Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Rory McIlroy: Who Do You Say That I Am? Part II

I have yet to hear of someone who thinks Rory McIlroy’s victory at the US Open was a bad thing for golf. Golf fans—old and new--recognize McIlroy’s landslide victory was impressive, his swing is a thing of beauty and his warm persona is a welcome one on the tour. I do not question how he did it but I do want to know how Northern Ireland has yielded two different champions, back to back.Northern Ireland, one of the four countries of the United Kingdom, is a place that knows violence and bloodshed, as well as questions of allegiance and identity all too well. You will not find a tri-color Irish flag beside Rory McIlroy’s name; he is represented by a white flag with the red hand of Ulster at its center. And just last year, I read, “Northern Ireland's Graeme McDowell wins the 110th U.S. Open” on the front of every sports page. Northern Ireland is a country of only 1.7 million, which is 30% of the island’s total population. So what gives? What is the secret to their golfing success?

The May/June 2011 issue of “Ireland of the Welcomes” reveals that “Ireland has over 400 golf courses, including one-third of the world’s links courses, and the 150,000 visitors who played golf here last year contributed an estimated 110 million Euro (US $154 million) to our economy. “ I re-read that surprising information. The Emerald Isle, a nation the size of Indiana has one-third of the world’s links courses—that staggering statistic must have something to do with McDowell and McIlroys’ success. Or so I thought until someone asked me: Does that include Northern Ireland? Honestly, I don’t know.

Said publication was from the Consulate General of Ireland. I could make a guess about that answer, but that would be presumptuous.

Questions of politics and identity are never easy to answer. And today’s Gospel reading on the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul is no different. Jesus asks his disciples "Who do you say that I am?" They are reluctant to answer; perhaps they are not sure. They said in reply, "John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others one of the prophets." But Jesus stays with the question. And he asked them, "But who do you say that I am?" He asks all of us this question.

And He should. My answer to his question reveals more than what I know about Jesus. It asks me what and who I believe he is. Faith is more than facts and information from our mind; faith asks us to speak from the heart.

When McDowell won the US Open at Pebble Beach in 2010 his words, from the heart revealed his allegiance and his identity. He thanked his friends and “so many Irish people in the crowd cheering me on. I don’t know what it is about the Irish, they seem to be everywhere.”As yet Rory has remained quiet in terms of where his allegiance lies, whether he considers himself British or Irish, unionist or nationalist. The 2010Sports Illsturated Masters Preview says "These are decisions he will have to think carefully about because like it or not, the Irish on both sides of the border are obsessed with the subject. His identity will doubtless be a talking point, perhaps not in America and perhaps not publicly either, but people from Northern Ireland, Britain and the Republic of Ireland are already talking about it and will speculate over it until his identity is revealed."

Are those 400 plus golf courses both Irish and Northern Irish? Is McIlroy’s US Open win a win for Ireland? These are questions, I invite you to think about and answer for yourself.

Photo Credits

Rory wins the US Open
Golf Course in Ireland
McDowell & McIlroy

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Mystery of Friendship: What Rules Apply?

Wimbledon certainly plays by its own set of rules. First, players are required to wear white; that absence of color is almost more striking than the vibrant colors they typically sport. Second, matches are never played on the first Sunday of the fortnight. It is a day of rest for everyone. And third, the second Tuesday of the tourney is a day for female players only. These traditions, the grass courts and the royal box—filled yesterday by none other than Will and Kate,—are but a few reasons why Wimbledon is the “crown jewel” of the Grand Slams.Great players from the past can be seen watching matches throughout the tournament. Today’s special guest was the 2011 US Open champion, Rory McIlroy. Considering that he is a good friend of Rafael Nadal’s, I would have thought he would have attended the famous "Round of 16." But, when I realized he was on hand to see the beautiful Maria Sharapova in the glory of her comeback, it’s not hard to imagine otherwise.

