21,536 Steps Later…

I have this ridiculous propensity for agreeing to do things that I am not sure I can do. It’s more like a vibe of, “Of COURSE I can do that!” Until, that is, the time comes for me to do it.

Then I spend the three days before the event drinking unholy amounts of coffee and asking myself, “WHY did I ever agree to this???”

Friday, August 19 was no exception. How did I ever end up in charge of Freshman Move-in Day at my University? After all I am a walking, talking organizational nightmare. Who on earth thought this was a good idea? My first go at this in 2021 was mediocre at best, so I was hoping for progress rather than perfection.

This was part of our LAUNCH welcome program at Limestone University, where we do all we can to make our first-year students feel comfortable. As my day ended about 7 p.m., I took a final look at my step count that began at 6 a.m. The somewhat astonishing result was 21, 536. Yes—21,536 steps in one day, roughly 9 miles and climbing 22 stories.

Most of this had nothing to do with moving students into the dorms, as I only handled a few of these tasks. It generally involved running water to our assistants, showing students where the business office or health office is, or redistributing our resources to the dorm with the greatest need.

A set of walkie-talkies might be worth the money for 2023.

Like many of our volunteers, I was absolutely drained at the end of the day. Some of our Adamah Christian Leadership students put in eight full hours helping students move in and came back on Sunday to set up LAUNCH worship as well as the CommunityWorks Fair for our community partners. (By the way, I am amazed at the work ethic of this year’s Adamah group).

21, 536 steps to get our first-year students into the dorms. 21,536 steps to welcome our largest first-year class in history. 21,536 steps to make parents feel like they are leaving a student at home rather than a strange place. Maybe others do not track their step count, but it is a good bet that all of our faculty/staff/students logged hundreds of thousands to welcome our first-year group. Add to that a group of community volunteers from local churches that get our students plugged in beyond the campus.

And every step was worth it.

Limestone is unique in many ways, but we are most unique in our diversity on a very small campus. On August 19, I met students from as close as down the road in Gaffney, SC and as far away as Mexico, France, and South Africa. Can you imagine flying your child all alone over to Gaffney? Or driving up from Mexico to leave them here, and not having anyone there to welcome you?

We already have a long list of ideas to make next year’s Saints Serve Move-in Day better. But what will make it best is having more volunteers, more greeters, more people to make our students—from near and far—feel at ease in their first days on campus. Rest assured that we will start well ahead of the game next August. With your help, we can make this an amazing start for our students.

21, 536 is a lot of steps, pushing my all-time personal record. If it can make one parent feel better or one student feel more comfortable, then I will gladly do it again. I ask you to jump in with us next August to get our students off to a fantastic start—and introduce them to all the things that make Limestone special.

If we treat these students and families like family, then we can help them stay with the family for four wonderful years.

Requiem for “The Building”

At times, my mother hated it, perhaps even cursed it. But it was the place where my father found solace and connected with his roots. Cleaning it out—and realizing it will soon be gone—is a pain that I can no longer avoid.

My father was a highly educated man, perhaps educated beyond original expectations in life. This is largely because my grandmother insisted that her nine children go far beyond the eighth-grade education that she received. And WAY beyond the fifth-grade education that my Granddaddy LeGrand earned.

While Granddaddy did not have much formal education, he knew much beyond textbooks. He was a carpenter beyond compare, building houses and fixing things that PhDs like me could never imagine. His knowledge and impeccable work ethic never translated to financial success, but they still filtered down to my father.

Spencer LeGrand Sr. loved to work with wood; and, when he had the time, he was brilliant with it. Last Saturday, I spent the better part of my day trying to decide what to keep and what to sell from my father’s astonishing collection of tools and devices. He accumulated a stockpile of tools and devices that we could never hope to comprehend. More than once, I looked and thought, “That is AMAZING! If I knew what to do with it, I might keep it!”

Need Sandpaper? The man had a whole dresser full of it!

Need a drill? Nuts and bolts? Sandpaper? A lathe? Some lumber? Woodcarving tools? 406 Great Glen Road is the place to be. Five drills, 11 different kinds of power saws, more nails than an Ace Hardware, and an old dresser slam full of sandpaper…he had it all. He knew what to do with it—if he could find it.

Seriously, talk about a disorganized mess. The Building had stuff (and junk) scattered from one end to another and at all points in between. But somehow, some way, it was organized for him. Could any other human on the planet figure out this “system?” Not a chance! Yet he managed to put his hands on just about any tool he needed at any given time.

Sadly, Dad never had the patience or the time to teach either of his children how to do the carpentry that was second nature to him. No one ever taught him. He had to learn it because my granddaddy needed him to help. So you better watch and learn and get it right—the first time—which is what my Dad did. We never had that opportunity.

Since his passing in 2018, I avoided going through his stockpile of tools in his storage building/woodshop. With mom’s passing in June 2022, I could no longer avoid this task. You would think that a place where I rarely spent any time would hold little sentimental value. But last Saturday was one of the hardest days of my life, certainly one of the hardest since losing my parents.

Even after losing Dad, I loved the ability to find anything I needed in The Building. I shunned the hardware store for four years because I could get pretty much anything from that shed.

Every time I walked through the back yard to open the door, a piece of my father went with me. I can still remember the smell of sawdust he brought into the house, the aroma of “burning” of freshly cut, sanded, or drilled lumber.

It called me back to a “My dad can beat up your dad!” mentality. The man did not know defeat. He had a determination to figure out a way even when no way presented itself. While it did not quite “take” in the same format, he imparted that mentality to his children as best he could. (By the way, picture below may be the remnants of Dad’s final project).

