Friday, July 27, 2012

Olympic Flag Bearer, Lost Boy of Sudan: Lopez Lomong

In less than 48 hours, a video detailing wartime atrocities in Africa was viewed more than 23 million times. The purpose of “Kony 2012” a 30-minute clip that went viral on Youtube is to pressure world leaders to arrest Joseph Kony, war criminal and leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army. 
KONY 2012 is one of the many efforts by Invisible Children in their campaign to bring Joseph Kony to justice. Invisible Children has been working for 9 years to end Africa’s longest-running armed conflict. Their website claims that “KONY 2012 aims to make Joseph Kony famous, not to celebrate him, but to raise support for his arrest and set a precedent for international justice. In this case, notoriety translates to public support. If people know about the crimes that Kony has been committing for 26 years, they will unite to stop him.”

No one could have anticipated the success of KONY 2012.  A poll suggested that more than half of young adult Americans heard about Kony 2012 in the days following the video's release.  On April 5, 2012, Invisible Children released a follow-up video, titled Kony 2012: Part II – Beyond Famous.  It addressed the criticisms that the first film met and was both praised and criticized in its efforts.    

Not that I am on their advisory council, but a timely next step for Invisible Children might be to join efforts with the filmmakers of “The Lost Boys of Sudan” to tell the story of one man who carried the US flag in the opening ceremony of the 2008 Olympics—track and field athlete Lopez Lomong.  

Lomong who will run in the 5,000-meter race in London 2012, came to the United States as a war refugee after escaping war-torn Sudan.  He is a Lost Boy of Sudan. A Catholic, he was abducted at age six while attending Catholic Mass and assumed dead by his family for 15 years.  His legs and feet saved his life as he escaped by running for 3 days and 3 nights from captivity to Kenya. 
In the article "I Came All The Way Here, So I Have to Run" Tom Farrey writes: "The U.S. government was offering visas to resettle about 3,800 of the displaced boys in 38 states. Unsure whether his parents were even alive anymore, Lomong wrote an essay in 2001 describing his life story and desire to come to America. The immigration gatekeepers were sold, and at age 16, he was placed on an airplane, a first for him, headed for Cairo, then another bound for Beijing, another headed to John F. Kennedy Airport, and finally a commuter jet set for Syracuse, N.Y. Greeting him at the gate, just six weeks before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, were his new foster parents, Robert and Barbara Rogers, who had learned of the resettlement program through their Catholic church."  He became a U.S. citizen in 2007.  Because of his patriotism he was nominated to carry the flag in 2008 in Bejing.

I am so proud that a great man, a great athlete is represented our country.  To me, his presence exemplifies what is best about our country.  We offer safety and freedom, opportunity and resources. I know this is not true for all people who enter our borders, but it is an ideal we strive for. I look forward to hearing more about the life of Mariel Zagunis who is carrying the flag this year.

So why should Invisible Children tell the story of a Lost Boy of Sudan?  Lomong was not taken by the LRA; he did not experience the wrath of Kony.  And yet the underlying causes of the conflict in Sudan and Uganda are the same—corrupt leadership, dire poverty, depletion of resources, and a lack of respect for human rights, human dignity.  The affects of both conflicts are more similar than different.  People are displaced, families are torn apart, young people are forced to take arms and renounce any freedom.

A popular mantra is “Justice begins with awareness.”  Invisible Children’s efforts spoke to the immediacy and power of social media—it brings awareness.  But I also believe we are wondering where awareness can take us.   Maybe it’s to bring a tyrannical leader to justice, maybe it will be to inspire a nation.  From Kony to Lomong, we have humanity at its best and its worst.  We see what a spirit is able to inflict and endure, insist and overcome.  I will look at Lopez Lomong and know that what we put on display for all the world to see is the one who truly triumphs.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

What the British Open Taught Me: Some We Win, Some We Lose

It was both exciting and…..what’s the word?  It was dramatic and yet tragic.  Watching the final round of the British Open on Sunday, July 22, 2012, I was left with one question: Did Ernie Els win or did Adam Scott lose?  You might be thinking the answer is simple: “yes.”  But I want to explore the question again…
Scott, the 32-year Australian golfer played his final 18 holes with a 4-shot lead over Brandt Snedekker and Graeme McDowell, his final round playing partner.   Els was 6-strokes back and 5-under par.  It was Scott’s to lose—so to speak—and he did. 

