“Faith, Hope, and Baseball”

I’ve not been posting as much, lately, I’m trying to finish my debut novel.

Here’s the first chapter. I welcome feedback. Feel free to share this with your agent friends.

What if leaving is the only way to save his family?

“Faith, Hope, and Baseball”

Chapter One

“Baseball in October. It can only mean one thing – the World Series.”

The announcer’s excited voice carried through the near-empty barn.

“… this year the team had a date with destiny…”

Half listening, he flicked invisible dust from his new black hat before carefully putting it on. He made final adjustments to his pressed, clean,l coat and shirt as a shadow filled the doorway. He fingered the metal circle in his pocket for reassurance.

“Are you ready?”

Ya,” he replied, his mind wandering back to the year before. It seemed like two lifetimes ago, that he listened to the same announcer on the same radio. He was so different, and yet so much around him remained unchanged.

He looked about the barn and remembered an early afternoon. The sun illuminated the dry, dead leaves with a glowing light of red and orange. Across the endless expanse of prairie, the air stirred, paused to play in the cornstalks for a few hundred acres before chasing itself across an immaculate farmyard. It twisted into a tiny spiral and softly pushed against the dust drifting down through the slats of the wagon.

He remembered the air thick with the sweet smell of new hay and the weakening wind playing across his face.

**

Jason Yoder dragged his muscular, sweaty forearm across his equally sweaty forehead and reached for another hay bale. His young, powerful hands wrestled the bale onto the hook. He whistled sharply and pulled the loose, hanging other end of the rope like a church bell ringer. That part of the job usually fell to a horse or mule, but Jason found it easier to pull the rope himself after attaching the hook.

He watched the bale quickly rise into the air, to the small door of the barn’s loft. A pair of gloved hands pulled the bale in and moments later lowered the hook again.

Harvest time in central Iowa, a scene played out again and again, year after year for more than a century.

On a nearby hay bale, a battery-operated radio softly broadcast a baseball game.

“—a real disappointment,” the announcer intoned as though reading the obituary of a stranger. “The whole season was just a real disappointment. We can’t blame Manager Skip Anderson, he did the best he could with what he had. The season started strong, but—” the announcer paused, as the sweaty seventeen-year-old stole a glance at the radio.

Standing on a flatbed horse-drawn wagon, surrounded by a few remaining heavy bales of hay, the young man had the strength of a draft horse. The rolled sleeves of his blue shirt exposed massive muscles, while the straw hat on his head kept the early afternoon sun from his face. His hair and his hat were the same color as the bales he lifted.

After muscling another bale onto the hook, his gloved hands pulled the rope, sending the bale up. He whistled again, and the pair of hands pulled the bale again, released the hook, and lowered it down. The backbreaking process repeated, as it had all morning and into the afternoon. Human cogs in a manual production line.

“Dallas Jackson steps to the plate,” the announcer continued. “— Called strike … At twenty games out of first place there’s no tomorrow for the Cubbies. There’s the pitch. Strike two. The Cubs end the season with the worst team batting average in history. The pitch— Jackson nails it…”

Jason stopped his work, his attention turning to the radio.

“— A line-drive deep, deep, over the right field fence. Home run!”

Jason reacted with a small, happy smile, but his composure returned immediately. He glanced up to the loft and then silently resumed his task.

The stack of bales grew smaller as the game progressed.

“Giants still lead six-four. Jennings at the plate now, hitting .125 for the season, a career low— The pitch, he swings, ground ball to short. Fielded cleanly, and he’s out at first.”

Jason responded by moving the bales still faster.

“Two down. Whitehall steps up for the Cubs. The old saying is wait ‘til next year, but in this case there’s no reason to wait. Most of the players on the bench today will still be here on opening day next year. So we’re facing another year just like this one.”

Jason was nearly finished, moving faster than he had all day for the final two bales.

“The windup. The pitch. Swing and a miss. Whitehall is oh for four today. There’s the pitch— he swings, ground ball to first. Walters steps on the bag, and that’s the end of the ballgame. And thankfully, mercifully, the end of the season. Today— most of the season for that matter— was some of the worst baseball I’ve witnessed in forty years of broadcasting—”

Jason turned off the radio and disappeared into the barn to put it away. Moments later he returned to the wagon and whistled a final time, the note slightly sharper than before.

