Another season of youth basketball has come and gone. I wonder when we can no longer call it “youth” basketball and it’s just basketball. My boys are in 8th and 10th grade, both in the high school next year, so maybe then. Next year’s reflections will concern “basketball.” (Maybe you don’t care about basketball or what I think about it – in that case, this post will have nothing for you. I wrote another one this week about addiction and the Joker and hope in darkness, try that one instead.)

I guess both seasons were disappointing for them, in terms of wins and losses, but wildly successful considering the very real COVID possibility that there would be no season at all. We couldn’t attend most away games and were only allowed 2 tickets at our home court. The away games were live streamed on YouTube and that wasn’t terrible. The interesting exceptions were Palmyra (who simply didn’t bother with the junior varsity) and Camp Hill (who charged a membership fee!??!). As a marketing/business major in college and child of American culture, I can’t blame Camp Hill. If you have something people want, why give it away for free? Wring those parents wallets like washcloths until they’re dry is what I say.

Anyway. This post isn’t supposed to be about consumerism and monetization, it’s about my boys and how important sports can be. Of course, as Northern Lebanon consistently displays, sports can also be an embarrassing indictment on the death of respect and sportsmanship. (That is mostly a joke, hilarious if you are familiar with Northern Lebanon.) Incidentally, I wrote an email to the AD of NL this morning, very self-aware at sounding like some old “get-off-my-lawn” guy. HA! I guess generations change. They thought Elvis Presley was too risqué once, too, only showing him from the waist up.

Elisha is very good and struggles with what and when to do it, like all of us. Samuel is very good, as well, far better than he thinks, also like all of us. Marianne Williamson famously said, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’” Sometimes, their fear of being awesome is paralyzing. I am a little (a lot) scared of heights and a few years ago chose to take these same boys indoor rock wall climbing. Why? Precisely because I am scared of heights. As I scaled the wall, slowly, my body tingled and tensed, at some points freezing solid, my fear keeping me from moving at all. This is what it is. It can be better to not try than to fail, to not shoot than to miss. But I did eventually move my hand and then my foot, getting to the top through tears of terror and gratitude no one saw.

Sports are a terrific metaphor for life and faith. In Genesis 3, Adam passes to Eve and stands back, scared to stand up to the lies of the enemy, scared to shoot. Who knows what would’ve happened if he didn’t shrink?

Like all of us, they have some very bad teammates, who mean-spiritedly point out those misses and ridicule. This is also obviously fear-based. The ones who are nasty and condescending are, without exception, the ones who feel the most inadequate and insecure, but the pain of the bully hardly matters to teenagers, they just hear the insults.

But they have great coaches, who support, encourage, push them to shoot, like all good coaches, parents, people, do. They are better now than they were in November. If I am honest, I don’t really care if they’re better basketball players, my concern is what sort of men they’re becoming. In their lives, will they give all that they have, will they be fearful and passive or will they shoot? That is what I am watching. I played a lot, won a lot, and lost even more, I don’t need them to live or play for me. But no one lives the truly great, meaningful life they’ve been created to live behind steel bars of fear, hiding their power, brilliance and talent.

There will be 2 travel tournaments next month, but the regular basketball season is over. My wish for all of the boys, bullies, the hesitant and the confident, for you and me, is that we all take the shots. That we all spur each other to shoot, to grow, to be brilliant in whatever we do. That we ask, fail, win and lose. That we live. That we no longer ask ourselves, “who am I to be…” and instead start to believe (to continue the Williamson quote):

“Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

We – Children of God, all of us – are here, now, and we are alive. There’s nothing else to do but shine.

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