My mom sometimes complained about the time dad spent in The Building. One time, he embarked on a project to make wooden candleholders, stained to match the pews at East Park Baptist Church, with a stand that attached to the end of each pew. If you know woodwork, you can imagine the time and precision such a project would take.

Dad told me on the phone one day, “I think I messed up with your mama.” He had an intercom installed so she could get him without having to walk out to The Building.

Mom took a phone call for him, around 8 p.m. at night. She punched the intercom button and he answered, but she hit it a little too quickly. He heard her say, “Let me get him. He’s out in that damn building again!”

Okay, the “damn” is unclear. Did she say it? I cannot remember, although it was about the only curse word my mother ever uttered. She might not have let that fly depending on who was on the phone. (But if you know my mom, it makes the story a little funnier).

Over the last few years, “that building” took on a new meaning for her as well. She kind of loved that if she ever needed something, I would tell her to let me check the building and could often find the necessary supplies. She loved that I borrowed my Dad’s tools and knew that I could give his stuff a shot before buying anything.

Most of all, she laughed and loved when I would pick some random tool to perform a task for which it likely was not intended. These occasions were just too on point for Spencer Sr. I think it lifted her heart that I inherited a little of that figure it out attitude. Was I as good at it as my father? Not even close. But I did learn to make a few unexpected items work.

My parents lived at 406 for 46 years. They added, renovated, altered, and improved that house half a dozen times over the years. Maybe that is why I feel a little less sentimental towards it now than I might have if it had stayed basically the same. And perhaps that is why I feel more attachment to a part of it where I spent almost no time over the years.

In fact, it is not even the same building. The first one was an aluminum shed that served as the backstop for backyard whiffle ball games. But the tools, the smells, the sawdust, and general mess remain the same.

It is funny and often surprising what we remember when we lose those we loved the most. My mother rarely—or perhaps never—went into The Building. But she did not really want it cleaned out and understood why I never wanted to touch it. It was a part of who my Dad was, and he was eternally a part of her. That took many forms, but that workshop was one unchangeable, inextricable part of their life.

The “organized” corner of Dad’s shop. A system that T. Spencer LeGrand alone could understand!

This weekend will likely be the last time I walk into that building where it bears the marks of my father, the craftsman. Next week we have an estate sale; and after that, the house goes on the market. My sister and I now acknowledge that we do not love that house. We love the memories and the people who occupied it for more than 90% of our lives.

No matter what happens next, that sawdust smell in my nose and that view of my Dad with a sander are etched in me for the rest of my life. I can remember the clothes he wore when it was cold and the drone of the window fan when it was hot. It was his place to escape the cares of the world and just let his hands do the work. Which, thankfully, left us some of the products of his handiwork to keep forever.

I will also remember my mom griping, complaining, fussing about all the time he spent in “that building” while thoroughly enjoying the finished products that he made, sometimes as surprises for her. And I will recall that she wanted to me to live his legacy—not of woodwork, but of perseverance and determination and figuring out how to do what needs to be done.

A side table, made by my dad sometime in the ’50s (we think). Now sitting in my office at Limestone, along with mom’s Limestone yearbook from 1959.

What could be more appropriate than to offer a Requiem for The Building, a small recognition of the giant impact of my parents’ 57-year relationship and the impact they had on the people around them? As much as it was my Dad’s space, it was also emblematic of who he was, who they were, and why their marriage created a model to be followed. It reminds me of all the things that were great and funny and at times a bit annoying about who they were.

After all, those are the memories that make life great.

As I recall the images of my father working in that space and making it his own, I pray that I am reminded of all that my mom and dad were. I also pray that this spurs me to try to be who they taught me to be—and perhaps a little bit better.

And if my wife is lucky, perhaps a little bit cleaner.

A box of saws, tools, and aprons that belonged to my Granddaddy LeGrand, found in “The Building.”

The Friends We Forgot We Knew

Friends are a funny thing as we grow older. Some stay in our past, while others remain in our lives forever. And then there are those that only pop up at the most critical moments.

Growing up, one of our joys in life was our parents’ decision to allow us to take a friend with us on family vacation. Throughout our middle and high school years, this was a source of incredible fun for us. And no one was more fun on vacation than Shane Bailey.

Shane and I went to Eastside High School together, played football together for one year, and hung out periodically throughout our four years. Funny thing was that we were not always together, and not always “best friends” or anything like that. In fact, we often ran in different circles. But we seemed to get together at various times for the best aspects of life. This includes fracturing a few rules.

And even a few laws. Well, several laws. Actually, multiple laws on multiple occasions.

I started inviting Shane on vacation with me in our freshman year, as we ventured to Litchfield Beach. We had a terrific time finding ways to get people to buy us beer and combing the beach for any girl that would talk to us. (If only we had been as cool as we thought we were!). We stayed out late at bonfires or whatever was happening. Perhaps against their better judgment, my parents trusted us not to get into too much trouble.

We’re still not quite sure what they were thinking on that one.

Shane taught me how to drive a stick shift when I was 15 and he was 16. We cruised the Del Norte neighborhood in my stylish tan Mazda GLC wagon praying that the cops and the neighbors would not notice.

After that, we took trips to Lake Toxaway, NC to my grandparents’ vacation house. We did not let on to my mom and dad even a tenth of what we intended to do in our time up there, from drinking beer to chewing tobacco to once again finding a vacation girlfriend. No corner of the lake went unturned in our quest for female attention.

Let me offer a word of encouragement here. Remember that I am a chaplain and a professor. Shane is a school principal. So parents, take heart–there IS hope for the future!

After high school, Shane and I went our separate ways. The funny thing is that the two clowns from the good old days always found our way back to one another at the most critical times of our lives.

