This is excruciating.
As I type these words I’m being assaulted by cheers and groans from the next room. My brother Jesuits, like many others on this basketball-obsessed campus, are caught up in the throes of March Madness, and it is killing me. After initially planning simply to give up ESPN for Lent, I decided to go big or go home and give up sports for Lent. This was a terrible – or at least terribly painful – idea.
Just a few moments ago I was walking across campus while reading a Catholic newspaper for which I used to write. (Yes, this did happen just before the NCAA game I am currently missing started, thank you for pointing that out. What’s that? Yes, I am fully cognizant of the fact that walking and reading Catholic periodicals at the same time may not be normal. Can we move on… no? Well, I’m afraid I’m going to have to insist.) So… as I was walking a student saw me and asked me where I was going to watch the game. A question that of course demanded that I explained my sports fast. “No wonder you’re reading The Catholic Messenger!” he responded. So true.
I question how much spiritual benefit there is to this practice, and yet since this fast started, I have made time for things other than keeping up on LeBron’s PER (Editor’s note: it’s still over 30, Rossmann, don’t worry). I’ve managed to start training for a marathon, and even begun learning a foreign language. All in all? Not bad.
Additionally, I have more time on my hands to spend on my other time consuming – but more intellectually stimulating – habit: reading. So while this has been a Lin- and LeBron-less Lent, the The New York Times and Arts & Letters Daily have been serving as the Nicorette gum and black coffee in my effort to kick my sports addiction.
My friends all know that I have an intellectual mancrush1 on David Brooks2, and partly as an ode to Brooks’s annual “Sydney Awards” – dedicated to the best magazine essays of the year – and mostly because I love sharing fascinating articles with friends, I decided to put together my own “Best Articles of the Year” this past December. In the end I figured, why not do something similar for The Jesuit Post?
So, even though newspaper and magazine articles can, like my ESPN.com addiction, be a way for me to procrastinate, they can also be avenues for me to deepen my understanding of the beauty of humanity, the depth of social sin, the grandeur of God, and the frequently comical dimensions of this thing we call life.
What follows are some of my favorite articles from 2012 thus far, broken into categories that I have found myself – often surprisingly – thinking about. Some have been at the top of the “most e-mailed” list of The New York Times. Some are intellectual masterpieces. Some are downright bizarre. If you have time, I am confident that you will enjoy them all.
Category 1: Dance
- I know what you’re thinking: “How on earth did dance make it as one of your categories? Seriously, Rossmann, this sports fast might have gotten to your brain.” Well you might be right, but there’s no amount of unfasting that will make this article about Zumba anything but pure gold. The author describes hilarious experiences from his first few months of “Ditch[ing] the workout, join[ing] the party” (the corporate slogan of Zumba). Some of my friends had already “joined the party,” and after working out at a gym where I would frequently pass people pumping their arms, kicking their legs, and gyrating their midsections – often not exactly in unison – while Latin beats echoed out of the exercise room, I figured I had to try it out… purely for journalistic research. My inbox has not yet overflowed with party invitations.
If you did not see this article about the 17-year-old biracial Jew from rural Ohio who has won the last three world championships in Irish dance, then you have to read this. Honestly, life is beautiful. Perhaps I found this particularly interesting after my own (failed) attempts at Irish dance. (Hmm, I’m seeing a trend here.) As a freshman at Notre Dame, I was actually a member of the Irish dance club after the club president put forth a wildly convincing argument: the club had only two other guys and 40 women. I’ll leave the math to you, but I do hope those pictures have been deleted.
Category 2: Vegetarianism
- As a longtime vegetarian living in Midwest (also known as the Land of Freeze-Dried Steaks) this article, “Meatless in the Midwest: A Tale of Survival,” hit very close to home, especially when I remembered my very own brother praying for my “conversion” (the man has told me that I am a traitor to my home state of Iowa – where there are six times more pigs than people.)
- While being a vegetarian in the Midwest poses its challenges, I could not help but feel satisfied with some recent articles showing both the negative health consequences of meat consumption and the environmental impact of eating animals – even how “Your Shrimp Cocktail Is Ruining the Planet.” (Editor’s note: I promise to feel guilty the next time I’m marrying bacon.)
