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Pope Francis as Person of the Year

December 11, 2013 Leave a comment

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If ever there was a no-brainer for Time magazine’s selection of Person of the Year, it is this amazing Pope. There’s an interesting new survey that explains how he is resonating with Catholics and non-Catholics alike.

The Washington Post/ABC News poll
finds an amazing 92% have a positive view of Francis and 95% of the Catholic Church in general. Pope Benedict was at 73% after the announcement of his retirement last February.

There is a slight political divide. His ratings are highest among Catholics who describe themselves as moderate or liberal. But even “conservative” Catholics give him a 91% approval rating. Non-Catholics give him a 62-18 favorable/unfavorable, compared to 48/31 for Benedict.

The reasons for the amazing appeal of this Pope seem fairly obvious to me. His humility, his call for economic justice and equality, his warnings about the excesses of capitalism all echo the words and philosophies credited to Christ himself. Those who know Francis say his own experiences as a Cardinal in Argentina inform these views, especially on economic issues. Through Argentina’s rough, depression-like economic downswings he saw first-hand the massively wide gulf between the poor and the rich. At a time when this disparity has never been greater in the United States and throughout the world, his message resonates powerfully.

But those on the moderate/liberal side of the equation should not misconstrue the Pope’s populist positions as a change in Church doctrine on a host of controversial issues. What has changed is the emphasis.

Agree or disagree with aspects of these doctrines, for example, there is a basic consistency to them. On abortion, it is completely consistent to be anti-abortion and anti-death penalty. Conversely, in my opinion, there is a dissonance in espousing pro-choice/anti-death penalty views or anti-abortion/pro death penalty positions. I mean sanctity of life is sanctity of life. And while I admit I am still in the “dissonant” camp, I can still step outside my views and see the inconsistencies of my own political beliefs.

The point in regard to the Pope’s emphasis on certain issues is that the Church often lands on both sides of the political ledger, with positions on economic equality and against the death penalty, for example, falling on the liberal side and policies on abortion and homosexuality on the conservative side. The most recent Popes have dwelt exclusively on the conservative side of things and in the process have alienated moderates and progressives. Francis, meanwhile, is emphasizing things like economic equality and brings his great sense of humility to bear on topics like homosexuality in which he states, in his own words- “Who am I to judge?”

Ultimately, I think it is his disarming humility that is the foundation of his appeal. He walks the walk. He lives in a modest apartment. You won’t ever see him wearing Benedict’s famous red Prada slippers. He has literally washed the feet of convicts and beggars. Vatican security confirms he regularly sneaks out at night to mingle with normal people. He classifies himself first and foremost, not as Pope, but as a sinner.

I know there remains a very deep well of anger against the Catholic Church for its past actions; from sexual abuse and attendant cover-ups to economic hypocrisy in building wealth- quite literally through the contributions from the poor and dispossessed.

But in this miracle of a Pope, there is hope. Hope that humility, enlightenment and the philosophies of Christ himself, will lead the Church, and the rest of us, to a much, much better place.

LeBron: I’m No Longer One of the Haters

June 21, 2012 2 comments

Last year, I was very unkind to LeBron James.  Like many people, I was put off by his supreme arrogance.

I had been having difficulty forgiving him for the Decision– that abomination of televised self-love on ESPN where he announced he’d be taking his talents to Miami.    

It was hard to get over the image of the special effects, smoke-filled introduction of the Dream team in Miami, in which it appeared three Gods from Mt. Olympus (LeBron, Wade, Bosh) had descended down to earth to predict, I think it was- 8 championships.

And when ousted from the playoffs last year, I didn’t like it when he said all of us haters out there would return to our screwed up little lives while he would be going back to Olympus where, presumably, he would get back to his posse peeling grapes for him. 

As a Cleveland Cavalier, I remember, (back when the Washington Wizards used to get into the playoffs), when LeBron psyched out Gilbert Arenas standing at the free throw line, whispering something like “you’re going to miss these.”  Who does that?

The Washington Post’s Mike Wise, who is covering the NBA finals, has been on a campaign to convince the public that LeBron has changed.  And based on his recent post-game news conferences and recent interviews, there’s every indication he really has.    

About ESPN’s “Decision” debacle, Wise quotes LeBron as having told an interviewer this, last December:

I can see now if the shoe was on the other foot and I was a fan and I was very passionate about one player and he decided to leave, you know, I would be upset too by the way that he handled it.

It basically turned me into somebody I wasn’t. You start to hear ‘the villain,’ now you have to be the villain, you know, and I started to buy into it. I started to play the game of basketball at a level, or at a mind state that I’ve never played at before. . . meaning, angry. And that’s mentally. That’s not the way I play the game of basketball.

And on his statement after the Miami Heat got eliminated following game 6 last year that the haters would be going back to their miserable little lives while he would be enjoying his immensely rich lifestyle, Wise quotes LeBron as saying this:

I was very hurt that I let my teammates down, and I was very immature. Like I said, last year I played to prove people wrong instead of just playing my game, instead of just going out and having fun and playing a game that I grew up loving and why I fell in love with the game. So I was very immature last year after Game 6 towards you guys and towards everyone that was watching.

He seems to get it now.  And he seems to be playing for the right reasons- joy instead of anger.  I buy it.  I am convinced.  His actions on the court have spoken for themselves this post-season.  He is a force.  He plays in pain.  He comes through in the clutch.  And now, in his own words, he clearly recognizes how he managed to cast himself in the role of villain.

It’s time to give the guy a break.  And if he finally helps his team win an NBA crown tonight- he will have begun to justify that his status as the “King,” as royalty in professional basketball,  is deserved and not just an exaggerated marketing ploy to feed the LeBron James empire.

Suddenly- these days- I like the man a hell of a lot more than I ever liked the brand.