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Wednesday, May 8, 2013


I got to go to a movie the other day. It was the story of Jackie Robinson, the man who broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball. I recommend it mainly because of the positive spin it gives to Christian faith. I was familiar with the story, I am a baseball guy after all, but did not know about the overt presence of Jesus in the story.

Robinson was number 42, hence the name of the movie. Set in post war USA, it contrasts the very different experiences Blacks had in the segregated south in the 1940's. It was emotionally gripping yet avoided being preachy or over the top. The dangers were palpable without being overblown. (So often in movies they are tempted to make things better/worse for the sake of excitement.) While most white characters are portrayed with a racist attitude, there is one uplifting scene when a white man, who looks rather dangerous, actually wishes Jackie well. He said something to the effect, there are lots of us who feel that way. I think that is accurate. The Klan gets the coverage, but the man-in-the-street tended to be more fair minded, even if they did not always overtly act on it.

Robinson was a grand success as a baseball player. He ranks among the top five second base of all time. He did not get to play until he was 28 which snatched a good five years or more from his career, although most players in this era lost years to war service. However, although he was a fine baseball player the greatness of the man was in what he did. The vicious racism which he endured was examplified by one manager in particular, but it was an illustration of all he suffered.

The most moving scene, for me, was a public embrace from another perenial all-star player during a game. It made me wish I would be the type of person who would publicly (baseball stands held upwards of 30,000 people) make my stand. The movie makes clear that sometimes there are more important things than our desire to "play the game." That is a beautiful metaphor in any age or place. We must set our sights on the things of heaven. This came though most clearly when Branch Rickey, the owner who made this happen, asks the question, "When you meet God what do you think He will say?" A fit question in deed, all the more potent because it was simple and direct. It is a good lense through which to view all of our life. What will God have to say about my thoughts and behaviors here and there?

Jackie retired at age 37, playing  his final season out the year I was born. That same year was the bus boycott began in response to Rosa Parks.
Years ago there was another movie about a young soldier, also named Jackie Robinson (because it was him!). It recounted Robinson's experience in the military when he refused to go to the back of the bus. He was court martialed but found innocent. Had he been found guilty the story would have taken a dramaticly different turn and no one would remember number 42. Amazing, indeed, to think how unfair things were. Even more amazing to see how God's hand was at work.

Today a myriad of Black multi-millionaire athletes are the beneficiaries of the courage of these Black baseball pioneers. We all are. We live in a more just society today than then, in large part because of the courage of people who sought to do the right thing. In the middle of the last century, baseball was a more significant player in the wider culture. The role baseball played in the eventual successes of the Civil Rights Movement was important. The role Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey played, motivated by their faith in Jesus, is a sign of what God can do with those who seek His will. At the end of the movie there was a song about Jesus. I could not believe the witness to our Lord was taking place in a film (not made by a church)! Jesus be glorified in all we do, I pray each day. How wonderful to see it happen. Let us pray that people will see the redeeming power of Christ in this movie.

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