Shane was one of the groomsmen at my wedding in 1991. We occasionally got together for golf when I could still play for free at Furman University (and when I still played golf). Shane and his mom were on the scene after my son Spencer was born. After that, we lost track of one another until our 20th reunion in 2009. We reconnected enough to enjoy the occasional text message, social media post, or phone call.

Then, in 2018, my dad passed away. One of the first people to contact me was Shane Bailey. He even shared a beautiful prayer with me that I used at my dad’s graveside service. Who knew that the guy who joined me to violate every rule, moral, or law over the years would offer a prayer worthy of my father’s internment?

Then Shane’s mom passed away a couple of years later. This was a woman who put up with an awful lot from me over the years! I had to reach out and share my best with him. I knew how much his mom meant and what a good woman she was to all of us.

Now my mom has passed away. And one of the first people to reach out on Facebook was Shane.

Friends are a funny thing as we grow older. Some stay in our past, while others remain in our lives forever. And then there are those that only pop up at the most critical moments.

It is unusual that sometimes our “best” friends when we are young are not always the ones that stay with us when we are old. There does not have to be a reason for this other than sometimes life happens. It’s not always the ones you spent the most time with that reconnect with you later in life. Instead, it is often those that formed the closest bonds, even in short periods of time, who strive to be there later in life and when life is the worst.

Or it could be those that happen to look up at the right time and reach out because they feel called to do so. It consistently stuns me when I hear from dear friends of the past at times of grief. Just weeks before my mom died, I attended a funeral for my friend Wells Black. Ran into a slew of high school acquaintances and friends there, almost all of whom reached out to me about my mother. One of those people was Wells’ cousin Laura.

She came to my mother’s visitation, and we texted a bit leading up to my mom’s service. I commented that it would be nice if we could connect somewhere besides a funeral. She replied that “funerals can serve as gentle reminders that we have friends who love us even when we don’t see each other often.”

Perhaps that is a sliver of the good that we see even as we lose someone we love.

We always need to be grateful for those who remain close that are always there when we need them, like my friend Jamie from high school or our friends from college. We received dozens of calls, cards, messages, and visits from friends, as well as congregations we served years ago. This includes our dear friends from Camden County, 8 hours away and 20 years in the past, a few of whom made the drive to be present for mom’s funeral.

But we can also be grateful for the prayers and encouragement that comes from people we might least expect. Is there any greater evidence of God’s overwhelming grace than those who show up in our lives when we need them the most?

As we struggle with grief and loss, it really does not matter what stupid arguments we had in middle or high school. Or any falling out or falling away we had in the past. Or the fact that we did not stay in touch as well as we should have after graduation. The important thing is that people we once loved find a way to reconnect when we need them the most.

Proverbs 17 says that “A friend loves at all times, and a brother (or sister) is born for a time of adversity.” I still struggle with the grief of losing my father, and now I have lost my mother. In the midst of it all, I am encouraged by rediscovering the love and kindness of friends—some eternal, and some re-emerging from the past.

I can barely keep up with my friends’ birthdays on Facebook, much less the various hardships of life. But it is my hope and prayer that I can be some small comfort to them in their time of need, as so many of them have lifted me. I am thankful that so many reached out in so many ways, large or small, to make life a little better when it was at its worst.

May we all be reminded that it is never too late to let the love and grace of Christ shine through us. What is past is past. What we do now and in the future is what makes the difference from this moment forward.

Is There Power at the 50-yard Line?

Football coach David Kennedy recently won his Supreme Court battle for the right to pray after games. Author and lawyer David French agrees with this decision. Here is why they—and many Christians cheering this decision—are looking at the wrong thing. We still need to think carefully about a Christian approach to public prayer.

In its rash of decisions over the past few days, the Supreme Court ruled in Kennedy v. Bremerton School District that football coach David Kennedy has a Constitutional right to walk to midfield after games to lead his team in prayer. Author, Constitutional scholar, and evangelical Christian David French likely cheers this decision, along with many other Christian people around the nation.  

David French is an expert in constitutional law. I am about as far from “expert” in that field as one could possibly get. But I do know sports and religion. That knowledge leads me to believe Christians in America are missing some key truths about sports, prayer, and faith.

We can start with French’s misunderstanding of the power of a football coach. He and the majority of the Court equate a football coach in a community with any other employee in a school. Constitutionally, they may be correct. Realistically, they could not be more wrong.

There is not a more team-oriented, religiously affiliated, conformity demanding sport than football. Coaches insist on loyalty to themselves and to “team” above any individual expression. Patriotism and prayer are standard procedures in the sport, as are expressions of religiosity. It is hard to believe that this was lost on Coach Kennedy.

A football coach exercises tremendous power and influence in a school or community. Walking to midfield to pray is not a coach offering a lesson in free exercise choices. It is a de facto command. And the athletes are expected to follow, whether they agree with the coach or not.

In other words, there is nothing “voluntary” in football, particularly at the high school level. The player who skips those “voluntary” activities will suddenly find himself volunteering to be the water boy. From the first practice they are told they know less than they think they do, so following their coach is paramount to success.

Kennedy knows this. He also knows that players are likely to imitate the actions of the men who play on Sunday afternoon and often gather for prayer after games. While those professionals are acting voluntarily, it is hard to see how Kennedy’s imitative and intentional actions are not coercing his players to a specific religious activity.

This is the nature of the the argument over prayer at public school events that has raged for almost half a century. Is it a public endorsement of Christian faith for a leader who is paid by the state to engage others in Christian activity? Many Christians are ecstatic with this Supreme Court decision, which seems to decide the matter at least for the near future. But as David French and others cheer for this victory, they are forgetting the most important question about public displays of religious devotion:  Are they Christ-like?

