To field a ground ball must be considered a generous act and an act of comprehension. One moves not against the ball but with it. Bad fielders stab at the ball like an enemy. This is antagonism. The true fielder lets the path of the ball become his own path, thereby comprehending the ball and dissipating the self, which is the source of all suffering and poor defense. – Luis Aparicio
One of the great joys of my childhood was listening to Kansas City A’s baseball games with my father. Stretched across the bed and tuned to the radio station, I was at times mesmerized by the announcer’s voice. This was especially true when a spectacular play occurred. Spectacular plays almost became routine when the A’s were playing the Chicago White Sox as their wide-ranging shortstop, Luis Aparicio, turned what seemed to be a hit by the batter into an out. The announcer often said: “a spectacular play by Luis Aparicio.” While I was in awe of his ability (He is my all-time favorite shortstop), I never knew he had a philosophy of playing. In the quote above, it is clear that he did. And, it was through this that he was able to transform defense into an art, to proactive visioning of possibilities and being prepared for what might come. It resonates with teachings of Qi Gong and Howard Thurman’s backyard oak tree. In Qi Gong, it is finding one’s center, it is flexibility, it is being able to pivot into a different position that is important, not how strong a person is. It’s about seeing a path and placing oneself in it. For Howard Thurman as a child, it was about developing a critical, nurturing relationship with and trusting the natural world:“When the storms blew, the branches of the large oak tree in our backyard would snap and fall. But the topmost branches of the oak tree would sway, giving way just enough to save themselves from snapping loose.” Aparicio anticipated possible scenarios in relationship to the pitcher, batter, ball and himself (in relationship to the other players on his team). He was able to shift the connections among these varying agents into one in which he would become the actor rather than the one acted upon. This ability is essential for us today as we are smeared each day with filth, excrement that smells, polluting our society, seeking to impugn our souls. Too often we find ourselves merely reacting, stabbing at the ball, to a playbook designed to “win” at any cost, any cost to individuals suffering immensely already, constitutional structures, and moral imperatives. Is not the threat to use the military to overthrow the results of a constitutional democracy tyranny? When Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said that we have some difficult days ahead, I don’t think he could have imagined the present state of our nation. Such theft of democratic processes and balance of power was unimaginable until very recently. Notwithstanding, we have been in difficult days before now. How did we come through? Are there lessons for us today, or at least inspiration? The fact that we are alive today is a testament of hope. In a sermon last year, I shared from the writings of Rubem Alves whose observations about dinosaurs has helped me greatly. He said: we know dinosaurs only by their bones. They no longer exist. They are extinct, dead. How could this happen we might inquire? Was there some great cataclysmic intrusion into their world that wiped them out? During their time, they were the biggest, most powerful creature roaming the earth. How can the demise of such controlling and dominating creatures be explained? Dinosaurs were too big to fail, weren’t they? Alves states that animals of much more fragile structure, whose bodies were weaker and smaller are still around. He continues: But dinosaurs are nothing more than memories of one of life’s experiments that failed. Is it possible that they are no more because they were the biggest, strongest, most powerful creatures? Dinosaurs were incapable of responding to the evolving realities in their environment– to the new forms of life emerging, new dimensions of growth coming forth, new challenges and opportunities interrogating the supremacy of the contemporary. They were unable to comprehend previously invisible creatures staking a claim in their territory, new realities being formed and nurtured in the community of the natural nation. Alves says: Their “arrogance of power” entrapped them in the very absurdity of their organic structure. They were thereby incapable of responding in different ways to the new challenges their environment presented. Built into the biggest, most powerful form of life was a structural problem. Our nation, the biggest (in substantial ways), strongest, most powerful nation in the world runs the risk of dying. The nation with over 800 military installations around the world, with the largest economy (purportedly), with a nuclear arsenal capable of destroying the planet runs the risk of perishing or becoming only a fossilized version of its once powerful self. For it was born with a congenital, structural defect, the near genocide of the native people, slavery, oppression of women and white men who did not own property. The reason it has not already perished is that it was retrofitted soon after its inception with amendments to its founding legal document. The amendments often resulted from the agitation of voices from the edges, the disinherited claiming their inheritance. The inclusion of these alterations, adaptations, corrections nurtured the dis-eased body into a greater state of health. This was retrofitting the nation, stabilizing it with the ability to sway, to absorb shock, while maintaining its integrity. Dinosaurs were not retrofitted to deal with the changes. Their demise was inevitable because the evolution of their environment could not be incorporated into their lives. As a nation, we are now in the process of dismantling the retrofit, rejecting the general welfare of all, including the environment. Consequently, the nation stands as a candidate for a powerful fall. Those in power now are like the dinosaur. They cannot accept the evolution that is occurring right before them. They scream about a past “greatness” that was problematic from the beginning. They refuse to open unto a present and future, with new forms of being together, with incorporating fully those who have been excluded. They do not see that their salvation depends on this openness. Vaclav Havel wrote: It is my deep conviction that the only option is a change in the sphere of the spirit, in the sphere of human conscience. It’s not enough to invent new machines, new regulations, new institutions. We must develop a new understanding of the true purpose of our existence on earth. Only by making such a fundamental shift will we be able to create new models of behavior and a new set of values for the planet…. Perhaps the real issue is a crisis of respect for the moral order extended to us from above, or simply a crisis of respect for any kind of authority higher than our own earthly being, with its material and thoroughly ephemeral interests. Yom Kippur begins later today. It is the holiest day of the year in the Jewish tradition. It translates, Day of Atonement, the day of being at–one with God. Reconciliation between people and with the God of Life is the goal. One cannot reconcile with God or with others if one continues to give allegiance to powers that destroy, entrap, curse rather than to the power (God) that blesses. You must break off the handcuffs and free from prison those poor and outcast whom you have made the victims of police brutality, mass incarceration, and a criminal injustice system! You must welcome in your midst the despairing refugees from ‘foreign’ lands who you have deported, whose families you have broken. You have let the rich scorch your planet till great storms have destroyed many homes, great droughts have parched many crops. You must make sure the hungry are fed, the homeless find homes, the jobless find well-paying, worthy work – not just for a day but a lifetime! (Rabbi Arthur Waskow) It is through such reorientation that we turn defense into proactive living, that we allow the light within to illumine the dark giving us light enough to walk in paths of righteousness. This little light is not to be hidden. Rather, it is to shine and be shared everywhere we go.
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had vanished, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready like a bride adorned for her husband. I heard a loud voice proclaiming from the throne: “Now at last God has his dwelling among men! He will dwell among them and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes; there shall be an end to death, and to mourning and crying and pain; for the old order has passed away. Revelation 21:1-4
This calls us to hope, not to despair. John is aware of the evil of the Roman Empire. While banished to the Island of Patmos, he shares his Revelation. It is an indictment against Rome and its corruption. It is a message of hope. It is the assurance that the oppression will not last always. It was a dangerous revelation for the existing order at that time, challenging its moral integrity and authority as well as policies. It posits that there will be an end to imperialistic subjugation. There shall emerge a new nation dedicated to the proposition of ending the tears, death, mourning, pain caused by Roman persecution.
When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they can seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall. Think of it—always. (Mahatma Gandhi)