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Posted: 9/12/2013
Seeing God by Looking at Others
Charlie Manuel
If George Burns Can Be God, Why Not Charlie? (Part I)

In a popular 1977 movie, Oh, God, George Burns is in the role of God, who is seen only by an assistant supermarket George Burns as God manager played by John Denver. Unlike the TV series Joan of Arcadia where God appears as different personalities (sometimes as a little girl on the playground, another a homeless old woman, or as a teenage stranger on the bus), Burn's God is always ... well, just George Burns.

Charlie Manuel and Jimmy Rollins
Charlie and shortstop Jimmy Rollins spend time together: sometimes just enjoying each other's company, often talking technique and strategy, sharing a laugh, and sometimes Charlie chewing out "J Roll" because of lack of hustle.

When I make my "God" movie, I'm thinking of casting recently dismissed Philadelphia Phillies manager Charlie Manuel as the deity. (Not sure, though, that I'd trust him to speak his lines as written!) I wouldn't cast Manuel because of his looks. (Although, old with white hair, all he needs is a long beard and Charlie might pass as the stereotypical Old Man in the sky.) No, what makes me think of Charlie playing God is that he had a close relationship with his players and wanted them to be in relationship with him. Watching games on TV, it was rare to see Manuel leaning on the dugout rail by himself; usually a player was alongside ... just talking and hanging out together. Often, it was all-star shortstop Jimmy Rollins who was bending Charlie's ear ... and visa versa.

Across the span of Judeo-Christian traditions, one belief seems ever-present: The God we worship is a God of relationship. Whether preached eloquently by renowned theological scholars or mumbled in a simple testimony, this message is constant: Our God wants to have a relationship ... a personal relationship ... with us. The creator of the universe wants to spend time with me! (More about this relationship in Part II.)

While I say "I Believe" to this God of Relationship stuff, I find it hard to make it part of my own reality. I have difficulty grasping things like heaven, eternity, and redemption (as well as economics, calculus, and anything Einstein talked about). With any abstract thought, I need something to bring it home for me. In heady discussions, I'll usually have to say, "Give me an example." I need the concrete to help me make the abstract real... a model I can see gives me a better sense of the grand.

In trying to "grasp" God, I seem to get glimpses of God by watching other people. Much like Jesus' parable of the Prodigal Son gives a concrete picture of the compassionate, welcoming-back Father, I can see people acting in ways that makes me think, "Maybe this is what God is like!" That is what was in play when I saw Charlie and his guys. Watching him gave me concrete insight into what God may be like.

Charlie hanging out
Manuel with Chase Utley

I hope it's obvious that I am NOT suggesting that the Phillies manager is saintly or is God! (Besides, I know the God I trust makes better decisions than Charlie often did ... and I suspect uses better speaking syntax.) Still, Charlie seemed to demonstrate a few traits that mesh with my understanding of God. Because Manuel had a close relationship (a mutual one) with players, he could have life and career-changing influences. He chastised when necessary, but what happened in the woodshed stayed in the woodshed. While he helped players and the team set long-range goals, Charlie emphasized a focus on today's game -- we look to the eternal tomorrow, but we live in the today. Manuel was criticized by fans and pundits for sticking with a struggling player, but as God sometimes seems to have undeserved faith in us, Charlie actively gave the message: "I know you have lost faith in yourself, but, I have faith in you."

Often we say we "see" God in a beautiful sunset, the cleansing summer rain, the sounds of a Yo Yo Ma on the cello. But, I think with eyes of expectation, we can also see God in others ... especially we can get glimpses of what God is like, the nature of God.

It is not surprising that we might see God in others. If we believe we are created in the image of God, then, at least sometimes, human behaviors should reflect something of God. While the majestic mountains are of God's creation, we human beings are the crown of God's creation!


It might seem easy to see God in the lives of people like a Mother Teresa and Martin Luther King, Jr. However, if we want to find God in the everyday, in ordinary times, just look at the people around you. The mother holds her daughter's hand, gently correcting or giving a few words of wisdom. The teacher stoops by the boy's desk to help him make subjects and verbs agree. The boss lays off a loyal employee, but does it with grace and offers of assistance. The baseball manager walks to the mound and takes the ball from the starting pitcher and pats him on the rear for a strong seven and a third innings.

And, although fallen, prone to sin, and rebellious, we are made in the image of God. It doesn't seem an egotistical statement to think that sometimes even we might reflect the image of God.

A couple caveats. It can be easy to see in others what we "want" God to be like, our wishful thinking. Without making the effort to learn about God through the scriptures and from people of faith, we can easily create a god of our own desires, our wishful thinking. We must be careful not to get things reversed and create God in our image: We are created in God's image!

We also need a critical eye. Much of human behavior does not reflect God's image. Although all inherit the Image, many do not nurture it. Some find other images that feel more desirable and reflect those false images. And, some have the Image crushed by domineering influences and other evils. But, if we look carefully with anticipation, and have some idea of what we are looking for, we can look at the others around us and see concrete examples of, "Maybe this is what God is like!"

"God ... the Korean guy (the one with the hyper son) walked by the patio this morning as usual, but today he held his son against his shoulder. (I still can't figure out whether the guy is Dad or Granddad.) The man's arms looked as if they belonged to two different people. The lower one was strong and firm, a solid support to the chunky kid. The upper one appeared gentle, giving more of just an affectionate caress. ... Might that be the way you sometimes walk with us?"

Charlie hanging out It was probably time for Charlie Manuel to go as Phillies manager (eight-plus years is enough), and his successor, Ryne Sandberg, looks like a good and capable man. But, already I miss Charlie. I miss those speculations about God he would conjure up in me. I especially miss him in his Phillies uniform in the dugout. (Am I the only one who thinks it odd that baseball managers -- even 70-year-old ones -- wear a player's uniform?!) I miss watching Charlie lean on the dugout rail, always with room for a player to hangout with him.

That image was always a reminder that God is leaning around somewhere nearby, wanting me to slip in alongside ... and talk ... or just hang out.

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Of Related Interest

Calico Joe cover Baseball fans looking for an easy-read, non-sappy story of forgiveness and redemption might try Calico Joe by John Grisham. (Non-baseball fans would probably like it, too.)

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