Monthly Archives: October 2018

All Madden

With MaddenI flew to Oakland and back last Tuesday to facilitate a half-day session on conflict resolution for a group of pastors. The Uber driver from the airport to the conference did not stop talking for the entire trip, and on the flip side the driver that took me back said exactly two words–Which terminal?–in the full forty-five minutes. In between all that was an unexpected and cool experience.

The meeting was held at a quiet hotel in Pleasanton. Pleasanton, as you might expect, appeared to be a pleasant little town, and I was told that the lovely hotel was one of several owned by hall-of-fame football coach/broadcaster and video game legend, John Madden. That was cool enough, but what soon became way cooler was that John Madden himself was sitting in the lobby and someone, somehow, had arranged for our group to have our picture made with him! I nearly ran down the stairs to get there.

My first television football memory is Coach Madden on the shoulders of his victorious team after the Raiders defeated the Vikings in Super Bowl XI, and I can’t even guess how many games that followed where I enjoyed having Madden explain and entertain. Like, “There’s a lot of letters in Ladanian Tomlinson.” And, “If your hair covers your name, I guarantee you you’re going to get clipped.” Classic Madden.  “Boom!”

He is 82 years young now and as nice a guy as I had always imagined. Same wide smile. Same great voice. Same wit and sense of humor.

Through the magic of television the voice of John Madden is one of the narrators of my life journey, and honestly, one of my favorites. Likable, funny, non-pretentious, honest, and approachable. He was always just himself — and one of us. The best part of his famous fear of flying that had him criss-crossing the nation on a bus was that he didn’t fly over anyone. He was down to earth quite literally.

On meeting him, I was surprised that I was surprised that all this was true in person. More specifically, I suppose that I was more relieved not to be disappointed. I admire real, down-to-earth people. Thanks for that, Coach.

Keep Climbing

Pic 1

On a trail last Thursday morning in a neighboring canyon I found myself running alone. I had started with others but when I faced a steep, narrow trail straight up an imposing mountain, unplanned, there seemed to be no one in the whole world but me and the trail to the heavens.

I attacked the hill with every ounce of my strength, arms pumping, calves burning, lungs fighting, and heart firing to conquer the challenge in front of me. I was strong—for a while—and then it was too much. I had to walk, but I refused to give up entirely and kept climbing the mountain step by step. In a few moments it seemed that I could sort of breathe again, so I challenged my legs to run the rest of the way. I thought I could do it, and I did.

At the top, seemingly on cue, I looked out at the crazy view across the morning sky and just at that moment the sun exploded over the mountains and above the clouds that lay across the hills like a cotton blanket. It was spectacular. The picture above is okay but doesn’t do it justice.

I’m not sure I want to run that hill again, and in retrospect, not sure that I really wanted to run it in the first place. But there was a feeling in my soul when I made it to the top and the sun broke through that felt like it was a special gift just for me, just for running, just for not stopping and finishing the climb. Pardon me, but it felt like a holy moment, and I was thankful. I felt a deep gratitude standing there on top of that mountain. The warmth of the sun. The beauty from above. The fullness in my lungs. The unplanned smile on my face.

I have friends on steep mountains today. I will have others. And it will be me again, too. My hope is that we all keep climbing, keep trusting, and keep believing that at the top of the mountain we will discover a spectacular gift. And smile.

We travelers, walking to the sun, can’t see
Ahead, but looking back the very light
That blinded us shows us the way we came,
Along which blessings now appear, risen
As if from sightlessness to sight, and we,
By blessing brightly lit, keep going toward
That blessed light that yet to us is dark.
Wendell Berry

Pic 2

Tennis, Anyone?

IMG_2322

My oldest sister had a tennis class in college and seven-year-old, sports-infatuated me was a convenient choice for a practice partner. That was my introduction to tennis. We played on an elementary-school playground that had a metal chain-link “net” bisecting a concrete basketball court. Not ideal conditions, but I loved every minute of it. I followed professional tennis a little back then, and my childhood was a fun time for it. As a good American I cheered for Chris over Martina but could not get into the screaming antics of Connors and McEnroe, so when it came to international options I opted for Lendl over Borg because Lendl looked cool with those huge white sweatbands. But tennis never made it to center court in my life, other than as a diversion on long summer days when I took a break from shooting hoops to hit tennis balls against a brick wall.

Last year I decided to be a Pepperdine Waves fan across all sports, and as the calendar played out, I had many opportunities to watch our ultra-talented women’s tennis team in action and got a little hooked. What a terrific sport! In fact, one afternoon when I was nursing a nagging running injury I mentioned my interest in playing tennis to my friend and neighbor, Mike, and before I knew it we were playing each Friday morning.  My wife bought me a brand new racket, and I bought some cool Waves-colored tennis shoes. You might think that I am a serious tennis player—until you see me play. What a terrific and difficult sport!

Andre Agassi noted that “Tennis uses the language of life. Advantage, service, break, fault, love, the basic elements of tennis are those of everyday existence, because every match is a life in miniature.” Last week I watched a tennis match following such a tumultuous week in our national politics, and as I watched two warriors on a tennis court playing their violent game of chess with the ball sailing back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, I considered the adversarial nature of life. Maybe Agassi was on to something. It does seem to be the nature of things that we face one another across a dividing line and take our best shots.

At the end of the match, however, I watched the two warriors shake hands across the net out of respect for one another. That doesn’t seem to resemble life at all right now.