Dennis & Callahan & the big questions
[Dave Schmelzer is the senior pastor of North Cambridge's Vineyard Church located at 170 Rindge Ave.]
All-pro Washington Redskins safety Sean Taylor died this morning—as I write this—after being shot during an apparent home invasion burglary yesterday.
He was 24 and leaves behind an 18-month-old daughter. And he had what some would regard as a rough past—probation for brandishing a gun, an arrest for drunken driving, a number of fines for on the field incidents, including spitting in the face of another player during a playoff game.
This morning’s Dennis & Callahan show on WEEI—the top-rated sports station in the country, they tell us—majored on the story, as well they might.
WEEI's Gerry Callahan and John Dennis
For what it’s worth, I’m part of WEEI’s huge ratings. Sports talk seems sane and grounding to me. So much of popular culture seems to be one long and fruitless argument over culture wars. Sports talk, by contrast, seems pragmatic and largely ideology-free, as it talks at endless length about unresolvable sports controversies. Should the Red Sox mortgage their future to trade for Johan Santana? Well…there are pros and cons. Are the Patriots running up the score this year and should we care? Well…yes and no. And there we have the comforting grist of sports talk—earthy guys loudly arguing about sports issues that have no answers and, at heart, no stakes. It’s male comfort food and I’m all for more of that.
Dennis & Callahan, the morning drive-time hosts, are particularly good at arguing about controversial subjects with larger social ramifications. They take even bolder, more-strongly-stated stands than all the other bold, overstating hosts out there. So this morning’s topic was about how to regard the other issues at stake in Taylor’s murder: the folks he hung out with , the trouble he’d found over the years, and what that said about the NFL. The NFL has had a rough year on those fronts, with Michael Vick’s dogfighting indictment and Pacman Jones’ legal troubles both getting them long (or indefinite) suspensions and, in Vick’s case, likely jail time.
But the conversation got derailed almost immediately as callers prefaced their comments by saying, “My thoughts and prayers go out to Taylor’s family.” Suddenly the topic was whether this sentiment was hypocritical and pointless. Did anyone really pray under such circumstances? And who cared about one’s “thoughts going out” to people in tragedy?
Their loud and unyielding condemnation of these sentimentalities brought in an ocean of disagreement but also some support—encapsulated for me by one caller who, as an atheist, thanked them for standing up for people like him, and by another who agreed with them by saying that he didn’t care at all about Sean Taylor either (since Taylor was a thug whose own behavior put his young daughter at risk) and it was about time someone stood up and said what was obvious but not politically correct.
How about you? Are those sentiments meaningful or hypocritical?
My take, for what it’s worth: We’re all created to care about other peoples’ suffering and we only lose that ability to care through our protective response to suffering of our own.
How much we care clearly diminishes with each successive circle away from us and our family. Great-uncle Henry’s stroke grabs us more than the death of thousands in Indonesia.
But at our best we at least recognize that we should care about those thousands of deaths, whether we find ourselves able to or not. The hoped-for path of our life is that we’d become ever-more empathetic.
But would this be good news? More empathy means more pain, pain that’s someone else’s. Who would want such a thing? Maybe we’d be wise to take the hard-headed approach taken by our radio hosts this morning.
Maybe our opinion about a tragedy matters more than our empathy, because we can—in theory—act on our opinions but only feel our empathy.
But it seems to me that your and my soul doesn’t yearn for more strongly-held views, but does yearn for ever-more connection.
Sean Taylor, his young daughter and her mother, his teammates and friends—they’re part of our world, whether they’re “good” people or people we wouldn’t like. And so, whatever pain we take on with ever-expanding empathy, we do get the compensating benefit of ever-expanding connection. And that’s not a minor benefit, if it’s the thing our hearts most crave.
I prayed for Sean Taylor, his daughter and his family within seconds of hearing about his murder. Later on in the morning, I prayed for Dennis & Callahan. The next step: more prayer for Indonesia.