Friday, December 31, 2021
Wednesday, December 29, 2021
A quick run down of 2021:
Total all-time page views as of 12/29/21 403,588
Most read post of 2021: The Rewards of Real Risk in High School Fishing 922 page views
2nd most read post of 2021: The Rock Cross Club 492 page views
It wasn't a great year for writing.... any year that I write less than 40 posts... that is a down year.
Part of the issue is that I have put a lot of time into the development of "Winning Edges" and that will show growth in 2022.
As I begin to plan 2022, I would appreciate prayer. The last 2 years have been really tough mentally, physically, financially, emotionally.... some of it Covid related and some of it is just big life changes (weddings, the loss of my dad, etc).
The word I seem to be considering in January is "Recovery".... but time will tell.
Everyone in our small 'Briarworld" will understand the references and moments, but I always hope these posts apply to a grander scope and scheme of life and opportunity.
On Friday, Sept. 3 our varsity football team pulled out that type of win that becomes memorable and special.
Our rival, the Chelsea Hornets came out and played an amazing football game against us. They sustained an energy and fire that seized early momentum and knocked us back on our heels as a team. Their coaches devised an excellent game plan and their players executed that plan to such a high level that we found ourselves down 14 points through much of the game. I have coached in enough of these types of games over the years to know that the regular outcome is a loss. And had we had any turnovers or missed opportunities in the 4th quarter of that game, we would have sustained a very hurtful loss.
Football is also strange that in the chaos and storm of physical competition, any number of things could have gone differently and the outcome would be impacted. These are the types of games where, if both teams played ten times, you would have 10 drastically different scores. Add heat, humidity, injuries, illness, penalties called or uncalled, tackles made, passes dropped... and you begin to see why sports have the drama and draw that keeps us showing up and being entertained.
But there are TWO factors I want to point to as an illustration from this contest that is important to giving yourself the best opportunity to win in those moments. There are SO MANY MORE than these two... we won't take time to discuss prior work and preparation, team culture, personal discipline, leadership, playing intense regardless of the score..... all of these things are well documented.
These two factors are 'dispositions' .... or to drill down a bit, possible even presuppositional attitudes that can enhance winning at those moments where doubt, drama, and the opponent are at full hurricane force. And I'm not saying that one team had them and the other one did not. Having a disposition doesn't guarantee success... but it adds to the likelihood of it happening.
FACTOR 1- Something Bigger Than the Moment to Handle The Moment.
This is one I point to quite often as I work with quarterbacks. A QB is in a high profile, spotlight position that carries quite a bit of stress and expectations.
I tell my Qb's all the time, "there has to be something bigger than football in your life to be able to keep football in the proper place". For us, that bigger thing is faith... We point to a relationship to God through the good news message of Christ. When Christ is preeminent in life and everything is made subject to Him, then everything is kept in their proper place. If Christ isn't at the top, then even good things can be mis-placed to god things and they all fail as idols. Football is a great game but it is a terrible god.
If we keep that perspective, we learn to handle both the victories and defeats as they should be. They still feel good and they still hurt ( I HATE to lose).. but we learn to accept the events under the sovereign hand of God... a good of great intentions (Romans 8:28 and many others).
The illustration I use to support this is from other sports.... I usually ask them, "Do you want to know why Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson make putts to win majors, why Michael Jordan hits buzzer beaters, why Tom Brady drives the team in two minute comebacks and others choke?" And we all think things like talent, hard work, competitive fire (all true). But I think a huge factor is "they don't HAVE to" they are free to play a game, free to make the play, they are not validated by the moment... they already are secure in their position... they have done it before... they already believe in themselves.. and others believe in them. It is HARD to get there... you do have to do it the first time... but once you break through, it is easier to do it again.
One poor guy needs to make that putt to keep his tour card and Tiger just wants to add to his dump truck of previous wins and prize money- that isn't a fair competition!
This is a delicate balance... you can care so little that in the end you don't really want it...no- no- no...IT HAS TO MATTER! At the same time, if I can convince a competitor that he is already validated as a man.. he is already a winner.. he is accepted win or lose... then he is in a much better disposition to make those plays under pressure.
I also have to admit that competitors who tout 'faith' are open to ridicule and skepticism that can be justified. There are some who extol a faith, but it is only a slogan. I have always said a fake Jesus, a 'tag-on' Jesus always falls off during times of stress of failure. It needs to the authentic or it is a fraud.
Isn't it interesting how the media covered the BCS/Chelsea game was covered that night? (It is important to say that this post has nothing to do with the opponents that night- they played so well and likely have these same qualities... again, to have this disposition doesn't guarantee a win...)
