Archive for the ‘Faith and Life’ Category

After a period of frustration concerning our public discourse about “the homeless”, “the poor” and “transients”, I wrote the following which was also published on a local newsblog The People’s Vanguard of Davis

In the last few weeks we have heard poor and homeless people in our community referred to (in public meetings) as “undesirable” and “unsavory”.  They have been called “trolls” who live under the bridge and, in this space, they have been referred to as “raccoons.”

The terms, whatever their intent, have the effect of dehumanizing real people, with real lives. I traveled to Rwanda in 2004—10 years after the massacre of an estimated 500,000 people.  It was a sad and troubling trip. In the years leading up to the massacre the Tutsis—the main victim group—were systematically dehumanized, called “cockroaches” and worse. 

Am I suggesting that by dehumanizing poor and homeless individuals in this community that we are headed for genocide?  No, I am not.  I am merely saying that words have consequences.  The dehumanization of the “other” ultimately dehumanizes us. Dismissing people as “the homeless” or, as is common in our newspapers, as “transients” ultimately makes them entities—things for which we have no responsibility, things with which we cannot engage in any meaningful relationship.

We cannot afford to do this.  As a community we must recognize the basic humanity in the other and afford them the respect of treating them as people, with intrinsic value because of their humanity.

And so, to “rehumanize” these people I offer the following vignettes.  These are snapshots of the lives of real people who live in our community (or who have passed through in recent years).  They are our neighbors. I offer them not to try to achieve some “politically correct” way to refer to them.  I offer them to remind us that the stories of poverty and exclusion and abuse and addiction are complex. 

I am not an apologist for their behavior… I am an apologist for their humanity. 

Please read their stories with a view to discovering their humanity and, in doing so, to reaffirm your own…

Lisa

Lisa was working part time and a part time student.  Involved in a steady relationship with her partner, she became pregnant but, soon after had a falling out with him and found herself alone.  She decided to continue her education after her son was born but could do so only because she received food stamps, health insurance for her son (but not her) and a small stipend from the college she attended.  Later she reestablished the relationship with her partner and became pregnant again.  They decided to move in order to save money but when her daughter was born the new county in which she lived would not provide her with the paper work to obtain health insurance for her newborn.  They moved again, due to violence in their community and to seek new opportunities in a new town.  She dreamed of going back to school while her partner earned minimum wage on two jobs that kept him working about 75 hours per week.  Neither adult–nor the baby–had health insurance when they moved and, this time, instead of transferring her health insurance (for her son) and food stamps to the new county (as is required) the old county merely deleted her records. Forced to reapply for insurance and food stamps in the new county she routinely received mailed notification of appointments days after they were to occur, others that stated she was missing unnamed paperwork that must be submitted by a date that had passed by days or weeks.  Two emergency health needs led to thousands of dollars in bills.  Her partner continued to work two jobs at minimum wage even as her daughter’s vaccinations lagged (she finally paid for them out of pocket for nearly $1000–while health workers chastised her for waiting so long).  She finally obtained food stamps and health insurance after an intervention by an elected official and she looks forward to starting school soon.

Steve

Steve is an outgoing and much loved homeless individual who has battled meth addiction for over half of his nearly 50 years.  He has learned to “get by” relying on the services of local homeless organizations, the help of friends (of which he has many) and by taking odd jobs that often come his way because he is a consistent and hard worker (when not on meth).  Steve was on a downward spiral and the staff of one agency finally convinced him that if he continued on that path he would come to an early end (as had several people Steve knows well in recent years).  He moved into a transitional housing shelter that was strictly a “clean and sober” environment.  And Steve did VERY well there.  He followed his case worker’s advice, stayed on his plan, went to his meetings and after doing some volunteer work landed a solid job at a supermarket.  It included health care and paid a decent wage.  Steve was able to move out of the transitional housing shelter into a place of his own and was a valued colleague at work. And then he disappeared.  A month later he showed up at the shelter, downcast.  “One night”, he said.  “It took only one night for everything to fall apart.”  Steve has gone down hill since. He panhandles to earn enough for the thing he craves and is back to couch surfing and scrounging food where he can.  

