Monday, April 30, 2012

Bubba Watson Reveals God's Dream For Us...

Talk about a dream, try to make it real.  You wake up in the night, and the fear is so real --Bruce Sprinsteen, Badlands

Upon winning the Masters, Bubba Watson, said “I never got this far in my dreams.” Alasdair Reid reports "Before his final winning 6-inch putt, Watson called for silence and a moment to compose himself. His feelings run so high, so close to the surface, that it wasn’t entirely a joke. Only a month ago, he and his wife Angie adopted their first child, Caleb. Everybody loves Watson, a natural-born blubberer. He wears his emotions on his sleeve, except when they slip down to his wrist."
I wasn’t surprised to see this 6’3” athlete crying or hugging his mama upon winning the 76th Masters, but Bubba Watson’s response caught me off guard. The Masters is often the first tournament mentioned by professional golfers when asked which one they would like to win before the end of their career. Renown for its sheer beauty with pristine, tight links and the blazing azaleas at Augusta National, the Masters has seen legendary performances and as the first of the four majors, it sets a tone for the year of golf.  As  Bubba took the stands, I wondered, Why did this man from the panhandle town of Bagdad Florida who played at the University of Georgia not see the green jacket in his dreams?
Perhaps it is because Bubba Watson never took a formal golf lesson and he never had a private swing coach. "My dad taught me everything I know," Watson says. "It's not very much, but that's all I know."  His advice on how to become a good golfer is to “just play.”

In Sports Illustrated at the Masters: One-on-One with Bubba Watson, Shane O’donoghue asked the same question, but from another angle.  He said "You’re a very creative golfer.  What about visualization?  Did you visualize yourself wearing this green jacket you have on now?"

In this day and age of sports psychology and the practice of visualization as a discipline for most athletes, it was interesting to hear once again that Bubba’s response was no different. “No. As a kid, when you dream about making putts to win tournaments, you never think about after you make the putt.
  You always think about making the putt, waving your hands to the crowd and that’s it.  You never think about the whirlwind after it. Putting on the green jacket—making sure it fits right, talking to people, talking to the media. You never think about the excitement and what you’ll do after you win it.   And after I won, I didn’t know what to do.” 

So how did he do it?  I’ve been talking with my seniors about dreams and spirituality.  We watched an excerpt from the late “Randy Pausch’s Last Lecture: Purusing Your Childhood Dreams."  On an episode of Oprah, he and admits ”The talk isn’t just about how to achieve your childhood dreams.  It’s much broader than that.  It’s about how to live your life because if you live your life the right way, the dreams will come to you.  If you live your life properly the dreams will come to you.”

I think we can make a case that the highest ranked golfer in the United States is doing just that. According to
Power and Grace “When Watson came out on Tour he was so hard on himself, he scared people away with his brooding. As he has learned to minimize the negativity—he credits his wife's steadying influence and being born again in 2004 with altering his perspective—Watson has made deep friendships, which explains why Aaron Baddeley, Ben Crane and Rickie Fowler followed the playoff on foot.”  All golfers know the mental contest; especially on Master’s Sunday is a brutal element of the game.  Bubba may not have had a formal lesson or coach, but the personal adjustments speak to how he is living his life right. Indeed, the dreams have come to him.

My spiritual director once asked me “What is God’s dream for you?”
  I stopped in my tracks and sat up straight. What a beautiful question. God has a dream for me?  Yes, God does.  Our God, who is personal and loving, holds a dream for all of God’s children.  Although Bubba Watson may not have seen that dream until it became a reality, perhaps the Lord, the master architect did.  Alleluia!

Photo Credits Bubba and Mama


Thursday, April 26, 2012

Springsteen, The Big Man, Jamie Moyer et al: We Are Alive!

I looked with amusement at the freshman religion project on the wall.  Students had to create Jesus’ Facebook page. What would his status say?  Although his “friend” list caught my eye—I knew so many of them! Mary, Martha and Lazarus, his personal information got me thinking.  It listed his age as 37.  Oops.  Jesus didn’t live to my age; I wish He had.  I began to wonder how the Gospels might be different had they chronicled seven years of Christ’s ministry rather than three.  What would Jesus have done?