Alec Etheredge, Shelby County Reporter: "Trailing by 14 entering the final quarter, the Lions didn’t panic. Instead, they went to work."
After a false start, however, they eventually faced third-and-goal from the 7, which quickly became fourth-and-goal from the 5-yard line with 38 seconds left.
Another penalty pushed it back to be fourth-and-goal from the 10-yard line, but the Lions looked as calm as possible in the biggest moment of the season thus far."
This is a little more difficult to explain... possibly controversial... but true.
In that game a few weeks ago, our coaches and players were free to just coach and play because for right now our football coaches are supported... i.e. not on the hot seat. There isn't a large group of parents or players standing in judgment of every decision and move. And because of that, people are generally trusting that when decisions are made, they are given the benefit of the doubt, and the calls aren't life and death moments as well.
When you feel like you are coaching for your job... I often wonder if you are really free to coach?
I experienced that personally as a previous head coach. At some point, I knew that there were significant people who had decided I wasn't a good head football coach and my tenure was in jeopardy.
And it impacted decisions... because I was anxious and thought way too much about how a decision might impact my job approval rating.
I wish I could wave a magic wand and get positivity to all coaches at all schools. I know that isn't a reality.. but a high school coach should never have to wade through the mess that college coaches are subject to.
When fans, parents, and even players begin to doubt a coach... then the opportunity to win in those pressure moment sis greatly diminished. And it saddens me because it is a self defeating disposition.
Let me take the Chelsea game as an example and show how that could have worked against us...
Let's pretend we have the opposite atmosphere and our coaches are making pressure packed decisions but the fans, parents, and players think the coaches are stupid.
When we got behind early? "I expected this.. out coached already"
When we throw a halfback pass? "That was a dumb call... what are they thinking!"
When we lined up offsides on that play? "see there... our coaches are idiots!"
And then we line up for the next play... does the negativity make us think we are going to make the play or does it already lend itself to the likelihood of failure?
Does the coach feel free to make a gutsy risky call?
Do the players trust the coach or do they hear so many bad things all the time that they actually doubt them?
See how it works?
I talk to AD's all around the country and they will ALL just about say the same thing- positive parents/fans almost always lend to a better than expected season.
Negative parents/fans who whine and complain almost always are sabotaging their season before it even begins.
One AD told me on a zoom that his ______ program would never be successful until they graduate the professional critics and complainers. But the fear is that it pollutes the water for the next group coming... so it is never easy.
Again, it doesn't mean that coaches don't need evaluation and pressure from administrators to improve.
What it does mean is that coaches need to coach, parents need to parent, players need to play, and administrators need to administrate. If you get beyond your role, it leads to dysfunction.
I have many examples of that over the years... some positive and some negative.
Don't misunderstand me here... there will ALWAYS be critics and distractors, I am not THAT naive. But championship programs have less of that and the MAJORITY of the support has to be positive to better enable success.
To the parents, I think it is the same solution- there has to be something MORE than the athletics experience to keep it all in perspective. I struggled with that as well.
3 John "I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth". (ESV)
Allow God to use the experience both good and tough to prepare your sons and daughters for their life. He is trustworthy and the Scriptures declare it so.
And it has to be more than words.
After all, "Christian IS as Christian DOES"........
Friday, November 26, 2021
I sometimes think of the pushback that some people must have to all of us loons who post selfies with fish pushed out to the camera to enhance the view. In a world that for generations has called all fisherman 'liars' this may be the last gasp effort to include the genetic need to embellish the story.
But very few, except hunters and anglers themselves, understand what that pose has meant- going all the way back to your grandfather and his black and whites of impossible stringers.
BASS FISHING AND FAITH
2 Corinthians 5:7 for we walk by faith, not by sight.
Bass fishing is one of the ultimate joys of walking by faith. Even though there are small moments of 'sight fishing' (that has its own exciting reward), there is a pure deep joy of having life bump your lure as it sinks into the unknown abyss.
As you are working the lure, you do receive 'information'- current, a sense of depth, rocks, branches.... but suddenly there is a tap.tap of life. It is exhilarating.
In mere minutes, the angler responds to that sometimes subtle 'hello' with a rather violent and explosive hook-set that will result in 'game on' or the agony of defeat.
THE GOOD FIGHT
But that photo represents and even greater message- it is proof of victory. Bass fisherman in particular go through long lulls for sudden and swift battles to land the beast.