“We’re done, Onkel,” he said softy to the empty air.

A large, muscular man leaned out of the loft door. Like the boy, he, too wore a blue shirt and straw hat. But unlike the smooth-skinned young man, the older man wore a long beard — his upper lip shaved, his chin covered by an untrimmed beard, strands of grey woven into the black.

He fished a handkerchief from the pocket of his black trousers as he removed his hat. Wiping his hatband with the handkerchief he breathed a weary breath.

“Ist dat alles dan, Jason?” The big man spoke thickly in his native tongue.

“Ya, Onkel,” the boy replied.

“U wilt gaan, dan?”

“Ya, Onkel.”

“Wees op tijd terug voor het avondeten.”

“Ya, Onkel, I’ll be home before supper.” With the boundless energy of youth, the boy removed his work gloves as he dashed into the barn. He emerged seconds later with a baseball glove and ball.

“Jason?”

“Ya, Onkel?” the boy replied, looking up at his uncle.

“Moet het zijn der beesballe?”

“It’s just a game, Onkel. After June, I won’t play anymore,” he answered, looking around. “May I go now, please? You’ll tell Maam?”

“Ya. Ga, ga,” the uncle said with a dismissive wave of his weathered hand.

The breeze briefly returned as the boy ran across the yard’s closely trimmed grass. Slipping his glove onto his right hand as he ran down the dusty driveway, he threw the scuffed, off-white ball high into the air.

Looking up at the baseball’s trajectory, the boy rushed to catch it as it reached the apex of its arch and slowly began to fall…

***

A pristine, new baseball rolled slowly in rough, sun-dried hands. Manager Skip Anderson stopped long enough to look down at the words printed in black block letters.

‘NATIONAL LEAGUE BASEBALL ASSOCIATION.’

With his thumbnail he picked at the first ‘N’ for a moment before he spoke.

“They don’t give a rat’s ass about me, the team, the fans, the game, or even themselves.”

“They give a rat’s ass about themselves,” the other man corrected.

Skip looked at the ball.

‘ATIONAL LEAGUE BASEBALL ASSOCIATION.’

He started picking at the first ‘O’ in ASSOCIATION, ignoring the interruption.

“They wouldn’t sacrifice to advance the runner, because it would affect their own numbers,” he said, admiring his handiwork. “Why do I even bother to signal?”

He rolled the ball in his hands, scattering the infinitesimal flecks of black ink.

His mind wandered from the field before him to fields of the past. So many fields across the years. So many baseballs. Tens of thousands, easily. A hundred thousand? Had he touched 100,000 baseballs? Maybe more. He felt the red stitches with his fingernails.

He’d had a good career. As a player, in the minors. Working his way up quickly. The unexpected phone call that moved him from AA to the Show. He couldn’t forget the feeling of that day if he tried. The dirt, the grass, the clouds themselves seemed different in a Major League stadium. The locker room, the travel, the food, the clothes — everything was different. Better. The best. The best of everything. It was like living a dream, day after day, year after year. A teenage dream unfolding in the daily life of a man, ball after ball, one at bat at a time. A life measured in box scores.

His hands could still feel the double to right field that won them the pennant, that took them to the World Series. The World Series loss haunted the rest of his playing career, and then overshadowed his coaching.

Like the words to a forgotten song, a series ring eluded him. Haunted him. He could feel the absence and unfulfilled potential. The phantom pain of a severed limb.

A decade in the Major Leagues. Then another five years. The injuries got to be too much, too often, and the recovery took longer and longer each time. After each injury, he had to settle for a new level of healthy, knowing the previous performance level was gone forever.

Eventually, there was nothing minor about a minor sprain, especially when he was hitting .129 in August. It just got to be too much, and it wasn’t as much fun, so after 16 years, he hung them up for the last time. He had the self-respect to hobble away with dignity, rather than be chased from the game, desperate to hang on.

Every September since, like shadows before sunset, that same feeling slowly came over him.

He enjoyed managing more than he expected. It went beyond keeping him in the game, on the field. He actually enjoyed watching a young man improve. Helping a swing become as good as it could be. He’d chuckle to himself to see the swagger return to a player as he overcame a slump and hit his way back into contention. As he pulled his career back from the brink, a single at a time.

