Sage advice for Dansby Swanson

Hear the audio at Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Anchor.

Introduction

I’m not superstitious, but I am a little stitious, just like anybody who’s been around the game of baseball for any amount of time. Even in my church softball league, I have my routines, especially before hitting, and I don’t deviate from them. I don’t step on foul lines. I nag my teammates to not cross the bats when they’re resting against the fence in the dugout. I do not, however, care if you steal Jobu’s rum.

It saddens me, however, that the shortstop for my Atlanta Braves, Dansby Swanson (Dans-bae for those who have a crush on him) might as well have sacrificed a chicken, not a bunt, to Jobu when he burned sage throughout Truist Park to help the Braves break out of an offensive slump last month.

Most of the time, I would let this slide, assuming that Swanson was just another knucklehead athlete whose hippie mom suggested he run down to the nearest Bob Marley themed smoke shop to remedy his woes with the bat. Alas, Swanson is well spoken and frequently posts about his faith in Jesus.

Qualifications, disclaimers, and well wishes

Because of Swanson’s profession of faith, the rest of this blog will treat him as a brother in Christ, not an abject heretic or someone who holds to an entirely different religion, such as Buddhism or Islam. I will be blunt in the way a friend slaps his friend when he won’t wake up when his house is on fire, but any shot I take will be at the ideas, not Swanson himself. He has no reason to duck for cover from friendly fire. The wounds of a friend are faithful; it’s the flattery of the godless you have to look out for (Proverbs 27:6).

All theology is connected

Last month, Swanson made an Instagram post featuring song lyrics and a sweatshirt from Maverick City Music, which is a worship music cooperative that has recently exploded in popularity. In researching for this blog, I came across two disturbing findings, and I ask you to bear with me as I flesh out some things.

First off, Maverick City Music unabashedly works with Amanda Lindsey Cook. Cook is an enormous name in the worship music scene and is the embodiment of the modern Western church in her lack of doctrinal rootedness and discernment. A quick perusal of her Twitter features her talking about how worthy we are of God’s love (Romans 3:12 would like a word), sharing interviews in which she uses pantheistic language to describe God, and glowingly quotes the medieval Islamic mystic Rumi. This should already be causing alarm bells to sound in your mind.

But wait, there’s more!

A Google search for Maverick City Music reveals even more. Their site’s description on Google contains the text found at the bottom of their page, and it leads off with what they want you to know about themselves. The very first word boldly proclaims them in all caps to be “UNORTHODOX.” God forbid we try to think about the creator and sustainer of the universe rightly.

One can tell a lot about a person – but especially a Christian – by his influences. If I told you that I really like Billy Graham, then that probably means I value evangelism. If David Platt, then missions. If Karl Barth, being confused. But Maverick City Music? Well, they say they’re unorthodox, and this is just getting awkward.

Supplication over superstition

Unfortunately, another characteristic of modern Christianity is an immediate revulsion when using biblical language in a rebuttal to sin, and while Swanson burning sage may seem innocent enough, he said his goal was to “clean the air.” He wasn’t exactly being cute or doing some aromatherapy, so bear with me when I quote from Paul.

Every major translation renders the second word used in Galatians 5:20’s vice list as either witchcraft or sorcery. The fact that the Greek word, pharmakeia is used (where we derive our English word “pharmacy”), means we’re not only talking about funny hats, long beards, and/or Miss Cleo. We’re dealing with an entire realm that can include drug use and spells, including, yes, trying to purify the air of bad juju with sage.

But why? Why should we not learn to follow the abominable practices of the nations (Deut. 18:9-14) such as reading horoscopes, using tarot cards, thinking moon phases and the position of the stars affect our behavior and personalities, et cetera?

At root, it’s because it shows an unbelieving, untrusting heart. Philippians 4:6 tells us, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” A little secret – the Greek word translated as everything there means, well, everything. That includes job performance, including being among the 780 most elite baseball players on the planet, because, yes, God does care about the outcome of sporting events (Romans 8:28).

When we don’t take our needs to God in prayer and instead rely on superstition and rituals to get us out of a funk, what we really mean is that we don’t trust him with that particular need. I partially blame this on the pietistic notion that God only really cares about what’s going on in our “quiet times” and us keeping our noses clean by not murdering people or beating up hobos or committing tax fraud. But job performance, even sports? Nah, that totally doesn’t fit into the daily bread portion of the Lord’s Prayer. After all, we can’t have God governing the events and actions of humans in any meaningful way (Proverbs 21:1).

And about cleaning the air, as Swanson put it? Well, that already happened. If Satan is the “prince of the power of the air,” (Ephesians 2:2) and Jesus has defeated him, then it stands to reason that the air has already been cleaned. Our response should be gratitude to the one who has been given all authority in heaven and on earth, which includes the air we breathe and use to make two-seamers cut in on righties.

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