Again, my view on the court’s interpretation is merely an opinion. That, along with $5.78, will get you a coffee at Starbucks (at least a small one). Or maybe a gallon and a half of gas. Even if the court says that Christians have a right to pray at midfield, we must still ask if it is the right thing to do.

When I played and coached football, I leaned much more towards French and Kennedy’s position. What was the harm in leading the guys in the Lord’s Prayer before games? Now, I wonder. How many students felt uncomfortable with the Lord’s Prayer? Did they participate with a heart for the Lord, or as a ramped-up pregame ritual? Why does “the Kingdom, the Power, and the Glory” become relevant under a goal post before an athletic competition?

And how many people are very un-comfortable with all the public displays of religion in school, but feared the backlash of the majority? This points to the larger, deeper, and more spiritual conversation that American Christians need to have. Is our prayer more effective when we present it for all to see? And does coercing people to join us truly furthering the cause of Christ?

In Matthew 6, Jesus tells his disciples and the listening crowds that prayer is far from a matter of public production. In fact, he says that prayer should be the opposite of attention seeking behavior: 5And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

If our prayers are just as powerful and valuable from the closed door as they are from midfield, then why do we insist on praying where the entire stadium can see us? If God hears the prayer of the faithful in secret, then why do we insist on making such things so public? Are we looking for God to change hearts and minds, or are we looking to be the center of attention for both God and society?

Christianity in America over the last 75+ years has embraced a cultural ethic of making a grand production of all things, including public prayer. We emerged from the model of Jesus Christ doing everything possible to escape the crowds and shifted to a faith that takes much more of a “Pick me!” vibe.

The problem is that this mindset is not supported by Christ or by the Scripture that points us to Christ. Being the loudest one in the room makes our faith the strongest in the room. In fact, attention-seeking behavior may pull us—and others–further AWAY from Christ rather than towards Him. Nowhere is this more visible than in Jesus’ teaching on prayer.

By walking to midfield and praying out loud, the coach clearly sought a reaction from his team and the fans. French may make a solid case for Kennedy’s constitutional rights, but he makes no case for the rightness of Kennedy’s actions in light of the guidance of Christ.

I know nothing about this coach and only know French from what I see in public. I cannot know either of their motives, much less their hearts. But in the light of Scripture, how such actions further the name and work of Christ. In fact, I would argue that most symbolic displays of prayer may reduce the practice of prayer from Jesus’ intent. Such generic, symbolic prayers allow us to pat ourselves on the back while letting someone else do the hard work of prayer for us.

God indeed loves a martyr who willingly makes a sacrifice for Christ’s cause. But David French seems to miss the fact that Coach Kennedy sought martyrdom without a worthy cause. The purpose and power of prayer is not enhanced by making it into a production for his players or the public.

Perhaps Coach Kennedy’s legal right as an American is to pray at midfield with everyone watching. But as followers of Christ, we recognize that Jesus does not need any additional eyes on us in order to make our prayers effective and righteous.

David French is better served to use his platform to make this point. Rather than cheering for our newly discovered ability to make a spectacle of our prayers, we should seek to return to following the teaching of Jesus on the subject. Christ does not need our spectacle. Rather than putting on a show, we might serve Christ better by pursuing a humble  sincerity of heart that no school district or court can take away. And that Jesus himself prefers.

I Miss My Friend

The last couple of weeks presented a wealth of topics for a blog post. But those all fell by the wayside on Thursday, May 12. I just need to write about an unexpected re-start to a friendship that ended too quickly.

As I sat down on a Thursday to do some writing for the first time in a while (a LONG while), a wealth of topics hung on my mind. I could write plenty about any number of things, and the events of the weekend certainly did not take away from the vault of topics. But none of these things were front and center on my mind. Because my mind was consumed with the loss of my friend, Wells Black.

I’ve known Wells since the days of Greenville Middle School and county league football with the Pelham Rd. Mustangs. We were casual friends during those early years, friendly but not incredibly close. Other than football, we only spent enough time together for Wells to pass along his unending passion for Van Halen–a lesson to which I still cling. Even at Eastside High, our time was largely confined to football activities, very friendly but not close friends. We occasionally got into trouble together although we need not delve into the details of that aspect.

Then Wells spent his last year at a different school and went on to Davidson, while I did my senior year before moving on to Furman. We reconnected via Facebook and talked periodically after that. This included my friend offering some sound legal advice for my ill-fated effort to become a sports radio personality (a different blog for a different day). We had limited contact here and there until 2013, when he suddenly showed up to hear me preach at my small church in Greenville.

Me, Wells, and David Seaver at the Furman-USC baseball game at Fluor Field, 2014. Wait, how did that Clemson guy Seaver get into this pic???

To say that I was both stunned and thrilled to look up and see Wells Black sitting in the pew at Augusta Heights would be an understatement. Beyond the desire to ask, “What the hell are you doing here?,” I couldn’t believe that my old friend chose to hear me preach. His home was in the neighborhood and he just happened to see my name on the church sign one day.

He continued to attend off and on through 2014. We took the time for lunch to talk about church, religion, faith, and what we saw happening in the world. Or we just took a break at talked about sports! In August 2014, I accepted a position with Gardner-Webb University, and Wells treated me to one last lunch as pastor.

It was at this lunch that I noticed that he was only using one hand to eat. I found the nerve to ask what was going on and he said, “You don’t know?” He then revealed his battle with ALS (also known as Lou Gherig’s Disease). One of our members at the church just lost his father to the disease. I therefore knew exactly where this was going. And it was likely that no amount of Ice Bucket Challenges would change that equation.

