Tag Archives: respect

Do Things Right

Marv-Dunphy-960x500“Do things right.” – Marv Dunphy (as reported by former player and assistant coach, J.D. Schleppenbach)

I have a strong aversion to being a groupie that is fueled by an unhealthy personal pride that at least keeps me from forcing myself on impressive people who surely don’t need another person attempting to feel important by association. Now don’t get me wrong: I would love to be close to certain famous people. I’m just too proud to act on it.

So living in Malibu is obviously weird for me.

Pepperdine is interesting in its own right. Sometimes Pepperdine intersects with the world famous through its connections and/or location, but in some instances Pepperdine has its own preeminent personalities. Like Marv Dunphy.

Marv Dunphy is a living legend and is to volleyball what John Wooden was to basketball. He coached his alma mater, Pepperdine, to four NCAA national championships in his storied career before retiring in 2017 but has also served his country by coaching the United States in seven Olympic Games and was the head coach of the gold medal team in 1988.

There are more accolades and statistics for sure, but it didn’t take me long living around here to learn that Coach Dunphy is a Pepperdine legend for more than numbers and championships. I listened to countless stories from friends ranging from former athletes and friends to the faculty member primarily responsible for Marv’s career at Pepperdine about his character, humility, personal integrity, leadership, and the way that he demanded that his student athletes be good human beings above all.

I have had the pleasure of shaking Coach Dunphy’s hand a time or two through mutual friends but have never had an actual conversation with the man. At first that was due to my weird anti-groupie approach to life but is now due to a deep respect for him as a human being. He surely doesn’t need to talk to me, and I no longer feel the need to extract words of wisdom from him. He has already taught me enough lessons about life just from the legendary stories and from watching him work to keep me busy implementing what it means to do things right.

But last Saturday evening was “Marv Dunphy Night” at Firestone Fieldhouse, and you know that I was there. I attended a pre-game reception in his honor because I wanted to be close enough just to watch him in action.

Hmm, I guess that makes me a groupie after all.

One Big Family

wbcDodger Stadium hosted the World Baseball Classic championship game last week, and I was honored to be in attendance as the United States claimed the title with an 8-0 win over Puerto Rico.  Like the Olympic Games, the WBC takes the field every four years, and it seemed appropriate that the USA finally won a title in its fourth try seeing as how we invited the sport and all.

My youngest daughter was home for spring break and agreed to hang out with old dad for the evening, and we knew it would be fun before we made it through the gate as the Puerto Rican fans made themselves known honking and cheering their way into the parking lot.  It just got better throughout the evening as fans of both nations/teams made their patriotism clear.  Our personal favorite was a gentleman who never stopped banging on a wok with a ladle throughout the marathon four-hour game.

At one point, the national cheers even melded into an antiphonal chant that resembled the cadence of the goofy (and potentially culturally-insensitive) Three Wandering Jews song from my childhood Vacation Bible School days.  “Puerto Rico!” “U.S.A.!”  “Puerto Rico!” “U.S.A.”

The game was sort of terrible.  United States’ pitcher, Marcus Stroman, mystified the Puerto Rican bats while the American hitters scored early and often.  There was some excitement when Stroman carried a no-no into the seventh inning, but Angel Pagan’s base hit took away that fun and the victorious American squad anticlimactically went on to complete the blowout.

Most headed for the exits after the fireworks and confetti declared the world champions, but we stuck around for the trophy presentation.  So did the Puerto Rican team.  At one point, probably predetermined, after the victors paraded around the stadium and the runners-up watched in silence, the two teams met and hugged that from our vantage point beyond the left field foul pole looked like two sets of interlocking fingers.

And there was applause.  

After hours of two competitors cheering, chanting, and heckling one another out of love of country, the two sides came together, and this apparently made everyone happy.

There is much contempt in this old world.  But the applause at Dodger Stadium last Wednesday evening reminded me that respect still has a chance.

Respect the Animal

pepperdineSo we get that we are spoiled.  We have lived on the stunning campus of Pepperdine University for nine years now, which just isn’t fair.  Perched high on a mountainside overlooking the Pacific Ocean in sunny Malibu, the campus is consistently ranked one of the most beautiful in the world.  I heard that a federal judge once said that Pepperdine is the sort of place where God would live if he had the money.

As if the geographic setting wasn’t enough, there are deer that lazily wander around the campus as if they own the place.  They drive our hard-working groundskeepers crazy, but the beautiful deer are popular with the steady stream of campus visitors who just can’t believe that such a place exists.

