Summary: Leaders and followers can remove the glory of God from a church by emphasizing relevance over transcendence.
1. 17 Inches [John Scolinos and Home Plate
In 1996 John Scolinos spoke to more than 4000 baseball coaches at the American Baseball Coaches Association convention in Nashville, TN. He was a legend among baseball coaches. He was a Hall of Fame College Baseball Head coach who coached at Pepperdine University and Cal Poly Pomona University. He died at age 91 in 2009.
He spoke for twenty minutes with a Home Plate dangling from his neck. Finally, amongst the snickers from the audience he revealed the purpose of his Home Plate.
"You're probably all wondering why I'm wearing home plate around my neck. The reason I stand before you today is to share with you baseball people what I've learned in my life, what I've learned about home plate in my 78 years."
Several hands went up when Scolinos asked how many Little League coaches were in the room. "Do you know how wide home plate is in Little League?"
After a pause, someone offered, "Seventeen inches?" more of a question than answer.
"That's right," he said. "How about in the Babe Ruth League? Any Babe Ruth coaches in the house?" Another long pause. "Seventeen inches?" came a guess from another reluctant coach.
"That's right," said Scolinos. "Now, how many high school coaches do we have in the room?" Hundreds of hands shot up, as the pattern began to appear. "How wide is home plate in high school baseball?" "Seventeen inches," they said, sounding more confident.
"You're right!" Scolinos barked. "And you college coaches, how wide is home plate in college?" "Seventeen inches!" we said, in unison.
"Any Minor League coaches here? How wide is home plate in pro ball?" "Seventeen inches!"
"RIGHT! And in the Major Leagues, how wide home plate is in the Major Leagues?" "Seventeen inches!"
"SEV-EN-TEEN INCHES!" he confirmed, his voice bellowing off the walls. "And what do they do with a Big League pitcher who can't throw the ball over seventeen inches?" Pause. "They send him to Pocatello !" he hollered, drawing raucous laughter.
"What they don't do is this: they don't say, 'Ah, that's okay, Jimmy. You can't hit a seventeen-inch target? We'll make it eighteen inches, or nineteen inches. We'll make it twenty inches so you have a better chance of hitting it. If you can't hit that, let us know so we can make it wider still, say twenty-five inches.'"
Pause. "Coaches ..." Pause. " ... what do we do when our best player shows up late to practice? When our team rules forbid facial hair and a guy shows up unshaven? What if he gets caught drinking? Do we hold him accountable? Or do we change the rules to fit him. Do we widen home plate?
He turned the plate toward himself and, using a Sharpie, began to draw something. When he turned it toward the crowd, point up, a house was revealed. "This is the problem in our homes today. With our marriages, with the way we parent our kids; with our discipline. We don't teach accountability to our kids, and there is no consequence for failing to meet standards. We widen the plate!"
Pause. Then, to the point at the top of the house he added a small American flag. "This is the problem in our schools today. The quality of our education is going downhill fast and teachers have been stripped of the tools they need to be successful, and to educate and discipline our young people. We are allowing others to widen home plate! Where is that getting us?"
Silence. He replaced the flag with a Cross. "And this is the problem in the Church, where powerful people in positions of authority have taken advantage of young children, only to have such an atrocity swept under the rug for years. Our church leaders are widening home plate for themselves! And we allow it."
"And the same is true with our government. Our so called representatives make rules for us that don't apply to themselves. They no longer serve us. And we allow them to widen home plate and we see our country falling into a dark abyss while we watch."
"If I am lucky," Coach Scolinos concluded, "you will remember one thing from this old coach today. It is this: if we fail to hold ourselves to a higher standard, a standard of what we know to be right; if we fail to hold our families to the same standards, if we are unwilling or unable to provide a consequence when they do not meet the standard; and if our schools and churches and our government fail to hold themselves accountable to those they serve, there is but one thing to look forward to ..."With that, he held home plate in front of his chest, turned it around, and revealed its dark black backside. "... dark days ahead."