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Happily Even After

Stoked for Sports

October 31, 2011

Our son, Oscar, played football as a fourth-grader last year. He was on a team of 3rd and 4th graders and though it was flag football, they wore full pads and helmets. There was plenty of contact: the boys were basically taught the first two steps of tackling—making contact and wrapping up—without taking someone to the ground.

I was uncertain how Oscar would take to the sport. I loved football when I got to play in high school and college intramurals. I made sure, though, that it was his decision to play, not mine. I encouraged him, and was able to describe the virtues of the game—teamwork, sportsmanship, courage, discipline—but I wanted him to want it for himself. He decided to give it a shot.

Turned out, he did great. He was not the fastest or strongest kid on the team, but excelled at the mental part of the game. Catholic Youth Organization is great about emphasizing participation, and he got to see the field a good bit during games. I had the time to be able to volunteer as an assistant coach, and it was gratifying to be out on the field with him during practices and games.

I have three hopes for our kids when it comes to athletics, and getting a good feel for a sport is one of them. Getting them to try a sport is one thing, but because they are beginners and lack skill, they are easily discouraged. For example, a 10-foot goal in basketball can be a long way to shoot a ball when you are in grade school. I hope to encourage them in a given sport long enough for them to get a real sense of the sport—not just how difficult it is, but how rewarding it can be.

Another hope is that they find something they are passionate about. That word “passion,” at its root, has to do with suffering. When it comes to sports, I certainly do not want my kids to suffer, but I do want them to find something they value enough that they are willing to sacrifice for it.

This year, when fall came around and signups for football started, I had a serious conversation with Oscar about his desire to play. In 5th grade, the game moves from flag football to tackle football. I knew that he had a good basis on which to decide, given his experience last fall. He seemed open to playing—“kinda” interested, he said—but there is no room for “kinda” in tackle football. It is a sport that demands commitment.

I asked him about other interests—soccer, for example, or climbing. His eyes lit up when I mentioned climbing. He has always loved to climb, mostly trees and climbing walls. Then this summer he climbed to the top of a smooth light pole next to our house like it was a palm tree. We’ve had him in a climbing summer camp before, but we haven’t given him a regular opportunity to climb.

So, instead of football this fall, we’re taking him to a bouldering gym twice a week. (Bouldering is climbing that does not exceed 10 feet high, and thus does not require ropes and harnesses.) His eyes genuinely light up when we are there. In gym lingo, he is “stoked.”

I suggested that he increase his ability by doing some exercises at home on non-climbing days. He has taken the challenge and is doing some pull-ups and push-ups now after school, and after several weeks of climbing, he is really improving. It is fun to see him having fun, and that he is willing to work at getting better.

The third hope I have for our kids and athletics is that they play at least one team sport, and Oscar has chosen basketball for that, which is great. Winter will be here before we know it.

There is a fine line between encouraging and pushing children in athletics. I’ve seen pushy parents who are too demanding of their kids, and most of the time both the child and the parent are miserable. Sports are, above all, a way to enjoy our bodies. There is a problem if a child doesn’t experience joy in an athletic experience. Yes, the agony of defeat is part of the game, but joy should not be absent.

Sports are also a way to grow in excellence through cultivation of habits—a lesson that translates very well into any other area of life. The key for me in this area is encouraging Oscar enough that he adopts that desire for excellence for himself. If I push him too hard, though, that desire becomes ordered not towards the particular excellence of the sport itself, but towards pleasing me and satisfying my authority.

Judging by his eyes in the climbing gym, he loves to climb and wants to get better. Which makes me, like, totally stoked, bro.


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How to Talk to Your Kids About Star Wars

How to Talk to Your Kids About Star Wars

If you are a human being who lives on the planet Earth, you know that there is a new Star Wars movie coming out sometime before Christmas.

If you have children, now is the time to have your deflector shields tested—they are about to be soaked in a Star Wars merchandising campaign that will stretch from Tatooine to Dagobah. It will literally rule the galaxy. Mark my words, by January you will be throwing your glass of chardonnay against your brick fireplace if you so much as hear one more thing about Kylo Ren or Poe Dameron or that infernal crossguard lightsaber.