And yet, the minors weren’t much fun the second time around, either. Worse in many ways. But the return to the Show was as good as it was the first time. The responsibilities were much, much greater and more demanding than he expected, more exhausting than he could have imagined — but he enjoyed being back in the Show so much more. Perhaps because he was older, mature and seasoned. Perhaps because he knew, at his age, he had so little to lose. Winning was different, too. It was as though a little of each of the men was part of him every time they won. Losing wasn’t so bad, and winning was better as a coach. He really was lucky.

His career as a manager felt like a long trudge back from the minors, made slower by lingering injuries. As he got older, long forgotten pains reappeared without warning. The wrenching pain in his right knee appearing halfway up a flight of stairs would instantly carry him back to that sunny Sunday afternoon when his spike caught the bag as he slid into second. Arthritis in his knee reminded him every morning before breakfast of who he used to be, and who he had become.

Despite the aches and pains as his body slowly betrayed him, he remained in excellent shape. His square shoulders still communicated power and his overall demeanor demanded attention. He was the living embodiment of a born leader.

Still in uniform, Skip stood with Bench Coach Dave Watson in the Cubs’ dugout, looking out at the empty green field.

This past season seemed to take it out of him. He felt as though he’d aged twice as much in half the time. He enjoyed the game, but he hated, hated to his core, when the men disrespected the game. And disrespected themselves.

By the end of such a draining season, he began to question his own dedication. His edge was off, and he wasn’t sure how he’d get it back. For the first time in his baseball career, he was beginning to think he didn’t care if he got it back or not.

Maybe it was time to give up on it all. Retire for good and open the sports bar in Mesa.

“I hate losing,” he said through clenched teeth. “I hate it.”

“I know.”

“I hate it, and it’s like they don’t care. What’s the point of playing, if you’re not playing to win with every pitch? Every swing of the bat? I don’t understand what’s going on out there,” he said, gesturing at the field. “Or in their heads,” he said, tapping the ball against his temple.

This wasn’t new to Dave. He’d been hearing Skip complain for weeks, but he wasn’t sure when he stopped listening.

“I know.” He said it again for emphasis.

“I give ’em the red light, and they swing away like it’s batting practice.”

“Batting practice,” Dave agreed. “They’re just young and excited.”

Skip looked at the large green expanse of grass in front of him. The iconic green ivy 400 feet away was beginning its quick change to dark red, orange and brown. He looked down at the ball again, and absentmindedly tossed it into the afternoon air.

“I’d give my right hand for someone young and disciplined.”

“I’d give your left one for someone young and good,” Dave quipped. “Our old players aren’t getting any younger, and the young ones aren’t getting any better. But, next year’s another season.”

“Those are the best the minor league has to offer? What a disaster.” Skip shook his head. “What’s the point of expanding the roster? Did you see anyone in the past month that you can’t live without?”

“Nope.”

“Neither did I. What a train wreck.”

“Maybe a couple of players.”

“Maybe. I’ll tell you Dave, for the first time in twenty-five years, I’m not looking forward to coming back,” Skip said, as his fingernails worked the stitches of the ball.

“Thinking of hanging up your cleats for a final time?” They left the dugout and slowly started walking across the field.

“I’m just not looking forward to next year,” Skip said, shaking his head.

“Good thing you’ll have a month off to think about it,” Dave replied. “Four weeks from now you’ll be planning for next season. You and Ginny heading to L.A. again?”

“Not this year,” Skip said. “She wants us to go visit the Amish.”

“What do you mean the Amish?” Dave asked, confused.

“The Amish. Black suits. Beards. You know, the Amish.”

“What do you mean visit?” he asked. He still didn’t understand. “Do you… you know, know Amish people?”

“No. We’re going to the towns where they live and look at them.”

“Sounds like lots of fun,” Dave muttered. “Maybe when you come back we can sit here and watch the grass grow. Where are these Amish?”

“Iowa.”

“I’m sorry, it sounded like you said Iowa?”

“I did.”

“There are Amish in Iowa?”

“So they say.” Skip nodded. “We’re leaving tomorrow. Ginny says it’ll help me take my mind off the team for a while.”

“That’s a good idea. Relax. Look at some corn, some Amish people. Four weeks from now you’ll be screaming for Arizona, a cold beer and a slice of Pequod’s pizza.”

