Sunday, June 15, 2014

Patience and Softball

I begin on a random note: when I write, I nearly always listen to music. I usually (always?) end up with something on the "classical" spectrum. I wonder if other bloggers listen to music when they write. I also wonder whether I choose music based on how I feel...or what I want to write.  I suspect that the music I choose is dictated by my mood, and that the manner and topic upon which I write is similarly based.

With that said...you have my apologies for the length of the below blog....

My Daughter (9 y.o.) has two softball coaches, one for her recreational team and one for her "local" travel team. The teams are for ages 10 and under, though because of the cutoff dates, there are more than a few girls who are now over 10 years old. Daughter turned 9 last September, which means that she is more than a year younger than some of the girls. With the physical differences that presents, both coaches have elected to play her in the outfield (with occasional placement at 2nd, catcher, and bench - the latter due to team overpopulation), with concerns for her ability to deflect hard-hit balls.

This, of course, has been frustrating for Daughter, who (naturally) has difficulty discerning negative differences between herself and other players. "Negative" differences, here, meaning those qualities in a player which are as important as the obvious (good hitting, good fielding, good pitching, etc.) but are not as obvious to the less trained eye. I think here of knowledge of the game, situational awareness, and (in this instance) reaction time.

It is this last quality which Daughter may not perceive as easily, and until a recent exchange with one coach, I did not either. I understand it more now, and am thankful for that. While I am a moderate natural athlete, I am not trained or practiced  in baseball or softball, save perhaps some high school phys-ed outings. The only sport to which I can lay claim to any knowledge (note: I do not claim "ability") is golf, and that played rarely enough.

So, this season has been, to some extent, an exercise in mild frustration. Though I would not speak too much for her, I would hazard that my wife (as a former soccer, softball, and basketball player) has been more frustrated than I, as she had hopes for Daughter to get more experience playing infield, particularly catcher (as she has played the last 2 years).

Reflecting on this frustration and considering it in depth has taken time and discussion - both with my wife, with Daughter, and with myself. I am not sure that I am "over" the frustration entirely. And yet...and yet, Daughter has grown in so many ways this season - this season that is her first foray into "adult" softball. She has great joy in her teammates, and they in her. She bats better than ever, throws further and more accurately than ever, and is more focused and thoughtful on the field and off. This from a girl of whom the coaches said even at the start of the season that she has an excellent attitude and is very coachable.

So, this has been a lesson for me in patience. It is a lesson well-learned, and is probably one in which I need work (among others, naturally). The great writer Josef Pieper had this to say of patience (one of the seven classical Christian virtues):
Patience is not the indiscriminate acceptance of any sort of evil: "It is not the one who does not flee from evil who is patient but rather the one who does not let himself thereby be drawn into disordered sadness." To be patient means not to allow the serenity and discernmet of one's soul to be taken away. Patience, then, is not the tear-streaked mirror of a "broken" life (as one might almost think, to judge from what is frequently shown and praised under this term) but rather is the radiant essence of final freedom from harm. Patience is, as Hildegard of Bingen states, "the pillar that is weakened by nothing.”
There are those who say that God sends (meaning, in this sense, "causes") events to happen to "test" one's virtues...to give one opportunity to work on them. I do not think this is the case. However, I do believe that one is presented with numerous opportunities, daily, and over lengthier time, to exercise virtue, and to learn what one should have done with reflection. And so, in this case, I have been hasty, but see, looking back, that patience was called for, and with patience, forgiveness of self, and teaching of Daughter, so that I might model patience for her, in word and in deed.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Facebook and Consumerism

Recently, I saw a post on Facebook by a friend who, on a late evening shopping run, asked help in finding a (what she terms) “frivolous” purchase, and realized that there was a possibility that the person from whom she was seeking help may have been an immigrant refugee from Sudan, displaced by the wars there. She felt shamed and “like a real twit”. She stated this in the context of how people, like her (and myself), could reconcile a knowledge and appreciation of the social justice teachings of the Church, a desire to abide by those teachings, and the fact of consumerism. 

Her question is important….regarding consumerism, we can borrow the words of Trip, from the movie Glory: “Yeah, It stinks bad. And we all covered up in it too. Ain't nobody clean.”