Ed

Ed had a steady job as a bouncer at a local club.  He loves the music and camaraderie of that scene but when the recession hit, Ed lost his job overnight and found himself with no immediate prospects.  Some time earlier he had divorced his wife and was required to provide child support for their teenage daughter.  Most of his wages–beyond his basic needs–went to child support (he later learned that erroneous calculations made by the court meant he had been overpaying but he could do nothing to recuperate the money).  He had no savings as a result and lacked basic budgeting skills.  He lost the room he was sharing with a “friend” when that friend failed to pay his share.   He ended up sleeping in his car but when the weather turned cold and his car died he showed up at a shelter.  He had no income for food and had no experience applying for food stamps–was not even sure where to start.  He received help to get food at the shelter and was required to seek work as a condition of staying there.  He applied for dozens and dozens of jobs but without a car his options were limited. Buses did not go near many of the places where he might find a job and though he had a bike, the combination of bus and bike did not always work because bus bike racks were full.  After 9 months he was able to find a decent job paying minimum wage (no health insurance) near a bus line and in a short while was able to seek housing closer to his work.  The “eviction” however continues to haunt him and at best he can get a single room thanks to an understanding (and needy) landlord–elderly and desperately in need of someone to live with her to provide some security.  But that is another story…

Nick

Nick has done time.  His charges are all drug related–mostly possession–but he bears the modern “scarlet letter”–not A, but C for Criminal.  He was released on parole because his offenses were non-violent but was required to stay within the state.  But… family problems led him to decide to break his parole and go home.  But home held no work prospects and so he returned and was arrested on a “technical” violation.  He had failed to complete a drug rehab program and went to jail for leaving the state.  While in jail he received health care and had a regular diet and did well. Upon his release (still under supervision) he obtained indigent health care support in his county and used various shelters and food pantries and free meal programs to survive.  In good weather he camped with friends often staying a step ahead of the police who would role through and toss the camps.  He fell ill with pneumonia and ended up in the emergency room of a nearby hospital.  They confirmed the diagnosis and, because he had indigent health care support his ER visit was covered and they prescribed an antibiotic. Strangely, they gave him the first 2 days of a 6 day course in the ER but he had to go to a pharmacy to obtain the other four days.  The only problem was, the closest pharmacy was in the next town over (no pharmacy in this town would accept indigent care prescriptions) and so he was forced to take a bus and transfer 3 times in the pouring rain, with active pneumonia, to get his prescription.  Since then Nick has had another technical violation due to his inability to pay back fines and charges (he has no source of income).  He is on the street and using in a form of self-medication to make it through the day.

?

I don’t know her name… but she showed up in mid-winter at the shelter.  She was, young, well dressed and articulate.  Some people assumed she was a volunteer at the shelter.  When dinnertime rolled around she approached staff and asked “Who made this food?”  When told it was volunteers she said she could not eat it because someone was trying to poison her–actually had been for some time.  It took quite a bit of conversation to convince her it was okay but other issues came forward–fear, paranoia of a debilitating nature.  She had come under circumstances that were not clear from somewhere in the midwest.  A call to the emergency number she provided yielded a conversation with a psychiatrist who, for reasons of patient/doctor confidentiality, would tell nothing about her.  She was without money, with a small backpack containing some clothes, no direction, no plans, just looking for a dry warm place to sleep.  As a young woman on the streets she was vulnerable.  She stayed in the shelter for a few weeks and accessed other services but refused counseling, revealed little about herself and then disappeared as quickly as she had come.

I was reading Robert Thayer’s Life Place: Bioregional Thought and Practice in which he builds hypotheses about what it means to be grounded (my word, not his) by talking about my “home”.  And I had to stop because I was overwhelmed…

Overwhelmed by a sense of love—as tangible as any I have experienced—for my nearby.

