Friday, January 30, 2009

Winners or Losers?

It is Super Bowl weekend once again and we all hope the game will be at least as interesting as the commercials. It's great to see Kurt Warner back in the big game after all he has been through. I think the Steelers are a much better team, but I'm cheering for the Cardinals all the way.

Thinking about winners and losers reminds me of a game I played as a kid. I remember the game vividly, but I'm still not sure whether we won or lost. I was a freshman in a small high school playing on the junior varsity. That should tell you something, since we only had 24 players on the whole football team and none of the starters could play JV. So, I was one of the 13 boys on the bus to go play a JV game against Clinton, a larger rival school. I think they dressed about 35 boys for the game.

As you can imagine, with only 13 players, we all got plenty of playing time. I was in on everything except the kickoff team, and we only did that once, to start the game. As you might anticipate, things did not go well for us. I remember coach yelling a lot, I remember looking at the scoreboard wishing it would wind down faster, and I remember a couple of times when a play was over, lying on my back looking up at the blue sky and thinking what a nice day it was. At halftime the score was 35-0, and we huddled in the visitor's (the girl's) locker room, pretty dazed and discouraged.

Coach stuck his head in the door and gave us this brief and direct halftime speech: "Excuse me, girls, but if you play like that the second half, you're going to get beat 70 to nothing." Then he was gone. We just sat there mulling that over. 70 to nothing. That didn't sound good. Not good at all. One of our sophomores, a lightweight linebacker named Barrett, finally lit the fire. "Wait a minute! Nobody beats us 70 to nothing! C'mon, you #!#!#!#!, let's get out there and kill those !#!#!#!#! Let's go!"

We came charging back out on the field pounding on each other, banging our helmets together like a bunch of crazed animals. I'm sure Coach was impressed with the difference a little humiliation could make in his pitiful team. And we played our hearts out that second half. We really did play as hard and as well as we could.

And when the final whistle blew and the game was over, we all looked at that scoreboard and cheered as loud as we could. The final score: 43-0. That's right. Nobody beats us 70 to nothing! We were slapping and fiving like we had just won the conference championship. It was a rowdy locker room and noisy bus ride home that night. I'm guessing that in hindsight, our coach probably wished he had aimed a little higher with his team's expectations. He didn't seem to celebrate with the same enthusiasm we had.

So, were we winners or losers? 43-0 indicates a pretty clear answer, but it still felt great. It still felt great to get up and fight back, to stand up and give it our best shot, just to keep playing and hustling and hitting until it was done. We were all pretty proud of the beating we took, at least that second half. I've been on the winning side of some games I can't even remember. But standing up to the big guys, taking your lumps and giving it your best shot - that always stays with us, doesn't it?

Have you got a Goliath on your schedule, a big bully in your own backyard? Listen to coach and don't go down without a fight.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Deflating a Football Coach

Chan Gailey, former head football coach for the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets and the Dallas Cowboys, told how he learned a lesson in humility.

Gailey was then head coach of Alabama's Troy State, and they were playing for a National Championship. The week before the big game, he was headed to the practice field when a secretary called him back to take a phone call.

Somewhat irritated, Gailey told her to take a message because he was on his way to practice.

She responded, "But it's Sports Illustrated."

"I'll be right there," he said.

As he made his way to the building, he began to think about the upcoming article. It would be great publicity for a small school like Troy State to be in Sports Illustrated. As he got closer, he realized that a three-page article would not be sufficient to tell the whole story. Coming even closer to his office, he started thinking that he might be on the cover. "Should I pose or go with an action shot," he wondered. His head was spinning with all of the possibilities.

When he picked up the phone and said hello, the person asked, "Is this Chan Gailey?"

"Yes, it is," he replied confidently.

"This is Sports Illustrated, and we're calling to let you know that your subscription is running out. Are you interested in renewing?"

Coach Gailey concluded the story by saying, "You are either humble or you will be humbled."

Thursday, January 22, 2009

What Does Your God Make of This?

As many in Britain have reflected on the life and leadership of Tony Blair, former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (1997–2007), stories have emerged concerning his faith. A 2008 issue of Time magazine featured one particularly moving story from Blair's past:

Blair is deeply religious—the most openly devout political leader of Britain since William Ewart Gladstone more than 100 years ago. He handles questions about religion deftly. He doesn't back down. His longtime press secretary and consigliere, Alastair Campbell, remembers Blair in 1996 at a school in Scotland where a gunman had killed 16 children and a teacher. In a bloodstained classroom, Campbell asked Blair, "What does your God make of this?" Blair, says Campbell, stopped and replied, "Just because man is bad, it does not mean that God is not good."

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Confession Is Good for the Soul

This morning I came across a prayer from John Baillie's classic, A Diary of Private Prayer. His words reminded me of a forgotten discipline of the Christian life - the personal, prayerful confession of our sin. Baillie wrote these words back in 1949 with old fashioned, King James English, but his prayer struck home with me. I have to confess this morning that his prayer needs to be my own. Here's a portion of Baillie's prayer:

O Father in Heaven . . . I come to Thee in lowliness of heart . . . beseeching Thee to drown my transgressions in the sea of Thine own infinite love.
  • My failure to be true even to my own accepted standards;
  • My self-deception in face of temptation;
  • My choosing of the worse when I know the better; O Lord, forgive.
  • My failure to apply to myself the standards of conduct I demand of others;
  • My blindness to the suffering of others and my slowness to be taught by my own;
  • My complacence towards wrongs that do not touch my own case and my over-sensitiveness to those that do;
  • My slowness to see the good in my fellows and to see the evil in myself;
  • My hardness of heart towards my neighbor's faults and my readiness to make allowance for my own;
  • My unwillingness to believe that Thou hast called me to a small work and my brother to a great one; O Lord, forgive.
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me, Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation, and give me the strength of a willing spirit. Amen.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Listen to Your Life

With the beginning of each new year I come back to these words from Frederick Buechner:

"I discovered that if you really keep your eye peeled to it and your ears open, if you really pay attention to it, even such a limited and limiting life as the one I was living . . . opened up onto extraordinary vistas. Taking your children to school and kissing your wife goodbye. Eating lunch with a friend. Trying to do a decent day's work. Hearing the rain patter against the window. There is no event so commonplace but that God is present within it, always hiddenly, always leaving you room to recognize him or not to recognize him, but all the more fascinatingly because of that, all the more compellingly and hauntingly . . . . If I were called upon to state in a few words the essence of everything I was trying to say both as a novelist and as a preacher, it would be something like this: Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery that it is. In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace."