I happened to marry a tennis player. And I’m glad that I did. Playing tennis together over the years is something that has helped to (sort of) keep me in shape. And when our kids came along, we were able to go out to our hometown courts and play as a family. (Our youngest son became the #1 player on his high school team, and now I can barely return his serve.) Suffice to say, the game of tennis has been a big part of our lives. In addition to the enjoyment of playing, I also have a great deal of respect for the history and traditions of the sport that began back in 1873.
Our town generally puts the nets up on our town courts the day after Good Friday. A few springs ago, after a long cold winter, my wife and I excitedly went out to hit our first balls of the season. But we immediately noticed something odd when we got to the courts. In addition to the white lines on the asphalt, there were now these strange red lines imposed upon the tennis playing area. We looked at each other and asked, “What the heck are these?” The answer would come only minutes later when a group of seniors arrived carrying bags and folding chairs. They set up their chairs along the inside of the fence, and produced from their bags these small paddles and brightly colored plastic balls. (The balls reminded me of the whiffle balls we used on the playground in elementary school.) They then proceeded, within the confines of the red lines, to play a game that perhaps can best be described as life size ping pong. The sound of their paddles striking the ball was much like that of table tennis, but greatly amplified.
My wife and I just looked at each with baffled expressions. Why would anyone with access to such beautiful courts instead choose to play this plastic game? We tried our best to play our tennis through the pickleball noise, on top of the constant chatting of the players. (Because of the smaller playing area, pickleball players are in closer proximity to each other, and tend to engage in banter throughout the game, whereas tennis is typically a game of quiet concentration.) Little did we know that this sport was actually very popular and becoming quite the rage.
So, what does any of this have to do with matters of faith? It occurred to me at some point that there is an apt analogy to be made. I call it, “Pickleball is to tennis as Protestantism is to Catholicism.” Like any analogy, this one is of course not perfect. But I think there are some valid comparisons.
Just as tennis came long before pickleball, we know that Catholicism can trace her roots back to Our Lord and his apostles. With the passage of time comes the richness of tradition, and a true sense of connection to history. Apart from mere age, one can’t help but recognize that, just as pickleball relies on the surface area and net of tennis, so too does Protestantism necessarily retain elements of the predecessor from which it rebelled. Yet, just as the playing area of pickleball is greatly reduced from that of the full tennis court, so too has Protestantism whittled away the fullness of the true faith (namely, by essentially eliminating all but two of the seven sacraments).
There are other comparisons as well. The noisy thwack of the pickleball calls to my mind the loud sermonizing and rock style modern music common to many Protestant churches. By contrast, the quiet concentration of tennis may be more closely associated with the contemplative nature of the traditional Mass. Even the ball of tennis has a degree of substance to it, which could perhaps be compared to the True Presence of the Eucharist. The flimsy plastic pickleball might better reflect the bread and grape juice of Protestant services that become nothing more than those ordinary elements.
I’m sure there are other comparisons that occurred to me at some point, but these are the ones that stand out in my mind. Lest I come across as uncharitable, I do wish to make a disclaimer that I bear no ill will toward those who enjoy the game of pickleball. Having said that, I do what I can to convert pickleballers to the superior game that preceded it.