Bad Headline. Powerful Journey.

This is a really great story about a guy named Anthony Federico.

Back in 2012 Federico worked at ESPN, and he wrote a terrible headline about Jeremy Lin, who played at that time for the New York Knicks. I remember reading Federico’s headline at the time, disbelieving that someone could fail to see the implications that would follow from their choice of words. I vaguely recall taking a screen shot in my office at home and saying, “Well, that’s a mess up.” Federico apologized and said he made an honest mistake. Soon thereafter he was let go by ESPN.

The whole experience was deeply devastating. People were wicked, social media outrage avalanches kept rolling, and death threats were hurled toward Federico. You can imagine how he felt. But Federico eventually was invited to lunch with Jeremy Lin. He apologized. Lin accepted his apology. Federico tells how that conversation proved to healing, of benefit for his mental health. Life went on.

He got a new job. During the lunch hour, he would go on walks, and he would pass by the open doors of a Catholic church. Martin Kessler reports:

“On one of my [Federico’s] walks, I happened upon a Catholic church, a busy basilica in the middle of downtown Stamford that was having Mass during the day,” he says. “And I didn’t even know that Catholics go to Mass on weekdays, and not just on Sundays. But the doors were open. I could see them going to church in there and [thought] maybe that could be cool, but, ‘Nah, I’m not that kinda guy.’

“So on the first day I go past it, and second day I go past it. And, how biblical, on the third day I decide I’m going to go to church in the middle of the afternoon on a Wednesday. And I went into this 12:10 p.m. Mass. The regulars kind of called it the ‘suit and tie Mass’ because all the businessmen and women would leave their offices and come to Mass on their lunch break. And I started going to Mass every day on my lunch break. And it’s this oasis of stillness and silence and ritual, and it was just such a sharp contrast that it called to me.”

Federico noticed that, before Mass, the priest would hear confession.

“And often the line was so long for people going to confession that the priest would have to apologize to the five or six people still waiting in line, because he had to run up and start the Mass on time,” Federico says. “And, every day, I would see on this priest’s face this, like, anguish. So I was watching him one day, and I said, ‘Lord, if only we had more priests, we could have two lines of confession going —’  Ohhh, ‘If only we had more priests.’ “

Federico says that as a kid people had told him he should grow up to be a priest. But he hadn’t really taken the idea seriously. Until now.

That’s a powerful turn. Federico now serves as a priest. He shares how his experiences have helped him to relate to people who are suffering and to minister to them. He has an experiential reference point from which to understand how others feel when they are angry at God or believe God has abandoned them.

I enjoyed reading this story as a sports fan, but more so as a Christian. Check it out.

 

Star Wars: A Brand Experience

The movie has moments of great potential. A pivotal lightsaber fight between Rey and Kylo Ren is reminiscent of the fight between Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi at the end of Revenge of the Sith. Even some of the moves used mirror those of Skywalker and Kenobi—this battle should have echoed theirs while also including a surprising twist of some kind. Star Wars has always featured this kind of intertextual referencing, of course. At their best, the movies make references but with slight alterations to surprise the viewers and shift the meaning. What made the throne room scene work in The Last Jedi, for example, is that it echoed a similar scene in Return of the Jedi but went in a wildly different direction.

Abrams never takes these kinds of risks. He makes no attempt to play with past scenes in these ways; in the two Disney trilogy films he directed—The Force Awakens and Rise of Skywalker—he simply repeats past scenes or rhymes them in unimaginative ways. Thus the Death Star becomes Starkiller Base which becomes an armada of star destroyers armed with Death Star-style weapons. Thus the first trilogy concludes with a simultaneous space battle featuring the Millennium Falcon and Wedge Antilles and a separate lightsaber battle—and the Disney trilogy ends with a simultaneous space battle featuring the Millennium Falcon and Wedge Antilles and a separate lightsaber battle. This is storytelling with recycled parts, devoid of imagination or risk-taking.

– Jake Meador writing at First Things, “Why the Rise of Skywalker Fails

Meador’s review basically says, “Disney has abandoned storytelling in favor of making money.” Sadly, Star Wars has become a brand experience, with each new film designed to evoke feelings of nostalgia and the brief satisfaction that comes with seeing familiar characters and our favorite fantastical machines on screen. Nevermind dialogue, nevermind story, nevermind compelling themes, nevermind myth or cosmic struggle. Fan service and the almighty dollar reign supreme.

Yet, I continue to be a fan. I love Empire, A New Hope and Jedi (in that order). I enjoyed Rogue One and Solo, despite disagreements I have with how they massaged Han’s character arc. When I left The Phantom Menance I begged friends to tell me it was good and then hated every successive prequel. I can accept the soft reboot of The Force Awakens but The Last Jedi gave us numerous confounding and stupifying plot decisions.

Finally, as I walked to my car following The Rise of Skywalker, I said, “Thank the Maker the Skywalker saga is over.”

Perhaps there will be other Star Wars flims that tell us stand-alone stories in an expanding universe. Maybe there is a compelling character remaining buried deep within the canon, waiting for their on-screen debut. Maybe the murkiness of Episodes VII-IX will drive writers back towards a story about good and evil, and give us sympathetic heroes, interesting rogues, and disgusting villains.

I doubt it. I anticipate films that pander to a certain segment of the Twitter commentariat.

But whatever they make I’ll be there to watch, and that is part of the problem.

Step Out

As we go forth into the coming year, let it not be in the haste of impetuous, forgetful delight, nor with the quickness of impulsive thoughtlessness. But let us go out with the patient power of knowing that the God of Israel will go before us. Our yesterdays hold broken and irreversible things for us. It is true that we have lost opportunities that will never return, but God can transform this destructive anxiety into a constructive thoughtfulness for the future. Let the past rest, but let it rest in the sweet embrace of Christ.

Leave the broken, irreversible past in His hands, and step out into the invincible future with Him.

– Oswald Chambers, “December 31: ‘Yesterday’” in My Utmost for His Highest

Chambers’ entire entry for today is brilliantly true, for God is the God of all time, a God who can be trusted with what was, what is, and what is to come. In Chambers’ words, God offers “Security  from Yesterday,” “Security for Tomorrow,” and “Security for Today.” We need not be shackled by the sins, mistakes, and failures of our past, we need not be overcome with worries about our future, and we can be assured that we will find grace enough for today.

Hebrews 13:8 says, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever,” and Revelation 1:8 declares, “‘I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End,’ says the Lord, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.'” God is God over all time and has acted in time, thus, I can trust God with my time, you can trust God with your time, and we can trust God with our time. Time, after all, is a gift, and we have been given time enough for love by God, love eternal.

So as you make resolutions, if you do so, or as you look to the year ahead, let go of the past, release anxieties about the future, and rest in grace for today. Then, with patient power, step out. God goes before you, God stands behind you, and God walks with you.

She Fed Our Bread

He who sustains the world lay in a manger, a wordless Child, yet the Word of God. Him whom the heavens do not contain the bosom of one woman bore. She ruled our King; she carried Him in whom we exist; she fed our Bread. O manifest weakness and marvelous humility in which all divinity lay hid! By His power He ruled the mother to whom His infancy was subject, and He nourished with truth her whose breasts suckled Him. May He who did not despise our lowly beginnings perfect His work in us, and may He who wished on account of us to become the Son of Man make us the sons of God.

– From St. Augustine’s Sermon 184, given on Christmas Day, quoted in a newsletter from The Center for Pastor Theologians