Friday, May 17, 2013

Jackie Robinson -- “YOU Don’t Belong Here!”

“YOU don’t be-lo-o-n-g here!” How many times did Jackie Robinson, America’s first black, major league, baseball player, hear this derogatory statement and dozens of more barbs hurled at him from different corners of major league stadiums in the late 1940’s?   Branch Rickey, manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, also bore much criticism for choosing Robinson and supporting him emotionally and spiritually as together they broke the color barrier to major league baseball.

This Spring, the movie 42, named for the historic number worn by Jackie Robinson, recounts how Robinson and Rickey, broke the color barrier to major league baseball, in 1947.  To accomplish this feat, Rickey wanted a talented black baseball player who could “stand and deliver” at the plate when the pitches came.  But Rickey also wanted a player who could stand and take the verbal and physical abuse hurled at him both on and off the field. The following dialog between Robinson (played by Chadwick Boseman) and Rickey (Harrison Ford) attempts to capture what was at stake for both men:

Rickey:   “Your enemy will be out in force but you cannot meet him on his own low ground.”
Robinson:   “You want a player that doesn’t have the guts to fight back?”   
Rickey:  “No, I want a player who’s got the guts NOT to fight back.”
Robinson:  “You give me a uniform and give me a number on my back, and I’ll give you the guts.”

In spite of the ensuing abuse hurled at him on and off the field, Jackie Robinson proved himself in the minor leagues and then with the Brooklyn Dodgers.  Few of us can even imagine the challenge of having to perform on an athletic field while listening to degrading taunts like “You don’t belong here!”

The torments and temptations that Jackie Robinson faced in breaking the color barrier to major league baseball were rooted in the most fundamental temptation used by the Satan from the beginning of human history.  Satan’s tempting ploy, expressed through the serpent in the Garden of Eden, was a variation upon the same ugly statement, “YOU don’t belong here!”  

God had appointed Adam as a “servant king” over creation to serve and preserve it as an expression of His own love for creation.  Then, God created woman out of Adam’s flesh to provide him with a complementary partner; and God performed the first marriage between man and woman.  However, Satan’s approach was to divide and deceive both partners.  His question to Eve, Indeed, has God said, 'You shall not eat from any tree of the garden'?  caused her to wrongly believe, “I don’t belong here!  After all, God must be withholding something greater from me.  Instead, look at me here, living under the restrictions of both God and my husband.”  Eve succumbed to temptation, and Adam along with her.  As a result of the fall of man, every one of Adam’s descendents is infected with the curse of sin.

How many lives of people from all walks of life have been deceived and destroyed by succumbing to the Tempter’s whisper, “You don’t belong here?”  Instead of celebrating the amazing ethnic diversity that exists within the human gene pool, we have used the differences like skin color, language, and cultural traditions as an excuse to divide, wall off, and exclude each other--complete with posted signs like “Whites Only” and exclamations like “You don’t belong here!”

But there was One Man Who withstood the Tempter’s snare--the God-Man, Jesus Christ.  The Gospels record Satan’s attack on Jesus with the same ploy he used on Adam and Eve—“You don’t belong here!  Look at you, Son of God, here in this wilderness without bread (Matthew 4: 1-4).”  Later, Satan offered Jesus a supposed better place to belong: “You belong on the pinnacle of the temple where all can see Your power as You cast Yourself to the ground and are protected by angels (v. 5-6).  But our Savior resisted the temptation (v. 7) and eventually went to the cross as a sinless sacrifice.  Isaiah 53: 11 reveals Jesus, the Suffering Servant, prophetically:

 …as a result of the anguish of His soul, He [God the Father] will see it and be satisfied; By His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, As He will bear their iniquities (Isaiah 53:11).

As a result of Christ’s victory over death, He became the first of many who by faith in God are marching in the victor’s triumph over sin and temptation (2 Cor. 2: 14).  The movie 42 makes clear that the “guts” of both Rickey and Robinson were undergirded by their Christian faith.  Rickey challenges Robinson, “Like our Savior, you have to have the guts to turn the other cheek.”   

Branch Rickey encourages Jackie Robinson in scene from 42
In one of my favorite scenes, Robinson retreats to the tunnel after being verbally abused on the field.  There in the apparent privacy of the tunnel, Jackie emotionally explodes and splinters his bat in frustration.  Seemingly out of nowhere, Branch Rickey appears at Jackie’s side.  Sensing Jackie’s frustration, Rickey embraces him but is greeted with Robinson’s accusation, You don’t understand!  Rickey replies (as I recall), No.  I don’t understand [what you are going through]. But the Savior does.  It’s the wilderness [referring to Christ’s physical, emotional, and spiritual battle with temptation].

Jackie Robinson’s accomplishment on behalf of Black Americans places him in a long line of distinguished Americans of color whose faith, courage, and determination enabled them to be the first to enter other avenues of life in America.  Thus, in 1869, Hiram Rhodes Revels (R-Mississippi)(1827-1901) became the first Black American elected to the U.S. Senate, while Joseph H. Rainey (R-South Carolina)(1832-1887) became the first Black in the U.S. House of Representatives.  Likewise, Black Americans have made major contributions in education (Booker T. Washington, 1856-1915), the fine arts (Edward Clark, 1926- ), and statesmanship (Frederick Douglass (1818-1895). 

