Friday, September 23, 2011

Moneyball: Not Spiritual

"Moneyball," a drama film starring Brad Pitt as the Oakland A's General Manager, Billy Beane premieres in theaters on Friday, September 23. The film, based on Michael Lewis’ book by the same name, features the story of Billy Beane's success in using data analytics to draft players and create a winning team, specifically during the onset of the 2002 season.

The opening scene features Beane sitting solo inside an unlit Oakland Coliseum. He looks upon the now empty field, where ghosts may roam, dreaming about winning “the last game of the season” as a cheers from World Series game are broadcast in the background. The lighting, his pensive gaze, the palpable desire in his stance, would suggest you are about to embark on a story—a true one—that is very spiritual. It’s not.

These days I watch every sports story through a spiritual lens. Although "Moneyball" presented themes that resonate with spirituality such tenacity, commitment to a dream, vision and creativity—I left the world premiere thinking, What happened? Why did it fall flat?

Perhaps it is spiritually vapid because the story is one of economics; it is a tale of one man’s plight to create a competitive baseball team at a fraction of the cost of the large market teams. Perhaps I am asking too much…and yet, I don’t think so.Billy Beane is a complex character. He played in Major League Baseball for five years but as the GM he is "all business;" he does not watch the game. He tells his assistant to text him with the ball scores. Rather than sitting in the not so cheap seats, Beane works out in the gym underneath the Coliseum. The dark lighting, the dated, inadequate equipment leave you questioning why he chooses the world he has created.

You might ask Does the protagonist find redemption? What could be more spiritual than that? Yes and no. Beane claims that he “hates losing more than he likes winning.” The movie ends as it begins. Perhaps his spiritual journey is incomplete. The quest continues…I suppose it does for all of us.

The evening however was not spiritually devoid. I was fortunate enough to attend the world premiere at Oakland’s Paramount theater as a benefit for the Oakland A’s community fund. It was obvious that everyone in attendance had a deep familiarity and affection for the Athletics. The packed house was filled with the actors—yes even Brad Pitt, but also former and current A’s players and their loyal fans. The fans, like those who fill the seats during the 20-game win streak were electric. Their passion for this team was revealed as the movie relived every great game, good hit, and big win. This crowd knew the losses but they also knew the sweet taste of victory. I think it was enough for all of least on this night.

Go see Moneyball and put on your spiritual lenses. I welcome your thoughts!

Photo Credits
Moneyball Poster
Moneyball Poster II
Paramount Theater--my iPhone!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Coaching as Ministry...and as Evangelization

"Yours is a share in the work of the Lord's Spirit who makes of us one bread, one body, the cup of blessing. Yours is a work of ministering Christ's body and blood to the body of Christ, the Church. Yours is service at the Lord's reconciling table, You minister holy food to holy people in the holiest of all communions." -Eucharistic Minister Handbook

It was only Wednesday of the first week back at school and I was completely exhausted. But, I wasn’t so tired that I couldn’t make it to the social that followed the Fall sports parents’ meeting. While there, I noticed how many members of the Jesuit community came to welcome us—a group that leads 23 athletic teams.
The fall season at St. Ignatius College Prep is comprised of seven different sports, fielding over 500 student athletes. Although no Jesuit coaches a fall sport, many serve as team chaplains and boosters. I have become friends with several of them while watching boys’ volleyball and girls’ basketball games. Nothing builds a friendship like a common interest in sports. And little did I know, nothing builds the faith life of a young person like a coach who participates in a school’s liturgy.

Andrew, a novice Jesuit asked the coaches if we would be willing to serve as Eucharistic ministers. He said “this year we are making a concerted effort to extend the invitation to coaches. When a coach holds the Eucharist with respect and reverence, their athletes take notice. Truly it’s another form of evangelization.”

I never had a coach who was a Eucharistic minister. I wonder how I might have seen him or her differently and what the sharing of the sacrament would signify to my teammates and me. I wonder how a young person who is really questioning their faith might be nourished by the Eucharist a little differently because they see their coach hold and distribute it with the "respect and reverence" that Andrew mentioned.

I was humbled by his beautiful insight on what I considered a simple task. The priest mediates the sacrament—transforming the bread into Jesus’ body and blood. But, lay and religious, old and young, male and female, coaches and teachers, even student athletes participate in the distribution of it! And even those who are not Catholic are called to participate. At SI, we offer a special blessing to anyone who wishes to receive it. They join the community and approach the Eucharistic minister with their arms crossed over their chest. As coaches extend this blessing—again, they are evangelizing.But herein lies the paradox—the seemingly simple task is actually quite profound. I had no idea that sharing in the work of the Lord's Spirit was evangelization. The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines evangelization as: “the proclamation of Christ and His Gospel by word and the testimony of life, in fulfillment of Christ’s command.” Of course it is evangelization, for what does a Eucharistic minister say? “The Body of Christ.” How clearly we proclaim Christ Jesus at communion!

The National Directory for Catechesis (NDC) "places evangelization at the core of ministry to fire a new energy and commitment to proclaim the Gospel." I definitely view coaching as a ministry. To know that my ministry is not limited to the field, to know and believe that it is also at Friday Morning liturgy for both my students and my athletes is an awesome responsibility. I hope my fellow coaches will join me. After all, "Victory is ours for those who love Christ Jesus!"

Photo Credits

Fall Sports
Eucharistic Minister Symbol
Student as a Eucharistic minister