Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Ex Opere Operato


I have almost memorized the entire Second Eucharistic Prayer.  I am nearing the same proficiency with the First Eucharistic Prayer, or as it is sometimes called, the Roman Canon.  It pleases me to have achieved both of these things.  Having memorized them, I am not bound to the missal, but rather, am freer to lift my eyes to Heaven and address the Church's prayer to God the Father as opposed to speaking them to the pages upon which the text of the prayers are written.  The words of the prayers possess additional layers of meaning when I can speak them from the heart as opposed to reading them.  Such an accomplishment is not, however, altogether without danger.  It is also possible, and at times I must admit, my practice, to recite the words as though I were reciting the alphabet.  In the end, the sacrament is confected, ex opere operato, but this is no excuse for negligence on my own part.  One must, nevertheless, concede that the practice of speaking the same words over and over, day after day, lends itself to the possibility of regarding even something so extraordinary as the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass as something rather ordinary, or perhaps more accurately, something usual.  After all, it happens every day at a scheduled time.

Every so often, the Holy Spirit comes crashing through the "ordinaryness" of what I am doing as I celebrate the Mass, reminding me that though celebrating the Mass is not unusual, it remains the most profound moment of my life.  Such an intervention occurred a number of weeks ago.

Everything had proceeded as normal through the majority of Mass.  Along with the regular number of Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, I had descended from the sanctuary to the floor to distribute the Body and Blood of Our Lord to the faithful.  As the procession made its way forward, it suddenly occurred to me, "I know everyone in this line!"  Each person who bowed to Our Lord and spoke their amen, I knew by name.  I was astonished.  While I have been deeply in love with this parish for a long time, in a very real way these people were suddenly my people.  I knew them.  I belonged to them.  Just as suddenly, I also realized that not only did I know them, I also knew the individual burden each of them bore to the altar.  "The Body of Christ." She is a recent widow.  "The Body of Christ." He lost his life savings to gambling.  "The Body of Christ." This one is receiving chemotherapy.  "The Body of Christ." That one weeps for her children who have left the faith.  "The Body of Christ."  Her husband despises her faith.  "The Body of Christ." He can't forgive himself for how he raised his children.

Then the Holy Spirit spoke.

"You bear these burdens to the altar for them, Father." (Curiously, the Holy Spirit calls me "Father".)

Ex opere operato indeed.  There is nothing ordinary about what I do.      

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Why Win?


Apart from a brief stint in middle school basketball, I never played competitive sports.  This is not to
"Don Quixote" Pablo Picasso
say I did not compete; I was involved in a variety of competitive theater and music activities through high school.  These two varieties of competition are not without similarity.  Both require dedication.  Both commonly draw upon reserves of strength and talent of which one is ordinarily unaware.  Both demand that one perform at the peak of excellence on command.  Yet, somehow athletic competition remains distinct from other varieties of competition.  Athletic competition is raw, savage, and primal.  Athletic competition arises primarily from the part of man that is still mostly governed by the instinct to survive.  For this reason, I posit, it manages to provoke human passion as little else can.

I have been thinking about this question at some length, trying to understand the power of sports.  One of the young men with whom I associate regularly is a college football player.  Perhaps more accurately, he is on the football team.  He has played the game since middle school, he has demonstrated a fanatic devotion to the Greenbay Packers for decades, and at each of the major turning points in his life, some portion of his decision has pivoted upon how football will fit into the plan.  There is very little in this young man's life about which I am unaware, and we have a rapport as good as you will find anywhere.  I know him.  Still, this is a part of his life that baffles me.  I do not understand it.  I have never felt so passionately about something that objectively so insignificant.  What difference does football make?  He and I discussed the question recently, and though I still cannot make sense of his subjective attachment to the game, I think we have begun to arrive at some sort of philosophical explanation of the power of sport.

It begins thus.  Sport is attractive because it entails two essential elements.  First, it presents an obstacle.  This obstacle is of the variety that at the visceral level, it presents a threat to ones sense of being, analogous to the threats primitive man knew.  He was forced to compete, to fight in order to live, to eat, and to mate.  Such threats could only be answered by means of physical dominance.  Thus, the second element of sports becomes apparent.  There is a clear winner and a clear loser.  Sport ignites human passion because it speaks to a primal drive to survive.

