The Beautiful Game – a Look Back…

We have all heard the statement – “…everyone changes” – at some point or another in our lives. Sometimes, its spoken about us, but typically we hear it about others. Have you ever sat down, turned off every digital thing in your life and thought about how you have changed? I did that recently. I pulled out an old notebook, and a pen, sat down and recorded my thoughts as they came to me. I thought about who I was previously….and for me, that’s a monumental task. I don’t hold on to many of my older memories. That’s an area of my life I try to keep securely tucked in the old shoebox that has hundreds of rubber-bands around it to keep it shut – buried deep inside a massive wooden chest filled with concrete stones – padlocked shut – set in the attic of the old house out in the middle of the woods, where no one has lived for over forty-years. The reasons why I bury my (now distant) Past are quite a few – and not the point of what I am writing. Perhaps, I will come back to this fork in my mind’s trail at another time.

Back in my “care free” days of being in high school, my focus was different. I was nowhere near interested in any sort of academic pursuit. My joys came from playing soccer (as they tend to call the Beautiful Game here in the States), hanging out with my friends, and – well, to put it bluntly – getting laid. My academic scores were rather low – in fact, they were among the lowest in my class – and reading a single book was a monumental task for me. Many of my friends today, would see this young version of me, and swear that this boy could not be the individual they know today. Those long-term friends that knew me in the first few years of my time in the United States Air Force, would see small parts of this angst-ridden teen-aged mess in the young man that they came to befriend.

My heroes, much like any young teenaged boy, came from my everyday pursuits. In football, I wanted to be the player that Lothar Matthaus was. His rugged style was an inspiration to me as a Centerback/Sweeper – though he played Midfield at that time. Later in his career, he would step back to my favorite playing position of Sweeper. But I was completely stung by the arena of music – particularly that of the visually outrageous Ozzy Osbourne and the extremely aggressive sound of Metallica – particularly the bassist Cliff Burton. At this time, Lothar Matthaus had long hair – as did Burton, and my new found hero from Osbourne’s band – Randy Rhoads. Therefore, to emulate my heroes, I grew my hair long as well. I learned some of the aspects of the bass guitar, though I was no master whatsoever. I found that Cliff Burton had penned many of the lyrics to Metallica’s songs – and I took up poetry.

My earliest works were set in the typical rhyming pattern of poetry that is taught in the English classes of high school.  My works had the typical tah-da-da-da-tah-da-da-tah rhythm found in simpler poetry. I eschewed many of the free-verse poems, since it had been pounded into my way of thinking that poetry had to rhyme. (Thanks Mrs. Tab for helping me simplify my way of thinking through your English classes) It wasn’t until a few years later that another poet (thanks Tasia) would open my eyes and my mind towards seeing poetry as a flowing art-form that did not need to be bound by a specific pattern. It took a lot longer for me to open my mind and learn the taste of true Awen concerning music…

Like many students in high school, I had a favorite teacher. Mr. Ken L. (I won’t use full names here – if he happens across this page, he will realize very easily that this is him). The school I attended was an all-boys Catholic school. It wasn’t as terrible as you think it may have been. I made a lot of friends in my time there. Some have slipped to the wayside over time, others I have recently reconnected with – including Ken. My junior year, Ken was teaching us in our Catholicism class. In a class split over four quarters, he spent an entire quarter trying to get us to see the Gospels in a different light. In remembering back, I realize that many staunch Catholics would have seen this particular teaching style as a major form of heresy. For me, it opened my eyes.

We started that quarter reading of the entire saga of the Crucifixion through the eyes of the four Gospel writers. For an entire week, we spent the class reading aloud (he always picked a different student to read the passages) each Gospel, and then spending the last part of class discussing it through the eyes of that writer. On the Friday of that week, we spent that day of class comparing and contrasting the four. The next week, he brought in a record player – and we spent two days of class just listening to the Andrew Lloyd Webber rock opera “Jesus Christ Superstar”. I was completely floored by the way the music flowed, and the way the story worked its way backwards and forwards through my mind. Many years later, when I attended a showing of the movie “The Passion of the Christ” – it was this rock opera that played in the back of my mind as I watched the images unfold on the screen.  But Ken wasn’t satisfied with us just hearing the differences between the Gospels and a pop-album.

