What happens when you combine baseball with a need for speed? You get pesapallo. Right now in Finland there are little boys and girls waking up from dreams of becoming the next great pesapallo pitcher. The pitcher stands next to the batter and tosses the ball in the air so the batter can whack it out into a strangely-shaped field. Home run hitters become heroes not by hitting it out of the ballpark, but by keeping it in the ballpark and beating the ball to third base. Triples are home runs in the Finland. There are leagues for men and women, boys and girls, with games played in big cities and tiny towns. It is an immensely popular, community-based pastime. (Brian Costa, WSJ, July 10, 2015)
I found all of that interesting. What I found fascinating is the reason offered for the sports’ popularity among the populace. Why would the government provide funds for the sport? Why would people volunteer to be everything from “coaches to concession workers”? Here is the explanation offered by a top league official: “People don’t go to church here that much anymore, so it’s kind of the same thing-to have community.”
What fascinates me is that this official, Jussi Pyysalo, understands the purpose of the local church so well. Why do local churches exist? To allow people of a common faith to be together through the thick and thin of life, from birth to death; in celebrations of baptisms, marriages and funerals; in coming together to praise the God who creates and sustains the universe. The church exists to be a “happening place” for a community of people who want and need each other and to experience the joy of worshiping God.
What fascinates me even more is that Mr. Pyysalo so succinctly captures the fact that people need community, and when they don’t find it in a church, they find it someplace else. Or is that people find community someplace else, so then they don’t need the community of the local church? Once someone finds the new “community” offered by pesapallo the perceived need for the church in Finland slowly disappears. Or is it that people stop finding community in the local church and search it out by being a part of their local pesapallo team? Regardless, I am left wondering, how can the joy of worshiping God in community get satisfied by sitting in the stands watching pesapallo? Or have the Finnish people substituted the joy of worshiping God for the joy of a home run? I mean, triple. I am sure glad we don’t have pesapallo here.