Daniel is my Brother

cincystate_520I’ve driven Daniel on three different occasions. The first time I took him into town. I don’t exactly remember where and I recall that he was going to hang out with friends. I think they were going rowing or some such activity. He seemed excited and a bit anxious as he was doing something he hadn’t done before.

The second time I took him to a local hospital. He was suffering from some un-diagnosed symptoms and was very anxious. There were some matters going on his life that were causing him a great deal of stress. My uninformed inference was that his body was “acting out” the churning he was contending with in some of his relationships, day-to-day purpose, and life in general. In looking back, I’d say he was in the middle of a multi-faceted transition and he was wrestling holistically with the ramifications of such change.

The last time we met and talked was when I picked him up from the Cincinnati State campus. It was kinda late at night this time around; yet, I recognized his voice and demeanor right away. It was terrific to catch up. Daniel indeed made some life-altering decisions about his career and relational paths. He really went through the grind, physically as well as spiritually, emotionally, and intellectually. He also was kind enough to check in with me and see how I was doing. I too. like him, am (was) in the midst of many transitions. We therefore exchanged ideas, concerns, fears, desires, aspirations. I told him about my upcoming marriage and relocation plans. He told me about his change in colleges and re-commitment to his digital music work. I told him about my observations of what I have learned in my work in Cincinnati and as an Uber driver. He told me about what he has learned about the connections between his physical and emotional health. We spent 20 minutes truly coming out from behind ourselves into a meaningful discussion with one another. We were connecting regardless of our differences and because of our similarities.

It was this third conversation as well as after I dropped Daniel off that I began to ruminate about what it means for a black guy in his 20s to be brothers with a white guy in his 50s. Our brotherhood and sisterhood is not so much about our heritage or even our genes as much as it is about our shared humanity and common experiences. I’m fascinated by the ongoing and random connections that a vehicle like Uber provides for helping people to understand in safe, short automobile trips that life isn’t just about getting from Point A to Point B if we’ll take some time to participate in the realities of our inter-relatedness.

transitions_bridgesIt doesn’t matter whether it is two guys conversing in a 2014 Mazda 6, two women managing a company, two people engaged in some sort of virtual chat. We are also constantly transitioning from one manner of being to another. Some of these transitions are overt, powerful, sudden. Others are simply the routine and unseen death and life experiences the cells of our bodies are undergoing. Unquestionably, despite how much we seek to avoid, deny, deflect, or diminish change. It happens, now, all the time, and eternally. Our shared humanity is bonded by transitions.

In his book, Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes, William Bridges provides a brief summary of the foretelling of Psyche’s death. (The tale of a beautiful mortal female who angers Venus and consequently must die because of her gorgeousness. However, Cupid and Zephyr rescue and love her through the travails of her existence). Bridges summarizes the outcome of Psyche’s life and ours by brilliantly surmising that: “No new time of life is possible without the death of the old lifetime. To gain you must first give up.” (Bridges, Managing Transitions, 2004, p. 177)

Apuleius in the 2nd Century CE and Bridges in the 21st Century CE both touch upon a mythical yet universally spiritual, religious truth. Life is dynamic, not static: circular, not linear. Consider how seasons of life transition from periods of growth to periods of solace and death. Consider how plants willingly die so that they drop their seeds into the soil so that future life and growth may occur. If your preference is more religious than scientific then observe the manner of life of Jesus the Christ in the West and Buddha in the East. Both of these mortals obtain immortality because of their willingness to sacrifice the life they live for the betterment and salvation of the people they teach. Those of us who believe in their examples and compassion honor them ritualistically.  That’s terrific and what seems more profound is for us to incarnate their examples as best we can. Life is an ongoing opportunity to live, suffer, and be reborn. Jesus in the West and Buddha in the East offer us Grace by guiding us to accept transitions including death, grief, and loss as they did. This divine knowledge offers possibilities to embrace new life and rebirth.

glossy_blood_splatter_31565It is customary for families often to say that “blood is thicker than water.” Most people believe that this phrase implies that our relationships with our siblings, parents, and next of kin are more valuable than our relationships to friends and neighbors.

In actuality, this phrase came into being in the Middle Ages to endorse shared human experiences, not familial ties. Blood was thicker than water when people formed a death-defying bond or covenant with one another. Soldiers declared that their blood was thicker than water when they mutually shed blood in battle. They thereby became deeply connected to their humanity.  Such blood was more relational than the shared water of the womb. Let’s not forget that mothers shed blood and water both when they offer life to their children. Many women died in childbirth and still do.

