Stromboli, Baggage, and Faith

Lately, my wife and I had been talking about ordering a stromboli for dinner. This went on for a week or two, and last night, we finally committed. Wild, I know. It was delicious, too. However, it was the ten minute car ride I took to pick up the food at Little Gio’s (Italian restaurant) that served as the unexpected treat of my dinner hour.

As I backed out of the driveway, I switched the receiver over to 610 AM, a station typically subject to the popular ESPN broadcast “The Right Time with Bomani Jones” at that time of day–a podcast that I have come to thoroughly enjoy thanks to Jones’ authentic, controversial, and highly insightful takes. But yesterday did not proceed as scheduled, a notion that I have recently understood better than ever with the birth of our child and his first three months on planet Earth. Yesterday, as I flicked my car’s turn signal to journey forward, I realized that I was definitely not listening to Jones.

Instead of Bomani’s usual rants that tend to cover popular sports figures and events, social phenomenons, and cultural relevancies, I was listening to a man describe the intense anger and self-hatred he felt when playing adult league softball. I was disappointed to miss my dose of Bomani, but I was growing increasingly intrigued by this man’s story that included the flipping of water coolers, tossing of bats, and self deprecation. After all, as a former athlete, I could appreciate and relate to his frustrations regarding failure–baseball, and softball, are rooted in overcoming mental anguish. Both games are designed to glorify those achieving failure approximately 70 percent of the time or slightly less, so it is no wonder that even the best players show signs of distress and anger.

As I continued to drive, I began to realize that this story was taking a turn that I could not have seen coming. As the man went forward and proceeded to further describe the athletic events, I couldn’t help but find his antics a little bit funny and amusing (imagine a grown man tossing a water cooler at a rec league game). Then, and almost out of nowhere, he began to admit his remorse, his embarrassment, and his personal shame for acting in the ways that he did. He described the low point of his adult league career by sharing the story of nearly hitting his coach’s wife with an object that he had tossed out of frustration–and the kicker was that many people, including children, were present at the game, and he knew they would be left with that image of him.

The man’s subsequent set of comments moved me to the point of discomfort, as the subject matter he was next to explore has always challenged me. As I was expecting him to begin talking about how he has become a better man since those days–a more reserved, less angry man–he instead uttered the words that have met me under so many different circumstances and feelings throughout my life, “It was not long after that experience that I accepted Jesus Christ.”

I have to be honest–the moment that these words hit the radio waves and forced their way through my typically secular radio speakers, I quickly reached for and pressed “MODE” on my steering wheel controls to avoid what I thought would soon become this man’s liturgy, a message cleverly veiled by the cloak of popular athletics. Then, a few seconds after I had shifted my ears from his message to one of greater comfort, I felt pretty terrible. I felt narrow. I felt like I had contradicted the message that I have for so long been quick to project to others, and I had violated a thought offered by Aristotle that I share frequently with adolescents, “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” In light of this, I think most people that know me would probably agree that I am a fairly open-minded individual (or at least I hope), and I strive to be mindful of such practice–but I admittedly struggle with this notion when it comes to faith, the concept of god, and what baggage I carry into the equation.

So after what seemed like an eternity but only proved to be roughly 30 seconds, I switched back to 610 radio and thought, “Let’s give this a chance. Let’s see what he says.” If you’re wondering if I found Jesus yesterday or anything like that, I will save you the suspense and definitively say that I did not re-engage my mind with that purpose to begin with. I was now interested in the name of being mindful, open, and welcoming to discomfort–what would come of that, I didn’t know.

So what developed from the experience if it did not prove revelatory in a storybook way? How was it transformative or different than past occasions? In a very simple way, yesterday was different because for the first time, I saw myself through the words and actions of the man that categorically and unequivocally described himself as Christian, devoted his life to Jesus, and found meaning in scripture. Yesterday, I accepted that he and I aren’t very different–and if divine intervention had set out to in some manner to prove a point or send a clear message, I was overwhelmed to learn at the conclusion of the podcast that the interview with this man had been sponsored by Eastern University–the very place I received my undergraduate degree and endlessly renounced the possibility of Christ, dodged conversations relevant to faith, and avoided examining my own when it became inconvenient.

Today, I still wrestle with the idea of a god, let alone a particular faith and set of corresponding beliefs. But one particular idea from yesterday’s podcast truly resonated with me in a way that I had not previously entertained: the speaker suggested that scripture describes man as the only one capable of inciting his own anger–that no person could actually be responsible for making another angry. Sure, others can do things that anger us, but that is because we choose to become angry. I certainly recognize that this idea expands well beyond anger and into realms of self-control and inner-peace, but we’ll save that for another day. Yes, we choose to exert our actions and behaviors–and so I’ve chosen to be more open to topics that stir discomfort in my loins, for it is not the topic or person that has the ability to make me feel uneasy; instead, I choose to react in that manner. After all, being receptive to only that which strikes cords of comfort is really not that receptive at all. Engage in conversations regarding and including thoughts other than your own–that’s when you’ll truly grow and experience perspective–and whether or not you elect to agree is hardly relevant to the truly enlightened person.

As always, thanks for reading. And if you’ve made it this far, I appreciate the time you’ve taken to entertain my ramblings–I hope you’ve found something of interest or meaning as it may be pertinent to your life and experience.



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