Modern man, however, has no need to battle for survival in this fashion.  In fact, the transitions of man from one period of history to another have been marked most significantly by the advances he has made in using his brain so as to provide advantages over adversaries such that he avoid the need for such conflict.  Regardless or the degree of advancement, however, man finds that he is always confronted with one foe over whom he cannot win final victory.  This foe is himself.  Regardless of his strength, his speed, and his ability, man remains finite.  He is bound by time and space.  He eventually achieves a threshold across which his body will not bear him.  Herein lies the ultimate attraction of sport.  It permits (requires?) one to thrust oneself continually against the outmost boundaries of his ability hoping to push the boundary further away.  Like Icarus, he wonders how close to the sun he might fly, before plummeting into the abyss.  How tall can the men of earth build a tower before the tower collapses.  If man be like God, how much like God might he be?

In this question lies the value of sport and the innate drive to compete.  Among the powers of the soul God has given to men is the power of the will to desire the good.  This desire is insatiable, longing as it were, for nothing less than the infinite.  Because of this, it pushes man to constantly long for the "something more."  This something more remains constantly just beyond his reach.  As such, man discovers his only satisfaction can be found in God, who alone possesses the capacity to satiate an infinite longing.  To the extent that competition and sport push man to become what in God he already is, to become more and more what he will only fully become through perfect union with God, sport is good.  To the extent that sport reveals to man that he is created for more than the limits of a fallen nature permit him, it has value.  To the extent that it makes man better than he was, it is good, virtuous, and glorious.  To the extent that sport is simply for the fading glory of victory, for a crown of laurels that whither, it is foolishness.

Don Quixote, at least as presented in "The Man of La Mancha" understood this idea.  As he sang in the musical:

To dream the impossible dream
To fight the unbeatable foe
To bear with unbearable sorrow
To run where the brave dare not go
To right the unrightable wrong
To love pure and chaste from afar
To try when your arms are too weary
To reach the unreachable star
This is my quest, to follow that star
No matter how hopeless, no matter how far
To be willing to give when there's no more to give
To be willing to die so that honor and justice may live
And I know if I'll only be true to this glorious quest
That my heart will lie peaceful and calm when I'm laid to my rest
And the world will be better for this
That one man scorned and covered with scars
Still strove with his last ounce of courage
To reach the unreachable star




Sunday, January 25, 2015

Merry Christmas 2014


The posting of my Christmas letter is just a month late this year.  It is a resolution of mine to blog more often this year.  Perhaps a few days off will afford me the opportunity to work on some ideas that I have been kicking around.   


+++++

December 2014 

Merry Christmas! 

A year ago in January, I accomplished my thirty-third successful trip around the sun. Catholic friends were quick to remind me that Jesus died in his thirty-third year. I reminded them that his death happened only after many had come to believe that he was the Messiah. Much to my own dismay, few seem to suspect the same about me. I am not the Messiah, but, like everyone else, I need him to save me. 

I was shocked to discover, while on vacation in September, that my friends are getting old. A smile from one of them revealed wrinkles around the eyes that had not been there the year previous. The hair of another is now tinseled with silver. The vanity of a third friend required him to shave his beard for the same reason. I could not, for my part, identify how I had aged outwardly in a year. Interiorly, though, I feel older. I find I am more sensitive to the invisible ways that people suffer. I acknowledge more readily that people do what they do, for good or for ill, motivated by a desire to be happy. Daily, the voice of the Holy Spirit finds a way to whisper to me, “You will be judged according to how you have loved.” These observations are made more poignant after a truly exceptional retreat in October wherein Jesus gently but emphatically reminded me of how much he loves me. 

My thoughts turn often to my family these days. I fear I have neglected them in my five years of priesthood. None of us anticipated how often my own sense of duty would deprive me of time with them. Both of my brothers live on the ranch now, pursuing dreams of becoming cattle barons. I harbor no such desires myself, but I am jealous of the amount of time they spend together. I anticipate spending a week on the ranch in January. That should be enough time to remind me that while always my home, I do not want to live there. 

