Sunday, May 14, 2006
Christianity and Baseball. Lessons of Christ in the National Pastime
When I was young I wanted to be two things. A priest and right fielder/first baseman for the New York Yankees. I spent my days in right field thinking about Babe Ruth and God. Baseball and Jesus. I was thinking so much that I really didn't catch many balls. I could hit though.
It turns out I was not good enough to be a baseball player and I was not called to the priesthood. But to this day when I pick up a ball, a bat or a mit...something happens. I'm a kid again. And the basic lessons of both the national pastime and Christianity fill me on a summer day.
I plan to do a few posts over the summer on religion and baseball. The first one today is about a conversation that I read about that has always stuck with me. It was between Branch Rickey (owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers) and Jackie Robinson, the man who broke the color barrier in baseball.
The lessons of Baseball and faith are not always easy. Baseball was the first industry in America to integrate. But the fact that it was not up until that point is a mark of shame. But when Rickey met with Robinson, their conversation came down to this point:
Rickey: "I know you're a good ballplayer. What I don't know is whether you have the guts."
Robinson: "Mr. Rickey, are you looking for a man who is afraid to fight back?"
Rickey, exploding: "Robinson, I'm looking for a ballplayer with guts enough not to fight back."
And here is the lesson of Christ. Robinson was fighting. He was just doing it peacefully. He was the man Rickey was looking for who had the courage. The man with the courage to take abuse and turn the other cheek at every step. The abuse Robinson took is epic.
Threats to himself.
Threats to his family.
Threats to the innocent members of his race in the stands.
Abuse was hurled faster than the pitches and thrown from every corner. Robinson stood tall. And because of his courage he did not stand alone. His courage inspired others. Pee Wee Reese, the great and well loved Dodger made a stand too :
He refused to sign a petition that threatened a boycott if Robinson joined the team. When Robinson joined the Dodgers in 1947 and traveled with them during their first road trip, he was heckled by fans in Cincinnati, Ohio. Reese, the captain of the team, went over to Robinson and put his arm around his shoulder in a gesture of support which silenced the crowd. The gesture was especially telling because Reese was born and raised in then-segregated Louisville, Kentucky.
A crowd of hate silenced by a gesture that says, "this is my brother."
Most experts, and more importantly the people who knew Jackie Robinson, agree that he died young due (in their opinion) to the strain of not fighting back.
But Robinson did fight. He fought as Christ taught us to: With love and open arms while letting our actions change the hearts of others.
Other people with good hearts came to his aid against the abuse. Love inspired love.
Did Jackie Robinson fix the world?
Did he end all hatred?
Did some people accept him only because he was good at baseball and made their team win?
But by having the courage to not return hate for hate, Jackie Robinson began a fundamental change in people's hearts. Baseball was integrated before the U.S. military. And at times, when there was opposition to equality for every race, people could look to baseball. A place where it worked because one man chose not to return hatred with hatred.
Buck O'Neil once said:
before President Truman desegregated the military, before the bus boycott in Birmingham, before the civil rights marches in the South, before Rosa Parks, before Brown v. Board of Education, and before anyone had ever heard of Martin Luther King Jr., there was Jackie Robinson.
Where did he get this courage? Robinson said:
“I had a lot of faith in God….There’s nothing like faith in God to help a fellow who gets booted around once in a while.”
His wife Rachel said:
"Jack did feel that God was on his side, Jackie believed that he was God's creature, and he saw his opportunities as a way of carrying out God's plan."
I am not the potter, but the potter's clay.
Be it done to me according to your word.
Robinson, I'm looking for a ballplayer with guts enough not to fight back.
So is Christ. He is looking for people with the courage to love and not hate. To fight back in a way that sets an example of love.
Posted by DavidNic at 1:58 PM