But once every year or two we receive notice of a mountain lion sighting somewhere on campus.  Not cool, but balancing living in breathtaking beauty with a fleeting moment of potential terror every year or two is not a terrible trade off.

And then there is now.  There have been eleven mountain lion sightings in the last six weeks.  An expert came in to advise the University, and we were told that “[t]he expert expressed with confidence that this is a healthy mountain lion, moving within its territory, and acting normally.”  There is no good news anywhere in that sentence.  I have no desire to live in the territory of a normal, healthy mountain lion.  If forced to coexist, I’d prefer a mountain lion that’s sort of antisocial and experiencing a curious loss of appetite.

We were also provided a list of tips on how to respond if we encounter a mountain lion.  I’m not very excited about most of the items, including “Do NOT run,” which seems like the sort of advice the mountain lion would give instead.  And, “Appear as large, loud, and powerful as possible,” which if you know me, really just isn’t possible at all.

My friends often comment on the pace of my morning runs.  One word, my friends: Motivation.

There is one piece of advice, however, that I am particularly good at: “Respect the animal.”  Done.  No problemo.

In this crazy, crazy world of ours filled with fear of each other and the “other” and the toxic vitriol that such fear produces, I wonder how much progress would come if we chose to truly respect one another.

It supposedly works with mountain lions.

Peace on Earth

img_4126Thanks to our friend, John, and the Pacifica Institute, we recently hosted Muslim families for a Christmas dinner at our house.  That’s right, Muslim families for a Christmas dinner.  It was wonderful.  The stated purpose of the dinner was to build bridges of respect, understanding, and friendship between Muslims and Christians—and it sure worked.  We instantly have new friends and were honored to accept a return offer to visit their homes in the new year.

All of our guests came to the United States from Turkey, and as we talked over dinner it was sobering to sense the sadness in their hearts when they spoke of conditions related to terrorism in their home country.  And it was even more sobering to sense the fears they live with in this country when the actions of religious extremists lead others to associate such terrible violence with the religion they practice and love.

Possibly my favorite moment of the evening came when one of our guests slipped money to our youngest daughter when she shared about her work in Kenya last summer with street kids from Nairobi slums.  It seems that our guest has a soft spot in his heart for poor African children, and he couldn’t help but give money to support the Christian organization when he heard about the good work it is doing.

I shared with our guests the story from Kenya at this time last year when the terrorist group, Al-Shabaab, commandeered a bus that held Christian and Muslim passengers.  The terrorists demanded that the passengers separate by religion so they could execute the Christians, and the Muslim passengers, mostly women, led the refusal to answer by saying that if they would execute one they would have to execute all.  They were neighbors after all.  Miraculously, no one was killed.

Our guests had not heard the story and were visibly encouraged by it.  One of our new friends said that such reactions should be the standard response.

I sense that many are wary of the concept of interfaith dialogue, thinking that it means a dilution of religious conviction—a sort of “I’m-okay-you’re okay” approach to religious belief.  If you spend much time with any religious belief system you’ll realize that would be sort of silly.  Instead, I have to wonder what is terribly wrong with moving toward a world where we have “join us for dinner” relationships across all sorts of lines that purport to divide us.

Sharing dinner in our homes with new friends would sure go a long way toward a world where the scene that occurred on that Kenyan bus will be the standard response to those who deal in violence.  Not uniformity or watered-down beliefs, but neighborliness and solidarity for peace on earth and good will toward all.  I am a Christian, and at this time of year we remember an angelic proclamation to a group of shepherds about such things.  This particular dinner sure felt like a step in that direction.

See. Respect. Listen. Love.

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When Hurricane Katrina flooded our one-story house in 2005, it claimed treasured and irreplaceable items such as our wedding album and family videos while graciously sparing the crap in the attic that was there because we didn’t want it in the first place.  Gee, thanks.  My revenge came from unwittingly sparing a few boxes of personal mementos in my apparently waterproof office simply because we didn’t have room in the house.  I do my best work by accident.

Included in those mementos, believe it or not, was a college research paper that is now a quarter-century old, presented to Dr. Willard Gatewood at the University of Arkansas in 1991 and titled, “Arkansas Democrats in the Presidential Election of 1928.”  That paper was painstakingly typed on an actual typewriter (yes, boys and girls, a typewriter) and placed in a transparent plastic sleeve with a white binder with my social security number (ID number at the time!) emblazoned under my name on the cover page.  I kept the paper because I was proud of it and have a tiny problem throwing things away.