Skip scratched at the grey in his short sideburns.

“Four weeks,” he said. “Another four months and we’ll be back in Mesa again watching these losers and a new batch of rookies.” He looked around at the expanse of grass, the grounds crew working on the infield dirt. He glanced up at the cleaning crew scattered across the stands. He thought of opening day. Dozens and dozens of opening days. For the first time, he didn’t look forward to the next one.

“A new set of no-talent bums,” he said to himself. “…I can hardly wait.”

Angrily, he threw the ball into the air. It hung at its apex in the clear blue sky like a rawhide planet, before rolling over and falling back to Earth.

*** *

A baseball dropped into Jason’s glove to retire the side.

He jogged from his position at third base toward his team’s bench– the dugout of Kalona High School.

The stands were packed for the fall ball baseball game. Outside the traditional spring season, the fall ball season gave the young players the opportunity to hone their skills and to win the fall ball state championship. The special season also allowed the locals to enjoy the extraordinary performance of the young Amish boy who so loved the game that he challenged his culture’s rules simply by stepping onto the field.

Despite wearing the same uniform, Jason stood out among his teammates. His uniform was baggy and extra-extra large, his hairstyle clearly different under his ball cap.

His appearance was out of the ordinary, but his baseball instincts were extraordinary. His basic ability was far beyond the highest caliber of other players on the field. He simply outclassed everyone there, including the coaches, Coach Pate often thought when he watched Jason effortlessly glide across the grass like a sailboat skimming above the waves.

Coach Pate savored the privilege of simply watching him play. Coaching him was a joyful bonus.

Near the crowded bleachers, two young people stood, clearly Amish in appearance.

Thirteen-year-old Adam had his fists thrust deep into the pockets of his black pants. Short for his age, but comporting himself with a silent dignity, he looked like a miniature church elder. His sister, seventeen-year-old Faith, stood next to him, a wooden basket in her hands.

Jason stole a glance at his two friends, and beneath his large straw hat, Adam imperceptibly nodded. The girl smiled shyly from beneath her large black bonnet as Jason returned the smile.

In the bottom of the final inning with a tied score, Kalona needed a win to continue their steady march towards the state championship.

Jason slipped on his batting helmet before moving to the on-deck circle.

He absentmindedly took a few practice swings as he watched the batter before him strike out on three pitches.

The three pitches from the relief pitcher weren’t very informative, but they were enough, Jason thought. Despite seeing the pitcher for the first time, he quickly, easily, saw what he was looking for.

Stepping to the plate, Jason took a few full-speed practice swings as his teammates shouted encouragement.

“Let’s go, Jason,” Coach Pate called from the dugout. “Nice and easy. Take your time.” Despite his outwardly calm demeanor and reassuring words, the tension showed on his face as he flashed several signs to Jason, his hands and fingers dancing across his chest and cap. Expressionless, Jason looked on.

The pitcher delivered a strike down the center of the plate as Jason turned to watch it slap into the catcher’s mitt. Fastball.

“Strike one,” The umpire yelled.

“That’s all right, Jason,” Coach Pate said, clapping his hands. “Nice and easy. Nice and easy. Just wait for your pitch.”

Jason took a few half swings before the pitcher threw another strike in the same place. Fastball.

“All right, Jason, all right,” Coach Pate shouted, clapping in encouragement. “Any time, my man. You can do it. Show him what you got.”

Jason appeared unfazed by the two strikes as he took another practice swing. He watched the pitcher go into his windup. He’s not wasting the pitch, he’s throwing it again, he thought.

The pitcher fired the ball and Jason drilled a line drive down the first baseline.

Running to first, with the play in front of him, Jason saw the ball roll down the line. He tagged first base on a wide arch and continued on to second. After sliding into the bag well ahead of the fielder’s throw, he popped up onto his feet in a small cloud of dust, and looked to third hungrily.

“That-a-boy, Jason,” Coach Pate yelled across the field, clapping. “That-a-boy.”

Distracted by Jason’s slide, the second baseman briefly took his eye off the ball and bobbled the throw from right field. As the fielder turned his back to second, Jason dropped his head, and with arms pumping furiously, took off for third base.

