Wednesday, March 21, 2012

What Jeremy Lin Truly Reveals Behind the "Secret" Handshake

Do you have a favorite passage of Scripture? How many do you know by heart? For a long time I must confess, my answer to both of these questions was “no” and "none." However, it might not be a stretch to say there is one passage that most Catholics know. Why? You see it every weekend in football stands across America. In fact, I saw it this past Sunday in the bleachers of the Georgetown vs. NC State Game.
John 3:16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
In “What Does It Mean to Be Catholic?” Jim Heft states “You may have heard it said that Catholics don’t read the Bible. It’s true that for many years Catholics didn’t emphasize reading Scripture. The Second Vatican Council stressed the importance of these inspired writings…“

While this may be true for Catholic Christians it’s certainly not a fact for all Christians. I hope the example of any devout Christian who really knows Scripture and the Word itself draw us to it. One person who has done that is of no surprise, New York Knicks basketball player, Jeremy Lin. However, how he has done that might be.

In the YouTube clip “Jeremy Lin and Landry Fields "Secret" Handshake" the two teammates explain why they do what they do. I would not have guessed that one step includes Lin reading the Bible. I’m not surprised, but all finger points to "the Big Man Upstairs" aside, I would be hard pressed to believe an orchestrated move like this has ever included that gesture before.In the video, Lin says he tries to find a different verse everyday. The article Exclusive: Jeremy Lin says faith in God triggered 'Lin-sanity' affirms he is true to his word and to the Word. Marcus Thompson writes, "He started every morning with a devotional before heading to the gym to work out. Whenever the anxiety tried to creep in, he whispered a Bible verse to himself: And we know that in all things, God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to his purpose. — Romans 8:28"

Who knew Harvard’s Lin and Stanford’s Landry “secret” handshake could have such a positive impact. In learning the story behind it, not only are viewers exposed to another beautiful passage from “the Good Book” at the end, but many are inspired by their example. My student, Elise wrote “I love this! Their relationship is so cool: they can joke around with each other, but still be serious in their faith in God.”

I hope you will consider identifying a passage of Scripture that you love. Memorize it. Consult a friend or look to someone you admire to discover what theirs is. The Chinchilla is optional!

Photo Credits
Graphic Explanation
Reading the Bible

Monday, March 19, 2012

Top 10 Reasons for Choosing the Moral Life 2
vis a vi Sports & Spirituality

I’m going to the Warriors vs. Timberwolves game tonight because they are retiring the jersey of one of my favorite athletes of all time: Chris Mullin. I could drop the next five reasons for choosing the moral life and look to Mully for examples. He beat the odds in numerous ways. He was slow and many said he couldn’t jump. In a league that once made the cover of Sports Illustrated for the number of paternity suits against its members, Mullin has remained faithfully married to his wife Liz and they have four children. I believe his greatest personal achievement is staying sober. Maybe some of the good students from St. Theresa’s will see the ceremony themselves. Instead this is Part II of what they did see.

WHY Choose the moral life....Part II
6. Because of a “sixth sense”

Those of you who have a dog will understand this perfectly. Dogs seem to have a “sixth sense” about people. They can almost smell who is a kind, trustworthy, good person. To a certain degree, I believe we humans can too. The moral person reeks of (insert the virtue here).

7. You make those around you better
They are rare, but if you know a person like--one who makes those around them better--you won't forget them. Why? because their impact on a group is significant.

This happened seven years ago now, but I remember it like it was yesterday. I placed my students in their social justice project groups. As they began discussing what they already know about their topic, I told Bus that I needed to move him into another group. The students sitting with him screamed a collective “no!” and the group that got him raised their arms in victory. Why? Bus is the type of person who makes everyone better. Every one of his peers enjoys working with him. He is responsible, intelligent, funny and patient. He uses his talents for the good of the whole in a way few others do.

Ask any player in the NBA who they would want on their team and I guarantee there are certain individuals who may be talented but are not team players. Steve Nash however is aware of his own strengths and weaknesses and those of the other four men who play with him (I have written about this before). Anyone would want to play with Nash. He is a joy to watch for this reason, among many others.

8. Practice makes habit…
I watched the starting point guard of the SI boys’ basketball team during his warm up nail one three-point shot after another. I turned to the former athletic director Leo LaRocca and said “practice makes perfect.” “Expletive!” he replied. “Perfect practice makes perfect.” Wow, that’s a whole lot of pressure, I thought. But I know what he meant—perfection, goodness and virtue is not easily attained. No, it takes great effort and concentration of will.Proverbs 24:16 says Though the just fall seven times, they rise again, but the wicked stumble from only one mishap. No one is perfect, but some are more honest, loving, generous, selfless, and overall virtuous than others. We become virtuous by doing virtuous deeds—when it’s easy and when it’s difficult, when others are looking and when they are not. The reward is not determined by the outcome but in the act itself. Like a successful tennis professional, the virtuous person plays a consistently good game.