McIlroy, has a tennis court in the garden of his home and Nadal plays to a 7-handicap. Their respect for one another is mutual. The two athletes met during the other U.S. Open, at the U.S. National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadow, NY last September. Nadal said, “I love golf. I follow almost every week of the tour. I love watching Rory. He has one of the nicest swings in the world, if not the nicest. It's fantastic to watch him.”
The Belfast Telegraph reports, "Nadal is focused on defending his Wimbledon crown and he takes fresh inspiration from the McIlroy story as he aims to stay number one in the world in his chosen sport."

The friendships that form among athletes across sports fascinate me. I remember former tennis pro Brad Gilbert attended hundreds of Warriors games. A Piedmont native, he loved his hometown team, but he also loved his close friend, Chris Mullin. When Mullin went for his 30-day alcohol rehabilitation, Gilbert and John McEnroe were at his side. I suppose these two men understood the pressure and demands of being a professional athlete. They know what is is to live by wins and losses, what your mind and body are capable of doing or not doing.

And how two people become friends is something of a mystery. Why that friendship sustains and grows is a gift. Fueled by common interests, an unspoken attraction, respect and admiration probably have something to do with it.
But it’s not just the friendships between athletes that intrigue me, but among some spiritual heroes, too. Before her conversion, one of Dorothy Day’s favorite bar mates was the famous playwright Eugene O’Neill. According to Brennan Hill of Eight Spiritual Heroes “Gene, as she called him was not a religious man, but did in his own way carry on a serious spiritual search.” Perhaps God was pursuing Dorothy long before she ever knew it. Friends may be God’s instruments in that pursuit.

One such person—both an instrument of God’s grace in friendship and in spiritual heroism was Peter Maurin, the co-founder with Day of The Catholic Worker. Day said “her life really began when she met Maurin in 1932. He was a cross between St. Francis of Assisi and silent movie star Charlie Chaplin." And Maurin had been looking for someone like Day—someone who could implement his vision to promote the social teachings of the church. One could help him reform society and the church. That was none other than Dorothy Day. Because of Peter Maurin, Day’s personal life and her faith life would never be the same. Today, many people believe she is the single most influential American Catholic of the 20th Century.
If there is one way to describe The Catholic Worker and its houses of hospitality, it’s much like that of the Wimbledon tennis tournament. The Worker plays by its own rules. But, what you see take place at both— be it in the stands or in the line at the soup kitchen is fertile ground for nourishment of friendship. What a beautiful mystery.

Photo Credits
Wimbledon Squares
Royals at Wimbledon
Rory McIlroy and Andy Murray
Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Teardrops on the City: Remembering The Big Man--A Musician & Athlete

Not many rock bands have a sax player; and none of them had someone quite like the Big Man. He was a whole lot of things—aficionado at the saxophone, vocals, and percussion. His charismatic presence on stage was the only one to rival the Boss man’s. He transcended race, class and ideals. To Springsteen, “He was my great friend, my partner and with Clarence at my side, my band and I were able to tell a story far deeper than those simply contained in our music.” He was a lover and a fighter, a husband to several women, a fisherman and unbeknownst to me until this week—he was an athlete.

Spirituality of rock ‘n’ roll can and should claim Clemons as its own. If it hadn’t been for a car accident that blew out his knee, "sports and spirituality" might tell his tale. Brian Williams reported, “in person and on stage he was as big as a house. Big enough to play college football at Maryland” but on his way to try out for the Cleveland Browns, a serious car accident effectively ended any career plans as a lineman. Interestingly enough, Clemons attended Maryland State College on music and football scholarships. And these two domains—music and sports should never be at odds with one another, though they often are.

As fans, it’s easy to add fuel to fire, particularly when comparing and contrasting the two on the professional level, as Monica Hamilton of East Syracuse did in her May 22, 2000, Sports Illustrated “Letter to the Editor.” She wrote: A few months ago I attended a Heat game in Miami. The ticket cost $37. Recently, I attended a Bruce Springsteen concert in Hartford. That ticket cost me $37.50. Who performed for 180 minutes without so much as a 30-second timeout (Answer: The Boss). Who drank at least three gallons of Gatorade and sponged himself off eight times while giving his fans their money’s worth? (The Boss.) Who has the best “big man” who plays a mean sax and could probably dunk a basketball (The Boss). I only have one question: Mr. Springsteen, how can I purchase season tickets to you?

