We Need A Different Sports Narrative

Saturday I rode from Portland to the Pacific Ocean with a friend who is a strong cyclist. The ride was a fund raiser for the American Lung Association. There were three or four different places to start along the route depending upon how many miles you wanted to ride.

Nearly all of the 3,000 other participants were recreational riders of all sizes and shapes. Some were on hybrids and mountain bikes meaning they were sitting up which made the headwinds worse. Some sported handlebar bags containing snacks, radios, tools, and the kitchen sink which made the hills worse. Lots wore backpacks which I didn’t quite understand since there were sporadic aid stations with food and water. Maybe they were stuffed with extra clothes.

The five hours and 39 minutes it took us to finish gave me lots of time to observe the other riders and reflect on their participation. Some had pictures of friends or family who were either fighting or had succumbed to lung cancer. Some were overweight. Some were on fund-raising teams and had matching jerseys or backpacks. Some sported colorful knee-high stockings.

From an athletic standpoint, they were unremarkable, but from a human one, I’m guessing many were impressive. As we powered past, I thought to myself they had double our perseverance because they were going to be spinning slowly into the onshore wind all day long. And I wondered about their stories. What motivated them to undertake such a challenging task? And what had they overcome in their lives? Or what were they overcoming?

As sports fans we fixate too narrowly on who wins and too little on the competitors’ or participants’ stories. Consequently, the Sport Story tends to be about winning at all costs. We long for stories of beauty and strength of spirit, of those who give a total effort for selfless reasons.

Postscript.

Let’s Say You’re a Non-Conformist

And you find boxing medieval and barbaric. Let’s say you used to like the violent science back in the day when heavyweights like Foreman, Norton, Frazier, and Ali roamed the earth. But you’ve learned about Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy and evolved. Hell, you may even be done with football.

What are you going to do late Saturday night when everyone else is watching a guy with a history of domestic abuse take on a legislator who has left his constituents hanging?

Happy to help.

If you’re a non-conformist like me (pun intended), evolutionary history still has some hold on you. Meaning you like a good fight as long as it doesn’t end with anyone bloodied, bowed, and maybe permanently damaged.

Turns out there’s a major brouhaha taking place within the upper reaches of the black intelligentsia. In one corner, Cornel West. In the other, Michael Eric Dyson. Spend Saturday night reading Dyson’s 9,000 word roundhouse punch for the ages. Like a fighter in the early rounds, Dyson’s spends the first few thousand words bobbing and jabbing. Then mid-way, he attacks with a remarkable, astounding, vindictiveness.

Then read this anti-Dyson counterpunch from a Harvard doctoral student. Spoiler alert: like in war or any protracted, especially vicious fight, no one is going to win this one.

west-header-crop

But How Will It Look On My Resume?

Statistics show people don’t tend to read any particular blog for very long. I’m not jumping from blog to blog, I’m reading fewer, which begs the question, why read this or any other blog? One common thread in the few blogs I read regularly is the authors link to interesting and insightful writing that I wouldn’t otherwise come across.

The best bloggers are connoisseurs of some specialized content and curators who provide an invaluable service in the Age of Information Overload—they help focus people’s attention.I try to do that, but my statistics reveal that few readers follow my links meaning posts like this probably don’t work that well. If I knew how to change that I would.

Starting for real now. An email arrives from an ace college roommate, a successful psychotherapist specializing in adolescent development. His 12th grade daughter has been admitted to two highly selective colleges and is conflicted about which will look better on her resume. Dad’s equally torn about where she should go. What does the college professor think?

The college professor can’t get past the fact that the daughter is worried about her resume. I wrote back that the schools’ respective prestige was within the margin of error and that the only thing that matters is whether she builds lasting relationships and develops interpersonal and intellectual skills that cannot be easily automated.

Her family enjoys far greater economic security than 90-95% of people. I don’t understand her thinking, but I know that if she is pre-occupied with her economic future, it’s no surprise that anxiety disorders among adolescents are at an all-time high.

