The Rev. Robert Sichta: Faith Matters

Faith MattersFebruary 22, 2014 

We need to rewatch "The Jackie Robinson Story."

No, not the movie "42."

The 1950 version. In black and white.

With the real Jackie Robinson, and a deeper look at ourselves, in real time.

In 1950, Robinson was in the middle of his major league career with the Brooklyn Dodgers. He had already been named Rookie of the Year (1947), MVP (1949), led the league in stolen bases (1947 and '49), and won the batting title ('49 again).

He was well on his way to the Hall of Fame, and not just because he was the first African-American to play major-league baseball.

According to the movie script, Robinson makes a brilliant play at second base during a minor-league Montreal intrasquad game.

Branch Rickey, Dodgers president and general manager, is watching the game with the Montreal manager.

Rickey says: "No other human being could have made that play!"

The manager says: "Mr. Rickey, do you really think that's a human being?"

It hits you right between the eyes.

It's a look forward and a look back in a nanosecond.

And it's alive and well today -- the idea some of us are more "human" than others.

Compound that thought this way: If we can believe that some of us are more human than others, we can believe that some of us are better than others, and that some of us have more rights than others. And that some of us are more religious and, in my faith, more Christian than others.

We can then take that idea and morph it into so-called infringements on what we consider to be our rights by people who are not like "the rest of us."

Note: Though we are often quite willing to exclude people from our circles, we are always inclusive when it comes to claiming we are not alone in our points of view -- at least until challenged as to who those "rest of us" are. You know: That point at which you find out "the rest of us" is just you and a couple of friends who don't want to see you embarrassed.

But I digress.

Today, we are in another heavy conversation about who makes up "the rest of us."

For some, it isn't a question at all.

For too many people of faith, it is the biggest question on the table. And the longer it remains a question, the more it unnecessarily separates us from each other.

Case for inclusiveness

Wearing No. 52, Michael Sam was a consensus All-American and the Defensive Player of the Year in the Southeastern Conference this past year. When he went public recently (he told his University of Missouri teammates last summer, and they embraced him) with the news he was gay, we learned an awful lot about ourselves.

Breathtakingly, some "pundits" have already suggested he might not even be drafted by a National Football League team because of the NFL tendency to avoid controversy.

Is it worth suggesting the more his peers refuse to embrace him as being fully human, the more the controversy will grow -- and with it, a legacy of shame that he was not immediately embraced as an athlete and was, instead, judged by some bizarre avoidance of controversy standard?

Is it worth suggesting the more we refuse to unconditionally embrace each other as children of God, the greater we grow our own little legacies of shame?

We have witnessed this within our own congregation. As we have made it a point to proclaim our inclusiveness as part of our oneness with each other in God's world, some people have resigned their membership.

Others, however, on hearing about and, perhaps more saliently, feeling our message of 21st century hope, have joined.

In fact, because we chose not to "avoid controversy," we finished this past year with more members than when we started, together with more than a few curious visitors who've wanted to know what the "controversy" was all about.

No, it is not all pretty for Michael Sam just now, as it has not been for our church.

In fact, some of it has been downright painful.

Sadly, it can be our tendency to find ways to make change hurt by, when we are hurting, inflicting pain. Like when one of our former members recently spoke with someone who chose to stay and asked that person; "How can you go to church over there, with all those queers?"

Fortunately, the good person and recipient of the remark recognized the call of Christ had removed all limits to his or her circle of faith. Rather than reacting with bitterness, the person was able to deal with the pain through a feeling of wholeness that had emerged in that person's life, borne in part by that person's experience in a church that chose not to search for ways to "avoid controversy."

Much like the wholeness, which we pray will continue to envelop a fine young man who has more than earned the right to be judged by his football talents and not by those with whom he may choose to be in a relationship.

And yes, we would be proud to be included with him in the widening circle he has so nobly proclaimed.

If we are people of faith, particularly if we claim to be part of the community of Jesus of Nazareth, we recognize our common humanity without conditions. And in that recognition, it does not matter whether we are wearing Nos. 42 or 52 or simply sitting in a pew.

The Rev. Robert Sichta, Congregational United Church of Christ, 3700 26th St. W., Bradenton, can be reached by calling 941-756-1018 or e-mailing Faith Matters is a regular feature of Saturday's Herald, written by local clergy members.

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