The crowd roared its approval as Jason dashed toward the base. Rushing, as he looked around in shock, the fielder fumbled the throw. Jason slid into the bag face first, hands outstretched above the dirt, several feet ahead of the ball.

From the dugout, Coach Pate called out his approval, “Heads up base running Jason, heads up.”

Chest heaving from the exertion and covered in dust, Jason watched as the ball finally found its way back to the pitcher. He shifted his gaze to Coach Pate, who was already flashing signals to the batter.

Leaning forward, hands on his knees for a moment’s rest, Jason watched the pitcher pause before his windup.

As the pitcher’s right foot began to slide away from the rubber, and before the batter could turn and square his shoulders to bunt, Jason shifted his weight forward and was already four steps towards stealing home.

At the plate, Jacob Miller executed the bunt perfectly, the deadened ball dropping onto the grass and dribbling towards the first baseline. The pitcher and first baseman charged forward as Jason poured on speed. The first baseman fielded the ball barehanded and fired home.

Jason squeezed out more speed before throwing his body forward.

His hand brushed the plate as he slid under the catcher swinging the glove and ball through empty air.

“Safe!” cried the umpire.

A cloud of dust slowly settled around Jason, the umpire and the catcher as the team and Coach Pate rushed onto the field.

Players and fans from the stands crowded around and slapped Jason on the back with excited words of encouragement. He smiled sheepishly, embarrassed by the attention and the compliments.

Adam and Faith both smiled and clapped. They waved when they saw Jason looking in their direction, but he didn’t see them. He was swept off the field by the eager crowd and his excited teammates.

*** **

The air smelled of cleaning supplies. Alone in the cramped, dimly lit closet, Jason slowly snapped his plain cloth shirt. Amid the mop, a bucket, brooms, and the smell of bleach, Jason reached for his hat.

Moments later, dressed, Jason walked through the locker room to the coach’s office. The other boys continued to change clothes, slipping into jeans and tee-shirts. Jason passed among them, and yet remained separate. He paused at the door, and saw Coach Pate sitting at his desk, reading.

Coach Pate was the high school version of Skip Anderson. In his late-thirties, he too, was a veteran baseball man. But where Skip struggled to return to the Show after his Big League career ended, Phil Pate never made it out of AAA ball.

Like nearly all professional ballplayers, he’d been an extraordinary high school player, a man among boys. Drafted out of high school, he’d chosen instead to accept the college scholarship he’d been offered. College play, too, came easy for him. He set his school record in triples before the end of his sophomore year.

He turned pro at the end of his junior year of college, playing a few months of rookie ball before moving up to single A. Distinguishing himself on the field and at the plate, he ended his first professional season in AA. While it wasn’t the level he hoped for – every rookie begins spring training expecting to play in the World Series that October – he was happy with his performance.

As dedicated to academics as he was to athletics, he continued his education a few classes at a time during the winter months, and he excelled in the classroom, as well as on the field.

His second year as a professional athlete began at the AAA level. With each rehabbing major leaguer he played with or against, he was reminded that he was tantalizing close to the Bigs. He felt he was always one more base hit a week away from being called up. The feeling continued through the year, until he was called up in September. He spent 32 days living the major league life but had fewer than a dozen at bats.

The next year found him beginning the season at AAA, but spending days at a time at the major league level. He eventually took to carrying an overnight bag with him wherever he went, to make it easier to respond to the surprise phone calls. His days were marked by uncertainty mixed with doubt and waning confidence in his abilities as he rode the bench. He was called up again when the roster expanded in September, but spent too much unsatisfying time on the bench.

His fourth year was more frustrating than fun. He spent every game one more hit or two fewer strikeouts away from a permanent position in the major league. Phil Pate spent the day of his college graduation going two for five. He stood on second while the opposing team changed pitchers, and he seriously considered his options. He knew he had a decision to make in the coming months – did he want to keep bouncing between the major and minor leagues, or did he want to look for a job with his new degree and teaching certificate?

“You wanted to see me, sir?” Jason asked.

Coach Pate looked up from the paperwork on his desk. “Yeah, Jason, come on in,” he said, leaning back in his chair. “That was some fancy base running out there today.”

“Did I not read the signals correctly?” Jason asked, worry creasing his young face. “Was I not supposed to steal home?”

Coach Pate smiled, bemused by Jason’s earnest and genuine concern.

