Monday, April 25, 2011

True class...a little known Red Sox/Yankees story

Class (noun) 1) elegance, grace, or dignity, as in dress and behavior; social grace and proper behavior                   --Random House Dictionary

“Class…does not mean wealth, birth or position. It does mean that innate sensitivity to other people, that appreciation of the good, the decent and the fair, and that hunger for the beautiful and the appropriate that distinguishes an individual as a person one can be rewarded to know."        
 ---former U.S. Senator Jacob Javits

For Bostonians and New Yorkers caught up in the rivalry between the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees, the night of October 20, 2004 was either the best of times or the worst of times.  A collapse of epic proportions or the greatest comeback in professional sport history. Diehard baseball fans remember all the details of that amazing night and game. Just four days before the BoSox were down three games to none to the Bronx Bombers and seemed on the brink of yet another heartbreaking defeat at the hands of their arch enemies.  It was the same old story.  Sox fold. Sox get to the brink and choke.  Sox are cursed.  But then in just 96 hours the Sox roared back and won four games in a row, ran the table and went on to capture their first world championship in eighty six years. 

But a greater and more intimate drama also played out that night, one of grace and dignity and class, true human class.  In the victor’s locker room, as most of his teammates sprayed one another with champagne Sox veteran knuckleballer Tim Wakefield sat quietly at his locker, savoring a cold beer and perhaps thinking to himself that he had finally been redeemed.  You see it was Wakefield who almost one year ago to that day gave up an eleventh inning walk off home run to Yankee Aaron Boone in the 2003 American League Championship Series, sending the Sox home for another October. 

As recounted in “My Life With Baseball’s Most Confounding Pitch”, by Tim Wakefield with Tony Massarotti: “…one of the attendants in the visiting clubhouse at Yankee Stadium leaned in and delivered a message to [Wakefield]. ‘[Yankee manager] Joe Torre’s on the phone,’ he said. ‘He asked to speak with you.’” And then Torre offered this one message to Wakefield, who just moments before had sent Torre’s team to its worst defeat in modern memory.  Said Torre to Wakefield,” I’m happy for you. You deserve this. Good things happen to good people.” 

Obviously Torre didn’t have to call Wakefield or any Red Sox player. Torre would have been forgiven if all he wanted to do was brood or comfort his own players but amazingly, almost immediately after losing, he felt moved to congratulate and affirm another human being.  To go out of his way to compliment a rival. Now that is a class move by a class guy.  No doubt about that.

Class: in sports, in life—we know it when we see it.  When a winner, instead of puffing herself up, humbly declares it is the team and not the individual who needs to be lauded.  When you work with someone you know can be trusted in any social situation to carry himself with care and grace. When you lose a match to another and they go out of their way to make you feel good. When a person in power speaks to you and you feel as if you are the only person in the room.  Class: it a rare but oh so precious human trait and is marked by the ability of a person to see themselves as just another “Joe”, not better or worse, but instead equal to those he shares the world with.  Class is never flashy.   It is quiet.  It is confident but not arrogant.  It is the kind of human behavior that makes getting along with others in this sometimes contentious world so much easier, whether on the field of play or the field of life

So the next time you’re watching a game or playing in some competition keep your eye out for the classy ones.  The home run hitter who slugs it a mile but then keeps his head down as he rounds the bases.  No need to shame the pitcher who just threw that losing fastball.  The three point artist who makes a “swish” and then quickly runs back down the court: no chest bumps, no childish high fives. The football receiver who dives for a touchdown and then quietly tosses the ball back to the ref and heads for the sidelines: no preening victory dances or pompous fist pumps.  Just class.

So thank God for a guy like Joe Torre and for a wonderful lesson about just what it means to have true class.  He may have coached “the enemy” but for one night he reminded us that we are all on the same team.



Thursday, April 21, 2011

A More Balanced Take on the Greg Mortenson "Scandal"

Like lots of folks who want to see good works in our world, the stories circulating about "Three Cups of Tea" author Greg Mortenson really saddened me.  Isn't there any person or cause in the world to trust anymore?  That's my gut response but then I read a wonderful op-ed in today's New York Times.  Check it out.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Be Kind

Courtesy (noun) 1.excellence of manners or social conduct; polite behavior. 2. courteous, respectful, or considerate act or expression.    
--Random House Dictionary

“He who sows courtesy reaps friendship, and he who plants kindness gathers love”           
--Saint Basil
I had coffee last week with a good friend who’s been unemployed now for two years.  There are lots of tough things about being out of work. Loss of income. Loss of identity. Loss of self-esteem as an unemployed person wonders if their inability to find work is a societal judgment on their worth as a human being.  But in talking with folks actively job searching—sending out endless resumes, surfing job websites, making so many phone calls—what’s struck me most about their plight is this most unkind cut of all.  The wholesale absence of courtesy or kindness or even basic human manners in that scramble to find a job.

