God at the Ballpark
I’ve come to appreciate secular perspectives on Christian subculture. I believe they are very telling. Yesterday I was surprised to read this rather sweet and sincere piece on Slate recounting a recent Billy Graham crusade in Camden Yards.
In his article, “Get Your God at the Ballpark,” John Dickerson describes an event that has for 60 years served as an icon of evangelical culture. With reverence for the spiritual significance of the event and irreverence for sacred cows, the author points out the irony of such an event being held in a ballpark. In his opening, he writes:
Baseball parks smell like old beer. Church smells like incense. At one, I yell at umpires; at the other, I genuflect. I don't confuse the two—even at confession. But Sunday at Camden Yards, the Orioles' stadium, the beer nozzles were dry and everyone was praying, though there wasn't a censer in sight. I was there to hear Billy Graham preach, for what he said might be his last time before a large crowd.
Dickerson’s respect for Graham is obvious, although the writer admits the evangelist’s zeal is somewhat foreign to him.
Then he said we're all going to hell. It was very literal. There was no windup or the verbal padding I'm used to from Catholic Church, where the priest talks in parables and inference that usually obscure the starker messages of sin and redemption.
Using clever wordplay and baseball analogies throughout, Dickerson presents a compelling perspective of the crusade that does not trivialize it. Describing the altar call, where people are streaming to the outfield, Dickerson says:
This was where the incongruity of the venue worked so powerfully. Graham's message wasn't just for Sunday or weddings or funerals. What he was offering was the promise of grace at any moment, including in left field under an Esskay hot-dog sign. Too frail to walk, the old man left the stage as he arrived, driven across the field on a golf cart. It's the same way they bring relief pitchers from the bullpen. He was departing after one more save.