Here’s a pitch for my novel, Faith, Hope, and Baseball: A Novel:
What would you sacrifice to save everything you love?
17 yr-old Jason loves God, his widowed mother, his girlfriend & his Amish life. But bills are mounting & an offer to play professional baseball promises financial freedom. His choice will change his life forever.
In this excerpt, the Chicago Cubs coach is contemplating God, and the faith of the 17 year-0ld baseball phenomenon he’s trying to recruit to his team. I like this section because it juxtaposes Jason’s deep faith in God with Coach Skip Anderson’s complete agnosticism.
Walking from the kitchen to the garage, Skip considered the nature of God:
He didn’t think about God in the way Jason seemed to take for granted. It just never entered his mind. He thought about God in the context of damning bad hops, bad calls, bad luck, and bad days.
There wasn’t talk of God growing up. Even less talk about Jesus. Was God dependent on how we’re raised?
He was baptized as an infant in the Methodist church, but didn’t know what makes Methodists different from Baptists or Presbyterians, or Catholics.
He was in churches for his wedding and a niece’s christening, but any other time, since? He didn’t think so. Will his next visit to a church be his own funeral?
He couldn’t imagine why he would go to a church. He never needed God, not in his playing days during a slump or while battling injuries, and not coaching. He didn’t really believe Jason was a “gift from God,” to help him win a pennant. If he lost his job without Jason, so be it. He’ll get another one. Maybe he needed to be a bench coach again, anyway.
If there was a God, surely that God had more important things to do than worry about Stephen Anderson or the winner of a baseball game.
Did he and God have a tacit understanding? He wouldn’t bother God and God wouldn’t bother him? He honestly hadn’t even given it that much thought.
So if it’s a question of faith, then he had faith in himself.
He knew some players crossed themselves — players who weren’t even Catholic — others who gestured or offered silent prayer. He didn’t think God cared if a back up shortstop was hitting .210 or .212.
Did Jason’s God care about Jason’s ERA or on-base percentage? Was God actively involved? Was Jason blessed? Really blessed? Many people thought so, but who knew?
Skip couldn’t remember how long he’d been sitting in his car. He started the engine and began to drive.
There are a lot of Christians. Among Christians there are so many different ideas of God— they can’t all be right. So if some are wrong, which ones?
What if the Amish are the only Christians to get it right? There are a lot of Catholics, but not a lot of Catholic priests, what if the priests are the only ones who are right?
Why do Christians knock on doors in the evening and on weekends, bothering people?
It seems like there are a lot of Christians on TV talking about things they’re against and not the things they are for. There seem to be a lot of people calling themselves Christians who don’t act anything like Jesus. There were some Christians who aren’t very nice, but really nice people who weren’t Christian.
Some Christians are obsessed with talking about prayers and public displays and saying Merry Christmas. Is that what Christianity is about?
He didn’t care if they call it a Christmas party or a holiday party, as long as they serve shrimp.
He’d heard about Christians doing a lot of really crappy things. The holy rollers on TV and Christian protestors. They seem to spend too much time judging people.
Some Christians don’t like gay people. He didn’t understand that. What was the big deal? As long as they keep coming to the games during losing seasons, he didn’t care who they were. They can have gay pride parades in the stands if it means they buy tickets to be there.
Did the KKK burn crosses because they are Christians? Or because they didn’t like Christians? Why crosses?
Didn’t Christians torture people throughout history? The Middle Ages, maybe? What about the stories of ant-abortion Christians attacking women’s clinics? Shooting doctors. And why do those Christians publish those graphic pictures? That’s messed up. Christians don’t like abortion, but who likes abortion?
He tried to think of Christians he knew and people he knew who might be Christian.
What if they are all wrong? What if we just die, and that’s it? There’s nothing else. What if some of them live good lives because they’re trying to get into heaven, and there is no heaven? Is that such a bad thing? I could ask the team chaplain, he thought. What was that guy’s name? Father somebody?
Skip found himself sitting in his car again. He got out and started walking.
I’m a good person. Isn’t that enough? I’m a person of high morals. I recognize right from wrong, don’t even push gray areas. I try to do the right thing, he told himself.
Rashad seems to be a really good guy, and as a Muslim, was his God a different God? Hindus have a lot of gods. What do Buddhists have? He didn’t know.
What about Jesus?
People can believe in God without Jesus, but he didn’t think people could believe in Jesus without God. Can you believe in Jesus and not be a Christian? Can you be a Christian and not believe in Jesus? How do they decide who’s a Christian?
There was so much suffering in the world, life is so difficult for so many people, where was God? Where is God? Where was God during the holocaust? During famine in Africa? During genocides, or tornados or floods? Where was God when children suffer needlessly? Where was God when children had cancer, brain tumors, abusive parents, during gun accidents or had all sorts of horrible things happening to them?
He knew he wasn’t the first or the last to ask questions. Maybe God would get more converts if the answers were a little more clear.
