Sunday, February 27, 2022

The Lord Loves a Thoughtful Giver, Too

Saint Paul's second letter to the Corinthians tells us "The Lord loves a cheerful giver." What a great message, a powerful reminder, and poignant sentiment. Indeed, there is a certain joy and inspiration when one gives cheerfully. And yet, if I might make one suggestion—a tiny edit, can we add the the Lord loves a thoughtful giver, too?!

Recently, I've been thinking a lot about gifts. They come in all shapes and sizes, categories and more. Who doesn't love a surprise gift, a funny gift, a personal gift or a unique one? Gifts make life a little sweeter. Truly, they can brighten your day. 

For some people, "receiving gifts" is their primary love language. According to What the Receiving Gifts Love Language Means for a Relationship, "Gift Giving, which means we “speak” our love through presents ranges from small tokens to surprise deliveries." If this is your beloved's lexicon, I recommend placing both cheer and thought behind that which has been given.

But gifts can also feel forced. Too many are pro forma or obligatory. Shouldn't a gift be given freely and without expectation? Isn't that what a gift truly is? 

Do I want to live in a world without gifts? No, I don't. But I also don't want to be told what to give or how to give it. Who needs that stress? Therefore, I have recommitted to the words of Saint Paul. I am working on giving cheerfully and offering something thoughtful, too. 

On my birthday, I received so many wonderful gifts. My family and so many friends went above and beyond the call of duty. I am grateful for each and every gift, but I have to admit, my favorite gifts were the thoughtful ones.

One might argue that all gifts are thoughtful. I will not disagree. And yet, there are certain gifts that reveal insight—a special understanding or of a shared connection between the giver and the recipient. For example, I received stationery that reads "Who is your caddy?" from one of my dear golf girlfriends. She knows I am committed to the written word. She also knows I love playing golf with a caddy. It has to be the team sports mentality in me, but 18 holes with a caddy, gives me a teammate and coach all in one. I have also went on several dates with a caddy on the PGA tour. I can't say his job wasn't fascinating to me. Her gift was a perfect one. 

Another friend gave me what might be the cutest beanie on the tour. Even though neither or us are actually on the tour, we play a lot of golf and see a lot of good golf gear. I've learned from her that if you like something someone is wearing, just ask them what brand it is. She must have paid attention when I asked her about this hat earlier in the year.

One of the highlights from Summer 2021 was volunteering at the US Women's Open. It was a treat to be a part of a championship tourney hosted at the Olympic Club, my home course. Not only was it inspiring to be around the world's best female golfers, it was a joy to work and watch with so many dear friends. One of them gave me paraphernalia—the good stuff from the Open. Using those beer classes reminds me of this shared summer highlight. Thank you, Karen! And thank you to another friend who put some cash in a card and said "enjoy, a beer on me." Love it.

My favorite prayer is the Prayer of Saint Francis. And one of the most meaningful lines, is one I quote often: it is in the giving that we receive. Give cheer and we will receive it. Is that true for thoughtfulness? I think so. 

Giving a gift—cheerfully, thoughtfully, and freely is a love language. And the message it conveys is: I see you, I appreciate you, I *get* you, and I care about you. What a gift.

Photo Credits
Cheerful Giver

Sunday, February 20, 2022

Super Bowl LVI: A Case Study in Increasing Numbers

Super Bowl LVI between the Los Angeles Rams and Cincinnati Bengals offers our society a case study in increasing numbers. For example, with an estimated total of S101.1 million people watching the game, viewership was up 6%. While the most-watched Super Bowl ever remains the 2015 game between the Patriots and Seahawks, which had 114.4 million viewers, ESPN reports "the ratings improvement for what is traditionally the most-watched event of the year was no surprise." A sense -- or hope -- that the coronavirus pandemic may be winding down gave license for more homes to resume Super Bowl parties and gatherings. Food and drink—from beers and brats to chips and dips were consumed before during and after the game. It's true, other than Thanksgiving Day, Americans eat more on Super Bowl Sunday than any other day of the year. And yet, this truth also reveals another number: we have more people that go hungry than ever. This might be the most important lesson of "Faith and Football." 

Faith and Football is an assignment in my Sports and Spirituality course. It offers seniors an opportunity to not only research the faith lives of certain athletes, but to examine What—if anything—is the religious and spiritual significance to the experience of playing football or being a fan?

I divide the class into two, and each group investigates the coaches, players, communities, their foundations, cities and unique attributes of the AFC and NFC Championship teams. Class begins with a prayer, followed by a coin toss. The winning team decides if they want to present or punt. Two of the varsity football coaches were in attendance for this special class. I loved their questions and seeing the dynamic between player and coach off the field. 