“Yes, boy, you were supposed to steal home,” his coach assured him. “I gave you the signal. I’m talking about you getting to third. That was heads-up base running.”

“Thank you, sir.”

The older man stared intently into Jason’s face, a practiced, blank expression that somehow reflected both serenity and suspicion. “I guess you have a long walk home?” the coach finally asked.

“Yes, sir.”

“You sure I can’t give you a ride this afternoon?”

“Thank you, sir, but I would rather walk.”

“Sure, I understand.” Coach Pate stood and stepped from behind his desk. He started to walk Jason out of his office, but paused and put his arm on the boy’s shoulder.

“One more thing—”

“Yes, sir?”

“I wish you’d think again about college—”

Jason had heard this before. “Yes, sir. I…”

“Don’t just ‘yes, sir’ me, Jason,” Coach Pate interrupted, the frustration in his voice growing. “Listen here. I can help you get a baseball scholarship, maybe even a track scholarship. Let me get another Iowa State scout out here. Let them talk to you this time. You could get an education. Get a degree. Maybe in agriculture, come back here and help your family, your people. And you could keep playing ball.”

“Thank you for your offer,” Jason said softly. “But I am not expected to go to college.”

“I know,” Coach Pate continued, “but keep one thing in mind. I got that waiver from the district and let you play on this team because I recognized your talents. It’d be a shame that after I went to all that trouble, and after a year of coaching, you’d just walk away at the end of the season.”

“Yes, sir,” Jason responded. And then he walked away.

*** ***

A small, excited group waited for the players outside the building –– friends, family and girlfriends all radiated the energy of the game they witnessed. Their eager voices quick and high.

Adam and Faith stood apart from the crowd, waiting silently.

Three girls around Adam’s age flirted with him, trying to make eye contact.

Adam flashed a slight, bashful smile in return.

Noticing the silent exchange, Faith looked at him questioningly.

Adam simply smiled at her, slowly nodded and then looked back toward the door just as it sprung open and several players poured out. People gathered around the players and again offered congratulations when Jason appeared.

As he worked his way through the crowd, several people slapped Jason’s back and spoke to him. He nodded bashfully as he approached Adam and Faith. Jason exchanged looks with each of them, and after a moment, wordlessly, the three walked away.

Jason, Faith, and Adam continued in silence along the sidewalk of the small city street, past its small businesses and shops. A pickup truck honked as it passed them, the back jammed with students who called out to Jason and waved. Jason smiled sheepishly as he returned their wave, and watched the truck disappear around the corner. Adam and Faith both stared at him with disbelief. Although his friendship with the English was allowed, it was beyond their understanding.

Jason simply shrugged and they continued on in silence. Faith again glanced up at Jason thoughtfully, but his gaze and his thoughts were a dozen miles away.

Later, as the three of them continued along a gravel road carved between two fields of browning Iowa corn, an Amish buggy appeared in the distant horizon.

“It’s Aaron Ropp,” Jason said in their native tongue, a regional variation of the Amish Dutch more like their Ohio cousins than their Pennsylvania ancestors.

“Where is he going, I wonder,” Faith said.

“I know where,” Adam said, a sly smile curling around his eyes.

“Where?” Faith asked.

“He’s rushing to watch a baseball game,” Adam said with a giggle.

They exchanged smiles and waves with the buggy driver as he passed.

“You played well today,” Adam said.

“Thank you. I was very lucky.”

Faith smiled. “You were also very good.”

Jason was embarrassed. “Thank you, but my teammates played well, and they made it easier for me.” He paused to smile shyly. “Having you and Adam there also made it easier for me.”

“Isn’t it time to stop playing baseball?” Faith asked.

“We have just a few more games before we play West High. If we defeat them, then we play the District games,” Jason explained. “If we win, we will play the state finals. I will be done in a few weeks.”

“No,” Faith said intently, as she stopped walking. “When will you stop playing games? When will you end your rumshpringa and join the Order? When will we. . .”

Jason stopped to listen to her. Each of them was poised to say more when they both turned to Adam. He too stopped walking. With eyes wide and curious he stared at them, eagerly awaiting their next words.

It took Adam several long, awkward moments to realize they were waiting for him to leave. With a dignified nod, he continued to walk down the gravel road, his hands shoved into the pockets of his black trousers.

