Monday, December 31, 2012

My Favorite Sports Moment 2012: #RallyZito

I love to be proven wrong. Perhaps that’s why I teach high school-- adolescents are no different. I read it on every evaluation of my course: “I was initially skeptical about the connection between sports and spirituality. I now understand….” Teens like to be proven wrong because they enjoy figuring things out for themselves. If you have a teenager, heed my simple advice: don’t give them any. Lead by example and let them do the rest. Life will prove them wrong about many things, but they wouldn’t have it any other way. 
I like to be proven wrong because I like surprises.  I enjoy seeing the unexpected blossom and bear fruit. So, what could be a more fitting way than to describe my favorite sports moment of 2012: Game 5 of the National League Championship Series?!

Friday night in St. Louis: the Giants were down 1-3 in the series and this was the elimination game. Everyone wondered if Giants’ manager Bruce Bochy would stay with Barry Zito as the starter. He pitched all of 2 2/3 innings in Game 4 of the National League Division Series against the Reds. He allowed four hits and four walks. However, we won. Bullpen by committee.
Zito faithful launched a #RallyZito campaign via Twitter.  The fictional picture of Zeets riding a unicorn fit the part. Here was a guy raised out of the box. In the interview, Barry Zito: Play-off hero, he says “From a spiritual side, my grandmother founded a religion [Teachings of the Inner Christ] and a teaching center in the ‘60s in San Diego, and I was raised on that. That’s where a lot of the eccentric, Zen things come from.”  I wasn’t interested in Zen. We needed Ks and Ks (backwards—the symbol for when a batter is caught looking…thanks for the reminder Mike!) 

He got out of a two-on no out jam in the second inning; he laid down a bunt for a single and completed 7 2/3 innings of shutout baseball. The momentum continued to build; Giants won 5-0. The winning never stopped. 
People give Hunter Pence a lot of credit for his inspirational speech in the dugout—a rally cry, if you will. But Zeets did what speaks to teens—he led by example.  The rest of the Giants’ pitching staff followed his lead.

To confirm my appreciation, I made the pledge (albeit in a bar) that if the Giants won the NLCS title, I would purchase and wear a Zito 75 shirt.  After that game, how could I not make good on my word? 

In “Life Lessons from the Spiritual Southpaw,” I threw a lot of stones at Barry Zito because of the size of his contract and lack of player development. I delighted in not seeing his name on the 2010 post-season roster. But something was different in 2012. I knew he was quietly contributing all season long, and I didn’t want to give him credit. He became the fifth starter on the post-season roster, while the all-star from 2010 was relegated to the bullpen. I held on to my suspicions but desperately wanted to be proven wrong. The World Series was at stake!

When Zito pitched Game 1 of the World Series, I ate crow and loved doing so.  I wore my 75 Zito shirt with sheer delight and enjoyed an article my brother sent me from ESPN magazine about the lucky lefty.  Once again, I was proven wrong about how he is, even about his spirituality…and I love that. 

From ESPN Magazine's Barry Zito:Play-off Hero

KEOWN: Your faith seems to enter into your conversation more these days. How did that come about?

 I  But I just needed more structure, and sometimes you have to go through difficulty and physical trials to really get broken down. In 2011, I got broken down physically as well as mentally. In August of that year, I committed my life to God. I realized I'd been relying on my own strength for so long and, man, I'd been wearing it. I've been wearing it like no one in my circle. So this was about finding a strength outside of myself. The way I was raised, that's a concept I never would have given any credence.
KEOWN: What was the impetus or the moment that precipitated it?

I had this very odd injury in April of 2011. It's mostly a football injury -- Lisfranc ligament tear -- and I came off the field that day after never being hurt in 11 years, and I said, "All right, something bigger is going on here. A message is being sent, and I've got to listen." A few months later, I realized I'd been doing it alone. My best friend told me an old story I really love. A shepherd will be leading his sheep, and one of the sheep will be walking astray from the pack. The shepherd will take his rod and break the sheep's leg, and the sheep will have to rely on the shepherd to get better. But once that leg is completely healed, that sheep never leaves the side of the shepherd ever again. That's a really beautiful metaphor. A lot of things happen to us as people, and we realize we've been relying on our own strength for too long. Last September, I got a tattoo, and it's the only one I have, of a golden calf on the inside of my right bicep. I show people that, and it signifies idolatry and that I was putting things before God. I haven't talked much about this. When I committed with my chaplain, he said, "You don't need to go around telling people this stuff. There will come a time and a place." I guess that's a change for me too. I used to kind of dig attention. Now I'm seeking deeper fulfillment.

