Saturday, September 20, 2008

New Gator Book Rocks!

My brother, Buddy Martin, is an award-winning sportswriter with over 40 years' experience covering (among many other things) University of Florida football. Buddy has just completed and released his fourth book on the Florida Gators, Urban's Way: Urban Meyer, the Florida Gators, and His Plan to Win. I recommend it (would you expect otherwise?) not only for Gator fans, fans of Urban Meyer or readers of sports books, but for anyone wanting a bit of inspiration / motivation.

Those who know me realize I have just endorsed a book in a genre I never read and about which I know virtually nothing. If I had admitted enthusiasm about a new philosophy text (I'm reviewing a final draft for Greg Ganssle right now), a work of classic literature, poetry or theology, no one would think it strange. But a sports book? Buddy has written them before, and they were good. I digested them as best I could and moved on. I have always respected my brother's expertise. Moments in his prose remind me of our dad, a career journalist with a flair for tangents on the subject of Old Florida flora and fauna. But a sports book? I can't put it down!

Here's why: first, the author's perspective on his subject in this authorized biography of coach Urban Meyer is wholistic. Far more than braggadocio and endless statistical jargon, this book humanizes and contextualizes the story of a great winner, a driven, flawed man -- a husband, father, son, child of God, brother, apprentice and friend. From page one, the reader is thrust into the personal world of coach Meyer. We see him not as a calculating strategist, void of conscience, machinelike; we see him first in "The Cul-de-Sac of Champions," a domestic setting, learning from and exchanging ideas with his neighbor and fellow Florida (basketball) coach, Billy Donovan. Buddy offers a view of their relationship as one of the factors contributing to the record-setting 2007 simultaneous national championships: the BCS title in football, and the NCAA Mens Division I basketball championship.

Second, Buddy (a master biographer in this book) is a remarkable psychologist in exposing to the reader not just the habits, but also the drives, passion, principles and potential pitfalls of Urban Meyer's coaching plan. (Urban Meyer must be credited for his amazing vulnerability!) Meyer's approach to football is filled with gleanings for approaching life-goals, rasing children, and pursuing a career. Without intending, this book is therefore serviceable to those who peruse the shelves for self-help -- the practical philosophy of a neo-sophistical era to be sure -- and it is far better than the dumptruckloads of would-be-wise life-calculus texts, designed to make their authors rich and famous, precisely because it does in an honest, unforced, genuine way what the waxnosed sophists claim but fail to accomplish: offers a vision of a life well-lived!

I think some of my favorite moments so far, as I read Urban's Way, are those brief glimpses into the confessional, where Father Buddy is listening to a slice of self-doubt, a bit of critical concern expressed by a friend. The book thus transcends "how to succeed" trash in its inspiration and example for the reader. I am personally inspired. I will keep reading this one until page 336. Then, and only then, will I send my hardback copy back to my brother for his autograph.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Seven Lessons of September Eleventh

Everybody has their own memories of the infamous events of September 11, 2001. I was working alone in my office when Kimberly called to make me aware that “something bad has happened in New York City.” She told me the media were reporting that a light plane had accidentally crashed into the World Trade Center, and it was on fire. I was concerned, but not yet alarmed.

Minutes later on the radio I heard what had actually taken place – that the strike on the World Trade Center was deliberate and coordinated with other targeted strikes that same morning. It wasn’t until I got home later that I watched the overplayed video loop where the second passenger jet, under control of an Al Qaeda cell, struck the south tower. Shortly after, both majestic towers were reduced to lower Manhattan rubble. I found myself in shock. I didn’t think it would or even could happen. None of us did.

What have we learned in the seven years since we, as a nation, were violated by the savagery of a few phantoms, whose shadowy presence remains despite efforts to erase them? I offer these seven lessons, which are really reflection-points to consider:

First, we learned that we as a nation were vulnerable. Americans’ retained sense of isolation from the problems of the world – an attitude of naivety many non-Americans consider arrogance – was shattered on September 11, 2001. We hadn’t been significantly attacked on our own soil since Pearl Harbor. Terrorism happens overseas! To many of us, it seemed like the end of the world was at hand when we saw the collapse of those towers.

Second, we learned we were strong. Almost legendary recounting of individual acts of heroism filled our collective consciousness. The “Let’s roll” spirit underscored our immediate response to the tragedy. Volunteerism resurged, as local police and other emergency workers took a leave of absence and traveled to New York City to participate in rescue, relief and cleanup.

Third, we learned we have both enemies and friends in this world. I’ll never forget the images of the candlelight vigil in London, attended by grief and tears. Other nations mourned with us. Nor will the images of burning flags or effigies of George W. Bush be easily washed away. Since September 11, 2001 the clarity of the line between friend and foe has been smeared by politics. Our military responses have been questioned, perhaps not without warrant. Yet many have lost sight of the fact that the first 2,975 casualties of the “war on terror” happened before any response could be made.

Fourth, we learned something about Islam. We learned that, like any major world religion, Islam is not monolithic. There is variety within Islam and in Muslim cultures. There are “denominations” and factions which collide, sometimes violently. We learned that not all Muslims are terrorists, rather that extremists would dominate Islam as well as the world, if allowed.

Fifth, we remembered what it was like to be at war again. The 1991 action of “Operation Desert Storm” played out like a reality based video game in the consciousness of many Americans. Real losses were minimal. By contrast, the “war on terror” has reminded us we can field a strong army without a draft. The thousands of volunteers starkly contrasts the hundreds of protesters who will neither fight nor support our national response. I suppose it has been so in every war since the Revolution. Free speech is, after all, distinctively American. Both sides in the counterpoint have reminded us that war costs a lot, and we had better be willing to pay the price than to enter the fray with anything less than 100% commitment and resolve.

Sixth, we just learned in a new poll that many outside the United States do not know who was responsible for the attacks. Conspiracy theories, prejudices and plain ignorance are behind the 54% who responded that the U.S. government, Israel, or “other” were behind the attacks.

Finally, we were graphically reminded that we as a nation are utterly dependent on the grace and favor of God for our very existence. We are contingent. Our walls are not impenetrable. Therefore, we must cultivate faithfulness and justice toward the vision and values that make us great, one of which is humility in knowing that “there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God” (Romans 13:1). We need to bow our knees, individually and as a nation, and ask God to help us do what is right in His eyes, to govern justly and to seek peace on earth for the benefit of all.