Tuesday, May 7, 2013

"Robinson's a Methodist. I'm a Methodist. God's a Methodist. We can't go wrong." 
         --Harrison Ford as Branch Rickey in "42"

Friday night was date night for Lorie and me. Dinner and a movie. As a comic book geek and a fan of Robert Downey, Jr, I was sorely tempted to take Lorie to the new Iron Man movie.

(She always lets me pick the movie. Nice of her, but it's also a lot of pressure. What if I pick a loser?)

I decided instead that we would go see a movie of social importance, and I'm really glad we did. "42" is  the powerful story of Jackie Robinson breaking baseball's color barrier in the mid 1940s. Lorie and I enjoyed it immensely. A great story, well told.

One of the things that impressed me was the positive portrayal of Christian faith. Harrison Ford plays Branch Rickey, the president of the Brooklyn Dodgers who decided to bring African American ball players into Major League Baseball.  Rickey is motivated, at least in part, by his Christian faith and his Wesleyan/Methodist heritage. OK, he's also motivated by money: "Dollars aren't black and white," he tells his staff. "They are green." Rickey sells the idea of integration as a way to attract more African American fans to the ballpark, and an important way to get the best players on his team in order to win the pennant and go to the World Series.

But other scenes in the movie make it clear that he's also motivated by a passion for social justice that is driven by his faith. And Rickey references his faith often. In a highly emotional scene when Robinson wants to quit after enduring a nasty race-based taunting, Rickey talks about Jesus: "Like our Savior, you've got to have the guts to turn the other cheek." At another point he tells Robinson that he is a "living sermon illustration."

I particularly enjoyed the scene where the president of the Philadelphia Phillies calls Rickey to tell him that his team will refuse to play the Dodgers if Robinson is on the field. Rickey passionately informs him that he will have to answer to God for his racism.

It was nice to see Christian faith portrayed as being a motive for positive social change. It was nice to see men of faith (Robinson and Rickey) portrayed as heroes. It was also nice to see Harrison Ford playing a man who was old, fat, and not very handsome, with an awful voice. Don't think I've ever seen that before.

There's a great scene where Dodgers shortstop Pee Wee Reese walks across the field and embraces Jackie Robinson in front of a hostile crowd. I've heard this story before --even used it as a sermon illustration. What I didn't know until I saw "42" was that Pee Wee Resse was from Louisville, and the game was  in Cincinnati, the major league park closest to his home--and the hostile crowd included some of Pee Wee's own family members. That extra info, plus watching the scene brought to life on the screen, made the story even more powerful to me.

One more thing: They shot this movie really well. You felt like you were on the field. The ball came right at you. It almost seemed like you were running the bases with Robinson. I enjoyed that.

A few years ago, Good News, a magazine for United Methodists, did a cover story on Jackie Robinson, his faith, and the amazing impact of the Methodist church on his life. It's almost as powerful as the movie. Do me a favor: CLICK HERE and give it a read.

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