2012: thanks for some wonderful sports memories.  BZ, thank you for my favorite.

Photo Credits

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Sports Moments in 2012: What is your favorite?

When I was seven years old, I had the most memorable, magical Christmas.  My family traveled north to Tacoma, WA to be with my dad’s side of the family.  It was a treat to be in a place where we might actually have a white Christmas and where I got to open the majority of my presents a little ealier—after Mass on Christmas Eve.  I woke up on Christmas day to find that Santa left his lot and a stocking full of treats.  I tore through my gifts and my mom informed me that I had one more.  From behind the tree, came a beautiful sight—a wondrous creation.  It was a huge, plush white unicorn with a necklace of flowers around its neck.  I hugged this magical creation and named it Crystal.  Who knew that this same creature would serve as the symbol for what I consider my favorite sports memory of 2012.

It’s a fun question to ask people. What is your favorite sports moment from 2012?  And I recommend doing so. Some responses will be more common than others, but some will surprise you.  Perhaps that was Sports Illustrated’s intention as the writers decided this question would serve as the theme for the final issue of the year: Fans’ Choice for the Best Moment of 2012.  Two Manning Miracles!  Two Giants Comebacks! But Only One Michael Phelps.

The December 31st issue reminded me that different fans have different loyalties and different loves.  Regardless, reviewing a year through the lens of sport is easy and fun.  And it resonates with this time of year—a time when we should stand before God with awe and wonder, joy and delight.  It may seem like an odd prayer at first, but I take such joy in talking about my sports moment of the year, I can’t help but thank the good Lord for the memory and the people I shared it with.

Is your favorite sports moment one from the 2012 Olympics—the London Games?  Did it involve the rise of Linsanity?  For Notre Dame fans, it might not be a single game, but an undefeated season. For many people in San Francisco, it could be the NFC Championship game when the 49ers defeated the New Orleans Saints.  Or our second World Series title in three years.  To look through Sports Illustrated, I was reminded that my lens on the sports world often revolves around my teams; the image on the Table of Contents page didn’t feature the perfect game of San Francisco Giants pitcher Matt Cain.  No, it was Seattle Mariner Felix Hernandez.  He was one of three pitchers who threw a perfect game this season.  But one’s favorite moment is personal….so let it be yours and only yours. 
Tomorrow I will share why the game now affectionately known as “Rally Zito,” the game that sought fan support by a picture of 75 riding a unicorn all over Twitter is my favorite sports moment from 2012.

And, If I see you at a New Year’s eve party, get ready for this question.  I can’t wait to hear your answer.  If it involves Zeets, we can compare notes.

Photo Credits
Zito's Unicorn

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Bo Jackson: To Win is to Honor....

In the Spring of 2009, I interviewed Oregon golf coach Casey Martin about sports and spirituality. When I asked him to respond to Eric Liddell’s quote “To win is to honor Him” he had quite a reaction. "No. No.  I do not agree. I understand what he means, but look at the opposite. What? To lose is to dishonor Him? I don’t agree."

That ended that conversation.

But, I couldn’t shake Liddell’s conviction. Perhaps the director of Chariots of Fire had me fooled as I saw Liddell running slow motion against the glorious soundtrack as his words replete with a Scottish brogue echoed over the roar of a hushed crowd. It was a sight to see; a belief to consider. As much as I understood Martin’s sentiment, I leaned toward Liddell's.  And then I watched a new 30 for 30: You Don’t Know Bo. One powerful vignette, the only one in which Jackson came to tears, illustrated Liddell’s conviction more powerfully and beautifully than I thought possible.
Bo Jackson captivated my imagination in the '80s-'90s and has since I watched the program. This documentary about a man who once jumped over a VW Bug on a whim, who did a standing backflip in a lake, and made a catch eight feet off the ground against an outfield wall that prompted the announcer to declare “Get up that wall Spiderman!” serves as but another example of why I don’t read fiction. When you have an athlete and a person like Bo Jackson, you don’t need to. 

A baseball player first, Jackson met incredible success on the gridiron (winning the 1985 Heisman trophy playing for Auburn). He was the first athlete to be named an All-Star in both sports. But what’s interesting about Jackson is while most baseball players hunt, fish or engage in other hobbies in the off-season; Jackson said, “football is my hobby.” Nike capitalized on this reality with many slogans related to Bo, this one being “Another day, Another Hobby.” Must be nice.
Despite the larger than life tone of many of Nike’s advertisements, Bo Jackson isn’t.  He is remarkably soft-spoken. His spirit truly speaks for itself. It could be his humble upbringing—he was one of ten children raised in a two-bedroom home in Bessemer, Alabama. His father was never in his life and he struggled with a stuttering problem as a young man. 