In the last six months, my dear friend Eileen has experienced the death of two very close friends.  Like Jesus, both men died too young—one at 38 and another at 35.  Why the Lord called them home at this time is a great and tragic mystery.  It leaves me pondering “why” and in the next moment I find myself grateful for those who live the lives that do.  I am thankful so many people are (still) with us.

I left my 17th Bruce Springsteen concert with those same thoughts in my mind and my heart. Even though he died at 70, a huge part of me believes that “C” died too early.  I needed to go to the place that Clarence referred to as “the healing floor” to begin to understand E Street and the music without him.  When I got there, I found that Joan Walsh's words were true.  It was only then that “I understood what a thorough-going, transcendent exercise in communal grief and joy it (his live performance) has become.”

And the sorrow certainly made way for the joy, and thus, the gratitude.   That gratitude floods my prayer the morning after I wake up from one of his performances.  I have said it with intention ever since I heard Rosalie on KFOG’s Acoustic Sunrise proclaim “What a concert last night!  The world is a much better place because of the man, the music, Bruce Springsteen” over 10 years ago.   It has stayed with me because it’s true.  It’s a worthy prayer.

Springsteen's 17th studio album "Wrecking Ball" includes a thematically appropriate track: “We Are Alive!” Thanks be to God that he is. What he is doing at 62 years of age is incredible.  Springsteen performed and entertained for 3 hours and 9 minutes.  He danced, he sang, he preached on his stage of rock ‘n’ roll. Total soul healing.  This man has been on the cover of AARP; he left me exhausted.  He will turn 63 while on tour, September 23!

Fortunately we also have examples in sports of men and women who are not letting their age get in the way of their passion.  Just last week Jamie Moyer of the Colorado Rockies became the oldest pitcher in Major League history to win a game.  I thought it was a typo when I read that at 49 years of age, the pitcher earned his 268th career victory.  And as we look ahead to the Olympics in London, Dara Torres won’t be the only mother over 40 competing for a spot on the US swim team.  Five-time gold-medalist Janet Evans has returned to the water.  Again, I am grateful for the lives they are living. 

For those who are with us—the Boss, members of the E Street band and athletes who are doing what we once thought impossible because of age—thank you for sharing your gifts and talents with us!  And for those no longer with us, I am grateful for all you have shared. 

I had no idea the words of  “We Are Alive” would emerge as a fitting theme for what was the best show I have seen on the west coast. It is  sung from the perspective of those who have died, yet they are the ones who proclaim “We Are Alive!”  Indeed, it is the Christian paradox.  For those of you at the show on Tuesday night, you know that Bruce didn’t need to ask “Is anybody alive out there?!”  We all were--visible and the invisible, the living and the dead.

Photo Credits Crowd surfing Boss
Jesus on Facebook

Sunday, April 22, 2012

What the Stolen Christ Child & Bryan Stow Helped Me Realize

To the anger, dismay and shock of many parishioners at St. Dominic’s in San Francisco, the Christ child was stolen from the church’s beautiful crèche. Our pastor told us about the missing baby Jesus by way of his homily as he artfully connected this loss to the message of that’s Sunday’s Gospel reading. And I this past Sunday, four full months later, I was informed he had returned on Good Friday.  He was left in the bathroom.  He was clearly not misplaced or lost.  He was no longer in a manager, but in the toilet.  Fr. Xavier said “there’s a story here and we simply don’t know it."
He’s right, there is a story here and I can’t begin to understand it.  He held up the baby Jesus for everyone to see and I started to cry.  A floodgate of tears was my response.  I was surprised by my reaction as I listened to his greater questions in light of what had happened.

That night during prayer, I revisited my emotion, my sadness.  I asked myself Why I was feeling this way? It’s a 10-inch wooden doll. Why do I care? I came to understand, anyone can say it’s an image or a symbol, but to me it is more.  It represents that which I hold sacred: the Incarnation.  God became flesh; God became one of us and did it from life’s beginning—as a vulnerable, dependent, helpless child.

My reaction reminded me of one I experienced on Opening Day 2012.  When Bryan Stow appeared on the big screen with his mother to “virtually” hand the baseball to his son Tyler for the ceremonial “first pitch” I could not hold back the tears.  I was not alone. 