9. You will sleep better at night…
Sleep recharges the mind and body. Athletes know how critical it is to get a good night’s sleep while training, the night before a race and to help the body recover after competition. On any given night however, a number of factors can determine the quality of sleep—body and room temperature, lighting, hormones, health and our conscience. The person who chooses the moral path is less likely to toss and turn about how to cover up, work around a lie, or create an alibi. The moral life isn’t always easy, but hopefully it gives you a few more zzz’s.

10. Oh the places you’ll go
Every year David Batstone founder and author of “Not for Sale: The Return of the Global Slave Trade--and How We Can Fight It” speaks to all juniors enrolled in the "Foundations of Ethics: Morality and Justice" course. After learning that there are more men and women bought and sold into slavery each year then during the transatlantic slave trade, he shares how he became an abolitionist. It started small; he was willing to help a friend in El Salvador. One “yes” led to another and what he found is God gave the increase. He didn’t need God to bless his work—it already was.

Choose a life of service to others, take the moral path and you’ll go to some unlikely places e.g. Romero Center in Camden, NJ or La Casa del Immigrante in Tijunana, MX. You’ll meet some unlikely people too; one or two of them may be Jesus.

Photo Credits
Mully Bobblehead

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Top 10 Reasons for Choosing the Moral Life
vis a vi Sports & Spirituality

My beloved Whitney Houston died the day before a presentation I made to the confirmation class at St. Theresa's Parish in Oakland on "The Moral Life: What's So Great About It?" As tempting as it was to use her life’s story as an example of what happens when you stray from the moral life, I decided to build rapport and give examples the best way I know—via Sports and Spirituality. And as with sports, what better way than with a "Top 10 list." Here goes.

WHY choose the moral life
1. Integrity
A person with integrity is an integer—he or she is undivided. They are whole. The opposite of a person of integrity is a hypocrite. Yes, Jesus taught mercy and compassion. He may have eaten with tax collectors and befriended prostitutes but his disdain for one group was clear—the hypocrites. A hypocrite wears one face in public that is inconsistent with whom they are in private. One with integrity is who he or she is front stage and back stage.

2. Reputation

The reputation of the moral person speaks for itself. Adolescence is a time when one may be hypersensitive about their reputation. The movie “Mean Girls” was popular for a reason; they exist. They perpetuate rumors and yet they are on defense against another knife going into their own back. The one who chooses the moral path, however builds a reputation that is honorable.3. When it comes time for your college letter of recommendation…
Teachers have a lot to say. I guarantee that colleges are not concerned about an applicant’s personality traits. Although we may prefer the company of some personalities over others—some people tend to be quiet, while others are boisterous, or some are nervous, while others are calm--personality is not subject to moral evaluation.

Are you honest? Are you responsible? Do you make the class better because of your positive presence? Would you want to work with yourself in a group project? If the answer is “yes” to these questions, a teacher has a lot to say.

4. Relationships
Relationships matter at every age. Although adolescence may appear to be a time when the parent to child relationship is challenged, any figure of authority that works with them is aware of the “nature of the teen.” The coach to athlete relationship is especially important because many coaches spend more time with a young person on a daily basis than any other adult in the athlete’s life.

Coach Lou Holtz said that the answer to “Three Big Questions” will lead to a lifetime of success.
1. Can I trust you?
2. Are you committed to excellence?
3. Do you care about me?
He tells his athletes to ask these questions of him. He guarantees the answer is “yes.” Is yours?

5. Make your parent(s) proud
I looked at John and Jackie Harbaugh on Thanksgiving night and thought they must be proud. Their two sons pursued their passion—coaching football and succeeding at it. More importantly, their two sons are best friends.

The nature of the teen is to test the limits. But the teen deeply wants the love and admiration of their parent(s) whether they admit it or not. One of the core questions I ask in my Foundations of Ethics: Morality and Justice course is What kind of person do I want to be? Time and again a strong number of my students write “someone my parents will be proud of.”

In atypical Top 10 Fashion, the next 5 will be posted tomorrow.

Photo Credits

Harbaugh Family
Coach Holtz
College Logos
Christ and Fully Human & Divine

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Why Choose the Moral Life? See "Undefeated" for Answers

“You keep doing the right thing. And good things will happen to you.”Those are the words of high school football coach Bill Courtney to his team, the Manassas Tigers. Based on the incredible power of “Undefeated,” the film about Courtney and the Tigers, one has to assume that its directors, Dan Lindsay, and T.J. Martin, have been doing the right thing for a loooooong time. The film premiered at last year’s South by Southwest Film Festival, where it was quickly scooped up for distribution by The Weinstein Company. Now it’s nominated for the Academy Award for Best Documentary before it even opens in theaters. – Matt SingerI was asked to speak at St. Theresa’s parish in Oakland, CA to a group of 60 students preparing for Confirmation. My task was to challenge them to choose the moral life and explore “What’s so great about it? Where’s the joy? And does trying to be moral take all the fun out of life?” How did I do this? I provided them with a "Top 10 List of why it’s worth considering" (my next blog entry!). I didn’t quote Bill Courtney, but I wish I had.