At the conclusion of the presentation and with each "team" owning their own predictions of the game, we share Super Bowl snacks. Though I have yet to see healthy, organic foods color our spread, it's fun to see what students are willing to share. They are also asked to provide a donation for a local food bank.

They didn't forget! I was happy to drop off a palate of canned goods at the San Francisco-Marin food bank, an easy stop on my way home from school. As I pulled up, I noticed the parking lot I once used was now a construction zone for the expansion of the warehouse. 

I have always thought the SF-Marin Food Bank to be an impressive structure. It has good lighting, great ventilation and it is clean and hospitable. The added space looked equally impressive. Usually, I find growth that looks like this to be a positive, but when I considered the reason behind this addition, I couldn't help but think otherwise.

As written by the San Francisco Chronicle n "There is no vaccine for hunger

When the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank started planning its $40 million warehouse expansion five years ago, the idea was to put the organization on pace to meet demand expected to grow gradually over the next two decades. 
Then came the pandemic. Layoffs and furloughs skyrocketed, increasing the number of households turning to the food bank for help by more than 70%, from 32,000 to about 55,000. Traffic to the “find food” page on the food bank’s website is four times what it was before the pandemic. 
Suddenly the expanded warehouse was no longer about planning for 2040. It was about getting groceries to families right now.

Their website reminds us "The Food Bank is a lifeline for many. As the pandemic raged, food insecurity increased. Facing challenges, we have pushed our warehouse to its limit. Built to distribute 30 million pounds of food annually, this year we will distribute 75 million. That is why we’re expanding." 

On Super Bowl Monday, I asked my students their impression of the game, the half time show, and what they enjoyed about Super Bowl Sunday in light of our project. Class began with a prayer for those who go hungry. I asked the class how they feel about the expansion of the Food Bank. Should I not feel sad that this is a necessary good? I invited them to imagine a world where food banks were closing. What if they closed their doors—not because of limited resources but because no one was in need of their services? 

Many Americans cheered for the Cincinnati Bengals because they found their journey to be a Cinderella story. What if the contraction of food banks and soup kitchens wasn't a fairy tale, but our next victory. 

Congratulations to the Los Angeles Rams and thank you to SF-Marin Food Bank for feeding those who go hungry.

Photo Credits
Bengals vs Rams
Food Bank Expansion

Sunday, February 13, 2022

The Ties that Bind: In Celebration of 1,000 Blog Posts

Numbers serve many purposes in both sport and spirituality. A number is a measure—a means by which to mark the passage of time, distance traveled, and accomplishments that have been made. And the purpose of this post to celebrate an important one: 1000.  

In Scripture, numbers are used for much more than their literal function. As written on the website Scripture Revealed

"Throughout the scriptures, there is patterns and symmetry that prove that it is inspired. We can see God’s designs and patterns not only through types and parallels but also in numbers and the meaning of names of people and places.  
The number one thousand (1,000) symbolizes “immensity,” “fullness of quantity” or “multitude.” The number evokes a very long time according to most Bible passages. It is often used in scripture to specify an indefinite quantity. Many early Church fathers saw in the number 1,000, “the totality of the generations and the perfection of the life.” The number sometimes is used in a reference to paradise and everlasting happiness.

I can't think of a better way to capture the work of this blog and what I would like to celebrate: 1000 published posts. 

In 2009, I decided to launch Sports and Spirituality for many reasons. For one, the writer must write. I knew that the  discipline of putting pen to paper, or in this case my fingertips to my MacBook Air would not only make me a writer, but a better one too. 

While practice doesn't necessarily make perfect, it does make things easier. Yes, there are times the words flow out of me, but there are also around 100 posts that sit in the draft file. Overall, I am more efficient at crafting and creating my posts. I have more tools, ideas and resources for how to improve and what I want to improve. No doubt, that makes things easier, too. 

At the same time as the advent of this blog, I started to teach Sports and Spirituality—an elective for seniors in high school. The coursework, readings, videos, assignments, objectives and outcomes of this Religious Studies class afforded me with regular topics for this blog. Comments in class, stories from my students and their own lived experience became much more than musings. They were lessons in the light of faith and the living Word. The blog and the class have a symbiotic relationship.

This blog offers insight into my mental health. Indeed it has become my spiritual barometer. When I can't make sense of my day, week or month, I can look back upon what I have been drawn to write. What ideas are feeding my soul? What is sparking joy? Sports does that for me time and time again.

