Thursday, December 31, 2020

20 for 2020: Number 9—Faith Fondue

The Judds. Florida Georgia Line. Dan and Shay. The Bee Gees. Oh wait, the Brothers Gibb are three for the price of one. I am partial to a good duo—especially in music. The way that two voices blend—one acting in harmony against the melody to create something new, something different, something even better fascinates me. Thus, it is appropriate that I dipped my toes into the world of podcasting by working in tandem with my friend and now virtual partner— Haley. We are the duo behind Faith Fondue. Happy to celebrate a great podcast as number nine on my 20 for 2020, and my final post of this year. 

With six episodes under our belt, Faith Fondue is up and running!  Hit that purple icon on your iPhone and if you type in Faith Fondue, you'll find us! Also, you can now subscribe to our podcast via our own YouTube Channel. Please share it with others. When and if you do, you can tell them that:

Faith Fondue is a new podcast featuring author & speaker—Haley DeMaria and teacher & blogger—Anne Stricherz. 

Faith Fondue features a melting pot of topics, ignited by a flame, our faith, the Holy Spirit. No politics, as fondue is a Swiss cheese, and therefore neutral. Anne and Haley are equal opportunity prayers; we pray for everyone. 

Each week we unpack a new and timely theme. It should come as no surprise that our next theme is new year's resolutions.

Faith Fondue runs off a weekly script that follows this format:

  1. The flameWhat's hot? What's cooking?: In this section, Haley and I loop back to the prior week's theme and unpack what we have marinating in light the new one.
  2. Spiritual Stew serves as the "meat" of our podcast. We share a Gospel reading or faith filled article that we want our listeners to  learn from, read, pray with or hear.
  3. The Melting Pot includes our takeaways from our time together or what we hope listeners will carry with them. I like to feature pieces of perspective or nuggets of inspiration. We have been known to have our "cheesy story" of the week in this final chapter, too. It's fun!
Hosting a podcast invites one to look and listen to the world in a new way. Much like my blog, this podcast serves as a portal for prayer and though personal, allows me to connect in a meaningful way with others. Having to develop content for our weekly script is far from a burden. Rather, it is privilege to even have a platform to lend my voice to the voice of another in the effort of creating something neither of us could do on our own. 

Thank you, Haley reaching out to create something we hope will help others in their own journey of faith. We invite you to join us around the fondue pot. Enjoy!

Follow up on Twitter @FaithFondue
Subscribe to our YouTube Channel

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

20 for 2020—Number 8: The Bee Gees: How Do You Mend. Broken Heart

When it comes to sports and music, I never doubt the opinions of my good friend and classmate Alex. On Facebook he wrote "The Bee Gees documentary on HBO is one of the best documentaries I’ve ever seen." I immediately gave it a like and knew I was in for a treat. Their story "The Bee Gees: How Do You Mend a Broken Heart" is the gift I treasure the most this Christmas.

The two hour documentary opens with the faint but familiar echoes of Stayin' Alive. The first video footage features the band in a limo, escorted by California Highway Patrol across a bridge and into a stadium I know so well. The first shot of Barry, Maurice and Robin Gibb is on stage at the Oakland Coliseum. I feel for but a moment as if this program was created for me to see. What follows is number eight on my 20 for 2020. Thank you to the Brothers Gibb.

At first, I wondered why the director, Frank Marshall, chose the name "The Bee Gees: How Do You Mend a Broken Heart?" To me, that song, though unbelievably beautiful doesn't symbolize the energy that is synonymous with their disco dancing, popular, and upbeat music. "How Do You Mend a Broken Heart" is soulfully haunting. Truly, it carries the weight, the pain the sadness of heart that aches. Why name a program after it? I found my answer in the final ten minutes...the point at which the floodgate for tears started to flow. In fact, there a few are still coming down now....

Born three years apart, Barry and his twin brothers Robin and Maurice acted more like triplets. They developed a three part harmony—but one reason for their tremendous success. Noel Gallagher, co-lead vocals for the band Oasis, said "When you’ve got brothers singing it’s like an instrument that no one else can buy." And yet, Barry admitted, "if we hadn’t been brothers, we wouldn’t have lasted half an hour." 

Both Robin and Barry wanted individual recognition but their voices blended in a way that something totally new and dynamic was born. The documentary does an excellent job of informing the viewer and equipping the ear to hear and understand their own voices cannot be distinguished one from the other. Marvelous. But there's more to this pop band than just harmony and melody. As written by Owen Glieberman in ‘The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart’ Review: The Enthralling Documentary,"

at the end of the session, when they were fooling around, Barry added the sunburst falsetto echo of the chorus. That one improvised moment transformed their sound. Their signature would now be a falsetto so high, so gospel pure, so Bee Gees that it poked through the clouds. (Justin Timberlake compares their voices to trumpets.)