Years of experience and the expectations of competition can change the prolonged enjoyment of it all. In the past four or five years I have become better at using the rod and patience to enjoy the fight more than the landing.... but it is a core pleasure of the prize.
SOUL DEEP BEAUTY
 The earth is the LORD's and the fullness thereof,
the world and those who dwell therein,
 for he has founded it upon the seas
and established it upon the rivers.
It would take a poet to truly capture the majesty of fishing. Wind, waves, clouds, birds, sunrise, deer... even the design of the fish and their lateral lines and muscular agility.... how can you capture a beauty that resonates deep in your innermost being?
Emerson came close.... (from Nature)- a few lines have been paraphrased....
To speak truly, few adult persons can see nature....The lover of nature is he whose inward and outward senses are still truly adjusted to each other; who has retained the spirit of infancy even into the era of manhood.
The greatest delight which the fields and waters minister, is the suggestion of an hidden relation between man and creation. I am not alone and unacknowledged. The creatures nod to me, and I to them. The waving of the boughs in the storm, is new to me and old. It takes me by surprise, and yet is not unknown. Its effect is like that of a higher thought or a better emotion coming over me, when I deemed I was thinking justly or doing right.
Thursday, November 25, 2021
Over the years, I have a way that I pray for people that may seem odd, and even possibly open to criticism. After a short silence and then some sort of pre-amble with the Lord, I just write down names. And as I write them down, I'm am giving their situation to God and pleading with Him to do what I can not do but He can.
In these post Covid times, and possibly the fact that I am late 50's in age and tend to 'rub shoulders with the older', the lists grow long these days. The list today includes little babies in the hospital, and grieving families. It also includes a hurting nation with a landscape of division, strife, and want.
And you know well the foundation verse of the pre-amble- Philippians 4:5–7 Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand;  do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (ESV)
 as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.  In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be.”  He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb.  No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God,  fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.  That is why his faith was “counted to him as righteousness.” (ESV)
Saturday, November 13, 2021
1:37 “Everyone is looking for you”
1:47 “Yet the people still came to Him from everywhere”
2:2 “So many gathered, there was no room”
2:13 “A large crowd”
And the growing crowds always seem to increase the growing conflict.
Speculation regarding the questioners- ‘And people came ….” - human nature never really changes. Dishonest questions are as brutal now as they were then... were these people asking an honest question or was their question merely a cover for their already hardened hearts?
Jesus answers the questions by providing 3 illustrations:
Illustration 1- Wedding…… The Bridegroom will leave, hard times will come at their appointed time, but don't live in the future...celebrate the NOW.
Illustration 2- Patching a garment- the age of the patch needs to match the age of the garment and an improper repair (application) can be a worse fix. The patch must match the hole.
Illustration 3- Wineskins……again, new versus old. The new wine will need to stretch under pressure of fermentation or the result will be a great loss.
There are MANY principles from the passage: patience, authoritarian tendencies, ritualism... but I wanted to focus on how we respond in conflict and criticism and still maintain a posture for gospel proclamation.
Negative opinions brew in the dark, they are often spread in whisper campaigns!
The Lord of Time
As humans, we don't do time very well..... I have always quipped...“God is never LATE….. but He is seldom early”. It is SO HARD to wait on Him. Can we embrace God’s sovereignty as it relates to HIS TIMING?
QUICK APPLICATIONS FOR ALL OF US:
Never Aid, Comfort, or Enable the Enemy. If you participate in whisper campaigns or believe that your right to know is an entitlement, you are helping negativity to sap life out of all that is around you.
Saturday, November 06, 2021
A friend was visiting his neighbor's pool with his very young son. Young enough to still have 'swimmies' on the arm. After a lot of fun with dad in the shallow part, the boy mentioned, and the dad coaxed, the lad to possibly try the deep end.
We aren't talking about the diving board, that was a boundary still too distant. This is simply a 'jump in from' the side to the arms of dad where the water was way deep over the boy's head. After several minutes of encouragement, the young boy, sans the floats, stood and trembled.
The dad stood in the middle, he had his arms open for the boy to leap to him and kept saying, "You can do it!" "Jump!"
And after minutes of stance and stops, almost jumping and retreats.... he jumped!
A big splash and underwater for a second, the panicked boy flailed at the dad.. and the dad just picked him up.
But the boy didn't feel secure...sunscreen, broad shoulders, and water have no handholds.
"DAD!" "Help me, you are so slippery!"
And I pause here with the promise to finish the quite common occurrence all through the summer season that we will all long for soon but grew tired of as well.
There are times that my father, my faith feels so slippery. I'm trying to hold on.
