Archive for January, 2011


Yes, we’ve got the Supreme of all Bowls right here in our back yard this week, and you can’t turn around without bumping into a famous athlete or entertainer. Gene Simmons has already been given the key to the city of Dallas and–good for him–is raising money to help wounded warriors this week. Prince will be in town Friday night and if anybody has one of those $1,500 tickets for his charity gig I’m game.

You can keep the Lady GaGa tickets.

The oddest Supreme Bowl party in North Texas this week features Duran Duran and Kid Rock.

Dallas-Fort Worth is the place to be this week if you like excessive excess and not just on Super Bowl Sunday. It’s very fun and exciting if you have Super Coinage in the bank.

He knew who I was, at that time, because I had a reputation as a writer. I knew he was part of the Bush dynasty. But he was nothing, he offered nothing, and he promised nothing. He had no humor. He was insignificant in every way and consequently I didn’t pay much attention to him. But when he passed out in my bathtub, then I noticed him. I’d been in another room, talking to the bright people. I had to have him taken away.”

— The late and the great Hunter S. “Gonzo” Thompson, on on his infamous meeting of George W Bush at Thompson’s Super Bowl party in Houston in 1974

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The shallow “I” of individualism can be possessed, developed, cultivated, pandered to, satisfied: it is the center of all our strivings for gain and satisfaction, whether material or spiritual.

“But the deep “I” of the spirit, of solitude and of love, cannot be had, possessed, developed, perfected. It can only be, and act, according to the inner laws that are not of man’s contriving, but which come from God. . . .

“It is beyond limitation. It is beyond selfish affirmation.”

— Thomas Merton

Merton and You-Know-Who, Shortly Before Merton was Electrocuted in 1968

My main man the mystic monk Mr. Merton was born on this day in 1915. He died in December 1968 all too young, but left behind a body of spiritual writings of depth and breadth.

Down below is a clip from the PBS documentary “Soul Searching: The Journey of Thomas Merton,” by filmmaker Morgan Atkinson.

And click here for a video of a TV interview with Atkinson and Merton scholar Jonathan Montaldo.

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Last night we gave you quotable quotes from the famous and the infamous, but it’s the quiet people of integrity who slug away without much credit who make the world go round.

I like people. When I lived in New York, before I married, I would often sit on the corner and watch people go by.

“People are like you and I the world over, we have the same aspirations and the same thoughts. People are pretty much the same the world over.”

Kenneth Kruger, who in his 90s makes mission trips
to some rugged international sites with his
United Methodist Church in Arkansas

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In the sixties there was a sexual revolution. Now there’s this nonstop sexual carnival.

— Tom Wolfe, ultimate reporter and great novelist too



[Church] creeds and traditions are not meant to straight-jacket people. They are meant to help cultivate and deepen our grasp of the Christian pilgrimage by drawing on the wisdom, reflection, and experience of generations. It gives spirituality traction in our lives, a vocabulary that helps us discuss our experience of God with one another, and communicate it to another generation.

“A free range Christian may be free, but he or she is also alone with a creed and community of one.”

Frederick Schmidt, one of my favorite bloggers, theology/spirituality div.


In 1982, who passed the largest peacetime tax increase in U.S. history? That would be Ronald Reagan.

“Who called for comprehensive health reform legislation during in a State of the Union address in 1974, a program that was well to the left of what either Bill Clinton or Barack Obama ultimately proposed? That would be Richard Nixon. Eisenhower and Reagan and Nixon–they were not the liberals of their day. They were the conservatives of their own time. But the whole of American politics has shifted so far to the right in the last 50 years that what used to be thought of as conservative, what used to be thought of as a conservative position, is now considered to be off-the-charts lefty.”

Rachel Maddow, the smartest and most formidable librul around


I think that we’re at a real crossroads, as it relates to the grassroots of our sport, because if I had a 10-year-old boy, I don’t know that I’d be real inclined to encourage him to go play football, in light of what we are learning from head injury. And so what is the sport gonna look like 20 years from now.

“The only way you’re gonna eliminate helmet to helmet contact is to take the helmets off. Go back to leather helmets. I mean, I think– a defensive player would be much less inclined to lead with his head, if he had no protection. As the equipment has gotten better, and it’s gotten better in an attempt to try to protect the player more, then the equipment becomes used more as a weapon.”

Dallas Cowboys great Troy Aikman, who is the King of Dallas, TX,
(except during baseball season, when Nolan Ryan ascends)
in interview with Bryant Gumbel on HBO Sports Talk


So this is where civility comes from — from a sense of personal modesty and from the ensuing gratitude for the political process. Civility is the natural state for people who know how limited their own individual powers are and know, too, that they need the conversation. They are useless without the conversation.

