Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Definitely in my head this week

If you have no interest in football, religion, or social perceptions, you may want to skip this one...

Time Magazine named their Person of the Year for 2013, Pope Francis. The article is informative and well-written, and I needed to read it after a seriously off-the-cuff remark made by Peter King, of all people, earlier this week.

I read MMQB to follow the NFL, and I have enjoyed his columns for a couple of years now. He keeps it interesting, for someone like me who doesn't fully understand the game still; and he's a funny guy and good writer. In his non-football thoughts of the week, he threw in this non sequitur:

"The more I look at Pope Francis, the more he looks like Chance the gardener."

Being There by Jerzy Kosinski is one of the few books I read and absorbed against my will in high school. It certainly helped that they made a decent movie adaptation of it, and my teacher saw it as such and took pity on us and showed it in class. The book has been called both a satire and a social commentary on people's perceptions. It's also one of those movies where you wonder how anyone else could have nailed the role like Peter Sellers. Chance was his last role, and he was exquisite.

Loooong nutshell: (circa 1970s) Chance is a middle-aged, simple-minded man who works for a rich, old man, mainly tending the garden. His life is very sheltered, he rarely leaves the house, and his only entertainment is TV, from which he derives his limited views of the world. When the old man dies, Chance inherits his clothes and a few belongings, but is thrown out of the house. While wandering the streets, he happens upon an electronics store and is mesmerized by his own reflection on the TV in the window (they have a camera pointing out, and Chance has never seen this before). He absentmindedly backs into the street and is bumped by a car. Though not seriously injured, the society woman in the vehicle insists he come home with her. When he says his name is "Chance, the gardener," she sees his expensive-looking clothing and assumes she heard Chauncey Gardener. As he unwittingly ingratiates himself with her society friends, their perception of him as a once-rich and learned man blossoms, until he is advising heads of state with his simple aphorisms. But in truth, he's a '70s Forrest Gump, thrust into situations that are far over his head, but which inexplicably respond to his level of folksy wisdom. When he says, "I like to watch TV," they take it as a lesson about taking time for oneself to relax and reflect. When the society woman's husband, and Chance's new benefactor, passes away, the board of directors unanimously vote Chauncey Gardener as the new CEO of his impressive company.

So my first reaction to Peter King's line about Pope Francis was that he must be a pissed-off Catholic hard-liner. My second reaction was that Pope Francis does look a bit like Peter Sellers. Pretty sure that second one is random though. My third reaction was just plain confusion, which is why I was grateful for the Time magazine article this morning. It's an excellent short biography of a kind and intelligent man, who is coming at the position of Pope from a far different place than quite a few of the rigid scholars before him. But it's also a cautionary tale of how the media takes his statements out of context in an attempt to force progressive thinking on a religion that isn't going to be making major changes any time soon.

Honestly, it seems like Pope Francis has two main notes on his to-do list for the foreseeable future:

1. Help the poor. Pray for the poor. Help the poor.
2. Clean up some of the abysmal corruption that has run rampant through the Vatican.

Everything else is window-dressing, and don't let his use of 21st century technology to get his point across fool you. This guy was new to retirement and miserable at it, and giving him the pointy hat finally gave him the pulpit he's always needed to get his point across. But he's driven by charity and prayer, thankfully, not the trappings of the almighty dollar; and that could go a long way in the fiscal reformation of a vessel rife with money laundering and greed.

Pope Francis isn't a simple-minded puppet, but neither is he a progressive reformer who's going to change the face of Catholicism. And that's OK, because if you look at Catholicism on its face, it doesn't need changing; it obviously speaks to the spiritual needs of millions already. But his views on charity and helping the poor are a really good start; it reminds me of how volunteerism got such a kick in the pants after Obama was elected. These are ideas that should have been popular before these learned men took their posts; but if their presence is what it takes to start movements, then we're lucky to have them.

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