At times, faith feels like that stupid bar of soap I drop in the shower and curse the fact that I have to bend over again to wrestle with it.
And it is so weird where the help to hold on comes from. Scripture on the end times.
I first read Revelation when I was 17 and I hated it. It was weird, terrifying, and there was nothing about it I liked.
Now I read it at 57 and find it a healing and a hand hold as I once again have to look in the mirror and wonder aloud at pain, and suffering, and sin. The world's sin and my sin.
It isn't just Revelation.. the Bible is full of descriptions about how it is going to end. It has clear warning that our life is just a vapor and we are not guaranteed even one more heartbeat. There are people TODAY who will not have a tomorrow on this planet.
And the Bible is also very clear that there will be a day, one day, where the Lord will say "NO MORE DELAY" and the end will come with a sign in the east and a universal blast of trumpets and angels. The invisible will suddenly be visible. Faith exists without sight and the appearance of Jesus is the closing of the door of salvation based on grace through faith.
In my Bible reading today, I stumbled on the BEST of all apocalyptic messaging... the so called "Little Apocalypse" in Matthew 24. And I could put on my Eschatology glasses and explain my 'partial preterist' views of the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 and on and on and on.
But this morning... three stark statements jumped off the page at me:
“Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. (Matt 24:9,10 ESV)
I feel the chill of a cold fall... daylight saving time ends tonight... as the days get darker and colder I worry about the coming persecution to those who refuse to give up a simple belief in Christ and the truth of God's Word. The less the Scripture is read and proclaimed, the more likely that we will see this in our midst. It is there now, but it is getting bolder and colder.
I have accepted the fact that there are people who hate me just because I am aligned with Christianity.
But it doesn't mean I like it. It doesn't mean it doesn't bother me.
What hurts the most is when the animosity comes from within. I don't want to ever see betrayal and hate on the inside... but at times it happens. And it is grievous. But I also have to admit that I can also be a problem and not a solution.
One way this truth helps is to realize it as a fact... this gets me to a place of forgiveness sooner.
And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold.  But the one who endures to the end will be saved. (Matthew 24:12–13 ESV)
Boy, this one will preach. Does anyone really know LOVE? I say "I loved that pizza we had for lunch" and then turn around and say "I love you" to my wife, family, and friends.
Love, like pizza grows cold. And unconfined, unbridled, unconfessed sin hinders the tindering of love.
Love must be stirred, remembered, stressed, demonstrated.
Why does increased lawlessness make love burn down to embers? Because lawlessness is ultimately selfishness.
One of the saddest verses in the Bible is the last line of the Book of Judges.
In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes. (Judges 21:25 ESV)
Look around you and see this reality with your own eyes. And it isn't true of just you or the 'world'... it is also true of me.
We have all kind of opinions and politicians on what needs to be done to turn our land from hate to love. Unless we bow to a King and dethrone self... love will continue to shrink.
But Jesus never ends on that last line, he adds the truth:
But the one who endures to the end will be saved.
"DAD!" "Help me, you are so slippery!"
And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. (Matthew 24:14 ESV)
When will the end be? For some it could be today. For a dear and loving man I know it was on Thursday and I am still hurting for his family.
But there seems to be ample Biblical support that THE END comes at the end of the plan of proclaiming the gospel, possibly when the last of the elect bows his or her head in obedience to faith, the curtain will drop and new beginnings of the eternal plan will commence.
So I am the relentless optimist who ends some days in clouds and gloom, but I arise to proclaim the good news of the kingdom.
"DAD!" "Help me, you are so slippery!"
You probably know the punch line by now..
Can you hear the laughter of the father and the joy in his voice.
"You are OK my son, I am holding on to you!"
If you are His Son, He has a bond sealed in blood, guaranteed by the Spirit, eternal GRIP on you.
And that is our only hope.....
Monday, October 18, 2021
I go back at times to see what I wrote and try to recall why I wrote it. And I laugh at some of the things... even regret some things. My blog started in Dec. 2004. Both the world and I have changed since then. But it is important to me to remember.
The way we live now includes less and less reading and remembering. We tend to now get things through images and media in this current state of life. The ease of information in this medium is understandable but limited. I worry that the less we read, the less we are actually developing a way to think and formulate the ability to truly understand. I am as guilty as anyone in this.
It is good to read. And in reading, find a flow of comprehension that follows logical patterns and we also develop a vocabulary that latches on to layers and layers of nuance and even contradiction.
