Valentine’s Day 2015…

Valentine’s Day 2015…

 

This is usually a strange day to me. Not strange because I have anything against a day to celebrate the wonderful gift of love, but strange to hold that gift in such high regard, yet be alone in the party. My daughter wrote a great Facebook status today:

“Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone!!!

My favorite day of the year, has come again. If you’re in a relationship, if you’re married, if you’re single and loving it, if you’re single and hating it, today is about LOVE. It may have started with romantic love (I see you Saint Valentine, get it. Holla) it certainly is about more than that now. Love on your parents, love on your pup, love on your siblings, love on your friends, love on the guy you find annoying at work (you can go back to being annoyed tomorrow), love on people you don’t know (no one wants a creep though, use some tact), of course love on your significant other if that is a thing in your life. I don’t care who you love on, just adopt an attitude of LOVE today, and you know…it might bleed into tomorrow…and the day after that…and then maybe you won’t feel so down when its Valentine’s Day next year because you’ve decided that, significant other or not, you will love on SOMEBODY this day. Give a rare compliment, give a hug, give eye contact, give someone attention you might not have before and you know…you might create a new friend. Happy V Day!

Love,

Your Friendly Neighborhood Hopeless Romantic,

 Hannah.”

  

As I read it, I was blown away with her perspective. Such optimism and generosity of heart in her words!

For the first 49 years of my life, I lived with somebody. Often several somebodies. In the fall of 2010 my youngest child, Hannah, left home for college and I was left alone, living in a depressing basement in the house of an elderly couple in Kansas. The basement was quite small, with a bathroom, but no kitchen. After Hannah left, I appreciated the extra space…she’s a clothes collector…but I missed the thought that she no longer lived with me. https://blueeyesseeingclearly.wordpress.com/2010/08/09/last-week-with-hannah/

I found myself opening the gate to a new pasture on my journey. I have learned a lot about myself in these years. For instance, I have found that:

…I crave natural light in my home. A well-lighted space is cheerier to me.

…I enjoy choosing the colors in my house. Although I didn’t have much experience with interior design for most of my life, I like the creativity of decorating my space, and then continuing to add new touches from time to time.

…When my home is clean and straight, I feel more relaxed and less anxious. Allowing the space to become cluttered and dirty is a sign that I am being disrespectful to myself, and that I am probably running from something in my life that I don’t want to deal with, but for which I am responsible.

…When I am watching TV, or more likely, on the internet excessively, I am probably running from something I either want to do, but it is difficult (like writing) or time consuming (like changing the landscape of my yard).

Living alone has allowed me to get to know….me…and given me the opportunity to realize my own responsibility for my life; to either grow or run from growth, and be faced with the realization that I was doing so.

So…where is love in all of this, and what does it have to do with Valentine’s Day?

 

I have a growing belief that if a person is to learn how to love other people or another person, they must learn to love their self. Maybe better stated: I love others in direct relation to the manner in which I respect and love myself. As Christian…a preacher’s son…and a man who has spent many years attending, thinking about, and criticizing the Church; my thoughts seem always to return to the bible when I consider my life and how it is structured. So, once again I turn to the bible to help me understand where I have been, where I am currently, and what comes next. I think it was to this principle, about how to love in greater fullness, that Jesus’ response to a question by a Pharisee points:

“One of the scribes (teacher of the law…a lawyer) came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he (Jesus) answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” Jesus answered, “The first is,

‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one;

And you shall love the Lord your God with all your

Heart, and with all your soul,

And with all your mind,

And with all your strength.’

 

The second is this: ‘You shall love

Your neighbor as yourself.’

There is no other commandment greater than these.’

And the scribe said to him, ‘You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that he is one, and there is no other but he; and to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all the whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.’

And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, ‘You are not far from the kingdom of God.’” Mark 22:28-34

 

If you are reading this and didn’t grow up in church or in a preacher’s home or spend your life wandering through the maze of differing interpretations of the bible and Christianity in general; the passage above may sound like a code language that you find hard to understand, from a different time and place… all this talk of “scribes” and “kingdoms” and “whole burnt offerings and sacrifices”. You are right! It is from a different time and place. And it could be considered a code which invites us to dive underneath the ancient cultural and religious context to find deep meaning and principles for life which are life giving in any culture or context. Honestly, even those who have heard the code their entire lives, or studied deeply the code and context from which it comes, may “miss the forest because of the trees.” We….I…..have a tendency to miss the simplicity of the message:

Loving God deeply changes how we love our self and others.

