Friday, April 22, 2011

Jackie and Jake

When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?” The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”
Matthew 21:10-11

Some translations say, “the whole city was shaken,” others say, “the whole city trembled.” The Greek word translated as turmoil, or shaken, or trembled, actually refers to the shaking of the ground as in an earthquake. It has the same root as seismic.

When the Kingdom of God appears, as it did on the day we call Palm Sunday, the earth shifts under out feet. We have trouble keeping our balance.

If we are paying attention as we read the Gospels, this happens again and again. When the last are first and the first are last, convention is turned on its head. But over time, the newness and strangeness is lost on us. We get used to the story of the Prodigal Son, or the Good Samaritan and they no longer surprise us. They seem conventional, and consequently they also no longer move us.

But if we can experience it again, for the first time, the appearance of the Kingdom of God is like an earthquake.

Two stories.

The first one is easy because we have gotten used to it. In April of 1947, Jackie Robinson became the first black person to play Major League Baseball (in the modern era). This happened because Branch Rickey, who was the general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, made it happen. Rickey, whose full name was Wesley Branch Rickey, was a devout Christian, and he believed that integrating baseball was a sacred calling.

Shortly before Robinson’s debut, a sports writer warned Rickey that if he went through with his plan, “all hell will break loose.” Branch Rickey responded, “No, I believe all heaven will rejoice.”

When the Kingdom of God appears, it feels like an earthquake to some people, like all hell is breaking loose. But to others, this shifting of the earth is the trembling caused by a heavenly chorus.

Looking back, most of us are certain it was a heavenly chorus. And we are sure that baseball and America are better off because of Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey. It is hard for us to even conceive of experiencing it as that sports writer did.

The second story is more difficult.

The Smith College community is in an uproar (shaken, trembling, in turmoil) because of a decision by the Admissions Office to bar a student from actively participating as a “Gold Key” guide for prospective students.

Jake entered Smith as a woman, but since last summer has been transitioning into what he understands to be his real identity as a man. The Admissions Office had no problem with Jake as a guide when he was a woman, and they do not question his character, but they do not want a transgender student representing Smith to prospective students and their parents.

For my daughter, Carolyn, Smith ’07, and her friends, this is a clear case of discrimination. The Admissions Office is exhibiting transphobia. They need to rethink this and do the right thing. And Carolyn tells me (I’m sure I’m oversimplifying) that “gender is a social construct.”

If gender is a social construct, then that calls into question what it means to be a “women’s college.” As a proponent of women’s colleges in general, and a strong supporter of Smith in particular, I have concerns about that. I also have confidence that Smith will find its way. But beyond the specific issue at Smith, the larger issue is about how we deal with gender and identity.

Can you feel the ground shifting?

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