Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Morning Joy

This is a post about...nothing. It's about the simple joy of a cool morning, a shining sun, the aroma of coffee, a colorful variety of flowers all around-in planters and hanging baskets and beds, of a tiny but growingly bountiful garden-heavy laden with tomatoes, peppers, chilies, and cucumbers. More often than not, these abundant reasons for celebrating life in its simplest essence go unnoticed. More often than not, even when just out of bed, our brains are obsessed and distracted by our duties and tasks looming large, by over due bills, by unsolved dilemmas, by imperfect relationships, and all the burdens we carry. But on that rare morning, like this one today, when all those things are, for unknown reasons of biology and psychology, deep in the recesses of consciousness, just sitting and smelling and sensing is, however briefly, a joy. On these special occasions our skin registers the cool, dampness of the morning air, the palette of nature is noticeably more intense-oranges, and blues, and reds, and yellows, and many shades of green, and the often unseen detail is in focus-butterflies, chipmunks, the creak of the porch swing chains, the wasps in the corner, the adoring stare of the dog. The peaceful time window, however,begins to draw short, and from the edges, awareness of the day at hand begins to seep in, bringing with it the familiar anxiety of life. If only I had the power, or self control, to regulate the presence and onset of worries and stresses. I'm sure some do, but not me. That flaw though, that weakness, makes rare times, such as this very morning, more joyful, and reminds me that life is a wonderful gift full of lavish beauty.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Tony Dungy's Quiet Strength

I just finished Tony Dungy's book Quiet Strength. Tony Dungy is, of course, the head coach, now retired, of the NFL's Indianapolis Colts. More than just about any other NFL coach, Dungy became familiar to even non-football fans because of his success as a coach, his faith driven character, and the personal tragedy his family faced. In preparing to share thoughts on this book, I gave some thought to the yardsticks by which I measure a book.
First, was it a compelling read? Was I anxious, in each opportunity to spend time reading, to return to the narrative? Did I wish, when it was time to turn off the light and go to sleep, I could continue reading? In this case, most definitely yes on all three counts. The earliest chapters, the growing up bio, were somewhat less absorbing than the rest, but the behind the scenes NFL anecdotes-the story of his years in Tampa Bay, then Indianapolis made the book hard to put down. There are glimpses of marquee NFL players and coaches we might otherwise never see without Dungy's insider's recollections. And there is an ever present thread of everything Dungy does measured and tempered and guided by his faith in God. As probably anyone who would elect to read this book already knows, the Dungy family faced the suicide death of their 18 year old son Jamie in 2005. Even though the reader knows its coming, it would be hard to be human and stay dry-eyed reading Dungy's recount of the events surrounding his son's death, especially the “homegoing” service. Dungy's personal struggle to reconcile the tragedy with his faith is equally moving. Thankfully, he admits to not fully understanding God's bigger plan and, like so many Christians, having only weak answers for the question of why bad things happen. It would not ring true, or seem real, if he were able to neatly dismiss his personal loss by balancing it with some greater good. That his faith endures, even without complete “answers”, is admirable enough.
Second, does this book teach something? Does it impart new knowledge? Does it inspire new, different thinking? Yes, yes, yes. I'm not a football junkie, so much of the “history”-the dramatic games, the big wins, the disappointing losses, are all new information to me. Beyond that though, the real life application of his faith in all decisions makes the reader, this one anyway, question or examine the degree to which we seek to glorify God in all we do. Do we live what we profess? Skip through all the football stories, and the book is still a story worth reading, if we seek to truly model Christ, and seek His ways in all things. Early in the book, a team chaplain refers Tony Dungy to the Old Testament book of Nehemiah as a primer on leadership, team building, delegation, and focusing on manageable steps in a seemingly overwhelming task. Dungy found guidance from this little sliver of a book in the monumental task of rebuilding the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in his first head coach job. I visited and read Nehemiah, based on Tony Dungy's recommendation. I doubt I would have found the leadership theme on my own, but with Dungy's illumination, Nehemiah became meaningful and applicable.
Third, is the book one which I feel those people who's opinion, judgment, and perspective I admire need to read? Are they missing an opportunity for enrichment if they don't? Do I feel compelled to urge others to read it, confident they'll, too, not want to put it down? Yes,on all counts. I suppose, if someone detests, loathes, is sickened by professional football and any mention of it, this would not be on their short list of must reads. Similarly, if one rejects, and is offended by, faith in God as a prevailing theme, this is not a book on which we'll agree. Otherwise pick it up and read it. I assert you'll not want to put it down. Your knowledge of NFL history will be enhanced, and your faith will be measured.