I remembered that paper last week and had to go for a trip down memory lane.

I don’t think I’m to blame for watching CNN last Thursday when I saw Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump laugh at each other’s jokes the day after trading verbal sucker punches and refusing to shake hands in their final debate.  Curiosity got the best of me.  It turned out that our nation’s top presidential candidates were at the Al Smith Dinner, an annual event hosted by the Archbishop of New York to raise money for needy children, and traditionally the last time presidential candidates share a stage prior to the election every four years.

It was the reference to Al Smith that led me to turn a closet upside down to find that old research paper.

Governor Al Smith of New York was the first Catholic to lead a major party ticket in a presidential election when nominated by the Democratic Party in 1928.  Smith chose Senator Joe T. Robinson of Arkansas as his running mate, the first southerner for a major party in that role since the Civil War, and Arkansas faced a dilemma: The heavily Democratic state had one of its own on the ticket, but Smith’s Catholicism was wildly unpopular across the state.  As a result, Protestant ministers in particular led anti-Smith campaigns that allowed the small contingent of Arkansas Republicans to pull up an easy chair while the Democrats worked both sides of the campaign.

In the end, the Smith-Robinson ticket still carried Arkansas and a handful of other states in the Solid South, but Herbert Hoover won the election in a landslide.  And then the stock market crashed, followed by a great depression and second world war and so on and so forth until I wrote a research paper that I can’t seem to throw away.

Today, it is hard to imagine passionate opposition to a presidential candidate simply because s/he is Catholic.  But it happened.  I wonder what research papers will be written by twenty-year-old students about the Election of 2016 decades down the road?

As Hillary Clinton closed her speech at the Al Smith Dinner, she reflected:

And when I think about what Al Smith went through it’s important to just reflect how groundbreaking it was for him, a Catholic, to be my party’s nominee for president.  Don’t forget – school boards sent home letters with children saying that if Al Smith is elected president you will not be allowed to have or read a Bible.  Voters were told that he would annul Protestant marriages.  And I saw a story recently that said people even claimed the Holland Tunnel was a secret passageway to connect Rome and America, to help the Pope rule our country. Those appeals, appeals to fear and division, can cause us to treat each other as the Other.  Rhetoric like that makes it harder for us to see each other, to respect each other, to listen to each other. And certainly a lot harder to love our neighbor as ourselves.

 

Listening

“There is a difference between listening and waiting for your turn to speak.”
– Simon Sinek

I typically get a laugh when I say that I do my best work by accident, but as an inveterate planner it is stated more as confession than humor. Regardless, it is true.

The monthly interfaith conversation with law students that we host in our condo is a prime example. I launched the group just over three years ago with distinct goals: (i) make sure our Christian law school really is welcoming to students from all faiths; and (ii) reduce my ignorance that periodically and unwittingly creates difficulty for certain faith groups, e.g., scheduling events during important religious holidays.

I think I also hoped for great conversations but had no idea that this interfaith effort would turn into one of the best things in my life.

October’s rendition was fantastic. The official conversation topic as decided by the student leaders was, “How does your ‘birth religion’ differ or accord with your personal feelings of religious experience (i.e., were you born into your religion, or did some thing or event compel your faith)?” I expected an interesting discussion but did not anticipate such moving and personal stories as were shared from traditions including Atheism, Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, and many flavors of Christianity. It was one of those occasions when you realize that you are honored just to be there. It was a sacred space.

Although less emotional than the rest, I took a turn at answering the question. Although I am still associated with my “birth religion,” a major personal turning point occurred as a young adult when I first interacted with those from religious groups different from my own. This experience launched me on a trajectory that is currently exemplified by the very interfaith conversation that prompted my sharing.

On my best days, what changed in me was the development of intellectual humility. I have (ironically) learned that there is so much that I do not know, and what I do “know” often turns out to be wrong. That would have been a terrifying thought for Growing Up Me, but today I find it to be liberating and a great comfort.

Homogeneity is both seductive and intoxicating, but I have discovered that learning to listen to diverse voices has increased my ability to understand and respect and love. This has made me a better person, and my life is fuller.

Human Goodness

October is one of my twelve favorite months, but baseball might earn it top billing. It helps that I am a lifelong St. Louis Cardinal fan.

