The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly Blind Spot

Last night during Clemson’s heartbreaking loss to Alabama, Jesus reminded me that His followers are not the winners of the world.  I railed against that and then was convinced to own the truth of it.  My need for Clemson to be victorious has been my one blind spot in my personal crusade to rid myself of attachments and identifications and to complete my journey as a follower of Jesus…the kenotic path to union with God.

Last year, I boldly blogged about my fervent prayers during the National Championship because I felt the world needed to see a football program of coaches and players, who openly give credit for their lives and performance to God, be victorious.  My prayers were not for God to favor Clemson but were toward the quarterback Deshaun Watson who seemed cowed by the physical hostility he was receiving from the Alabama defense; I prayed for God’s presence to get through to him…for Deshaun to remember Whose he is and to feel that power.  I was not alone in my prayers and Deshaun rallied.  Clemson won that game.

Last night, when Alabama was once again making it personal, I tried everything I could think of to influence a win…everything short of making a deal with the devil.  But Jesus, in His gentle, tender way, reminded me, “My followers are not the winners of this world.”  Dammit.

I was reminded of the scene in the Garden of Gethsemane where one of the disciples took a sword to fight back the guards who had come to take Jesus to His crucifiction.  Jesus corrected the disciple then and He corrected me last night.  I argued, “But Jesus, don’t you want the world to see us victorious?  Don’t You want to win?”  Well, of course He does..just not in that way; that’s not how it works.  I need to go back and read the Sermon on the Mount.

I worry about Dabo, too.  I knew we (he and I) were in trouble when I saw the video clip of him dribbling grass from his fingers onto the playing field.  I recalled how he picked Tulane for his practice field, and why, and the same hotel in New Orleans that he stayed in 25 years ago, and why.  Those moves of superstition are no better than my daughter and myself donning every item of Clemson clothing and paraphernalia that we own to “set the mood,” a bit of juju, as one commentator put it.

Dabo is in a very difficult position…one of teaching these young men how to live a Christ-filled, Christ-guided life in a segment of the world where the goal is always to win…regardless.  The biggest lesson Dabo has to teach is how to lose…and not just losing gracefully and the lessons to be learned from it, but also why losing self identity and self importance is key to having given your life to following Jesus.  For a football coach whose job it is to teach them to win games, that’s tricky.  You have to fight to win in order to learn from the loss.  Jesus showed us this over and over.  Even the Apostle Paul danced the tricky dance of “to lose oneself is Christ” but also to not only run the race but to finish it.

It’s a paradox.  You must give your all to attain the goal but go through the ultimate loss at the pinacle to achieve the prize of salvation.  It’s twisted but it works.  If coached properly, this loss will be a huge gain for those young men…and the coaches.  My prayers are with them now.

My prayers are also with me because I see that I have been holding out this need for Clemson to be victorious….holding it separate from everything else in my life that has been damaged or destroyed.  I had a friend years ago who gave everything to God, except one area of his life.  He lead several AA groups, coached children and adults in TaeKwonDo, but kept his multiple sexual relationships out of his commitment to God. That did not go well for him…or others.

Not only did I realize I was fiercely attached to and idetified with the need for Clemson to win, I found myself deeply hating Alabama’s head coach.  Everything about his motives, values, and demeanor has been offensive to me…but I have no buseness hating on anyone !!!   (God, forgive me.)  Following the guidance of AA, I will pray for Nick Saban to be victorious and also for him to learn of the love of Christ…the love which motivates Dabo Swinney and the Clemson players.

Thankfully, much good came about last night: my daughter dug deep into her own well of wisdom to help me see all of the aspects of my blind spot and to lovingly help me deal with it.  She pointed out how the unpalatable tenor of Saban does not necessarily extend to the team; we watched the small interview of the ‘Big Guy’ on the Alabama team who made the unexpected touchdown; his demeanor was just the opposite of Saban’s. Da’Ron Payne was modest, humble, and grateful for having been given the opportunity.  Bless him.  Perhaps he will be the spark in Saban’s camp that turns Saban’s influence from a cancer to something healing.  Maybe.  I will pray for that.

Go TIGERS !

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You Can’t Fake the Real Thing

I’m torn…not between Clemson and anyone else winning the championship games, but between Clemson remaining special (if not unique) in its culture and other schools incorporating into their own programs what Clemson has had for a long time.  Granted, it will take a while for these other schools to completely reform; it starts with recruiting the right sorts: players and coaches.  But some schools are at least giving lip service to the change.  Nick Saban of Alabama has begun saying the kinds of things Dabo Swinney says all the time; Saban just doesn’t know what he’s saying, yet.  By that I mean Saban is intentionally using the same words but there is no deep knowing at the heart level, and you can’t fake the real thing.  When Saban gets around to understanding what he is saying, then he needs time to cycle through the seasons to process out the players who were recruited for all the reasons Alabama has been recruiting players.  Alabama’s criteria have not been the same as Clemson’s.

