My first parish was in the suburbs of that very same city- Webster Groves, to be exact. On one memorable occasion when the Cardinals swept my Cubs in a particular series, the president of the congregation contemplated walking up the aisle at the beginning of the service and handing me a broom. At the last moment, he chickened out.
St. Louis was the city where I once observed in a sermon that the Christian life was like a 5-3 putout for the Cubs: it always went from Law to Grace.
One of my less sports-minded seminary profs suggested that I should, in the interest of solidarity with my flock, switch my allegiance to the Redbirds. I laughed. And to their credit, so did the baseball fans in my congregation, who found the suggestion absurd. A confirmation student snorted, "If I moved to Chicago, I wouldn't turn into a Cubs fan!"
Other than theWhite Sox (and on occasion the Mets and the Padres), the Cardinals are ordinarily the least favorite team of the average Cubs fan. But there is a difference between our feelings about the Cardinals and those other teams. Mark this well- you will never hear a Cubs fan admit this again- but it's more like a sibling rivalry than the disdain we feel for the South Siders or other rivals. Fans whose team's prized acquisitions turn to dross the instant they put on the uniform do tend to resent other teams which routinely fills gaping holes with castoffs from other teams, who then proceed to career seasons.
Still, on the rare occasions when the Cubs have success and the Redbirds do not (and I was the beneficiary of a remarkable series of events during the time I was in St. Louis: a division championship and a finish higher than that of the Cardinals in two of the three seasons I spent there), Cardinal fans tend to root for the Cubs. This cannot be said with nearly the same regularity about, say, White Sox fans. Should my personal nightmare come true, and the Cardinals and White Sox meet in the World Series, my loyalty to the city of my birth will conflict with that knowledge. Perhaps I'll simply sleep all week, and then try afterward to live with the outcome, whatever it might be.
But in any case, while the feelings of Cubs fans about the Cardinals run deep, they do involve at least a little ambiguity. In the one season while I was in Webster Groves in which the Cards finished higher than the Cubs in the standings, they went on to lose the World Series in seven games to the Minnesota Twins. I rooted unashamedly for the Cardinals- a team which, after all, is from a city at least associated with orthodoxy, as contrasted with the Twins, who hail from a hotbed of ELCA-dom spiritually far more the capital of that deviant tendency than Chicago is.
The seventh game happened to fall on Reformation Sunday. I told the congregation that morning that, while I could not in conscience honor the congregation president's request for a prayer that God would smite the Twins, they should note the color of the paraments and of my stole.
As it happens, it was a seminary classmate of mine- a fellow Cubs fan, even though we share practically nothing theologically- who made the tongue-in-cheek suggestion that a summer as chaplain to the Cubs would be an ideal experience in dealing with loss and grief, and hence a fine arena for Clinical Pastoral Education.
But we also agreed during our conversations on this topic on a marginally more serious Cubs-related topic.
In the musical Damn Yankees, it is said that the New York Yankees are the favorite team of the devil. This suggestion rings a little less true than it did in the days when the Bronx Bombers were more routinely successful, but the suggestion still rings true enough to bring a smile to the face of the average baseball fan. While I have suggested on occasion that there is a certain odor of brimstone surrounding the success of the Cardinals during the tenure of Walt Jocketty, But the question remains: If God is a baseball fan, what's His favorite team?
I would suggest that, for a Lutheran, the question is a no-brainer. Don't be deceived by the success of the Cardinals, and the insertion without consequence of a distinctly mediocre second base combination into a team whose starting rotation is already clearly inferior to- ahem -that of other teams. Don't be misled by the spate of injuries which has pretty much taken the Cubs out of the picture two years running.
God is a Cubs fan. It's a simple matter of understanding a concept which I note was totally misunderstood by a certain participant in last week's Lutheran Carnival: the theology of the cross.
Romans 4:16-18 puts it well:
Therefore it is of faith that it might be according to grace, so that the promise might be sure to all the seed, not only to those who are of the law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all (as it is written, "I have made you a father of many nations"”) in the presence of Him whom he believed- God, who gives life to the dead and calls those things which do not exist as though they did; who, contrary to hope, in hope believed, so that he became the father of many nations, according to what was spoken, "So shall your descendants be."”
The Cubs are the team of a God who would redeem the world by dying in dereliction on a cross of shame. The Cubs are the team of a God Who "gives life to the dead, and calls things which do not exist as though they did;" a team for a God Whose faithful "contrary to hope, in hope, believed."
We suffered through the collapse of 1969; the agony of 1984; the devastation of 2003. There were moments when we thought the long night had ended, only to be disappointed in the end.
But the eschatological moment will come. Some day, the Cubs will win the pennant, and beyond that, the World Series. Some day, there will be a shout of triumph from the environs of the Friendly Confines, the Ivy Covered Walls, that will shake the Western hemisphere. Some day, our sorrow and our frustration and our agony will be redeemed.
Unless the Lord comes first, that is, and we have an eternal Cubs dynasty, world without end, amen.
How can any Lutheran doubt it? God is a Cubs fan! And anyone who is tempted to despair, particularly at moments of trial and weakness and doubt, or to wonder Who God is or what they can expect from Him, they have only to look at the baseball team He roots for.