At first glance such ideology could be reduced to Stage II of Kohlberg’s Theory of Moral Development: Individualism and Exchange-- a "If you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours” mentality. But to include his quote in the full context of the story is to understand how true it is, especially when you put others in front of yourself.

What you will witness in “Undefeated” the 2012 Academy Award for best documentary is far from cliché. Set in north Memphis, Coach Courtney does not coach one white athlete. Yet, for whatever reason, racial issues or tension is lacking.This film is one of the few football movies that doesn’t focus on the quarterback or a running back. Although these players drive the Tigers to a winning season, not once do they take the camera. You won’t even know their names.

I was moved by the team’s prayer circles; the players of a public high school gathered both on the field and in the locker room to give thanks to God. I have always been grateful for teaching at a place where I can pray with my athletes before contests. In San Francisco, as Scott James points out, that might not always be acceptable.

Catholics Gather Courtside to Put Their Faith on Display states “In a city where intolerance is otherwise vilified, it has become socially awkward to profess devotion to any mainstream faith. While mentions of spirituality, meditation and yoga pass without comment, those who follow organized religions face, at minimum, a Berkeley eye roll.” Those moments in “Undefeated” are intimate even though the prayer is public. From those moments, the viewer gains a sense of how these young men are able to put the team before themselves.

A film worth viewing!
Perhaps the only cliché you will encounter is in the opening scene when Coach Courtney remarks “Football doesn’t build character, it reveals it.” Although those words are not new, what Courtney brings out in his players is more than unexpected—they personally remain undefeated. The collective and individual character that is revealed is extraordinary. It’s so human and yet grace-filled. It is a wonderful example to me of what happens when you do the right thing—what’s great about it and where the joy is found.

As much as I enjoyed talking to my colleagues in preparing my "Top 10 list" and sharing it with the young and positive audience at St. Theresa’s, if I had to do it over again, I might simply request that we replace the meeting with a “Chew and View.” Order pizza, drink soda pop, eat homemade brownies and unpack what unfolds before our eyes. I encourage you to do the same.

Photo Credits

Undefeated Team
Coach Courtney
Movie Poster

Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Bounce-Pass: A Metaphor for Life & Ending Homelessness

There is nothing sexy about the bounce pass. I’ll be the first to admit how much I wowed I am by a high-flying alley-oop or a quick no-look pass. Not all “dishes” were created equal. But when it comes to getting the ball from “a” to “b,” the bounce pass is as good as it gets.
It’s a fundamental of the game and fundamentals should never be taken for granted. And no one masters this fundamental of the game like Steve Nash. I don’t know that they keep a stat on the number of bounce passes a player delivers during a game, but my guess is he executes more in one game than in the entire league combined.

Since making note of his tendency at the Warriors vs. Suns game on February 13, I have paid attention to how often the bounce pass is used in both men's and women's basketball. I won’t go so far as to say it’s rare, but it’s certainly infrequent. I think this is unfortunate because a bounce pass equals execution. It’s as simple as it gets in a sport that knows a lot of flash and hustle. You can’t fake one. It requires the right timing and placement and little more.
Maybe it’s because I remember learning how to complete the bounce pass (and had success doing so as a fourth grader on the St. Mary’s basketball team), but I started to think about the “bounce pass” in a metaphorical sense. There are fundamentals in life. We are asked to execute and move the ball every day. A bounce pass in life may not stand out or get recognized, but it's effective. And the story “Massachusetts’ Doctor Writes Prescription to End Homelessness” confirmed for me that a “bounce pass” in the game of social service/outreach can and does work.

Dr. Jessie Gaeta started working as a doctor with homeless populations several years ago; she realized her patients were facing a similar challenge. She said, “people have a really hard time prioritizing their health needs over things like figuring out where you're going to sleep that night." Consequently, the Boston Medical Center ER became a revolving door for homeless patients. "It wasn't until I had just a couple of patients housed," said Gaeta, "that I saw this turnaround in their health. Basically, I was seeing that if I could write a prescription for keys to an apartment that that was going to do more to improve the health of the patient sitting in front me than the prescription I can write for anything else."There is nothing “sexy” about her prescription. No newly approved drugs, no sophisticated politic, no dynamic leadership. Dr. Gaeta, like Gavin Newsom, the former mayor of San Francisco realize that housing is health care.

Shelter is a basic need—a fundamental for every human life. Like the bounce pass, this fundamental shouldn’t be taken for granted. A program like this shouldn’t be rare but it is. The city of San Francisco launched a similar prescription under the name of “Care not Cash.” Other cities have followed, but not enough. Like the bounce pass, I hope more communities will execute and make a difference. What’s at stake? A lot. "A nation's greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members." ~ Mahatma Gandhi

Photo Credits
Dr. Gaeta
Bounce Pass Stick Figures
Young Girl Learns to Execute the BP