a baseball classic

This year’s Major League Baseball World Series between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Houston Astros, with Houston leading 3-2 in a best-of-seven game format, already has been declared by some sports pundits as a classic. Both teams possess great pitching and batting, the Dodgers perhaps leading in the former and Houston, the latter, and two of the five games have extended into extra innings with the last at bat determining the winner. Born and raised in St. Louis, I grew up watching and loving the Cardinals and this series brings back fondest memories of regaling in the finest moments of America’s national pastime.

However, a non-baseball-related, but rather a manifestly cultural incident, one that hovers over the current roiling waters of societal discontent, has riveted my attention.

This past Friday, in game 3, Astros player Yuli Gurriel, after hitting a home run, motioned toward Dodgers pitcher Yu Darvish, who is of Japanese and Iranian descent. Gurriel placed his hands on the sides of his face, pulling and slanting the corners of his eyes.

Unsurprisingly, the reactions have been swift.

Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred announced that Gurriel would be suspended without compensation for five games at the beginning of the 2018 season; believing it would not be fair to the Astros team to exact the penalty during the current series…

The Astros management, expressing shock at Gurriel’s behavior, supports Manfred’s ruling…

Gurriel has apologized to Darvish, declaring his respect for him as a player and as a person and for the Japanese people…

Some, interpreting Gurriel’s action as a racist slur against Asian Americans, are outraged…

Others consider Gurriel’s gesture a-caught-on-camera-adrenaline-fueled-in-heat-of-the-unfortunate-moment…

Still others have seen the incident as a display of minority-vs.-minority stereotyping; and, viewed through that lens, all the more regrettable; especially in Houston, one of America’s most ethnically and racially diverse cities.

In a tweet, Darvish wrote: No one is perfect. That includes both you and me. What he (did) today isn’t right, but I believe we should put our effort into learning rather than to accuse him. If we can take something from this, that is a giant step for mankind. Since we are living in such a wonderful world, let’s stay positive and moving forward instead of focusing on anger. I’m counting on everyone’s big love.

Mr. Darvish, your words, for me, are a classic expression of compassion, comprehension, and consideration. May your hope be fulfilled.

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conventional wisdom

This past weekend, as priest-in-charge (fully knowing God is in charge!) of Epiphany Episcopal Church, Laurens, SC, I attended the annual convention of the Diocese of Upper South Carolina.

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In nearly 40 years of ordained ministry, I’ve taken part in many conventions and, truth to tell, often with little enthusiasm. I acknowledge the importance of governance; the need to translate the interpreted mandates of scripture and tradition via the gift of prayerful reason into the organization of the life of the ecclesial community. However, occasionally (often?) I find these gatherings overladen with individual human desirings masquerading (unconsciously and consciously) as divine will.

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This convention was different. For many reasons. One. The person and presence of the guest speaker, Dr. John H. Dozier, Chief Diversity Officer of the University of South Carolina.

Dr. Dozier’s address on diversity and inclusion and his workshop, Talk Isn’t Cheap: Why Cross Cultural Communication is Important, were powerfully provocative

At Friday’s end, three of us, reflecting a diverse demographic of race and ethnicity, gender and sexuality, formed a panel of responders to questions posed by Dr. Dozier.

His queries and my responses…

Describe some of the elements of your identity.

I am an African American male of Hispanic ancestry, my paternal grandfather being Cuban (hence, and it’s a long story, being named Abernathy by coincidence!), a husband and a father, a Christian, an Episcopal priest, and, since my retirement and resettlement, a South Carolina apologist[1] in response to all who consider our state racially regressive and politically and socially reprobate. For, here, among you and from you, I have experienced the warmest and widest of welcomes.

What are you most proud about your identity?

I was raised by a father who didn’t have familial or societal support to pursue his dream of being a mathematician, who urged me “to become all I could be”, adding, “You have to be twice as good as white people to be equal.” (The downside of that counsel? If I had to be twice as good, then I never could be equal!) I also was raised by a family of educators who commended that I read and write, as my father demanded, “the King’s English.” My grandmother oft asked, “Why is the English language one of the most efficient?” immediately answering her own question, “Because it has one of the largest vocabularies. The more words you know and use, the more nuanced your expression of your ideas and your understanding of others.” I’m proud of my capacity to write and speak well, with precision, and my attendant ability to think with breadth and depth.

What about your identity causes you difficulty?

I believe in Jesus’ love and justice; unconditional benevolence and fairness toward all. Always. I fail to do this. Always. Nevertheless, it is my calling. Always. And whenever I encounter one who, in my judgment (and, I confess, in light of my prejudices), does not perceive the world around her/him with breadth, and think and process information so to form thought and opinion with depth, I, tending toward negative judgment, struggle to be loving and just.

What does the church need to do better?

Acknowledging my prejudices, I strive to stretch and reach across the boundaries and barriers existing between me and “the other” – one who doesn’t look, think, act like me. Case in point, we’re about to elect the 45th President of the United States. I plan to vote for Hillary Clinton. I’m not enamored with my choice, but I cannot vote for Donald Trump. Nevertheless, I’ve sought out folk who are voting for Mr. Trump, asking them why. I have come away from these conversations, though not agreeing, with an appreciation for the thought and passion that has formed and framed their choice and without a desire or need to denigrate that choice. Not to universalize my experience, but this sort of effort of stretching and reaching is what, I believe, the church need do always and in all ways.

 

Photograph: The clergy and laity meeting at the 94th Convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Upper South Carolina, November 4-5, 2016, at St. John’s Episcopal Church, Columbia, SC.

Footnote:

[1] By “apologist”, I do not infer that I make excuses or express regret (being, in common parlance, standard meanings of “apology”) for South Carolina. Rather, drawing on the Greek, apologia, “speaking in defense”, I am an advocate and supporter of South Carolina, at times, in response to well-meaning folk who, in wonder, sometimes in worry, have asked, in so many words, “Why, in heaven’s name, are you living there?” On occasion, I’ve employed the rejoinder and reality check of Malcolm X to people who believed that life, in regard to race and racism, always was better in the north than in the south, “As long as you are South of the Canadian border, you are South.”