“My birthday is in June,” Jason finally replied, “and you know I don’t have to join until after that.”

“Yes, but can you not at least act as you should?”

“It is only baseball. Just a game. Some boys my age drive automobiles. They drink alcoholic spirits. They go to the movies, and watch television, and read magazines and English newspapers.”

“And do you want these things of the English? Television and magazines?” she challenged.

“I just want to play baseball.” Jason shrugged and looked away, embarrassed by the conversation.

“But what of us?” Faith asked.

“We will be married,” Jason responded quickly. He assumed she knew the answer. Or was she questioning the idea? With a surge of panic, he realized he couldn’t tell.

Faith looked into his eyes, searching for her own answers. “I hope so,” she said, her voice just above a whisper. “I hope so.”

“Hey!” They looked up to see Adam gesturing from several respectful yards away. He pointed down the road to an approaching open wagon.

“It is Enos Miller,” Adam said over his shoulder, as he jogged towards the wagon. “Let us catch a ride.”

Jason and Faith shared a silent moment; each lost in their own doubts and dreams, and then turned to join Adam, already on the wagon, his little legs dangling over the end.

“I hope so.”

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Life on the tightrope

philippe_petit_tightrope_tower_full-xlarge copy

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Your soul knows

John O'D

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Our humanity

DT_ Faith at the Fringe_o

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No matter the outcome

Olivia Fay quote

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You must get close

CS Lewis water quote

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Tim Kaine – A good and faithful servant

While he was Governor of Virginia, I interacted with Tim Kaine on many occasions. Here are a few personal reflections on the faith of Sen. Kaine, the Democratic candidate for Vice President of the United States.

Gov. Kaine and me, circa 2006.

Gov. Kaine and me, circa 2006.

After the Virginia Tech shooting in 2007, Gov. Kaine delivered these remarks at the Tech campus:

“One of the most powerful stories in the human history of stories is that great story central to Judaism, Islam and Christianity – the story of Job from the Old Testament, afflicted with all kinds of tragedy in his family and health, and he was angry. He was angry with his circumstances. He was angry at his Creator. He argued with God and he didn’t lose his faith. It’s OK to argue. It’s OK to be angry. Those emotions are natural as well.

“And finally the emotions of the family members most affected beyond grief, losing a son, losing a daughter, a brother, a sister, losing a close friend. You can go beyond grief to isolation and feeling despair. Those haunting words that were uttered on a hill on Calvary: ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’”

Kaine speaks scripture from the heart as one who knows and believes what he’s saying. His faith isn’t something he uses for political purposes, it’s who he is.

Later in the week of the shooting, during an an interfaith prayer service in Richmond, I was behind the podium when Gov. Kaine stepped to the microphone without notes.

“Lord I believe,” he began, quoting scripture, “help my unbelief.” He went on to talk about the difficulty of maintaining faith in the face of tragedy and horror. He also quoted and applied scripture as though he cleared knew what he was saying.

As Governor of Virginia, he was limited by law to a single, four-year term. One Ashe Wednesday during his time as governor, as I stepped out of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church at the end of the early, mid-day service, I saw Gov. Kaine making his way to the Catholic church across the street, a block from the capitol and his office. He was accompanied only by his two-member security detail. His was a private, faithful, pilgrimage known only to a few. Kaine’s faith is a reflection of his personality – not flashy or brash, but sincere, honest and personal.

On July 21, 2009, I watched Gov. Kaine speak to a group of young people working on a service project in a Virginia State Park.  https://youtu.be/Lev1OnYHLck

In his comments, again speaking without notes, Kaine reflected on the year he took off from law school to do volunteer work in Honduras for the “poorest of the poor.”

He spoke of Jesuit brother Jim O’Leary, who taught him about the value of service.

Kaine said he learned that “if you’re serving others, you’re going to be happy. Your health may be good or bad, your pockets may be full or not. But if you’re serving others, you’re going to be happy.”

Later in life, he learned the reverse is true, too.

“People who aren’t giving and serving, no matter how much they have, or how qualified or talented they are, they’re not happy.”

“The key to happiness in life is pretty simple, I think. Just try to use the modest talents that we all have, and use them for the benefit of others. And if you do that, you’re going to find fulfillment every day of your life.”

