Keith Dodd, Bob Crowe, Ev Befus
Fall is here, and football is the season's sport. Cool evenings and hearing the marching band practice at the nearby local high school, brings to life fond memories of my football coaching days in Wyoming. "Coach Dodd" is one of the most endearing names I've ever been called. There is an indescribable bond and relationship between players and coaches.
I was head coach, ably assisted by Everett Befus and Bob Crowe, and for three years we coached the Glenrock High "Herders" to a 23-1-2 record capped by a State Championship. (More about this unique nickname, Herders, below.) The three of us came to Glenrock when to the small community, a .500 season would represent success. But, enough bragging and nostalgia; get on to Practicing the Faith.
Usually when we hear "faith" and "practice" together it relates to whether someone goes to worship service on a somewhat regular basis, contributes to budget, leads a fairly respectful life, and so forth. "Jane and her family really seem to practice their faith." "Stephen is Catholic, but not a practicing one: mass only on Christmas and Easter, and never confession."
But, in this Reflection, I'm thinking of practice in the sense of working out, getting it right, practice Monday through Thursday, game Friday night. (Or as totally dissed in 2002 by ex Philadelphia 76er Allen Iverson in his infamous Practice Rant.) Practice is critical. In high school, most football teams would probably spend ten times as much time on the practice field (Monday through Thursday) as in a Friday night game. Add to that at least 50 hours in the two weeks of summer two-a-days, and the ratio is staggering. And that does not include chalk-talk type classroom sessions. I can't imagine the ratio of a marathon runner's training time to actually running the race.
Often when we consider our faith, we place faith in an isolated compartment, apart from our job, family, fitness, eduction, and other more secular facets of our lives. My "religious" compartment includes church, prayer, meditation, and such. I may consider my faith life as on a higher plane, a purer one, trying to function in ways uninfluenced by other life compartments.
For many of us, as we grow in faith, we realize our faith shouldn't be isolation, that it should influence other of life's compartments. My faith should influence how I approach my job, how I interact within my family, how I spend money. We may even let our faith compel us to choose more healthy eating and exercise habits: We might take seriously the faith statement that our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19). Somehow it seems "right" for our faith to influence other aspects (compartments) of our lives. We feel good with a more integrated life.
But, do we ever think that those secular compartments might have something to offer our "faith" compartment? Or would that would be a slippery slope to corrupting our faith? As a school principal, I once had a superintendent who was a devout Christian, and it was obvious that his faith influenced (in a positive way) how he did his job. But it seemed he never let any compartment, such as eduction and science, affect his faith. In school matters, he would demand proof, ask tough questions, test hypotheses. But, when he and I talked about faith topics, he was a different person. "No, I don't question; I just believe." It was very frustrating to have any dialogue of faith with him. His faith could influence; but, his faith could not be influenced.
Obviously, from my reaction to this boss, I think of the interaction of faith and other aspects of life as a two-way street. I realize that my faith has not only been shaped by bible reading, church, and fellowship with other Christians. But, education, science, interaction with other more secular friends have been influences, too. And, to bring this back to PRACTICE, my athletic and coaching experiences influence my faith.
Only recently have I realized that matters of faith may require the practice and discipline of an athlete in training. To grow in faith, we need to realize that growth is not always easy, we might not feel motivated. I know that I've set a goal to spend time in contemplation and meditation each morning. But on some days, "This morning I'm tired, don't feel like it. Too much on my plate." "I'll skip church this Sunday; I need some time just relaxing. Besides, why go when you don't feel in the mood? God wouldn't want me to be insincere." Get thee, behind me, Satan! I need to practice ... practice my faith.
This type of thinking is typical: "I know I didn't feel like working out this morning; but, I dragged myself over to the fitness center, regardless the snow on the roads." "I'm sleepy but want to finish watching the ballgame. Too tired for even a couple minutes of evening devotions; maybe will get to it tomorrow night. Sorry, God. You wouldn't want me to talk with you when I'm not really in the mood, would you? Yeah, I know I worked out this morning when I didn't feel like it. But, that's different, right?"
Maybe there is a reason spiritual advisors call things like mediation and prayer "Spiritual Disciplines." To grow in faith, they know that one needs the discipline of an athlete in training. PRACTICE the faith!