I left that lunch meeting in stunned silence. We were barely in our 40s, and surely this wasn’t happening. Everything about Wells looked to be relatively fit and healthy and perfectly fine to live for many more years. Under the surface, his body was failing him. Researching and reading about ALS did not bring even the smallest ounce of comfort.

It is a hard point in our lives when we realize that we are losing more people than we are gaining. We attend more funerals than births and baby dedications. No matter when it hits you, this is a reality of our ongoing life together. However, this reality does not make it any easier when saying goodbye to someone who leaves this celestial ball far too soon.

This reality prompted Wells and I to stay in touch throughout my time at GWU. Until his funeral service last Monday, little did I know how long and how much Wells struggled in his heart and soul with the disease that attacked his physical body. Why would I? Wells did not view me as a pastor. I was a friend. An old and trusted friend in many ways, but not someone to whom he would confide all things. This changed to some degree in 2018, when I returned to pastor a small church in Greenville.

We would get together periodically on the weekends, sharing pizza from Vic’s when he could eat it and talking about all the things that make life worth living. We discussed faith, church, and family. We argued about sports, politics, and social issues. We talked about our children and where they were headed in life. Wells was always encouraging of my daughter attending UofSC, and I regularly derided him for his connection to “snooty” Davidson. (Because Furman has no such attitude, right?).

But I still was not Wells’ pastor. And that is what made the relationship great. He did not have to share any deep, dark secrets or fears unless he chose to do so. I could be open and honest with him about my own battles in ministry without any fear of judgment. Trust me when I tell you that the wisdom from outside the church circle is valuable for someone on the inside.

Occasionally, I was able to sub for his caretakers from time to time, getting an inside glimpse of his battle. It amazed me how splendidly these folks knew exactly what he needed—where to place the remote, how to arrange him in bed, etc. He patiently talked me through it to ensure that I met all his needs.

It was amazing. Theoretically, I was supposed to be helping him. But he had to talk me through it to make sure I did not mess up the system! It was also a bitter reminder of how fragile and vulnerable life can be. And, to be blunt, how absurdly unfair. Yet it also reminds us to appreciate even the most basic life essentials like breathing or working a television remote. Hopefully it reminds us at least for a moment to cherish people, to love others over and above all the absurd things that we vainly chase at the expense of what matters most.

If these thoughts crossed my mind on the occasional visit, it is hard to fathom the heart required of his parents, his family, his closest friends, and his caretakers who daily observed his struggle. What a blessing and a heartache it was to observe his stubborn courage (he was determined if nothing else!), but also to see his suffering. If there is any grace to be found here, it is that his struggle was not in vain and that it is now finished.

I cherished these visits with Wells. I have no idea if it helped him at all, but it was great for me. It was so refreshing to have a friend who just allowed me to be completely honest, to be myself in every aspect. No judgment, no condemnation, no questioning of my faith or my ability as a pastor. Just a guy who enjoyed talking and sharing a pizza whenever it was possible.

Then COVID hit. And it all came to an end. This is one more reminder that as hard as the pandemic was for everyone, it was infinitely more difficult for people with health issues and vulnerabilities.

Other than an occasional video, text, or Facebook message, I never talked to Wells again. We tried to set up a meet, but never made it work due to his condition and my increasingly inflexible schedule. Perhaps this was a loss for him, but it was unquestionably a loss for me.

I barely knew how to start this piece, much less end it. I have missed Wells since our last gathering in February of 2020.

None of us, even the best of us, are guaranteed one minute on this mortal coil beyond what we currently have. We are all vulnerable and subject to anything at any moment. The choice we have is to cover up in the corner, or face the fear with all the grace and courage that Christ can give. It is a lesson to all that, against all odds and even his own frustrations, Wells somehow chose the latter.

Our greatest comfort, particularly for those closest to him who watched him struggle, is the knowledge of peace. I believe that Wells is at peace, truly resting for the first time in years. He’s in a place where he breathes and moves and talks freely without the chains of a terrible disease. I pray that all of his family and friends find the hopeful peace of realizing that our loss is Well’s gain.

Yet, I still miss my friend. And I will miss him for many years to come.

Truly, all of our prayers for comfort go to his family and caregivers who stayed by his side every step of the way. Along with Wells, they are the true heroes of this story. Their faithfulness to stand by his side through the toughest of days was no easy task. May we all be so faithful in caring for those in need!

Please see the obituary for ways to contribute to ALS Research: Archibald “Wells” Black, Jr.

Donations may be made in his memory, earmarked for research, to:

South Carolina ALS Association, 130 Gardners Circle, PMB 622, Johns Island, South Carolina 29455.

My Most Important Blog Ever

This my first post in a long time. It may also be the most urgent and important topic I have ever posted. That’s because it involves the life of someone who needs us.

Most of the time I hit you with a blog about some recent topic, some meaningless sports observations, or my usually…umm…”witty” banter. Occasionally, a few of you find my writing to be either important, or perhaps a bit infuriating.

Trust me this time. This one is urgently important!

Out of nowhere in 2013, I saw Facebook post that shook me to the core. My friend and Furman teammate Allen Edwards had suffered a massive stroke at the age of 42. It was unimaginable that this man who struck fear in the hearts of every offensive line in the Southern Conference was clinging to life in a hospital in Charleston.  

Anyone affiliated with Furman football from 1988-2006 knows that name. Allen was a player, a coach, and a legend in both Paladin football and in the Southern Conference.

Former teammates Pat Turner and William Hall shared the news of “Big Al” on Facebook. The guys asked us to post messages so that others could read him words of encouragement.