While the world may look at Jackson and recognize was he didn’t have in his youth, Bo knows what he did.
God blessed me the speed that I can like I can run like a spooked deer
He blessed me with great hand-eye coordination
He blessed me with the arm like a high-powered rifle
And with all those tangibles, you’ve gotta be successful at something
You gotta be successful at something that you do
My niche fell on the baseball and football field. 
My heart broke as he recounted how his football career came to an end. The program must have shown the tackle by Kevin Walker of the Cincinnati Bengals at least fifteen times. I didn’t think much of it. No one would.  However, in an interview on Untold, his Royals teammate George Brett, who attended the game, said he asked the trainer what had happened to Bo. The trainer replied, "Bo says he felt his hip come out of the socket, so he popped it back in, but that's just impossible, no one's that strong.” Ultimately, Bo would have the hip replaced. 
The Royals decided a new hip wasn’t the only necessary replacement. When they released him, Jackson—a formidable competitor and glutton for pain cried. He didn’t cry because he wasn’t sure if he would compete again. No, Bo said,“I will be back.” Instead, he said, “The tears are because I am leaving so many good friends.” Bo knows loyalty.

The program moves through Jackson’s rehabilitation. It easy to see that he got in the best shape of his life. Even if football was out of the question, it was hard not to wonder what he might do for baseball. Instead, the next scene flashes to a photo of Bo and his mother, Florence. He said,
Couple years before my come back, my mother was diagnosed with colon cancer. And before she passed away, she asked me if I was going to try to go back and play baseball and I said, “If I rehab well enough, to play baseball I will and if I do the first hit will be for you.”  
With the Chicago White Sox, he took Neal Heaton of the New York Yankees deep on the first pitch of his very first at bat. A home run. 
All my teammates came up and gave me a high-five. Cheering, hugging and jumping. And the gentleman who caught that ball, he gave it back to because I promised my mother that that hit would be for her. So about a week or two later, I had that ball encased in a solid piece of acrylic and it’s molded to her dresser in her bedroom at home.  
Tears from Jackson and from me. "To win is to honor Him." And in this story, To win is to honor Her. Bo Jackson articulated his gifts and talents so clearly. To use them for his fans, his teammates and himself, to use them to glorify all that God has given and his mother helped him to be—that is a victory.

If you watch one program this holiday season, I recommend that you watch You Don’t Know BoYou should know him.

Photo Credits
Bo Knows
30 For 30

Monday, December 17, 2012

Week 3 of Advent: Time to Rejoice...Even When We Don't Want To

We lit the third candle on the Advent wreath,  one that is a rose or pink color, because today is Gaudete Sunday.  Gaudete is Latin for "rejoice" and that is the theme of the Gospel readings.  In light of the tragedy that occurred in Newton, CT--another school shooting resulting in the senseless deaths of 26 people, the last thing I want to hear right now "rejoice."
Even if the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary school had never taken place, being told--no commanded--to rejoice seems odd.  Shouldn't the action of rejoicing be an act that comes from within?  Shouldn't it be a response to goodness, triumph and light?  Yes, it should but we humans are forgetful creatures.

When it's an easy time to rejoice, we often don't.  I know I often all that I have been given for granted.  In the midst of difficult times, it's even harder to rejoice.  But this Sunday of Advent tells us to look ahead.  Indeed, we need a reminder to take the long look.  It helps to hear this from another. Once again, enter in John the Baptist.

St. John the Baptist was a witness to one thing: Jesus the Christ.  He lived his life for one cause: Jesus, Emmanuel.  John tells us to rejoice because he knows what Christ will bring.  Jesus' name reveals His gift: He is the Prince of Peace.
Reminders to keep pace or keep a mindset are not foreign to me.  I ran varsity track all four years of high school.  My event was the 2-mile but as distance runners know, it's important to run both--one for speed and one for stamina.  Despite my preference, I had a better strategy for the mile--the four laps on the track were much easier to manage than eight long ones.  I share that same advice with my runners today.  They are fitting for the season of Advent.

The first lap is fast.  As runners get out of the gate, they are seeking to find their pace. The nervous energy carries you through the entire 400 meters.  The first week of Advent is no different.  When Advent begins, it's hard to believe we are in the race, the rush of Christmas time.

The second lap is challenging, but a runner still has their speed and strength at their side.  Although the initial adrenaline from the race's start has waned, this lap is one by which to keep focus.  A runner's placement is more determined as pace groups form.  The only place to look is ahead.  Self-talk is importnat: the race is still mine.  This week of Advent becomes every person's own challenge.  John the Baptist urges us to "prepare ye the way of the Lord."  How you do that and how I do that is different.  We each run our own race.