In my early years, when I was reading literary criticism and theological discourse, I discovered an interest for complexity. Literary critics especially quickly denounced 'flat' characters. The best writers were able to stretch protagonists and foils into intricacies that made fiction seem to resonate with reality. A 'well rounded' character causes us to better understand ourselves.
And this is my greatest regret in current society. We have regressed and too quickly dismiss ideas or people to the terrible and dangerous trash heap: labels and stereotypes. Today, even real people are now 'flat'. The flatter they are, the easier it is to dismiss and discard them.
We now refer to people by short soundbites.... theses short 'quips' not only describe but they also contain a tone of judgement in the declaration.
This rash arena is as current as recent proclamations about Jon Gruden, and as old as prevailing attitudes regarding President Andrew Jackson. I will comment on the embattled former Raiders coach later, but the genesis of this post is about 'Old Hickory'.
I have been reading the excellent biography on Jackson by Jon Meacham entitled "American Lion".
I take a break from time to time and watch YouTube videos about Jackson and the content of the videos are typical for our times. Very few take the time to admit the inconsistency and ironies of the man. In the first 30 seconds of a 4 or 5 minute video, the judgement of the publisher is clearly evident.
Few are willing to take the time or even to reserve final judgement on him. That is why I am always thankful to find honest wrestling.... such as the early biographer, James Parton wrote regarding Andrew Jackson:
"Andrew Jackson, I am given to understand, was a patriot and a traitor. He was one of the greatest of generals, and wholly ignorant of the art of war. A writer brilliant, elegant, eloquent, and without being able to compose a correct sentence, or spell words of four syllables. The first of statesmen, he never devised, he never framed a measure. He was the most candid of men, and was capable of the profoundest dissimulation. A most law-defying, law-obeying citizen. A stickler for discipline, he never hesitated to disobey his superior. A democratic aristocrat. An urbane savage. An atrocious saint."
Would a modern day writer be permitted to wrestle and write in such a way these days without an avalanche of criticism or even 'cancellation'?
The tone of American discourse today is cold and frightening. Almost any newsworthy event has to be covered immediately and quickly wrapped in a category of final verdict and sentencing.
Why is it darker and colder? Why are people afraid? Why do we shoot first and then survey the landscape? When did words become as dangerous as actions?
My concern is that the further we drift from the gospel, a message of love and forgiveness, a promise of restoration.... the closer we get to calamity.
No one is righteous here... including me. I can hastily post a tweet or press send on an email, without taking time to even pause and pay homage to a long departed virtue we used to call 'the benefit of the doubt'.
Before Jon Meacham wrote 370 pages on Jackson, he studied, and pondered, and interviewed. The book I have has 110 pages of notes and sources attached to it. So I am thrilled to read and ponder the man that Jackson was. And before long, it becomes clear that Andrew Jackson was above all else, a man. And like all men capable of the curious case of the incomprehensible dichotomy of sin and glorious image of God found soul deep within the same person.
Now to Gruden.
As soon as I read the content of the emails, I knew he was done for. And the content is inexcusable.
And it isn't "inexcusable, But".... let me say it again.... inexcusable.
Inexcusable for him or anyone.
A side note.... I'm not happy with the rapid decline of language in our midst. For some reason, it seems to plague my profession as much as anyone. Any episode of Hard Knocks has almost every coach with R++ rated language throughout. It is so common that it seems to be meaningless habit. We need to be willing to hold the line and correct here.... if we eliminated profuse cursing and profanity, I believe the air of life would perpetuate more healing and the world would seem less heavy.
And unfortunately, I have to include music lyrics in this. You know where I am going with this.... some get a pass and some get stones thrown at them.
Back to Jackson and Gruden.
There seems to be a sort of 'hit job' here. Gruden was terrible and in his terribleness, carelessness, and impropriety... he did something you never want to do... he gave ammunition to an enemy.
Do you want to know why it happens so fast? The stone throwers have to distant themselves from the atrocity as fast as possible before the stones head their way as well.
So it leaks. Condemnation and cancellation follow, because very few are willing to side with the brokenness and fallibility of men. Even fewer willing to point out the time that has passed. And fewer still to question why only these few emails appear in what was reported as over 650,000.
As for me, I'm not picking up the stone. I can say something is a sin and feel quite ok that I didn't require blood vengeance. I can seek to promote a society of peace, justice, righteousness and reconciliation without added atrocities and payback.
I'm leaving that up to the supernatural and miraculous acts of the Creator who is revealed also as a forgiving Father. He is our only hope. He is John Gruden's only hope. It is a tangible ands realistic hope.
