Jackie Robinson, Lucy and the quest for a better tomorrow

September 28, 2010

Bobz Book Reviews

As two events draw near — Major League Baseball’s playoffs and the announcement of the Strategic Plan for Parishes in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis — I thought this might be a good time to revisit a column from a few years back that connected the great American pasttime with something many will need to deal with  — change. — bob z

 By Bob Zyskowski

Jackie Robinson, more than half a century ago, knocked out one half of an analysis that defines my belief about life.

The other half of the definition comes from Lucy, the dark-haired girl in the Charles Schulz cartoon strip “Peanuts.”

Robinson, the Hall of Fame ballplayer who was the first black to play in the Major Leagues, said back in 1950 that he was given that opportunity “because we put behind us (no matter how slowly) the dogmas of the past to discover the truth of today, and perhaps find the greatness of tomorrow.”

In other words, we can change.

Lucy, however, pitched the curve ball.

In the first panel of a cartoon she says that nothing happens until someone changes.

Linus responds in the next panel: “But I have changed.”

Lucy’s retorts in the final panel: “I meant for the better.”

Can we ever know?

That’s the dilemma I keep bumping into today.

In our country.

In our workplaces.

In our communities.

In our church.

We have the potential to change, but we’re uncertain if the change will be for the better.

I’m not sure we can know.

But should not knowing – not being absolutely certain of the consequences – freeze us from ever allowing ourselves the opportunity to improve? Should it prevent us from the opportunity to – as Jackie Robinson said – find greatness?

 Who needs power windows?

Back in the 1970s, when our young family was forced to look for a new car, finances dictated that we settle for basic transportation. No bells or whistles.

Power windows?

What for? I never had a problem rolling them up before.

Skip ahead 30 years. Middle son is out in the work world and needs a car.

He sees an ad in the paper for what looks like a good deal and asks me to go with him to check it out.

The advertised car is definitely basic transportation.

It’s a case-study of the bait-and-switch sales technique.

The car comes with n-o-t-h-i-n-g.

No air conditioning.

No power steering.

Not even a radio.

And windows you have to roll up and down manually.

I recommend against buying the car.

The clincher was the windows.

 Accept conditions – or change them

Other changes in our lives and our society haven’t worked out as well as power windows on automobiles.

To take just one example, the pre-Sexual Revolution mindset that treated human sexuality as “dirty” was less than healthy in denying the positive qualities of this great gift from God; however, some of the consequences of the Sexual Revolution – sex without commitment, using others to sate one’s own sexual appetite, abortion, single parents and children in poverty, sexually transmitted disease – are evidence that change can sometimes go too far.

That some change goes wrong, however, cannot be allowed to paralyze us into accepting a situation that can be improved.

Author Denis Waitley once wrote, “There are two primary choices in life: to accept conditions as they exist, or accept the responsibility for changing them.”

Several generations earlier, Catholic commentator G.K.Chesterton skewered hard-liners on both sides of the change/no change issue:

“The whole modern world has divided itself into conservatives and progressives. The business of progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of the conservatives is to prevent the mistakes from being corrected.”

 Start with a question mark

A mentor for me was the late Archbishop John R. Roach. A former president of the U.S. Catholic Bishops who for 20 years led the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, he was asked once if his was a “liberal” diocese.

“I don’t know if we’re liberal or not,” Archbishop Roach answered, “but we move.”

If the definition of madness is doing the same thing and expecting different results, the sane choice may very well be to move, to do some things differently than the way we’ve done them in the past.

From my perspective, that doesn’t mean change for change’s sake. As cartoonist Schulz says through Lucy, the goal needs to be change for the better.

But staying the course when the course is not leading to satisfactory results, being bound by tradition when traditional ways aren’t working any longer, that’s just as wrong as taking change too far.

Start with a question mark, Bertrand Russell suggested.

The philosopher and Nobel Prize-winning writer offered, “In all affairs, it’s a healthy thing now and then to hang a question mark on the things you have long taken for granted.”

We need to do that questioning regularly, no matter where on the ideological spectrum our personal feelings lie.

A mover if not a liberal, Archbishop Roach told of forcing himself to question his own thinking. He was among the leaders in promoting the approval of the document that would become the landmark 1983 U.S. Bishops “Peace Pastoral,” but Archbishop Roach said he could never persuade New Orleans Archbishop Phillip Hannan that the pastoral was right.

“I had to ask myself, does he see something I don’t see?” Archbishop Roach said.

 Toward a better future

We’re in that situation with any number of issues in our lives, and especially in our church: The failure to hold onto teens and young adults who were raised in the faith is one example; our stewardship of parishes and schools is another. Keeping a pat hand isn’t the answer. Some of the things we are doing just aren’t working.

Neither is going back to the way things used to be. A century ago another archbishop of St. Paul proclaimed the fault in the kind of thinking that would have us to revert to the way things have been done in the past.

“I see no backward voyage across the sea of time,” Archbishop John Ireland said. “I will forever press forward. I believe that God intends the present to be better than the past, and the future to be better than the present.”

So we can change, and we must.

We may make mistakes when we do, and we may fail at changing for the better.

But doing nothing is failure just the same; it is failure to seize the opportunity to improve.

And perhaps to find greatness.

 Bob Zyskowski is associate publisher of The Catholic Spirit.

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About Bob Zyskowski

Bob is the Client Products Manager for the Communications Office of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. A 42-year veteran of the Catholic Press, he is the former Associate Publisher of The Catholic Spirit. You can follow him on twitter or email him at zyskowskir@archspm.org.

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