“There goes the happy coach, back in his element. There goes the saddest man you ever saw.”

From the Moveable Type chuck-pearson.org blog, January 21, 2008.

This is just kinda submitted with minimal comment. This SI.com feature on Rick Majerus is big-media journalism at its finest – the type of profiling of a guy that SportsCenter simply will not give you, the warts-and-all treatment, face-to-face with who the guy is – and wonderfully descriptive writing to boot. Most sports geeks hate a guy like Bobby Knight and love a guy like Rick Majerus, because Knight comes across as such an S.O.B. to the media and Majerus never met a media guy he couldn’t crack up with a story. Yet you read this thing and you could easily imagine Knight pulling off some of the stunts and cussing out his players like Majerus is described as doing here – and then there’s Majerus’ habit of exposing himself and making people around him feel awkward, far beyond anything Knight would do, which doesn’t tend to keep people in modern academia employed for very long but coaches with track records of success can pull off.

But the raw shock value doesn’t make the piece. The picture of the coach who simply lives and breathes basketball, who is a wonderful human being but for the sport that he loves that brings out all of his demons. S.L. Price, who wrote the piece, avoids the temptation to address Majerus’ foibles with mock shock and horror – he uses them to construct a full picture of the man, hand in hand with all the positives, placing what makes him truly great side-by-side with what makes him so troubling.

The piece is seven pages long. Read them all. They set up this ending, which is devastating by itself, but literally had me shaking as I read it as the profile’s conclusion:

Something about pain: Rick Majerus prizes his. Because pain teaches you. Because pain is the price of chasing one’s passion, and if you don’t do that, you’re not alive. Because, ideally, losses like tonight’s 22-point thrashing at Boston College show how limited your immediate future is, and that kind of clarity can only help. Majerus inherited this Saint Louis team. Few doubt he can put the program in the national picture, but he figures on a three-year struggle, and who knows how long his body will hold up? He’s got a team, but for now it feels nothing like Utah.“I realize the position I’m in here now: These guys didn’t pick me; I didn’t pick them,” Majerus says after the Dec. 4 game. “We’re in each other’s worlds, and we’re looking at each other, like….” He shrugs. “It is what it is. I like these kids, they’re really nice kids. I would like any one of them as a son.”

That only sounds dismissive. Majerus knows basketball cost him a marriage, kids. More than once he investigated adopting a child alone and allowed himself to be talked out of it. But the boys he never had and raised are never far from his mind. The boosters saw that in the bar back in October, when, apropos of nothing, he dropped into a public reverie, his voice gone mournful and soft. “I wish I could’ve had a kid like Dwayne Polk or Luke Meyer,” he said of two of his seniors. “I don’t have any regrets other than that. I look at Luke and think, Boy, his parents must feel so special to have that kind of a kid.”

That sparked a tangent about parents today, and how they “want to take all the pain, all the heartache and all the sadness out of their kids’ lives. All the things that make you a better person, a better coach, a better teacher — all the things that are so much the fabric of life. I’m so much better for every loss I’ve had. I can….”

Majerus paused, and everyone in the place leaned forward in his seat. It was pin-drop quiet. When he spoke again his eyes had filled with tears, and the words came out slowly; suddenly it was 1998, March 30, and Doleac and Miller and Alex Jensen were beating Kentucky in the NCAA final, up by 12 early in the second half. No one had expected them to even get there. No one had expected Utah to beat Arkansas, Arizona and North Carolina — all those traditional powers — and now Majerus saw Kentucky, too, in his grasp. Then came Utah’s collapse, his overmatched players finally run down and beaten 78-69, the whole awful film of it unspooling again in his head.

“I don’t know how to tell you this,” Majerus rasped. “I don’t think I can get you guys there; I probably can’t, because it’s so tough to get to the Final Four. But, you know, I was just a bad player; any walk-on with me now is much better than I ever was. But I always loved to play, and I knew how to get my way in: I’d find all those guys who were good shooters and set picks for them and I’d go on the floor for loose balls. [At Utah] I had such great kids. I love those kids. They played their asses off, and we got to the national championship game; I can remember every moment of that game. You become so much better a person for all the bad things that happen to you. But all these helicopter parents, they just hover there, and they want to take all that away from their kids. They don’t want them to fight through it.”

