Major League baseball player John Baker has a fun column at Fox Sports’ Just a Bit Outside.  He talks about what it means to “play the game the right way.”  It made me think about morality and absolutes.

Perhaps, while watching a baseball game, you have seen benches cleared, players holding each other back, jaws flapping, and you wondered what caused all this.  On the replay, the announcer tries to explain it was a simple act of celebration, like a bat flip or a cryptic gesture, that caused  the offense.  “Really?” you may have wondered. 

Baker explains in his column why people take offense, and why, if it’s such a big deal to some, it keeps happening.  He says it’s all about players insisting other players “play the game the right way” but:

The longer I played baseball, the more I realized that across America, that cliché – Play the game the right way – actually means something very specific: Play the game MY way.

He goes on to tell an interesting story from his time playing baseball in the Dominican winter leagues.  There he watched players celebrate not only home runs but almost every little victory within the game.

Baseball is supposed to be fun, and we were having fun. Had the same thing happened during a game in the U.S., the other dugout would have freaked out, both teams would have to play the “Hold me back, no hold me back” posturing game we play when we’re all too scared to fight (everyone except Jeff Samardzija). There was no fake posturing, nobody’s feelings were hurt, the pitcher didn’t care. Just a part of the game.

Baker realized how different it was to grow up Stateside playing versus scrapping it out in the Dominican Republic.  There are so few opportunities for kids in the Dominican to get out of poverty.  Baseball was not only one of the few opportunities, it was a fun one.  The boys who could get out of poverty because of their talent at baseball knew how blessed they were.

More than their abilities and their accomplishments, these kids celebrated their opportunities. Their celebrations were, in essence, highly personal thank-you notes to the game for the opportunities.

So Baker encourages baseball fans (and players) to learn more about how the game is played in different places.  It’s a well-written, thoughtful article.  He concludes, “When we discuss these things unwritten, there are no absolutes.”

I respectfully disagree only with this last line.  Baker’s entire piece is about a simple absolute:  “Respect your neighbor.”  He wants to encourage respect for players who play the game differently than one person’s “right way.”  If the old cliché about “playing the right way” is supposed to be about respect, Baker is pointing out that this respect can’t be a one-way street.

In many ways, Baker’s final line contains a microcosm of confusion about absolutes within a multi-cultural society.  It’s a good thing that we have learned to be more respectful of different cultures.  Some cultures wear white for a funeral, while others wear black.  Is one way right and the other wrong?  No.  Although, if I knew everyone was going to wear white and I wore black, that would be disrespectful and wrong.  Where cultures differ, there are plenty of times when neither is absolutely right or absolutely wrong.  This is because showing respect to your neighbor is absolutely right.

The New Testament writers lived these same kinds of situations.  As the Gospel of Jesus moved from 120 people in Jerusalem to thousands around the world, Christians faced decisions about where absolutes lay and where they did not.  For example, in his lettter to the Christians in Rome, the Jew from Tarsus, Paul, wrote:

One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables.  Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him.  (Romans 14:2-3)

Dietary differences need not be absolute.  Mutual respect was absolutely necessary.  How we show that respect will change in different times and places.  There is never a law against love (Galatians 5:23).

If you’re interested in “how to play the game the right way,” read all of John Baker’s good column.  If you’re interested in how to live life the right way, read your Bible.  Not only was it written by a people learning to love one another across massive cultural gaps, it’s inspired by the God who is love!  Better yet, read the Bible to find not just how to live, but how Jesus lived the right way for you, how He died and rose for you, and why that message inspired (and inspires) people to become brothers and sisters with people who are so very different from one another.