Thursday, February 5, 2015

Janis Joplin Walks into a Sports & Spirituality Class...

I've read that it takes three weeks to form a new habit. Other sources say on average two months. On January I wrote "New Year's Resolutions 2015: To Laugh Often and Loud." Six weeks later the fact that I'm even still writing about my New Year's "habit?!" means something must be going right. Maybe it's because I picked a fun challenge. Perhaps its because I am equipped with a few tools to build the habit. I am very proud to reveal one great source of success: my students.

Teaching high school demands a sense of humor; I'm sure many students would say surviving it does too. But the jokes that were rolling in my Sports & Spirituality class are worth sharing. Not only are they funny, they reveal some interesting information about both sports and about spirituality! Here we go...

My seniors are required to read Ron Rolheiser's "What is Spirituality?" It is a fundamental to understanding the relationship between Sports and Spirituality. Rolheiser says that our spirituality is what we do with our madness, how we channel the "fire" in us, what shapes our actions, what we do with our desire and how we handle our eros.

He adds, "everyone has to have a spirituality and everyone does have one, either a life-giving one or a destructive one." How or why does everyone have a spirituality? Because desire is our fundamental dis-ease; it is always stronger than satisfaction. How we handle our desire? THAT is our spirituality. So what might be a life-giving one? What might a destructive one look like? He offers some examples.

Mother Teresa: It's easy for us to think of Mother Teresa as spiritual but not as erotic—but she was. She channeled her eros by totally giving her life to the poor. And she did this because she loved Christ. Christ Himself was poor. To serve the poor is to serve Christ. He said "that which you have done for the least of my people, you have done for me."

Ultimately her spirituality was life-giving. Not only did she affirm the dignity of the untouchables—the lepers of today's society, but her spirituality was integrated. How? Its focus was singular. She an outstanding example of Kierkegaard's definition of a saint: "someone who can will the one thing."

Go MT go!

Janis Joplin: Rolheiser believes that it's not a stretch to think of Joplin erotic, but do we think of her as spiritual? Not so much! But she was. Joplin was full of passion and desire. She once said, "On stage, I make love to 25,000 people different people, then I go home alone."

Ultimately her spirituality was destructive. She died at the age of 27 from a drug overdose. Rolheiser says "she was also an exceptional woman, a person of fiery eros, a great lover, a person with a rare energy that went in too many directions." Sex, drugs, rock n roll, creativity...all that madness and desire. It disintegrated her very life.

But, before this conversation took place, I had to make sure my students know who Janis Joplin is. I told them "I hope you all have a family member who mentors and educates you about great music from before your time. I was blessed with an uncle who passed on his love for three greats: Elvis, Bob Dylan, and Bruce Springsteen. Two out of three stuck (sorry Uncle Mark!!)."

New Year's Resolution Unfolds: I don't know that anyone is going to extoll the virtues of Joplin's music in their life...and I'm not a big fan myself, but I do live six blocks from a historic, iconic venue she once played at very often: Fillmore West. I thought she might be of interest to them because the "Summer of Love" took place in our very city. I looked around the room and said "And guess where she lived! Anyone? Anyone?"People know to answer "the Haight" in reference to the Haight Ashbury neighborhood, but Joplin also lived in Marin. It is one of the few places I know of in the US where people identify their home by their county before their town.

Marin County is affluent. It lacks diversity. It's natural beauty is stunning. Nearly 15% of our student body considers it home. It's also a hot bed for one of the fastest growing sports in America. One that is known for sticks and bros, Ivy League schools and bad boys (please forgive the sweeping generalization for style's sake).

When my students found out she lived in Marin, those who live there cheered. One city kid immediately said "Did she play lacrosse?"

The entire class erupted in laughter. His timing, the black and white image up on the power point in contrast to the mental image of a lax bro from Marin. Hilarious.

I then played a brief clip of Joplin singing "Another Piece of My Heart" so they could hear the passion in her music. We watched a minute of the YouTube clip and I was excited to report that Rolling Stone said she has "the number one female rock voice." Students informally discussed what constitutes a "rock voice" (one of my favorite topics!) and I look over to a student I know and love well. A talented guitar player and singer, she immediately said "that's what I sound like in the morning." For some reason, I quipped back "that's what you look like in the morning too" to which she responds "I was wondering how you got my selfie from this morning." Our class loved the spar. Everyone was laughing.

That's just a great day of teaching Sports and Spirituality. It's not a leap to admit it's a spiritual place for me. It's where I channel my eros and help student discover their deepest desires. It's also where my New Year's Resolution is becoming a habit. I hope for a few more good laugh—and loud ones.

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