I sent one of these messages, although I have no memory of what I said. Allen miraculously survived and got back to the Upstate thanks to the work of former teammates and coaches, including Brian Anderson, Don Clardy, the late Bob Glass and Ken Pettus among others. These members of the Furman Football Players Association (FFPA) acquired a place for him to live, but they needed help getting him to therapy appointments and other things. 

I volunteered to get him to the therapist during the summer of 2015. After our journey to Greenville Memorial, I fought back tears until I could get Allen back inside his small apartment. I called my wife and cried openly even after I got home—tears bigger and more significant than I had cried in years.

It shocks the system to see a phenomenal athlete and giant of a man cut down like this. How could such a young man suffer such a debilitating assault on his health and well-being? Sure, we know it happens. But that does not make it any less stunning.

After this single encounter, I knew that this was not a short-term problem. Allen would struggle with this for the rest of his life.

And he would need a lot of help from a lot of people.

A Chance Meeting

In late November of 2000, my family came to Greenville for Thanksgiving. This happened to coincide with Furman’s opening round playoff game at Paladin Stadium.

Of all the things that I’d hoped to pass along to my children, one of them was a love, passion and gratitude for Furman University – just as my father and mother passed along to me. This is why I took my nine-year old son to that Friday afternoon practice. I wanted him to get a glimpse of what I loved so much about this place.

After practice, my boy high-fived a few players and spoke with a few of my former coaches. His excitement was obvious. Then we came across defensive line coach Allen Edwards, the best to ever wear the diamond F.

I had not seen Allen since his graduation in 1992, and it was a thrill to shake my friend’s hand. I say “friend” to describe our relationship off the field. On the field, he was the biggest challenge I ever faced in football.

I was a “nobody” in 1989, a walk-on center among 22 offensive linemen from the reigning national champions. My first full contact drill in preseason practice was to block nose guard Allen Edwards. As a freshman in 1988, Allen made his second collegiate start in the national championship game and posted five tackles, including one-for-loss, in Furman’s 17-12 victory over Georgia Southern.

How I drew this assignment, I will never know. But the battle was short-lived. One round of Allen tossing me like a rag doll and All-American center Steve Duggan came to the rescue.

This was an ongoing pattern for the next two years. I played a little at every position along the offensive line, but still ran across Allen enough to understand his greatness. Blocking him was a bit like trying to move a dump truck with your bare hands, with as much “success” as one might expect. I held, grabbed, tripped and everything else I could think of.

If I slowed him down a little, the coaches went nuts and said, “Great job!” Which was a waste, because this just made him mad enough to kill me on the next play.

Off the field was a different story. We were not incredibly close, but we were “easy” friends. We lifted together, joked around and occasionally hung out. Big Al always had a serious side, but his tone beyond the turf was much more laid back. I regret that I lost touch with him for so many years.

Invitation to a Legacy

At our meeting in 2000, Allen seemed as genuinely glad to see me and my son as I was to see him. And he invited me to join a relatively new organization: the Furman Football Players’ Association.

I was hesitant at first because I felt pretty unimportant in the Furman legacy. I was a walk-on who had to leave the program early for family reasons. It seemed a strange invite coming from a coach and an all-time great.

But Allen would hear none of that. He encouraged me to join and get involved as much as I could. We talked for almost an hour, and it reminded me one more time of why I love Furman so much. He made me a part of the community and insisted that I join it. This same spirit made my father such a loyal Furman alum and donor.

I joined the FFPA but did not become heavily involved until we moved back to Greenville in 2007. A few years later, I found out just how important this fellowship is.

An Ongoing Relationship

Following that chance meeting, Allen and I kept sporadic contact over the years. An occasional email with some discussion after Furman games we got to attend. We lived hours away, so we made inconsistent visits to Paladin Stadium.

When we moved to Greenville in 2007, Allen had moved to Savannah State. In his senior year, my son moved to nose tackle on his high school team. Allen and I emailed back and forth, as he gave tips on how to play the position. He even helped in looking for an opportunity for Spencer to play that position in college.

After that, we lost touch for several years, other than an occasional Facebook post. That all changed when I found out what had happened to my college friend, and how much support he needed.

Events that Changed Everything

Allen needs ALL of our help.

Members of the Furman Football Players Association (FFPA) and others in the Furman family committed financial support. Former football coach and associate Athletic Director Ken Pettus continues to manage the fund.

Due to a variety of circumstances, I took over as Allen’s legal guardian in the fall of 2018. At times it is a tough task, but it is also one that has changed our lives. To watch someone like Allen have to struggle for every step reminds us all that we are blessed with some of the most basic gifts of life–particularly the gift of being able to help others. 

We take care of day-to-day needs, paperwork, trips to doctors, the gym, etc. We get more than a little help from our friends on this as needs arise.

Getting in curls at the gym, 2021

But now we have an issue where we need significant help. We are not in a financial position to support Allen with any more than we currently contribute. His fund has dipped below $5,000, an amount that will barely cover two months of expenses.

Keep in mind that Allen has no family capable of taking care of him and cannot live on his own. Disability, MediCare, and other assistance take care of about half his needs. The Furman family is contributing to keep him in assisted living. Now, we need help from all the family, friends, Furman alums, and others that are willing.

Through the advice of long-time supporters, we are pursuing a goal of $300,000 for Allen’s care. This would cover his expenses for 8-10 years and allow us to focus on his regular needs. Many have already given above and beyond–and we are praying that more can come forward to contribute.

Every contribution helps. This fund is maintained by a lot of people giving what they can to take care of a long-time friend, teammate, classmate, and coach. Like Furman football, it is a team effort in every aspect.

ANY contribution that you can give makes a world of difference.