Similar to the 2012 US Open, I was hoping that Sunday’s leader would force a play-off rather than reveal who was the winner and who was not.  As Scott’s 8-foot putt curved around instead of falling into the final hole, I wondered: to what degree does Scott’s loss take away from Els’ win.  Again, did "The Big Easy" really win?

Els was one of the few contenders who shot under par on Sunday.  Looking at his long putt from across the green on the on 18th hole, one couldn’t help but wonder for a brief moment if a victory was in store.  For some reason however, the lingering feeling that sat with loyal fans at Royal Lytham-St Anne’s and me was different.  It was a one-man loss / one-man win.  For Adam Scott’s four bogeys on the final four holes, we had Ernie Els’ four birdies.  Is that enough evidence?

Look to the golfers and you won’t get an answer.  Scott was remarkably calm and poised.  I expected tears like Andy Murray’s after his Wimbledon final loss or a silence like the New England Patriots’ locker room.  But no, Scott communicated his failing, especially on the last four holes with disappointment, but it wasn’t palpable.  He acknowledged his mistakes, but without a wince.  He looked the camera in the eye and kept his chin up.  Did he lose?

Erine Els said again and again how badly he felt for Scott and how sure he was that Scott would have his moments.  He assured him that just about everything that can happen in the game of golf, I've gone through," said Els. "I've done what Adam has done. So to sit here with the Claret Jug is crazy."

I began to wrestle with this question as it applies to life. This idea is much different than winning the battle but losing the war.  No, this is about how we achieve a goal…how we meet the outcome.  In life we win and we lose, but how we do that varies. 
Sometimes we lose because a better opponent trumps us.  We are clearly outmatched, outsized and outranked.  At other times we simply do not win, not because we are not the worthy opponents, not because we are lacking in ability or spirit and not because our strategy failed.  We don’t step it up at “the” critical moment.  We fail to succeed; the end result is a loss.  It is tough to lose, but the irony is that it’s also tough to win at this moment. 

I think that might be why we have a word for a great victory; it is a triumph. It is not something to be taken for granted.  A great victory leaves the athlete and the spectator with a sense that both teams or athletes played their best and fought until the end.  One had to win. The scoreboard will indicate a winner, but to some degree the game was raised to another level because of the path to victory. 
The final round of “The Open Championship” revealed a different facet of life.  Elections are won, and others are lost.  Relationships, jobs, and even wars are subject to this dynamic.    It is a tough perspective on life, but it also reveals quite a bit about one’s character.  Adam Scott and Ernie Els could not have been more grace-filled and respectable.  In that way, both men won.  Both are champions and Sunday was a triumph for golf.

Photo Credits
Scott congratulates Els
Els with the Claret Jug
Scott Loses
Els' Great Putt
King Fed and Andy Murray

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Pump-Up Songs Reveal Soul & Spirit

Every semester unbeknown to my students, I conduct an informal social experiment.  As they enter the classroom after lunch, the most “chillax” time of the day, I play a sports pump-up song through the speakers. NB: a sports pump-up song is not to be confused with the most inspirational sports song. 

I start with Whomp (There it is)….Tag team back again…. followed by Zombie Nation’s Kenkraft 400 (Sport Chant Stadium Remix) made famous by the New York Yankees rounded out by the latest and most popular “Jock Jam.”  
I pretend as though I am preoccupied with some paper work.  What they don’t know is I am looking to see who reacts and responds to the music.  I want to know who are the students that hear the beat and can’t help but shake it.  I love these kids.  I love their enthusiasm and the fact that they can lower their inhibitions for just a bit. These kids have got soul.  What does that mean?

