By Tom Holmes
Last Saturday St. Bernardine Catholic Church held a reception for Deacon John Walters and Fr. Patrick Wangai, both of whom are leaving the parish for other assignments. Over one hundred people came to express their gratitude for the two men's service and to wish them well.
The day before an estimated 2 million adoring fans flocked to another "reception" in Grant Park and along the parade route from the United Center. This one was for the Blackhawks who had won the Stanley Cup. Blackhawk gear is flying off the shelves.
What does this say about what our society's values?
Think about it. John Walters invested hours every week into his home parish and didn't get paid a dime for doing it. Deacon John was undaunted by declining attendance at Mass and the closing of the parish school. When he was at his best, all he cared about was serving. He has been a blessing in the lives of many people, especially when they were going through difficult times.
Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, Corey Crawford and Patrick Kane make millions of dollars for playing a game on ice artificially made in the middle of summer. What do they contribute to society, especially when compared to Deacon John and Fr. Patrick?
Well, first of all they're winners, and Americans are obsessed with winning. Thousands if not millions of people suddenly became hockey fans, not because they love the sport or even know anything about it, but because the Hawks were winners. It's like we hitch how we feel about ourselves to people we've never met, and shout "WE won" when THEY defeated the guys from Boston.
If you do a cost benefit analysis, the millions of "fans" who tied their emotions to the Blackhawks got a high at the expense of the millions of fans who attached how they felt to the Bruins. That's the thing about competition, American style. For one group to feel the "thrill of victory" another group has to endure "the agony of defeat." For what? A bowl made of a silver-nickel alloy.
I can just hear folks who aren't sports fans say, "get a life" when they observe how many of us get so emotionally tied up with the fortunes of a sports team.
Let me put it this way. Which man would you rather have your son or daughter grow up to be like, John Walters or Corey Crawford? A servant leader or a successful athlete? I understand, of course, that Crawford and Kane and Hossa might be good guys off the ice, but what I'm talking about here is what we value most as a society.
When I interviewed Fr. Wangai a couple years ago and Deacon Walters two weeks ago, neither man used the word win when describing what he does. But if they did, they would talk about win/win experiences. That is, their vocation is to facilitate experiences in which everyone wins. That's what servant leaders do. It's not about me. It's all about us, every one of us, Bruin and Blackhawk.
When I was in high school, six of us would get together on Sunday afternoons in January, shovel off the snow from the Anderson's two lane driveway and play a few games of three on three basketball. If one team won the first game by too much, we'd change the composition of the teams, because even though the incentive was winning the game, the fun of good competition was far more important than the outcome. How we played the game was more important than winning or losing.
Cec Hardacker and Tonya Harding, the Two Fish gals, used to describe their approach to business as socialist capitalism. It was capitalist, because competition in the free market brought out the best in them. It was socialist because they tried whenever possible to do business not only in the community but as a community. They wanted to promote a tide that would lift all boats, not just the ones which were the most seaworthy.
Two Fish went out of business a few years ago, so some folks might say they lost the game. That's partly true of course, but in my book they are winners to whom I'd point my grandchildren as models of how to play the game.
Servant leaders like Deacon John aren't naïve about the nature of what a lot of people call "reality," and they understand how to play by its rules. But, ultimately, they march to a different drummer which usually means that receptions for them won't attract hundreds of thousands of people. That's a symptom of something we need to change in our society.