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 !

paw-1

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.

 

“Man, Ain’t this Fun?”

Just a moment ago, I stepped out onto my back porch and took a deep breath.  It’s a delightful 69 degrees and sunny.  My first thought, after the breath, was to all of the gazillion things I think (thought) I need to get done.  And then spirit spoke:

this one moment is what it is about

I am…life is…we all are…creation is…perfect in this moment.

My panic and striving is because I know I spent 59.8 years of my life working on MY agenda and, now that I intend to be working on God’s agenda, I feel the need to get as much done as quickly as possible because I don’t know how much time I have left.

My next thought was to my new watch-word:  Allow     It refers to a new intention to allow others to be in a different place from me spiritually.  It refers to a new intention to allow others to make different choices for their own lives…even if I know those choices will set them back.  It refers to a new intention to allow imperfection…even in myself.

So, what was I left with?  Awareness.  Awareness that…in this moment…it is all perfect, on time, playing out, and in God’s hands.  And I giggled:  Is this fun?

That’s when I remembered those words, spoken to his team…while taking a moment…“Man, isn’t this fun?!  Is this not fun?  This is what it’s all about!”    (the second video of the interview with Dabo Swinney.  But, I recommend listening to the first video, too.)

This IS what it’s all about.  It took me 59.9 years to realize that marketing myself and my talents was NOT what is was about.  Now, after having cleared all that major clutter out of the way, I am working on small pockets of clutter that remain (small resentments, expectations, fleeting goals,…) and strengthening my awareness…my ability to hear the reminders and nudges to stop…take a moment…and acknowledge:  ‘Ain’t this fun?’

(Thank You.)

 

(I borrowed the image above from http://www.seattlepi.com.)

“Boring Stories of Glory Days”

This is an essay written by a new friend…a fellow Clemson fan…a fellow Dabo Swinney fan.

Moments

I heard an interview the other day with a former Clemson football player who was in the locker room with the Tigers after they won the National Championship. He was detailing the utter jubilation contained within those four walls from 18 to 22 years who had just ascended the mountain top of college football. This was a moment. A moment that would live with them the rest of their life. A moment that would include a ring, hardware that they could wear on their finger for the world to see and ask about. A moment they could put on their resume even if they never played a single down or step on to the field. A moment they could rehash and retell to anyone who was willing listen.

This former Clemson football player continued that the head coach Dabo Swinney talked about how proud he was of his players. Proud that they never gave up, proud that they not only believed in themselves but each other and then he talked about the moment. He reminded his player that as great as this moment was it would not and should not be the greatest or defining moment in their young life. There were many more moments ahead of them, graduation, marriage, children, moments that should equal if not be greater than this moment right here, right now.

I am a big fan of coach Dabo Swinney. Now I don’t necessarily agree with his in your face Christian views or speech but I can’t fault the man on his faith because he has proven time and time again he not only talks the talk he walks the walk as well. Yes, he is making millions of dollars a year, money that can and will cover a generation of future Swinney’s but there was a time when he had nothing, literally nothing, but his faith and a dream and those moments, those memories keep him grounded. Ground he passes on to his player’s.

For many people a single moment, a single accomplishment defines them. They spend much of their life reliving or trying to hold on to that one point in time. What they miss is the rest of their lives, a full life filled with more than just one moment.

Now I think I’m going down to the well tonight
and I’m going to drink till I get my fill
And I hope when I get old I don’t sit around thinking about it
but I probably will
Yeah, just sitting back trying to recapture
a little of the glory of, well time slips away
and leaves you with nothing mister but
boring stories of glory days

Glory days well they’ll pass you by
Glory days in the wink of a young girl’s eye
Glory days, glory days

Bruce SpringsteenGlory Days

Carolina Pride – North and South

These thoughts were originally posted on my former website The View From 5022.  As it is timely to note that the struggle for respect is still going on, (Go Tigers!), my pride in my home state(s) continues to grow.

February, 2016

It hasn’t been easy being raised in the Carolinas…but it is getting better.  There is so much stigma associated with both North and South Carolina and so few people are willing to look below the historical or political surface.  I have lived in both North and South Carolina 99% of my life and I can tell you, I have found much to be proud of.

Until my recent move, I lived in Western North Carolina for 35 years.  Those who don’t know better, make a generalized assessment and say I lived in Appalachia.  Whether that is geographically accurate or not, is not my concern; my concern has to do with the fact that most people who don’t know better, also think the term Appalachian is synonymous (or interchangeable) with ignorant, being backwards, or poorly educated.

I was born, raised, and educated in the Lowcountry of South Carolina.  The people who don’t know better, consider Charleston to be the birthplace of slavery and the Civil War.

Trust me, it is not easy being from states formerly represented by Strom Thurman, Jesse Helms, John Edwards, and even some lesser-known, local scoundrels.  We’ve had flag issues, scandals, corruption, and, yes, ignorance.  I recall years in a row when South Carolina seemed to come in 51st in the list of SAT scores, by state.

By the way, I just did an internet search on the term Bible Belt, and according to Liberapedia, “The Bible Belt is the part of the United States where strict fundamentalist Christianity dominates life (Also known as the deep south).”  Excuse me?!?  I will not get side-tracked by how much is wrong with that definition.

