Scout

Posted on September 2, 2010

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In 1948 the New York Yankees sent a scout named Tom Greenwade to Kansas.  The object of his attention was a third baseman, late of the Baxter Springs Whiz Kids., named Billy Johnson.  The Whiz Kids were an under 21 semi-pro baseball team, and southeastern Kansas’ finest one at that.   They were part of a vast nebula of loosely professional teams that operated in the Midwest in those days.  Some were professional enough to pay their players actual money, but most paid only in memories and trips to towns so small Carmen San Diego could never find them.

Billy Johnson was an eventual big leaguer with the Yankees and Cardinals, and on that day Tom Greenwade had been dispatched to Baxter Springs to scout him.  The Yankees paid him for his keen eye for talent, and his willingness to go anywhere to find it had taken him to scout countless players just like Billy Johnson.  But at this particular game, it was instead a gopher-toothed, towheaded teen with a battered glove that caught Greenwade’s eye.  Greenwade goggled at the two home runs this teen sent skinny-dipping into the Spring River, then rushed back to New York with a breathless report.  He had just seen the most amazing prospect in the middle of nowhere.  He was a marvel from the mining town of Commerce, OK, a 15 year old with cheetah-like speed and Herculean power, named Mickey Mantle.  Tom Greenwade was the first to see the future Hall of Famer- just another day in the life of a scout.

In the body of an athletic organization, scouts are the capillaries and corpuscles.  While GM’s and Vice Presidents are the nerve center of decision making, and the athletes themselves are the muscles that move, scouts are those spiderwebs of veins, invisible to the eye , that connect unknown places in the body with the brain that can use them.  And what those scouts discover, they must remain quiet about, lest someone else plunder their treasure.

Discovering a talent like Mickey Mantle is the apex of a career for a lifetime scout like Tom Greenwade.  They hustle and network all across America in search of undiscovered athletic talent.  The lucky ones are a Tom Greenwade or Jerry Krause, who happened upon the embryonic talent of Scottie Pippen in an Arkansas gymnasium, or Kevin Bacon from “The Air Up There.”  They are privileged to unearth one or two celestial talents in their time, and must rest satisfied in that.

The unlucky scouts get no such validation.  The hustling and networking are the same, but they spend their careers in the backwater gyms and dusty ballparks of Small Town and Inner City USA.  They wire back reports to the head office about ‘skill set this’ and ‘plus talent that’.  When they retire, riches and glory do not follow them- there are no legendary scouts, except among other scouts.  Their legacy adds up to a lot of receipts from Quizno’s, 380,000 miles on their Datsun, and thousands of hours spent in bleachers watching kids play sports.  They literally give their life in a field.

The image of dying in a field shows up in the Bible, although you have to do some leg-work to get there.  In Matthew 13, Jesus tells a parable about the experience of finding the Kingdom of Heaven:

The Kingdom of Heaven is like a treasure that a man discovered in a field.  In his excitement he hid it again and sold everything he owned to get enough money to buy the field.

This treasure that the man discovers is the Gospel, the good news about the world and the truth about Jesus.  Later in Matthew, Jesus says that whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever will lose his life will save it.  When you combine those two statements, you get a super-parable** that says this: the kingdom of heaven is so valuable that you should do anything possible to gain it (as Paul says in Philippians 3:11), and according to Jesus, the price you pay is to lose your life.  Put more simply, you give your life in a field.

**- I am a trained professional.  Terminology not currently taught at most seminaries, and may accidentally be heresy.   Not intended for children under the age of 4, as this is a choking hazard, use as directed.  All rights reserved.  See our booth at the ReSurge Catalyzation Conference, featuring Young Media Savvy Pastor, and Older Respected Scholar, brought to you by Generic Foundation For Clean Water and Wi-Fi In Places That Have Neither.

In John 12:24 Jesus explicitly teaches this paradigm of life springing from death.  “I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed,” he says. “But if it dies, it produces many seeds.  The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life”

Nobody knows exactly where Jesus died- it was on a hill called Golgotha, somewhere outside of Jerusalem, and probably not a field.  But when you’re the son of God, clothed in humility and stripped of the majesties of heaven while on Earth, everywhere is a field in comparison.  And with one crucifixion and resurrection, Jesus grew firstfruits from our barren and desolate soil, sending seed after seed into the world to yield a bumper crop too vast for any number of silos.  Jesus’ death brought life.

Likewise, by dying in the field, a scout brings life.  He exists to guide others to their destinies, and to do it  he loses his life driving countless backroads and leaning on chain link fences.  Without the liasion of the scout, the link between athlete and team is never made.  A whole career that could be spent batting balls, throwing touchdowns or scaring pilots by carrying a javelin through airport security on the way to the Olympics, never materializes.  If you’re an athlete, the difference between living doing the thing you love most and dying doing something else is the scout.

In Revelation 21, God says “Behold, I am making all things new! Write these words down, for they are trustworthy and true.”  God inaugurates this redemption in Jesus’ and continues it with the life of every believer in whatever field they’re in.  We can die in a field in faraway countries or in 6 by 6 cubicles, either pouring ourselves out for the poverty-stricken or the driver of a mini-van.  In either case we might feel like we’re wasting our lives.  But God promises to us the same thing he promises the scout:  that where we may leave our moments in apparent futility, life will spring.

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