I love when an album lists "voice" as the instrument of an artist in a band. How true for the Brothers Gibb, as this new, improvised instrument changed the trajectory of their musical careers. 

with their brother Andy, twelve/nine years their junior

This blog seeks to explore the relationship of sports and spirituality, but quite often I feel called to write about music—rock 'n 'roll, pop music, country music and spirituality. At times, this is no stretch at all. For example, in the documentary, Chris Martin, the lead singer of Coldplay said, "Music is this huge energy that is flying around everywhere and if you’re lucky, you get little slices of it that turn into songs." I would say the same for sports.

The Bee Gees wrote over 1,000 songs, including 20 number-one singles in the U.S. and the U.K., and those songs became the soundtrack to a lot of people’s lives. Though most are pop tunes, I find several of them to be spiritual.

Robin, Barry and Maurice in front of the Bay Bridge, San Francisco Bay.

The influences, the inspiration, the harmony and sound of "How Deep is Your Love" might be the most beautiful story within this film. The keyboardist on the song tears up as he says "that song came from my heart." He didn't even need to say those words....listen—you will understand.

Martin adds "the Bee Gees are a brilliant chapter in the book of music." That is a book I cannot and do not want to live without.

Glieberman of Variety magazine adds, "part of the film’s excitement is how thoroughly it explores the question of where, exactly, the Bee Gees fit into the pop firmament. How deep was their greatness?" I love this question. It is one that will stay with I welcome around the fire pit (COVID certified). 

I suppose Sir Barry Gibb answers the question. He says, "When I think about it now, I think about how it all started. We just had this dream and we thought well, what do we want to be famous for? Turns out it was the songwriting. Everything we set out to do, we did. Against all odds." I am so grateful they did.

The soundtrack of my life, a girl born into a family that loves and celebrates music has "Saturday Night Fever" as one of the earliest chapters. After watching the documentary, I took to the streets of San Francisco, an urban setting that has fallen on hard times and I hear the beats of that same sound track with a deeper appreciation. And as with any holiday, I reminisce about loved ones we have lost and the title "How Do You Mend a Broken Heart" isn't lost on me. I'll leave Barry's final words to underscore the rest (heavy).

What an awesome Christmas gift. Thank you, Alex. And thank you Barry, Maurice, and Robin. And rest in peace Maurice, Robin and Andy. I am confident that heaven sounds better because of your harmonies.

Photo Credits
with Andy
Three Brothers

FYI: Songs written by the Brothers Gibb recorded by others: Islands in the Stream, Grease,  Woman in Love, If I Can't Have You, Heartbreaker, Emotion

Monday, December 28, 2020

20 for 2020—Number 7: My Favorite Stat—Zero Putts

Sports and Stats: I'm sure there is a blog someplace, somewhere that pays homage to an attribute of the game we sports fans and athletes speak, remember, record and pass on to others (hello, Baseball Encyclopedia, right?!). While some sports to pay too much attention to stats (think sabermetrics in MLB) I would dare say it is irresponsible for any sports writer or fan not to recall what we tally and book in a physical contest. Yes, the rhetoric of 2020 is "science is real." Well, so are sports stats—which is why number seven on my 20 for 2020 is the sharing of my favorite one.

While I have had a favorite athlete, team, coach, sporting event and award (defensive player of the year), I don't know that I ever had a favorite stat. I would encourage any athlete to consider their own beloved statistic within the sport they play. Naming a favorite stat, illuminates nuance of  the game. It celebrates where challenge and opportunity meet. Yes, I already know what a number of golfers will say: their favorite stat is a low score. Touché. However I have my own and it's fun to track: zero putts.

A zero putt occurs when a golfer gets the ball into the cup from off of the green (often called holing it out). Much to the chagrin of a good friend, I frequently use my five iron instead of chipping, pitching or putting the ball from off the green. I place this long club at the back of my stance and let it work as a putter. Much to my delight, this club has guided my golf ball into the cup. And with that, a zero putt is born.  

On my scorecard, I mark if the ball was in the fairway (F) or to the right or left of it (FR or FL). I put an "x" if I was on the green in regulation. I write down my actual score and then how many putts I had on that hole. I savor every chance I get to write a "0" in that stat line. Yay! I hope that one day a zero putt will be born, thanks to a hole-in-one. Stay tuned.

The short game is my nemesis. However, it must be embraced if one is long for the game of golf. While I won't say I would be on the LPGA tour if it weren't for putting, I do know, I'd have lower scores, fewer headaches, decreasing self doubt about my personal worth not to mention the game of golf. Sigh. The truth of the matter is that I'm not the only golfer who struggles with this component of the game. 