When Giants fans first learned of the Bryan Stow incident nearly one year prior our reactions were no different than my fellow parishioners—anger, dismay and shock.  There was a story there, but it did not amount to much. According to the Huffington Post, "the “Police said the two men began taunting three men in Giants gear with expletives as thousands of baseball fans left the stadium after Thursday night's 2-1 Dodger victory, Detective T.J. Moore said.
The Giants fans tried to distance themselves from their assailants, and two made it away from them, but one was struck with fists on the back of the head and as he fell, his head hit the ground in a parking lot on the third base side of the ballpark, Moore said.”

I stood there on Opening Day and I asked myself the same questions—Why do I care?  Honestly, I don’t know Bryan Stow apart from the fact we both love the Giants.  Why did so many people around me feel the way I did?  Why has his story captured our hearts, prayers and hopes?

Perhaps on some level we know that what happened to Bryan Stow could have happened to any one of us. Stow et al didn’t bring on the violence, they didn’t ask for an altercation.  However, this is more than a sport rivalry turned bad.  It represents a lack of respect for human life or like the Christ child that which is sacred.

We carry a bit of the Incarnation in us, as we are made in God’s image and likeness.  We respond with tears, sadness and anger because any violation of that dignity is an assault to the sacred.  And when that which is sacred is compromised, our souls suffer. Truth and beauty, even humanity is compromised.  Our reaction should be tears or sadness, confusion or dismay.

Someone may have stolen the Christ child from the crèche and placed him in the toilet on humanity’s darkest day of the year, Good Friday, but once again, Jesus as Lord is risen.  He continues to teach me even from the lowliest of places.

Photo Credits
Bryan and Ann Stow

Empty Manger
Holy Family

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Opening Day: Paradox & Surprise

The Easter story is full of paradox and surprise. Unbeknownst to me, I discovered Opening Day 2012 for the San Francisco Giants was too.

America magazine states that Christians must consider Jesus’ wounds, even in His risen glory. Although Jesus carried with him the signs of his suffering, His woundedness did not prevent Him from commissioning His disciples to preach. He invited his beloved to see and to put their hands in his side. The locked room where they hid must have been filled with fear and yet excitement, sadness and joy, paradox and surprise.

I find it appropriate that baseball officially began in San Francisco in the Easter season. With the 40 Days of Lent now behind me and the Resurrection in our midst, I met my first Opening Day with Easter joy! Yes, Easter joy. This joy is bright and abundant, almost overflowing. It is greeted my anticipation and hope of what is to be. I arrived the ballpark with this joy in my heart.I was greeted outside China Basin’s cathedral by the ceremonial bunting I love. I was anxious to “meet” the new Giants in their uniforms and curious to see the changes/improvements to AT&T. I know that Opening Day often draws its own crowd (who many consider lack loyalty), but regardless, the energy was palpable. The skies had finally cleared and we made way for those early steps toward another World Series trophy. Why not dream big? On Opening Day, hopes are high and all is possible.

Seeing Melky Cabrera and Angel Pagan meant that certain players were no longer on the roster. Some athletes come and go and others leave a mark on our hearts. For example, it was hard not to love Cody Ross, the 2010 NLCS MVP. At that time “Ross was Boss” but the former rodeo clown among others wasn’t someone the Giants committed to resigning. I was reminded that beginnings are often endings. As we honored the 1962 Giants upon the 50th Anniversary of their National League pennant, I noticed Willie McCovey was on the field, sitting in a wheelchair for the first time. It was sad for me to see a man who was once called "the scariest hitter in baseball" by pitcher Bob Gibson so limited in his mobility.

The starter Matt Cain has a losing record in Major League baseball (70-73) Cain is a workhorse (KNBR’s Eric Byrnes plays a sound bite of a horse nay-ing every time he talks about him!) and has been the second man in the Giants outstanding pitching rotation for the last 7 years. Despite his impressive 2.88 ERA, he barely finished the 2011 season with a winning record 12-11. Yes, he signed a contract for a record $127.5 million dollars. Is that paradox? I think not. Matty delighted the crowd with a one-hitter and twelve strikeouts.

I had no idea how good it would feel to see Buster Posey back in the line up. After last year’s team’s hitting woes, it was a relief to see this man not only behind the plate, but driving the offense to our first win at home. The standing ovation he got was especially loud. We cannot wait to see how much better the team is with the 2010 Rookie of the Year healthy and healed.But anyone who was at the game will share with you the greatest surprise of the day was one that was highly emotional. Bryan Stow, the Giants fan that was severely beaten on Opening Day last year in Los Angeles, and his mother Ann joined the festivities via a live satellite linkup from his rehab center. The hope was that he would be healthy enough to throw out the ceremonial first pitch. Instead, his son Tyler was given the honor.