It is no great secret that the third lap requires the most focus.  The first 200m of that race is often considered "the forgotten leg."  Runners have just cleared the half way point.  Like this Sunday of Advent, it should be a time to rejoice! because the hard work is behind us.  Focus on the here and now.  One 200m leg at a time.  In Advent, that pink candle is a visual reminder, a sign of encouragement--there is but one week, one lap left.
At the beginning of that fourth and final lap, the starter sounds a gun.  The shot tells the crowd and the competition that the final push is on.  Runners pick up the pace. The crowd looks in anticipation for the finish.  So often, it's as though that final week of Advent is a blur.  Our sights are set on December 25, but we cannot get there without the toil of the last leg.  Let the cheering carry you forward, but complete each step with heightened focus and intentionality.  It's needed, it's necessary.

As the pink candle burns this week, let us remember that forgotten leg...that call to rejoice....that reminder we are almost there.  The Prince of Peace will again be born into the world and into our hearts this Christmas.  Each and every age recognizes the need for His presence.  We feel it today more than ever.

Photo Credits
Gaudete Sunday
high school track
Lone runner
Advent Words

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Preparation...and Forgiveness: What We Can Learn from the Dallas Cowboys Accident

Yum!  This breakfast casserole is delicious.  Everyone at the table nodded in agreement.  We couldn’t talk because our mouths were full with the scrumptious egg-cheese delight. "It was my mother’s recipe," the hostess said. "I love making it because it is one of those that you can prepare the night before." Three of the twelve people at the table knew the significance of that statement; to the others, her insight fell on deaf ears. 

People who plan and host a party on a regular basis know just how critical getting things done the night before can be.  Preparing a main dish can free one up to tend to the details and enjoy the event that much more.  As John Wooden said “failing to plan is planning to fail.”

But so much planning goes unseen. We only see the fruits of their labor.  Therefore, it helps to have a reminder for how to plan and encouragement to do so.  Enter in St. John the Baptist. In the Advent Gospel, John tells us to “Prepare ye the way.”  He proclaims a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  What does this mean? 
St. John the Baptist does what Jim Heft, SM in “What Does It Mean to Be Catholic” claims that the saints do.  “Saints don't point to themselves, but to God.”  John the Baptist always points to Jesus; he leads us to Him.  He urges us to prepare our hearts for His birth because repentance is trying; forgiveness is just so difficult.  But John reminds us that with Jesus, we need not undertake such challenges alone.    

No, Christ Jesus will make the way of redemption easy for us. Depths and gorges will be filled in. Pathways and winding roads will be made straight. Rough ways will be made smooth. Jesus is our companion and He is our guide.  We are called to welcome Him into our homes and our hearts—but that requires some preparation on our part.  Such preparation will allow for the gift of joy not just on Christmas day, but also throughout the year. 

So how can we prepare?  I thought the recent tragedy—involving two Dallas Cowboy football players serves as an poignant example.
The story of the car accident caused by the DUI of Josh Brent resulting in the death of Jerry Brown is utterly tragic—it reflects irresponsibility and misfortune.  This incident marks Josh Brent’s second offense (he was pleaded guilty in 2009 for a D.U.I.).  Brent, the driver, left the scene of the accident with minor scrapes and without Jerry Brown—his college roommate, teammate and close friend.  It’s safe to say he left his hopes and aspirations with the NFL there too. 

But the story doesn’t end in the literal and symbolic deaths that occurred that night.  In an amazing act of forgiveness, the Stacey Jackson, the mother of Jerry Brown invited her son's teammate, Josh Brent, to the funeral.  Her invitation was not just lip service.  No.  According to Yahoo News Jackson asked that Brent meet the family at the airport, ride with her to the service, and sit with the family while Brown was remembered.
"I was upset, but I realized that our youth today are young and stupid, and we were all once that age, and we've all done things we're not proud of," Jackson said on Monday's "Piers Morgan Tonight" show on CNN. "I realized that everyone thinks they're invincible, and everyone thinks, 'it's not going to happen to me.' I know Josh Brent, and he's been part of our family since Jerry went to the University of Illinois -- all I can do is to pray for him and his family. I know [Brent] is hurting just as much as we are, because [he] and Jerry were like brothers."

Her invitation models forgiveness.  Her action, demonstrating forgiveness astounds me because it is so generous, it required great courage.  It is a true act of love.  But she did not do it alone.  Jackson, a Christian has Jesus as her guide.  Perhaps He made her pathway and road to her son’s funeral a little more smooth than anyone dare dreamt possible.

