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Venue for Human Goodness

Sometimes the inspiration for these pieces comes from very traditional and predictable sources.  I read a great deal in spiritual literature, so that obviously is a marvelous resource.  I try to follow the lectionary of the Benedictine monastic community, so I know that is always a resource for readings from the Psalms and other biblical references.  I try to watch as my days unfold for those obvious or, even, subtle revelations of inspiring moments.  I find if I stay aware, a lot happens that hints at profundity.
Today’s inspiration came from a predictable place.  I regularly read a number of periodicals online.  In the old days we would have called them magazines!  But I don’t receive magazines in the mail any more.  A few regularly come on the internet and it is there I find some inspiration.  As I was reading last night, my eyes caught an intriguing title.  The title reads, “7 ways I find human goodness in pickup basketball.”  I immediately knew I would read this one.  I began to think about the zillion of pickup basketball games I have played in my lifetime. 
I played on organized teams throughout school and am grateful for those days.  But in truth, pickup games were way more in number than “official” games I ever played.  And probably they were just as much fun.  But I’ll admit, I never thought about them the way this author, Mike Jordan Laskey, insightfully offers his observations.  I had to laugh at his name.  I wanted to know if his middle name really were “Jordan,” but I decided not to do that research.  I just hope that is his name!
Mike Jordan Laskey is the director of the Life and Justice ministries for the Catholic diocese of Camden, NJ.  Maybe I’ll meet him some day.  Until then, I am grateful and content with his reflections on pickup basketball.  I don’t want to quote much of the article.  Instead, I prefer to begin with the last sentence of the blog.
Laskey concludes his thoughts with this sentence.  “Maybe basketball, wherever it's played, can be a venue for human goodness because success requires sharing, teamwork, persistence and wanting the best for each other, over and over again, until the final buzzer sounds or the high school custodian shuts off the lights.”  I loved that sentence and now want to unpack it.  I believe it not only characterizes pickup basketball games, but it analogously is true about spiritual communities.  Maybe we who want to live the spiritual life---and hopefully in community---can learn from pickup basketball games.
I appreciate the major finding of Laskey, namely, that pickup basketball games “can be a venue for human goodness.”  As he realizes, there are occasions in the pickup game when quarrels break out.  But they normally get resolved---without referees and without police.  Our world could learn and thing or two here.  It fascinates me that the pickup game is competitive; players do want to win.  But it is never “win at any cost.”  People play by the rules.  Players call fouls and errors all by themselves.  There is respect for the game and its boundaries.  For this to work, people need to be good.  Cheaters wreck the game and, ultimately, bring an end to the game.
I especially like the way Laskey’s final sentences analyze why pickup games are venues for human goodness.  “Success requires sharing,” he says.  This is an astute observation.  He is right.  And so does spiritual living require sharing.  Sharing is the opposite of greed or hoarding.  Sharing says, “what is mine is also, in part, yours.”  Sharing opens up relationships rather than closing them down.  Sharing creates friendships and refusal to share causes hard feelings and, in the worst case scenarios, enemies. 
Laskey continues by acknowledging pickup games require teamwork.  I suspect part of the appeal and beauty of basketball is the team aspect.  I loved playing team sports.  In spiritual terms, this goes to the heart of community.  It is difficult and, certainly, no fun to try to be spiritual all by ourselves.  Both basketball and spirituality are participation sports.  In addition to teamwork, the games require persistence.  No game is won in the first minute.  To win you have to play the game---the whole game.  This means teammates have to work together to the very end.
Human goodness is not won in a weekend.  It also requires persistence---being good over time.  Just like a basketball game, there will be challenges and probably mishaps.  But you hang in there.  You keep trying and trying to do it right.  Teammates help.  Both the pickup game and life have to be seen through to the very end. 
Finally, Laskey’s last point is my favorite.  The pickup game works because the teammates want “the best for each other.”  This is a great deal for everyone.  To each of us individually, it feels demanding.  I do need to want the best for every other player.  But the good news is: every other player wants the best for me!  This is true in spiritual community as well.  It is a good life when you know there are others out there who want the very best for you.  That is a far better deal than traveling alone and trying to make it on your own---alone.

I can’t play basketball anymore.  But I can be fully a part of spiritual community.  It is nice that it, too, is a venue for human goodness.   

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