So here’s the norm these days. A person interviews, all full of hope and anticipation.  Best suit. Polished resume.  They follow up with a carefully thought out “thank you” email or a gracious phone call and then….well…most of the time, they hear back little or nothing.  For days, weeks, even months, as if their interview fell into a black hole of corporate mystery.  “We’ll get back to you” is always promised but often forgotten.  Speak to the people in your life who are out of work and they’ll tell you this: that human courtesy seems to have completely gone out of the job search.  Maybe even in the rest daily life too.

It can feel at times like our world is pretty rude these days, pretty sharp.  Just last week sports “hero” and LA Laker Kobe Bryant ripped into a referee with a hateful homophobic insult, caught on live national TV.  Politicians rip apart their political enemies in public, civility be damned.  A youth on an MBTA bus in Boston beats the driver senseless when that poor soul had the gall to ask that thug to put out his cigarette.  It’s little things too. Standing in line at Starbucks while folks around us gab away on cell phones, oblivious to the public space they share with others.  Standing in the middle of a big box hardware store, lost among all that stuff and praying that just one employee might actually walk up to us and say, “Can I help you?”

But when courtesy happens: there is something so gracious in basic human kindness, civility. Someone holds a door for us or offers to help with a heavy package.  A driver lets us pull out into a packed roadway.  We get a handwritten “thank you” note from someone.  A stranger holds an elevator door as we rush to make an appointment.  A sports star takes the time to say hello to a little kid who’s waited hours for an autograph.  Courtesy is like a cool drink on a hot day.  It refreshes.  It makes us smile.  It reminds us we need to be kind too.

Not sure why courtesy seems to be waning in the world.  Many will claim busyness as an excuse for discourtesy, me included.  Just too busy to return a phone call. Too busy to slow down for a stranger in need. Too busy at work to follow up with that enthusiastic woman I interviewed last week.  Some claim that in this increasingly hard world, courtesy is a sign of weakness.  Only the sharp elbowed get ahead and win the game.

Yet human courtesy really all boils down to one choice.  We can either see the world as “I” centered or as “we” centered, as all about “me” or all about “us”. Courteous folks remember that “I” am not the center of the world.  That what “I” am doing at any given moment is not more important than every one else around me.  That instead we share this world with lots of other people, and if we are to get along, some times all a given social interaction needs is just simple human kindness.  Manners, as our Moms might remind us.  Think of how great we can make another person's day merely by being polite.  By smiling and saying, “Thank you.” By going out of our way to be helpful. By slowing down and recognizing a stranger as a fellow human being, someone just as worthy of respect and care as we are.  God has made for one another, not merely for ourselves alone.  When we are courteous we affirm this basic spiritual truth.

As the poet Henry Burton wrote, “Have you had a kindness shown? Pass it on; 'Twas not given for thee alone, Pass it on; Let it travel down the years, Let it wipe another's tears, 'Til in Heaven the deed appears -Pass it on.”  Courtesy.  Let’s make our Moms proud!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Remembering What It Means to Be a Friend

Friend (noun) 1. a person known well to another and regarded with liking, affection, and loyalty; an intimate                              --World English Dictionary

“Oh…the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person, having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but pouring them all right out, just as they are, chaff and grain together; certain that a faithful [friend] will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and then with the breath of kindness blow the rest away.”  --Dinah Craik

            So as of this morning I have 176 friends. YES! How about that!?  OK, at least on Facebook, I have 176 friends.  According to Facebook statistics I’m actually an overachiever.  The average Facebook user has 130 friends.  13.3 million “friends”—that’s the Facebook friend record, though its kind of odd given all those folks are “friends” with Michael Jackson. Five-hundred million plus “friends”—that’s how many folks use this ubiquitous social media sight.  Add in the two other major online “friend” sites Twitter (106 million tweeter “friends”) and LinkedIn (60 million business “friends”) and it’s apparent that more so than ever before, we are awash in “friends”, at least electronically.
            New language has even evolved to define cyber-friendship.  “Friending”: when you ask someone to be your Facebook buddy.  “Un-friending”: deleting someone out of your Facebook tribe.  Or my personal favorite, as defined by the online Urban Dictionary. “An Unfriendable Offense”. This can include, but is not limited to: excessive Facebook postings about children, excessive postings about health and children's health or postings about every, ever-loving thing that you do!   Odd what has happened to the whole idea of having a friend, being a friend, a real friend.
            To me a real friend is someone I go deeper with beyond a quick instant message, a dashed off email, or a Facebook post.  A friend is someone who I call to help me move, the one who lugs overweight boxes in exchange for pizza and beer.  A friend is someone I can ask to drive me to the airport at 4 am and know that they won’t balk or beg off.  An old friend was the first person I called, after family, when I found out my Dad had died on a sad summer day two years ago.  A friend is the one I turn to when a relationship breaks up, or when I’m sick and need someone to care, or when I just need one other soul in the world to accept me fully for who I am: warts and all.
            I think sometimes such precious friends and friendships can get short shrift in our world, get lost in all the other complicated relationships we find ourselves in. Family bonds which are always about both love and obligation. Work connections which often just stay at the office.  Neighborly friendships which too often fail to go deeper than a wave and chit chat at the mailbox.  In our hyper-busy world of 2011, the danger is that friendships are the first connections we leave behind or neglect.  Just not enough time, right?  Facebook is easy. Real friendship takes commitment.
            So the challenge this day is simple. Have you thanked God lately for the special friends in your life and the love you find in those oh-so extra-special relationships?  And more important: are there friends within your life who for whatever reason, you have drifted away from or taken for granted or miss terribly? The ones whom we pick and who pick us: mutually, voluntarily, and freely.  The ones we have known longer than our kids, our husband, our wife.  The friends who have stuck by us, not because they have to, but because they want to. 
            In this modern world where the idea of “friend” has morphed so radically, here’s hoping we never, ever take for granted our real friends, our old friends, and our true friends. So call your college roommate.  Have a cup of coffee with your childhood neighbor.  Log off of Facebook and make plans to reconnect in the real world with just one real friend.   
           God knows we all need a good friend.

