Ordinarily this Sunday I would be writing with regards to the lectionary and what it means to me. But this is the one weekend that I am not physically in church. For the past twenty-nine years I have participated in what is now called the USBC Open tournament. It started rather inconsequentially when I bowled in the 1978 tournament in St. Louis as a last minute substitute. The next year I bowled as a member of a team from Chillicothe, Missouri. Then in 1980 I obtained a spot for a team of my own and brought my own team. Over the years, this has expanded to where I am bringing four teams to the tournament in Corpus Christi.
These twenty people are a rather diverse group of individuals with only the common goal of bowling in this tournament. I know most of them and asked them to come. Others have asked friends of theirs and thus we have the twenty people who make up the four teams.
This year is rather special in that one of the twenty, Ken Baker, is receiving his twenty-five year plaque. This plaque is given to a bowler after twenty five tournament appearances. He joins Sam Howell and me in this “club”. Sam received his 25th two years ago and I will receive my 30th next year (if God is willing and the creek doesn’t rise). And all of this occurred because we wanted to bowl in the 1982 tournament in Baltimore.
What does bowling have to do with religion? It has been suggested that the Egyptians bowled; we know that Martin Luther bowled. Bowlers are often called “keglers”; kegler is derived from the phrase “to beat the devil.”
It has been said that the bowling was a part of the Reformation Age church. There was a lane in the center aisle of the sanctuary and worshippers would throw a ball down this lane towards the pins (generally a nine-pin setup, not the ten-pin set up of today). If they got a strike, it was sign that they had led a righteous life during the past week; if they didn’t strike, it was a sign that something was lacking.
It should be noted that the lane that one rolled the ball down was much narrower than the lanes of today. The ball was smaller and did not have the thumb and finger holes of today’s equipment. Unless you really worked at, the ball was going to go into the gutter many more times than it was going to hit the pins. So getting a strike was far more difficult than it is today.
But I suppose that doesn’t change the idea behind the weekly tournament. Unless you work at your game, you are not going to be successful. If you do not work on your spiritual life, then you are not going to be successful in that regard as well.
We may not all be good bowlers. After twenty-nine years, I still am working on the nature of the game. But we can work hard on our lives and our relationship with God; we do not need a weekly session on the lanes to do that.