I would even change the first two words above to: Receiving love from God…

Now back to my story…

Living alone has helped me begin to understand how I have responded to the events in my life, and the ways I have read the code poorly. Somewhere along the line, I came to believe deeply that I must do something considered significant in order to be loved and accepted. Part of the problem was determining the valuation and definition of “significant.”  I have begun to call this my search for the Perfect Something…

You know…the

Perfect job…

Perfect relationship…

Perfect girl…

Perfect community…

Perfect church…

Perfect idea…

That sort of thing…  What I have really been searching for was love which I deeply felt had to be earned in some way. Love earned from God, friends, family, lovers…

Whomever…

Love had to be earned, and although I tried to accomplish the tasks, I always fell short. In fact, my failings often seemed both self-inflicted and destined to be my fate.

But…

As my life crashed…

My dreams crushed…

My expectations collapsed…

My blood continued to course…

I was alive…

Alone…

Yet not alone…

During Advent of this past year, I became impressed to embrace simplicity in my life. Maybe not to the level of the ancient mystics and ascetics, who ran into the desert to find God…that would be too…uncomfortable….OK, that was a joke…a TRUE joke but a joke nonetheless. Besides… chasing that level of simplicity, at least for me, would be just another pursuit of the Perfect Something. So, my aim is to receive my life in the simplicity in which it is given.

As I have thought about it, I realized that God’s first gift to me was the gift of God’s Self. This thought relates to the first “commandment” which Jesus mentions. I understand “commandment” to mean that I learn to understand and honor this gift, and relate to God in the totality of my being and activity. I receive the gift of God’s self as parent, confidante, closest friend, and even the most intimate lover. It is through this first gift that I learn about and how to receive God’s second gift to me: ME. From the first moment the two half-strands of DNA received from my parents twirled together to form the amazing catalog of unique genetic information which carried the instructions to created me; I was being formed into a distinctive bundle of talents, capabilities, qualities, and yes…weaknesses. In a wonderfully strange sense, this human quantity is an ongoing gift to itself. But I must learn how to receive it, as well as honor, respect, and love myself as both a gift from God, but also as having innate worth and beauty. There is the rub…the last part.

I have had great trouble with the last part. For a multiplicity of reasons, I have had a difficult time receiving my Self with joy, humility, and thankfulness. I have hidden annoyances and animosities about myself. Whether it is…

Where my body naturally stores its fat…

The apparent slowness of my brain to process information…

The ease with which I become distractedwow, its really raining…

The size of my….hands…..

And many other qualities that I become irritated with are part of the incredible gift I have been given. Much dysfunction is but an over-compensation for my distrust and judgment of the Me I have been given. I am realizing that the life I have received…

The experiences in that come in that life…

Are parts of a process to help me receive, respect, and love myself at steadily deeper levels. God interacts with me in and through my life in each new day, to show me not only that I am loved, but that I am worthy of that love.

Wow….the phrase “I am worthy of that love…” was still difficult for me to type…

Still in process….

This process gives me more access to qualities that greatly affect my relations to others, too. As I

accept my self…

respect my self…

receive my self…

enjoy my self…

forgive my self…

love my self…

more fully, I am freer to do the same in a weird sort of connectedness, to both God and others. Psychologists call this Self-differentiation, I call it Joy.

Valentine’s Day, 2015 was still hard, but I am trying to remember to receive love that is difficult to receive.

That is my process…

Stones… Again

Originally posted on Blue Eyes Seeing Clearly:

This is a re-post of one of my favorites…

A beautiful young woman walked the cobblestone street which traversed a steep incline through stately homes within view of both Herrod’s palace and the Temple. Beside her strode a stately Roman Centurion, both young and handsome, with a commanding saunter which showed confidence derived from youth and station. As the couple approached a narrow alleyway, she quickly surveyed the surrounding area, grabbed the man’s hand, and they furtively slid from direct view from anyone travelling the wider avenue. Moving quickly, the two approached a gate and stepped through. Closing the gate behind them rapidly, they emerged into a lush courtyard. Stepping underneath a vine-covered archway to conceal their actions from the view of wealthy gossips, the woman turned quickly to face the Roman and gave a deep, guttural laugh. The soldier looked down and flashed a slow smile, grabbing the woman…

View original 1,967 more words

Sometimes….. FM

Originally posted on Blue Eyes Seeing Clearly:

Sometimes…

Life opens up in a wonderful way…

Nothing complicated…

Just the simplicity of being fully in one pleasant place.