I cannot begin to make sense of many of the tragedies that occur in our communities and in this country.  I have no idea of how the recent shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School can relate to forgiveness.  I do know however that for the Prince of Peace to be born in our world and in ourselves this Christmas it requires some preparation.  Some personal and communal acts of love.  The one I am working on is forgiveness.  I pray that Josh Brent can forgive himself for choices he made.  I hope our community can model the courageous invitation of Stacey Jackson--her gift to the world this Christmas season.

Photo Credits

Friday, December 7, 2012

Manti Te'o: Living Legend

What can I say about Heisman hopeful Manti Te’o that hasn’t already been said? Even the most devout ND fan will admit this team would not be 12-0 without him. His journey from Hawaii to South Bend and now from Notre Dame to Miami for the BCS title game has put him on a regional cover of Sports Illustrated and his team on the national cover for the first time since Sept. 30, 2002, (an issue that featured receiver Maurice Stovall after a win at Michigan State). The paradox of his season—tremendous personal loss amidst win after win, week after week is but a part of this story.  What is there to say about Manti Te’o (other than a pronunciation key—it’s man-tie).  It’s what NFL Hall of Fame Tight End Dave Casper said about him—he’s a living legend.

I attended a breakfast of past-presidents of the San Francisco Notre Dame AlumniClub. We met to discuss ways to keep alumni involved and increase outreach. But, it’s hard not to discuss Notre Dame football, especially when you have a team with an undefeated season. Casper, a member of the ’73 National Championship team that beat Alabama, joined this meeting/roast and said something I had not considered.  “The University hasn’t had an athlete this beloved by the students and alumni in years. He’s already a legend.” When a man who is a legend himself confers that to another player, it’s hard not to listen.

I was then reminded of what my friend Mike Caponigro ‘90, co-creator of the “Catholics vs. Convicts” T-shirt told me.   “Te’o might be my favorite player of all time.” At the time, I thought he was gushing.  And then I realized he wasn’t; nor are the hundreds of other people I have heard this from.

So what would I like to say about this living legend? 

I love his spirit.  It’s hard not to when I read “if Te’o sees a student sitting alone at dinner, he’ll invite him to his table.”  At 6’2, 225 pounds, I’m not sure I would could “no” to such an invitation. And considering that he is now the most widely recognized student on campus I wouldn’t want to.  But this gesture is both so simple and so rare.  As a member of a school community, I know this happens too often.  Students sincerely and deeply appreciate the student who is able to extend hospitality to a stranger, who can make a peer feel included. 
For Manti, this may be second nature.  He is also known for greeting everyone—cooks, walk-ons and dorm neighbors—by name, but I also have no doubt that same spirit has translated to the chemistry this team has on the field, yielding 12 wins.

I love his spirituality. Named after a warrior in The Book of Mormon, it’s no secret that Manti is committed to his faith—one that is fairly different than the traditional Catholic roots of Notre Dame.  Regardless, it’s hard not to be inspired by his deep love for God and comfort in speaking about what that relationship means to him. 
For one, it’s what brought him to Notre Dame.  In a recent interview entitled “Committed to Excellence: Manti and Skylar” Te’o told Kate Sullivan what it was about Notre Dame that made him choose it.   He said
To be honest, I had to pray about it. I grew up a USC fan—a die-hard USC fan.  All the way up to the day before signing day I was going to go to with USC.  But I sat down and I prayed about it.  Things just started to happen and everything started to point to ND. 
I learned being young and from my parents that whenever you are looking for an answer to a question, and you ask the Lord—the hardest part is not praying, the hardest part is taking whatever answer He gives you…and going through with it. 
Obviously going to Notre Dame wasn’t the answer I wanted but it was the answer that I was given. It was a leap of faith for me.  Now that I’m here, I’m with Skylar Diggins (there’s that spirit!) 
And that leap of faith proved to be a source of great comfort. As reported in “The Full Manti” “On September 12, three days before Notre Dame played Michigan State,  the parents of Fighting Irish linebacker Manti Te’o woke him up with a 7 a.m. phone call from Hawaii: His grandmother, 72-year old Annette Santiago had died of natural causes.  Six hours later, while standing at his locker, Te’o got a call from his girlfriend’s older brother, Koa, who sobbed, “she’s gone.”  At the age of 22, Lennay Kekua died of leukemia.   In response to the outpouring of love and support from Notre Dame, Manti mustered the strength to address his fans at the pep rally before the Michigan game (a week after the MSU game). He said
Four years ago, I made a decision to come here and I don’t really know why. Times like these I know why.  I love and each everyone of you and I can’t thank you enough for all the love.