According to "Putting by the Numbers,

Consistent low putting relies on two important putting stats; putts per round and putts per hole. Given two putts per hole, a golfer can achieve total putts per round of 36. The USGA statistics states the average male golfer shoots a 98-99 and has at least 40 putts per round or 2.2 putts per hole. Most recreational and amateur golfers are well above this number while professional golfers average about 1.8 putts per hole and 32 putts per round.

I would love to know how many of those golfers have a "0" putt per round. 

Only a great putt elicits this much emotion on the golf course.

As much as I loathe putting, I will say, making a tough one feels so good. That sentiment is however trumped by the joy of holing it out / getting the ball into the cup from off of the dance floor. And every time I do, I make a point of sharing with my playing partner, "zero putts. That's my favorite stat" (NB: if they make it, I share that same info). I have yet to play with a golfer who doesn't react. They always pause, realize what I am celebrating and appreciate this perspective inside the game.

What is your favorite stat? How do you share it? Would love to tally this up....

Photo Credits

Sunday, December 27, 2020

20 for 2020: Number Six—A Case for Online Mass

In San Francisco where I live, in person attendance for Mass has been largely forbidden since March. Because of my workplace, I have been able to receive the Eucharist a few times. For example, the 2020-2021 school year began with an all faculty mass outdoors, socially distanced with the option for teachers to sit in their cars. And, the fall semester concluded with a "Class Mass on the grass" for junior and senior students. I am grateful I was able to pray with a few of them "en vivo." The reality of such restrictions and limitations on the public call to worship hasn't been lost on me. I can easily name what I have missed and what I long for when we can gather again. But, number six on my 20 for 2020 is a reflection on what I have found: a virtual parish, this COVID family of faith.

In March, my friend Mike invited me to attend the Zoom mass offered by our mutual friend, a Holy Cross priest Father Tom Doyle, C.S.C. What started as a gathering of his large family and number of friends from Notre Dame has become much more—so much so that I gave a talk at the beginning of the school year entitled "Seven things I have learned from online Mass." 

My colleague invited and encouraged me to share my findings in a professional development seminar. Thank you Meighan! We teachers also lead our students in prayer, we call them to reflect on the Word and selected readings in person and now on Zoom. Even in the virtual classroom, we invite young people to offer their own prayers, we tell our own stories, and we too have rituals and traditions. Class was different and yet it was the same. This realization is something that will stay with me as a characteristic of teaching during COVID.

From attending online mass, I came to understand how and why this virtual parish has been working. For one, most attendees hear the sound of their own name, either before, during or after the mass. What that we all received a personalized greeting, kiss of peace or farewell in our own parishes?! It makes a huge difference to be recognized and welcomed; one feels connected. Best practices 101 for the re-opening of churches, right here. Please note, when/if one would prefer to be anonymous, screen off is totally acceptable. Perhaps that is the equivalent of sitting in the back pew, corner seat at church? 

In this parish, I am reminded—and need to be— that though life in a pandemic is different, it's also the same. The joys and challenges, struggles and gifts of the human experience haven't vanished. In fact, they're not even on pause. For example, we were with Father Tom in the weeks and days leading up to his own father's death and we prayed with and for him when he died. Today, we celebrated the wedding anniversary of a couple who has been married but one year. This is what a community of faith does.

But what I find most remarkable about this Sunday Zoom mass is that it is a testament to the power of sports and spirituality. Father Tom lived with a member of the Notre Dame swim team as an undergraduate, and through that roommate he became friends with several other swimmers. These athletes had an experience so meaningful and significant that they have remained friends with one another, as well as their coach, Tim Welsh over 30 years later. They still call him "Coach" and we pray for him every week as he continues his treatment for cancer. If I were to determine what a successful program looks like—and I am asked to do that working in the athletic department—I would have to say, this Sunday gathering is one notable answer.

The power and significance of the relationships among those people who show up every Sunday is not lost on me: coach to athlete, uncle to nephew, roommate to roommate, old friend to old friend, new friend to new. We are appreciative, grateful for the leadership of those who work to make Sunday mass go. I don't know that this virtual parish will ever gather in the way I will once again with  my fellow members of Saint Vincent de Paul.....but I hope in some way, in some capacity we will. Not all has been, much has been found.

Photo Credits
Tom Doyle, CSC
Faith during COVID

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

20 for 2020: Number Five—Walking 20 Minutes/Day

When Gretchen Rubin, the cohost of one of my favorite podcasts HAPPIER invited her listeners to "Walk for 20 Minutes Every Day in 2020: #Walk20in20!" I accepted. I know for many people, even 20 minutes is a challenge, but for me this was nothing outside of very practical. For one, I am privy to a lot of steps: I am a city dweller, I park my car on the street. I live on the third floor in walk-up apartment building. I teach at a school that has 25 acres. I play golf. But I was intrigued by their goal of  (at minimum) 20 minutes of sustained walking, everyday.  I already make time to exercise everyday—which these days is mostly in the form of walking— in order to maintain both my physical and mental health. But, I wanted to improve one area of my life that always in need of more time, and more attention—my spiritual health. I knew this challenge could help.

