Friday, February 27, 2015

Is Football an Addiction?

An important article by Nathaniel Rich in the New York Review of Books (3-5), focusing on the NFL, presents some information that is unsettling about the violence of the national obsession known as football and raises more questions about this dangerous sport.

To enjoy a game, he writes, "every thinking fan" must put aside the fact that nearly every current NFL player "can expect to suffer from chronic  traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative disease that leads to memory loss, impaired judgment, depression, and dementia."

Such players are also four times more likely to develop ALS and Alzheimer's, and they can expect to live twenty years less than the average American male.

So why do they do it and why do we put up with it? Do we crave its type of violence in an addictive way that trumps common sense? Or is football a substitute for real violence, a distraction from the horrors of the world?  I wonder if the cult of masculinity leads to mass denial, especially when big bucks are at stake.

Sports have been called a glorious distraction; this one might be called a bloody, dangerous addiction. America is addicted to violence and to football.

Like Mr. Rich, I have no answers, only questions.  I'm glad I have no young family members who might want to play football.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Living in the Past: a new book

For the past ten  years, I have given a number of talks, mainly on historical topics or literary figures, in the central Florida community. These range from overviews of Shakespeare's life and that of Hemingway to examinations of a diverse crew of characters who interested me: the Emperor Frederick II, whose many achievements included respect for the Islamic world in the Middle Ages; Winston Churchill, a complicated man, admirable despite his faults and errors; Matteo Ricci, the Jesuit who brought Western science to China before dying there in 1610. And others.

Even though there is no inherent relationship among these studies, since they represent a big chunk of my thinking and research, I decided to publish them.  This was made easy because my wife, Lynn Schiffhorst, has mastered the technique of launching a number of her stories on Amazon's Kindle.

And so, yesterday, with her help, Living with Past: Essays on History was published. I doubt if many people will find it or bother to download and read it, but it satisfies me that much of what I have written will, like this blog, have a permanent home and not be lost when I am gone.

I am grateful to the various groups (such as the University Club of Winter Park and the English-Speaking Union) for inviting me to talk to appreciative audiences, providing opportunities for me to examine history from a biographical perspective. And I am grateful to Kindle for helping us make the process of electronic publishing easy.

Friday, February 20, 2015

I never heard so much silence

"I never heard so much silence," says a young woman who comes with a camera to a poor, dying village somewhere in Brazil.

This is the reaction I had while watching her interact with the villagers in the remarkable film "Found Memories," which proved to be an ideal source of reflection on the day after Ash Wednesday, when I was looking for a way to increase my experience of contemplation and silence.

Just watching the scenes, filmed in real life, slowly unfold, without music or narration or artificial light: the scenes are lit like paintings as shutters open to let in the sun or as old people walk around with kerosene lamps. The pace is slow, thank God.

As we watch an old woman bake bread, go the coffee shop in the tiny village, then to the church, nothing much seems to happen--except the big things: life, old age, death, love and memory. And the need to bake bread.

It is impossible to analyze this quiet Brazilian film; it has to be experienced. For me, it was an ideal companion in the beginning of Lent.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Blogging in memory of Sully

Andrew Sullivan has not, thankfully, died, but his wonderful blog, after fifteen grueling years, has folded up, leaving many readers wondering where to go on the Internet for a stimulating mix of politics, culture, and religion, among many other things.

So, as a small simulacrum of what he and his team did daily at the Dish, I post several brief items found on the Internet, including a note of my own.

 If you want love in your life, you'd better be prepared to tell and believe some lies, according to Clancy Martin in his new book Love and Lies.  Kant, who said it is always wrong to lie, was a lifelong bachelor with no apparent experience with romance and the way lovers must bend the truth. Does flattery count as a white lie?


It's a great success, apparently, according the latest figures, with ten million Americans enrolled. Gail Collins in the NYTimes today (2-12-15) has a wonderful Op-Ed column: you can tell Obamacare is great, she says, by looking at the people who oppose it.


An acquaintance asked me this week, "Have you been excommunicated yet?"  His tone was sardonic, even bitter, as if he expected that I, a layman, would be censured for openly criticizing the Catholic church in the Orlando Sentinel on the issue of the priesthood and its practice of admitting only celibate men.  He was unaware that it is my duty to speak up in the spirit of the ongoing reform called for by the Second Vatican Council. The most recent Synod in Rome expects input from the laity.

My acquaintance also was unaware of how commonplace my ideas were: I merely stated what millions of others have been writing and saying in progressive organizations like Call to Action for thirty years and more.

Of the many bouquets I have received for my article, most focused on a man going to bat for women's ordination. But my real target was the clericalism rightly criticized by Pope Francis and the celibate culture that is at the center of clericalism.

To a critic who said I should have left out sexual abuse by priests in my otherwise "excellent article," I quote a member of the papal commission on abuse, as reported in the National Catholic Reporter this week.  Peter Saunders, an abuse survivor, said that the only positive thing he can say about the priests who raped him was that they were "desperately lonely people."  To me, that speaks volumes about the state of the Catholic priesthood, at least as it has been in recent decades.

On that sad note, I say farewell to Sully (Andrew Sullivan and his team) and a profound thank you for enlivening my reading and broadening my mind.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Loving and Liking

My greatest spiritual struggle is to accept people as they are rather than find fault with the way they behave or talk or believe. It is the challenge to love a person even when I don't like that person.

People are often hard to like. I am thinking of several impatient friends who, in their anxiety, seem incapable of listening and so don't really get to know me as I am. Yet I must and do love them, even though I don't always enjoy their company.

It was refreshing to read an excerpt from Martin Luther King's Loving Your Enemies, in which he says, "it is almost impossible to like some people."  How, he goes on, can we like someone who threatens us or impedes our progress? How can we feel affection for those who hate us?

But, he goes on, Jesus, in saying "love your enemies," recognized that "love" is greater than "like."

He did not say, "Like your enemies," which he knew to be impossible, but love them: look at the real person beneath the angry, fearful or anxious behavior pattern. Make the effort to understand. See in that person more than the behavior that hits you the wrong way: see the spark of goodness, of God's love, in that person, not allowing his faults to obscure who he or she really is. 

The person within is not the same as the behavior pattern. In special people, the two are harmonious, but in many others, the loud, abusive or angry attitude we see and hear does not reflect the inner core of that person, which is generous, sensitive, and caring.

Making this distinction is what I am challenged to do--instead of criticizing and judging, which prevent me from loving and accepting others as they are.