Soul is spirit.  There is a life pulse in these students—something I do not take for granted.  In "The Holy Longing" Ron Rohlheiser writes: 
First of all, it is the principle of energy. Life is energy. There is only one body that does not have any energy or tension within it, a dead one. The soul is what gives life. Inside it, lies the fire, the eros, the energy that drives us. Thus we are alive as long as there is a soul in our bodies and we die the second it leaves the body.

It is interesting that sometimes when we use the word soul, and think we are using it metaphorically, we are actually using it in a strangely accurate way. Thus, for example, we speak of "soul music.”  What gives music a soul? This can be understood by examining its opposite. Imagine the music that you so often hear in airports, supermarkets, and elevators. It is simple filler, soulless. It does nothing to you. It does not stir your chromosomes.  Certain other music docs and that is why we, precisely call it soul music. It is full of energy, eros, and all the things that eros carries-desire, disquiet, nostalgia, lust, appetite, and hope. Eros is soul and soul gives energy.
But the soul does more than merely give energy. It is also the adhesive that holds us together, the principle of integration and individuation within us. The soul not only makes us alive, it also makes us a one.
At every one of his concerts, my favorite musician Bruce Springsteen asks a crowd of 20,000 adoring fans “Is there anyone alive out there?”  He doesn’t need to beg the question; it’s a rhetorical one.  But he does.  And guess what the response is like.
And I think music is a critical force in making us one.  It can unite a community that is grieving.  It is used to mark celebration.  I truly believe it is the art form that can bring life and energy to humanity in a way that nothing else can. Music makes us dance, sing, understand one another and ourselves in a profound way.  Springsteen concludes his latest album “Wrecking Ball” with the song “We Are Alive.” 
We are alive
And though our bodies lie alone here in the dark
Our spirits rise to carry the fire and light the spark
To stand shoulder to shoulder and heart to heart.
Indeed, "the soul not only makes us alive, it also makes us a one." Perhaps I have more than I thought invested in my wee social experiment. 

And as the “sports pump-up” songs come to a close, I conclude my social experiment with a poll: You’re in the crowd at your favorite sporting event.  Which of these three songs is going to get you and the team the most fired up.  The winner?  Another social experiment… people!!

Photo Credits
The Boss 

Soul Music
Sports Jams music 

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Yesterday's Weight Room Meets Today's Resources

When you were in high school, did you lift weights on campus?  Did your school even have a fitness center or training room?  Have you seen the state of the art equipment and facilities available to today’s student athletes? 

Weight training at my high school—Carondelet—was relegated to a short rotation in PE.  I think we had a few free weights; nothing more than 10 lbs.  We did have a trainer, but her office was a converted dressing room behind the auditorium stage.  Carondelet alumni include two Olympic champions and a host of other great female collegiate athletes.  Across the street at De La Salle, I remember that the weight room was compact and it was full.  It was also a royal sweatbox.  Guys should have called it “the lodge.” 
Last summer I accompanied eight students on a summer service Immersion to Tacoma, WA.  By day we worked at L’Arche farm with developmentally disabled adults and by night we slept on the floor —excuse me, the mats in the wrestling room at Bellarmine High School. After a long day of working on an organic farm, believe it or not, working out was a welcome treat.  But this wasn’t just any treat.  We had access to Bellarmine’s brand new 4,528 square-foot, state-of-the-art training center.
Looking at their spacious facility with the latest equipment, I thought how far things have come.  For example, their website reports, “the opening of the Fitness Center significantly improves the workout experience for members of the Bellarmine community from the standpoints of health and fitness, convenience, and aesthetics. The new center nearly triples the amount of workout space available to students.”  Bellarmine made a huge commitment to fund and build this valuable community resource and they know what it adds to their campus.  “The goal of the center is to provide a healthy, positive and safe environment that will build and strengthen the mind, body and spirit and the benefits will be felt for years by countless members of the Bellarmine community. “

The good news is that this weight training and an increased emphasis on personal fitness is not gender specific!  Bellarmine is co-ed and an all girls high school in Belmont, CA--Notre Dame--has instituted a new requirement this year that all girls visit the strength and conditioning roomat least 25 times before their team starts its season.   Indeed, it is a core element of the school’s athletic program (Catholic San Francisco).