And at that moment it became clear: the task Majerus set for himself long ago. It’s not just the searing losses that will teach his players. It’s him too: dealing out the hard knocks and heartbreak that he felt once. If parents won’t do it? Majerus will be the pain their kids fight through every day. Some may understand. He’s almost past caring. Majerus will walk that long tunnel to the locker room alone, head down, two people indeed. There goes the happy coach, back in his element. There goes the saddest man you ever saw.

Something for me to remember as I vote

From the Moveable Type chuck-pearson.org blog, January 19, 2008; edited to fix linkrot, although I can’t find the original Josh Marshall link.

Via Josh Marshall, I came across video for this Bill Moyers commentary on Martin Luther King, Jr. and President Lyndon Johnson – which you might find interesting in the aftermath of all this Clinton/Obama flap you may have heard about:

LBJ worried that the mounting demonstrations were hardening white resistance. He had been the master of the Senate, the Great Persuader, the man who could twist your arm with such flair and flattery you thought he was actually doing you a favor by wrenching it from its socket. He reckoned that, with a little time, he could twist enough arms to end or at least neutralize the power of die-hard racists, all of them – including some of his mentors – white supremacists, who threatened to bring the government, if not the country, to its knees before they would see blacks eat at the same restaurants, go to the same schools, drink from the same fountains, or live in the same neighborhoods as whites.

As the pressure intensified on each side, Johnson wanted King to wait a little longer and give him a chance to bring Congress around by hook or crook. But Martin Luther King said his people had already waited too long. He talked about the murders and the lynchings, the churches set on fire, children brutalized, the law defied, men and women humiliated, their lives exhausted, their hearts broken. LBJ listened – as intently as I ever saw him listen, he listened. And then he put his hand on Martin Luther King’s shoulder, and said, in effect, “Okay. You go out there, Dr. King, and keep doing what you’re doing, and make it possible for me to do the right thing.”

Lyndon Johnson was no racist, but he had not been a civil rights hero, either. Now, as president, he came down on the side of civil disobedience, believing it might quicken America’s conscience until the cry for justice became irresistible, enabling him to turn Congress. So King marched, and Johnson maneuvered and Congress folded.

Listen to the whole thing. I never realized Lyndon Johnson dropped “we shall overcome” in front of the combined session of Congress, for that matter.

The Moyers piece fascinated me because I couldn’t help but feel like I’d heard this story before. And, upon a quick review, I found that I had – on a much lower level.

What we hear from Jesus in the rest of the Sermon on the Mount is radical demands, uncompromising standards, no accommodations to our preferences, or our opinions whatsoever. What we are hearing is from God, not from the latest public opinion poll. We are hearing the voice that doesn’t sound like any other voice – the voice of God telling the people of his kingdom what he expects of them.

Let me tell you a story. I got this story from a Christian law professor at Yale Law School named Stephen Carter. He wrote a great book on religion and politics called God’s Name In Vain. There was a hero of the Civil Rights Movement that many of you may not have ever heard of. Her name was Fannie Lou Hamer. Fannie Lou Hamer was the founder of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. In the summer of 1964 the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party challenged the credentials of the lily-white Mississippi slate of delegates to the Democratic National Convention. The Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party offered an integrated slate of delegates, many of whom, like Mrs. Hamer, tried to register to vote in Mississippi, but were punished for it. In fact, Fannie Lou Hamer was jailed on a number of occasions and tortured in jail for doing such outrageous things as trying to register to vote.

Well, this conflict between the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party and the white slate of delegates selected by the Mississippi Democratic Party was threatening the Democratic National Convention. President Johnson didn’t want the controversy so he sent his Vice President in waiting, Hubert Humphrey, to visit Mrs. Hamer and to try to get her to back off.

Humphrey went with his typical happy style thinking he would be talking to a normal human being. He asked Fannie Lou Hamer what she wanted. But Fannie Lou Hamer was a woman who had been taken hold of by Jesus Christ. And Fannie Lou Hamer responded by saying, “What I want is the beginning of a New Kingdom right here on earth.”

Humphrey didn’t know how to deal with that statement. So he tried to explain things in political terms. He wanted Fannie Lou Hamer to understand that if he and Johnson were nominated, that they would work hard for Civil Rights. So she should compromise now and not push her slate of delegates.