Like today…

I finished a job in a condo on the beach, overlooking the Gulf…

Driving in my pick-up…

Windows down…

Shirt soaked with sweat…

Cool breeze from the Gulf sweeping through…

Listening to Steely Dan…

Bright sun…

The smell of newly cut grass seducing my senses…

Alive…

Thankful…

Living in Eden…

Using my body to make a living…

Allowing my mind to search…

Think…

Question…

Remember…

The promise of my son and his girlfriend visiting Saturday…

Middle-aged men riding their bikes in colorful lycra….

Hmmm…….

Beautiful women driving their convertibles…

Couples walking their dogs…

“No static at all….”

View original

But I Said The Wrong Word…

Where does the connection fray?

When does the dissonance start?

The spark that found fuel,

Only to linger unused

In the gelid desert dark

But I said the wrong word

Or maybe just what you heard

Left you running a familiar course

Down a hall of locked doors

The memory of battered remorse

Barriers appear unbidden

Impenetrable when defended within

With gate barred, though pried

Leads not to warring, but stillness

Retreat from hopeful resilience

But I said the wrong word

Or maybe just what you heard

Left you running a familiar course

Down a hall of locked doors

The memory of battered remorse

January 10, 1988…

We left our little duplex a little late in the evening. I may have left work early that evening. It was a Saturday and I was working second shift, 3 pm to 1am, in a juvenile detention in Olathe, Kansas. The duplex we were renting was also in Olathe, and although it was just a five to ten minute drive from work, when you are a young couple expecting your first child close to the expected delivery date, you don’t want to take chances. The HMO we were on from my work, only would allow us to deliver in a hospital they prescribed, and that was Research Medical Center in Kansas City, Missouri, a 30 minute drive from Olathe. When she started to feel pretty uncomfortable, she called the HMO nurse-line, to see what we should do. They suggested we go ahead to the hospital.

I remember it being a clear, bitterly cold night, which isn’t surprising, because that is the rule in Kansas City in January. As we drove through the night, there was a calm coziness between the two of us. This should have been our first hint that the baby wasn’t ready to be born yet. Calm and labor do not generally hold hands as we were doing as we drove. Labor kicks calm aside and demands urgency. It shouts its intentions, and gives orders like a Marine drill sergeant, with pointed direction and not a little cursing. Upon arrival at the hospital, Greta’s pains were growing, and we approached the emergency room arrival desk not in a state of panic, but of annoyance about the usual bureaucracy. We should have known by our relative patience that we would eventually be sent back home to wait for sharper labor pains. Hospital staff must know the signs of real labor by how loudly the parents yell at them.

Even though we didn’t show the signs of real labor, she was admitted, and taken to an examining room. When the attending physician checked her cervix, he reported that although her body was getting ready, she still had a long way to go. The physician suggested that she start walking around the hospital corridors to try and encourage the process. So we began to walk…and walk…and walk… When they check her again, they suggested that she be released to go home and get some rest. “The pains will wake you up!” A nurse told us. Well…actually, the pain wouldn’t let her GO to sleep… although the fact that we had a water bed with the lack of support couldn’t have helped…let alone the effort it took a VERY pregnant woman AND her young husband to get her out of the bed exacerbated her discomfort, as well…we eventually found what should have been a comforting panic. We were persuading the nurse-line staff, too. Our repeated calls signified that our suburban politeness was cracking, and we were entering the primal evolutionary state of reproducing, social-skill Neanderthals, that all first-time parents devolve into with their first child. We were eventually “invited” back to the hospital.

The second trip was much less calm, and exponentially quicker. However, once she was examined, we learned that her cervix had only dilated to a 3. We needed to get to 10.

Crap….

