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Faith Gets Tested in the “Apprentice” Boardroom

posted by kris rasmussen

Battles in Donald Trump’s boardroom have taken a decidedly spiritual spin on this season’s “The Apprentice,” with an ongoing storyline that has highlighted one contestant’s refusal to compromise his religious faith just to get ahead in the show’s competition. (Well, it actually was two contestants, but one’s already been eliminated.) On last night’s episode, Lee, a business analyst and Orthodox Jew, was faced once again with the possibility of being fired because he opted out of working on a task with his team, Gold Rush, to observe a Jewish holy day, Yom Kippur.

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Lee, along with former team member Dan, had declined to work on a different task in a previous episode because it took place on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year–much to the displeasure of teammate Lenny, who is also Jewish but does not refrain from working on the Jewish holidays.

On the surface, it seems as if the other members of Gold Rush respect, or at least accept, Lee’s decision to practice his faith at the expense of his and the team’s welfare in the game, but perhaps not everyone is as understanding as they seem. When Donald Trump questioned Lee about who should be fired for his team’s failure in last night’s episode, Lee refrained from naming anyone, since he had not participated in the task. On the other hand, Bryce–the project manager last night–turned on Lee. Faced with the decision of who to bring along with him to the boardroom, where Donald Trump would rake them over the proverbial coals and choose one to be fired, Bryce seized the opportunity to take Lee, despite–or perhaps because of–Lee’s absence from the task. Once inside the boardroom, Trump scrutinized Bryce’s motives for bringing Lee along–one reason that led to Bryce to be the one fired.

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Don’t get me wrong; when all the religious drama was finally over, I still doubted Trump’s sincerity in the boardroom when he told Lee, “Religion is the most important thing. I dig that.” And I predict that the rest of his teammates, especially Lenny, will find a way to use Lee’s non-participation against him in a future episode. Still, Lee’s quiet and dignified resolve to practice his religion while under pressure has given this season some unexpected heart–as well as a moral conscience. He’s become so popular that a blog called the “Orthodox Apprentice” is tracking his every move. Maybe that’s because Lee doesn’t kvetch, kvell, kibbitz, or do anything else to feed the Jewish stereotypes we often see on television. He just always seems to do the right thing.

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Tony Soprano: Does God Love Viagra?

posted by donna freitas

Last night’s “Sopranos” episode, “The Fleshy Part of the Thigh” was filled with religiously themed moments, including the mysterious appearance of a quotation from Native American spirituality posted at Tony’s hospital bedside.

Paulie also finds out that his mother is actually a nun whom he’s always thought was his “aunt.” When she was young, the nun urgently confesses to Paulie on her deathbed, there was “this sailor,” along came Paulie, and no one wanted a scandal, which is why she is telling him this now, so late in her life, when it no longer matters–at least to her. Paulie handles this news with all the grace we’ve come to expect of his character: He becomes incensed and violent.

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But my favorite religious moment from last night’s episode was when an old evangelical buddy of Janice (Tony’s sister) comes to the hospital to protest on behalf of a doctor who was fired for refusing to prescribe birth control pills. He visits Tony, bringing along another evangelical friend. They show up to witness for Christ by Tony’s bedside, trying to convince Tony to accept Jesus as his personal savior. Tony’s response, of course, is that he’s Catholic, so he’s already good, but they explain that God doesn’t want anybody in the way of Tony’s relationship to Christ–namely priests–so as a Catholic he’s not in that great a shape with God (insert Tony’s eyes rolling here).

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The best part of all, though, is when Tony finds out why these two are at the hospital in the first place. They show him a sign that says, “Womb is God” (what does that mean anyway?). Tony’s immediate response–much to Carmela’s embarrassment–is whether they’re going to be saying next that “God doesn’t like Viagra.” Following Tony’s accidental shooting, he’s a little concerned about having potential “issues” in the bedroom. Well, no, the evangelists answer, Tony has nothing to worry about, because God loves anything that promotes procreation, which includes Viagra!

How high of an endorsement can a product get? Maybe soon we will start seeing commercials that say: “Take Viagra! It’s what God wants you to do.”