Hamilton’s analogy works. Springsteen and the E Street band were masters of the live performance. Patti Scialfa said that during the 1984 “Born in the USA” tour, “the band was 189 for 189.” And I thought baseball players had a demanding schedule. But what’s hard for me to reconcile is that the Big Man was always at the heart of this line-up.When Danny Federici died in 2008, I began to confront the mortality of my favorite group of musicians. “4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)” remains one of my top five favorite songs, but the band does not play it in the same way since the organist, "Phantom Dan" died too early, of melanoma.

Truly, I love every member of the E Street band. (It sickens me that they are not in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame). I can tell you their hometown and all the instruments they play. They each have a special place on the stage and in my heart, but the Big Man has left a bigger hole in both.

As my co-worker and friend John said “I didn’t expect to shed tears…but I did.” John, you’re not the only one…Teardrops are all over the city as we recognize Clarence Clemons, all 6’5” an 275 plus pounds of him. He may have been "the Big Man" on the field and on the stage, but the legacy he left is even bigger.

As Bruce said: I want to thank you Big Man. I love you so much.

Photo Credits
Phantom Dan
The Biggest Man

Monday, June 13, 2011

Spirituality & Rock 'N' Roll: Clarence "Big Man" Clemons

"Well the change was made uptown and the Bigman joined the band...." –Tenth Avenue Freezeout, Bruce SpringsteenAt SI we made our own change; I will teach a senior elective “Sports & Spirituality: We Are All Witnesses” in the 2011-2012 school year. The entire course is rooted in analogy—a literary device that draws a comparison between two things, typically on the basis of their structure and for the purpose of explanation or clarification. Believe it or not, it is also a principle of Catholic Spirituality. This gives me creative license to lead my students in thinking differently about the Catholic faith.

Analogy seeks to illuminate similarity in difference. It is a Catholic principle because a fundamental principle of Catholic spirituality is “sacramentality,” or as St. Ignatius would say, God can be found in all things. God is not an either/or proposition; it’s not human or divine, black or white, yes or no. With a Catholic worldview, God is “both/and.”

I believe that if you know what spirituality is, you can draw the analogy between it and anything you are passionate about, anything that lifts the human spirit, that calls attention to beauty—to aching pain and delicious hope. One area that I could easily pursue and many already have is Spirituality and Rock ‘n’ Roll.

In that light, I woke up this morning to read Clarence Clemons, the beloved saxophone player in the E Street band suffered a stroke. I have taken notice that E Street is getting older; with every tour I have wondered how much longer they can do it. “The Big Man” is the oldest member, and the biggest one—both in size and in personality. And his words about the “Workin’ on a Dream” tour prove just that.

"With all that pain and agony I went through on the last tour — I'd do it again. There's something about being on stage. I call it the Healing Floor. I do all this shit up there and then I think back later and say, 'How the hell did I do that?' But it's what I'm supposed to do. It revives me." via Peter Ames CarlinHis insight made me reflect on what in my own life has been tremendously challenging or difficult—but totally worth it. And of course “the Big Man” would refer to the stage as “the healing floor,” for his spirituality is imminent. As I read that description I asked myself—what is my “healing floor?” For many years it has been pounding the pavement as I log in the miles. I wondered how many athletes see the court or the field as their “healing floor?” How many do not? And it IS what he’s supposed to do. There’s something we’re all supposed to do that will revive us. That’s where our spirituality can be revealed—in our own lived experience.

Springsteen and E Street opened the WOAD tour in the Bay Area. The very next day, local rock radio station KFOG said “The world is a much better place because of the man and the music of Bruce Springsteen.” Sorry KFOG it’s “Both/And” The world is a better place because of BOTH Bruce Springsteen (the man/music) AND E Street (the men/women and their music).

As the official Boss Fanzine Backstreets wrote "The Healing Floor awaits, Clarence. We're hoping and praying you'll be there again soon."