I believe, as we become increasingly more connected with one another via the Internet, improvements in communications and transportation, and as life increasingly requires us to understand our pluralism,  human beings will need to embrace our shared transitory lives. We will need to look past traditional, cultural bonds of identity so that we may gaze into the possibilities of transformed ways of abiding with one another. Jesus in fact questioned “who are my brothers?” (Matthew 12: 48) Daniel and I do not share a brotherhood in arms or biological cells. We do share transitory realities that bind us to one another on many levels.

It may indeed be that such transformational brotherhood is presently impossible given the almost frantic levels of fear, mistrust, and hatred individuals and cultural groups possess toward one another. Religious, scientific, mythical, and historical truths suggest that our human egos and biases indeed seek to protect what has been and preserve what is. Such small-ego based efforts will most likely avail for naught if we let go and let life operate as it intends. The universe pulls upon us in unforeseeable and unexpected ways, frequently to our puzzlement and chagrin. Daniel and I, in the course of three Uber rides broke down some fairly significant cultural paradigms by embracing the real truths of simply being human and traveling down life’s one road with one another for a few miles.
Ride On…

 

 

 

 

 

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Snowy Reflection

snow_Jan_16It’s snowing here in Cincinnati this morning. It’s this Winter’s first measurable snow in Southern Ohio.

Only fitting. The weather provides me and perhaps thousands of other people to reflect upon what happened at Paul Brown Stadium last night. The headlines will report that the Cincinnati Bengals lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers. The score was 18-16 and one writer declared that the loss was the Bengals their worst ever.  Paul Daugherty wrote that the game “descended into brutal, chaotic farce.”

Daugherty’s assessment is on the mark from what I witnessed. It was a violent, emotionally volatile,  frenetic game between two teams who truly disrespect and dislike one another. The ruckus began early in the week when NFL warned both teams to avoid scuffling. That’s seems like a sham given an unspoken truth that the NFL’s popularity is inherently connected to the competitive, violent nature of football. The NFL’s public image suffers because of its apparent subjective and occasional disregard for players conduct and reservations to prevent concussions and other traumatic physical injuries. The bottom line is what counts and what counts is the fact that the NFL’s revenues from corporate sponsors rose about $1.0o billion in 2015. Attendance at games rose too.

Bengals_SteelersStrong, athletic men running around with helmets, pads, and unbelievable physical skills who compete against one another to win a “Super Bowl” provokes fanaticism.   It sells even more with sponsors and fans when these football players willingly hit one another hard enough to cause concussions, ligament tears, and any number of other injuries.  Fines, on-field penalties, and game suspensions hardly seem to reduce professional football’s popularity,  or on-field violence.

Let me be clear, I am a fan. I stopped driving for Uber last night so that I could come home and watch the game. I yelled at the teams and the referees as if I was in the stands. I bemoaned the Bengals’ ineptitude for the first three quarters while  mocking Ben Roethlisberger when he left the field of play with an injured shoulder following a vicious tackle. He would return to lead a game-winning drive in less than two minutes. Well, that’s sort of true. The Steelers actually won because two Bengals players lost their poise and were penalized respectively for a personal foul and unsportsmanlike conduct.

Bengals_Steelers_2What happened? Well –  often penalized linebacker Vontaze Burfict knocked out Steelers Wide Receiver Antonio Brown. Roethlisberger threw an incomplete pass toward Brown and Burfict went out of his way to hit Brown in the head with his own shoulder and helmet. Brown crumpled to the ground almost immediately. Players and coaches from both benches came onto the field and scuffled at least verbally. This altercation led to Bengals’ defensive back Adam  Jones arguing with and perhaps bumping a referee. (He later tried to justify his behavior with this diatribe).

These outbursts resulted in 30 yards worth of penalties and an opportunity for the Steelers’ placekicker, Chris Boswell,  to win the game with a fairly short field goal. Steelers’ linebacker Ryan Shazier summed it up well in many ways with a very simple statement. Shazier called last night’s event “the funnest, scariest game I’ve been in.” (I should note that Shazier was not penalized for a dangerous play when he led with his helmet to tackle Bengals’ running back Giovani Bernard, causing a fumble – and an injury to Bernard. Bernard left the game with a concussion following the play).

