Monday, October 6, 2014

Something Worth Remembering

“You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.”
Exodus 20:4-6

Everyone knows the saying about the “sins of the parents being visited upon their children,” and not just children, but grandchildren and great grandchildren.

It’s one of those biblical ideas that has faithful people scratching their heads, and the more secular among us pointing to it as one more place where religion gets it wrong. It seems wrong in spite of the fact that we know it to be true. We know that the bad choices of one generation often affect succeeding generations. We have studied the ways in which the treaties imposed at the end of World War I set in motion the forces that led to World War II. We know about the legacy of slavery.

But the second part of that passage is often overlooked. Righteousness endures to the thousandth generation. In other words, forever.

It is a remarkable concept. When we bend the arc of history away from justice, it is serious, and it makes a difference that may last generations. But when we bend the arc toward justice, that act is never lost. Human beings may forget, but the moral universe is changed forever.

George Shuba died last week in his hometown of Youngstown, Ohio, at the age of 89. Shuba played seven seasons for the Brooklyn Dodgers. He had a smooth stroke at the plate and was called Shotgun because of his ability to spray line drives around the outfield. He played in three World Series, including Brooklyn’s only World Championship in 1955.

I knew who George Shuba was from reading about the glory years of the old Dodgers, but I did not know what Paul Harvey liked to call “the rest of the story,” until I read Richard Goldstein’s obituary in the New York Times.

What he accomplished in the Major Leagues was minor, compared to the legacy of one game in the Minor Leagues in 1946. On April 18 of that year Shuba was playing left field for the Montreal Royals. He hit three home runs in that opening game of the season, but that wasn’t what makes the game memorable. In the third inning, Jackie Robinson, playing in his first game organized baseball, hit a three run homer. When he crossed home plate, Shuba, who was waiting on deck as the next hitter, stepped up and shook his hand.

The handshake would have been nothing special if Robinson had been white, but in the hyper sensitive context of Robinson breaking baseball’s color barrier, it was a huge moment. And it was captured forever in that iconic Associated Press photo at the top of this post.

After retiring from baseball, George Shuba returned to Youngstown, raised a family, and worked as a postal clerk. When he went to schools in the Youngstown area to talk about racial tolerance, he always carried a copy of that photo with him. His son Michael remembers that when he came home from school with a report of racial bullying, his rather would point to the old photograph and tell him: “Look up at that photo. I want you to remember what that stands for. You treat all people equally.”

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