I missed most of the important Cardinals-Pirates game this past Monday due to my teaching schedule but made it home just in time to witness the scary and violent collision between two Cardinal outfielders, Peter Bourjos and Stephen Piscotty. Piscotty, a phenomenal rookie talent, was knocked out cold on the play. Players were visibly shaken as Piscotty lay motionless on the outfield grass, and players and fans alike prayed in the unusual silence of a pennant race baseball game between division rivals.

Eventually, the medical staff strapped the promising young athlete down and drove him along the warning track on the way to the hospital as the crowd silently watched and ESPN cameras followed. In a memorable moment, Piscotty weakly raised his left hand to wave to the visiting crowd.¹ The crowd erupted in applause as if their hometown hero had just delivered a key base hit.

I was moved simply by the ovation.

I have a master’s degree in cynicism that I’m not particularly proud of, but it allows me to create all sorts of scenarios. Maybe it was Cardinal fans that happened to scream their applause next to ESPN’s audio sensors. Maybe people from Pittsburgh are particularly kind. Maybe the Pirate fans coincidentally tried to start The Wave just as Piscotty gave a wave.

But I don’t think so.

I’m pretty sure there is some level of goodness in all human beings, and that is exactly what moved me. It was a brief moment when people who paid real money in hopes of watching their team destroy the hopes and dreams of the other team raised a hearty cheer for an enemy solider simply because they identified with him as a fellow human being.

A preacher once asked congregants to draw a line down the center of a piece of paper and write all the reasons they had to be happy on one side and all the reasons they had to be sad on the other and then asked which side they chose to live on. I suggest the same exercise but listing the reasons to believe in the goodness of humanity on one side and the reasons to believe otherwise on the opposite: Which side of that exercise will you choose to live on?

There are elements of both goodness and not-goodness in my life (e.g., with Piscotty hurt on the field, I am embarrassed to say that I had the actual thought that I was thankful that Bourjos made the spectacular catch) and am darn near positive that goes for everyone else, too, but what a difference it makes when we see the good in another before we see anything else.

I once read advice to live life as a reverse paranoid, i.e., walk around convinced that everyone is out to help you. That is a definite day-changer!

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¹ Piscotty is okay. Thankfully, he only suffered a head contusion, but it was scary.

Freedom is Respect

As I reflect on last week’s inaugural (and wonderful) Diversity Week at Pepperdine Law, the following passage from my hero, Will D. Campbell, comes to mind.

“The civil rights gains we have made are largely cosmetic,” my old friend, Kelly Miller Smith, told me just before he died. One would have expected to hear those words in earlier times, when the gains of black people had been more modest than it seemed to me they had been during his lifetime and mine. He had been a pivotal figure in it all. Buses and taxicabs, schools, restaurants, theaters, parks, swimming pools, as well as participation in the political process had all been desegregated since he and I had come to Tennessee from Mississippi in the rigidly, segregated decade of the fifties. He from a black church in Vicksburg, I from a white university in Oxford. His little daughter had been one of the nine brave children who faced the violent mobs to begin the slow and painful process of integrated education. The church he pastored for thirty-four years was headquarters for the massive sit-in movement. Quietly or obstreperously, whatever the situation indicated, he negotiated with mayors, governors, merchants, and owners such issues as employment, housing, fairness, and decency in general.

All that he had been party to and more. Yet here he lay, a few weeks from death, saying that all his efforts had produced no more than a cosmetic coating over an inveterate malignancy as socially lethal as the one claiming his life. I protested with a roll call of the improvements he had presided over. He listened in his usual smiling, affable manner as I listed them one by one, beginning with public transportation in 1956 and concluding with his being a dean and teacher in one of the most prestigious universities in the South where he could not have been more than janitor not many years earlier.

“But they still don’t respect us,” he said sadly. After a long pause for needed oxygen, he continued. “Look at the television shows. Listen to the rhetoric on the streets. They still don’t respect us.”

His words were a startling awakening. How far I had missed the point of it all. How dissimilar the promised lands two Mississippi men had envisioned. To grant the truth of his words would be to acknowledge that the years of both of us had been wasted. He spoke with approval and gratefulness for the things I recited, but as he did it became clear to me that the one thing which was behind all else was never his. Respect.

Freedom is respect.

– Will D. Campbell, Forty Acres and a Goat 269-70 (2002).

That is what gave me great joy this past week—the giving and receiving of respect.