Monday, April 4, 2011

God is Love: No Room for Hate....

Intolerance (noun) 1. Lack of toleration; unwillingness or refusal to tolerate or respect contrary opinions or beliefs, persons of different races or backgrounds.             --Random House Dictionary

"Whatever religious people may say about their love of God or the mandates of their religion, when their behavior toward others is violent and destructive, when it causes suffering among their neighbors, you can be sure the religion has been corrupted…."        --The Reverend Charles Kimball

The flames of religious inspired intolerance are burning bright in our world once again and my heart tells me that God in heaven must be weeping over just how stupid and cruel and violent God’s followers can be sometimes.  So in Gainesville, Florida on March 20th, Pastor Terry Jones convened a mock trial of the Muslim faith, a six hour screed against the religion of 1.57 billion people.  Jones and his congregation (all 30 of them at his home church) found Islam “guilty”, and following through on his threat last fall to burn the Koran, these religious folk did just that, soaked a holy book with kerosene and lit a match.  The flames took awhile to catch but eleven days later, 8,000 miles away, a firestorm erupted in Mazar-I-Sharif, Afghanistan.  There last Friday a mob of 20,000 sought revenge and blood. Whipped into a frenzy of hatred by their religious leaders in worship, the crowd stormed a United Nations facility and murdered twelve innocent people. Unable to find any Americans to vent their rage upon, the protesters killed anyone they could get their hands on: folks from Nepal, Sweden, Romania, Norway and even five Afghans.  Some media outlets reported that two of the victims had been beheaded.

Just to recap these awful events makes my heart sick: as a believer in a God of ultimate love, a lifelong member of a church committed to mutual tolerance among religions, and as a religious leader aware that faith can heal or hurt, depending how it is taught.  I am ashamed of what these so called “people of God” have done and claim to do, all in the name of God.  For there is something so warped about such “religious” expression gone crazy, insane even.  Who but the deluded or the mean or the heartless could ever use God to justify the killing of another human being, or the wholesale condemnation of an entire faith and people? 

I know these are strong words, condemning even, but hatred, inspired by religion, will never go away unless more and more sane people of faith speak up and out against religious intolerance. In Afghanistan. In the United States.  In Israel/Palestine where warring views of God and the land have created a segregated nation.  In India and Pakistan where Hindus and Muslims regularly war among themselves, or with one another or who harass and attack Christian minorities.  In Egypt where Coptic Christians can fear for their lives. In Africa where religious divisions lead to civil wars.  Everywhere on God’s beautiful earth, religion is sometimes used as a political and social tool to divide, to judge, to hate, even to kill.  Has always been, but will it be? Must it be thus?

I pray not.  Because at its best religion is about love, this is God’s bottom line, at least in my take on faith.  The best religion teaches its adherents about just how to get along with, tolerate, and welcome “the other”. The best religion is about serving the poorest of the poor, working for peace, making less cruel the life of this world, comforting the bereaved, wiping away the tears of the downtrodden.  The best religion calls people into community to serve each other in love, and then serve the world in love.  The best religion, real religion, is never ever about hate.  Never ever about retaliation or bloodshed.  Never ever about an “eye for an eye”.  Never ever about oppression or violence.

So to those of little or no faith, you who may have even walked away from faith in frustration at the damage religion has caused: please don’t judge all Christians by the actions of Jones and his followers. Please don’t judge all Muslims by the actions of a frenzied mob a half a world away.  Please don’t judge all religious people by the insane acts of a minority of believers in God.   Most often their actions are not about religion or God.  These are instead really about human power, politics, culture, history, and fear, but not God.  At least not the God I know.

And so this Friday morning and Friday evening, on Sunday morning, in churches and temples and mosques and shrines around the world, billions of people will gather to worship God.  To learn of God’s love.  To try in their own ways, to repair a broken world. To speak to their God as their ancestors have for thousands of years.  Not to kill. Not to hate.  Not to hurt.  Not to condemn.  I only wish this was the story of faith making the news these days.

God is love.  This is the central truth of religion. Maybe someday we humans will finally get it right.