I’m excited and grateful to join this blog – both because it’s a chance to write alongside my brothers, and because it’s a community of believers. So, putting myself in your shoes, dear reader, I found myself wondering what this new guy might write about. And so I thought I could begin my blogging efforts trying to answer those questions and giving an example of what I mean.
I’m a philosopher by training and interest, but I am a huge sucker for pop-culture (yes, I watch Jersey Shore), good music (Bob Dylan’s Every Grain of Sand is a major touchstone), and sports (no, I am not a Brett Favre fan). But I’m a Catholic – a Jesuit – first and foremost. And it’s this intermingling of pop-culture and religious tradition that I‘m finding absolutely fascinating right now. Basically all these cultural influences (stuff we’re all exposed to to whatever extent) get run through this Jesuit filter in my heart & head anyway, so I figure I’d try to share that process with you in this blog.
Hope that sounds interesting to you all. Anyway, here’s a first effort at what I just described.
Last Thursday I was reading espn.com (I will no doubt write the phrase “reading espn.com” 14 million times on this blog – please forgive me now), and I came across this article by Jeff MacGregor on what sports fans can let themselves believe these days. Fascinating. If you’ll stick with me for a moment, I’ll set the scene and then explain how I can possibly think this is relevant.
Ok. So, MacGregor took the premise for his article from a tweet made by one of my favorite sports writers, Bill Simmons. Near the end of baseball’s regular season Simmons tweeted: “Whoa! 54 home runs for Jose Bautista. Tied for 19th all-time. Nobody from 1962 to 1996 hit that many. I’m still buying it. Like his swing.“
For those of you with lives out there (read: non-baseball fans) Bautista plays right field for the Toronto Blue Jays. And before hitting 54 big flies this year, his previous high for home runs in a season was… 16. Now we should be clear, ever since Mark McGuire and Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds shattered the trusting hearts of baseball fans, a jump of 38 homers in a year screams one thing: “STERIODS!” And the scream of steroids begs a question of every sports fan: is what you’re seeing real? Do you believe it?
This is what I love about pop culture in all its cushy, seductive, destructive, divine forms: the same human beings with and to whom I want to minister have created this very popular culture. It’s got to tell me something about them. Even more, the questions of belief that the sports fan faces are largely the same questions I face as a sports fan. And those questions human beings face as sports fans are largely the same questions we face as believers. For example, take MacGregor’s words in this next quote from his piece and just substitute “believers” for “sports”:
“That might be the tipping point phrase for 21st century sports right there. What we believe to be authentic has become the exception. What we can accept without cynicism is now remarkable. That’s when it hit me: What we think is real now seems rare.”
And that’s where Simmons’ tweet slips in. “I’m still buying it,” he says. And so am I.
And so are an awful lot of those who responded to MacGregor’s challenge to fulfill the duty of a fan and “make a case for our belief in the game.” You can read what people said in response here.
Reading through online comments can be a sketchy and depressing thing, but reading through these I felt edified. Hopeful. It seemed to me that Pope Benedict, when still J. C. Ratzinger, would have fit right in with these baseball junkies. After all, it’s he who wrote: “No one can lay God and his Kingdom on the table before another man; even the believer cannot do it for himself. …In other words, both the believer and the unbeliever share, each in [their] own way, doubt and belief, if they do not hide from themselves” (Intro to Christianity, 2004 edition, p46).
A homerun swing – the cliched crack of the bat – can be a pure moment of belief. A secular transcendence. But Jose’s 54 moments of potential pure belief have all happened against the horizon of doubt caused by steroids. And believers in Bautista and in God seem today to be in an awfully similar position: believing in the face of, within a horizon of, doubt.
No one can lay Jose Bautista’s innocence before us. No one can force us to believe that Jose Bautista didn’t use steroids. But an awful lot of sports fans out there sure seem to want to believe. My bet is that those same humans that want to believe in baseball’s secular transcendence want to believe in deeper forms as well.
Maybe as ministers in our days and in our culture one of our main tasks is to do what Benedict advises us to do: help people not hide from themselves; help people to see who’s found them. I’m still buying that.
– Paddy Gilger, SJ