“The problem is that over the past 40 years or so we have gone from a culture that reminds people of their own limitations to a culture that encourages people to think highly of themselves. The nation’s founders had a modest but realistic opinion of themselves and of the voters. They erected all sorts of institutional and social restraints to protect Americans from themselves. They admired George Washington because of the way he kept himself in check.

“But over the past few decades, people have lost a sense of their own sinfulness. Children are raised amid a chorus of applause. Politics has become less about institutional restraint and more about giving voters whatever they want at that second. Joe DiMaggio didn’t ostentatiously admire his own home runs, but now athletes routinely celebrate themselves as part of the self-branding process.

“So, of course, you get narcissists who believe they or members of their party possess direct access to the truth. Of course you get people who prefer monologue to dialogue. Of course you get people who detest politics because it frustrates their ability to get 100 percent of what they want. Of course you get people who gravitate toward the like-minded and loathe their political opponents. They feel no need for balance and correction.

“Beneath all the other things that have contributed to polarization and the loss of civility, the most important is this: The roots of modesty have been carved away.”

— David Brooks, conservative columnist for the NY Times, on President Obama’s SOTU speech

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Lead me from dreaming to waking.
Lead me from opacity to clarity.
Lead me from the complicated to the simple.
Lead me from the obscure to the obvious.
Lead me from intention to attention.
Lead me from what I’m told I am to what I see I am.
Lead me from confrontation to wide openness.
Lead me to the place I never left,
Where there is peace, and peace

~ The Upanishads

James Wallace Pondelicek, “The Crane,” circa 1928


André Kertész | Washington Square Park, New York City, circa 1954


(Picture from the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration.)
Farm Security Administration: “School in Alabama” (Circa 1935)


Rodeo– New York City, 1954. By photographer Robert Frank.

Easter Sunday near Khe Sanh, Vietnam, 1972
By Pulitzer-winner David Hume Kennerly

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Shaolin monks are these funky Kung Fu fighter guys who do stuff like throw needles through glass, something they’ve been doing for a long, long and very long time for reasons of which I are not acquainted and don’t understand, but I don’t understand why people go to hockey games either, so who am I to judge.

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This is really quite a story coming as it does from the conservative Dallas Morning News, but times are fast changing–for the better in my book–where the acceptance and full inclusion of gays is concerned. Of course, this wouldn’t even be a news story at all in a lot cities.

Now, if only my beloved United Methodist Church would get it, and would finally accept and fully include gay couples who love each other and are as committed as many “straight” couples who’ve stay together for decades.

I know so many wonderful, God-loving, Christlike (and baptized) Christians who are gay and who have been to seminary and who can’t be ordained in my beloved UMC and other denominations because they openly love someone of the same sex. The military is ahead of the churches on gay rights and discrimination, but everyone is always ahead of churches on rights and discrimination. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “The church is always the tail light, never the headlight” when it comes to full inclusion of whole masses of people.

As a UMC minister, I can bless your snake and do it in a UMC church, no less. But I can’t bless–much less preside at the wedding–of a gay couple.

Christians and churches still trot out and bend the same old scriptures to maintain the conservative status quo.

It is heartening that so many conservatives–including a lot of very conservative Christians–are starting to see that the biblical case can be made for the inclusion of gays. The biblical case for slavery and anti-racism was finally accepted after centuries of slavery, which no one in their right mind would make today in spite of the many slavery- and racist-friendly scriptures found all over the Bible.

Even Rush Limbaugh, for gosh sake, had Sir Elton John perform at his wedding last year. That’s Sir Elton John the superstar singer who’s been out of the closet for decades–he who has been on magazine covers all over the place with pictures of his spouse and their new baby.

The times are changing none too soon.

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If Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and Eseau, can learn to live together in peace, there is hope not only for the responsible and the prodigal; there is hope for the synagogue as well. And if the church and synagogue both could recognize their connection to Jesus, a Jewish prophet who spoke to Jews, perhaps we’d be in a better place of understanding.

Amy-Jill Levine in The Misunderstood Jew: The Church and the Scandal of the Jewish Jesus

When I take over the world I’m going to make Amy-Jill Levine required reading for all God’s children.

She’s a top-notch biblical scholar and has done as much or more than anybody to help Christians and Jews know and understand one another. And, as anyone who has ever heard her speak knows, she can charm the snakes out of the trees.

These videos are well worth your time when you have the time, but reading her stuff–or better yet making a study of her stuff in your church (or synagogue) or book club–would be even better.