Here’s Fannie Lou Hamer’s response:

Senator Humphrey, I know lots of people in Mississippi who have lost their jobs for trying to register to vote. I had to leave the plantation where I worked in Sunflower County. Now, if you lose this job of Vice President because you do what is right, because you help MFDP, everything will be all right. God will take care of you. But if you take the nomination this way, why, you will never be able to do any good for Civil Rights, for poor people, for peace, or any of those things you talk all the time about. Senator Humphrey, I’m going to pray to Jesus for you.

See, the scribes and the Pharisees spoke the language of Hubert Humphrey, reasonable, practical, in-touch with current political realities. Jesus always speaks the language of Fannie Lou Hamer – radical, uncompromising, prophetic – a voice unlike any other voice. Have you heard the radical voice of Jesus lately?

There are many claims in American politics to what God’s politics actually looks like. I’m not going to tell you whose are right or wrong (although, I will confess, the implication that I can’t vote my ideals of what I believe this country should look like because this candidate has one kind of experience or and that candidate has another and this guy doesn’t have at all, frankly is hacking me off). I will tell you that Jesus’ voice is not practical. It is prophetic. It demands a light that shines for the whole world to see, not a light buried under the basket of expedience or economics.

“Chuck Norris doesn’t endorse, he tells America how it’s gonna be”

From the Moveable Type chuck-pearson.org blog, January 4, 2008; I lost an original news story from Iowa, sadly, so I had to replace it with a generic Fox News story from the time.

As of right now, I don’t support anybody in the presidential campaign, and even if I did, I don’t think I’d publicly post on the blog. There is a whole lot that intrigues me about this campaign, though, and I think we’re seeing a generational divide in this nation far more complete than we ever have, even during the Vietnam era.

But enough of all that. There’s only one question I have coming out of last night, and that is: HOLY CRAP WAS THAT CHUCK NORRIS STANDING BEHIND MIKE HUCKABEE?

And the answer is: HOLY CRAP IT WAS

How in God’s name did I miss this? Yes, it’s a wonderful thing to be a credible Evangelical candidate in rural Iowa, but it’s ANOTHER THING ENTIRELY to have Chuck Norris on your side. I’m scared now.

Of Huckabee, not of Norris.

Actually, truth be told, of both of them.

(YouTube permalinks: Huckabee’s victory speech – complete with Chuck over his left shoulder – and HuckChuckFacts.)

Resetting the purpose…again

From the Moveable Type chuck-pearson.org blog, January 3, 2008.

Editorial note from 2013:  This post is here primarily for historical completeness; while I’m not porting every last rant and way-too-emo music post from old blogspaces, I honestly don’t feel like a picture of me circa 2008 is complete without this.  This is one of the most immature pieces I have ever written, and I hate reading it five-plus years on, but if I’m being the proverbial open-book, it’s an honest statement of where I was – emotionally and spiritually – at the time.

As I’m typing out this post, in the typical before-semester lull, a song has come up on my random mp3 shuffle. The song is exactly 1:11 in length. It’s by Resurrection Band, from their 1995 album Lament (in many ways the best thing that the old-skool Christian rock outfit has ever done). The song is called “Parting Glance.”

These are the lyrics of “Parting Glance”, in full:

I don’t believe
Not in you
Not in us
Nor in this place

Thoroughly appropriate for this season, that. Not with places or employment or belief systems, mind you – but people and situations.

I’m realizing that I aspire to use this space for a real purpose – that I aspire to be a blogger who has a clear and dedicated mission, and that I want to be somebody who can deliver the goods on a regular, disciplined basis. (Dean Dad quotes Steve Martin in yesterday’s missive: “The consistent work enhanced my act. I learned a lesson: It was easy to be great. Every entertainer has a night when everything is clicking…What was hard was to be good, consistently good, night after night, no matter what the abominable circumstances.” He calls it something of a “blogger’s credo”. It’s probably applicable to more than that.) I’m also realizing that I have no clue right now what that purpose is, and that the visions I might have are clouded by my own anger.

Make no mistake: Right now I am very angry. Not at any one person, or any group of people, necessarily, although obviously there have been influences and there have been breaking points. But what makes me most angry is the dark, dark realization that people will let me down, and there is nothing I can do to change that.