Want proof? I take Jesus at His word: "For the Son of Man did not come into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him." Look it up for yourself in John 3.
The picture at the top of this post is what I want to close with. It accompanies many articles regarding a concept called "Chaos Theory". The world we live in is a result of perfection spoiled with the stain of sin. I haven't helped... my sin has spilled and spoilt it as well.
But the key of the 'chaos theory' is that it is still governed by principles that can be explained through physics and mathematics. There are still boundaries and so called 'natural attractors' of these unintended results from random actions.
Chaos theory applies here: Jon Gruden waved sinful butterfly wings in an email years ago and caused a tornado in Vegas last week.
Jesus knew this theory as well:
Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known.  Therefore whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed on the housetops. (Luke 12:2–3 ESV)
The good news though, is that the chaos is still governed under comprehensive control.
There is no darkness that can't be expelled by light. No wrong that can't be overcome by good. And no sin that can't be covered by the expensive blood of the Great, Once and For All. Atoner.
Is there evidence in my life that I know Him? Sometimes I worry about that. But then there are times that someone gives me a rock with every right to throw it with passion! I am given a bullet for my righteous gun!
And if I choose to not chunk it, when I lay down my weapons.... there is hope that maybe I understand it a little bit.
What about you?
As for me and my house.... I will pray for all of the Jon Gruden's in my life and admit the Jon Gruden in my heart.
I hope he finds the path of Christ, I hope you do, I hope America does.... for the sake of my new granddaughter. I can't wait to tell her about Jesus. Let's pray and hold on to that hope!
I'm not writing much these days due to football and unrelenting AD requirements... but I do owe an Andrew Jackson series when time allows.
Tuesday, August 10, 2021
And it is what we are missing in our culture today- a man's man with an impeccable education, a love of literature and learning, but steely tough in morality and justice. He was a man rooted in his faith with such a sturdiness that he never wavered in intensity or purpose, regardless of circumstances. He faced fear and opposition with aggression and he produced a great harvest of progress over the span of his long life.
He was unique in that he could adapt to the climate- cool as an administrator and educator but a fiery, risk taker in battle.
So what follows are notes and quotes from this remarkable hero of our country:
He grew up an All-American boyhood- barn chores, wood cutting, plowing, planting- growing up in 19th century America the farm is a never ending tyrant. But he was close enough to Bangor that ship building and the visions of adventure were burned in his heart as well. His father taught him to fight with a broadsword, but he also learned to love music and sang in the choir. On top of all this, he was studious in the classroom- a military academy- where he learned Latin and French, as he practiced military drill.
His mother wanted him to be a minister, his father wanted him at West Point. MOM WON... for a while.
He went to Bowdoin College- 1st rank Greek- 1st honors French- received accolades for astronomy, math, chemistry, chosen to present orations at the Spring Exhibition, won 2nd prize his senior year for English composition- elected to Phi Beta Kappa. He joined two literary societies and taught Sunday School while leading the choir at a local church.
He entered Bangor Theological Seminary in the fall of 1852. He taught logic and natural theology. He was noted for having a fine sonorous singing voice. He was appointed professor of modern languages, filling a position that had once been held by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
He was extolled as an outstanding teacher. He held strong educational philosophies that were grounded in strong standards, but understood that teacher's needed to have a type of relationship with the students that allowed for implementing techniques which piqued their interest and motivations.
His views were out of step with most of his contemporaries, so he 'found himself walking a pretty lonely path among a distinguished faculty'.
The unexpected change came about from the changing conditions in the nation. He opposed slavery on Biblical principles and denounced the South's withdrawal as harmful to the prosperity and security of the Union. Again, most of the faculty remained quiet and neutral regarding these issues- but Chamberlain could not shake them- it effected him personally.
The people around him were more than shocked when he began to speak of entering into service. The Bowdoin College trustees moved heaven and earth to keep him and dissuade his decision.
They offered him a 2 year leave of absence in August of 1862 to travel and study in Europe at the college's expense. They felt that they could move him from the source of the conflict, temper his strong convictions, and keep their beloved teacher safe from the harms of impending war.
It was a strong temptation. Chamberlain tentatively accepted the more than generous offer- but his conscience soon took over and remained too strong.
When he announced his enlistment to defend the Union, he received abnormally harsh criticism from almost all at Bowdoin.
Adjunct General Hodson recommended him for service: "A gentleman of the highest moral, intellectual, and literary worth." He was offered a position as colonel, but turned it down. Chamberlain wanted to enter service in a subordinate position.