 

How to Make a Difference

If you would like to make sure that this great player, coach, and person is sustained for the long term, please consider giving to the Allen Edwards Fund. The BEST option is to contribute directly by mail to:

Allen Edwards Fund, 200 Covington Road, Greenville, SC 29617

You can also donate directly by Venmo @Tom-LeGrand-3, or give to Allen’s GoFundMe

Please do not hesitate to contact me at tlegrand71@gmail.com with any questions. 

With Chad O’Rear, Christmas 2019

The Quest for Christ in the Age of Un-reason

In an era of polarization, rage, and splintering, I find myself caught in some of these very tangled webs. The only path to getting untangled is pursuit of a life that pulls us beyond all of this.

One can simply read my blog posts from the last three years to get the picture. These last three years, up until I came to Limestone University, compose an era of frustration and exasperation in life—personally, professionally, and spiritually.

Would you care for a list of the frustrations, some of which border on infuriation? Politics. Social unrest. The COVID Pandemic. Job losses. And if I can be fully confessional: Christianity and the church.

That last one is the toughest, because it has created the most rifts and friction with family and friends. Worse yet, it leaves me in a horrible place of questioning my faith practices—a horribly typical and cliched place to be in modern Christianity.

I am also not some young person going through this, with plenty of time to “deconstruct” and decide if I want to “reconstruct” my faith. I am 50 years old. And if I needed anything over the last 3.5 years, it is faith—as in “the assurance of things hoped for and the promise of things unseen.”

I am overwhelmed by the sense that we have left the Christ out of Christian community on many levels in the current era. As a confession, I have too often let my “righteous rage” and indignation over this get the better of me on this topic.  It is a struggle to see how Jesus has any part in certain expressions or actions by people who call themselves followers of Christ.

And I am at a loss for how to respond to this.

Several things help me to see a better way on this and challenge me to pursue holiness with less judgement and more humility. This fall, I completely altered my Religion 203 class on Spiritual Formation. The first part of this class is an overview of the New Testament, with heavy emphasis on the Gospels.

There is plenty of room in the Gospels for righteous rage. But there is no room for it outside of fully pursuing Jesus Christ and knowing more of who He is, what He does.

To clarify, I still get frustrated with much of what I see. Out of concern for my own spiritual (and mental, physical, emotional) health, I force myself to turn off the voices that send me towards righteous rage at the state of the world.

As much as some things should put us in an uproar, righteous rage can only take you so far before it turns into self-righteous outrage. If the love of Christ is not the source of our concern for the issues of the world, then we are simply living in judgment of those who are not like we are.

Teaching the New Testament has driven me back to the idea of seeing Christ through the mess and the madness that seem to consume the world right now. The quest to know and follow the Living Christ cannot become a secondary pursuit. It has to be a THE pursuit of our life, if we hope to find meaning beyond the social, political, or religious turmoil of this world.

It has become far too easy to talk about “holiness” as a list of beliefs to hold, ideas to support, or even as a candidate to vote into office. In youth group, we often hold up a list of “do’s” and “don’ts” for students to abide in their lives. We impress the belief that holiness is about ending up on the correct side of that list in any given situation.

This is not the holiness that Christ calls on us to pursue. While our search for holiness may lead us to do (or not do) any number of things, living like Christ cannot fall into second place behind an invented checklist. Living by the checklist means that we are finished at some point. As long as the boxes are checked, we are good.

True Holiness means an ongoing, lifelong quest to live in the light of Jesus Christ. It is a never-ending quest because we are always becoming and doing more of what Jesus is and does.

Is this the tougher path? Absolutely—because we know there is always more to do. But it is the path of discipleship that Jesus calls us to follow.

My students this semester challenge me more and more to put down the anger and frustration with the way things are and become more of what Jesus calls on us to be. We cannot honestly look at the Christ of the New Testament without thinking of how we can imitate Him in our own life (Ephesians 5:1-2). Being and doing the things of Christ is how we walk an actual path of holiness.

One last thing: two books led to my renewal of the quest for Christ. One is The Cross and the Lynching Tree by James Cone; and the other is The Crucified God by Jurgen Moltmann.

I could go on for days about these texts and their sharp insight about the nature of the Cross for humanity. But I will spare the reader and offer one hard-hitting challenge.

Years ago, I designed a t-shirt for my youth ministry that said on the back, “His Pain…Our Gain.” I have never felt so far off-base in my life. The Cross certainly does great things for us. But the point of the Cross is not for our mere personal “gain.” It is not for us to view as something that we hang in our churches or around our neck.

The Cross is our challenge, to be picked up and carried as we pursue Jesus. While Christ did all the work for us on that Cross to get us to THIS point, He now expects us to pick it up and keep going. That means seeing Jesus as one who suffered with those who suffer, and forgave without it being earned or deserved.

In other words, the Cross is not here to simply make our life easy. It is here to challenge us continue the journey. May we learn to be willing to take up that Cross and follow Christ’s path above all other things.

Urban Meyer, Jon Gruden, and Email Fiascos

Urban Meyer says he is not a bad guy. Jon Gruden says he is not a racist. But action reveals character—and the actions of these men speak volumes compared to their feeble words.

Man, do I miss my time on sports podcasts and sports talk radio.

I love talking sports to anyone who will listen. But more than that, I love talking about the intersection of faith, culture, and life that sports bring home to us. Over the last week, we have witnessed an unprecedented wreck at these crossroads.

In that time period, Urban Meyer added insult to injury in his thus far disastrous journey in the NFL, and Jon Gruden ended his mediocre return to the league. The events that led up to this tell us more than we want to know about the culture of football on all levels.

Combine this with recent events at a high school in Oklahoma, and we have a full-blown crisis at the crossroads of faith, culture, sports, and life.