 I also find myself thinking often of Fr. Peter Kovarik. More than 1,000 people attended his funeral. I have never seen the Cathedral so full. He touched many lives. That is what happens when you love people. That is what happens when you allow Jesus to love people through you. I hope that my own funeral is well-attended someday as a testament that I have loved well. Thus, for another year, the Lord has been softening my heart, stretching my capacity to love, knocking down walls of pride, and inviting me to give him more of myself. He reminds me day by day that the first posture of the Christian before God is one of gratitude. He has given me so much, and among these gifts is you. Thank you for teaching me to love. Thank you for all you do for me. I am deeply grateful. 

Sincerely yours in Christ, 
Fr. Tyler

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Something Different


A little more than a year ago, while discussing my love for the Short Story, a coworker suggested that I start writing short fiction.  "I make a better essayist," I responded.  But the bug stuck.  And I have been having a hard time writing either one since then .  Well, as it happened, I had time tonight to try something a little different.  The following is my first attempt at a (very) short story. It is, unedited and un-reviewed.  I am not satisfied with the final few lines yet.  But perhaps this is the beginning of something altogether new for me.


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Boys Don't Cry

“I think you should cry every day.  I do,” the young man said.

The comment went unnoticed or at least unacknowledged by the other boys in the group.  Each of the three, not really boy but not yet men, well-built, fit, and popular among their peers, were unlikely candidates for lachrymose outbursts.  The dissonance of the comment, however, seemed apparent only to the priest who, for the better part of an hour, had been mostly listening to the conversation.  He did not necessarily disagree with the young man.  There was probably nothing wrong with having a nice cry when one was certain he was alone.  But to speak of it aloud?  In front of one’s peers?  One’s male peers?  What was the world coming to?

The priest had not cried for a very long time, he reflected.  He could not remember when last he had wept.  Indeed, in his adult life, he could remember only vaguely a few instances wherein he had lost his composure and given himself over to tears.  These were not pleasant memories.  Such loss of control could only be occasioned by the most shattering of disappointments.  For everything else, a cigarette had always sufficed.  

The priest could no longer help but interject.  “Do you cry in front of people?”

“Not always,” the boy said.

“Your dad?” the priest asked?

“Sometimes.”

“Do you ever see him cry?”

Here the boy paused. “Not very often,” he finally answered.  “He cried at his dad’s funeral.  I saw him cry last year when one of his student’s committed suicide.”

The other boys began speaking about their own father’s but the priest did not hear.  He was thinking of his own dad.  The priest could recall only one occasion upon which he had seen his own father cry.  It was at the funeral for Benny, the son of a friend.  Benny had been only sixteen years old when his head was crushed in an ATV accident.  Everybody, mused the priest, had cried that day.  

More memories made their way into the priest’s consciousness.  Had his father cried when the priest’s grandmother died?  When the priest’s younger brother had left home for misadventure in the military?  These recollections provided no certainty.  Once.  He had seen his father cry once.  As a child, the priest’s father had convinced him that he was no longer capable of tears, having wasted them all during his own early years.  The priest’s father made this claim most commonly as a way to induce his own sons to stop crying.  It must have worked.  The priest seldom cried these days. 

The buzz of a cellular phone brought the conversation to an abrupt halt.  “Where are you?” the text message asked?  As though being roused from a stupor, the boys simultaneously came to the realization that it was late, and the snow that had been a flurry when the boys had arrived for their catechism classes was now beginning to accumulate on the streets.  Homework was still undone.  Basketball practice was scheduled for early the next day.  Further conversation, regardless of how edifying it might be for any of the parties involved, would have to continue at another time.

The priest remained sitting for a long time after the boys had left.  It had been a long week.  In the confessional, twice women had told him, after having kept it secret for decades, of babies they had aborted.  As the priest had prayed with them and had, by the power of his office, absolved them of their sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, he felt a sudden spasm in his stomach and quickly swallowed the lump in his throat before a teardrop had time to gather in his eyelashes.  The same thing had happened again when the new bride called him on his cell phone to tell him that her marriage had already disintegrated.  His heart ached for her.  But he didn’t cry.  This urge to let go, to give in, to lose control, to be vulnerable, this thing he had so carefully avoided, was creeping up on him.  He no longer believed in coincidence.  Surely this all meant something.

