Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Tiger

My father was a thoughtful gentleman. Not so much thoughtful as in, “Oh, that was thoughtful of you” but more thoughtful as in pondering, reflecting. I don’t think he would have ever called it meditating – that’s too close to something he’d consider borderline un-Christian or more likely, un-Baptist. In his mind and in his world there was little, if any, difference.

But as he aged, I saw him become even more reflective and quiet. There was a time I would have thought that impossible.

Two times, in particular, I saw his heart grow heavy and sad at the state of the world and the condition of his fallen heroes.

He used to lie on his bed on Saturday afternoons and listen to the LSU Tigers on the radio. I still see the scene. There was a Zenith radio beside the bed, the size of a small microwave oven. The sound was rich and full even from an AM broadcast of college football. I don’t ever remember hearing music come from that radio, come to think of it, only talk.

One of his football heroes from those LSU days was a guy named Billy Cannon. You can google his name and find out the details of his life, but it will suffice for the sake of this writing to tell you that Billy Cannon, after his days as a college football star, went on to enjoy a successful professional career as a dentist. In those days, as is the case for so many retired athletes today, their on-field prowess helped provide financial security for them and their families as their celebrity followed them into the real world.

Somewhere in the early 80s, Dr. Cannon found himself in debt and decided the best way out was to take to counterfeiting. Found buried in the back yard of a home he owned was an ice chest filled with fake $100 bills. The total was 50 Million dollars. Dr. Cannon went away for a while.

My father was devastated.

Dad wasn’t the type to go on some verbal tirade to further berate one already publicly shamed. But I could tell, and I remember this vividly all these years later, he was so very saddened and disappointed that someone he admired had turned so dark.

The same thing happened in 1988 when evangelist Jimmy Swaggart, after being so zealous to point out the flaws and failures of fellow ministers of the Faith, fell under investigation for solicitation of prostitutes in New Orleans. The charge was, at first, denied but later, Rev. Swaggart confessed to his deeds from a pulpit drenched in his own television tears.

Mr. Swaggart, along with his cousins, Jerry Lee Lewis of Rock and Roll fame from the 50s, Mickey Gilley of Urban Cowboy fame, grew up around Ferriday, Louisiana – not 30 miles from our back door. I guess the proximity alone put us in some strange alignment with the Swaggart/Lewis/Gilly clan. I can’t think of anything else we really had in common. We were staunch southern Baptist and the Swaggarts, to us at least, were outrageous Pentecostals.

Still, my father admired the sacred and eternal work of one Jimmy Swaggart. And I think he kind of liked the music, too. So, again, my father’s heart grew a little sadder at the public humiliation and failure of another he held in high esteem.

So here I am . . . at a point in my own life where, no matter how I stretch or define it, I can no longer consider myself young. Young at heart, maybe. Feeling better than I’ve felt in a long, long time with, what I think is, a pretty good outlook on the future. Here I am with a short list of people I admire - some for their ethics and their moral constitution, some for their strong convictions, some for their generosity in trying to make the world a better place with the money they’ve made.

And a few that have athletic ability I can only imagine. Some, with ability that is so over the top, my mortal imagination fails in trying to grasp it.

I play golf. So, yes, I’m awed by what I see Tiger Woods do on the golf course. I’ve seen it on television and I’ve watched him from a few feet away. Unless you’ve tried to play the game with any degree of expertise, only to see your skills come and go like a hurricane wind, it’s hard to appreciate the talent it takes to play well. I do appreciate it.

I, like most of the watching world, the hoards of voyeurs that wait for mankind to fall to the lowest common denominator, am saddened by what’s taken place in the life of this talented golfer. But surprised, no - and not inclined to wax theological at this point. There are plenty of on-line religious orators waiting to pounce with their most elementary and extremely obvious observations - looking for a voice or more important, a reader, a listener to satisfy a need for their own fifteen minutes of internet fame.

While the world keeps showing its darker side the more we learn of each other, the more difficult it is to keep a compassionate heart. Taking sides might seem valiant but it doesn’t seed gentleness of heart. Yes, I’m incensed by the flagrant disregard for values, for one’s family andfor the future of their two small children. I don’t know how Mrs. Woods could ever live in that environment with anything remotely resembling trust. Decisions have their own inherent rewards and very specific consequences. We do, indeed, finally reap what we sow. The secrets will come out. .

But my desire to see justice served out to others stops short when the finger is pointed at me. I don’t want justice for myself. I want mercy. Don’t get me wrong. I like justice. I just don’t like it for me.

And so we pray always for a more tender heart and a tougher skin. That our hearts will break at the same things that break His and that our proverbial skin will protect us from the stings that are nothing more than annoying blips on life’s radar. That we’ll let mountains be mountains and molehills be molehills. Choose carefully your battles my friends and love with a love that is beyond human. We have that inside us.

Blessings to you all this Christmas!

Wayne Watson