The third week of the quarter, he started peppering us with other concepts that were drawn out of the lyrics of rock opera. Judas makes the statement:

Listen Jesus – I don’t like what I see – All I ask is that you listen to me – And remember – I’ve been your right hand man all along – You have set them all on fire – They think they’ve found the new Messiah – And they’ll hurt you when they find they’re wrong

This was followed by the question – what if the Crucifixion was a con-game? Jesus ben Joseph, and Judas Iscariot are playing a flim-flam game, where the population are given a religious figure to adore – and when the money changes hands, the two of them escape town. The Crucifixion is something that never happens, the Roman legion is cut in on the game, and it is made to look as Jesus has been arrested, whipped, and executed. When he is “buried” in the tomb, he and Judas work together to roll the rock away – and they escape into the night, leaving the now poorer townspeople behind to puzzle things out – if they can. This was a pure mind explosion for me. Here was my Theology teacher, depicting what amounts to pure heresy in a classroom, where he is to be teaching Catholic doctrine to us. And the heresy made sense to me as well. At the end of the quarter, Ken told us that he had been showing us the other side of the coin. If our faith had been shattered by this “revelation” of a potential con-game, then it would be an indicator of how strong our faith in the Christ-story had truly been. If our faith remained resolute in the face of this depiction, then we had taken a step towards strengthen our own internal resolve towards such moments of strife. Stupid me…I had to ask the question of what it meant to those of us who didn’t believe in the first place – but could see where an individual could gain strength in either direction.

The next year, my senior year, I had Ken for World History. I have always loved History, particularly Roman History. Several years later, in a World Civilizations class at a local Junior College, I would not only score a perfect 100 on an exam on Roman History – I would also correct an error on the test that the professor had made. When she challenged me on my “correction” of her, I went to the library and brought back seven different history texts showing her the error I had indicated. Ken, made our history lessons come alive. He didn’t talk about the people depicted in the History texts as dry, faceless facts – he spoke of them as they were:  flawed human beings who actually lived. People who adapted to a particularly social code inherent to their time – completely different from our own. He made the History not only sing – but showed us where historians contradicted one another with their own suppositions of what happened long ago. Just as he had done for us in our Theology class the year before, he started showing us where the cracks were – how history could not agree with itself on certain parts – and left it to us to puzzle out the “correctness” for ourselves.

Ken laid the foundations for critical thinking for me. he showed me how to take something, split apart, and find the middle…and then judge for myself how it should or should not come together. And while I did not appreciate that – way back in the days where my eyes were filled with the star-struck status of people such as Randy Rhoads, Cliff Burton, and Lothar Matthaus – I came to appreciate it a little further on in my life. I came to appreciate it, when I put that style of thinking into motion – reading books such as “Drawing Down the Moon” by Margot Adler, “The Spiral Dance” by Starhawk, Ray Buckland’s “The Complete Book of Witchcraft”, and “Modern Magick” by Donald M. Kraig. I also came to appreciate how his model of critical thinking was designed to start me down that Path, but not to sustain it. Over time, I have come to modify parts of the process – reject particular methodologies, and accept whole new practices into my model of critical thinking. And, his model also allowed me to rejected pieces of what he had told me as incorrect patterns of thinking for myself – and replace them with others.

I have always suspected that Ken saw some of the students in his classes as teachers of the future. Until I gather enough courage to ask him, I will never truly know if I were one of those students. Nine Hells, he may never remember.  The years I have described above are 1983 and 1984 – my junior and senior years of high school.  That’s about thirty years ago. Looking at myself then – and at myself today…well, I’m a testament for how much one can change in that time frame. My heroes of yesteryear are still there.  I still admire the musical stylings of the late-Randy Rhoads, and the late-Cliff Burton. But I am far more influenced by the Native American sounds of artists such as Coyote Oldman, R. Carlos Nakai, and Robert Mirabel’s ‘Johnny Whitehorse’ personae. While Lothar Matthaus was a wonderful player in his time, he has long since retired – and many other players have taken his place. I don’t play as much as I used to, but I take any chance I can to watch the Beautiful Game with its exciting passion and wonderful testament to the youth of mankind. I have moved from the fanciful dreams of my youth – to achieve rockstardom, where nubile, half-dressed women hang from my arms, and leather-clad minions hang on my every note for three-hours a night.  I am a teacher now. A profession I enjoy wholeheartedly. And one where I learn everyday from students who were no older than I was back in the days of sitting in Ken’s classrooms. I see the allure in being a teacher – how you learn to see your own material through a new set of eyes – from a different perspective. And those new perspectives allow you to understand that a subject never grows old.

Everyone changes. We get older. Our bodies break down over time. Essentially, we are born to die. We spend our entire lives decomposing. Our lives comprise an endless series of experiences. Some we repeat because of the joy. Some we repeat because we never understood the cyclic nature of the event. Some we only experience as a singular event – never to be repeated, no matter how hard we try. But throughout that process, we do change. And yet, we still stay the same – there is no one like you, or me, or that person over there. Each of us is unique in the way we process our experiences…what a funny, and warped existence it sometimes seems. But much like soccer – its a Beautiful Game….

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