That had all be months ago, now.  And was the priest was tired.  So many people needed so many things.  Was there no one else who could help them?  Surely others could offer advice better than his own.  He was bored.  No book was interesting.  No television show was amusing.  His hobbies were dissatisfying.  He was lonely.  One of his friends was moving away.  They would not see one another for a long time.  He missed his parents.  He missed his brothers.  He missed the place where he grew up.  he missed the smell of cow, and the smell of grass, and the smell of stagnant stock dam water, and the smell of summer.  He wanted, just for a minute or two, to lay everything down.  He felt heavy.  He wished he could cry.  

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Merry Christmas 2013




This year's Christmas letter.  On the Last Day of Christmas.


+++++ 
 
Merry Christmas!

As an undergraduate at a liberal arts university, I was introduced to many of the classic works of Western Culture.  Through this exploration of Homer and Augustine, Michelangelo and Monet, Bach and Bob Dylan, I was meant to gain insight into a single but enduring question:  What does it mean to live a good life?  I find I am wont to revisit the same line of inquiry as Christmas continues and a new year begins.

I have never been much inspired by Black Friday Sales, but I find I am still very much a consumer.  I have more things than I need: guns, bows, fishing poles, clothes, and since last February, a new vehicle.  I have found pleasure in all of these, though my pleasure diminished dramatically when the sparkplug for the fifth cylinder of the new pickup incinerated and fell inside the engine. 

Over the summer, with thirty-some other locals, I made a pilgrimage to Rio de Janeiro.  Prodded, crushed, trampled, lost, and sometimes the victim of foreign-tongued invective, I saw the statue of Christ the Redeemer, I stood in the surf on Copacabana Beach, and I listened to the Pope as he called each of us to be better disciples of the Lord at home.  Having acquired something viral, and with sand in my hair, sand in my bags, and sand everywhere else, I hacked and coughed and sneezed my way back to Spearfish, glad to have gone, and gladder still to be home.

Since Rio, God has brought into this world a new healthy nephew, and He has taken from this world a weak and sickly grandmother.  Fish were caught and released, pheasants shot and eaten, storms have blown, drifts have melted.  Sins have been forgiven, the sick have been anointed, lovers have wed, widows have mourned, and the sacrifice of Calvary has been renewed day by day at the Holy Mass.  Even these, however, taken by themselves, do not constitute the good life.  

St. Paul instructs the Thessalonians in his first epistle to them, “Rejoice always, pray continually, and give thanks always.”  I am struck again and again at all for which I have to be thankful, all for which I ought rightly rejoice.  God gives so generously, even to the point that He would give Himself first in a manger and then on a cross.  In return, he asks very little: just everything.   It is in this realization that I begin to see how the good life must be lived.  When so much has been given to me out of God’s love, how can I but give it all in return?  I fail at this goal often.  I remain proud and selfish.  I continue to sin.  So often I love poorly.  But Christ is at work in me. In a life that is exceedingly busy, regularly punctuated by long committee meetings, and frequently interrupted by someone needing something, I am learning more and more to abandon myself, to give myself, to lose myself in Christ.  And I find that I am exceedingly happy.  I love my people.  I love my parishes.  I love my priesthood.   

So, thank you.  I am truly grateful for you, for your warm sentiments, kind regards, and everything that you give me.  You are among the things for which I offer thanks to God.  Know of my prayers for you during this Holy Season.

Sincerely yours in Christ,

Fr. Tyler Dennis   


Thursday, January 9, 2014

A Little Ill

Over the course of the years and in my various travels, I have eaten some odd things: bugs in Mexico, kangaroo and octopus in Australia, horse in Poland, and very recently, whale at a party I hosted. I generally refuse to ask what I am eating until after I have already consumed it. Chances are it will taste good if I don't approach it with any preconceived notions. Most often it works out (I didn't really care for the whale).  I simply do not believe in babying my GI tract.  But sometimes my stomach revolts, and I pay at some length for the violence I do to it. Such was the case yesterday.  

Rumblings began as we were finishing lunch. I refused to be cowtowed by a stomach whining about only slightly hot chili sause. I retaliated by drinking a glass of coke. Before long, however, it was clear that I was going to need to beat a hasty retreat back at the condo. 

This, it turns out, was to be simply a shot across the bow(el?). By Thursday, I was miserable. I have not felt so badly in a very long time. I put on a brave face as we drove north from Santa Fe towards Los Alamos to Bandelier National Monument. 