For all the love you have shown me and my family. I would like to thank my brothers you see standing behind me—my coaches, and the man upstairs. 
We don’t know His plan for all of us but I know one thing for sure: I know I will see them again.  I have faith and I find peace knowing I will spend the next life with them.  I love you guys. Go Irish 
Notre Dame faithful are hoping that Saturday will be the first numerical change to “a sacred pairing.”  With 7 Heisman trophy winners and 11 national championships to its name, I will gladly switch 7-11 to 8-12.  And it’s fitting, because that’s just a small piece of what legends do—they make small changes seem big and big changes seem small.  They bring the joy to the “joyful anticipation” of this season.  They say “hello” and “I love you” with the same ease and sincerity.  Thank you Manti for being you.

Photo Credits
Manti and Sky
SI Cover
Te'o and Toma

Dave Casper

Monday, December 3, 2012

Springsteen Incarnate

We lit the first purple candle to recognize that the season of Advent has begun. The word Advent comes from Adventus, Latin for “to wait.” We know what we are waiting for—the Incarnation. God Made Flesh. Emmanuel.

Advent is also a season of hope. We wait in joyful expectation. As the season commences, I have been invited to consider What in my own life do I wait for with joyful anticipation?

For Notre Dame and Alabama fans, it’s a National Championship game that will take place on January 7, 2013. For some, it’s the return of a family member who may serve overseas. My immediate answer is an event I had waited for but occurred on November 30—Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band on the ‘Wrecking Ball Tour’ in Oakland, CA.

Tickets for this event went on sale on September 22. For this show, a gaggle of co-workers and I pursued General Admission tickets. I faced my first hurdle when I realized tickets sales began at 10:00 a.m. precisely when I am in class. However, I cleared this hurdle when my students gave me their full support to take a 5-minute break in order to make the on-line purchase. I said, “I can give you a reading assignment, but I have to be honest. Springsteen tickets go on sale in 30-minutes. Are you be ok with a break?” They appreciated I practice what I preach; it is an ethics class. When I broke through the Ticketmaster cryptic code to get GA tickets for everyone, victory was ours!

When the big day finally arrived, once again I waited in joyful anticipation.  One never knows what the Boss will bring to the stage.  In many ways he didn’t disappoint.  He played for over 3 hours, he deferred from the set list and called several audibles (I live to catch these!) and gave some guitar solos to deserving band members (most notably Nils Lofgren during “Because the Night”).  No doubt he earned his nickname “The hardest working man in show business.”

And yet, not much was different about this show than the 17 others I have attended….except one thing.  I shook his hand.  I stood next to the mid-floor riser and touched him several times.  When it came time for the Boss to crowd surf, he looked at the group I was standing with and me and said, “I need some
 strong women.”  The next thing I knew we were holding him up with our arms as he was lying down trying to make his way back to the stage.  It’s hard to believe he was able to continue singing “Hungry Heart” with hundreds of fans groping him in a group effort to move him forward.

After a little “Human Touch” I realized I was shaking. It was overwhelming to connect “up close and personal” with a man who is an icon. Bruce Springsteen is a part of my life and to see so clearly that he’s a charismatic 63-year-old man was so simple…and forgive me, but so holy. I felt some sort of power in being connected to the source of the music, the center of the soul, the narrator of so many of my dreams and what I love in this life. 

As I passed him forward, a thought crossed my mind: If I were this excited to touch Bruce Springsteen, how would I possibly feel about touching Jesus? It seemed like a major leap, a huge jump to connect those ideas until I realized—no, it’s not. This is what the Incarnation is all about. If we can’t let the real presence of those we respect, love, and admire move us, if we can’t see the glory in touching those who mean the most of us, how can we possibly get what Christmas is truly about? Emmanuel—God with us.
And the power of the Incarnation doesn’t stop there. As I have seen many times—what never ceases to amaze me is the effect that Springsteen—his presence, his incarnation, has on others. My friend Kathy said, “I kept thinking gratitude all night—and have been reflecting a lot on Bruce’s intentionality, commitment and ability to foster COMMUNITY at his shows.” 

Kathy named for me the principles that take root in my life because of Bruce. In the days after a concert, I can’t help but want to be a better teacher. I am fired up to “teach hard” and give my students everything I got. There is a renewed sense of purpose for me as I stand by the chalkboard. I wish I had a drummer like Max to bring each lesson to a close. Intentionality and Community—check.