Fans cheered as Bryan held up a ball in a symbolic gesture for his son, saying, "Here's the ball - good luck, son." Tyler then fired a fastball to home plate, and the crowd again erupted in cheers.

I was trying to process all that I just witnessed. I was in no way prepared for the flood of emotions that overtook me at that moment. I looked at Bryan Stow and thought “this is a man still in great physical pain.” Jeremy Affeldt, who accompanied Tyler to the mound, said there wasn’t a dry eye among his teammates.

But then I remembered the look on the face of Affeldt when he hugged Tyler. They both wore a smile that reflected that Easter joy! I looked at the people around me cheering, crying, silenced and smiling and I was amazed at how what feels like a huge fan base and fairly loose community truly rallied behind Bryan Stow; his life, his cause and his story. This was not a moment to think of the pain and suffering that Stow and his family has endured. No, that pitch, that ceremony and that message was to “play ball!”

I hope during the 2012 baseball season you will look for signs and moments of paradox and surprise. When and if you do, I hope you are able to recognize joy—Easter joy—in them.

Photo Credits
All Images from

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Beyond Models: Questions about Female Role Models in Sports.

Name the top three male models in the world. My students struggled to name one. When they said “David Beckham” I said we would put an asterisk by his name; he became popular because of his talent on the soccer field first. His public image as a model came second. 
On the other hand, having male and female students identify their favorite female model was a cinch. An informal debate broke out about who is the most popular and who is the most beautiful.

Why was I asking these questions in my Sports and Spirituality class? The HBO Documentary “Dare to Dream: The Story of the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team” makes the claim that “Women have always carved out their own place in sports. One by one they’ve made their mark as champions—from Babe to Billie and the countless in between. But women striving for a career in team sports have had little opportunity and few heroes.“ 
Ask sports fans who their favorite female athlete is and most will name a woman who has succeeded in an individual sport: Chris Evert, Billie Jean King or Maria Sharapova in tennis, or Dara Torres, Natalie Coughlin or Janet Evans in swimming. We know and love female gymnasts, ice skaters, runners, etc. Such success is not to be taken for granted. But, can you name a team of women that have captured our hearts, our imaginations or our disdain in the way the 1980 US Men’s Hockey team did? Or the 1985 Chicago Bears? or the Broad Street Bullies? Men’s team sports even have popular teams within teams, like "Run TMC" (Tim Hardaway, Mitch Richmond and Chris Mullin) from the Golden State Warriors. Fortunately, the 1991 Women’s World Cup championship team changed the conversation. 

 The documentary states, “They transformed a sport. They found opportunity where there was none and created a new nation of fans. Their legacy lives on in the generation of young girls who take the soccer field as though it were their birthright. Everyone forgot that they were 'chicks'. Nobody knew the impact that game would have, the idea that these were athletes as opposed to female athletes.”
The revolution they caused it not even two decades old, but to some, it feels as though it happened a lifetime ago. And to my students, seniors in high school, their story is largely unknown. They have benefited from the fruits of those women’s labor, but the question about female athletic heroes still looms large. Prior to viewing “Dare to Dream,” I asked my students “Who are your female athletic heroes?” I expected to hear names like Mia Hamm or Brandi Chastain. Four of the 28 students named someone. I was surprised. I then turned the question on myself. Who are my female athletic heroes? One of my students wrote
The question “Who are your female athletic heroes” stood out to me. Being a female myself, surprisingly, I had none. I could think of a few professional female athletes: Lindsey Vonn, those two WNBA players from Disney Channel’s “Double Teamed" (2001) and Danica Patrick. But I would not consider those females as my heroes. On my third grade “trading card,” I noted that Michael Jordan was my hero—a male. It is completely normal for a female to look up to a male and vice versa, but it’s unfortunate that females do not have many options. We can argue that males and females are equal, but it is not fully valid until we can name as many female athletic celebrities as female models.
And my student is no different than the women profiled in “Dare to Dream.” Julie Foudy, Brandi Chastain and each admit that growing up their favorite athletes were men. Foudy said, “My idols and my role models were 350 pound football players and eight foot tall basketball players. I don’t ever remember having a woman who I pointed to and said ‘that’s who I’m going to be one day.” Chastain added, “I wanted to be a football player to be honest with you because my father liked to watch football. It was around so I thought I’ll be a Pittsburgh Steeler.” 