It was as if her body didn’t want to expel this new person she’d been protecting for nine months into the world. Her body became schizophrenic, with one set of natural urges providing a courageous push, while another set providing a protective pull. So we waited for the push-urge to win out…and I did what any new husband and father does: whatever she says. I remember massaging her back as she turned on her side, with the regular amount of assorted cords attached to her body. My hands and arms began to ache from the kneading of her muscles. Wisely, I decided to keep this discomfort a secret… I think most fathers know to keep their mouths shut in such an occasion, while watching the physical travail of the mother of their child. The idiots who do not, deserve whatever they receive…

Several other pictures are captured within the recesses of my mind:

Her family standing in the hallway of the hospital…

The pushing…

The crowning of the baby’s head…

The late arrival of the HMO physician, who almost had to dive to catch the kid…

Her mother, who we agreed could watch the birth because she had never seen one, who had to quickly sit down because she got light-headed due to the excitement…

Holding the baby boy for the first time…

Excitedly calling my family with the news…

The sight in the hallway of Greta’s best friend and her husband with his stupid sunglasses perched on top of his head…

The naming: Baird Conrad Williams. The first name chosen in honor of my childhood friend, and best man in our wedding; and the second taken from my paternal grandfather: Eli Conrad Williams.

Eventually taking the baby home snuggled in his yellow, arctic onesie covered by layers of blankets in the HMO, borrowed car seat…

…and the melancholy reminder that my father would never know this child and this child would never know his wonderful grandfather. I would be his only tie to his heritage from my side of his family. Although I couldn’t have known it then, we would have only a hand-full of opportunities for him to be in contact with my side of the family over the next twenty-five years. At the time, I mourned a loss that he would never fully understand: the loss of his knowing the patient, gentle presence of my father. At the time, I was unsettled as to my own ability to model this important relationship to him.

As to the other concerns over raising a child, neither of us felt burdened with the expectation that we had to be perfect parents. We realized, probably for the first time, that all parents will screw up, and the next generation will have to find their way through the maze of these faults. What did concern me, was the capability to financially provide for this child. And to live out my values in such a way as to invite him into them.

While he might have missed the opportunity to experience my family, he was granted a wonderful opportunity to develop the traditions of his mother’s side of the family. Many of these traditions and values were shared by both sides:

Learning that continues throughout a lifetime…

Loving each other during hard times…

Caring about issues, and acting in ways to support the community…

Courage to take risks…

The love of music…

The adrenaline-rich joy of performance…

As I have watched him grow, I have seen these values play themselves out in his life. But I have also seen wisdom grow within him that is his own. He shares with me, and the men of my family, a propensity to be quiet about difficulty, and to just take on the responsibility himself to figure things out, then take action. As I think about it, I see the same quality in Loy, his maternal grandfather, and Scott, his step-father. Maybe this is a quality that is especially embraced by masculine culture:

The masculine demand to keep your mouth shut when it hurts, and don’t ask for help…

Oh…

wait…

that probably is the dysfunctional side of self-reliance, against which every man must guard, lest he become isolated in the toxic mix of shame and pride. The more positive side is: don’t shrink from, nor side-step necessary pain, but take responsibility for your actions, ask for help when needed, and give it to others when asked. Although these are not JUST masculine values, they are certainly ones that I have seen in the men surrounding Baird as he grew up, and notice a lack of in many men of younger generations.

My son has become a man…a good man.

A loving husband.

A gifted scholar and musician.

A trustworthy employee.

A wise steward of his finances.

An astute judge of priorities.

Not only am I proud of him, I am impressed by him.

Happy birthday, Baird Conrad Williams!

2014: More Cookies from the Cookie Jar…

When looking at the year 2014, I am often compelled to remember the shattering events that began and are ongoing which tempt us to recoil in fear and revulsion. Each one has roots in historically deep divisions: political, economic, racial, religious, and theological. We must mourn these events, but also commit ourselves to live differently in the way we address the roots. Conversely, there have been other events that, while not as important as the other events, allow us a short escape from the divisions and help us to unite. Frankly, they can be a needed self-medication of fun! I think this is a good thing, if we don’t become so absorbed with them that they become lead us to ignore the important issues of our world. I call these stories: Cookies. They are the Cookie Jar of life, and sports is one of the most enjoyable for me. My last post was about the Kansas City Royals’ ride to the playoffs and World Series. I will next write about the Kansas City Chiefs.