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President Woodrow Wilson on Methodism’s founder John Wesley in Wilson’s address at Wesleyan University, where Wilson had once been on the faculty (as was T.S. Eliot among other noteables who taught there) on the occasion of the Wesley Bicentenniel, 1915:

John Wesley’s place in history is the place of the evangelist who is also a master of affairs. The evangelization of the world will always be the road to fame and power, but only to those who take it seeking, not these things, but the kingdom of God; and if the evangelist be what John Wesley was, a man poised in spirit, deeply conversant with the natures of his fellow-men, studious of the truth, sober to think, prompt and yet not rash to act, apt to speak without excitement and yet with a keen power of conviction, he can do for another age what John Wesley did for the eighteenth century. His age was singular in its need, as he was singular in his gifts and power.

“The eighteenth century cried out for deliverance and light, and God had prepared this man to show again the might and the blessing of his salvation.”

Click here for Wilson’s whole speech, which all in all is as dry as Wilson himself.

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I’ll be on hospital duty during the NFL games today, but hospitals have TVs in every room, every nook, every cranny and every corner, and what plays I miss in today’s big playoff games I’ll catch up on at home later on the non-stop ESPN highlights.

I’ll be rooting big-time for the Steelers because my favorite NFL player, the slobberknocking Troy Polamalu–he of the famous long hair and vicious hitting–is in the hunt for his third Supreme Super Bowl appearance. If I can’t have the Cowboys in the NFL Supreme Bowl, I’ll take the Steelers. (And we longsuffering Cow fans will never see the Cowboys in the Supreme Bowl again unless the owner fires himself as general manager.)

I’m also partial to the Steelers, always, because the first newspaper article I ever had published with my byline over it, outside of the hometown weekly paper, was a “human interest” story (i.e., profile) I wrote about “Mean” Joe Greene on the occasion of his being named “Rookie of the Year” for the Steelers. That’s the “Mean Joe” who was one of the greatest NFL players ever, who graciously let me hang out with him a few days to write him up in a Dallas paper because I went to school with him at the University of North Texas and he loved him some University of North Texas as much as I did. It also didn’t hurt that he played football at North Texas with one of my roommates and best college buddies, Wes Belew, who played defensive line right next to Mean Mr. Greene.

For such a “mean” and fierce man on the football field, “Mean” Joe Greene was a total gentleman and gentle man off the field, and was very kind to me and opened up to me a good bit in spite of his being quite reserved by nature. In fact, I remember him saying that he wasn’t interested in being in the spotlight, only in winning, and we all know how that turned out.

I also have a fond memory of shooting dice with some friends of his in his apartment in Denton, Texas, where he was living and finishing up his final semester at North Texas after his rookie season in the pro games. Yes, me and Mean Joe’s pals played games of chance while Mean Joe–I am not making this up–went shopping at the grocery store for supper, which involved lots of red meat and celery. (“Mean Joe” liked him some celery and steak, not necessarily in that order.)

But this posting was supposed to be about Troy Polamalu, wasn’t it?

I think it was. And is.

Troy Polamalu was my favorite NFL player years ago, long before I even knew that he’s a devout and deep Christian, Orthodox Church Div. He’s enormous fun to watch because he’s one of those rare defensive players who, when he’s in uniform with all that hair flying, seems to be all over the field making his crunching presence felt. He is, what they called in the olden days, a “headhunter.” That is, an extremely intelligent player, with extreme quickness and agility to match, all topped off with the power to knock opponents into next week.

That he’s a devout Christian who takes his faith and theology seriously and deeply makes him all the more appealing to me as my favorite pro.

Here’s a New York Times profile, published back on the 12th, of this most interesting “headhunter” pacifist Christian and seeker.

A Defensive Anchor Walks a Spiritual Path
New York Times
Jan. 12, 2011

PITTSBURGH — Steelers safety Troy Polamalu opened his red leather-bound playbook to a dog-eared page. “The life of a man hangs by a hair,” he began reading in a voice as soft as falling snow. “At every step our life hangs in the balance.”

It was three days before the Steelers’ A.F.C. divisional playoff game against the Baltimore Ravens, a matchup in which the Super Bowl aspirations of two worthy contenders hang in the balance, and Polamalu was getting himself centered.

“How many millions of people woke up in the morning, never to see the evening?” Polamalu read. And then: “The life of a man is a dream. In a dream, one sees things that do not exist; he might see that he is crowned a king, but when he wakes up, he sees that in reality he is just a pauper.”

The book in Polamalu’s hands, “Counsels From the Holy Mountain,” guides him in football and in life. It contains the letters and homilies of a Greek Orthodox monk, Elder Ephraim, whom Polamalu described as his spiritual doctor.

Polamalu, 29, sought out the octogenarian monk, who resides in a monastery in southern Arizona, a few years ago, a meeting that led Polamalu to the place he described as “heaven on earth.” It is a summit of sorts. But not the Super Bowl, though Polamalu won two championship rings in his first seven seasons with the Steelers. Neither of those journeys shaped him as profoundly as the pilgrimage he made to Mount Athos, a Greek Orthodox spiritual center in Greece.