Why do some people need God while others don’t? Every game, every career has to end some time, and not even God can change that. All the prayers in the world can’t fix a torn UCL without surgery.
He stared out the window at the landscape below.
The 9-11 terrorists thought they were doing God’s will. They had to be out of their Goddamn minds. Fly an airplane full of people into a building? That’s not God, that’s just crazy.
Maybe God was like a ball club. Different religions at different positions. So a Muslim plays one position and has very little in common with a Christian or Jewish guy in other positions. But they are all on God’s team. Makes as much sense as anything. More sense than blowing yourself up.
Is God just calling balls and strikes, like an umpire? Or is God a manager, guiding the action on the field? Players can do what they want, within parameters, but if necessary, the manager has the final say?
What about hell? Are terrorists in hell? If they aren’t what’s the point of hell?
God sends people to hell because they don’t believe in God? That doesn’t make a lick of sense. He and and his wife donate a lot of money to children’s issues and do a lot of work with children’s groups each year. Surely that counted for something?
God will send him to hell for not caring about Jesus, and God will reward Christians because they are Christians, but who don’t do anything to help suffering children? If that’s really who God is, he didn’t want anything to do with it.
Did God really punish people? Bring down wrath upon an entire country, a whole civilization? Individuals?
Did God really punish people for reading, thinking, believing, doing the wrong thing? What if they intend to do the right thing, but do the wrong thing, do they get halfway punished? And what about heaven? If he lived in a desert like the Muslims and Jews and Jesus, then he’d probably imagine heaven to be someplace cooler, too.
Maybe he should ask Jason about this. But he felt a little silly being a grown man talking to a 17-year-old about the nature of God.
“That’s right. The employee entrance.”
The driver glanced in the rear-view mirror.
“I’ma Sox fan.”
“Nothing wrong with that.”
He glanced again. “You doin’ the best you can wit what you got, but I can’t see the Cubbies goin’ too far next year.”
“Like you said, we’ll do the best we can,” Skip said, his eyes searching for a different topic. “Is that a Jesus picture on your dashboard?”
“That’s right. I don’t care how biga tip you give me, I ain’t praying for the Cubbies. That ain’t gonna happen,” he said, smiling to show missing teeth. “Don’t you know God hates the National League? God loves the Sox.”
“Sure, that’s why they traded Sosa years ago. Seriously, though, tell me more about God.”
“Ha. Wha’chew wanna know?”
“Whadya wanna tell me? I’m listening.”
“God saved my life. Saved me from being a drunk, drug dealer, drug user. Runnin in the streets wit all sorts of people I shouldn’t a been runnin wit.”
“Did God change your life? Or did you change your life?”
“That’s all God, man, I couldn’t adone it alone. And I was alone. Lost my family, lost all my friends drinkin an smokin my life away. I had to hit bottom, stop diggin, before I could finally see up.
“I couldn’t adone it alone. God the only one listens when you strung out, hung over. So badly broken ain’t nobody could put you back together again ‘cept God. So I got busted. Had to dry out and get clean in jail. Then I call out to the Lord, and he helpt me.”
“So you think God hears you when you pray?”
“Of course God hears. I ain’t prayin to myself. It’s easy fo’ God to be around on good days. When you singin in church an’ listen’ to preachin’ an’ all. But the bad times, the dark of night, when evil is knockin at yo door. When you alone and all you hear is screamin and cryin and dyin all around you. That’s when you cry out to God, and he hear you. God right there wit you. When there is nothin but evil around you, God is there.
“Scripture say do not despair. Cry out to the Lord, and he will rescue you. And he does. Lord may not be able to help you outa bad times right then— he the Lord, he ain’t no magician who can pick you up someplace, an’ whisk you away.
“But he be right there wit you, walkin beside you through the valley of the darkness. When you think you alone, and ain’t nothin but evil all around, the Lord is there. When there’s rapin, killin, and evil all around you. You ain’t alone, the Lord is there. Do not be afraid Jesus says. Do. Not. Be. Afraid. Yeah, I called out to the Lord, and he answered. Sure as shit, he answered.
“Next thing you know, you arrived. Just like now. You here.”
“What do you mean?”
“We here, coach. Wrigley Field. That’ll be $28.50.” He put the car in park. “I know you searchin, I can see it on yo face.” He turned sideways on the seat and gazed intently into Skip’s eyes. “You don’t look like you hurtin, but you look like you thinking hard about somethin. You chasin answers that may never come. That a hard way to live. A hard way to live. I’ll pray for you, coach. If the Sox can’t win, I’ll pray you bring the trophy back to Chicago.”
“Thanks.” Skip handed over a crisp bill with the picture of U.S. Grant. “Write down your name. They’ll be two tickets for you at will call on opening day.”
“Thanks Coach,” he said as he handed over a battered business card. “I appreciate it. Why you wanna do that for me?”
Skip smiled. “God knows.”