Thursday, August 2, 2018

Numbers Talk in Sports...How About in Spirituality

When numbers talk, people listen. That's because numbers are precise and easy to remember. They help us make sense of our world, of reality. For example, the first fact I share with people about my time in West Virginia is that the population of the 35th state is 1.8 million. Thanks to an executive order by the 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, West Virginia became a state in 1863. Suffice to say, I got a few good numbers in there. Given the primacy of numbers, I want to know how the Catholic Church ought to consider numbers much in the same way we are in the wide world of sports. Here's a thought...
In the past 48 hours, I have seen, heard and read about record-breaking numbers, new numbers, crazy numbers. It's possible the highlight reel of the Washington Nationals vs. New York Mets game broke some sort of record, it lasted so long. The Nats beat the Mets 25-4. No, the game did not go into extra innings. No team in MLB has ever lost a game by that by that many runs. Feeling for my friends who are either a) Mets fans or b) in attendance at that game, I flipped the TV from SportsCenter to the Today show only to discover Al Roker reporting that Death Valley reached an all-time high of 129.9 degrees. The daily average is 120. Living in a city where I have turned on both my windshield wipers as well as my heater every day this week, it's hard for me to imagine a place in the same hemisphere that is posting temperatures two times that of the microclimate I inhabit. And for those who follow the stock market, Facebook reported the largest one-day loss in market value by any company in U.S. stock market history after releasing a disastrous quarterly report. Those numbers say a lot. I'm sure you could add your own record, your own set of numbers reaching new highs or unfounded lows. Oy ve! 
We keep records to serve as an account of past achievement/occurrences. Though we could frame such evidence in a narrative form, numbers do the trick and yet their power and their responsibility extend much further, as seen in athletics. Numbers reveal a win/loss record, salaries, stats and more stats. A good team will draw a large number of fans, which helps the owner meet the bottom line. When Ray Kinsella heard, "If you build it, he will come," the voice was alluding to much more than Shoeless Joe Jackson and the 1919 Chicago White Sox. That voice was talking about numbers. 

Perhaps the greatest power and responsibility of a number is in the context of time. We actually don't need numbers to tell time, but we have created a system dependent on them.  Time is the most precious of commodities. We cannot replicate it (or can we?!) and it's something we never have enough of.  Hence, it's power.
All sports have their own relationship to it. Some sports are framed by a clock: basketball, football, hockey, and soccer to name just a few. Others, however, are not: baseball, golf. and tennis. Still, other sports like swimming, track and cross country invite in numbers—and a clock in their own way. And though the power and responsibility of numbers vary from sport to sport, there seems to be a common trend when it comes to time: Less is more.

I don't know a sport that is looking to go long. Baseball, golf, college football—all three of these very popular and successful sports are looking to shorten the game. Rob Manfred, Commissioner reported that he would like to implement even more time-saving mechanisms. Golf is obsessed with "pace of play" on every level—even the pros. College football, which hasn't decreased in its popularity to the extent pro football has, reports that most fans believe the game is just too long. While most fans want games to "trim the fat" I do wonder at what point is too much a good thing? To what degree will the game be compromised if play time is contracted? To what degree will it be enhanced?
Said no one, ever.
A friend reported his desire to shorten school masses. I hate to admit it, but as our attention spans wane and our ability to focus on any one thing lessens, it might be necessary to adapt this reality to—yes—even the way that we worship the One who is timeless. 

The number of Catholics who attend mass in the United States has decreased dramatically in the last 10 years. The reasons for this shift are fascinating to me. My friend's insight caused me to question: Might we be more likely to keep the Catholics we do have in the pews if we were to shorten a Sunday service to 45 minutes rather than 60? Would you be willing to go more than twice a month (the average) if you knew the service wouldn't take more than an hour of your time?  The one-hour commitment is not the primary reason that people no longer go to fact, I have read the reasons why....but I would like to consider following the trend that we see in sports into our spiritual life. 

I write this posting because I would sincerely like to hear what people, especially young people think. 

NB: I'm sure there is a record for the shortest mass out there as well as the longest one—if you were at the Baccalaureate Mass for St. Ignatius College Prep about 10 years ago, you may have been at it. And as much as numbers help us to make sense of our days, our weeks, what we do and what we don't do, I also know enough to recognize that the Lord isn't working with numbers. God's time is no's Kairos: God's time. Number don't apply.

Photo Credits
Death Valley
Pitch Clock