Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Why I'll Watch

In case you missed it, there’s a little football game being played this weekend. Last month, when the Network of Spiritual Progressives met on a Sunday evening, we were scheduling for the coming months, and I noted that the date under consideration at the moment would fall on the highest holy day of the American calendar: Super Bowl Sunday.

While my comment was met with some derision by a few of the stalwart progressives, you’ll notice that the February meeting of the Northern Virginia NSP is, in fact, on Feb. 11.. Personally, I’ve never been one of those progressives with a knee-jerk dismissal of sports; probably because I love to play, and only recently gave up my life-long dream of playing professional basketball.

Hey! What was it that Carl Sandburg said? “Nothing happens unless first we dream.”

On the other hand, dreaming won’t make you 6’5” when DNA offers only 5’11 ¾.”

Of course I can recite a sound, progressive critique of the horribly skewed values that lead cities and states to spend hundreds of millions on playgrounds for the rich while neglecting public schools and health care and public safety. And I can join the chorus of complaints about paying worn-out relief pitchers $5 million while paying teachers and firefighters and police officers one percent of that amount. And I can rail against the media frenzy that so easily lets us entertain ourselves to death while an unjust war rages in our name.

All those critiques of misplaced values and misspent money are spot on; but still, I watch the games, and play them myself whenever I get a chance, because I see something when I watch great athletes perform.

I see human beings fully alive, and, as Augustine said, “the glory of God is a human being fully alive.” (Check out the "Human Being ..." pictured above.)

I see human beings fully alive, seizing a moment in time to use their singular gifts and become – for a brief moment – precisely what they are called to be as athletes.

Most of us, of course, will never experience such moments when our bodies behave precisely as our minds imagine and desire. Indeed, few of us experience many moments when we feel that we are using our own gifts to become precisely what we are called to be – not as athletes, surely, but as human beings.

So, I’ll watch the game this weekend with only a smidge of liberal guilt, which I’ll set aside as I witness a small group of men try to live into their own particular calling for the one sphere of their lives lived on the field of play.

I’ll watch with jealousy – not of their skill, nor of their stardom, nor of their salaries. Rather, I’ll watch with jealousy because these guys seem to know, with great clarity, precisely what it is that they are called to do with their gifts.

Granted, if we use Frederick Buechner’s provocative definition of call – that place where your deep joy meets the world’s deep need – one can quickly question what need in the world athletes meet? Most of the answers that one could offer – beauty, excellence, play itself – are gratuitous; on the other hand, most every human culture has celebrated athletic achievement in some fashion.

That our culture and economy have created a place of incredible financial reward for certain highly marketable athletic gifts no doubt helps athletes in some sports reach clarity of purpose. I imagine multi-million dollar contracts have a way of focusing one’s attention! Still, I’m willing to bet that most of the truly gifted athletes we watch play for insane amounts of money would be playing games for nothing if the money were not there.

That’s certainly one way of measuring the deep joy dimension of call: what would you do with your time if money were no object? When Michael Jordan signed his first huge contract, he had a so-called “love of the game” provision included that allowed him to play pick-up basketball games at any time, even though that posed a considerable financial risk to his team if he were injured.

In the end, the way we spend our time is the way we spend our lives. How, then, do we measure it, and dole it out, and decide how to spend what we have been given – life itself, and our several seasons in which to live it?

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The Deciders

The weather is back to January. The war continues. Life ... and death go on as before.
So now I wonder: what would it look like across the river in DC if we took Molly Ivins' advice? In a piece last week she wrote,

We are the deciders. And every single day, every single one of us needs to step outside and take some action to help stop this war. Raise hell. Think of something to make the ridiculous look ridiculous. Make our troops know we're for them and trying to get them out of there. Hit the streets to protest Bush's proposed surge. If you can, go to the peace march in Washington on January 27. We need people in the streets, banging pots and pans and demanding, "Stop it, now!"

Marching around the capitol was a start. Those few miles of walking, a first step. But what would it look like if we the people actually decided and insisted that this war is a disaster and must be stopped now? My favorite chant at every march is "this is what democracy looks like!" I always smile as I join that one, and think, "yes, it's amazing and beautiful and incredibly messy and ineffecient." It's certainly no way to run a war. Is it any way to end one?

Monday, January 29, 2007

Martin Lederle-Ensign

Everybody ought to be able to ego-surf and find themselves somewhere in cyber space. Now my adorable 12-year-old can do so. This is him -- dressed like his dad for Halloween. Very scary.

Wake Up to Peace

It may be a bit hard to tell from this photo, but Saturday was the only warm, sunny day in a stretch of cold and dreary ones in DC. Creation itself cries out for peace.
Saturday evening at a small gathering with Michael Lerner and NSP organizers, a woman from Pax Christi noted the mix of hope and despair. She told us that, having come of age in Poland during the days of Solidarity, she could never succumb to hopelessness. She had witnessed the radical transformation of an entire society. However, she also reminded us that deep suffering had inspired that transformation and wondered how, in a society as affluent as contemporary America, any profound transformation could be inspired.
Her comments burn like fire, and remind me that the first step toward transformation of American society is to ring bells loudly enough to wake people of from the slumber of affluence that numbs us to the suffering in our midst.