After his speech that day, I spoke with Kaine about his faith. Again, he referred to brother O’Leary when he shared with me his idea of living his faith in everything he does.

Sen. Kaine is one of the smartest, sharpest people I’ve met. Ever. His faith isn’t something he bends or changes with his audience or political trends. His faith is who he is. And who is will make a great vice president of the United States.

Me and then Gov. Kaine, circa 2007, after directed him in a television commercial.

Gov. Kaine and me, circa 2007, after I directed him in a television commercial.

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Right now

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Understanding Christians in Fowler’s Stages of Faith

Ask a seven year-old what it’s like to be 70.

Get angry when a 16 year-old new driver doesn’t understand how to disassemble a car engine.

Speak with a pair of 15-year-olds about the hermeneutic that informs their theology to determine their eschatology.

In his book, Stages of Faith, Dr. James Fowler created the theory of the stages of faith development.

Fowlers system

When you squander too much time engaging with people online about issues that are rooted in theology – who their understanding of God is and what God’s message is – it’s likely those people will be completely incapable of understanding what you’re saying.

According to Fowler, people develop faith through certain stages. Their understanding of God progresses, as they progress and grow.

Fascinatingly, humanity’s understanding of God can be seen progressing through the pages of Jewish scripture into the fullness of Christ. God walks through the garden in the cool of the day, God is vengeful, God demands sacrifice, God is unknowable, God can be known through Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

Although the growing understanding of God can be traced through the Bible, some remain fixated on certain aspects of God.

This is because they never progress beyond certain stages.

While Fowler ascribed ages and a timeline to faith development, the simple fact is some college professors, faith leaders and other public officials never progress beyond stage one – stage three. (Think of Franklin Graham, James Dobson, and other literalist fundamentalists.) I’ve encountered a lot of atheists who reject a stage three understanding of God – I don’t blame them, I did too.

Others reach more developed stages of faith development. For example, stage five, “a time when a person is also ready to look deeply into the social unconscious—those myths and taboos and standards that we took in with our mother’s milk and that powerfully shape our behavior and responses. We really do examine those, which means we’re ready for a new kind of intimacy with persons and groups that are different from ourselves. We are ready for allegiances beyond our tribal gods and our tribal taboos. Stage Five is a period when one is alive to paradox. One understands that truth has many dimensions which have to be held together in paradoxical tension.” (Think Tony Campolo and some other Progressive Christians.)

The highest stages are people like the Dalai Lama, Henri Nouwen and some aspects of Pope Francis.

(I believe faith development can occur like Abraham Maslow’s self-actualization – growth in different areas, so that you are more open to faith issues in some areas rather than others. So Pope Francis can be at a stage six in his faith in one area, and yet at another part of his faith believe it’s acceptable to marginalize women of faith.)

Now, here’s the part of Fowler’s book that has been most profound for me – people can only fully understand a stage after they’ve grown through it. They have great difficulty understanding a stage while they remain in it. They have nearly no chance of comprehending, much less agreeing with a stage they’ve not yet reached.

People can’t completely understand a stage that they haven’t yet grown to and they assume their current stage is the highest level achievable. So a stage three Christian assumes he’s the ‘true Christian,’ and is completely incapable of understanding a more complex or nuanced type of faith.

For me, I can see the faith development stage of the Dalai Lama or Henri Nouwen, for example, but my faith isn’t developed to the point where I don’t want to punch some people in the side of the head. Perhaps one day, I will grow to the next stage. But today is a day I curse in anger, and tomorrow looks like it may be a lot like today.

Again, people can see down the stages of faith development, but they can’t see up.

So if someone believes that Christianity and militarization are compatible, they are probably around stage three or stage four. They can’t understand why a stage five Christian opposes militarization.

Stages of faith development explains how some Christians can support guns and advocate for the marginalization of the marginalized.

There’s little point in arguing about sexuality, guns, capitalism, scripture, or other issues that divide Christians, because we simply are talking past each other. Some of us can’t hear or understand others, while others can’t speak in a way that can be understood.

If they were able to understand the aspects of a higher stage of faith development, people would already be at that stage. Trying to communicate with these people is like asking a 15 year-old to explain their hermeneutic.

And we all know how difficult it is sometimes to talk with a 15 year-old.

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We are all connected

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