Thinking Out Loud

May 26, 2017

42: The Right Guy in the Right Place at the Right Time

I’m not a sports guy. If you read this blog, you’ll know that it’s usually a full year goes by before something sports related appears in the Wednesday Link List.

But in 2013, reading Seven Men and the Secrets of their Greatness by Eric Metaxas, I found myself captivated by the chapter on Jackie Robinson; to the point that it was the only chapter in the book I read twice.  For any other non-sports readers here, Wikipedia explains that Robinson was,

an American professional baseball second baseman who became the first African American to play in Major League Baseball (MLB) in the modern era. Robinson broke the baseball color line when the Brooklyn Dodgers started him at first base on April 15, 1947. The Dodgers, by signing Robinson, heralded the end of racial segregation in professional baseball that had relegated black players to the Negro leagues since the 1880s.  Robinson was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962.

This was a gamble that simply had to work. Before even completing the review of Metaxas’ book, I wrote this brief synopsis of that chapter:

The essence of Metaxas’ take on Robinson is that without his strong faith in Jesus Christ, and the shared faith of the manager who signed him — first to a farm team, and then as the first African-American in Major League Baseball — the story would not have happened as swiftly as it did. Both parties knew that if they failed, there might not be another opportunity for another few years or even a decade. Why the faith element was so important is something I’ll save for the review, if I don’t decide it’s a spoiler. Suffice it say that whoever was going to break the professional baseball color barrier needed to be a special person. 

My friend Jeff Snow however is a rabid baseball aficionado. He’s also a pastor and youth and young adults worker whose writing you’ve seen here before in the series we ran twice on the impact of divorce on teens. So when Thomas Nelson released 42 Faith: The Rest of the Jackie Robinson Story by Ed Henry a few weeks ago, Jeff was at the front of the line to buy a copy. I asked him if he could share his impressions.

I finished 42 Faith last week. I really enjoyed it. First, some minor quibbles: It tries a little too hard to find faith where there isn’t really strong evidence from the situation, and the book meanders a bit. Also, the author interjects himself into the story; a chapter may start with him describing how he met a 90 year old former teammate of Robinson over breakfast to discuss Robinson.

The interesting thing for me as someone who has read widely about Robinson is that he uses sources that up to this point have not been touched on much, including correspondence filed in the Library of Congress and an unpublished manuscript Robinson wrote in the sixties that was supposed to be part of a series of book for young people where he talked about the importance of faith in detail.

Another positive part is that most of the evidence the author uses to back up his contentions are first person quotes from either Robinson or Branch Rickey, the other main character in the story.

The author’s contention is that, along with other considerations, that faith in God played a large role in motivating first Rickey in wanting to sign Robinson as the first African-American player in the major leagues, and in motivating Robinson to see this opportunity as divinely guided and as an opportunity to do what God put him on earth to do.

It’s hard to say how someone who has no clue about this story would enjoy the book. The meandering might throw them off. But I think anyone who has an interest in baseball, in the civil rights movement and social justice, or who enjoys inspiring true stories, would enjoy it.

 

April 25, 2013

Eric Metaxas: The Accidental Biographer

To hear him tell it, Eric Metaxas was as surprised as anyone at the success of his William Wilberforce biography, Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery and his epic-length Deitrict Bonhoeffer follow up with Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, which clocked in at 608 pages.

7 Men And the Secret of Their Greatness - Eric MetaxasThis time around he offers a sampler of stories in Seven Men and the Secret of their Greatness. He draws on material from the earlier books for two of the sections, and the seventh is someone with whom he worked personally; which leaves us with this lineup:  George Washington, William Wilberforce, Eric Liddell, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Jackie Robinson, John Paul II, and Charles Colson,  

While I’m not a sports guy, I’ve mentioned here a few weeks ago that the Jackie Robinson chapter was my favorite, and the timing vis-a-vis the 42 movie works out well.  It also typifies Metaxas’ desire to bring us new narrative elements, and new backstory. It as if he is anticipating the question, “Can you tell me something I haven’t heard before?’

Was the inclusion of Washington pandering to a U.S. audience? While I can see the eyes of Brits and Canadians rolling, the chapter allowed the book to reach back into another century. At the contemporary end of the timeline, that Metaxas worked with Charles Colson gave him access to details others would miss.

There is literally something for everyone here: Sports, politics, Catholic interest, U.S. History, etc., and with Father’s Day coming up, this is a title I can highly recommend. If the 608 pages (of the Bonhoeffer book) is too much reading some men, this one is only 256 pages, but is a book to be measured by its depth, not its length. Readers are encouraged to read the chapters in any sequence as I did.

The book releases next week from Thomas Nelson in hardcover in the U.S., elsewhere paperback.

April 2, 2013

What 42 and 7 Have in Common

There is a new movie simply titled 42 about to release in North America. No, it has nothing to do with Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy or its version of the meaning of life.  My wife and I are neither moviegoers nor sports fans, so this biography of the first black baseball player, Jackie Robinson, probably isn’t on our schedule. But I wanted to mention it here for another reason.

7 Men And the Secret of Their Greatness - Eric MetaxasLast month I got to read an advance copy of 7 Men: And The Secret of their Greatness by Eric Metaxas, the author of the bestselling biography titled Bonhoeffer.  Because 7 Men doesn’t release until later this month, I was holding back my full review on it, but I’ll tell you right now that the chapter on Jackie Robinson was the highlight of the book for me. I actually read most of the chapter twice and read a few pages out loud an additional two or three times to anyone who came within range.

The essence of Metaxas’ take on Robinson is that without his strong faith in Jesus Christ, and the shared faith of the manager who signed him — first to a farm team, and then as the first African-American in Major League Baseball — the story would not have happened as swiftly as it did. Both parties knew that if they failed, there might not be another opportunity for another few years or even a decade. Why the faith element was so important is something I’ll save for the review, if I don’t decide it’s a spoiler. Suffice it say that whoever was going to break the professional baseball color barrier needed to be a special person.

Now, is the Christian faith of Jackie Robinson part of the forthcoming movie? We’ll have to wait and see, but if you are a moviegoer or you are a sports fan, you might want to consider checking out the film when it releases, as they say, at a theater near you.

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