A Spirited Soul: Part of Being Whole (Part II)

This weekend HBU won its first football game: ever.

Some schools sell t-shirts that say: “Our School Undefeated in Football since Date of Founding” and HBU once could sell such shirts, but can no longer. We were smacked down hard by the defending champs of our conference in our first game, but came back to defeat a local Baptist rival in our second.

HBU can say it has won as many games as it has lost, but we are not undefeated. When I was a kid, ABC had a show called Wide World of Sports that began with clips of great sport’s victories and disasters. HBU football was safe from making either category.

Of course, the school that does not enter the arena will never taste “the agony of defeat,” but it will never get “the thrill of victory.” And there is something a bit pathetic about such a place. After all, nobody picked as their Biblical hero the servant who hid their talent in a napkin.

Now a school might choose a different arena than football (though then it should avoid ironic t-shirt sales), but it had better pick some place to test courage and develop spiritedness. Why? Because the higher passions are part of being a human being, but true education must include an education in virtue. There is a reason that football players are more likely to graduate than any comparable group of students: Vic Shealy and his coaches. These men will teach younger men, if they are willing to listen, how to channel their passions into something bigger than self and to become whole.

Everybody is familiar with desires that come from the body, but few notice that there are higher passions: courage, patriotism, family feeling.

Few great deeds are done by men or women who lack these passions. They sometimes come unbidden or produced by manipulators whose skillful propaganda stir our passions. Courageous men become rash, patriots become jingoists, and even family honor can be corrupted to protect the criminal. And even at the worst, we recognize the superiority of the mafioso with family honor over the Vegas lounge-lizard scamming only for carnal pleasures.

And yet the crime family does greater harm to more people than the simple hedonist, as the greater good corrupted gives superior power to do evil.

Sports is an excellent way of producing and then teaching control of these passions. The rivalries between schools on the field can be a good preparation for the self-sacrifice, the team feeling, and giving up short term pleasures for long term goods. Any good theater or music program can do the same. When a film crew works hard together to make something, team spirit can result. As sacrifices are made, with proper guidance, a student will learn valuable truths.

Of course, coaches may teach a gifted athlete that rule-breaking is fine so long as he wins and gets money. An actor may be told that his talent allows him to live in a dream world all his life, untouched by the petty morality of his fans.

We can teach a person to live for a cause bigger than self so that self can be made bigger than the cause: the player who decides he is bigger than the team, the musician greater than the band, or the film maker greater than his crew. This total corruption of the ideals of education exists in most of our great universities.

Most of us are not good enough athletes, musicians, or actors to get the kind of training that those blessed few receive. For us, films, books (especially novels), television, and service projects help fill this gap, but to get the full benefit of our experience, we need trained guides. If education, and society in general, is needing anything just now it is the life coach: the person who trains spiritedness.

We need more men who run up the stairs to save people on 9/11 and fewer folk who snap pictures on their camera phones as a Jihadist waves a bloody knife over the headless body of his victim. America needs more patriots who sacrifice for the nations and fewer blowhards who think talking about service is serving, that family values can be flouted in practice but promoted on the air, or that winning the next election justifies manipulating and abusing our finer feelings for short term gain.

If life lacks a John Williams score, perhaps it is because marketers have given purchasing the most mundane product a glorious soundtrack. We have manipulated the higher emotions for consumption so often that they are worn out by the time we need them to sustain us in better things. We have been bidden to rise up for every election, the most important of our lifetime every time, to the point that we are weary.

Simultaneously, nobody has trained us to moderation of these highest desires and so when we see courage and boldness in a Brownshirt thug like President Putin of Russia, more than a few Americans admire him. We are jaded and he is not, but spiritedness in the cause of evil is just evil made more powerful. It gains no virtue by being bold, merely volume, and it twists and smashes whatever was good in the hearts of the followers.

Christians must recollect the need for spiritedness in life: it is the antidote to boredom. The Way of the Cross is the way of the spirited man, but the spirited man who has given his courage, his zeal, and his higher passions to God. He will die to self  to live to Jesus, to find himself in Jesus.

Imagine a man who is in touch with his bodily desires, but has mastered them and can love his family, his community, his country, and his world well.

It is easy to imagine, very hard to do.

We can only pray that the few doing it, looking at you Coach Shealy, get the resources they need to mold lives.


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