I love the Incarnation. To know that God became flesh and was one of us changes everything. Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. He’s also my role model and my hero. I might add His mother is too. I strive to be more like them every day. I fail, but with their love, grace and mercy and a supportive community, I hope I make small steps in becoming a little more like them. 

We all need role models and heroes. It shouldn’t matter if they are male or female, but it does. The women profiled in “Dare to Dream” illuminated questions about the need for female role models, not just models. I hope there will be more young women and men who train, compete and excel in the way they did over a span of 15 years. Their story is worth passing on…. 

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Easter & Masters Sunday: Alleluia!

On Friday, Tiger Woods threw and kicked his club. Woods, a 35-year old man is a professional athlete in need of spiritual discipline. His teammate at Stanford, Casey Martin once said Professional golf is the most selfish endeavor in the world. Everything revolves around what you do. That’s the way it has to be because the team is you. It’s not a team, it’s you. Bearing examples of unsportsmanlike behavior and the true nature of the sport, why would watching the 2012 Masters be an ideal way to spend Easter Sunday?Every Easter we remember and celebrate the triumph of the cross, the resurrection, and that death has no victory. But the joy of Easter lies in the truth that God and God’s goodness surpass our expectations. It’s not fair to compare the two, but Masters Sunday does as well.

I had high hopes for Phil Mickleson going in today’s final round. I wanted the three-time champion to join Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Tiger Woods as the only golfers with at least four victories at the season’s first major championship. But it’s hard to deny that today’s champion isn't special. For one, his name is Bubba. Although a man named Gerry Watson who goes by "Bubba" may not fit the mold of a club that still forbids membership to females, he is as close to Augusta National will get to a “local hero.” In 2002 he helped lead the University of Georgia to a Southeastern Conference Championship. I think a significant number of Bulldogs were on hand to cheer him to victory today.And on the second hole today, fans near and far were treated to a shot that has never before been captured on television as the Masters. Louis Oosthuizen, the runner up, shot a double eagle on the second hole, a par-5, today. The 235-yard four-iron spun dead sideways and trickled 60 feet into the hole on the last turn into the pin; it was as if a magnet pulled that 1.68“ ball to it.

The glory of this day however was most fully revealed in the sudden death playoff. In 2012 Masters: Oosthuizen’s ‘Albatross’ a once-in-a-lifetime shot, Thomas Boswell writes
Before his final winning 6-inch putt, Watson called for silence and a moment to compose himself. His feelings run so high, so close to the surface, that it wasn’t entirely a joke. Only a month ago, he and his wife Angie adopted their first child, Caleb. Everybody loves Watson, a natural-born blubberer. He wears his emotions on his sleeve, except when they slip down to his wrist.

“I never got this far in my dreams,” said a red-eyed Watson, whose late father was in the U.S. special forces. Typical of Watson, he told Oosthuizen after his double-eagle, “I’d have run over and given you a high five, but it wouldn’t have looked right.”
It should not have looked right, but perhaps it is because it was Masters Sunday it did. While speaking with the press after his loss, Oosthuizen recalled the day with joyful enthusiasm and an authentic smile. His body language said it all--what a great day! Indeed, he understood that he contributed to the best memories of the 76th Masters.And learning just a little bit about Bubba Watson will give you pause to reconsider Casey Martin’s words. Upon his victory, Bubba’s mother Molly embraced him and didn’t let go. The fans—fellow UGA alums and fraternity brothers felt the win belonged to them as much as Mr. Watson. Watson then walked off the green and hugged Rickie Fowler and Ben Crane, who starred with Watson in the “Golf Boys” music video. If you haven’t seen it, it’s worth checking out, if not for the fact that Farmers Insurance will donate $1,000 for every 100,000 views of the video. The charitable proceeds will support both Farmers and Ben Crane charitable initiatives

The glory of spring was in full force at Augusta National today. Easter and Masters Sunday. Two for the price of one? Yes, and I’m happy to say for sports or spiritual reasons it did not disappoint. Alleluia!

Photo Credits
Masters 2012
Bubba Wins
UGA Crew