The way he shakes hands with every band member as they exit the stage touched my friend’s mom, Jean. Much in the same way that I watch athletes shake hands after a good game, I too love seeing The Boss honor “his team” for their gifts and talents. Fostering Community—check.And the power of the Incarnation doesn’t stop there.  As I have seen many times—what never ceases to amaze me is the affect that Springsteen—his presence—his incarnation has on others.  My friend Kathy said “I kept thinking gratitude all night -- and have been reflecting a lot on Bruce's intentionality, commitment and ability to foster COMMUNITY at his shows.” 

And my favorite part of teaching is what my students teach me. A colleague I love and respect—John, has brought his 14-year-old daughter to the last two concerts. He shared with our crew what her experience was like; I am grateful for what Georgina taught me. Gratitude—check.

He wrote, “She told me she cried when Bruce began the show. I asked why. She said she saw in people's faces how moved they were to be at the concert and how much they loved Bruce and his music.” 

What the young and old, the faith-filled and the fallen see and experience in a Springsteen concert is undoubtedly spiritual. It has kick started my Advent—this season of joyful expectation to await THE Incarnation.  

I believe it when we say “the created is a sign of the creator.” God’s greatness is in the power of incarnation as witnessed this past Friday.

Photo Credits
All photos, except the last one are from Backstreets

Monday, November 26, 2012

Cyber-Monday Meets Its Match: Generosity and....

I was prepared to pick up where I left off—raising serious questions of concern about materialism, consumerism and the one thing that scares me more than Black Friday—the increased attention to Cyber-Monday.  The Christmas season that has been in full effect since Starbucks released their red paper cups on November 1, has met its match. It shouldn’t be of any great shock or surprise.  Its name is generosity. And its twin sister? Her name is love.
It’s hard to see generosity at times, especially when at least 80 e-mails in my inbox entice me to buy.  I’ll be the first to admit, for every gift I seek to purchase for a family or friend, I find at least two that will suit me.  The markdowns and free shipping make it deceptively easy.  With Notre Dame  completing an undefeated season and a ranking of #1 that will be with us (at least for the next 7 weeks) my urge to purchase that #5 hat (honoring both M'anti T'eo (LB) and Everett Golson (QB) is very strong.  But my conscientious consumption always gets the best of me.  A voice inside my head says Do I need this hat?  No, but I  want it.  What do I really need?  These are simple questions, but  I also think they are important. 

Material goods weigh me down.  And I find that the generous person is remarkably free.  Be it with money, time or resources, the generous person gives without counting the cost.  They are “yes” people.  They make the weight of this world just a little lighter.  I was reminded of them several times in the past week.

One responsibility I seek to avoid is passing around the collection basket at Mass.  A friend asked me at the ninth hour to assist.  It was a lesson in humility for me.  I could not believe how many people gave for not one but two collections!  People went out of their way to make the eye contact I was afraid of making.  Looking at the person handling the basket is awkward when a person doesn't have money to give.  With the tables turned, I was encouraged by how many people looked up with a smile and a donation.

And for the past 15 years, members of the SI community kick start the Thanksgiving holiday with a Turkey Trot around Lake Merced.  All proceeds from the event go to the
St. AnthonyFoundation—a soup kitchen that serves the poor and marginalized in the Tenderloin.  I once heard that St. Anthony’s doesn’t accept any federal funding—they want to be entirely dependent on the generosity of others. They fulfill the Gospel message, Matthew 6:26  Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not worth much more than they? Indeed, it is an organization that people love to support—I hear it repeatedly as I collect the entry fee.  St. Anthony’s makes it easy to be generous! 
I believe that speaks to the beauty of generosity—it looks so easy (even though its often very hard!)  For example, the man who screens all the Turkey Trot T-shirts shirts sells them to me "at cost."  Not only is he generous with his time and talent, he includes a very generous donation of his own to St. Anthony’s with the invoice.  His generosity humbles me.   He doesn’t have to give with our donation, but he does.  That’s generosity.

But how is generosity so closely related to love?  Just today I learned that
they have found a bone marrow donor for my former student Ben Aguilar ’11. He was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia, after his first year at University of Arizona. As I wiped away profound tears of joy, I was able to read this “it is a 9 in 10 match. The donor is located in Europe and has agreed to the donation. The marrow will be brought in by the “Be the Match” and Ben's procedure is scheduled for early December.”

This donor is giving something that Black Friday or Cyber Monday could never market or sell. He is giving of himself—literally, figuratively and totally.  And that’s made possible because of generosity and love. 
When I asked a coworker about her experience as a bone marrow donor she said:  You are confronted with a life saving choice—how can you not do it?  I have never looked at her the same way again.  The reality is, you don’t have to.  You never had to take the time to sign up to be a donor.  You never had to give consent.  But you do…she did…Ben’s donor did.  What could be more generous or loving?