- When I became a vegetarian eight years ago, the smell of bacon was one of the few things that made me second-guess my decision, but new research on cured pork may give me reason to question anew my abstinence. Here’s a question: would I still be a vegetarian if I didn’t consume bacon but simply used it to stop my nosebleeds? In my first “you’d-swear-it’s-from-The Onion-but-it’s-actually-legit” article, check this out.
Category 3: Community
- Even though it’s nominally about the mega-chain Staples, I found “Finding Community, Even in a Chain Store,” to be so Catholic. I mean come on: we’re in it together? We are “all really responsible for all.”3 There really is a human desire to connect with others that’s not adequately met in “each-man-for-himself-land?” It sure seems like the author has been reading Pope Benedict: “This real life, towards which we try to reach out again and again, is linked to a lived union with a ‘people,’ and for each individual it can only be attained within this ‘we.’ “4
- The Atlantic Cities is one of my favorite sources of fascinating short articles that flip my perspective. An example? After reading “In Defense of Loitering” I’m now beginning to see loitering or “lingering” as analogous to a liturgical act.
- If one needed even more of an indication that we are meant to be together, then read “One is the Quirkiest Number.” Jesuit community isn’t perfect, but I am grateful for it – not only for the brotherhood and spiritual support, but also because it keeps my idiosyncrasies more or less in check. The people featured in this article do some weird stuff, and yet I have to admit it’s highly likely that I’d also subsist on cereal if I weren’t living in community. Granted, I kind of do that already, but it does drive home how much I need people in my life.
Category 4: The Prison System
- Sometimes I find myself repeatedly stumbling across articles on the same topic. In the very same week that I participated in a violence prevention program in a local prison, I read two thought-provoking and gut-wrenching articles about our prison system. The first, “Raise the Crime Rate,” not only shows me how I and many others have paid far more attention to the death penalty than to the millions behind bars who are not on death row – not to mention the 5 million on parole – but it also makes me ask, what are our other blind spots? What else are we failing to notice?
- The second article, “The Caging of America,” does not hesitate to call the scale and brutality of our prison system “the moral scandal of American life.”
- While it is just a drop in the bucket considering how small the program is compared to the massive scale of the prison system, this article about the St. Louis University Prison Program was particularly inspiring. It seems that both those incarcerated and prison staffers are able to get a post-secondary education through SLU.
Category 5: Sports and Character
- Call me a cheater if you will, but The Chronicle’s “Do Sports Build Character or Damage It?” is a “sports article” that addresses The Illiad, Derrida, and the loneliness of writing a doctoral dissertation. It presents a nuanced account of how sports can be both “rich with humane possibility” and “a world of danger.” The brutality of sports, particularly football, has been on full display recently with the New Orleans Saints’ bounty program and further data on football’s potential damaging effects to the brain. While I could not injure an NFL player if I tried (I was scared to get hit during my eight grade quarterbacking glory days or, well, day; we won one game the year I was quarterback), I wonder what obsessing over sports does to my character.
Category 6: Our Connected World
- If you have not read about Drew Smith on Reddit or The New York Times, his story of outsourcing the making of his music video to Bangalore is fascinating. The video is pretty great as well. I guess this whole priesthood thing has better job security than some other professions, considering people in other countries can do a lot of the work we do for much less money.
- All this being said, traditional outsourcing may be so yesterday. Tom Friedman’s “Made in the World” was one of his most thought-provoking pieces of the year.
Category 7: I Love Life
- Here’s my second “you’d-swear-it’s-from-The Onion-but-it’s-actually-legit” article: “Dessert at Breakfast May Actually Help Dieters.” It initially sounds absurd, and yet it makes sense. We need enjoyment in our lives. Punishing oneself by going without the little things will likely lead to later binges.
Which leads me to the logical and unfortunate conclusion that my Lenten sports fast will only lead to a deeper addiction later. But it is already Holy Week… did I hear that Derrick Rose is playing Jeremy Lin on Easter Sunday?
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- According to Mancrush.com, Jesus Christ is the number one mancrush, followed by Hemingway, Thoreau… and Bill Murray. You can’t make these things up, people. ↩
- My old roommate, Mike, recently wrote an article entitled “Sports, David Brooks, and Religion.” Mike, if you’re reading this I want to let you know that I felt like you were writing that for me. I mean you combined a trifecta of my favorite things in one place. Great job. ↩
- Solicitudo Rei Socialis, paragraph 38 ↩
- Spe Salvi, paragraph 14 ↩