Though Sports and Spirituality, 
I have come to understand that a writer, (or any artist) must live with creative tension. For example, in order for the painter to paint, they must have enough time and space for an idea to be born. However, if nothing is pressing on that time, ideas remain in limbo or half baked. There is an interesting dance between what the artist can and cannot control.  I have learned more than I could have imagined along they way. 

The most popular blog post of the last 1,000 is "Catholics vs. Convicts: The Story Behind ESPN's Shirt of the Century." Over 11,000 people have read much of what I learned all about from my good friend Mike "Eggroll" Caponigro, over the course of one of our many San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge runs. Those were special times—both the ND vs. Miami era and the miles with Roll.

I have to say, I think one of my more creative posts is In Defense of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. With over 3,000 unique views, it is on the Top 10 Posts lists. I can be tongue in cheek; to purport this issue has value worth defending.... well....

The most popular post prompted by the life of my students is The Good, the Bad and the Catholic. I think it begins with a compelling ethical question and it speaks of students both good and Catholic who I don't want to forget.

Words cannot adequately describe how much I appreciate those of you who have read this blog on any sort of a regular basis. I am grateful to friends and family who support me in the development of this work and who understand what it really means to me. I love it when people share ideas for a blog post with me. Please keep sending, even if it doesn't go to print this case, publish.Thank you!

There is much more to say, but as the Bible captures through 1,000 the 
“immensity,” “fullness of quantity” or “multitude.” of it all is for another time.

This past weekend as I was listening to E Street Radio, I was reminded that from January 2016 to February 2017, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band played "The River" from start to finish. This concert tour was in support of The Ties That Bind: The River Collection box set and in celebration of the 35th anniversary of the 1980 album—which is my second favorite.

After leading off with "Meet me in the City Tonight," the Boss would say the following words

By the time I got to ‘The River,’ I think I noticed that the things that bind people to their lives or their commitments—family, love—I wanted to imagine and write about those things. I wanted to make a big record that felt like life—like life for an E Street Band show. I wanted the record to contain fun, dancing, laughter, jokes, politics, sex, good comradeship, love, faith, lonely nights and of course tears.

I'm not one of the world's most popular musicians or an American icon, but in Springsteen's message, I see a lot the WHY behind Sports and Spirituality. I see the way both sport and spirituality binds people. Each calls us commitments, shared by our family and friends. I too wanted to image and write about those things. In 1,000 posts, I see that I have.

Thank you for the laughter, love, good comradeship, love, tears and of course—the faith. Here's to the next 1000.

Photo Credits
River Tour
We are all witnesses

Tuesday, February 8, 2022

Jordan Spieth: One Gutsy Move and the Importance of Language

I can still recall which words were not permissible in the Stricherz house. Cussing and swearing was not tolerated, nor was taking the Lord's name in vain. I am glad I grew up in a home that paid attention to language and the power of words. This family value required self control, reflection and intention behind what we said and why we said it. I hope this gives a slice of context for how I describe what Jordan Spieth did on Saturday at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am.

Standing on the edge of a cliff, Spieth made a par save by adhering to Rule 9: "play the ball as it lies." Since the area where Spieth's ball was a lateral hazard, he could have used the rules of golf to gain a better lie (with a one stroke penalty), Spieth went for it, keeping fans, his wife and family on the edge of our seats.

I call it gutsy. Others call it ballsy. KNBR's Brian Murphy recalled the shot by proclaiming that "Spieth has cajones." He has used that word before and will use it again. It doesn't sit well with me. Here's why.

It isn't uncommon these days to describe a risky move or daring play with a reference to cajones or huevos. However, that is an association I have never made of myself or the young women I coach. I would never say "big huevos!" In my role as Assistant Athletic Director, I would not tell a male athlete I supervise that I am impressed by his cajones. It's almost uncomfortable to write that out! 

I understand many people link aggression to testosterone—which both men and women have, to varying degrees. However, according to the University of Michigan's study on Anger, Hostility and Violent behavior, aggression is more than that. It is a product of adrenaline and other hormones that are released into the bloodstream. "Then your blood pressure goes up, your heart beats faster, and you breathe faster." Cajones and Huevos are not mentioned.

To this day, I pay careful attention to the vernacular of those around me. I can't say I never swear—sometimes, it's appropriate, even necessary. But I also think it can be overused and inappropriate (I wish Springsteen had used half the number of F bombs in "Springsteen on Broadway"). I am mindful of the slang I use. Balls, cajones and huevos are three examples that do not resonate with me. Are they inappropriate? Not entirely. Are there better choices? I think so.

