Weekly Devotions for 2/20

Two people are better than one.
    They can help each other in everything they do.
Suppose either of them falls down.
    Then the one can help the other one up.
But suppose a person falls down and doesn’t have anyone to help them up.
    Then feel sorry for that person!
 Or suppose two people lie down together.
    Then they’ll keep warm.
    But how can one person keep warm alone?
 One person could be overpowered.
    But two people can stand up for themselves.
    And a rope made out of three cords isn’t easily broken. – Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 (NIRV)

The 2024 Topps baseball cards are out! They get released each year on the day pitchers and catchers report to spring training. This year that was Feb. 14. As I got home that day from Ash Wednesday services, a UPS box with my pre-ordered cards awaited me. It is an annual tradition for me to get the cards in February as they come out. These days, I get one box with about 25 packs of cards in it. That’s enough to last me most of the year. Maybe once a week I will open a pack, sort out the good cards from the common ones, and put the good cards in plastic. I have several 3-ring binders with pages that have 9 pockets for cards on them. The players are arranged alphabetically, so it can take some time – perhaps half and hour – to get all of the cards in place. It is a relaxing time to slow down and organize the cards for a little while. It is basically the same routine that I used when I was in middle school and at the peak of my collecting fervor. It is an enjoyable practice, but it is also a solitary one.

What is missing from this routine that I particularly associate with the February card release is the communal aspect. When I was first getting into card collecting, my father’s friend Gary was a serious collector and showed us how serious collectors operated at that time. We would order a case of 10,000 loose cards. Then my brother, my father, Gary, and I would take a full weekend organizing those cards into full 742-card sets. We took over the dining room table, making a pile for each of the 742 different cards in that year’s set. Once all the cards were in piles, we would take a card from each pile to put into a box to create a set. We ended up with dozens of sets at a fraction of the cost of buying a complete set. We could then keep a few for ourselves and Gary would sell the others to recover the cost of the cards. 

That communal time would never work today. You can’t buy loose cards in that way, and you could never sell those sets. They have been touched by human hands and the oils from human skin can blemish the cards. Also, there is no way to prove that we didn’t make a mistake; it might not be a full set. Today’s collecting ethos requires sets to be factory-sealed in plastic to be considered legitimate. I understand, in the sense of wanting the cards to be perfect and knowing that some people would intentionally remove the best cards and sell the sets without them. We don’t have the networks of trust that was once possible in a small collecting community. But I also lament how much joy is lost in not having those communal times of an activity together that was done for the joy of it and not for larger purposes. 

I don’t think card collecting is unique in losing its communal aspects and becoming a solely solitary pursuit. (And it is not solely solitary for all people; at my local card shop last week I saw a father helping a 10-year-old son decide what brand to buy for his first box of packs – but it has become rare for the connection to extend beyond immediate family). There are so many parts of life that we now wrap completely in plastic and isolate it away from any chance of contamination from human contact. Yet how much do we lose in the joy of connecting, even if it is not always perfect. Religion is one of those things that has become overly solitary for many. One cannot be a Christian alone. We require one another. We need some form of connection – together in worship and in helping one another, but also in joy at being together.