It’s the latter part of that realization that makes me angriest. The former I’m fine with. I’ve known that we’re all broken people for a very long time. But part of my M.O. for the longest time has been with sufficient intervention, or sufficient encouragement, or sufficient something-or-other, I could change people’s brokenness by the sheer force of my will. It is being impressed upon me, repeatedly, that I’m not the guy who can do that sort of thing. That’s not an easy realization to reach, and it is inducing all kinds of emotional response.

Whatever happens here has been reduced to personal journaling for some time now. It will probably continue to be so. I’m still trying to work out what is breaking in my mind, and how it fits within this Christian-academic life that I still feel called to lead, more forcefully than before (if that’s possible). As it’s appropriate to make those thoughts publicly available for feedback, I will do so.

A draft, and some random anger

From Growing Up Goddy on January 2, 2008.  Written in the wake of BlogDad‘s departure from the Christian faith, and in the context of gathering storms on my own horizon.

Of all my writing from this era, this is the one in the most need of revisiting (and I kind of knew it at the time, hence the title).

This gets read by a different circle of people who normally see my thoughts, although I’m going to clue a couple of them in that this is out there to read. I’m after unbiased takes and feedback, instead of “Pearson there there you’re so awesome things will get better” and crap like that.

Jeff’s soul-searching post caught me a bit off-guard, but not much. If I said that some of his chief concerns – especially when it comes to the inerrancy of Scripture – weren’t bugging the tar out of me, I’d be lying. I would dearly love to have one set of answers for the big questions about scripture, but those answers simply won’t come when you read about the conquest of Israel, or prophets of Baal being slaughtered. Honestly, they won’t even come when you read about Jesus having come not to bring peace, but a sword.

At the end of the day, though, the key thing that forms the center of the faith is the person of Jesus Christ. I believe that Christ was exactly who he said he was, and that the resurrection did in fact happen. The moment I buy into that, there is a host of other stuff that dwindles in importance, and life becomes a question of how to live knowing that this great teacher who lived two thousand years ago and revolutionized how an entire culture looked at religionis still alive and, we expect, is going to make his impact on this world made again.

It takes a whole load of those other questions and makes them very, very tiny, in my eyes. And it takes a whole ‘nother set of questions and makes them absolutely critical. Questions of the “how then shall we live?” variety.

And here is where the anger sets in.

If Jeff’s sole complaint was the intellectual angle, the frustration at the inconsistency of scripture, I’d happily bicker with him over the intellectual implications. Frankly, we’d have fun with it. I have no illusions about anybody winning or losing that argument, honestly; those questions demand faith decisions that you either agree to set your life upon or you don’t, and at the end of the day, you are the only one who can make a faith decision for your life.

But it’s not his only complaint. The mere existence of this blog – the mocking of Christian fiction, the explanation of elements of the culture for people who would are outside of it, for crying out loud, the whole statement of purpose – it all points to the fact that there is so much about American Christianity that simply doesn’t make sense. There may be things that are part of this culture that were thought of with the best of intentions (and he says, near and dear to his heart, “why should the devil have all the good tunes?“), but we have taken those good intentions and bastardized them relentlessly. To steal from Dwight Ozard, we have spiritualized commodity and we have we have commodified spirituality.

I’m going to begin to construct the argument that there is much about American Christianity that distracts from the person of Jesus Christ, rather than points to it. I began to type this out expecting to eventually move to my anger of the moment towards hypocritical Christians, but really, what’s the point? I’m as much of a hypocrite as anybody around me anyway, and because we exalt an Americanized, individual-glorifying mutation of the Christian [1] rather than Jesus Christ himself, we should not be surprised when Christians turn out hypocritical. The American church breeds hypocritical Christians. We are far more interested in people looking and acting the part of the True Believer than we are in the challenge of the life Jesus called us to.

This has gone on long enough, so I’ll shut up. The bottom line is, I have a hard time giving anybody grief about not wanting to have anything to do with Christianity when this is the example we’ve given them. Jesus Christ? Another matter entirely. I need the message of Jesus Christ. He paved the path to God, and I need to walk it.

But I honestly can’t help but believe doing so will require walking away from the church.

[1] Yes, that was way too easy. If you want, you can substitute this dig instead: an Americanized, individual-glorifying mutation of the Christian.