I describe the athletes I watch and coach as "tough." and I like it when athletes play that way. I speak often of the physicality involved in a game. I love an athlete who has pluck. I would say they have guts or chutzpah.

I think we are always invited to think about the words we use. This is why we should read, especially the great authors. Their use of language is magnificent.

Whenever I am asked what is my dream job, my response is a sports announcer. I would love to do what Hannah Storm does. My dream would afford me the opportunity to put into practice what I value—the usage of words and language to describe and celebrate all that happens on the court and off. In the meantime, I will keep talking and writing about gutsy plays and big accomplishments.

Jordan Spieth and his caddy Michael Greller embrace after that save.
Always love seeing them in Monterey

Photo Credits:
Cliffside and Hug

Thursday, February 3, 2022

Invest in Yourself: A Case for StretchLab

If there is anyone less flexible than me, please raise your hand. 

I have never been flexible. Ever. I can't touch my toes. I undertake all stretching exercises in a modified position, if I stretch at all. I look in wonder, shock and awe at anyone who is a human gumby. I would love to know What's it like to be loose and feel loose? How is it that anyone is able to do the splits and walk again?  From time to time, I have gone deep with this self assessment. I've wondered, Does my lack of physical flexibility carry over into other areas of my life? In other words, What might it mean to be mentally, emotionally and spiritually flexible? Like my physical flexibility, all of this is a work in progress.

While certain sports such as long distance running have compromised my flexibility, being inflexible has diminished my performance in others. For example, as a rower, my reach was never what it would or could have been had I practiced yoga. As a tennis player, increased flexibility would have enhanced my ability to get to the ball as well as my recovery. In golf, I lose yards off the tee because my hips are so tight; I do not rotate like I should.

I know a lot of things. First and foremost, I know things could be different. I also know myself and what works. The 10 minute YouTube clips, though helpful aren't my jam. Yoga? I know. I know. And still, I have several reasons why it is not the solution for me. 

Returning to the gym post-COVID put tremendous strain on my latent muscles. I was stiff and tight long after getting out of bed in the morning. While some people find that lactic acid build-up to be inspiring, I knew it was time for a change. I had an idea of how I could do that:  I wanted to hire someone to stretch me. Is that pathetic? gratuitous? No. Is that even a realistic option? Yes, and I am happy to report, it's the best thing I have done in 2022.

this will never been me

I learned about StretchLab from my friend Ken. We were playing golf when I shared this want and need. To my delight, he offered a viable suggestion. I followed up with what might be the latest trend in the fitness market. I bought, sight unseen. 

When I arrived for my introductory session, the flexologist asked me what sports I play and what I wanted to work onI wanted to work on. Yes, "everything" is a perfectly acceptable answer. I told him a little bit about my story and why I was there. I was intentional about sharing the why. 

In "Helping His Hometown Get Healthy And Swole" Shawntes Gary, a personal trainer said "Usually before I start with the client, I try to find out why. Why they want to do it. Why they want to see the results. If they’re doing it more than, “I just want look good.” That way, down the line when they get burned out, if it’s important enough and that why is important enough, they’ll remember, “Oh, that’s why I’m doing this.” And they’ll stick with it."

I want to stick with my commitment to increased flexibility. I want to stick with knowing myself and what it takes to reach my goals. 

His response was encouraging. He said, "I am just so impressed—you know your why. I'm glad you are here. Way to invest in yourself."

Those 25 minutes, though sometimes uncomfortable, release tension, put me in touch with muscles I didn't know I have and have made me more aware of what I carry and how I carry it. Am I more flexible after each session? Sure. Overall? I am getting there. 

You might think I now work for the company, I have been so excited about who they are and what they do. No, referrals do not get a kick back or financial reward, just the satisfaction of passing on a program that has worked for me.

I said to a friend at the gym just last week, "With all this increased flexibility, you might not recognize me in a few months time." "Nah," he said "this won't change," as he pointed to his face. "Nor will the sarcasm." Of course he's right and yet, I do feel different.

I stand taller now. Though I am still tight and my flexibility is limited, I feel slightly stronger and leaner (though the scales do not suggest otherwise). And that has allowed me to rethink those questions I once held at bay. What does it mean to be spiritually flexible? How might I feel different if I were emotionally more flexible? And why not be mentally flexible?

But the question I have considered the most is one that came from my first conversation at StretchLab. What is your Why? What does it mean to invest in oneself? And what does it mean to make a good investment in oneself? 

I have but one viable answer. It is paying regular dividends, and has me thinking about its product far beyond what I came for. Here's to knowing the Why and investing in that.

Photo Credits
Not Me
Welcome to StretchLab