Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Angels in the Outfield

Do you believe?

Belief. It is a powerful thing. It gets us out of bed in the morning. It dangles carrots. It beats back sticks. It makes our hearts break and soar, sometimes at the same time.

It drives us. It makes us.

It leaves us in knots on the floor.

It moves us. Stands us up. Again and again.

It dances with us. Sometimes slowly. Sometimes with a brisk tarantella, exorcising our demons.

Belief.

It isn’t the cool thing these days. Actually, it hasn’t been cool for awhile. Too much sadness in the way. Too much cynicism.

Can you blame us?

I look at the news and shudder. They are starting to put banners of praise on billboards in Syria for Vladimar Putin. The latest news from the climate world is that the great change is accelerating. And in the house that makes us, statesmanship cannot be heard over the noises of the two parties yelling at each other.

Belief? Belief in what? 

But something else is in the news these days.

Baseball. October baseball.

Playoff baseball.

Do you know the kind?  The rise and fall of your stomach over ever pitch. The wonderful jubilation at the swing of a bat.

The heartache. The joy.

And if you are from Chicago’s north side… the Cubs! Talk about belief. That is a dusty 107-year old hope.

Call me superstitious, but I am not going to write about the Cubs. Stephen Colbert already made me nervous enough.

But, I do want to talk about baseball. Well actually a movie.

A pretty darn cheesy movie at that.

But one I love.

Angels in the Outfield.

Remember that one?  It is a story about belief.

It is also the story of two young boys. The main one is Roger (played by an adorable Joseph Gordon Levitt). Roger and his sidekick J.P are two kids in the foster system. Despite their circumstances they have big hopes for life.

J.P’s is to be adopted. His belief is innate. His favorite tagline is “It can happen.” “It” being that today could be THE day. 

Roger holds on to a hope his father told him. They could be a family if the Anaheim Angel baseball team wins the pennant. The problem is, the Angels are in last place. The father said it in jest, Roger didn’t notice.

Roger in his bed offers up a  simple prayer asking for help, for the Angels to win. Saying, “I would really like a family.”

Station break. Do you think it is a coincidence that we use the term childlike faith? Children don’t know any better. And I am so glad they don’t. I hope they stay that way. I hope they use every ounce of their youthful optimism. I hope they believe that anything is possible and they can change the world because we really need them to.

Back to the story.

Roger is now watching his beloved baseball team when he starts to see angels. Real ones.  Only he can see them. And they are helping his team win! When he asks Al the main angel why him, Al replies, “You asked for help. Keep your nose clean and your heart open.” 

 Belief comes from humble heart.

The only kind of heart that is brave enough to ask for help. 

Don’t we all want that kind? A heart that longs to say “Wow.” Or better yet, a heart that takes a risk and does say “wow”?

I want to be like that. Brave enough to ask for help. Strong enough to believe. More like Roger.

But honestly? I am more like Danny Glover.

Or in this story. George Knox, the skeptical, cynical washed out manager of the baseball team. He doesn’t care. Maybe he did once but not anymore. Too much time went by. Too much life took place.

And a tragedy happened. It happens in us too.

Sometimes dreams don’t come true and we get skeptical.

And unchecked skepticism creates something awful.

Disengagement.

You get to stand back and cross your arms and roll your eyes.

You don’t have to move your feet.

You don’t have to risk anything. Well maybe your ego. But what is that compared to your heart?

Belief requires investment. You have to put YOU out there. Skeptics are critics. Believers are warriors. Ask Brene Brown.

George Knox, like me too often, is a critic.

But even critics crack.

A George crosses paths with a Roger.

George starts investigating these alleged angels.

How did the player hit the home run? He replies that it felt like someone was swinging the bat with him.

How did Ben catch the fly ball? Young Ben (played by a very young Matthew McConaughey) says it felt like he was being lifted.

George says “alright alright alright.”

More miraculous things happen. The team starts to believe. And not just in winning or each other but in their manager. When the press questions his techniques the once dejected players proudly stand and say they will only play for George.

Fans get excited again. The stadium fills.

Belief is like that. It spreads. It is infectious. Even a longtime curmudgeon’s smirk can start to turn upward.

So let’s jump on the bandwagon!

Let’s believe! Let’s put ourselves out there. Miracles can happen. We can go the distance.

Things can and will get better.

What good is a heart anyway if it isn’t on the line?

It only works out there.

So what if we swing and miss. We could strike out or we could hit it out of the park. But if we don’t swing, we don’t score. (Unless we are walked but just go with it.)

Let’s believe! Let’s just go for it! Why the heck not?

I will tell you why the heck not.

And Roger is about to find out too.

Heartache.

Just as the Angels are about to win and do the impossible, the rug gets taken out from under him.

His dad relinquishes his parental rights. 

Wait, what?

Hold on a minute. What was the point of all of that? Why build to the big crescendo, the big dream, only to have it taken away?

All signs were pointing to a miracle and then this?

Something he has been hoping for, waiting for, believing in, and then this?

And that is why most of us are Georges instead of Rogers. We have been disappointed too. Sometimes over and over again.

All of a sudden Roger doesn’t believe. Even after all he has seen.

Sound familiar?

I wish it weren’t. But it is.

That’s life. We get beaten down.

Disappointment puts growing up on fast-forward.

We get knocked down as kids, when we stand back up, we are adults.

Childlike faith disappears.

The question is still the same though.

Do you believe?

George comes to believe again. And because of his wisdom, he knows how precious that is.

And in the story, it is George, the cynical manager, who convinces Roger, the faithful, to believe again too.

Let’s go back to the original prayer. “ I would really like a family.”

And that is what happens at the end of the story. George adopts Roger and J.P.

Roger gets a father and a brother. A family.

The prayer is answered.

It just isn’t what Roger expected. 

And it is often the case with us. We get mad when we don’t get what we are expecting. And we disregard belief entirely and go back and sit in the stands.

But what about this?

What if we see how the story unfolds even when it seems like a hopeless waste of time?

Take Roger’s story.

He believed. He asked. He went through it. Got knocked down. Got back up. Pushed on. Kept believing.

And didn’t get what he wanted.

Instead he got more than he asked for or imagined.

What if we kept going?

Instead of stopping at skeptic, we pushed through?

What about merging our Rogers and Georges together?

We need them both if we are going to make it to the end.

Wisdom and Wonder.

Realism and Optimism.

Hard won Hope.

Ragged Rugged Belief.

Back again to the original question.

Do you believe?

Do I?

My cynical skeptical side George cocks my head and nods, ever so slightly.

My child like hopeful Roger jumps up and down yelling  “Alight, alright, alright.”

They take each other by the arm and walk down to the field.

An angel in the outfield smiles and says,

“I knew it could happen.”