I thought of others who had given of themselves and I didn’t have to look far.  I remembered the person who we celebrate in the Christmas season gave of himself literally, figuratively and totally upon the Cross.

So on this Cyber Monday, I have put down my boxing gloves.  Rather than rail against the cost of $90 for a ticket for Row 91 (of 93) in the LA Coliseum (a venue that holds 93,607) or my beloved alma mater who requires even a "baby in arms" needs a ticket in Notre Dame stadium, I’m going to give more thought to how I can be more loving and generous this Christmas season.

Please pray for Ben.  Prayers are being answered!  
And I think I still want that hat...

Photo Credits
Thank you E-Castro for Turkey Trot!
Ben Aguilar
Thank you Jim B for the 1962 Ticket
#5 Hat

Friday, November 23, 2012

Orange & Black Friday: Dynamic Disappointment

I’m not sure what to make of Black Friday. I suppose it was intended to serve as a “jump start” to the hectic holiday season, which we simultaneously loathe and enjoy.  With stories like the stampede of 200 people into a Long Island Walmart that resulted in the death of a security guard and injury to four others, including a pregnant woman, Black Friday certainly lives up to its name.  I can’t say I was surprised, but even my beloved San Francisco Giants joined the frenzy.  I was however disappointed because they are marketing much more than material goods.  Orange and Black Friday extends now to game day —it’s all about your ticket!

Black Friday brings to light the moral issue of consumerism.  John Paul II said"Christ alone can free man from what enslaves him to evil and selfishness: from the frantic search for material possessions, from the thirst for power and control over others and over things, from the illusion of easy success, from the frenzy of consumerism and hedonism which ultimately destroy the human being." --Homily, March 1, 1998
“I consume, therefore I am” is a popular quote that my students include in their essays about consumerism.  In and of itself, materials goods are not bad.  But when the pursuit for them is at a cost of our personal time, money and resources, we have a problem.  It’s hard to deny it reveals a side of humanity that we all find troubling. 

To a fair degree, I try to be a consumer with a conscience.  I do what I can to get information about the products I purchase, how they are made and spread the word.  I read in one of the hundreds of books on “happiness” that experiences rather than material goods make people happy.  Therefore, I make a concerted effort to put my money toward a sporting event, a concert or an outing of some sort as a gift for family and friends.  With a team like the San Francisco Giants, the choice should seem like no choice at all.
But the Giants challenge my commitment. I know it’s a business and obviously their business model has yielded the kind of results San Franciscans are more than proud of.  But underneath the orange and black veneer is a system that has me scratching my head.  Dynamic Pricing.

According to the Giants website, Dynamic Pricing is understood as “Market pricing applies to all tickets. Rates can fluctuate based on factors affecting supply and demand. Lock in your price and location today!”

What this means is that those games most fans want to attend—against their rivals, on a weekend, or with a great giveaway—are more costly to attend than others.  I took a quick look at what a simple bleacher seat costs under Dynamic Pricing.  Whereas a Monday night game against the Colorado Rockies will cost $18 for a single bleacher seat, a Saturday day game against the Los Angeles Dodgers sells for $50.  $50 for a seat with no back, that isn’t that high off the field.  Thanks to Orange and Black Friday, I had the chance to purchase either ticket today.

But in the same way that Black Friday has reared its ugly head in Walmart, Dynamic Pricing reared its own during the World Series.  On October 15, 2012, KCBS reported that

For the first time, the San Francisco Giants are using a dynamic pricing system for playoff tickets, meaning higher prices for premium seats This is the first postseason that Major League Baseball has approved dynamic pricing for all of its teams. That means instead of a set value, ticket prices fluctuate based on demand.

I now understand why my friend paid $375 FACE VALUE for an upper reserved ticket.  During the regular season, this ticket for a Dodgers game will cost $49 face value.  My friend was able to purchase his ticket through on-line sales run by the Giants; he won the opportunity in a lottery.  And why shouldn’t he be?  It’s the World Series. 
But I found this price to be an abomination.  There was no time for “hate” during the World Series, so I kept quiet about my feelings that ticket prices are in fact a moral issue.  I cannot justify or fathom why it’s okay for a regular fan of “America’s pastime” to pay what is nearly a week’s wages of minimum wage for one ticket.  My coworker left me a copy of his 1962 World Series ticket.  To sit in the a Lower Reserved seat cost $8.  Using the pricing index for such an item, this ticket should cost $87 today. 

I don’t have the answers to Dynamic Pricing or to Black Friday.  Both leave me wondering how it can and should be different.  I’ll start by watching the "Advent Conspiracy"