For the last 10 years of my life as a runner, I ran without music. I have no idea what it would be like to run while listening to a podcast, because there weren't any when I used to run. I ran in silence and I loved it. This was my time for prayer and reflection. However, my experience as a walker is quite the opposite. I have my podcast playlist, and each one has done a great job keeping me informed on matters of sports and spirituality. I often walk talk on the phone. I occasionally text and read my email. Many voices, various platforms demand my attention. Therefore, I decided to repurpose the #Walk20in2020 to include silence. I had high hopes it would re-energize my spiritual health and deepen my prayer life. Errr.... How long does it take for us to create a new habit?

If I were on air, Gretchen would give me a demerit. I walked for 20 minutes in silence until we entered into COVID. I'm ok with the excused absence; thank you for the hall pass. But, the idea and the invitation stays with me. Perhaps Lent 2021 will call me into this space.

I will however accept a gold star for their recommendation to walk once a week with a friend. During COVID, I have met up with so many different colleagues, old friends, and new ones, I have lost count. I treasure the time I have shared whether its in person, face mask and all or through my iPhone. And how great is it that walking costs—nothing! Still, the ability and opportunity to walk doesn't go unappreciated. During the California wildfire season, it was unsafe to walk outside for nearly one week. Furthermore, I know people who live in places on the planet that have COVID restrictions so severe, they cannot leave their homes, except for essential activity. I pray for their physical, mental and spiritual health that they are able to walk again, soon.

I will add a gold star for my personal policy of walk and carry. Golfers have many options for how to handle their sticks: golf cart, push cart, remote control cart, caddy, etc. While my back prefers that I use a pushcart, my entire muscular system is digging the straps on my bag. I have not lifted a weight since mid-March, so walking and carrying my elusively heavy golf bad is what I got. Move over kettle bells...hello Ping Hoofer. Isn't it pretty?!!

I read today that the Happier podcast is challenging listeners to read for 21 minutes in 2021. No doubt that will fortify my spiritual health as well. In the meantime, I'll continue to put one foot in front of another—in silence, or however the Spirit moves me.

Photo Credits
Walk and Carry
In Praise of Walking.

Monday, December 21, 2020

20 for 2020: Number Four: George Kittle + Panda Express = Funniest Story I Read All Year

And on the eighth day, God made George Kittle.

After a full day of rest, the Lord God must have been re-energized. To me, that's the only way to explain how an athlete with a personality and persona, the drive and discipline of George Kittle came to be. 

On the field, Kittle has been unstoppable. In 2018, #85 set the single-season record for receiving yards (1,377)  by a tight end. A two-time Pro Bowler and a First-team All-Pro selection, he is credited with leading the Niners' charge to Super Bowl LIV. He has struggled, like many Niners with injuries this year. Everyone is hoping that 2021 is a better year. Everyone.

Watching Kittle play is both energizing and exhausting. He blocks effectively—while turning up the speed—as a tight end should. This play against the New Orleans Saints is textbook Kittle: his refusal to go down, the yards after catch, the leaning into the fight. Stiff arm? More like an iron rod. As the challenge increases—not one, not two, but three defenders—are necessary to curb his enthusiasm. The player who resorts to pulling Kittle's face mask only reveals who he has been and still loves to be—a wrestler. In the same way I see ND quarterback Ian Book as a former lacrosse player, I dare you to watch Kittle and ignore his wrestling past. It cannot be done.

I have wondered what it would be like to be married to man like George Kittle. My guess is that his wife was born on the seventh day—the day God rested. There must be some yin to the yang.

The reason that George Kittle is Number Four on my 20 for 2020 is because of the story "I spent an entire Monday at a Santa Clara Panda Express in search of 49ers TE George Kittle." by SFGate writer, Grant Marek. This piece prompted me to laugh harder and louder than any other, all year. Thank you, Mr. Marek!! 

What you need to know is that Kittle's love for Panda Express (which I support) is trumped by the love his fans have for him. Marek may not have been the first 49er Faithful to have done this....he might not be the last. 

In early January, I told an employee at my golf club that he looked like George Kittle. That began a friendship that prompted me to purchase a Christmas gift, I think that he too will appreciate. Although it is NOT a signed jersey from #85, it is a gift card to Panda Express. It's good at any location--especially in Santa Clara. 