I suspect something deeper is at work in this college decision-making case study. Something spiritual. Cue David Brooks, who wrote this essay in Sunday’s New York Times. It’s Brooks at his best. Lots of self-righteous readers savage him, for in essence, not being a Democrat. How dare a Republican reflect on what’s most meaningful in life. I wonder what it’s like to have one’s politics and daily life in permanent, perfect alignment.

Brooks is scheduled to discuss his new book, The Road to Character, on the Diane Rehm show Thursday, April 16th at 11et.

The Greatest Living Christian Apologist

Tampa to Charlotte. 6B is reading a book about how Christians can pick apart scientists’ arguments and successfully evangelize the masses.

My age, fighting Father Time with the help of a toupee. I can’t help but think how different our lives have probably been. We make small talk, and then in a temporary lapse of sanity I say, “Good book?” And he was off to the races.

He was surprised I knew what apologetics was and quickly informed me that he was supposed to be in First Class with his 83 year old dad who is the “World’s Greatest Living Christian Apologist”. Damn, I didn’t know that was a competition. Where, I wondered, could I find the complete rankings. I have close friends in the ministry, are they in the Top 20 I wondered? And how do the competing apologists keep track of total souls saved? Do you self-report and just trust your competitors aren’t inflating their numbers?

He didn’t know what to make of me. “Are there many other people like you in your church?” In other words. You’re one of those social justice whack jobs I’ve read about. I’ll pray for you.

There was some disappointment that I didn’t know his dad, but hell, he didn’t know mine, and mine was the World’s Greatest Wearer of Plaid Pants. Apparently, his dad built two seminaries and they travel the world debating atheists and others about Christianity. My dad was far too smart to ever hire me.

A Dallas Seminarian who believes in biblical inerrancy, he lectured me about the three different kinds of Christian apologetics and shared some of his strategies for convincing others to think just like him.

I told him about my Nigerian friend who was the most fervent Christian I had ever met and that if he was born 100 miles north of where he was he probably would’ve been an influential Muslim Iman. And that very, very few Christian parents in North America introduce their children to different faith traditions. That when it comes to one’s faith, the time, place, and family in which you’re born is probably even more influential than the Holy Spirit.

But turns out, he’s the exception. He’s talks with his 6, 8, and 10 year old (“started my family much later”) about other faiths all the time and encourages them to ask questions. And I’m SURE if one of them commits to a different faith in the future he’ll be completely understanding.

Lord, please temper my cynicism and grant 6B some humility.

[Remember, eavesdropping is perfectly okay. You just have to expect and accept returns of serve. “I noticed what you were reading,” 6B said with furrowed brow. The Ethicist essay in the New York Times Magazine titled, “Do You Tell a Friend That His Daughter is Having Sex?” Bahahaha!

Why You’ll Buy an iWatch

Because lots of other people will. Might be in two months, years, or decades, but you’ll succumb to the spell Jonathan Ive’s team has cast on our culture.

The early reviewers say what’s most remarkable about the iWatch is they hardly ever take their iPhones out of their pockets anymore. So if having to regularly remove your phone from your pocket is wreaking havoc on your life, you’re in luck. Nevermind that you’ll have to charge it overnight and shouldn’t swim with it. There are less expensive ways to improve your social standing, but not many faster ones.

I recently read a long New Yorker story on Apple’s design guru, Jonathan Ive. I was amazed to learn that Apple employs three people whose only job is to find and hire the best designers in the world. They typically hire one person a year. Also mind boggling, one part of the soon-to-be-opened new Apple headquarters in Mountain View, CA is a $5b “walled garden”. If it wasn’t the New Yorker, I would assume that’s a typo. Five thousand million dollars on plants?

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about two things—a different form of design, residential architecture, and Marie Kondo’s fame. Kondo is the best selling author of “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing.” Kondo says you should only have things in your home that “spark joy”.

