“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up.” I Thessalonians 5:11
“Take me out to the ball game” may be the universal chorus sung during the seventh inning stretch by baseball fans across America, but no such tradition exists in Japan. Called yakyū (野球) or bēsubōru in Japanese, baseball has been a staple of the Japanese sports scene since it was first introduced to the country in 1872. However, it is interesting to observe how the same game, with essentially the same rules, has been contextualized to fit a different culture.
For example, in America, which is recognized as the birthplace of baseball, an individual player’s independence and achievements are enthusiastically recognized and celebrated, even at times to the possible detriment of the team. However, in Japan, the team comes before everything else so players are expected to dutifully align their personal goals and ambitions to the overall purposes of the team. This is probably why the annual national high school baseball championship is so wildly popular. Instead of a collection of individual all-stars, the regional champions from Japan’s 47 prefectures intensely compete against other teams over a two-week span to bring glory to their school.
When we attended our first professional baseball game in Japan, we soon learned that cheering in Japan, in contrast to America, is a finely orchestrated event. Each team had its own cheering section full of rabid fans equipped with drums, ‘thunder sticks’ and trumpets that made noise nonstop in cadence under the direction of a leader whenever their team was up to bat. The respective cheering sections for each team knew all the cheers by heart and enthusiastically chanted them at the top of their voices in an effort to exhort each player to do his best so that their team might win.
In the New Testament, the church is given a number of “one another” commands that are intended to build up the body of Christ and promote spiritual maturity among fellow believers. Among these are “love one another,” “pray for one another,” “forgive one another,” “accept one another” and in I Thessalonians 5:11 we are exhorted to “encourage one another.” Encouragement is a powerful means to spur others on to greater deeds done with nobler motives, but sadly, we fail to put this into practice as often as we should. Perhaps the prideful desire to have our own efforts or accomplishments recognized gets in the way of our extending deserved (and needed!) encouragement to others.
It’s no secret in the world of sports that the home team has an inherent advantage in a contest since it is playing in front of its own fan base who fervently exhorts their team to perform well. Seen in these terms, cheering can have a real impact on the outcome of a game. Of course, we can’t always be on the winning team in the world of sports, but it’s comforting to know that we are all members of a team that will ultimately triumph to God’s glory. As part of that worthy objective, we are commanded to cheer for one another and lay aside our fleshly desire for personal recognition. Let’s play ball!