The Kansas City Chiefs:

Andy Reid physically looks like a guy you would normally see sitting on a couch WATCHING football on TV rather than COACHING professional athletes. That is part of his effectiveness. At least publicly, Reid is a low key, fairly mild-mannered guy that handles inane questions with a great wit, delivered in a dead-pan style and just a hint of sarcasm sprinkled it. I LOVE him, and his players seem to as well. Although he may not look it, he also has a keen offensive mind that can brilliantly formulate game plans, and effectively communicate with his players. I don’t suspect he is a coach that yells, but instead uses biting sarcasm that criticizes performance rather than character. I think he probably treats players, coaches, and administrators with respect and personal humility. He is confident, too, and seems to have a thick skin but also an open mind to criticism. Reid takes his personal responsibility seriously, and is willing to admit when he made a mistake, then work to correct it.

Reid calls the plays on game day. While many teams that run the West Coast style of offense use an array of passes to wide receivers and running backs, with a scattering of throws going to tight ends; Reid has needed to play to the talent on the team which is stronger and deeper at the tight end position. They also make great use of their best offensive weapon, running back Jamal Charles. The offense became especially effective during the middle of the season when they started to use three tight end sets. Although teams would eventually jam players closer to the line in order to stop the running of Charles, the emergence of TE Travis Kelce as a receiver allowed them to open up the offense from any pre-snap set for effective play-action passes.

Offense isn’t the only way in which the Chiefs have scored since Reid and his staff got to KC, though. Both Dave Taub, special teams coach, and Bob Sutton, defensive coordinator, have done a spectacular job of developing game plans and teaching techniques that have resulted in scoring touchdowns. So much so, that they have drawn the attention of owners, general managers, and coaches around the league. The success of not only Taub and Sutton, but all the coaching staff bely what I think must be Reid’s philosophy as a head coach: hire great assistants, allow them to coach, and keep them onboard as long as possible. Coach Reid shows both his confidence and humility in sharing the spotlight. This tells you that Reid appreciates the giftedness of his staff, values their contribution, and is humble in sharing the public praise of their accomplishments. Maybe this is why so many of his coaches stay with him instead of seeking promotions elsewhere.

Clark Hunt

It is hard to step out of the shadows of a legend. Especially when that legend was your father, and a pioneer in the origination and development of the AFL. Since Clark Hunt took over as owner due to the declining health and subsequent death of his father, Lamar Hunt; he has shown decisiveness in making assessments about the progress the Chiefs were making, and then taking action to facilitate further growth. Clark has been willing to fire general managers when he felt their effectiveness was or fading. He fired long-time general manager and president of football operations, Carl Peterson, whom his father hired, shortly after taking the reins of the team.  Hunt then restructured the front office, hired and eventually fired Scot Pioli as general manager when the succession of head coaches under his and Peterson’s watches were taking the team backward as a program. In these actions, Hunt showed the capability to risk on a young unproven person, and then go in a different direction when the experiment didn’t work.

When Clark Hunt first hired Andy Reid, I thought it was a great hire because of Reid’s perennial success in Philadelphia. What I didn’t know was of the criticism in Philadelphia that Reid had too much responsibility as both head coach and talent assessment and procurement. Hunt listened to the criticism, judged it to be valid, so he brought in John Dorsey to be general managers in charge of player personnel. The brilliance of the hire is two-fold: 1) Dorsey spent the majority of his career in Green Bay, where he and Reid worked together during the Packers successful 1990’s which was the Mike Holmgren program led on the field by Brett Favre. At the time, Dorsey was responsible for college scouting and Andy Reid worked as tight end/offensive line coach, and quarterback coach. 2) Hunt placed a distinct line of authority between player personnel-Dorsey’s job, and player performance-Reid’s job as coach. So… you have two guys that know each other well, have worked together successfully, and like each other. The way in which the collaborative relationship has worked so far, is a credit to Clark Hunt’s foresight.

Injuries:

While every team has injuries, the Chiefs lost two starters: Derrick Johnson, who was one of their captains, called the signals for the defense, and a formidable inside presence at linebacker. Johnson went to the Pro Bowl last year, but in the first game of the season he tore his Achilles tendon. The same injury happened in the same game to Mike DaVito, a veteran starter on defensive line. So at the beginning of the year, Bob Sutton was missing two defensive leaders from game 1 on. In week 2, Bob Sutton was hit with another injury to an important veteran leader when Eric Berry went down with a high ankle sprain which kept him out for the next five games….

So? This is football right? More to the point…this is the NFL, right? All teams have injuries. Next man up…Right?

Well…

Yes and no.

Yes:

The three players were replace on the field and their influence could still be felt as they came in for treatment and for rehab. And…the defense picked up where it left off last year. Justin Houston still created havoc for offensive linemen and quarterbacks. Houston finished the year as the new vocal leader in the locker room, and broke Derrick Thomas’ single season record for sacks as Houston roled up 21 and one-half sacks, which is one-half sack less than the league record. Tomba Hali still played relentlessly, and Sutton and his defensive assistants created schemes that moved each player around to give the opponent’s offensive line even more trouble. Berry was replaced in the defensive backfield. The replacements played well, too, as the defense ended the year second in both net passing yards allowed and total points allowed per game. They also were fourth in YAC (yards after catch) for the season. (You can see the breakdown of how the defense compared to the league here: http://www.kcchiefs.com/news/article-2/Chiefs-Final-Defensive-NFL-Rankings/c43eee7d-569c-430d-a1da-92150c77bbc0 ) Obviously, the statistics compiled for these rankings included five games in which Berry started and contributed strongly in leadership and performance. But suffice it to say that the entire defensive backfield stepped up in a huge way after their leaders got hurt. Yet…

No:

Derrick Johnson and Eric Berry have been through the ringer in Kansas City. They both were part of the team that experienced one of their own, starting linebacker Jevon Belcher, kill his girlfriend, and then go to the Chiefs practice facility where he shot himself to death in front of their former head coach and general manager. This incident alone was enough to mark these men as leaders that have experienced great tragedy, yet hold together the team as best they could. You don’t replace those kinds of leaders, and the lessons they learned through such unspeakable human crisis. Johnson was the unofficial media spokesman for the defense. His experience as a three-time Pro Bowler and All-Pro in 2011 was missed as well as adding to his 981 total tackles which are just 18 shy of the team record held by Gary Spani. Johnson is particularly strong against the run, and the defense had difficulty with strong rushing teams this year.

But Berry….Berry had become the spirit of the defense. And it would eventually be determined that he had Hodgkins lymphoma. The most comprehensive information I have found on both the process of discovering that Berry has cancer, as well as how his teammates and coaches respect him was written by ESPN reporter Ashley Fox: http://espn.go.com/nfl/story/_/page/hotread141224/kansas-city-chiefs-eric-berry-battles-cancer-strong-support . Another article that shows the impact of Berry in the community is here: http://www.kansascity.com/sports/spt-columns-blogs/sam-mellinger/article4178140.html .

Adversity… Everyone battles with adversity at some point in their life. In fact, it could be said that the fire of adversity, and how it is responded to, will tell the end of the story in the middle of the book. But not all stories, or books, are straight forward, nor are the presumed endings the actual endings. Although sports certainly belong in the Cookie Jar for fans, for the participants, sports have the capability to form character, and an approach to life that is transforming. There are always people that fail to understand the synergism that sometimes occurs within an athletic team, even members of the team itself. Every so often, a group of people come together in pursuit of a common goal, or a surface, perceived common goal which changes into something else. Something deeper, and richer, and humbling:

Shared adversity.

“There are lots of things in the world, but I’m not sure that comradeship is not the best of them all—to know that you can do something big for another chap.”[i]

Sir Earnest Shackleton

Famed Antarctic explorer and noted successful failure.