The drive itself, aside from the crippling fear of soiling myself, was gorgeous. Mountains are not really my thing, but the cedar covered ranges made for astounding scenery. At a certain point, we passed the entry to the national laboratory where Einstein worked with the Manhatten Project. And then we made our way down a deep valley in which we would be introduced to about 1600 years of American history. 

The monument is located in an area that in ancient times was covered in a rock made from densely packed volcanic ash called tuf. The tuf looks much like sandstone, and erodes at least as easily. As the elements did their work, the walls of the canyon became pitted with holes. Centuries later, the ancesters of the Pueblo Indians would come to this valley and build homes in the tuf as well. Some build home in the easily excavated valley floor and covered the tops with mud. Some made homes directly into the sheer walls of the canyon. They were drawn there by abundant wildlife, fresh water, and fertile soil for corn. It is unknown why they eventually left, but the area was already abandoned when the Spanish arrived. 

Mom and I explored the valley for an hour or so, and then needing the bathroom, headed back toward the visitor center. On the way Mom tripped and took a spill, scraped up her knee, and rendered her a cripple. We made quite a pair. 

With my stomach still in revolt and Mom bleeding through the knee of her jeans, we decided we had better go home. We made it there without incident, and we stayed there the rest of the day. After lots of sleep and attempts at rehydration, I felt a good deal better this morning when we left to find a Walmart so we could better bandage Mom's knee, and then to the local Cathedral. 

The Cathedral of St. Francis is currently in its fifth instanciation on the current site. Originally an adobe church, it is now a large brick structure in historic Santa Fe. One enters through two enormous bronze doors. The inside is marked by a curious combination of old and new, European and Indigenous. The windows are old traditional stained glass, the stations of the cross a more modern and indigenous style. The sanctuary has a large reardos featuring saints from the new world. Beneath the sanctuary the graves of many of the Archbishops of Santa Fe. In a chapel to the left of the sanctuary, the faithful are encouraged to venerate Our Lady of the Conquest. The statue therein is the oldest carving of Our Lady in the United States. 

We spent time there to pray and then did a little shopping and wandering. The gem we found today was a little photography gallery featuring a number of pieces by Ansel Adams. By the time we were done there we were both running out of steam. We headed home for a nap, and I am pleased to report that I now appear to be fully returned to health and will shortly be going out to take vengeance on my treacherous bowels. 

Tomorrow we head for home. We haven't decided if this will be a one day or two day trip. If we see anything interesting on the way, I will be sure to let you know.  







Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Old Catholic Stuff

Of primary importance on my short list of must see attractions in Santa Fe was the miraculous staircase housed within the lovely Loretto Chapel that was once the house of of worship for the Sisters of Loretto who were invite to serve in Santa Fe by the first Archbishop (after the area had become territory of the United States following the Mexican/American War). 

The beautiful Gothic structure built in the 1870s did not, however, have a staircase to the choir loft, as a traditional staircase would adversely impact the aesthetics of the chapel and use room that was needed for seating. Not knowing how to remedy the situation, the sisters prayed a novena to St. Joseph. On the ninth day a mysterious carpenter arrived with no tools but a saw, a t-square, and tubs in which to soak the wood. When he had finished, he had constructed a spiral staircase of thirty-three steps which makes two full 360 degree turns. It has no support from the wall nor in the center. The full weight rests on the final tread. Upon its completion, the carpenter disappeared without payment. No record exists for the purchase of wood used in the stairs. No one has been able to reproduce the stairs. Tradition has it that the mysterious carpenter was St. Joseph. It was a beautiful and holy place, even though it is no longer owned by the Diocese, it retains is Catholic aesthetic and Mass is occasionally celebrated there still. 

From there we went to the San Miguel Mission, the oldest Catholic Structure in the country. It was built by native people under the direction of Franciscan Friars out of adobe bricks. With none of the refinement of the Loretto Chapel, it is nevertheless a holy place. Mass is still celebrated in the mission weekly, though Our Eucharistic Lord is not reserved due to the flow of tourists. 

From there, we explored some art galleries, grabbed a cup of coffee, and then met Melanie, a friend from long ago, at state museum where she works. We visited an exhibit on cowboys and then went to lunch with her. More exceptional Mexican food. We spent a long time catching up. It's been years since I have seen her. She was the folklorist for the State of South Dakota when we new her last. She has been many things since then, but she remains largely the same as when I first knew her. 