What about whole houses, a residential architecture, that sparks joy?! Very, very few homes in my corner of the country spark joy, probably because architects are focused much more narrowly on profit margins. Instead of asking, does this spark joy, they ask, how much will it cost to build per square foot and what can we reasonably expect to sell it for.

The end result of this calculus is terribly uninteresting neighborhood after terribly uninteresting neighborhood. It’s not the designers’ and builders’ fault, it’s ours for settling for uninspiring designs.

What will it take for us to challenge residential architects to design and build homes that spark joy, and dare I dream, neighborhoods that enrich people’s spirits for centuries to come? Neighborhoods filled with small to medium-sized, eclectic, energy efficient homes? Neighborhoods where art and sound economics co-exist? It will take a new resolve to stop settling for mindless designs.

There are small design and build firms out there doing beautiful work, like this one, but until buyers insist on joy, don’t expect them to scale-up their impressive work anytime soon.

Improve Your Health—Go Outside

As the video below makes clear, research suggests spending time outside is good for one’s health. Physical health, mental health, or spiritual well-being? My hunch, all of the above. No one has to tell children or labradoodles how invigorating it is to be outside. Sometimes, as we age, we forget. Remember the Norwegian saying, “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes.” Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s time to walk to church.

p.s. A and J, James is what’s known as “SILM”, Son In-Law Material. Doc. Sense of humor. Wears suits. And he looks like he’s your age (even though he’s 31). Just sayin’, what’s not to like?

The Musician’s Soul

I’m participating in a faculty seminar with eight other professors, each from different disciplines. We get together every other week and take turns discussing books everyone has selected from their respective disciplines. This Wednesday a music prof is leading the discussion of The Musician’s Soul by James Jordan.

Like a student, I have been procrastinating. That means I just started reading it today, Sunday*. Three days and counting. Even though I’m in the early stages, and I don’t have a musical bone in my body, I’m digging it. Double J is wonderfully out of touch with the times. Instead of privileging standardization, data, and efficiency, he writes of self understanding, spirituality, and soulfulness. He’s more Buddhist than business school.

For a little flavor flav, here he is on self-expression:

“If one believes that music is self-expression, then it should follow that one must have a self to express. Before one is able to conduct and evoke artistry from singers, one must spend a considerable amount of time on oneself, on one’s inside stuff. One must take time to understand and accept who one is. One must learn how to trust oneself at all times. Most musicians, however, involve themselves in a process of self-mutilation. They focus on the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of music instead of the ‘who’. Frustration and anger with self occur, almost unknowingly. The conductor, music educator, or performer must spend a considerable amount of time with him- or herself to make the journey that will deepen understanding of self and of his or her own human spirit. That journey must be non-self-mutilating. At the risk of oversimplifying, one must be able to love oneself first before that love can be shared with an ensemble or an audience through the music. Knowledge and trust of self is necessary for music making to take place. An ability to ‘just be’ is paramount.”

These insights are wonderfully applicable. Substitute any art, like writing, for the making of music. Or almost any vocation imaginable.

My subconscious is just starting to work on a new course I’m teaching next spring for teachers training to be school principals. While I’m reading Jordan I’m substituting school leaders for musicians. “The school leader must spend a considerable amount of time with him- or herself to make the journey that will deepen understanding of self and his or her own human spirit. . . . one must be able to love oneself first before that love can be shared with a faculty, or families, or students through schooling.”

This portion of the larger excerpt deserves further reflection, “One must take time to understand and accept who one is. One must learn how to trust oneself at all times.” Sounds more simple than it is. Most everyone has long-standing negative tapes looping in their heads thanks to mean-spirited teachers, parents, or coaches.

Do you know, accept, and trust yourself? How might your vocation and life change as a result of greater knowledge, acceptance, and trust?

* Had to finish The Seven Deadly Sins: My Pursuit of Lance Armstrong by David Walsh first.