The Art of Hitting .300

*I said that this year I was going to start writing a book, a spiritual memoir of sorts. The deal is I was going to write out-loud here at The Diner, and you all agreed to give loving, constructive feedback. Here’s the forward.*

A book about George Brett and a book about Jesus Christ hit my radar at roughly the same time.

For the uninitiated, George Brett played 3rd base for the Kansas City Royals. In late August of 1980, he was hitting .400 and was attempting to be the first player since Ted Williams to finish the season with a batting average that would have baseball fans bringing his name up for the next half-century. I read somewhere that if he’d just gotten one more hit each month of the season he’d have pulled off something that hadn’t been done in 40 years.

For the uninitiated, Jesus Christ was a noted first-century historical figure from the Middle East. In late August of 1980, he had been relegated to the white noise of the Bible Belt and rumored to have some connection with the morality of an alleged majority. I read somewhere that he’d risen from the dead and pulled off something that hadn’t been done in history.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I wasn’t a fan of the Royals, but my family had cable television, and a new all-sports network gave me nightly updates and highlights on Brett’s chase. As a little-league baseball player with big aspirations I knew enough about hitting to know that I wanted to imitate that batting stance and swing. It was, in baseball parlance, “sweet.”

He batted left-handed. So did I. That’s about as far as the comparisons go.

And I found out that Brett’s hitting instructor, Charley Lau, wrote a book. It was called The Art of Hitting .300 and it wasn’t long after I found out that it existed that I owned it. The cover had George Brett’s perfect swing frame by frame, and if you held the book and flipped the pages by leafing the upper right-hand corner, it looked like a movie of the swing I’d seen every night on SportsCenter.

I studied the book, man. I learned. The major flaw I had was that I’d never been taught the importance of shifting your weight while the pitcher was in motion. In other words, your backswing is just as important in hitting as the moment you actually hit the ball. Charley Lau said that every hitter needed to understand that “you have to go back to go forward.”

Now, don’t get me wrong. I wasn’t a fan of Christians, but my family had gone to church, and every Sunday gave me ritual and stories about Jesus’ life. As a 13-year-old whose father had unexpectedly died the year before, I knew enough about Jesus to know that I didn’t want to imitate Him or his followers. It was, in religious parlance, “apostasy.”

He was a carpenter. I mowed lawns. That’s about as far as the comparisons go.

And I was well aware that Jesus’ students, the disciples, wrote a book. It was called The Bible and it wasn’t long after my father’s death that I ignored it. The cover was leather and had my name on it, if you held the book and looked at the side, you’d note that the gold-embossed pages hadn’t been separated, anyway.

I never studied that book, man. I ignored. The major flaw I had was that I’d never been taught the relevance of the history in that book while life was in motion. In other words, my churchgoing was all ritual and habit and had little importance in life when the rubber met the road. The church said that everybody needed to just show up to be one.

But things began to change in the fall of 1980.

George Brett went into a slump in late September. I started high school.

Early on I met a guy. He was just a guy from one of those campus ministries that were really big at that time. He was married and I’m guessing around 30 years old. He came to our lunchroom. He came to football games. He showed up at basketball games. He led these meetings we’d go to at somebody’s house every now and then. There were skits and games. There were snacks. There were topics to discuss. Then there was some Bible lesson.

I went because my friends went.

And because girls were there. I was 14. Cut me some slack.

I don’t remember paying attention to anything but girls. I was 14. Cut me some slack.

But I do remember that the guy paid attention to me. He knew my name. He said hello to me every time he saw me. I didn’t know he had a mild, well-intentioned, hidden agenda:

To get me to look at that book about Jesus Christ.

And find out what it said about Him.

Not about what an allegedly moral group with an alleged majority said. Not about what my friends said. Not about what my church said. Not about what movies said. Not about what girls said. Not even about what my Mom said. Not what my teacher said. Not what politicians said.

What that particular book said.

About the same time George Brett was slumping I had no idea that I’d be putting down Charley Lau’s book and picking up the disciple’s book. I might’ve been younger than most but I was going to be faced with what every person on the planet is going to be faced with:

Making a decision about what you believe and why you believe it.

Every person is going to have to deal with Proverbs 1:7. “Fearing the Lord is the beginning of moral knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.” (Net Bible)

…”Fearing”… The word implies a lot: Intense fear. Awe. Reverence. Respect. The idea of running away screaming while at the same time drawing near and bowing before a king.

…”the Lord”… Somebody specific. In this case, Yahweh. The I Am. The God of Israel.

…”the beginning”… Don’t get too fancy. It’s the starting point.

…”of moral knowledge”… This is one of those places I wish I’d studied Hebrew in seminary. The word here refers to the application of what you know, not simply the understanding of what it means. Like we all know that”eating less/better and exercising more” is the way to lose weight or get in shape, but that doesn’t mean we actually do it. A synonym of this word is “wisdom.”

…”but”… We’re about to get a contrast.

…”fools”… People who lack sound judgment.

…”despise”… The idea of treating something that has value with contempt. Another moment where I wish I’d studied Hebrew. The verb tense suggests that this is something they’ve always done, are currently doing, and will do in the future.

…”wisdom and instruction”… What have they despised in the past, currently despise, and will despise? Applying knowledge and being taught information along those lines.

Because, according to the Bible, there really are only two kinds of people in this world: Wise and foolish.

And what differentiates them is whether or not they choose to

…fear

…the Lord.

That’s it.

Either Yahweh, the Lord of Israel, is God, or He isn’t.

If he isn’t, well, somebody’s got some explaining to do.

If Yahweh is, well, we’re not Him. And we’ve got some learning to do.

See, there’s an art to hitting .300. There are principles to learn and then tinker with to fit our individual, subtle nuances.

And, there’s an art to living well, too. There are principles to learn and then tinker with to fit our individual, subtle nuances.

And, if we’re going to learn, we’re going to need a teacher. In this case, we can pick our teacher. If there is somebody that discovered the art of wisdom, and wrote a book about it, well, wouldn’t it make sense to learn from the wisest person who ever lived?

So, I choose Solomon.

And this is my story. Hopefully, if you leaf the pages just the right way, it’ll look like a life well-lived. A wise life. Fearing the Lord. Like hitting .300, living well is, well, an art of sorts if you think about it.

And, like Charley Lau said, I have to go back before I can go forward.

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