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Happy Opening Day!

posted by

It’s common these days to refer to Super Bowl Sunday as a civic holiday, but to me there’s no more significant sports-oriented festival than baseball’s Opening Day–just as there is no more spiritual sport than baseball, with its focus on brains and passion over brute strength, its deliberate, orderly pace, its absolute dependence on teamwork, its reverence for history, its unique traditions, foods, songs, and literature, and its combination of precision, focus, and statistics with improvisation, the unknown, luck, and sheer wonder.

Opening Day, more so in my mind even than the World Series, symbolizes the best about baseball, and the best of the human condition. The slate is clean, and hope reigns as the overriding emotion. Spring may not have arrived in every major-league city, but it surely is on the way. Last year’s last-place team can believe, deep in its heart and soul, that this October will see the underdog battle for post-season glory. The rookie can anticipate the glory of his first major-league year, the veteran can bask in the renewal of tradition and routine–the profound and the mundane. And the fan can soak it all in, enjoy, and dream about the season ahead, with a beer in one hand and a scorecard in the other.

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The World Series is still more than six grueling months away, but today (well, last night fo White Sox and Indians fans) the quest to play in that glorious best-of-seven series begins. By then, the weather will be getting colder, and darkness will be setting in earlier. The players will be battered, bruised, and ready to return to their families. Some fans will have fallen away, disappointed at their team’s losing season. Others will be glued to their TV sets, watching pitch after pitch with baited breath.

Today, though, there are no such divisions, no such anxiety. It’s Opening Day. Another season is beginning, and with it our hope that redemption is just around the corner. Play ball!

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For George Mason: God Finally Left the Building

posted by donna freitas

Mason Miracle, March Miracle, and Miracle Run are just a couple of the turns of phrase invoking miracles or divine-intervention that have been used to somehow describe the fact that, against all odds (literally), the George Mason Patriots men’s basketball team made it to the NCAA Final Four, upsetting the tournament’s top seeds one after the other, until they sadly lost to Florida, 73-58, after a hard fought first half on Saturday night. The Cinderella Team has become standard fair each year during March Madness, but this year, as The New York Times sports reporter Pete Thamel wrote yesterday, “By the time George Mason took the court for its Final Four game with Florida on Saturday night, the Patriots had already redefined the role of Cinderella in the N.C.A.A. tournament.” And though the George Mason came out of the locker room to the tune of the their pep band playing “All I Need Is a Miracle” by Mike and the Mechanics, alas, Thamel reports that their “plea for one more divine performance was left unanswered.”

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What is it about championship games, particularly the ones that come in March, that lead us to take up such religious language in our descriptions of wins and defeats and the “why” behind the Cinderella Team’s success? And why do we adore the Cinderella Team so much in the first place? Is it the fact that we somehow believe that, via a group of men or women dribbling a ball down a court, there really is a miracle unfolding before our eyes? That God is somehow playing a role in the spectacle?

As a lifelong college basketball fan, one whose team is always a Cinderella-bid at the N.C.A.A.’s (University of Rhode Island–I know, who’s that?) when they somehow manage to squeak out a good enough season or win the Atlantic 10 title to get a ticket to the ball, I am an unabashed follower of the underdog, that team that is just not supposed to be there but somehow is, and whose every win is regarded as coming on a wing and a prayer and with a lot of divine intervention. I have prayed, screamed, and begged my way through heart-stoppingly close games that are won and lost by those Hail Mary shots from across the court (notice our name for those). And I’ve been known to perform all sorts of superstitious rituals, because–as any sports fan knows–every little move you make can effect the outcome of a game and potentially upset the gods and goddesses of game-watching. Though George Mason is not “my team,” I always follow Cinderella each year, because I want the miracle as much as the next fan.

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Of course, lurking beneath all the wonder is the hard fact that sometimes, despite our faith, prayers, and believing, more often that not, these March Miracles are fleeting. Though George Mason seemed to sustain the stunning run longer than most Cinderellas have in the past, it seems that finally, on Saturday night, God sadly got distracted and, at least for this year, the Mason Miracle came to an end. And in the wake of the sadness of fans who’ve been closely following this unusual Cinderella tale this season, we are all now left with a totally disappointing final game this Monday night, between two superpowers of basketball, Florida and UCLA, a game I plan to forego for “24” now that Mason is no longer a contender.

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