After all that, I wanted a nap, and since I'm driving I got one. After my slumber Mom and I went to the bug museum. It is rare to find a person as truly passionate about anything as the proprietor was about his bugs. I found it all quite charming, my mother found him slightly obnoxious. I learned more about bugs in forty-five minutes that I had ever known before. I took a picture with Ollie and his enormous beetles. I enjoyed every moment of it. 

Tomorrow we will probably be heading to Bandolero. I'm not entirely sure what it is, but it is outside and historical. More from there tomorrow. 














Monday, January 6, 2014

Holy Faith

The providential nature of my destination did not strike me until just a few moments ago as I stood on the balcony gazing at the constellation Orion as he hung over the city of Santa Fe. Santa Fe. Holy Faith. One of the oldest installations of Catholicism in the United States. 

When I first suggested to my parents that we should take a trip to Santa Fe, the idea bore no particular religious significance to me. I wanted to see the city and its environs, and I wanted to take a trip with my parents. For a variety of reasons, my dad was unable to come and so I am sitting here now in a cheaply rented apartment with my mother, delightfully full of Mexican cuisine, and so deeply grateful at the prospect of several days off with no interruptions from the infirmed and dying, the hard-up, or those burdened by the woes of life. I love each of these groups of people as best I can, but truth be told, the best I can has been somewhat mediocre of late. I'm tired. Frightfully tired. My spiritual batterieas are nearly out of juice, and without a pause to recharge, I could easily become an obstacle to Christ. So, here I am in Santa Fe, ready to renew my own holy faith. 

I've been on the road two days getting here. Roads were mostly good for the drive, and Mom and I have found little to fight about. We shared a motel room in Stirling, Colorado last night and both managed to sleep. We transgressed the mountains at Raton Pass around noon today, and, after a brief stop at the ruins of Fort Union (the history of which involves the War with Mexico, the Civil War, Kit Carson, and the Santa Fe Trail), we got into Santa Fe around 4:00. It was a beautiful drive that became progressively warmer the further south we went, and there is blissfully little snow to be seen around here. Tomorrow we will meet a family friend whom we only discovered today works in a museum here. We will eventually see the miraculous staircase. Perhaps we will drive up to the Pecos State Park.  Perhaps we will just sit in the sun if it gets warm enough. In either case, I am anxious to rest, to pray, and to learn about things only tangentially related to the Church. I will try to keep you posted here.



Raton Pass



Hospital Ruins at Ft. Union



Bricks from which the original fort was constructed. 






Calvary bits. 






Calvary branding iron




View from the balcony. 




My living room for the next few days. 

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Working to Beat Hell

I am inundated with work these days.  Resulting from a recent staff resignation, I am currently, along with my former responsibilities, director of high school formation, and co-director of middle school formation and the Newman Center.  I love it.  I love to be busy.  I love seeing God's work in the lives of people.  But, the grind, well, grinds at me.  I don't take much time for writing these days, and when I try, the words don't seem to come.  So, how about a song instead.


Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Sometimes Life is Icky

I want, in the sorest way, to blame someone. Anyone, really.  

My grandmother died last week, after years of ill health, and a week on a breathing tube following a stroke. Three feet of snow fell in Spearfish, and even more in other places. The cities are messy, their trees devestated, and their roads sloppy and ugly with dirty piles of slushy wet snow bedecked with splashes of back sludge from the streets.  Power is still out for many. Thousands of carcasses of dead livestock ornament the prairie.  Driveways are mud pits. Rain is coming this weekend. Three different people requiring two separate drives to Spearfish from retreat in Rapid City demanded my priestly attention.  My pillows refuse to stop falling off of my bed into the gap between the wall and the mattress because these retreat center beds come without headboards.  I cannot fix the hurt in my mother's heart at the loss of her mother. I cannot fix the hole left by expensive dead animals in my parishioner's corrall.  I can't even fix this stupid bed!

And there is absolutely no one to blame...

"Curse God and die," Job's wife said. Jonah and Elijah prayed for death. Moses complained of a stiff-necked people, and the people complained because they had run out of leeks. Adam blamed it all on his wife. She blamed it on the serpent. 

My dad claims it is the fault of the liberals. They blame it on George W. Everyone blames the schools, who in turn blame it on the parents.  Parents are the product of their culture, for which I assign blame to the baby-boomers.  They pass the buck to conservative religion. 

