monologue. Incidentally, true dialogue occurs in a tension. Dialogue is not that which leads people to forced, tacit approval of the majority view.
So, when you come across that one in every crowd, forgo the immediate temptation of expulsion. Don’t have a stare down or ignore them. Rather, live in the tension. You usually will find a good solution there.
James Hassell is senior pastor of First Baptist Church in San Angelo.