Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Soul of The Lion- Updated


In 2012, I read an outstanding book by Willard M. Wallace called, "Soul of the Lion", a biography of the stellar Civil War hero, Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain.

That book propelled Joshua Chamberlain near the top of my all time favorite heroes!

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).

You would think that a man of Chamberlain's ability would be an excellent military leader from the start. But it did not take long for him to realize that his understanding to tactics and maneuvers was woefully lacking.

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.

July 2, 1863 marked the famous Battle at Gettysburg, one of the bloodiest days in history, a fight of epic legend, and a landmark victory where inevitable momentum swung to the Union.

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.

In studying all types of men in history- you find that most do not finish well. This is especially true of warriors, who find times of peace to be incompatible to their base nature.

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.


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!

Sunday, August 08, 2021

What Bobby Bowden Taught Me About Supporting Coaches Under Fire


I was sad to learn about the passing of Coach Bobby Bowden this morning. I have been praying for him and was even lead to say a short prayer last night before going to bed. Coach Bowden has been intertwined in my life, loosely, for many decades. Part of it is his connection to East Lake, Ruhama Baptist Church, Roebuck Golf Course, my friend Terry Warren who is with Jesus, and of course football.

In that time I had 6 or 8 brief meetings with him and I was fortunate to speak with him in longer segments 3 or 4 times. We had him speak to students in our youth ministry in the late 1980's where he told his famous 'missing 1st base' talk and spoke of God's grace and Jesus as the only name given by which we can be saved.

As I was reflecting on my talks with him over the years, I couldn't help but think about the last time I saw him and the 4 or 5 minute talk we had on the campus of Samford University on Saturday Sept, 21, 2013 as he was being inducted into the Samford Hall of Fame. I was there to see my daughter, Julie, cheer for Samford. I had just bought a Samford shirt at the bookstore and walked down the hall to change into it. As I stepped out, there was Coach Bowden!

He wouldn't know me enough to remember me- so we had a quick reintroduction.... East Lake, Banks, Briarwood.... I mentioned I was a high school football coach. He asked a few quick questions and we talked about Terry Warren, (one of his All-Americans who had coached with me) and I mentioned in passing that I had been 'let go' from a head job in Nashville just a few years earlier. 

Then he asked me how Coach Yancey was doing. Of course I told him how much I loved Coach Yancey and even then how I was sure he would be a Hall of Fame inductee down the road. But I also told him to pray for us, because the war drums of upset parents was beginning to beat.

We had gone 6-7 in 2012, and at that point in 2013, we had been beaten by Homewood the week before 38-14 and looked bad doing it. Even though the sun was shining that beautiful fall day... I was hurting. I was still hurting and recovering from being a coach who went through a public dismissal for lack of performance- and like a recurring nightmare, I was feeling those same things- upset parents, behind the scene conversations and criticisms, the spillover effect on the players, and the impact on preparation and performance. It is hard enough to win a football game, but almost impossible when doing it in contrary winds of doubt and division.

When I said 'pray for us', his whole demeanor changed- this was no longer a casual hello- Coach Bowden totally engaged and dug in. I think he may have seen my concern.

He put his hand on my shoulder, and spoke with great confidence with authority.

"Boy (he always called me that in almost every conversation), I sure will. Let me tell you something. There will alway be those calling for your job in this business. When you win, they are still there but can't be loud. But you start losing!

You keep loving kids, you keep trusting the Lord, and don't coach under pressure. The only pressure you need to feel is to coach for Jesus. Once you start coaching with pressure from the outside, you really aren't coaching well."

"Do you believe in Jesus, son?"

I replied with a smile- "Yes sir"

"Then you know that nothing can happen that He doesn't allow to happen. And all his plans are for good. Do you believe that?"

"Yes, sir"

"Good, I will be praying for you and Coach Yancey. He is a great man. You support him and y'all keep fighting the good fight."

And that was it. The picture at the top of this post was taken right after that conversation.

Here is the rest of that story. We finished a shakey 9-3 that year (isn't it interesting that 9-3 at BCS is not a good season LOL). In 2014, we went 4-7 and in 2015, we started 0-3 on the way to a 5-7 season record.

I got a phone call during that time from a parent who was steaming mad. He had just been made aware that a group of very prominent dads had had a meeting and were discussing that it was time to make a coaching change. Two men stood up and walked out of that meeting upset that the meeting was even happening. One of them called the dad who had just called me.

Instead of being mad and afraid... I just felt the peace of trusting God.

"Thanks for supporting Coach. We all know he is doing a great job. Keep praying and keep fighting the good fight."

And that is all I did.

I knew that nothing can happen that He doesn't allow to happen. And all His plans are for good. I fully believe that. This doesn't mean I support secret meetings or those who spread negativity. I match that with confidence and good words.

And our administration stood strong.

And what happened?

We went 12-2 in 2016

We went 14-1 in 2017

In 2017, Briarwood installed a new turf field. Very few people know that Coach Yancey never lost a home game on the turf field until he retired (14 straight home wins).

From the time of that parent meeting to discuss a coaching change- Coach Yancey went 35-6 and added a state runner up title. 

All of this has carried over to me as athletics director: I support our coaches. These are men and women who love the Lord, want to get better, and coach as a ministry. As long as they do that- I will support them, no matter the record.

I wish we would all support coaches... negativity and dissension work against a coach and their staff. Some coaches can get so beat up by the external talk that they are stripped of their power to lead and that is sad.

My general practice is to persevere and graduate the negativity and wait on the group that will embrace the positive values, practice a strong work ethic, and start new.

In the old days... a coach would come to a school and stay 40 years. During their tenure... they would have some winning seasons, some losing seasons, championships, and some really bad seasons. Back then, no one defaulted to firing the coach as the answer to issues. Not so today.

But thankfully, if you find a school who evaluates people and not records.... who believe in a staff approach, who champion coaching as a ministry, who believe in the sovereignty of God... a coach can be stable and supported as they go through trials of various kinds.

And that is my philosophy... not to say we don't push coaches to grow and improve... but they will always be given time and the decision to change a coach is made by administrators over many seasons, not parents... and definitely not a short cycle.

That is what Bobby Bowden taught me about supporting coaches under fire.

And he is with Jesus today.... free of pain, worry, doubt... that is the ultimate destination!

Makes sports seem almost insignificant......