The people of North and South Carolina have had to fight, tooth and nail, for respect.  Even the beloved inspirational speaker Dabo Swinney remarked that, even after being totally undefeated, the Clemson Tigers were still considered ‘underdogs,’ unknown, and unrecognized as worthy opponents.

So, while I am on the subject, has anyone noticed how the Carolinas are, and have been, a seat of Athletic Excellence?!?!  Let’s look at the record.  Basketball:  Duke (spit) and, yes, Duke is in North Carolina, right down the street from (fanfare, please) The University of North Carolina (GO HEELS !!!);  Football:  South Carolina (spit, but not too shabby), North Carolina (again, a very strong performance), and CLEMSON.  My orange heart pounds proudly.  Even The Citadel made me proud this year.  And, now, the Carolina Panthers are going to Super Bowl 50.  I’m not much into professional sports, but, hey, I am proud!  Take notice, you who are ignorant; the Carolinas are an athletic force to be contended with.

And we have so much more to be proud of.  Let’s start with Appalachia, again;  The people in the back ‘hollars’ of the mountains of Western North Carolina have a sense of music, poetry, and wisdom that goes unrivaled, in my opinion, (and my opinion counts because this is my blog.)  In Charleston, grace trumped evil in the actions of the blessed souls of Mother Emmanuel AME Church, last summer.  And the flag did come down for the right reasons.

Furthermore, we have beauty, culture, and gentility.  Get off of the interstates (and beyond the ‘Title Loan District’ of Travelers Rest) and you will find breathtaking beauty:  farms, forests, waterfalls, swamps, mountain ranges, ocean shores, lakes, and, yes, many many churches.  Even our interstates often present amazing vistas.  Influential artists, writers, musicians, philosophers, scientists, educators, doctors,… The Carolinas have raised them all.  Even today, Carolinians are known for their good manners, hospitality, and propriety.

You may think what I have said is baloney, especially if I count you among the ignorant, but be enlightened; the Carolinas are a wonderful place, held graciously in the hand of God, striving to do better, look better, and be better…than everywhere else.

Again, to quote Mr. Swinney, I’m ALL IN.

Addendum:  Ahem!!!  2017 National Football Champions…PROVEN the Best.  GO TIGERS And now the North Carolina Tarheels and the South Carolina Gamecocks are going to the Final Four.  Awesome.

Thank You for making us a part of This

Does the Almighty care about football games?  Of course He does.  The Almighty cares about all of His creation.

If a part of Almighty’s creation turns itself toward the Almighty, acknowledges the Almighty as power and source, dedicates itself and its life to the Almighty, works with Joy in the Almighty’s influence, calls it fun and joyous, and gives credit back to the Almighty with gratitude for making it a part of the Almighty’s manifestation, how would the Almighty not care?

That process…from willingly turning toward Source…to gratitude for being part of the Whole Thing…is what creation is all about.  That’s why we Are.  That’s why It Is.

Did I pray for God to help Clemson win the game?

Yes, I did.  And here is why…

Dabo Swinney, Deshaun Watson, Ben Boulware, and other coaches and players openly glorify God and openly tell the public how important their faith and relationship to God is.  Many people flinch or cringe when they hear that.  But the importance of holding that inner light of the divine, the holy, the Almighty is revealed in their behavior…in their culture…and I felt it was important that their courage and faith be confirmed and affirmed.  We needed that win.  Those of us who walk our talk and are not afraid that things will get uncomfortable when we talk about our faith, needed that win.

So much about modern distortions of Christianity has made open expression of faith and belief look unsophisticated, hokey, and ignorant.  But Dabo, Deshaun, Ben, and I know that belief, devotion, commitment, gratitude, acknowledging the source of our strength and glorification of God is real, important, and empowering.  But none of that really matters here.  What matters is maintaining that strength and clarity between our hearts and God.  And it matters, not in spite of what others think, but because of what others think:  we know the rest of the world could benefit by our example.  The real stuff can’t be faked.

Besides, giving God credit and winning the game, just might please God.  That’s a win-win.

Thank You, God.  To You be the Glory.

 

Last year, I wrote on the struggle for respect when one hails from the Carolinas.  Please see

Carolina Pride.

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.

Response Ability Requires Power to Respond

This morning, the minister at First Presbyterian Church in Greenville related an insight I had not heard before, concerning the difference between a thermometer and a thermostat:  a thermometer reflects the environment; a thermostat assesses the environment and responds. He went on to challenge his congregation to be like thermostats; don’t just reflect what is going on around you and in the world.  Assess what is going on but respond in a way that improves the climate.

I would add only this point to his wisdom:  the only way the thermostat is capable of doing more than just reflecting the environment is because the thermostat is hooked up to a power source.  One’s ability to respond, and not just reflect, depends on one’s clear connection to a power source.  The quality of one’s response depends on the quality of the power behind it.

Last night, after Clemson defeated Wake Forest, Dabo Swinney commended the team members on their response to the previous week’s defeat.  He praised “these young men” for HOW they responded.  Dabo is right:  It is not important what happens to us in this life; what is important is How we respond to what happens.  Those “young men” responded with quality character traits:  courage, poise, optimism, strength…because they were clearly connected to a quality power source.

Good power source…good response.  Flawed power source…flawed response.

I commend Dabo Swinney, most beloved inspirational speaker, for demonstrating, and guiding those young athletes to their own discovery of, the best source of power there is.