In 1954, at the age of 23, Ernie Banks was playing in his rookie season for the Chicago Cubs. Seven years after Jackie Robinson had become the first African American to play Major League Baseball, baseball was still a career which contained significant obstacles to a young black man. With its “unwritten rules,” baseball can be a physically brutal game. A pitcher can throw a baseball at 90 mph towards your head, and perhaps you’ll be able to duck, and perhaps you won’t. A baserunner can slide towards a base (and you) with his sharpened spikes in the air and maybe you’ll get out of the way, and maybe you won’t. Added to these unwritten rules, some racist managers and players made things even less subtle by shouting an unending string of racial epithets at players of color. Nor was the challenge limited to the playing field. In St. Louis visiting teams would stay at the Chase Hotel – a segregated hotel. When the Dodgers visited St. Louis, black players like Jackie Robinson, Don Newcombe, and Roy Campanella stayed on the other side of town at the Adams Hotel. An athletically talented man, Ernie Banks had chosen for himself one of the most difficult ways to make a living. Banks remembered, “I was raised in Dallas in a time of segregation. I didn’t understand integration. This was a whole different world for me. I had no fear – I learned that from the Bible. But I had lived in a black community, went to a black school, played sports at a black YMCA, played baseball for a black team with a black manager, and that was all I’d ever known.” I’m struck by the phrase used by Banks in remembering those times – “I had no fear – I learned that from the Bible.” While Banks did not expound further on what he learned from the Bible, it is worth exploring what the good book has to say about fear. Fear is a failing of humans, and the New Testament contains many illustrations of fear. At Christ’s birth, “the glory of the Lord shone around [the shepherds], and they were terrified.” (Luke 2:10). Jesus is transfigured and, “a bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him.” When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified.” (Matthew 17 5-6). Christ walks on the sea of Galilee and, “when they saw him walking on the lake, they thought he was a ghost. They cried out, because they all saw him and were terrified.” (Mark 6:49-50). After Christ’s crucifixion, “the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews.” (John 20:19). Spend a little time with a concordance looking up “fear” “afraid” and “terrified” in the New Testament, and you can wonder how the disciples had time to do anything else. The response of Christ in all these instances is the same: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, trust also in me.” (John 14:1). The mission of Christ is a mission which frees humans from fear. In “Remembering Jesus,” Allen Verhey provides an insight into our musings: “There is a joy that runs along our choices, a joy which enables us to make the hard choices and to bear the sufferings of the right choices without taking either them or ourselves too seriously. It is upon God – not upon our hard choices – that the good future of the world depends; we may be glad for that. … The gifts of God are demanding, but the demands of God are not burdensome but light with joy.” David Hebert has been leading the Sunday morning adult education class through a study of Ephesians. On a recent Sunday, the discussion centered around Ephesians 1:4-5: “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ in accordance with his pleasure and will.” We discussed the meaning of this scripture, and in future Sundays will dive deeper into understanding Calvinist and Presbyterian doctrines of predestination. Predestination can be a challenging theological concept to understand. In what can be understood as a commentary on predestination and baseball on Chicago’s north side, the singer/songwriter (and Cubs fan) Steve Goodman asked: Do they still play the blues in Chicago When baseball season rolls around? When the snow melts away, do the Cubbies still play In their ivy-covered burial ground? When I was a boy, they were my pride and joy But now they only bring fatigue To the home of the brave, the land of the free And the doormat of the National League” He told his friends, “You know, the law of averages Says anything will happen that can,” that’s what it says “But the last time the Cubs won a National League pennant Was the year we dropped the bomb on Japan When the “law of averages” is working against you to the extent it’s worked against the Cubbies, one can begin to wonder whether a more powerful force is at work. Or one can read the Westminster Confession’s teaching on double-predestination and join one Adult Ed class member in asking, “well who the hell came up with that?” It’s easy to get twisted around predestination until we’re afraid to even get out of bed in the morning. On a simpler level, one can ask whether Christ’s victory is already won. If it is not, then we might take seriously Geena Davis’ warning from the 1980’s movie “The Fly” – “Be afraid, be very afraid.” If however Christ’s victory is already won, then we can join Verhey and Banks: “It is upon God – not upon us our hard choices – that the good future of the world depends,” and “I had no fear, I learned that from the Bible.” Hey Ernie, Let’s play two!
John McMillan, Author