While there, Polamalu said he witnessed humility and sacrifice in its deepest, purest forms and realized that for all their obvious differences, the spiritual path shared much with a Super Bowl journey.

“Both require great discipline,” Polamalu said, “and a selflessness in the name of a greater good.”

A pacifist whose tough play epitomizes his violent sport, Polamalu is the anchor of both the Pittsburgh defense and its locker room. In a vote this season of the players, Polamalu was voted the team’s most valuable player, becoming the first safety since Donnie Shell in 1980 to be so honored.

“Obviously, in a lot of respects it’s a big deal,” Polamalu said, adding: “I’ve never been a fan of individual awards because football is such a team sport. There’s so many things that goes into making plays. It’s about teammates trusting one another and working together.”

Asked whom he voted for, Polamalu said linebacker James Harrison. “Nobody does what he does,” Polamalu said.

While Harrison, who amassed $100,000 in league fines this season for dangerous hits, appreciated Polamalu’s sentiments, he said, “Troy could be voted our M.V.P. every year.”

In the Steelers’ 41-9 win at Cleveland on Jan. 2, which clinched a first-round playoff bye, Polamalu was back in the starting lineup after missing two games with an Achilles’ heel injury.

It didn’t take him long to get his legs back. On the second play from scrimmage, Polamalu picked off a Colt McCoy pass for his seventh interception, tying a career high. On a goal-line play at the start of the second quarter, he leaped over the line of scrimmage and was in McCoy’s face before he had time to cock his throwing arm.

The play was reminiscent of one in the second week at Tennessee that resulted in a Polamalu sack of Titans quarterback Kerry Collins.

Dick LeBeau, the Steelers’ defensive coordinator, noted that Polamalu did not sack McCoy, who managed to get off a pass that fell incomplete.

“We prefer that he not go that far off the diving board,” LeBeau said.

Polamalu knows his freedom to roam has its limits. “When you do go a little bit off the map, you have to make sure you make the play,” he said. “If you don’t, it’s your fault.”

The Steelers’ rubber match this week against Baltimore — the teams split their regular season games — features two of the league’s best defensive backs in Polamalu, a six-time Pro Bowl pick, and the Ravens’ Ed Reed, who had an N.F.L.-leading eight interceptions in 10 games.

Both are deserving candidates of the league’s defensive player of the year award, though, naturally, that is not the way Polamalu sees it. “I think I’d rather go with him,” Polamalu said, “given that he’s played in five games and has like 22 interceptions.”

The quotation was pure Polamalu. If he is overstating someone’s abilities, you know he’s not talking about himself.

Against the Ravens in the 2009 A.F.C. championship game, Polamalu stepped in front of a Joe Flacco pass intended for Derrick Mason and returned the ball 40 yards for the score that gave the Steelers a cushion at 23-14. Players from both teams — Harrison and the Ravens’ Terrell Suggs quickly come to mind — have been vocal about how deep the rancor runs in this rivalry.

Polamalu said: “I don’t feel that way. There are things that are deeper than football rivalries to me.”

Polamalu was asked if he wished he could use his pulpit to address subjects other than football. “I’d rather not talk at all, to be honest with you,” he said.

Much has been made of Polamalu’s dual persona. Receiver Hines Ward described him Wednesday as “Clark Kent who goes into his phone booth on Sundays and comes out Superman.”

Off the field one sees the same dichotomy. Around the news media, Polamalu comes out of his shell and turns into the Jim Lehrer of the N.F.L. The least likely player to court the cameras is Polamalu, the Steelers’ most contemplative speaker.

After the Cleveland game, Polamalu was the last player to leave the visiting locker room. He emptied the contents of his locker into a black knapsack, fingering some of the items as if seeing them for the first time.

In the back of his locker was an 8-by-10 photo of Elder Ephraim with chin hair longer and fuller than the Rip Van Winkle beard that Steelers defensive end Brett Keisel has been growing all season. Polamalu slid the picture into a manila envelope, then carefully tucked it into his bag.

He kissed the three-inch framed photos of the Virgin Mary and Jesus, then crossed himself, repeating the sequence several times before tucking them into his backpack.

On his way out, Polamalu was stopped by a radio reporter. As a team official anxiously shouted into his cellphone, “Hold the Cranberry bus for Troy,” Polamalu serenely sat for a five-minute interview.

“At times when we need a little guidance, he’s the guy we go to,” Harrison said, adding, “Troy’s a lot deeper than a lot of people who actually preach the word.”

At the monastery in southern Arizona, the monks practice joyful mourning. Led by Polamalu, the Steelers engage daily in cheerful discomfort. They suffer together with the goal of celebrating as one on the first Sunday in February.

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