I don’t know the whole story, but a Clemson player recently transfered out of the program.  I noticed that the story gave some statistics and then enumerated the accomplishments of the player’s father.  I suspect this player came into the Clemson program for the wrong reasons.  It occurs to me now that most Clemson recruits emphasize the attraction of the strong family feeling among the Clemson coaches, players, and staff.  I have also noticed how often the opinion of the player’s mother is key.  I suspect that one major criteria in whether Clemson wants a specific recruit or not has to do with how open the young man is to a new strong fatherly influence…which he will definitly be under once working with Dabo Swinney and the other coaches.  You will be coached, taught, nurtured, encouraged, but also tested and held accountable.  When you emerge from the other end of this journey…this education and training tunnel…you will be a man your mother will be proud of and the world will look up to.

I believe that as long as Clemson is special in this mind-set of selecting those open to the program; training, nurturing, and proving them inside then outside; and encasing the whole thing in love; Clemson will continue to be second to none and victorious to the end.  This is business.  This is the business that Dabo Swinney is in.  This is the business of life and all institutions in the business of preparing young people for life would be wise to line their programs up with what Swinney has built.  That includes schools, churches, youth programs, and the military.  Commanders in chief, headmasters, scoutmasters, and head coaches should start with the heart and then work with the mind and body, instilling a culture of fierce love and tenacious grit, that does not tolerate indulgences of poor conduct born of fear (racism, abuse, disrespect, hatred,…)

Some aren’t called to such programs…but all could be.  All should aspire to be.

So, I’m torn.  Part of me wants Clemson to keep its culture unique like a secret..and to always win.  The other part of me wants this culture to spread throughout collegiate sports into professional sports and out into the fandoms, neighborhoods, public schools, military, and beyond; all of them will benefit.  In many cases, it isn’t possible to be selective in who you bring into a program but it is always possible to be selective in the leadership, instructors, and coaches.  And it must always start with the heart.

Clemson Culture at Work in the NFL

The culture that is instilled and nurtured within the Clemson Football program is able to spread throughout the NFL (and everywhere else in the world) because it is a living thing and is backed and supported by The living thing…Christ.

Deshaun Watson is a student of that culture and continues to study and do the work of that culture because it lives in him.

Christ lives in Deshaun.  Christ was instilled in Deshaun probably before he was born. Christ has been kept involved in Deshaun’s life through the love of Deshaun’s mother and the coaching of Dabo Swinney.  Christ is invited, welcomed, and received in all aspects of the Clemson Football program and is recognized and acknowledged at each step of the way.  Christ spreads through the Clemson Nation.

If I have any sway, I will keep Christ involved in Dashaun’s life and the Clemson program through my prayers because that’s how it is done.

By the way, another word used for this presence is Love.  It is spread and emmanates through the love shared among the players and coaches and in the way the young men are taught, advised, and coached along.  In truth, this Love is The Reason for the coaching, in the first place.

The battles and challenges in life are for spiritual growth; it is for all of us.  Young men can learn this and can face these battles on the streets…or they can make this spiritual journey on the football field.  I’ll take pads and helmets and the risk of injury over guns and drugs with the risk of so much worse, any day.

This is what the Clemson Culture is about:  winning the game.

In that winning, these young men win the battles and challenges that strengthen their souls, hone their skills in facing obstacles and hardships, and clarify their vision and practice of Fierce Love.

The love instilled and nurtured in these young men might look soft at times…like in the gentle and tender way Deshaun gave his income to the cafeteria workers, but make no mistake:  The Love of the Clemson Culture is Fierce…and that is the nature of the love which is required in our world today.

 

God in the Ordinary

A few days ago, I posted my thoughts on God’s interest in everyday, technically non-religious, and seemingly non-spiritual events like football games.

In this morning’s meditation from Richard Rohr, he does a better job of saying the same thing:

God’s revelations are through the concrete and specific.

We have created an artificial divide or dualism between the spiritual and the so-called non-spiritual.

Biblical revelation is saying that we are already spiritual beings; we just don’t know it yet

 

Here’s to our learning just that!

Richard Rohr’s daily meditations are found through his Center for Action and Contemplation website.

My thoughts on tonight’s National Championship

Is the world ready for an affirmation of how Dabo Swinney is raising these young men and starting them off on their lives?

Yes, I know…this is about football.  It’s a game.

It’s all a game.  The key point is how you play the game.  And not just that; it’s how you prepare for the game, respond to the winning and losing of the game, and deal with every play.

Clemson Tigers are taught about life…and football is the language they are taught in.

Dabo Swinney, beloved inspirational speaker, has opened his heart to God and dedicates his presence, his words, and his actions to communicating to players, coaches, fans, spectators, and even people from Alabama, what it means to align oneself…one’s life…with God.

Bless him.

And God bless the Clemson Tigers.

Go Tigers!  I’m ALL IN.