Shackleton is probably now most noted for a failed attempt to cross the continent of Antarctica. He is famous because in an expedition which was plagued by tragedy, he showed remarkable leadership qualities that allowed his team to survive despite repeated opportunities not to. Margot Morrell and Stephanie Capparell, in their book, Shackleton’s Way, tell the story in a way that shows how a group of people can share adversity in such a way that is life changing for all involved. Shackleton’s words above express the joy of effort spent on behalf of another. Another historic leader expresses the same passion of self-sacrifice and shared adversity:

“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”[ii]

Jesus Christ

Justin Houston knows about shared adversity, too. When Eric Berry was diagnosed with cancer, the Chiefs lost their vocal leader. His absence left a void, and the team needed someone to fill in, if just until Berry returns. Houston has been the teams most dominant player this year, and he decided to step into the role…just until Berry puts on his number 29 jersey again. Houston’s role on the field is to rush the quarterback with abandon, and he has done that better this year than anyone in the NFL. Every time Justin Houston lined up in a passing down, I think his main thought is not about hitting the quarterback, but about the sack dance he will do after exploding off the ground following the play.

For those of you who don’t know what a sack dance is, I will explain. Every defensive player has prepared a celebration…a choreography of movement…to be done after tackling the quarterback. Each sack dance means something. It is symbolic and specific for each particular player. It is meant to set him apart from other players, to be seen on national TV, and hopefully on Sportscenter. Houston is no exception. But his sack dance isn’t about gaining personal notoriety; it is rather to express shared adversity with his comrade and teammate: Eric Berry. As Houston jumps off the ground, he immediately faces the direction of a camera and pulls up his jersey, so the white t-shirt underneath can be seen. On the t-shirt is the number 29 drawn with magic marker. Houston thumps the number twice, and then presses his hands together in the traditional symbol of prayer. By doing so, Houston is saying to Berry…

You are not alone, Eric…

You are not forgotten, Eric…

I am praying for you, Eric…

God and I are with you in this fight!

I think this was the reason he finished the season by recording 4 and a half sacks in his last game. Every down, he must have thought…”I gotta tell Eric. I gotta SHOW Eric. And the only way is through this huge offensive tackle… No problem.”

Jamal Charles is the most effective Chiefs’ player on the offensive side of the ball. Before the season began, Charles and the Chiefs were involved in working on a contract extension. He was already under contract, but both he and the Chiefs agreed that his compensation did not equal his value to the team, nor reward him for his excellent performance in the past. It was taking some time to work out the details, and the media publically wondered if Charles would hold out of training camp until the new contract was signed, even though he still was under contract with the team. Eventually, the day to report to training camp came, and the media recorded the players as they lugged their suitcases up to the dorms of the college campus where the Chiefs hold training camp. As the morning dragged on, there was no announcement of Charles’ contract being finished, and the question in all of Kansas City was… “Is Jamal Charles going to report to camp?” The day wore on, and the time to report was closing in, yet Charles had yet to report. Finally, about 30 minutes after the designated time for all veterans to report, the announcement was made that the contract was signed, and Charles arrived at camp. A hasty press conference was assembled, and Charles walked calmly in as it was getting organized. There was a lot of good natured banter going on between Charles and the media when one reporter asked:

Reporter: “Did you hold out for 30 minutes?”

Charles: “No, my car ran out of gas on the highway, so I had to walk.”

Reporter: “Wouldn’t anybody give YOU a ride?”

Charles: “No. I had a hoodie on….”

Classic line…

A GREAT line…

Charles broke the slight silence with, “Naw…I just walked.” And then he smiled.

When he made the statement, his eyes got serious, even though he had a slight smile on his face. The line and his facial features while delivering it spoke volumes to a particular audience: African-American males. The hoodie became a symbol of the tragedy of the deaths of so many black men, during the Zimmerman trial following the shooting death by the hand of Zimmerman of Trayvon Martin. Trayvon’s death preceded the events in Ferguson, Missouri surrounding the shooting death of a young black man by a white police officer, as well as several other highly publicized deaths of other black males. Jamal Charles’ message by the use of that line, spoke to the crisis of African-American men dying by violent means. In effect, Charles was saying to black men everywhere:

“I am one of you! Neither my fame nor my money matter… I am one of you!

I run out of gas, too.

They won’t pick ME up either.

They think I am dangerous.”

It was a subtle, effective message that Jamal Charles is about shared adversity not only with his professional teammates, but also with his community.

I gotta love that guy…

[i] Margot Morrell and Stephanie Capparell; Shackleton’s Way: Leadership Lessons from the Great Antarctic Explorer, Penguin Books, New York, NY; 2002; Pg.215.

[ii] John 15:13