Can one “love” a place? 

Yes, I say. 

As one yearns for more time with one’s beloved, one can yearn for one more sun-drenched day in late autumn in the fields of the valley that is my backyard.  Like the proud father of a growing child, one can tell the stories of the amazing abilities of this land to heal and revive.

Sometimes I wonder if it is the geometry of the place that reaches into my heart (I love straight lines and order).  The fields and roads in a grid create peace, clarity and predictability.  But then.  Then I ride a contour or wind through a valley and find the unpredictable—the lack of symmetry—even more comforting than the lines.  And I rest by the road out of breath and panting in thirst for more. More and more.  A thirst happily unquenched.IMG_0041

I remember when I first came here and (this sounds strange) I stopped one day on my bike and actually (it’s true) pinched myself to see if I was really here.  Here in this too flat, sun-scorched, valley.  Here, where the hills and mountains beckon east and west but never approach the stacked heat of a summer afternoon.  Here, along the packed earth fields and trickling creeks. 

I have loved a woman going on 35 years, children for more than half that, and grandchildren for a smaller wedge of time. 

I know love. 

It is companionship and trust.  It is perseverance and hope.  It is a longing to be with and for and to.  And I feel and know of all of that for this place. 

It caught me by surprise and I blush at my schoolboy rush of emotion—my longing to merge with it, be rooted in its soil.  To flow forever into its history and narrative. 

I remember as a child running to the far end of the yard in the Pennsylvania piedmont, singing as I ran “California here I come…” and there was a deep longing in a space near my heart.  I knew not what I sang and that land was far and I was not sure it existed.  Now I know that even then—even then—I  “discerned” that there was a place where I could find place (does that make sense?)

This is my life-place.

 

SES

Posted: 27 November 2013 in Faith and Life

You know how it is.  You hear yourself say something and then wonder, “Where did that come from?”  I am not talking about a classic faux pas said in front of a room full of strangers.  I am talking about something much more subtle.  Something that may have sounded perfectly reasonable (intelligent even).

But something that rebounds to your ears and announces that you have changed; and not in a good way. That rebound stings.

And so I found myself saying: “So, in these studies I am assuming they controlled for SES.” 

Innocuous right?

SES: Socioeconomic Status.  That still-ubiquitous summation of something we all know but really don’t understand.  And the rebounding words transported me back to the first week of graduate school.  A time when I had never heard of a “p-value” nor would have understood what it really meant to “control” for anything.  But still I remember the forum.

It was an informal session in the student lounge during which people who had just finished their masters program could discuss their experiences with the incoming class.  Conversation ranged from which courses to avoid to which libraries to use.  From how to snag a good advisor to how to make sure you took courses that added up to something coherent.

And then a woman spoke up (and it’s funny, I don’t remember anything else specific from that day but I do remember this) and said something like: “You are going to hear a lot about SES. Practically every study you read will claim to ‘control’ for it. Don’t accept it at face value.  It hides more than it reveals.  It is an easy way to pretend to say something rather than deal with the reality of what really makes people sick—and keeps them that way.”

And that was it.  And I was careful.  I remember asking about it nearly every time it came up in a study and it never really meant the same thing.  Mostly it just meant “income level.”  Sometimes it was a constructed index of poverty, sometimes it was linked to race.  Sometimes educational level.  Sometimes geography.  It meant something but I was never sure what without doing some serious digging. 

I decided then to never use it but to always drill down and find out what it really meant. 

