Four things

Sunday, December 9, 2012

In less than a month from now, the most famous Roman Catholic university in America, Notre Dame, will play Alabama for the FBS national football championship. The last time Notre Dame won such a title was in 1988 when Lou Holtz was the head coach.

Holtz was said to have been a master motivator of players and a strict disciplinarian. What I remember about him is Holtz trolling the sidelines in a baseball cap, walking back and forth, back and forth, for the entire game like a patrolman walking a beat. It's one of the ways the well-traveled coach dealt with the anxiety of leading the Fighting Irish, perhaps the most scrutinized program in America.

Holtz today is a college football commentator and he's become a bit of a philosopher. While his teams have enjoyed great success on the gridiron, Holtz's leadership has not been squeaky clean. Not long after his resignation from Notre Dame, the university was put on probation by the NCAA for rules infractions that occurred during his tenure. The same thing happened after he left the University of South Carolina.

Holtz came to mind while listening to the famous Baptist preacher Charles Stanley on the radio the other day. Stanley comes from a religious tradition that tends to show little forgiveness toward its clergy when they divorce. Stanley and his wife of 40 years, Anna, split for good in 2000. Stanley had vowed to quit his church if he and Anna failed to reconcile. The church's governing board wouldn't accept his resignation and worked out a compromise. Stanley could stay if he promised not to remarry -- a condition he accepted. The experience changed Stanley's rhetoric in the pulpit. He became less judgmental and more understanding. He talks now about adversity being the time in which we can know, beyond doubt, that "God shows up" in our lives. The octogenarian pulpiteer has lived through adversity in the glare of the hot media spotlight.

Holtz knows about this, too. His track record of leading football teams to success on the field is left somewhat marred by off-the-field violations. Because Holtz has had success and adversity, I pay attention when he speaks. People who've had trouble in their lives often end up doing serious self-reflection -- and Holtz has.

I'll also admit part of the reason Holtz is of interest is that he was born in Follansbee, W.Va., and grew up in nearby East Liverpool, Ohio. Both are not far from where I grew up, so he's practically a neighbor. Also, I tend to have high regard for the wisdom of seniors -- and at 75, Holtz definitely qualifies. As an employee of a retirement community, I find wisdom is literally all around me -- walking the corridors of Chateau Girardeau.

Holtz has learned a few things in his post-football life -- and this hard-won wisdom is worth noting as Christmas approaches with great speed. The coach says there are four things every person needs: something to do, someone to love, something to hope for and someone or something in which to believe.

The Christmas story answers all those needs. Work them backward. If we believe that Jesus was the One sent by the Father to save humanity from sin, then we have hope that we are reconciled with God and that we have an eternal future awaiting us. This hope is buttressed by the knowledge that God loves us. Christ wouldn't have come and wouldn't have gone to the cross unless we were worth saving and love is proven by actions. If we know we are loved, we can show love. Showing love to others is action; it is doing. Working backward, the venerable coach's "four things" are answered by the Christmas story.

That's how I see it. You, of course, are free to disagree.

Dr. Jeff Long teaches religious studies at Southeast Missouri State University and is administrator of the Foundation and assistant director of marketing at Chateau Girardeau Retirement Community.

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