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    Monday, May 04, 2009

    Music, Tennis, and the Unseriousness of Human Affairs

    The last two weeks have been incredible and has made me thankful for all the blessings God has continued to shower down on me. First, there is the gift of family and friends that I am always thankful for.

    But, let me get a little "unserious" for a minute. And I say "unserious" because I am going to go from talking about God, His blessings, our gifts to... tennis and music. How serious is playing (or watching) tennis? Or playing or listening to music? Well, as a tennis player and a fan, and as one who is a fan of great music, the last two weeks have given me some further insight into how we each use our gifts and talents in creative ways.

    We can't all be as great of tennis players as I witnessed at the 2009 Tallahassee Tennis Challenger. These guys were good. While I am sometimes playing tennis - in the heat of the competition - I often forget about all else that is going on in the world, even in my world. It just becomes about the competition of the sport, about perfecting your shots, about moving fast, and tracking down the shots your opponent is hitting back at you. When you hit a great forehand or a great serve, or a backhand you didn't know you had, you feel a sense of glory, as if all the practice and competition came together for that moment.

    Then, you go watch some professional players at a tournament like the Tallahassee Challenger and you wonder what sport you thought you were playing. These guys are hitting some sick shots, and they are good. And, the field is LOADED with talent. There's not much of a difference between a guy ranked number 120 and a guy ranked in the 400s. A few points maybe. But they are out there working hard every day trying to get themselves better and trying to compete against the stacked competition. But what they give each of us fans back is a sense of INSPIRATION. I know I am never going to be THAT good (especially at this age), but watching their talent in action INSPIRES us to play on and dares us to dream that we can.

    Speaking of a field loaded with talent - I spent the last two weekends listening to some great musicians perform on St. George Island. One weekend had a plethora of great, mostly young, bands at the Rock By The Sea (RBTS) charitable music festival. And this past weekend, one of those bands, the Sam Thacker band returned to perform two more times.

    After watching four of their performances in 10 days, I kept thinking to myself, "why aren't these guys bigger yet? And why did I just find out about them?" I mean they're very talented. But then you come to realize there is so much talent out there in the music industry as well, and it's all going to be about what sells and what gets your attention. Like tennis players, they are competing in a field loaded with talent. And these days, its tougher than ever with all that "free" music out there.

    But there is something more here - whether its Sam Thacker or some other musicians out there that I have yet to hear play, they are all offering their talents to the world and they are allowing us to partake in their creativity. What gives the artist his ability or his drive to "create"? What gives the tennis player the will to go on and perfect his game?

    Well this makes me reflect back to Edmund Burke's phrase, "Art is man's nature." This first means that nature is where we see God's art, God's creation. Man was made in the image of God, and God was the first Creator. So all of us each have some drive inside of us to create something. We create and express ourselves through "art." It is the spark of the divine within us that gives us our ability and our drive to create.

    And I would argue tennis, or any sport really, is an art in this sense. As Father Schall outlines in his book, On the Unseriousness of Human Affairs, we don't just create a sport, but we work to professionalize it, to perfect it. When you watch the NFL, it didn't start that way, so professionalized and nearly perfected. It started out with someone creating a weird looking ball, then throwing it around, the designing rules, uniforms, and then one day, it was professionalized.

    When you look out on a beautiful beach like St. George Island, or up at the heavenly hosts that dot that landscape late at night, you see God's art - nature - staring back at you, aweing you. On a human level, we can be "awed" by each other's creation as well. Whether that is a song, a talented musician, a tennis player, or the spirit of competition, our drive to create goes on. And that drive to create and the creation itself are inspired by something greater. We all can't sing a song like Sam Thacker or hit a tennis ball like Jean-Yves Aubone, but we CAN be inspired by how they use their talents, how hard they work to perfect them, and then be inspired to join them and partake in creation.

    After all, these are the "unserious" things that make us human and help us tap into something greater than ourselves. It is not in our work, in our economy, or in our politics that we find humanity. It is, as Father Schall says, in the "unseriousness" of human affairs.