I began to wonder, Do students have an increased access to outstanding spiritual resources as well?  What innovative religious programs might students be excited about today?  I am happy to report that I can easily name two.  I know there are many others—and I welcome your input!

The first is YOUCAT.  YOUCAT is short for Youth Catechism of the Catholic Church, which was launched at World Youth Day 2011 in Madrid (another wonderful event and resource for Christian youth). It was developed with the help of young Catholics and written for high-school age people and young adults. 

Why is it appealing and better than other resources of the past?  For one, YOUCAT is meeting young people exactly where they are—which is anything that pertains to the self.  Look at the name: YOUCAT; YOU are directly addressed.   It’s website says, “YOU are challenged by faith, it's YOUR catechism, make it YOUR own, it's YOUR faith that has been given to you, so make it yours! This is about YOU, YOU are wanted, YOU are needed.”

Second, the images in YOUCAT show young, positive, natural and authentic people in all walks of life. The photos were taken not by professionals, but were made by young, enthusiastic amateurs. YOUCAT encourages readers to send their favorite photos of faith and life ( with the idea that a talented photo may make it to the next print edition.
Its overall graphic format is light years easier to use than the traditional Catechism which may require instruction for navigation. YOUCAT’s graphic format includes Q & A, highly readable commentary, summative definitions of key terms, Bible citations and inspiring quotes from Saints and others in the margins. What's more, because YOUCAT is keyed to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, people can go deeper. It broadens the definition to youth to include not only to those young in age but also to those young in faith. In that sense, it’s invitational.  “When faith is young, questions are the same, whether you are 15 or 50.”
The second resource is, a website that features maps of the Holy Land, where St. Paul traveled, and more.  It allows viewers to see the cities names in the Bible quite clearly.  For example, a student who is reading Joshua:12 can scroll down to that book of the Hebrew Scriptures and the towns or places mentioned in that verse will be highlighted.  This rich visual resource will give students a deeper appreciation of the distance Mary and Joseph had to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem for the birth of their son. 

I’m curious to know how the faith lives of young people have benefitted from these two spiritual treasures.  The results of athletic discipline are easier to measure.  At Notre Dame, “We found if the girls got 25 workouts in, they tended to be injury free.  They went through their season with no injury. Any workouts they got over 25, the girls who got between 25 and 50 workouts saw an improvement in their athletic performance.”  I welcome input on the spiritual benefits as well.

Photo Credits
Bible Map

Bellarmine's Fitness Center

Monday, July 2, 2012

A Call for Change in tradition (small t) in the Church and at Notre Dame

I had no idea the changes in the tradition of the Mass would give me pause to think of another tradition I hope will change—the words of the Notre Dame Fight Song.
Last week I started to believe that after seven months of reciting the new responses in Catholic mass, I had it.  The changes to the Roman Missal stopped feeling so “new.”  However, a few days later at a small daily mass, I heard my own mistake loud and clear.  As the congregation replied, “it is right and just,” I kept talking: “it is right to give Him thanks and praise.”  I was humbly reminded that change is difficult.  But, it can also be valuable and at times, is necessary.

Tradition can remain tradition with change. The Notre Dame faithful may resist my proposed change and may fumble a few times after its implementation, but I believe it too is valuable and necessary.
The new Roman Missal implemented in Advent 2011, served as the perfect opportunity to discuss “Tradition and tradition” with my students.  Perhaps they rolled their eyes as I made another nod to grammar and semantics.  We make distinctions between Catholic and catholic, Saints and saints.  Was yet another upper and lowercase nuance a worthy Catholic tradition?  Was I making something out of nothing?

The definition of tradition in the glossary of “Catholicism” is “Both the process of “handing on” the faith and that which has been handed on.  Tradition (uppercase) includes Scripture, the essential doctrines of the Church, the Eucharist and the other sacraments, and so forth.  Tradition (lowecase) includes changeable customs, institutions, teachings and practices.”

Tradition, also known as Sacred Tradition remains constant.  And, in a secular context, we think of tradition in much the same way.  Tradition is an act, ritual or custom that is passed on from one generation to the next.  It is often respected and appreciated.  It must be explained, practice and taught.  To learn about tradition with the lowercase “t” may seem a bit schizophrenic.  If it’s changeable, then it is tradition?

Once again the Roman Missal served as a worthy example to explain this concept.  Msgr. Anthony Sherman, executive director at USCCB Secretariat of Divine Worship says “It is the book that provides us with prayer text. It serves as a point of unity that keeps us all together, presenting the prayers that are used around the world, in many languages, during universal feasts or holy days.”

In 2002, John Paul II issued a re-examination of the missal.  It was inspired by the fact that the Church now had the lived experience of praying the “new Mass” for 25 years.  “This also provided an occasion to add new prayers, especially where the same oration was used more than once, and to make minor corrections or improvements in many of the prayers. Finally, prayers for the saints added to the calendar since 1975 could be incorporated into the Roman Missal (Catholic San Francisco)”

The changes made may have been just a word or a phrase, but they are not insignificant.  I now stop to think of the new response I am called to give.  On the other hand, the Mass did not change.  And the overall spirit of liturgy as a celebration of the Eucharist remains.  Tradition was in concert with tradition. 

I was largely pleased with the product. I understand why we made the changes.  Some are even beautifulBut the one area that I cannot reconcile is the absence of inclusive language.  Most notably, during the Nicene Creed, we say: “For us men and for our salvation He came down from heaven.”

I believe the Church had perfect opportunity to say “yes” to language that is not limited.  Our response could have been modified to “For us, and for our salvation.”  Or even “for humanity and its salvation. “ In the 25 years that the Church has lived with the experience of the “new Mass” we have only heard more requests for the inclusion of women, be it on the altar or in other leadership roles.  I wish that a change featuring inclusive language became part of our tradition.
And if there is one place that knows and celebrates tradition, it is my alma mater, the University of Notre Dame.  We are united by traditions distinct to each dorm, by traditions that shape football weekends, others that characterize graduation—a last visit to the Grotto and even traditions to carry as an alum—wearing of plaid pants and more.

I received a letter from the alumni director Dolly Duffy calling attention to the fact that we are now celebrating 40 years of coeducation at Notre Dame. 

Duffy, the first female director wrote, “The University is asking women how they would like to celebrate the anniversary.”  My request is clear—please change the fight song to be inclusive of who the student body has been for the past 40 years.
I remember as a student in Farley Hall discussing with several of my friends that the Fight Song should feature inclusive language.  In fact, at every football game, this group made a point of changing the words from “While her loyal sons go marching onward to victory” to “While her sons and daughters go marching….”  The syllables fit. It sounded great. It wasn’t overly contrived.

Over 15 years later, I was reminded that the words have not changed when I saw “The Shirt: 2010.”  The back reads “Rally Sons of Notre Dame.”  A friend turned to me and asked "Why doesn’t it say sons and daughters?”  I didn’t know.  We guessed that because it’s a football shirt, the language is fitting.  My heart of hearts believed otherwise.

Duffy concluded her message noted “we have been blessed by the talents and contributions of amazing women. Father Ted Hesburgh’s experiment has definitely succeeded.”  I hope with the lived experience of 40 years of women at Notre Dame that another experiment launches—a move toward inclusive language at Notre Dame and in the Church.

Photo Credits
Cartoon-Roman Missal

Roman Missal
The Shirt: 2010

Touchdown Jesus
ND Shoulder to Shoulder
ND Tradition