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Heaven at a softball tailgate

To Maggie Alsup, the kingdom of God looks like a tailgate of rivals in Oklahoma City — everyone pulling up a chair and grabbing a plate of food.

Photo by Haniel Espinal on Unsplash

Growing up, Memorial Day weekend always meant one thing: it was softball time in Oklahoma. Since 1990, the Women’s College World Series has been played in Oklahoma City, the location of the National Softball Hall of Fame and Museum. It has changed format throughout its time in Oklahoma City, but it remains an incredible week to watch some of the best athletes in the country.

When I was little, it was always a joy to join my mom at the stadium and see legends play the sport I love. As an adult, joining my mom at that stadium still brings me great joy. The years have come and gone, but the memories and the time spent with her remain precious.

While I remain an Oklahoma Sooner fan, I grew up cheering on the UCLA Bruins. Yet, this doesn’t matter much when watching the World Series. Softball is different than other sports because fans are like family.

One year I joked with my mom that our tailgate was like the kingdom of heaven. Oklahoma fans shared a grill with Texas fans, who gave instructions on how to run a generator to the Alabama fans, who pulled up extra chairs for the Auburn fans to join the party. We laughed about it, but I believe this is what heaven will feel like. Anyone who passed by our tailgate and saw us laughing, sharing food and enjoying the company of each other saw family, fellowship and love.

Our love for softball brought us all together, and, somewhere along the way, we found love for one another. We are invested in one another’s lives. We ask about each other’s children. We show off dog and cat parent photos. We make plans to meet up when our teams play one another in the regular season. We offer advice and a listening ear when needed. We share hugs — both in the excitement of seeing one another again and for the hardships we know we have faced in our time apart.

To me, it doesn’t get much better than this. And the best part is, we have been doing this so long that we know each other’s quirks; we know our tailgate menu weeks ahead of time, and we know what we each like to eat and drink. We come from various places in the country and converge in OKC at a softball field. We share meals. We share our lives. And we share the love of the sport many of us have played.

It is a reunion, it is a celebration, and I always marvel at how our lives have been impacted by one another through our mutual love of this sport. It is always a good day when your team is at the World Series, even better when they get a win. But that is not what brings us to OKC each year. We come for the community.

Each year when I sit at the tailgate, sunburned and exhausted, my heart is full. I wonder what it might look like to share this love in our faith communities.

Each year when I sit at the tailgate, sunburned and exhausted, my heart is full. I wonder what it might look like to share this love in our faith communities. What if the church was a tailgate where opponents sat down for a burger and chips? What if we put aside our team loyalties and share a beverage with someone who loves the same sport? What if we bring out the folding table and load it full of veggie trays and snacks for all of us to gather around and enjoy? What if we offer hugs and joy to people we haven’t seen in a year, rather than judgment or questions about their absence in the pews? What might it look like to unite with others over one thing we love?

Our softball community isn’t perfect. But it is darn close to it. And it is wonderful to see God’s people gather around and check in with each other, to share in fellowship, and to grow in love for one another and the sport they love. To me, this is a taste of the kingdom of God — a tailgate of rivals in Oklahoma City at the start of summer. And it is beautiful.

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