But over time…

And so here I was all these years later pretending to say something but not saying anything at all.  I should have said

“So, in these studies I am assuming they controlled for having to work two jobs with no health care and actually earning half the minimum wage when you consider how many hours they had to spend commuting by a mediocre public transit system…”

Or

“So, in these studies I am assuming they controlled for, being a mom with sick kids and no access to health care and having food stamps that magically get cancelled or reduced because some so-called leader far away decides you are a moocher though you have worked harder than they ever will…”

Or

“So, in these studies I am assuming they controlled for, being a non-native English speaker who breaks his back making your food and then gets threatened by a boss saying that he will be fired unless he works three straight shift despite having a severe burn caused by the lack of safe kitchen practices…

Or

“So, in these studies I am assuming they controlled for trying to find child care that is priced such that only one of three jobs is required to pay for it…”

Or

“So, in these studies I am assuming they controlled for being addicted for so long that the paranoia of not getting a fix permeates every waking hour and there is no way to find a way out because down here the only people I ever talk to are people dealing with the need for the same fix…”

Or

And you get the picture.

You can’t “control” for these specificities.  I know that.  The point is I can’t control for the myriad causes and effects of exclusion and I should not pretend that a study that claims to do so has much of value to teach me.  These crude models create the dehumanization they purport to try to come to terms with. 

So next time I say something like “So, in these studies I am assuming they controlled for SES” please smack me, hard, before the rebound reminds me of how callous I have become.  

What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you?

(St James writing about 2000 years ago to an apparently fractious community. A community that sounds a lot like Here)

We all live Here now.

All of us.

“Here” is conflict, and I don’t mean the “constructive” kind—the iron against iron type that hones us and makes us more able to cut through the challenges of our world. No, I mean the child-throwing-a-temper-tantrum-because-I-can’t-get-what-I-want-NOW kind. St James goes on to answer his rhetorical question: the source is your own childish selfishness—you all want your own way.”

I said to my wife: “Everything I am associated with is coated with a thick layer of anger, hostility, finger pointing, personal attacks and… (I stopped because she was giving me one of those looks that I thought (wrongly) was like: “Here we go again with your whining.”)

“What am I doing wrong? Is it me? Am I causing this?”

And she looked at me and asked simply “you too?” and told me something she had learned from a reality-TV cooking show (who knew?!!)

It seems there is a “series” that there is a particular cooking show that has Australian, New Zealand and US “iterations”. Same show set in three different locales. A kind of weekly “cook off” is how I understand it. In the New Zealand and Australian versions the judges play a mentoring role and the contestants engage in cooperative problem solving. I guess there is still a “winner” but the drama comes from experiencing creative powers unleashed. In the US version the judges denigrate, hector and shame the contestants and the latter spew venom and wish death upon the competition (one contestant actually said she “hated” another one and wished her dead). Here, apparently, the drama comes from seeing who most effectively dehumanizes the other.

Here.

Here…

We trade in fear and our currency is hyperbole, ad hominem attacks, exaggeration and deception, boasts of expertise—the coinage of demons according to Stringfellow*.

I sat with someone just yesterday who knows of my passions. He sought to purchase my fear with an exaggeration. When I demurred he upped the offer with hyperbole and then tried to seal the deal with a dehumanizing attack.

Later, I met a friend with whom I work on local issues. He invested in my angst with deception and demoralization.

I left both encounters feeling weak from the realization that the shelves of our markets are bare save for the gaily packaged and always available fear. “But what will we eat?”, I thought to myself. How long can a one-commodity economy last?

Here…

We have no colors, only black and white. Ours is a binary existence in a Manichean corner of the metaverse. There can only always be just two paths and they are, and must be, diametrically opposed. And one must be evil (in an ultimate way) and one must be good (in an ultimate way). I wonder sometimes if the binary code that underlies everything we tap out on our phones and computers and pads has somehow infected our blood and made us all zeros and ones: incapable of yielding nuance any more.

In the local blogosphere, in the meetings I attend, in the organizations I help lead our choices are always reduced to two and “mine” is right and “yours” is wrong. But not only that… Because yours is wrong, you are wrong, and because you are wrong, you are the source of all that is holding us back from being right, and that makes you evil and you must be removed so that right can prevail and… you see where this goes. We have our rhetorical gas chambers on the edge of town and to them we ritually send one another.  Warming our righteous hands by the fires we feed.

