Pujols: Community We Long For, Individualism We Live With

St Louis. All the people living in this city have some nerve calling Albert Pujols to account for his decision to join the Los Angeles Angels on Dec 8, 2011. On the one hand, Pujols has been in this city with the Cardinals for 10 years, maybe it was time for him to make a change, on the other hand, maybe its none of our business. Or is it?

Why do so many people in the city of St Louis sense that they have insight into the life of this king of a man? More than that, why do they have such a sense of ownership over his personal career decision?

One reason might be because of the amount of money he has poured into the city. Not only have the Cardinals paid him well, but Pujols has given back to St. Louis. His contribution given toward the Joy FM Christian radio station helped seal the fate of the old Classic 99 music station to the chagrin of many. But beyond the music war waged between listeners who prefer style thing over another, Pujols has a family foundation based here that helps those with Downs Syndrome among other things. He also helps those living in his native Dominican Republic even going so far as to bring baseball and help the poverty stricken area he dragged himself out of with the crack of the bat on ball.

Yet even my wife was upset with Pujols decision and she is no baseball fan. Our family watched the world series together when I should have been studying for my MDiv classes this October. (But when your kids are at that magical age where they can understand the excitement of the game for the first time, wouldn’t you order pizza and let them stay up past their bedtime to cheer on hometown heroes with you?) After that magical October win where Pujols played a magisterial role among other giants on his team (not the least of which was catcher Yadier Molina!) I was sure that he would end up staying in St. Louis. Pujols has everything a man could want when it comes to money, fame, and power. Or does he? I have heard people say that the more money Albert makes, the more money he can give away. True, but is that going to win the hearts and minds of people in St. Louis? More importantly is it going to win the hearts and minds of team owners and salary negotiating agents? One man I know posted a message to Pujols on his FB page that said “Your star won’t shine as bright to me if you don’t sign with St. Louis, Albert.”

But I have to keep asking the question, Why? In an age of rugged individualism such as we have in the United States in the 21st century, why would anyone think that they have the right to even open their mouths as to the career choice of Albert Pujols? Others will agree with me here and say that in the United States we are an egalitarian society. We are free to work, free to choose, free to be. Anyone can become anything in America. That’s what I was taught in elementary school and through participation in such patriotic organizations such as the Children of the American Revolution (CAR). If Pujols wants more money, or if he wants more sunshine over the course of a year, or if he wants to live near the ocean, that is all his business. All that the city of St Louis and fans of the Cardinals ballclub can say is c’est la vie.

So why all the pushback against this one great American truth? Can I suggest that it is because at the heart of the so-called American dream we don’t really believe the so-called American dream? This is for good reason – it doesn’t actually exist in our naïve assumptions about it. For all our egalitarianism, we are not so egalitarian. The most plain example of this in our society is that great wall crawling, web-slinging hero, Spiderman who said, “With great power comes great responsibility.” Spiderman, or Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben was no small theologian. Here he is basically quoting the red-letter words of Jesus himself in the gospel of Luke in the thirteenth chapter and the forty-eighth verse. “From he who has been given much, much will be expected.” St Louis expects something from Pujols. Why? Because he has been given so much. Maybe he didn’t start out with much in his beginnings in poverty, but much has come to him through his hard work, dedication, and integrity. But now to many that integrity is on the line, because as much as we want to believe that we are an egalitarian society – at the heart of it – we are a society that believes in federal headship. What is that, you may ask? Federal headship is that governing idea that the one may represent the many and that the fate of the one may determine the fate of the many. Reformed Christians know this idea well. (What is a Reformed Christian? Suffice it to say that often times Reformed Christians look a lot like Evangelicals or Fundamentalists, but this idea of federal headship usually separates the sheep from the goats denominationally speaking.) Federal headship in the Bible is what gives us that popularly despised doctrine of original sin. For as Adam was the federal head of the human race, in his sin we all sinned. Now no human is not able not to sin. (Don’t worry about the double negative – Augustine did it first in Latin and I don’t think he got marked down on the grammar quiz for it.) But the flip side of this original sin shows up a few thousand years later, across several pages of the Bible leaping into the New Testament in the writing of that also popularly despised Jewish apostle who ministered to Gentiles, Paul. In his letter to the church in Rome in the fifth chapter he brings up this headship thing too. Death reigned through the one man (Adam) because sin came into the world through him and death is the result of sin. Yet Paul goes on to talk about a loophole, a possible upside in the realm of federal headship: “But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification.” What Paul is saying is that just like the bad stuff (sin and death) came through one man Adam, then also the good stuff (God’s grace and eternal life) come through one man, Jesus Christ. The one sin of a federal head brought about many sins which eventually brought about the vicarious death of Jesus that bore the wrath of all those sins and through that second federal head we have the one free gift of grace that gives us eternal life. People get on God’s case as it were, as if he created problems through federal headship and then didn’t do anything about it, except he did do something about it, and he did it through – guess what – federal headship!?

But what does that have to do with how we feel about Albert Pujols today in St Louis? Anyone who feels that Pujols owes something to St. Louis, or that he owes something to them is either knowingly or unknowingly making their appeal through federal headship. Pujols represents St. Louis. He is not God, or Jesus, or Adam, but so many people proverbially live and die through the choices he makes everyday. We live and die superficially during his every at bat (especially as he approaches 700 career homeruns). Some live and die based on the success of his humanitarian efforts here and abroad. His choices affect the lives of so many people that there is a responsibility he has to weigh carefully his choices. (If this seems a little too intense a discussion based on baseball then I kindly invite you to stop writing blogs, FB statuses, ESPN updates, and various other publications concerning this man’s career choice.) After all, if this radical freedom and radical egalitarianism is true, then ultimately it really is none of our business if Pujols stays or goes for more or less money or any other reason. But if the tug of his decision affects your heart, if it catches in your brain and makes you pause even a little bit to ask “why?” Then I would like to suggest that somewhere deep down you know that we live in a world based on real elements of federal headship and that means something – even beyond what Christians refer to as “the sacred page” of the Bible.

We live with rugged individualism but we long for community and community requires this headship at some level. We long to have a baseball hero who stays with the team rather than the bucks. We long to have fathers and mothers who stay together in spite of difficult circumstances. We long to have friends who don’t exit our lives because of the next move onward and upward in their company for their paycheck. We long to value neighbors and we long for them to value us. But for any of these American dreams to come true we will have to learn to give up our egalitarian rights to rugged individualism and instead place a premium on the value of community from the least of us to the greatest of us even to those of us who have gone to be with the (Los Angeles) Angels.

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