Enjoy the read...and God's creation.

Photo Credits
Panda Express

Thursday, December 17, 2020

20 for 2020: Number 3—Seek and Ye Shall Find

In Matthew 7:7 Jesus proclaims, 

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.

For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

Matthew's Gospel passage is one I have memorized. I repeat these words to myself quite often. I believe they are true—or, at least....I want to believe they are true. I hold them in my heart with faith and with doubt. His message encourages me and it challenges me. Does that resonate with you? Do you believe the Lord when He says that the "heavenly Father give(s) good things to those who ask him?" 

When uncertainty creeps in, I try to take a step back. I look for perspective. I consider: what questions do I have? In his daily Advent reflections Matthew Kelly says "If you ask the wrong question, you'll always get the wrong answer." I realized the question I should ask myself...and the question I have for you is: 

  • Are you asking God for what you want? 
  • Are you seeking what you desire? 
  • Are you standing at the door? 
  • And are you standing at the door? Are you knocking at that door that separates you from someone or some place?

My favorite blog post of 2020 to read, write and live was "Stooping in San Francisco: What I Found and What Found Me." This piece explains the phenomena popularly known as up-cycling,  recycling or stooping (in New York) and gives evidence to the truth—we do seek and find. But, it also suggests that we are found. We too are received. We are not the only ones who ask. Others ask us. We can help them find. Indeed, we are received. 

A few weeks ago, a friend asked me if I sold my bike as she was in the market for one. I wasn't surprised, as cycling is one of the safer and less restricted activities permitted during COVID. In fact, many streets in San Francisco have been made into "slow streets." These roads are closed off to through traffic and are now biker, walker and runner friendly. The result? I've never seen so many bicycles used by your everyday person (read: not part of the cyclist subculture).

Truth be told, I sold my bicycle in June. I have never had so many calls for a single posting on Craigslist. Bikes were in high demand and short supply. My price point was low: I want to keep some things affordable in SF! 

One week later, I took my every day walking route to find a woman's bike, standing proudly—upright and lovely—in front of Alta Vista Park. Taped to it, a sign read "Free Bike! It Works!"

I looked around, wondering if I was on candid camera. I made eye contact with a neighbor and shrugged. I said "this looks nice!" I got on the bike and started peddling. I made my way down my "slow street" and was reminded why so many people have taken to cycling. 

My friend has a new (used) bike! She asked and received. I looked and I found. A new door has been opened: a door of understanding and communion. Truly, God gives 
good things to those who ask Him—friendship being one of the best. 

Photo Credits: all mine!

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

20 for 2020—Number 2: AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am....Yes, And

One of the lessons I have I learned from a friend who teaches Improv is the importance of "Yes, and..." This rule-of-thumb in improvisational comedy suggests that a participant should accept what another has stated ("yes") and then expand on that line of thinking ("and"). "Yes, and..." asks a person to be open, to work with what you have been given and to add your own input, ideas and flair. And, it's a response I gave to a friend in February 2020; I'm so glad I did.

Jimmy always has good playing partners.

I have attended the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am many times in my life. In fact, I treasure so many of the memories I have made at this golf tournament characterized by great weather, horrific weather...quite often—both, against a magnificent setting! 

In 2019, my friend Don organized a fun group of friends to watch and cheer for his classmate—one of the amateurs— the much beloved Jimmy Dunne. We had such a great time that we didn't feel an urgent need to return in 2020. The locals among us realized the 2020 crew was different. The weather was waning. We all said "next year, for sure."

This photo is classic Jimmy and friends

After watching the Pro-Am all week and thinking back to 2019, Don called me late Friday/early Saturday and said "what do you think about going down on Sunday to watch Jimmy D?" Without hesitation, I said "yes, and I have been considering the same thing. Let's do it." 

A number of regular fans stayed home that Sunday because the winds were expected to be mighty and strong. Others were still recovering from over eating/over drinking the Sunday prior, during Superbowl LIV. The Niner Faithful should have come to the Monterey Peninsula to lift their spirits after the close loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. I am so, so, so glad we did. 

The wind wasn't that bad. The golf was great. The sparser crowd meant that we had more time to walk and talk with Jimmy, and his caddie, Lenny. I hope they come back in 2021, even though we won't be able to. The tournament announced this past week they will not host spectators. 

The 2020 Pebble Beach ProAm is the only professional sporting event I attended in this past year. The fact that this is newsworthy speaks to my privilege. Yes, I am a massive sports fan and I am blessed. But in naming number 2 on my 20 for 20, I realize: I am thankful for friendships that invite us to say "yes." I am grateful for the "and" I can offer. I aim to be a person who says "yes" and I hope you do.... too.