Practice and discipline are not important only in athletics. Columnist David Brooks, recently in his New York Times columnThe Good Order, David Brooks, New York Times, Sept. 25, 2014., shared examples of the need for discipline in creative writing (an ability we might think of as dependent mainly on inspiration and perhaps even hindered by discipline). For example:
"When she was writing, Maya Angelou would get up every morning at 5:30 and have coffee at 6. At 6:30, she would go off to a hotel room she kept -- a small modest room with nothing but a bed, desk, bible, dictionary, deck of cards and bottle of sherry. She would arrive at the room at 7 a.m. and write until 12:30 p.m. or 2 o'clock."
Brooks goes on to say that, "creative people organize their lives according to repetitive, disciplined routines. They think like artists but work like accountants." He concludes, "People who lead routine, anal-retentive lives have a bad reputation in our culture. but life is paradoxical. In situation after situation, this pattern recurs: order and discipline are the prerequisites for creativity and daring." Maybe it is the same with faith.
We realize that our faith should influence all aspects of our lives. (Whether it actually does may be another story!) But, it is also legitimate for secular aspects, such as study habits, athletics, science, and such, to influence our lives of faith. If discipline and practice are necessary for athletes and creative writers, it makes sense that the same discipline and practice are necessary for a vibrant and growing faith.
In Part II of this Reflection, I'll explore a technique I used in coaching that seems valuable to growing our faith.
It (Psycho-Cybernetics) involves not just being disciplined and faithful, but actual PRACTICE. Stay tuned.
In the meantime ...
Practice, practice, practice!
Resources Related To this Reflection
My second teaching position (after three years in Placer County, California) was in Glenrock, Wyoming. I came to this small community in 1969 as a chemistry and physics teacher and head coach for football and track. Before moving into administration there, I coached the Glenrock "Herders".
This nickname for the school's athletic teams seems to be a unique one in the United States. Although through an Internet search, I did find that teams in Big Timber, Montana are called the "Sheepherders" and are sometimes referred to by the shortened version, Herders.
Actually, in the earlier days of the school, Glenrock teams were called the "Sheepherders". Thankfully, many years before my time, the name was officially changed to Herders. I was grateful for that. Explaining "Herders" and taking joking jabs from friends outside of Wyoming was challenge enough ... not sure how I would have handled Sheepherders!
Herders (and Sheepherders) did, though, make a lot of sense. Cattle and sheep (along with oil) were more numerous than people, and in many remote places, even today, one can see the lonely sheepherders' wagons. Glenrock is on the high plains (about 25 miles east of Casper), and as a stop on the Oregon Trail was called Deer Creek Station. A nearby "rock-in-the-glen" was the reason for the town's name to be changed to what it is today.
Even with the nickname's colorful history, many of us still weren't endeared to the shortened nickname, and would often use just "Herd". Somehow it seemed more tough-guy-like to yell, "Go Herd!" rather than "Go Herders!" (I don't think anyone ever thought about yelling "Go Sheepherders!") However, with a .616 winning football percentage since 1923 (390-242-7), few in Wyoming thought of Glenrock Herders as something as passive as the nickname.
Not all opponent fans were respectful of our name "The Herders". I remember a game my final year about 55 miles east in Glendo, Wyoming. (That was our closest away game! In Wyoming, you travel.) Calling Glendo a one-horse town would have been a stretch for population, but they did have a good (but far from unique) nickname, the "Eagles".
It would also be a stretch to call the Eagles' football field a stadium. The announcer did his thing from a portable stand on the sidelines. As we were warming up, this announcer kept referring to us as the "Mutton Conductors." Needless to say, I started to bristle.
For the starting line-ups, the announcer went through the Glenrock starters, often with an intro like, "And starting at right guard for the Mutton Conductors, ..." But, with his final, "And, the Head Mutton Conductor ... Keith Dodd!" I lost all my usual Vince Lombardi/Tom Landry stoic composure. I huddled my team around me for the pre-game rah-rah, and using names for the announcer I won't quote here, I gave players permission to run into the announcer's perch on any out-of-bounds plays.
But, we played well, and the mighty Mutton Conductors thrashed the lowly Eagles 44-0. I was also pleased that there were no out-of-bounds penalties, and that this Head Mutton Conductor didn't hit that announcer in the nose.