On August 8, 1862 Chamberlain was granted a commission as Lieutenant Colonel of the new 20th Regiment Infantry of Massachusetts.
"Thus began the active military career of one of the most remarkable officers and one of the hardest fighters to ever serve in any American army." (pg 36).
But like any great man of character, the assessment did not hinder him from engaging and driving himself to shore up and develop these areas of weakness.
There was one amazing trait that always helped Chamberlain when the bullets started firing and the cannons spewed fire and thunder- he had an uncanny calmness within the chaos. This ability to relax when others were in desperation allowed him to make great decisions and stirred great confidence in his men.
It was observed by many that no one worked harder than Chamberlain in studying the art of war, but he also equally worked to lift up and serve the people around him. The hard work and heart compassion made men respect and love him at the same time.
It did not take long for Chamberlain to realize how much better this new environment was for him and his unique skill set. Bowdoin had a great reputation, and it was a place he would love and serve- but the leadership he was under did not appreciate him. He was constantly criticized and second guessed because he did not walk lock step to conventional wisdom. His superiors didn't quite know how to handle that and his co-workers were never challenged in their assumptions and presuppositions.
This is a telling quote: "(In war/military) I have my care and vexations, but let me say that no hardship or danger ever makes me wish to get to that college life again. I can't breathe when I think of my last two years (at Bowdoin)".
I also cannot express enough that Chamberlain's deep faith served him so well. He wrote: "Most likely I shall be hit somehow at sometime, but all 'my times are in His hand' and cannot die except by His appointment."
The stories of all the close calls and bullets makes it hard to refute his assertion. He had his horse shot out from under him on at least 3 different occasions and escaped sure death over and over.
He also grew tougher. He learned to embrace 15 mile marches in all types of weather and over all kinds of harsh terrain. He wrote this to his wife, Fanny: "(I pull my tarp over me on cold and wet nights) However, I ENJOY it and I get up as bright as a squirrel and hearty as a bear for a breakfast of salt pork, or hard bread; with, maybe, coffee without milk and alas! without sugar."
But battles also ripped into his heart and soul. On one occasion he had to sleep between dead bodies. The cries of the hurting and the blood covered surgeons and the rotting smells all added up to the horrors to this conflict. He did not shrink back, however. He fought depression as valiantly as he fought the enemy.
After one battle he saw the juxtaposition of a beautiful river and across, on the bank, was a field strewn with dead soldiers in a sea of blue and gray. "Death-gardens, haunted by glorious ghosts- a splendid but unavailing valor."
I also have to remark that Chamberlain had a warrior's stubbornness. He was slow to anger, but when it finally kindled, he set his jaw and held nothing back. But is was always in defense of an ideal and he never lost his loyalty to those within his service and devotion.
DARK DAYS AND A HARSH WINTER: As is true of most narratives, Chamberlain had to endure a dire winter before his glorious victory at Gettysburg. In the winter of discontent, a man has to wrestle with deep doubts, health concerns, and a general lack of morale. Chamberlain was knocked to the ground with outbreaks of smallpox. His greatest concern was handling a broken 'espirit de corps' due to actions by his men that appeared mutinous. He stayed engaged, despite the grind and exhausting marches, weary and undone- he refused to give in and eventually the sun rose again bringing warmth and better health.
All of this leading up to a fateful July 2, 1863 when history would hang in the balance.
Little would Joshua Chamberlain know at the start of that day, that he would be the key player in such a grand narrative.
It was that moment where a leader of courage, character, and conviction found the fruit of his labor to know schemes and tactics, and discover that his leadership had created trust in his men to rally to his call and create a sudden surprise victory.
It began by Chamberlain taking a quick survey of the battlefield and discovering a weakness. He was the anchorman of the left flank and mentally rehearsed what would happen if the enemy captured a strategic position known as 'little round top'. His forward thinking and acquired military skill put his men in position to defend that valued plot of land.
And the enemy came in full frontal assault.
Five times that day, the south roared and rushed Chamberlain's regiment. It was primarily the Alabama 15th under the command of William Oates against the 20th of Maine under the direction of Chamberlain.
Chamberlain held firm, following orders to hold the position to the last man, at all costs.
Then came that monumental moment. Chamberlain was out of ammunition and would not be able to hold another attack. He had put every man in his disposal to fight: cooks, bandsmen, and guards. He had few options left. He calmly gave the order: 'fix bayonets'.
His brave men responded and went on the attack. Oates was pulling back and had to order retreat when he saw the attack approaching.