Photo Credits
Jimmy with Phil
Having Fun

Monday, December 14, 2020

20 for 2020: Number 1—Ian Book

In recent months, it hasn't been easy to write this blog. The world of sports is __________. I'll let you fill in the blank. And yet, with just under 18 days remaining in what many people have deemed the most challenging year of their lives, I would like to conclude on a positive note. In fact, I will offer 20 for 2020. Here's to those people, places, events and episodes that brought some joy to a world desperately in need of it.

Number One: #12 Ian Book

Is it the hair cut? The high socks? Every time I look at University of Notre Dame's starting quarterback Ian Book I wonder, Is he really from this era? If you heard him speak, you might think the same thing. In a recent interview with Dan Patrick he answered questions "yes, sir" or "no, sir." Ian Book is a man without a nickname. Even that seems downright impossible in today's day and age (although he did share that one coach tried to call him I-Book....I like it...I guess no one else did). Is Ian Book a throwback? No. There's more to it and then again there's not....which is just one reason, among many that he is my first profile for 2020.

If Ian Book walked into a room, he would intimidate.... no one. Standing what he claims to be a "true 6'0" you would never guess this young man from the El Dorado Hills is not only the starting QB of the #2 team in the country but the winningest of all time. Looks are often deceiving.

With the Irish's 45-21 win over Syracuse, Book made Irish Football history in recording his 30th win, surpassing Irish legends Brady Quinn, Ron Powlus and Tommy Clements who each had 29. Although the students were not on campus for the final home game of the 2020 season—senior day— they were for the double overtime upset over the number one team in the country, Clemson. In what is largely considered ND's greatest win since the "Game of the Century," Book completed 22 passes for 310 yards and a touchdown, with zero interceptions and 14 rushes for 67 yards AND he was awarded the game ball. I love that tradition!

I met Ian Book on the field inside of Notre Dame Stadium in the summer of 2018 at Football 101—a fundraiser organized by Paqui Kelly and the Kelly Cares Foundation. Irish faithful had high hopes for an athletically gifted quarterback—Brandon Wimbush, who was promised the starting job. I remember Wimbush had quite a presence—a positive one, a strong one. He spent a lot of time talking to fans, helping us out, posing for a whole lot of selfies and serving as a warm and welcoming face of the program.  But he wasn't the only athlete at the quarterbacks' station.  Coach Tom Reis, Ian Book and a few other offensive players were on hand and ready to help us throw the pigskin a little better—with a little more accuracy and zip. We were encouraged to throw the football into several targets and the guys had as much fun as we did when we converted the pass. 

Knowing that Book, who had gotten some playing time in the 2017 season was from Northern California, I asked him if he went to Jesuit High School in Sacramento. He told me where he went and I replied by telling him that I teach and coach at St. Ignatius College Prep in San Francisco. He immediately said he was familiar with SI because he played lacrosse. I have always been able to see the lacrosse player in Book on the field. When asked by Dan Patrick, "Are you a runner or a scrambler?" Ian said "scrambler." I would say "lacrosse player."

In that class, I have to admit....I did sit next to Chase Claypool.
The fangirl in me isn't ashamed to admit it

A year later, I attended a class taught by a friend in the Mendoza College of Business on Sports Ethics. As a teacher of a Sports and Spirituality class, I am often asked about the profile of my class. Thus, I asked the professor the same question. He said "a number of athletes," but he  didn't mention any names. He  cited a few teams and concluded by adding "not enough female students." I get it. And much to my delight Ian Book walked in a five minutes early for class. The alumna in me was happy and impressed that our student athletes are in class, on time—on a Friday morning....the day before the home opener! This year, as a non-degree seeking fifth year student Book took three Irish Studies courses. He told Dan Patrick that he wanted to learn more about the culture and history of Ireland since the team was scheduled to play in Dublin in August 2020.

I would like Ian to know he has written a chapter in a different book of Irish history....and grateful for it. Best of luck in the ACC Championship game and the post-season. Thank you for the joy Notre Dame football has provided in a year like no other. 

Photo Credits
Ian and Clay
Solo Shot
Senior Day

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Is Breakdancing a Sport? Is it Spiritual?

One of the more common questions I ask in Sports and Spirituality is for students to determine if a given activity is a sport. Is competitive eating a sport? Esports—yes or no? Is breaking dancing? And of equal importance, are they spiritual?

Several students knew why I was asking this question. On December 7, 2020 the IOC announced that "breaking," the official name for competitive breakdancing, will become an Olympic sport for the first time at the 2024 Paris. Surfing, skateboarding and sport climbing have also been approved, but those three events will also be a part of the Tokyo Olympics in 2021.

One of my students admitted, "it’s always been something I’ve wanted to try. It’s definitely a sport though, it requires so much strength and coordination to be able to do some of the tricks they do!" 

