Bible Studies
Written by Jim Jordal   
Monday, 25 October 2004

       We like to think of baseball as a game of skill and dedication, with success apportioned according to ability.  We use the term "home run" as a synonym for high achievement, and think of a triple as only slightly less wondrous than a home run.  But some people find themselves established on third base, thinking they hit a triple, when in reality they were born there.  What do we mean?  Read below.

       If we liken the societal problem of personal income inequality to the game of baseball, with the idea of winning the game by getting on base and eventually reaching home plate, we might say that there are some economically favored people who were born on third base, but who think they got there by hitting a triple.  That’s the way some anti-poverty workers explain the arrogance and thoughtlessness of some who’ve “had it made” since birth.
      Continuing the analogy, we could say that there are others who never even get up to bat, meaning they never get a chance to score a run in the game of life.  Contrast these unfortunate people with those who get in the game because they are born with every advantage, even though they don’t know it.
      I’ll use myself as an example.  I grew up in poverty-stricken north Minneapolis during the worst days of the Great Depression of the 1930s.  My dad owned a road construction business, but lost his debt-ridden company when the state precipitously canceled already-begun road construction projects.  We were poor.  We lived in a rented run-down house that was the shabbiest on the block.  The only people we knew who were worse-off was a very large family living on the next block whose only source of income was rag and junk picking.  I remember fixing my worn-through shoe soles by cutting Wheaties box tops to fit inside so the snow wouldn’t get in.  I also vividly remember having nothing but bread and milk for many dinner meals.  Yes, we were poor.
      But in retrospect, I was really born at least on second base.  Yes, our family lacked inherited wealth or financial investments.  But we did have something very important.   We were Anglo-Saxon, and that fact at least allowed me to get into the game.  I had a chance to take my turn at bat because of my membership in the dominant culture.  How many people, though, never get in the game because they were born to the wrong parents, or in the wrong place?
      I reached first base, so to speak, through no effort of my own, but because of my parent’s almost-Calvinistic work ethic, which endued me with the value of work.  Thus, I understood the nature of the game, and knew that hard work would help me get ahead.  Everyone in my past had worked at something, so I grew up believing this was the way to success, and so, psychologically at least, I reached first base.     
     But that might have been the end of it except for my mother’s strong value for education.  She was one of the first college graduates in her family, and she instilled in her children an unending value for learning.  It was never O.K. in my family just to “get by.”  So I grew up with a value for education and learning.  That’s how I got to second base, although still with no effort on my part.
      I think you get the idea.  There are many in our society who are born with all the advantages: membership in the dominant culture, a personal ethic of work and education, strong supportive families, healthy bodies and quick minds, and an institutional infrastructure that both supports our efforts and provides a safety net in case of trouble.
      And then there are those born with none of these advantages: those born into generations of poverty; who have never known anyone with a full-time, decently-paid job; who have little or no value for education; who are marginalized and discriminated against by institutions of the dominant society; who come from broken families; and who may not possess basic health or access to medical care.
      If you know you were born on second or third base, and if you understand that there are many who never even get into the game, then you may comprehend what the poverty that comes from lack of access to economic, social, and psychological resources is all about.  Maybe you’ll develop a bit of empathy for those born outside the ballpark, who will never get inside to even enter the game.
      It’s so common to blame the poor for being poor by attributing their problems to bad decisions or lack of personal effort.  And it’s also common for financially successful people to think their success results solely from their own diligence and skill.  Few poor people recognize or understand the societal forces directing their poverty, and few rich people recognize the role played by an existing legal and economic infrastructure in their success.
      If you were born on second or third base, why not thank God for your blessing?  And why not recognize that you prosper because the labor of others has built the foundations for your success?  And why not vow here and now never to use whatever wealth you have to oppress or harm any other person, no matter what his or her economic or social status?  And why not do what you can to aid those less fortunate through charity, and in addition to advocate for changes in the political, social, and economic systems that not only help create poverty, but hold those already there in perpetual bondage?
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