I'm back

Just when I thought it was time to administer last rites to my blog, all the technical snafus of the past few weeks have disappeared.

I'm just back from a week in Red Sox Nation, and after seeing repeated commercials for the Sox, urging me to keep the faith, I was ready to write a piece on baseball and religion.

But Scott Stossel beat me to it, in this weeks Ideas section of the Boston Globe. (Actually the Commonweal review of "Still We Believe" a documentary on the Sox came first, but Stossel's piece is better.)

He quotes from the Commonweal review:
"Red Sox suffering is a cathedral of loss and pain. It is holy . . . "The Red Sox remind us that life is a trial; that it raises hopes only to crush them cruelly; that it ends badly."

Then he adds a theological discourse on the Sox:

For the vast majority of us, believing the Sox can win the World Series requires believing in something that we have never seen -- just as faith in God requires a belief in the unseen.

In the meantime, the suffering of Red Sox fans is purifying, soul-deepening. Shared failure -- repeated failure, epic failure -- bonds us as a region. As the Sox slog through the dog days of summer and into the fall, we (like Angry Bill) know that they will fail -- we expect them to fail -- while at the same time we hope and believe that they will not. And when, one way or another, they do fail, redemption will be deferred yet again. But endlessly deferred redemption provides, paradoxically enough, its own kind of reward. It tests our faith and marks us as spiritually stronger than other fans for whom entrance into heaven is a far cheaper thing.

A true Sox fan, Stossel ends on a note of hope.

Maybe this finally will be the year. After all, Johnny Damon really does look a little like Jesus.

For the unitiated, Johnny Damon, the once clean shaven Red Sox center fielder, has alternated between the Jesus look and the all out Caveman Johnny look all year long.

Still, my favorite theological reflection on the Red Sox comes from Chris Bohjalian's collection of essays and columns, Idyll Banter. On the passing of Ken Hallock, an 81 year old life long Red Sox fan, he writes:

But he was aware without question that to root for the Red Sox--to root with knowledge and passion and patience--is to root as an act of faith. It is to love people who you know willl disappoint you, but to forgive them and love them just the same. It is to know people are human."


A Lack of Contrition

With any luck, I'm back online here. I tried to post this about a week ago, so we'll see if it works now.

"I firmly resolve with the help of thy grace to confess my sins, do penance and amend my life. Amen."

Bob McClory begins his commentary on American Bishops and the abuse scandal by quoting from the "Act of Contrition" during confession.

"You had to admit that you were guilty and you had to accept some consequences as a result," writes McClory. "Otherwise, no forgiveness."

McClory--a former priest, and journalism professor emeritus at Medill--is a longtime correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter. His piece is great religion writing--using the tenets of the faith to evaluate the action of religious leaders.

Without real contrition, the bishops' apologies become hollow, he says.

Until that happens, repeated apologies and calls for forgiveness will sound too much like the comments Pete Rose provided when he finally admitted betting on baseball games: "I'm sure I'm supposed to act all sorry or guilty. Let's leave it at this; I'm sorry it happened, and I'm sorry for all the people, fans and family it hurt. Let's move on."

That's not even mentioning penance, which has gotten much easier since the 11th century, when Emporer Henry the IV had to wait barefoot in the show for several days while waiting for Pope Gregory VII's forgiveness.

Another longtime religion writer, Martin Marty, had some timely comments on a Columbia Journalism Review piece by Gal Beckerman entitled "Why don't Journalists get religion?"

Here's what Marty wrote:

What I took from Beckerman's long and subtle piece is this: readers expect, and the press delivers on, conflict because it is obviously newsworthy. Much of the press does less well reporting on the bone-deep, heart-searing, soul-lifting elements that attract the religious.
What Beckerman and some others miss is something that hits me daily: why, I ask, do the critics not find more fault with us, the readers? It is true that we will, should, and want to read feature stories on goodness, charity, and religious exemplarity. Something I wish more papers would understand.

Here's an example, a few years old, of the kind of "bone deep, heart searing stories" that more papers would run if we could find them. It's the story of Sam Lightner, a boy from Portland born with a serious facial deformity, a boy who despite the odds was desperate to live a normal life. It's full of religion--prayer, life and death battles, and the faith of doctors who believe that despite the risk, they could help Sam, and who didn't give up on him when a complication from the surgery left him near death. The Oregonian's series of stories on Sam won a Pulitzer two years ago.


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