I asked the class how our school might be different if we offered breaking as a varsity sport. For once, the Zoom gallery revealed every student's face. The all too frequent site of a ceiling fan or screen to black was gone. They wanted to weigh in. Some responded to this question by sharing the sports' history, who it attracts and why. Diversity among the sports we offer emerged as a shared value.

There was little debate as to whether or not breaking is spiritual. Many noted that the passion of b-boys and b-girls channeled through dance is a spiritual exercise. The testimony from Nimoy Vaidya, profiled on #GrottoStories suggests that if breakdancing isn't spiritual, what is?

As written by Grotto Network,

Breakdancing is more than a hobby for Nimoy Vaidya. It’s a way for him to be fully himself, a path toward healing, and a source of joy. Born in Kathmandu, Nepal, Nimoy moved to the U.S. for school in 2015. While struggling through his parents’ divorce and being bullied at school, he found an outlet in the “b-boy” culture.

“Yeah, I have tough days, but usually, a little bit of music and a little bit of dancing fixes that,” he shares. “That’s why I do it — because it just brings me joy immediately.”

Vaidya's story affirms that "joy begets joy." His delight, his talent, his enthusiasm inspires others. You have to watch this video!

My students "like that he was able to use it as a way to heal." They are aware that every person needs his or her "outlet." They value that breaking has been used for "self expression." One young woman said, "I appreciate how he didn’t let society pressure him into something that didn’t make him happy. He found breaking or did breaking find him?"

The IOC has noted that breaking will attract young people who may not follow some of the traditional sports. And its inclusion isn't without controversy. 

Allison Durkee of Forbes writes, "Some dancers believe the Olympics could cause the sport to lose some of its authenticity, or devalue aspects of breaking routines that are harder to judge, like originality and passion."

It's important that we preserve the essence and the culture, and that it doesn’t get lost in the competitive grind as we continue to progress and make steps into the Olympics.”

These are worthy considerations. As is this statThe 2024 games will be fully gender equal, with 50% female and male participation, as compared with 48.8% female participation in the Tokyo games. The Paris Olympics will also have 28 gender-equal sports, out of 32 total, and 22 mixed events, as compared with 18 in Tokyo.

I hope we can agree, 100% will be spiritual. 

Photo Credits
Crazy Legs

Monday, December 7, 2020

One Ingredient Makes All the Difference: Love

One of the great joys of playing golf with my girlfriends comes in the form of an unexpected exchange that takes place on the first tee. This gift is never a given; it is truly a surprise. It is delightful and comes in handy half way through the round—if I can wait!  It is a homemade treat, a baked good. And it always tastes better because of one ingredient. Here's more.

Playing golf with friends is already a treat—the time together, the friendly competition and witty banter, the beauty of the great outdoors, the exercise, the game. But, the seasonal pumpkin bread, a slice of banana chocolate chip loaf, a six pack of Blondies or even a bag of homemade mixed nuts is something I savor. 

A dear friend of mine is known for her two specialities: oatmeal chocolate chip cookies and cinnamon rolls. Her athletes and students, those lucky recipients of these creations, note that her treats are "the bomb!" It's true. When she at long last revealed to me why they are so good, I took note.

Haley bakes with with love. It makes "the" her goodies and in the gifts I receive from my golf girlfriends. Next time you get cooking, give it a shot and consider a group that might benefit from such fortified food.

I found one as I read the most recent issue of Catholic San Francisco, The Calendar posted an opportunity of Service and Action, inviting people to "support the Restorative Justice Ministry's holiday activities for the nearly 800 people housed in SF County Jail. Donate cards for inmates to send to their families or treats personally or by offering financial support." 

These are my brothers and sisters in Christ, people we are called to love. Though the reality of being imprisoned and separated from loved ones is heavy, reading about this call for cards and baked goods for the incarcerated isn't. I realized this was not only something I could do, it is something I want to do. And most importantly, I want to include that key ingredient: love. In fact this is something we can all do—whether its for our parents and siblings at a family dinner, in making a batch of chocolate cookies for friends, colleagues and teammates, a to-go treat for your next foursome, to feed the hungry or in extending care to those in prison.

This holiday, we are all looking to bring some light to our world. That might be a good ingredient to include too...

If you are in SF, send or deliver cards, checks or cash to Julio Escobar, coordinator
One Peter Yorke Way.  San Francisco, CA 94019

And special thanks to Brook, Karen, Monica and Haley for the love!!

