RTO: The Way to Peace is to Follow Peace

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Each week, author and poet Y.S. Fing looks at the state of baseball, the movements of the game, the ebb and flow and soul of America’s pastime in Roaming the Outfield. This week: “The Way to Peace is to Follow Peace”

“The great end and design of our holy religion [baseball], next to the main view of reconciling us to [the creator], was to reconcile us to each other; – by teaching us to subdue all those unfriendly dispositions in our nature, which unfit us for happiness, and the social enjoyment of the many blessings which [the creator] has enabled us to partake of in this world, miserable as it is, in many respects.” – From Sermon XIV “Follow Peace,” by Laurence Sterne (circa 1740)

I’m not being tongue-in-cheek, the Sermons of Yorick by Laurence Sterne are an important influence on me. This collection of Anglican preachings from the 18th century stand alone as a moral course that Thomas Jefferson admired. But they also stand in relation to Sterne’s magnum-opus, written from 1759-1767, the first post-modern novel, Tristram Shandy. Both through his sermons and his fiction, Sterne examined the great discoveries of the Enlightenment, that individuals have their identities created in the society in which they live, and that society can function well if power devolves to the responsible, educated, individually-identified citizens of the state.

Laurence Sterne Philosophy Tristam Shandy

Novelist and Christian Moralist Laurence Sterne.

It was the same theme for Thomas Jefferson in the 1780s–if a country is going to be ruled democratically, how do we prepare the citizenry to meet their responsibilities? The answer was that the institutions of society would have to assert themselves to identify each individual and mold them as they pass through those institutions. So Sterne and Thomas Jefferson wondered, how can we make people who will be functioning, responsible citizens, to carry on the important work of the society?

Sterne, the Christian moralist, is unwavering in his support for the mission of ‘our holy religion’ to guide people to a moral life. And look at what a place he gives reconciling ‘us to each other’ in that moral life! The purpose of our most sacred thoughts, our most exalted ideas, is to find a way to get along with each other. How modern is that? A most profane purpose for a glorious religion.

Sterne, the unrestrained novelist, played with the sublime irony of how difficult it is for humans to reconcile ourselves to each other, to attend to the moral imperative. He also knew that one’s mental states are not so easily contained by the rigid strictures of society’s institutions, that identities flow and serve varying purposes. But Sterne, both as Anglican divine and post-modern absurdist, firmly believed in the benevolence of reconciliation of ‘us to each other.’

I find the benevolence of reconciliation in baseball. I have to grant that my neighbor does not care for my team, nor I for his, but I must allow that he has the freedom to be wrong without my, or any, interference. For example, I sat with many thousand Baltimore Oriole fans at Nats Park on this last Memorial Day. I must grant that those fans take as much pleasure in, have as much knowledge of, and bear as much history of, the game as I do. I have to know that fans of the Cincinnati Reds in 1975 had every right to celebrate, while I staggered along with the Red Sox for another 29 years. Baseball reminds me that I am part of a fabric way beyond my own making, and it is a social fabric.

Cincinnati Reds 1975 Pete Rose

The author suffered through the Red Sox loss to Cincinnati in 1975.

That social fabric, the overlapping of play and regulation, of cheering and badgering, of desire and restraint, present a tableau of life in microcosm: routines, demands, responsibilities, vagaries, adjustments, expectations, disappointments, each day, every day. And this strong fabric teaches me to ‘subdue all those unfriendly dispositions,’ and to democratize myself among my fellow citizens. This strong fabric reinforces my oneness in and with the plurality.

When I indulge in casting aspersions, or am tempted to harass someone for the team logo on their t-shirt, I make myself ‘unfit for happiness.’ I forget that this free country that I live in, this society which allows citizens to create their own identities, to forge their own lives, requires that I accept all as equals. Baseball, by bringing together so many disparate elements of the society, can be a religious experience, the communal manifestation of ‘the social enjoyment of the many blessings which [the creator] has enabled us to partake of in this world.’

I could live without the distractions at the stadium, the constant circus acts on the jumbotron, the t-shirt tosses, and the aggressively loud music throughout the games. I think those add more to the ‘miserable,’ however, that doesn’t stop me from going. When I’m at the stadium, I’m pushing aside my awareness of the misery of life. I’m communing with those of my fellow citizens who are taking respite from the other institutions that dominate them regularly. We’re all risking our emotions in hope of the glory of triumph, knowing the bitterness of defeat is equally as likely.

We are there to encourage our team first. But we’re there to worship baseball, to celebrate our freedom and pleasure, to announce our solidarity with our team and city. Lastly, we’re there to follow peace, because that is the first and best way to reconcile us to each other.

Y.S Fing loves baseball the way that his parents wish he loved Catholicism.