I was in a meeting just last night in which the dualism on display made the room feel like the two dimensional planet in A Wrinkle in Time. And I felt ironed out as we methodically (and by now, predictably) sacrificed our mutual humanity on the altar of RightWrong (A powerful two-headed deity that continuously devours its own heads only to have them regrow. A deity that has claimed our allegiance in these parts).

And

Here…

We are all gods—all omniscient. We have power to know—to know(!) without any apparent doubt—the thoughts and motives of the hearts of our co-citizens. And in the courtroom of my individual consciousness I am not only prosecutor and judge but I also present all the evidence that I alone have gathered to the jury of myself. And I declare you guilty of acting as you do because of the blackness in your being. And it must be so because I have declared it so—because you are evil (because I am right—see above).

I started counting this week—in the things I read, in the conversations I listen to—I started counting until I lost count, the number of times someone attributed causality to a behavior of another. “She is doing that because she is beholden to X. He wrote that because he wants to line his own pockets. They just want power. He just wants to punish me. They do that because that’s the way liberals/conservatives think about things. She is doing that to prove she can win…”

And I am in awe. I mean, I can barely tease out the complex and competing motives of my own dark heart—even if I think real hard. But somehow Here we have the power to cut through the bone and marrow and get down to the essence of the reason (always just one reason—it can only be one and it must not be shaded gray—it must be black (see above)) that so-and-so did such-and-such.

And so I am stuck out Here.

The fear, the 0/1 “flatness”, and the exhaustion that comes from being that all knowing god is making it hard to get out of Here (I just, really, want to get the fuck out of Here). Less like a claw that entraps or a chain that binds Here is more like the clinging stink of that anaerobic organic matter that gathers at the bottom of the irrigation canals in the fields nearby.

Just to be clear, this is a cry for help.

This is a voice from ∞.

This is a dispatch from The Dark Tower where time is only ever a wheel…

*An Ethic for Christians and Other Aliens in a Strange Land

An Easter Reflection

Posted: 30 March 2013 in Faith and Life

Warning: Christian theological stuff ahead. Not for all tastes.

You can’t always get what you want

You can’t always get what you want

You can’t always get what you want

But if you try sometimes well you might find

You get what you need

(The Rolling Stones)

Where is God? I’ll tell you. We’ve killed him, you and I! We are all his murderers. But how could we have done this? How could we gulp down the oceans? Who gave us a sponge to wipe away the whole horizon? What did we do when we unchained the earth from the sun? Where is it going now? Where are we going now? Away from all suns? Aren’t we falling forever, backwards, sideways, forwards, in all directions at once? Do up and down even exist any more? Aren’t we wandering in an infinite void? Don’t we feel the breath of empty space? Hasn’t it become colder? Isn’t night coming on more and more all the time? Shouldn’t we light lanterns in the morning?..

God is dead, God remains dead, and we have killed him. How can we, the worst of all murderers, comfort ourselves? The holiest and mightiest thing that the world has yet possessed has bled to death beneath our knives!

(The Madman in Nietzsche’s The Gay Science)

And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, la ma sabach tha ni?” that is, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”

(Jesus, from the cross)

Of course, what the Rolling Stones don’t get into in their well-known song is… “What happens when you get what you want?” (They did not answer it in that song but perhaps they started getting into it in this one).

Or maybe better, “What happens when you get what you think you want?”

And what do we want? What do we really want? (Or at least what do we think we really want?)

And what does any of this have to do with Easter?

Well let me riff on the Stones a bit here and suggest the following breakdown of “holy week”—which ends with that fateful day that changed everything.

So let’s call Palm Sunday the day we get what we think we want. Monday through Thursday are about waking up—first in disappointment, but later in a childish tantrum rage—when we realize that, in fact, we did not get what we thought we wanted on Palm Sunday. Thursday is the day, finally, when we get what we want. Followed by Friday when, shall we say, the “implications” of what we want (and what we got) become painfully clear. And Easter? Well, we’ll get to that in a moment.