We will all be swimming in Star Wars for the next two months, so it is good advice to get ahead of this curve and talk to your kids about this movie franchise.

I am a huge Star Wars fan, and I plan to relish the new movie in the same way a Rancor would devour a Gamorrean Guard. The youngest of our kids is 8 now, so they are just old enough to dive in to this cultural trend and swim along for themselves. We’ve been re-watching the original trilogy and even the prequels so that we can run into Dec. 18 primed and ready. I even brought home a giant Star Wars coloring book—we’ve been spending evenings coloring Boba Fett posters.

I’ve been unabashedly encouraging these movies with our kids. The Star Wars universe loomed large in my youthful imagination, so this is a way to share an important part of myself with them. I’ve also been encouraging it because the Star Wars story world, at its heart, is about mystery and redemption, and I hope (with all my heart!) that the new film continues this theme.

Let me offer the paradigmatic example of Luke Skywalker’s climactic encounter with his (spoiler alert!) father, Darth Vader, in the last movie of the trilogy, The Return of the Jedi. Luke’s training to become a Jedi will not be complete until he faces Vader. Vader takes him to the Emperor, who conjures the dark side of the Force to electrocute him. Vader, conflicted by the cries of his tortured son, relents and grabs the Emperor and throws him down an abyss, where he perishes in a gale of fury.

What do we have here? A son who is willing to suffer. Suffering that moves a father to mercy. A father who destroys death. Sound familiar?

There are strong parallels with the story of our own salvation. When we sin, we put ourselves inside of the black suit and mask that Vader wears—our sin brings tyranny to the relationships in our lives, and makes us less than fully human.

Jesus confronts that sin through a willingness to be overwhelmed by it. His willing sacrifice builds a bridge: it moves us to convert, to grab with full and decisive arms all that hinders life in us and overthrow it. It also moves the Father to overthrow death itself—to promise new and abundant life beyond death.


Using Star Wars as a Teachable Moment

So, back to the crossguard lightsabers that every child will have on their Christmas list—how can we break open the mystery of our faith that resonates within this Star Wars story world? If you will see the new “Force Awakens” episode with your kids, I would recommend watching the original trilogy (episodes 4, 5, and 6) with them, just to prime their imaginations for where this story has been.

Below are some conversation prompts you might consider using after each episode of the original trilogy to connect the Star Wars story to the mystery of our faith.


Episode IV: A New Hope

Prompts: Who is Luke Skywalker, really? How does he come to know his true identity? Where does this new identity take him? Why does Obi Wan give himself up in his fight with Darth Vader? What happens to him?

Connections: Our truest, deepest identity resides in our baptism, which makes us adopted sons and daughters of God. Knowing this gives us strength to go on adventures—to do things we never thought were possible, even to give up our lives to help other people. It also gives us new life, even beyond death. When we die, we know that we will still live with God. And those who have died before us can still help us with their prayers—they are still with us.


Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back

Prompts: What is the Force? How does it give people power? What can people do with the Force? What does Luke have to do to feel and use the Force?

(Warning for Star Wars buffs: It is blasphemous to reduce the Force to a function of midi-chlorians, so don’t step in that Sarlacc pit or you’ll never get back out, I don’t care if you have Boba Fett’s jetpack.)

Connections: The Holy Spirit is God, together with the Father and the Son. The Holy Spirit lives within us and gives us the power to do good. When we pray and do good things—especially when it is hard—we grow in God’s grace, and become even better at using it. The Holy Spirit is always with us and will always help us.


Episode VI: Return of the Jedi

Prompts: Did Luke love Darth Vader? How could we tell? What did he do because of that love? How did that love change Darth Vader? How did that love save Darth Vader?

Connections: Love gives us courage to do difficult things, even to face things that terrify us, even to suffer, even to die. Jesus loved us like this—he didn’t get electrocuted, but he was willing to suffer on the cross, which hurt just as much. But he knew that God would take care of him—God gave him new life. When we love that way—without being afraid—it gives us new life, too. And it connects us to everyone else who loved that way.

Think of the party on the forest moon of Endor as an image of heaven—it is a great feast that includes even the departed, who appear through the Force in a kind of communion of saints.

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