Photo Credits
Classic Big Man and the Boss
Seeger Sessions Tour Photo
The Healing Floor

Monday, June 6, 2011

The Language of Love via the French Open & L'Arche

The 2011 French Open marked the seventh meeting of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal in a Grand Slam final. I waited to watch the trophy ceremony in anticipation of discovering one thing—I wanted to know in what language they would address the crowd. Tennis is such an international sport and I have often wondered what language the players default to when they exchange more than a handshake after a good match. What I saw and heard fascinated me, for language transmits more than words and emotions—I believe it reveals both the limitations and the beauty of our humanity.
In his defeat, Federer was called to take the microphone first. He spoke in French with ease and confidence to the crowd at Roland Garros. They were already pulling for him and the fact that he addressed them graciously in their language was the “icing on the cake.” As he spoke, I wondered how many other languages he knows. I have heard him speak in English many times. Perhaps he knows Italian or German. Is Germanic-Swiss the Basil native’s first language? Must be nice… When it was time for Nadal to behold his sixth French Open trophy, he tried but humbly admitted that he did not know French, only English or Spanish. He congratulated and thanked Federer for another tough match. Those are tough words—they are important to say to one’s opponent, but also difficult to hear (as the opponent). Still, Nadal has tremendous respect for Fed and the authenticity of his message knows no language barrier.

He then was so overcome with emotion that he began to speak in Spanish, his first language. You could see him relax. His body language in addition to his native tongue revealed how grateful he was for the support of his family members. He was glad to be healthy again. He loves the game and he loves to win, but it was obvious to me that he loves his country as well. Language is so tied to culture and this young man from Mallorca was unable to hold back the tears as they raised the Spanish flag and played his national anthem. 

Just 10 hours after the conclusion of the French Open, I arrived in Tacoma, Washington for a two-week Immersion with students from St. Ignatius. We were welcomed into a new community and culture: L’Arche. L’Arche seeks to “create communities which welcome people with a mental handicap. L’Arche aims to respond to the distress of those who are too often rejected, and give them a valid place in society. In a divided world, L’Arche wants to be a sign of hope as it seeks to reveal the particular gifts of these people with varying levels of developmental disabilities." 
We met many core-members (they don’t refer to people with disabilities here as clients) and “live-ins” (assistants) but we spent most of the evening with Doug, a live-in who is able to maintain some independence within the community. He showed us a rose bush he planted to honor his deceased parents. He was proud to share a shed he built and the barbeque that is “his baby.” At times, he is very hard to understand due to a significant speech impediment but those who live with him fully understand what he is able to say.

At the end of our day, one of my students said, “I can’t wait to learn his language.” I was moved by her desire to know and understand what he wants to share with us. And they will understand his language—because this place has a way of breaking open our humanity. L’Arche recognizes this as a fundamental truth. “Whatever their gifts or their limitation, people are bound together in a common humanity.” 
We also met a woman Nancy, who is confined to her wheelchair. Although she cannot speak, she is able to communicate with us through sign language. Her language is intuitive and something we are anxious to learn; she has already taught us the alphabet and colors. 

 Another fundamental principle of L’Arche is “People with a mental handicap often posses qualities of welcome, wonderment, spontaneity and directness. They are able to touch hearts an to call others to unity through their simplicity and vulnerability.” Nancy taught us something so basic—her language. And in doing that, she confirmed that anyone can be a teacher; we enjoyed being her students.  A disability does not necessarily mean an inability. 

L’Arche believes “that the deepest need of human beings is to love and be loved.” What has been quite obvious in our short time here is that the language that underscores all that people do here is love. Words are often remiss when it comes to love, but in terms of communicating that language, each individual finds their own way to speak it. 
Much in the same way that Fed and Nadal found their own way to communicate to one another, their loyal fans and all those who love and respect the game of tennis in the way that they do. And the larger truth is that our common humanity reveals that we will find a way to share our emotions--the highs and lows, the good and bad regardless of the language we speak...French, Spanish, English, Sign, etc. as I witnessed at the trophy ceremony and L'Arche today. 

Photo Credits:
Nadal Wins #6