(more…)

Note: I need to write this but you do NOT need to read it. There is no way for me to write it without seeming judgmental of others or self-congratulatory. I know this because I know how people react when they hear we got rid of our car 10 years ago this month. So, just accept the fact that I need to process what has really happened as a result, that I am not judging you or expecting you to follow my example, and that I certainly don’t believe that this is anything to be proud about.

(A shout out to Eric Dirksen for giving me a language to think about this)

Including repentance in the title of this post might lead you to believe that it has a theological reflection of some kind. After all, repentance is a “religious” word is it not? And it is not a neutral kind of religious word either. No, “repent” does not show up as any kind of feel-good call to action. Rather, it adorns the posters carried by Westboro Baptist Church types or it trips off the lips of TV evangelists whose faces gleam red and neck veins pulse as they shout out the imperative.repent

But, in fact, while repentance is a theme found in many of the world’s religions, it has a more pedestrian meaning (literally so). Repentance is about changing course, about walking a different way, about turning from—and turning to. And while Jesus himself told people to repent some theologians suggest that even his use had a more “political” meaning than we typically acknowledge. Here is Anglican theologian NT Wright’s take:

Consider, for example, the Jewish aristocrat and historian Josephus… who was sent, in AD 66, as a young army commander, to sort out some rebel movements in Galilee. His task, as he describes it in his autobiography, was to persuade the hot-headed Galileans to stop their mad rush into revolt against Rome, and to trust him and the other Jerusalem aristocrats to work out a better modus vivendi. So, when he confronted the rebel leader, he says that he told him to give up his own agenda, and to trust him, Josephus, instead. And the words he uses are remarkably familiar to readers of the Gospels: he told the brigand leader to `repent and believe in me’… (NT Wright (2000) The Challenge of Jesus: Rediscovering Who Jesus Was and Is)

Wright goes on to point out that the idea of repentance for Josephus and Jesus had to do with giving up certain ambitions (especially violent ones)—essentially, turning away from the conventional wisdom about how the world works and seeking a new path.

In early 2003 the US was heading to war. You didn’t have to be particularly smart to realize that the rush to war was built on a lie. You didn’t have to be a student of foreign policy to realize that it had to do with maintaining US hegemony in a part of the world that contained the oil to which we had become addicted. You did not have to be a scholar of literature to realize that this war was also simply the retelling of an age-old tragedy about the overreach of power and the unquenchable thirst for vengeance.

Something told my wife and me that this war was being fought in our name. Something else told us it was being fought to maintain a petroleum-drenched lifestyle to which we had become accustomed. And so we started talking about turning away. We never talked about “repenting” of the path we were on, but we did talk about changing course.

And so we did.

We sold our car. We were not trying to make a statement. We were only trying to do something within our power to say that we aspired to living differently—eschewing violence and the subjugation of others so that we could have our luxuries. It was a symbolic act only in that we knew that our lifestyle change would have very little impact on our nation’s decision to go to war. But while it held some symbolic value, it was mostly about repenting—about choosing to go a different way. Indeed, the way we talked about “symbols” was not in the sense that we wanted to make a “point.” Rather, we talked about the automobile as the symbol of so many things we had come to hate about the lie that some referred to as a dream (yes, I said hate).

(more…)

I “awoke” to baseball in 1967. I say “awoke” because I can’t find another way to explain the sense that nothing existed in my life before 1967 (when I was 7) and that, at least for a time thereafter, baseball would so define the “necessary” of every waking hour. Growing up in a small town in south-central Pennsylvania (population c1000), baseball was, literally, the only game in town and if you lived in that town you were a Phillies fan. Except I wasn’t.