Photo Credits
Norwegian Proverb
Restorative Justice Wordle

Thursday, December 3, 2020

Pope Francis' Culture of Encounter with the NBA

Pope Francis' Twitter handle— @Pontifex—is Latin for "bridge builder." As evidenced in a recent meeting with five NBA players, the Holy Father continues to exemplify what this name implies. Professional basketball captures the attention of millions of Americans—young and old, religious, spiritual and nowhere in between! His invitation is but another example of the “culture of encounter,” which I find to be a great model for spiritual leadership. That being said, I also wish the audience included five WNBA players. Here's more. 

According to The New York Times, "In June, Pope Francis said he had watched the social unrest enveloping the United States with 'great concern.' In his October encyclical, titled “Brothers All,” a reflection on fraternity and social friendship, the pope wrote that “a readiness to discard others finds expression in vicious attitudes that we thought long past, such as racism, which retreats underground only to keep re-emerging. Instances of racism continue to shame us, for they show that our supposed social progress is not as real or definitive as we think.” And in November, he extended an invitation to the NBA players' union to learn more about their efforts toward addressing social justice and economic inequality. Pope Francis spoke to the power of sport both on and off the court. They met for a half hour in Rome on the Monday of Thanksgiving week—November 22, 2020.

Pope Francis has preached, taught and written about the “culture of encounter” time and again. In short the "culture of encounter" means that I have something good to give to another person, and the other has something good to give me. Those gifts are simple—our presence, our smile, a willingness to listen, ask questions, and affirm one's talents, efforts and ministry are but a few examples of what we can give and receive. 

The five male players — Marco Belinelli, Sterling Brown, Jonathan Isaac, Kyle Korver and Anthony Tolliver — were joined in the delegation by NBA players' union executive director Michele Roberts and two other union executives, Sherrie Deans and Matteo Zuretti. The group "presented the pope with a commemorative basketball, a union-produced book highlighting efforts players have taken and an Orlando Magic jersey." 

Listening to what they brought prompted me to consider what I might give the Holy Father. And what would I receive? I have thought about a message I might like to share with the pope. I can only imagine what he might want to say to me....about Sports and Spirituality, teaching theology, hosting a podcast or writing a blog.

I love the word "encounter." To me, it implies invitation and openness. There is an element of surprise and wonder when this type of connection occurs. And yet, I have rarely had a meaningful encounter with another person that was totally sufficient. Quite often, I wish I had shared a certain story or asked a follow up question. I can't help but revisit something I said...or didn't say. I have often hoped that one encounter will lead to another!

As meaningful as this encounter is and was, I do wish the invitation had been extended to the WNBA as well. (I also think it's fair to wonder why he didn't wear a mask, nor did the players at an indoor event—NB: all were tested on site). I would like to know why Pope Francis and/or his staff didn't think of including these female athletes as well for they have long been doing what the NBA is lauded for doing. 

In Just a Reminder: The WNBA Has Been Leading the Social-Justice Charge For Years, Maggie Ryan writes

The NBA's voice is urgently needed in this fight, but with all due respect, it's the WNBA that has been at this for a long time. As early as 2017, as President Trump was castigating NFL players for kneeling during the anthem, entire WNBA teams were taking a knee or even walking off the court while "The Star-Spangled Banner" played. The year before, three teams were fined for wearing Black Lives Matter shirts, then fought those fines until they were dropped, raising public awareness in the process.

WNBA teams have hosted town halls on race and spoke with civil rights leaders like the late Rep. John Lewis. And all of that was before this season, which the league dedicated to racial justice and the #SayHerName movement following the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor at the hands of police. Some players even opted to sit out the season altogether to further this work. And let's not forget that, according to WNBA Players' Association (WNBAPA) President Nneka Ogwumike, WNBA players stand to lose more financially, relative their NBA counterparts, by skipping these games.

The WNBA was one of, if not the first, league to show this kind of collective, meaningful action for racial justice, and these players have paved the way for the movement we're seeing today in men's pro sports. All of these voices are needed in this fight, but credit where credit is due: WNBA players have been leaders for years. As WNBA All-Star and WNBAPA Vice President Chiney Ogwumike has said, "it's in our DNA."

The WNBA is certainly a group that is building bridges. And, I'm pleased to report they aren't going unnoticed on or off the court. In fact, their post-season ratings were up by 14%. This is an impressive stat when sports fans realize the viewing of the NBA, NHL and MLB post-season games were down, significantly. 

I don't want that point to overshadow the greater good that this encounter brought for the players, their fans and the Church.  For some people, it might. I have wondered if some would like the Holy Father to step down from his leadership position for not wearing a mask in an indoor setting. I do want to know—if we are to build bridges...if we are to promote a culture of encounter, how much must we "get right?" Thoughts? 

My Prayer: God and gracious God. Let us continue to build bridges with one another—near and far. Help us to promote and engage in a culture of encounter. There is so much good to give...and receive.

Photo Credits