Monday, November 30, 2020

Welcome to Advent: Spiritual Tools Required

A number of my good friends love the holy season of Advent. Truly, it is a beautiful time in the Church. Perhaps the darkness outside makes the light of candles inside shine brighter. It is hard not to find simple joy in the timeless elegance of the Advent wreath and the blue vestments of the priest. When I hear "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" I feel connected to the past—one that has not always been easy or joyful—much like today. And yet, as much as I want to laud this time of preparation, I am slightly conflicted. We are waiting.... waiting...and that is something some of us do better than others. I take the reminders Jesus gave in the Gospel to heart: “Be watchful! Be alert!" It's not a time to rest easy. Indeed, we are called to ready our hearts and our homes for the coming of Christ. This isn't without some effort or frustration.
Sam Grewe, senior track and field athlete and U.S. Paralympian—who I have profiled before—knows a thing or two about frustration. His prosthetic leg requires care and regular maintenance. He has no choice but to "be watchful" and pay attention to its upkeep; this is an important perspective for me to hear.

Sports and Spirituality is always happy to hear when a sporting venue is named as a sacred space. I was thrilled that he identified Loftus Sports Center and intrigued that an equipment room in particular was where he took us—anyone who signs up for the post on Notre Dame's Daily Advent Journey. 

Grewe said, “This is a place that I go to access tools and support staff to repair my prosthetic leg during practices and competitions … When I use the equipment room to repair my leg, I feel frustrated at first because other competitors don’t have to deal with these problems. But that feeling quickly turns to gratitude. Gratitude for access to the resources that I need and for the support of the community around me.” 
I can only imagine the frustration he must feel. I appreciate his honesty, self awareness and his realization. And, I have to believe those difficult spaces are portals for God's grace. I suppose that is true for the season of Advent too—there is beauty and there is waiting, anticipation and expectation.

As Sam spoke, I was struck by the sight of a crucifix on the wall. I wouldn't expect a reminder of Jesus' sacrifice to hang in such a simple, common space. 
 Truly it is a reminder to be grateful for His gift. No wonder Grewe's frustration turns to gratitude. 

Grewe added, "This space is sacred to me because it reminds me that our conditions of body and spirit are always in motion. Whatever brokenness we encounter in our lives does not ultimately define us. Instead, what defines us is how we respond to these challenges. There have been times in my life when challenges could not be fixed with a set of physical tools and I think this is the case for all of us."
"And so when I go the Loftus equipment room and I feel the satisfaction of fixing my leg, I'm able to reflect back on a long journey of gathering the spiritual tools I've needed to overcome cancer and thrive—as a person and a competitor with a prosthetic leg."

This Advent, let us ask: What tools does this season offer us to feel a greater sense of wholeness in our lives with one another and with God? 

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Justin Turner, Apologies and the World We Live in

I played golf with a ginger yesterday. Some of you will know exactly what that means. This red headed, red bearded athlete hit the ball incredibly far and fast off the tee. About three holes in to the round I erroneously called him Justin. His name was Wade. "Justin? he said. "Who's Justin." I apologized. I was hoping he would take it as a compliment, but given what happened after the World Series, I wasn't sure that he would. 

Justin Turner is the All-Star third baseman for the Los Angeles Dodgers. He tested positive for COVID-19 and was removed during the eighth inning of Game 6. Less than an hour later, his team captured the World Series title. 

As the best team in baseball celebrated on the field—hugging, high fiving, screaming and a few men crying, a new and nearly unbelievable story unfolded. Turner reemerged to take a photo with his wife (who was removed from the players' family section to join him in the isolation room). He joined the team for the championship and the next news-bite you will see is a photo of Turner sitting next to the Dodgers' manager, Dave Roberts—smiling, masks down. The media was quick to report that Roberts is a cancer survivor.

On November 6, 2020 Justin Turner shared via Twitter a public apology what happened on October 27, 2020 following the World Series Championship. While some might question why it took the man—who is regarded as the spiritual leader of the team—over a week to express his regret, it is clear that an investigation by MLB was part of the process. At face value, Tuner's actions appear incredibly selfish and disrespectful of the times we are living in. Upon further investigation another story emerges. I will let both his apology—posted on Twitter and through his personal website— and the happenstance around the offense speak for itself. 

It was incredibly liberating to have some emotional distance from this COVID disaster. I am not a Dodger fan in the least. In fact, during the World Series, I was actively rooting against them and for the Tampa Bay Rays. I feel no personal need to defend Justin Turner whatsoever.To me, he let his team and his fans down. I wondered if and how baseball would punish him. He will not be fined by MLB, Los Angeles has its trophy and fortunately no one on his team tested positive for COVID-19 following the win (five people in the Dodgers' organization did test positive but they were outside of the bubble). 