Here are a few noteworthy quotes and notes:
A soldier of the 15th had recognized Chamberlain and put him in his sights. He wrote, "I rested my gun on the rock and took steady aim. I started to pull the trigger, but some queer notion stopped me."
Both sides displayed fierce toughness and the admiration for one another lasted a lifetime.
Wallace notes it this way: "It was a magnificent feat of arms, rarely if ever surpassed in the importance of its accomplishment by any regiment in American military history."
Colonel Oates of Alabama wrote, "There never were harder fighters than the Twentieth Maine men and their gallant Colonel. His skill and persistency and the great bravery of his men saved Little Round Top."
A Texas orator: "Hood had been victorious on every field until 'God stopped them at Little Round Top'."
Fifty years after the battle, Chamberlain returned. Once a bloody day of scars and the dead was now a park of beauty and monuments. He walked around, climbed the summit, and sat there quietly until dark.
He was overcome by the thought that he was surrounded by the fallen. Those young men who did not know 'what were their lofty deeds of body, mind, heart, and soul on that tremendous day'.
The hills of Gettysburg had witnessed their valor and sacrifice.
The great man, Chamberlain, reflected on the moment. "(The graves at Gettysburg) shall hold the mighty secret in their bosom till the great day of revelation and recompense, when these heights shall flame again with transfigured light- they, too have part in that adoption, which is the manifestation of the sons of God."
On that ridge, 50 years earlier, bleeding from a leg wound that had taken shrapnel- Chamberlain had grabbed a moment undergirded by that hardened faith- and made a decision that made a difference.
The average man would have lain there and rested or given up the ghost- but not this mighty warrior of God. To give up or give in would mean a loss in vain.
May we all 'fix bayonets' when our time is called upon.
I have blogged on this issue in the past: Warning to Warriors (2007)
But you cannot add Joshua Chamberlain to that list of those who fizzled out after their moment of glory.
His famous fight at Gettysburg was on July 2, 1863 (35 years old). He went on to live a fruitful and productive life until he passed away peacefully at 9:30 in the morning on Feb. 24, 1914 completing 86 beautiful years on earth. That is an extraordinary long life for a man in that time of history.
So what did he accomplish AFTER Gettysburg?
- Promoted to General (that took a long time because Chamberlain did not promote himself)
- Severely wounded in battle (a Minnie' ball slammed into his right hip-severed arteries-nicked his bladder- crushed pelvic bones- it took two discouraged surgeons who performed what has been called a miracle of medicine- but he suffered physically from that wound for the rest of his life).
- returned to war
- shot again in battle- a chest hit that was slowed down because it passed through his horse first.
- An honor: Chamberlain was appointed to receive the infantry surrender.
- The magnanimous gesture: Chamberlain received more acclaim and criticism for the honorable way he treated the confederates during the surrender at Appomattox. Instead of humiliating the vanquished foes, he had his men salute them.
I quote from Wallace:
As Chamberlain watched the remnant of Lee's once great army, perhaps the most effective fighting instrument of its size ever created by the American people, the significance of the situation profoundly impressed him. He had earlier resolved to recognize the moment by saluting the Southern troops and had so informed his his regimental commanders. He was aware of the responsibility he was assuming, aware, too that criticisms would follow, as indeed they did. But his chief reason, he said, 'was one for which I sought no authority nor asked forgiveness.
'Before us in proud humiliation stood the embodiment of manhood; men whom neither toils and sufferings. nor the fact of death, nor disaster, nor hopelessness could bend their resolve; standing before us now, thin, worn, and famished, but erect, and with eyes looking level into ours, waking memories that bound us together as no other bond; was not such manhood to be welcomed back into a Union so tested and assured?'
When Gordon, the Confederate counterpart saw what was happening, his whole demeanor changed. He wheeled his horse toward Chamberlain and bowed.
This act was noted all throughout the South and Chamberlain became known as 'the most knightliest soldier of the Federal army'.
A few days later, a confederate officer approached Chamberlain: "You astonish us by your honorable and generous conduct. I fear that we should have not done the same to you had the case been reversed."
- He was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor
- He became a successful Governor of Maine
- He became the President of Bowdoin College
- He was a reformer in economics and education.
- He represented American interests in France.
- He transformed the Port at Portland.
AND WHAT KEPT HIM GOING?
This quote from a letter to his sister sums it up: "I always wanted to be at the head at some enterprise to transform the wilderness into a garden both materially and spiritually- to be a missionary of civilization and of Christianity at once."
I highly recommend the biography by Wallace- but my deep prayer is that we find more men in the spirit of Joshua Chamberlain- it is our only hope!