Professional playoff football is fun, scary,violent, and profitable. Those are successful metrics in a egoistic, consumptive, economically charged, and raucous society such as the one present in the United States in 2016. Former football player and current Sports commentator Tom Jackson just said something on ESPN about the fans’, coaches’, and players’ conduct that’s really relevant. Jackson said; “we have to figure out who we are.” Are (am) we (I) people (a person) who become(s) so emotionally charged that we (I) want(s) opponent players to be severely injured or die? Are we (I) people (a person) who love(s) a game so much that we (I) scream at inanimate television sets at people who are not tuned in to what we (I) say? Will we continue to support a recreational business that creates such anger, between people. I think the answer is yes. I believe there is a  sort of gladitorial effect in the United States just as there was in ancient Rome. The NFL’s football players may not fight one another or wild animals to the death as ancient gladiators did and they surely do willingly “play” against one another to the point of causing life-changing injuries, including traumatic brain injuries.

My last blog post covered some aspects of what was going on in Cincinnati leading up to last night’s game. This is a diverse and growing Midwest city. Last night’s game doesn’t do much for promoting Cincinnati. Some fans really acted like undisciplined children, if not worse. Throwing objects toward the field in an effort to injure or mock a player will most likely wind up injuring another fan or a staff worker. I think I’ve written enough about the conduct of the players on both teams.

synchronicityI intend for this blog to be a blog about spirituality, not sports. Yet, there is a connection I think.  One of the first things I contemplated this morning is the impact of our collective unconscious during events such as NFL playoff games. How much of the hooliganism that we witness at football (soccer) games in Europe or NFL games in the United States is due to some sort of archetypal connections the participants, fans, coaches, NFL executives, commentators share with one another. Regardless of that fact…participating in or watching a violent sport such as football requires a well defined level of consciousness.

Ultimately, remaining in the moment (the now) is so key because the emotional and neurological consequences of being an NFL fan or player are truly addictive, compulsive, and potentially unbridled. It is really easy to become suddenly “unconscious” in heated scenarios such as the NFL playoffs. What does that mean to a common sports fan who values remaining spiritually healthy?

It may mean that such a fan will discontinue endorsing and allocating one’s fiscal, emotional, and spiritual wellness to the game. One of the people I admire most in the world, The Rev’d Dr. Gil Stafford, has made such a choice. Fans and players alike, if they choose not to quit participating in the game, must otherwise consciously continue to ask themselves: Who are we? Who am I? Do I understand cognitively and mindfully my current emotional state? Am I balanced and calm enough outside of emotionally charged events to bring such presence and fortitude into the “now” of life’s numerously violent playing fields?

FILE: Junior Seau Reportedly Dead
NFL Hall of Fame linebacker Junior Seau committed suicide in 2013. He killed himself with a self-inflicted gunshot wound when he was 40 years old. The National Institute of Health concluded that Seau was living with degenerative brain disease when he died.

Some years ago, popular columnist George Will pronounced that “Football can’t be fixed.” Will wrote: “accumulating evidence about new understandings of the human body — the brain, especially, but not exclusively — compel the conclusion that football is a mistake because the body is not built to absorb, and cannot be adequately modified by training or protected by equipment to absorb, the game’s kinetic energies.” (Will, August 2012, para. 15). I’d submit that Bengals’ fans in Cincinnati are unwilling to accept such a verdict about their football team, regardless of whether or not the Bengals have lost their last seven playoff games. The NFL is too big to fail. However, each of us who (un)consciously participate in this event whether we be Marvin Lewis, Vontaze Burfict, the fan in Section 50, or me the Uber Driver all have to be completely present to what is going on when the lid gets blown off of a playoff game as it did last night. Is this something that is just an issue in Cincinnati or is it indicative or something more. Are all of the billions of dollars and minutes spent in this recreational business worth the cost of human injury and spiritual dissonance. What criteria would we use to discern our responses on a moment to moment, day – to – day basis?

It has stopped snowing. I imagine the roads will be clear soon and I’ll probably drive some more later today. I’ll be attending to what people say and how “awake” they are to what unfolded in Cincinnati over the past few hours. What will the nature of our discourse be? Time and purpose will tell. Here’s a concluding thought for my drive. I get riled up when I watch NFL games. I, at least implicitly, offer my consent to football players, coaches, and the NFL business to continue making money with a gladiatorial industry. Am I willing to let go of football for the rest of the day….?

 

Ride On…..