Among Black American women who rose to leadership and helped others achieve their destinies is
Harriet Tubman, credited with leading over 300 slaves to freedom through the “underground railroad.”  In recent years, Condoleeza Rice became the first Black American to serve as a U.S. national security adviser; and later, the first Black woman to serve as U.S. Secretary of State (2005-09).

Although the sampling of Black American’s I have included here is relatively small,  I believe those I have chosen represent the great number of Blacks who have not bowed to the taunts represented in the abusive claim, “You don’t belong here!”  Indeed, I would contend that those of any minority, whether Black, Hispanic, Irish Catholic, Jew, or Asian have succeeded, particularly in more recent times, because they overcame an even more subtle obstacle; namely, the tendency of some in positions of power to treat them as a “constituency.”  Members of constituencies are often discouraged and dispassionate in the face of constant reminders that they have been treated unjustly and therefore, are deserving of special advantages to compensate for these injustices.  Instead of being told, “You don’t belong here!” they hear a different, condescending message; namely, “You belong HERE.  You belong on a “plantation of Washington’s creation”--among those who have become perpetually dependent upon government handouts through food stamps, welfare, etc.”   In return for your gratefulness for these handouts, come election time, you should be kind enough to give your vote to those who are always there to help you along.

Creation of a political constituency by fostering dependence upon government is immoral and diabolical because it degrades the very spirit within man that can only be fulfilled by striving to achieve the purposes for which he or she was created.   Consider what really is necessary for achievement for anyone including Black Americans, as expressed in Harriet Tubman’s challenge:

Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.

Frederick Douglass understood the importance of individual responsibility in striving for success and listed “honor, integrity and affection" as the essential prerequisite for enduring success.  In his lecture, “
Self-Made Men,” Douglass, the great Black orator, educator, and statesman of the Civil War era, describes a natural hierarchy of men which includes the “ambitious man” and the “unmotivated man.”  He applies the moral principle as follows:

the man who will get up will be helped up; and the man who will not get up will be allowed to stay down….   Give the negro fair play and let him alone. If he lives, well. If he dies, equally well. If he cannot stand up, let him fall down... (p 557)

Douglass further comments on the conditions that encourage or discourage achievement:

As a general rule, where circumstances do most for men there man will do least for himself; and where man does least, he himself is least. His doing makes or unmakes him (p 558).

The voice of Jackie Robinson echoes loud and clear with the voices of Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass of the Civil War era, all in sharp contrast to the politics of Washington that would keep minorities in a perpetual state of dependence.  Robinson stated: 

 Life is not a spectator sport. If you're going to spend your whole life in the grandstand just watching what goes on, in my opinion you're wasting your life.

Dr. Ben Carson
In recent months, Dr. Ben Carson, director of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns-Hopkins University, has become a vocal advocate of individual responsibility, courage, and integrity.   Dr. Carson’s life story is a testimony that one can rise from a culture of low expectations to achieve great things.   He is quoted as follows:

You have the ability to choose which way you want to go. You have to believe great things are going to happen in your life. Do everything you can - prepare, pray and achieve - to make it happen.

Dr. Carson has frequently heard in so many words, “You don’t belong here.” when he spoken out against government dependency, or has shared positive solutions to our current health care debate.  Commentator Cal Thomas, in a recent WORLD Magazine article, has used the life of Dr. Carson to point out that strong Black American families can have a much greater success in building individuals with character than liberal programs that only foster government dependency:

The nightmare for liberals would be if Ben Carson became a role model for the poor instead of a target.  If more of the poor had mothers like his (and maybe active fathers, which he didn’t have), who focused on reading and discipline, more might grow up to be like him. They might reject the lie that they are incapable of succeeding because of their circumstances.

Jackie Robinson on "What's My Line?"
May the tribe of Jackie Robinson, Ben Carson, and so many other courageous minority leaders increase; and, may those in positions of authority recognize that proper stewardship of power should reflect the example of Branch Rickey who, as a godly, empathetic mentor, seized the opportunity to lift up a brother and support him in using his God-given talents to make a positive difference in sports.  It is noteworthy that Jackie Robinson never forgot to mention Branch Rickey as the essential element in his success.

For sake of discussion beyond comments you might wish to make regarding how you liked the movie, 42, I will close with a quote from Rachel Schroeder, at who writes:

As a movie about Jackie Robinson, 42 is not going to provide any real insight into the man. What it will do, as movies of this sort always do, is signify something greater and remind all of us of what kind of place we came from, how far we have come, and how much farther we have to go--and that it is possible.   

After seeing the movie, or perhaps reading this blog entry, would you agree with Ms. Schroeder?  Is it expected and right that we today should carry guilt for what our ancestors have done?   If so, can that sense of guilt suffice as a motivation to take action?  What kind of action?  Or, should I learn from the past but not focus on the injustices of the past—while instead taking responsibility as an individual before God to love my neighbor in word and deed?

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