And yet, I think it is critical, even as we separate “science” from “scientism”, to distinguish between “consumer” and “consumerism”. We, as humans, must consume, even in order to follow the teachings of the Church on the problems inherent in consumerism. We must be clothed, we must eat, some must raise children, we must teach, learn, and work; we must play, create, and love. In short, in order to live and be social beings, we must consume. 

This summer, my eldest daughter begins to play the French horn. I do not view our purchase of that horn as consumerism, but as consumption – use of wealth in a valid way to teach another and enable her to learn an art, and if in learning, she becomes a sub-creator (as she must, it seems to me), then she may glorify creation, and thereby God, through such creation. 

“Consumerism”, however, is what results when one makes a god of consumption – like scientism, and in many instances, capitalism (when driven by, for instance, consumerism). “Consumerism” is what happens when consumption is driven by sin – by our lack of holiness, and therefore, either mortal or venial. It is the elevation of goods over need – of desire of goods solely for sake of possession. Ordinate purchase of food due to hunger, (or, as Pieper or Chesterton might note, for true celebration) is a good and even holy thing – stewardship of the things of the earth. Purchase of food due to gluttony or desire simply to have that food, rather than out of hunger, becomes problematic and is symptomatic of consumerism. The same can be said of cars, houses, education, or anything else that could be consumed. 

With that said, it is very difficult from the outside to tell if one’s use of goods is holy or not – is driven by need or desire to fulfill the commandments of God, or by an inordinate desire. This is something that, except in rare cases, is between one and God and must be constantly questioned through prayer and the Sacraments.

Finally, let me complicate the scenario a bit. I noted earlier that this posting occurred on Facebook. I have begun to consider whether those who are truly anti-consumerism (not anti-consumption – that way lies the anti-humanists) can use Facebook. Let me explain. I do not know anyone who pays Facebook for use of it – in fact, I am not sure that an individual can do so. I believe it is completely driven by advertising. And, while some of that advertising is surely neutral or beneficial, much of it must also be for frivolous “stuff” – video games, etc. Facebook derives revenues from these businesses, who advertise to the users of Facebook. This is both consumption and, probably, consumerism. If we are truly concerned with frivolity, can we continue to use Facebook for free? It seems almost like lower-cost public schools driven by lotteries, which are nearly always purchased disproportionately by those who cannot afford to do so….and what does this say of our other favorite mediums, themselves disproportionately funded by advertising – television…magazines…sporting events….?

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Illiteracy - The Impossibility of Debate

In addition to my work as a professional, I have taught a number of classes at a local community college. My students in those classes range from just graduated high school all the way up to 40+ second-careerists. I also have a wide variety of friends on Facebook, from many walks of political life.

I have had a number of debates in classes and on Facebook, and seen others conducted online, especially revolving around the gay marriage debates, abortion, and other hot-button issues currently roaming around the countryside. In observing all of these, I have come to several conclusions.

The one which concerns me here is: the majority of people with strong opinions about these subjects are illiterate - in the sense that they have not read or discussed their reading enough to understand basic rhetorical devices, such as analogy.

Let me explain, if you're still here.

A typical example in the debate is a question of status versus action. Typically, thoughtful Christians distinguish between status ("homosexuality") and action ("homosexual acts"). In other words, Christians find nothing sinful in being homosexual - the problem is in the homosexual sexual actions (which Christians find are sinful, as are non-marital heterosexual acts, etc). When this distinction is rejected, one basis being that homosexuals feel deeply that the inclinations are inborn and natural, Christians attempt to analogize, such as by retorting that some people feel deeply attracted to young girls,  but that attraction should not permit those people to act upon that inclination. 

The response to such an analogy is usually swift, furious, and illiterate. Rather than taking the analogy as a broad comparison attempting to question the validity of a direct link between a desire always being natural and the related act being "good", the opponent invariably launches a statement to the effect of "so, you're saying that homosexuals are as bad as child molesters", or "you're saying that having consensual same-sex relations is the same as raping a child".

Charitably, I assume that such responses are borne of illiteracy - the inability to understand a limited analogy in argument. Less charitably, I often wonder whether such vehement response is a deliberate misconstruction of the statement, where the interlocutor is perfectly aware of the analogy, but is using shame or embarrassment in attempt to shut down the discussion.

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A lawyer, professor, Catholic, Federalist, Conservative