Urban’s Faux Crusade

Urban Meyer’s moral high ground is built on two foundations: 1) he coached Tim Tebow; and 2) he openly proclaims his priorities “Faith, family, and football” in that particular order.

Saying something and living it are vastly different issues.

Meyer seemed to get in trouble for enjoying a lap dance in his own bar while his wife was nowhere to be found. This happened when he decided not to travel home with his epically bad 0-4 football team. Many trumpeted the idea that this is no big deal—and perhaps that would be true for a coach with a proven NFL track record.

It is a big deal, however, when you decide not to travel with your football team that is struggling on an epic level. It is also the result when football coaches decide to “cosplay as youth ministers” (quote from my buddy the sports journalist).

Urban Meyer has zero track record in the league. None of his players care a lick about his success in college. It is highly unlikely that they buy into the “Rah-rah” demeanor or religious rhetoric that made him a great college recruiter. He is speaking to grown men who know the difference between CoachSpeak and the real thing.

Maybe Meyer is “not a bad guy” as some people claim. But actions speak louder than words, and his track record displays a stunning lack of awareness of the world—and players—around him.

Meyer’s teams at the University of Florida tallied over 30 arrests. When one of his stars tried to gouge an opponent in the eye, Meyer did suspend him—for one quarter, against Vanderbilt. He hired a known domestic abuser at Ohio State. He hired a weightlifting coach in Jacksonville known for using racially abusive language.

And that’s only about half the list.

The Jags won’t fire Meyer (although I believe they’re dying to) because then they would have to pay him. Meyer won’t quit (although I believe he’s dying to) because he wants to keep getting paid. But whatever happens, it is extremely difficult to see this ending well for Jacksonville.

Some other college will come along and tag Meyer as their program savior. He can be that for a college team, ethics and values notwithstanding. But at some point, he needs to determine if he really means what he says or if that is just a line for the living room where he is speaking to the parents of a 5-star recruit.

If Meyer fails in the NFL, it is not because he allowed some young woman to dance in his lap without his wife present. It will be due to a level of arrogance that he can say one thing and do another without consideration for anyone around him.

Dear Jon…

Meyer is probably the one person who is happy about the Jon Gruden email dump last week. His dalliance at the bar is back page news at best compared to Gruden’s dumpster fire.

Urban Meyer reacts to Jon Gruden email scandal. (Thank you for the tip, James Pugh).

It started off with a horribly racist slur straight from a bad 1920s cartoon. This gave way to your typically lame explanation and apology from a man who foolishly thought this was the only email out there.

And then, round 2 brought the knockout punch.

Gruden’s email chains went on for years with racist, sexist, misogynistic, homophobic rants against so many people in so many walks of the NFL. This included the League Commish, a man who indirectly writes Gruden’s paychecks. (And for the record, I will never be accused of defending Roger Goodell).

What is troubling about the situation is the number of people who defend Gruden at least to some degree. Former players and colleagues have said that they saw Jon Gruden as a good person, good coach, never heard him say these things and never viewed him doing anything racist.

That’s the point, isn’t it? Racist, sexist, misogynistic people are not necessarily wearing that on their sleeve. Klan members did not wear their hoods and Halloween robes to work during the 1950s because it was a secret society. Gruden may have the self-awareness that Meyer doesn’t–which means he is wise enough not to say it out loud.

But our true character is not always revealed in our public persona. Over and over in Christian circles, we point out the places where true character is revealed. Who we are = what we do when no one is looking. Our actions speak louder than words.

If these adages are true—and I believe they are—then we learned far more about Gruden when he hit “send” than we did while listening to him on Monday Night Football. His players and colleagues saw what he wanted them to see. The emails he sent under cover of darkness is the true reveal.

Jon Gruden can say he is not a racist, sexist, misogynistic homophobe. But the people he insulted for years would like to have a word. If we can speak hatefully towards people when we think our actions will not be revealed, then we have a level of hate in our hearts. And until that changes, our denials of the reality of our hearts are meaningless.

But Old Emails?

A final word about this involves the defense that Gruden said this 10 years ago. That is no longer a defense in a digital world.

This was not “cancel culture.” This was responding to the reality that a man revealed about himself through ongoing action.

For starters, Gruden and the rest of us better know that hitting “send” memorializes every word and action—for eternity. Even what you think is deleted can be found by someone. If he assumed these thoughts would remain hidden, that is on him.

12 years ago, I sent an email to a colleague with what I believed to be a harmless snide remark about a person associated with our church. It was not loaded with hateful language or slurs of any kind. It was not crude, but it was rude. And wrong.

That colleague kept the email and decided to show it to some people roughly two years later—including someone in that person’s family. It then went to the Personnel Committee, the pastor, etc.

I owned it. I ate it. While it did not cost me my job, it cost me a lot of respect among people whose respect I wanted to keep. And I deserved every bit of it—while committing myself to never make another comment like that via email. More than that, I decided to work on my attitude towards others (and that remains a work in progress, I am afraid).  

The first revealed comment about an African-American happened 10 years ago. But the pattern continued up through 2018, when Gruden was rehired as a head coach. As bad as that was, it pales in comparison to his willingness to keep this as his default demeanor for at least seven years.

Let us not forget that these emails went out to league offices and employees. These men seemed to have no issues disparaging other league employees, such as women referees, on a regular basis. No one called him out on it—and if they did, he ignored it.

This is not a one-time incident by a person who has learned and grown. While Tony Dungy was correct in pointing out Gruden’s immaturity, that is not an excuse for a man of his age and position. These emails told us exactly who Jon Gruden is, how he thinks, and what he does.

Whatever you think of Jon Gruden and his scandal, he has a lot of room for growth—as do we all. