Culture

Life by the Numbers

Ty Cobb

Sabermetrics is defined as the science of numbers applied to baseball to determine the relative monetary and athletic relevancy of everyone who has played or is trying to play the game professionally. This new baseball numerical science is the creation of Bill James, who started publishing his Analytics in his Kansas basement in the 1970’s. Sabermetrics now rule the baseball world. It was the inspiration for the book and film, Moneyball.

I met James many years ago when I was still a member of the Society of Baseball Research, an organization that has achieved a certain gravitas and respect in professional baseball circles. Personally, I hate Sabermetrics because it basically reduces everything in a game I dearly love to a number. However, I still relish the simple mathematical equations of my youth, such as Batting Averages, which are really percentages, Home Runs, Runs Batted In  (RBIs) and even the more sophisticated, ERA—for Earned Run Average. I could easily compute and understand all of them in my adolescent brain.

But then SABR came along with its unfathomable and abstruse acronyms, such as WHIP and WAR. I think only someone with an advanced degree in Algorithms can understand these esoteric concepts. To me, baseball is a still a game to be enjoyed primarily, not for its statistics, but for the human side, found in its legendary stories, great heroic feats and walk-off endings. Simply stated, I will always be a people person.

On a larger scale, baseball metrics have led me to ponder just how other numbers have impacted my life. When I was a young boy, the Catholic Church underscored the importance of telling as close as we could tell both the number of our sins and their genus. Then the priest would give us a number of prayers of penance for us to expiate our individual guilt. Just as in baseball, an emphasis on the numbers can make us lose sight of what faith is all about.

As I get older, numbers have become increasing important to just staying alive. Starting with body weight, and now body mass, I also have to worry about my Blood Pressure, Cholesterol, both good and bad, and my Glucose. These numbers can mean the difference between life and death or at least a healthy life and one that is weighed down with pills, tests, and more pills. The stock market, something I follow with great interest, is also dependent on its averages and all the economic numbers that contribute to the larger picture of the country and the world economies. More algorithms, I think.

Life by the numbers can, not only be stultifying, but can literally prevent any form of spiritual or intellectual growth. Constant fixation on one’s scores and listening to sounds of the clocks of our lives as they tick away will not leave any silent space where God can talk to, or challenge us to be better people.

Father Richard Rohr, a Franciscan mystic has written extensively about the importance of establishing a liminal space in our lives. (Limen in Latin means a threshold, a starting line in a race, or a beginning place). In his book, Adam’s Return, Father Rohr describes liminal space as a unique spiritual position where human beings hate to be but where the biblical God is always leading them.

Resting on this threshold of transformation, we are caught between our old comfort zones and spiritual and moral change. It is then, in this place of transition, waiting, and not knowing what God has in store for us, that real growth can occur.

Father Rohr believes that we must use this space for those special times, events, and places that open us up to the sacred. If we empty ourselves of fears, distractions, and numerical habits, we will shine like Bishop Sheen’s TV blackboard after his angel had wiped it clean—an erased tablet waiting for new words.

All religious teachers have recognized that humans do not naturally see. Father Rohr says that it is unfortunate that many religions have tended to teach people what to see rather than how to see. Some people never get past the rituals and forms.

Consequently, our prayers often become lazy, hackneyed and uninspiring because we cannot see the inner layers of what they are doing. Every word, sound and smell should raise our awareness of the living God who is always present to us if we only see. As much as we like to structure our lives as though community, spirituality, vocation, relationships, our physical bodies, friendships and emotions, it will not happen unless we first open ourselves completely to God’s grace.

When one’s life is so deeply concerned with outcomes, numbers and statistics, it is easy to lose sight of God and His wondrous gifts. Finding one’s liminal space can also be a pause in the frenzy of daily life. It can give us that private time and space we need for true spiritual discernment. It can create the parameters and space to rest the soul in God’s warm sunlight. It can be a time for seeing our lives through God’s eyes, instead of the world’s. A life by the numbers is the antithesis of self-revelation and understanding.

We need to focus on the great mystery of being. Too many people think they have God in their pockets and their salvation is little more than a cakewalk that they can take every Sunday. In other words, faith has become too easy for them and they have missed the forest because of the trees.

As Father Rohr implores, we must remember that God cannot be contained or fit into a convenient little box that we may store on the shelves of our hearts. He is more like a sunrise on a beautiful morning. When those first rays of sunlight touch our faces, something beautiful and almost transcendental occurs. For a moment, we feel His warming and invigorating love. We feel connected, centered, and invited into something far deeper than ourselves. It is a Mystery that we cannot describe, contain, or control. It’s simply there for our enjoyment.


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About the author

William Borst

WILLIAM A. BORST has taught at virtually all levels of education from elementary school through university, published commentaries in many local and national publications, and hosted a weekly talk show on WGNU radio for 22 years. Having recently served as editor of the Mindszenty Report, Dr. Borst is the author of two prominent books: Liberalism: Fatal Consequences (1999) and The Scorpion and the Frog: A Natural Conspiracy (2005). He holds a PhD in American History from St. Louis University.

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