Sometime in 1967 my dad bought me my first glove—a lefty—after seeing me toss a small rubber ball against the steps going upstairs from near the front door of our house (he almost got me a righty but noticed I only used my left hand). And from the start I was a St Louis Cardinals fan. Why? Ronnie Sanger.  Ronnie was hands down the best baseball player in town. Two years older than me, Ronnie came from a “baseball family”. His brothers had had or would soon have tryouts with professional baseball clubs and they each made it to the lower levels of the minor leagues. In Bowmansville, my home town, that was a level of success that was unheard of. I idolized Ronnie Sanger. And sometime before Ronnie came into my conscious mind he had met former St Louis great Stan “the Man” Musial (Stan died on 19 January, 2013) at spring training in Florida. He got Stan’s autograph, fell in love with the Cardinals and, well, so did I.

But even though I awoke in 1967—and the Cardinals won the series over the Red Sox that year—it was not until 1968 that I really took notice of the team, its players and, especially a pitcher named Bob Gibson. I was a pitcher too and Bob Gibson was the most amazing pitcher of that era. In 1968 he won 22 games—not bad but, incredibly, he gave up a paltry 1.12 runs for every nine innings pitched (and in those days he pitched the whole game—he started 34 that year and finished 28—a feat unheard of today). He struck out 17 Detroit Tigers in game one of the World Series that year—a record that still stands.

Bob-GibsonI was crazy about Bob Gibson. He had a way of holding the ball behind his back before going into a full hands-over-head windup and flinging the ball towards home plate. I mimicked that motion every summer day as I threw a rubber ball relentlessly against the barn door in my backyard (though Bob was a righty and I was a lefty, as I said). It was always the World Series that summer (and several after that), and I (Bob) pitched a no-hitter every time out. I am sure there were a few times when I (Bob) struck out every single batter in the 7th game of the World Series.

Martin died that spring and I know I had a glove on my hand the day I heard about it. I was in the kitchen and that is all I remember. King (as he was known in our house) was a communist and his death left no imprint except that there was a sense of relief that his rabble rousing was finally over.

Also that spring, though I can’t remember exactly if it was before or after Martin Luther King’s assassination, I got a book about my hero Bob Gibson. Did I mention that Bob Gibson is black? Did I mention that I did not know any black people? Did I mention that I loved Bob Gibson?

Anyway, I got the book through one of those “Scholastic” book fliers that came home from school about once per month. My parents never said no to letting me get at least one book, and to my amazement sometime that spring included in the list was a biography of Bob Gibson! I think I read that book about five times the first week I had it and the black and white pictures of Bob Gibson in a little league team photo, then in the minors and then pitching for the Cardinals absorbed my gaze for hours on end.

But Bob Gibson’s biography was not just about his pitching exploits (which I had expected). It was about his life growing up in Omaha, his sickly childhood (asthma), and the shocking story of how the great Bob Gibson could not sleep in the same hotel room as his fellow teammates when he was coming up through the minors in the Cardinals’ organization. In fact, Bob Gibson told a lot of stories of how he was treated as a black man and how it was unfair (even and 8-year old could understand that). I remember being stunned and saddened but mostly confused. How could Bob Gibson be denied the same treatment as anyone else simply because he was black? It just made no sense.

And so, sometime in that spring and summer of 1968 I also “awoke” to something else: something about injustice (though that word was not yet available to my tongue), something about privilege (though I could not have imagined that such a thing really existed), something about race…

And in that small town—thanks in part to the confluence of baseball, Ronnie Sanger, the Cardinals and a great pitcher named Bob Gibson a different way of viewing the world took root.

Martin, I was born too late to know you for what you were when I was 8 years old. I was born in the wrong place to be able to hear and see what you were about. I was born in the wrong family to understand the power of your message. But I was born in Bowmansville and thanks to baseball and Bob Gibson I was given a window—a glimpse—into the challenges of racism and the hope that change might come. And I learned that the agents of change in our land might even appear wearing a baseball uniform.