I read his apology. I think it is important that he wrote one for his fans, his teammates and for baseball. I have also read how many people have completely rejected it. People are tired of leaders making mistakes. The public has asked for more of us and of one another in the midst of pandemic. I do not disagree. 

In recent times however, I have noticed just how many apologies are criticized and go unaccepted. I hear it among friends and acquaintances as they harbor anger and antimony long after an offense has occurred. I wonder, Is this the culture of social media? Is this just the time we are living in? I ask these questions because I am concerned. Do we want a society that accepts some apologies and rejects others? And for those who do not accept apologies, I would like to know—what do they want? I imagine the answer is for someone to NOT make the mistake yes.....but I would like to hear more.

You might argue it's a person's right to accept or reject an apology. Fine. My question remains. Where does that leave us? Both the offender and the offended? And on another level, I now wonder, Is it important to say I am sorry? Is owning up to mistakes important? Because an apology isn't a given. It's not necessarily required—is it?!. As I've said more than once, And for what else shall we pray?

COVID-19 has shed a lot of light on inequalities, injustice and more. The pandemic has challenged us to confront matters of life and death, the quality of life for, most especially the least among us in our society. To play a baseball game in the middle of it all, has not gone unquestioned. While it has brought excitement and joy, it has also brought disappointment and further division. However, through MLB, I've been able to see that a world that rejects people owning up to mistakes, and dismisses those who account for their failings is not one I want to live in—before, during or after a pandemic. Aiming to explain what happened and why, knowing you should have done better, and reaching out personally to those you have harmed—well, that's one I do. I won't apologize for that.

Photo Credits
Kourtney and Justin

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

YES....Report on the 2020 Masters

I woke up on Monday morning and completed an emotional inventory. Masters hangover? No way. Too much of this good thing has never left me feeling badly. A little bummed out? Not so much. Why? The 2021 Masters is less than five months away. One has to wonder, if Dustin Johnson wins again, will he put the green jacket on himself? Probably not. Although Jack Nicklaus did when he became the first repeat winner in 1966, when Nick Faldo repeated in 1990 and Tiger Woods in 2002, the chairman of Augusta National did the honors. I'll be watching.

Like many golf fans, I did not take for granted that the tournament was being held. Indeed, the 2020 edition provided us with unadulterated views of the course and four straight days of new content for SportsCenter. We could take in all its beauty—a beauty so captivating its often difficult to look away. While I certainly missed the roar of the crowd, the real reason we watch—the competition was stellar and the champion, triumphant. And so, I would like this post to honor the victor. 

I have written about Dustin Johnson many times. I watched and recorded countless interviews and stories about his first Masters win and second major title. There isn't a lot to say that hasn't already been said; sports stories are running thin right now but I have a few thoughts to share. 
While the world seems to be saying "no" a lot these days. Here are but fives yeses I have to offer.

Yes, Dustin Johnson won the tournament by shooting 20 under, 5 strokes ahead of the second place finishers, Sung-Jae Im of South Korea and Cameron Smith of Australia. DJ now holds the lowest winning score in Masters history. Johnson closed with a 4-under 68 and finished with a final score of 268, breaking the record set by Woods in 1997 and matched by Jordan Spieth in 2015 (-18). His record will be easy to remember: 20 under in 2020. Finally something cool about this year. 

Yes, it was and is hard not to love Austin Johnson. Brothers born three years apart, Austin broke down in tears first, midway through the 18th hole. While not many golfers have a sibling as their caddie, this has proven to be a worthy partnership. Austin has been on the bag with DJ since 2013. One must wonder what he will be doing with his white jumpsuit or green Masters hat this week. Why? In 2016 after DJ won the US Open, Austin revealed he did not take his caddie bib off for a week after the tourney. He said: "I washed it and got it framed, but I had to enjoy it first." He added, "I played golf in it, speared fish in it, went to dinner in it. Everything." 

And yes, their parents gave them names that differ by one letter.

Yes, Dustin's like the rest of us—except, of course, when he's not. The man is unflappable. He appears to have a resting heart rate of 30. However, he admitted he was nervous the whole time. A caddie friend on the tour said "it was nice to see them show raw emotions. Shows a side we never see!" 

Yes, those emotions came pouring out when he was interviewed after he stepped away from the course. "I've never had this much trouble gathering myself,'' Johnson finally said. "On the golf course, I'm pretty good at it.'' Standing and sitting in his 42 Long green jacket, DJ was reminded that he need not apologize—Bubba Watson set that standard and made it more than ok.

Yes, Paulina Gretzky—his fiance—ran onto the green in her own green jacket, albeit a cropped one. Though most men in America will disagree, I thought the yoga pants were inappropriate for Augusta National. Stay classy.

Yes, Sunday at the Masters is a tradition like no other.
Yes, it will return in early April, 2021.
And yes, we will return to it much different and yet the same—eager for the competition, the camaraderie, colors and the commentary. Oh yes....

Photo Credits
Tiger and DJ
Great Swing