And all the blaming gets us nowhere because no one person is directly at fault. My grandmother is still deceased. My mother is still sad. Dead livestock still litter the plains. The streets are still gross. Everything is vanity...

So, while it is my gut instinct to wave a big 'ol middle finger to the world, throw my phone off a bridge, and run away to a place where I can hide under a blanket, I guess maybe instead I will do what Jesus said I should do. I'll go to him whose yoke is easy and whose burden is light, and I'll pray that we find rest. I'll work at pulling the timber from my eye, and I will try to love God and neighbor.

 Because trying to find someone to blame doesn't seem to get me anywhere. 

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

There Are No Sports in Hell

 
It is no secret that I have little interest in athletics in general and professional athletics in particular.  While I love to support my parishioners and their children in their athletic attempts, there are elements of sports culture that I find deeply disturbing.  I find fanaticism about particular teams and players to be repulsive, and, to my mind, the emotion displayed toward the failures and successes of a particular team is akin to toddlers' tantrums in the grocery store.  I fear that sports often encourage ignorance among among children and adults who seldom read any books, let alone good ones, and who can tell me the scores from the weekend, but none of the major current events.  I detest the power sports has over a family's ability to make free decisions about how they will live and schedule their time.  I deplore the notion that sports build character, though it is true that sports frequently reveal the character of athletes.  These, however, are the rambling opinions of one who never played sports, never considered them especially fun, and was never especially accomplished in anything athletic.  I freely admit I have a bias against sports.  Even adjusting for this bias, however, I fear something is seriously wrong with sports culture.  It verges on the pornographic.

Pornography is evil, not primarily because it is sexual, but because it objectifies humans.  It turns a person, made in the image and likeness of God and existing for his or her own sake, into a commodity.  Like slavery, pornography permits that I wantonly use another person for my pleasure or my gain.  It denies the dignity of the other, making him or her a thing, a means to an end, and in doing so, it degrades my own dignity which insists that I encounter each person in life precisely as a person other than myself who is of equal value, dignity, and worth to me.  The dignity with which I treat another bespeaks the dignity I believe that I possess.

There is little difference between the way in which we treat professional athletes and people in pornography.  To most fans, an athlete's worth is commensurate with his ability to perform.  He or she is an object meant to accomplish a task that pleases me, and if the athlete fails to do so, he should be sold like a cow who cannot produce milk.  Athletes have names and we know them, but what we know better is the position they play and the number on their jersey.  We talk about them by their position.  When they have finally eked the last ounce of skill from their aging bodies, athletes, except for a tiny shining minority, whither into obscurity.  A professional athlete is not a man or a woman, not a person, but a tool for my own pleasure by which I might vicariously obtain a fleeting victory, and know the glory of conquest.  

Some will be inclined to disagree with my observations, suggesting that interest in athletics is ultimately an expression of appreciation for the beauty of the human body and its ability to achieve magnificent feats and to endure tremendous strain.  That does not change the essential nature of our attraction.  The gladiators of the Roman circus did the same.  Was this sport?  If it is about pushing the human body to the limits of its natural abilities and our appreciation thereof, why are so many athletes now subjecting themselves to performance enhancing drugs?  Are they not ultimately attempting to make their bodies a better product for sale?  If we care about athletes as people, why did we permit Mohammed Ali to addle his brain in the ring?  Why did the NFL have to reach a financial settlement with concussion induced, disabled former players?  If we think they are people, why do we tolerate their inhuman and immoral actions so long as they retain an ounce of talent?  Why do we allow them to be bought and sold at incredible cost to cities, teams, and fans?  We pay fifty dollars to watch these men play, and kick the homeless out of the way as we rush to enter the stadium.

Does this mean that all sports fandom is immoral?  No.  There must be, I think, a middle way between sheer contempt for sports on the one hand, and quasi-pornography on the other.  We should, in fact, rejoice at the majesty of the human form when it achieves the actualization of its potential.  We should be moved at the glory with which God created man.  But, we have become flesh mongers when an athlete's worth is measured in performance.  An athlete is not good because he is good at sports.  He is good because he is human.  He is not valuable because he wins.  He is valuable because he is a man.  When we fail to acknowledge this, we have implicitly participated in the sale of human beings; we have become pornographers.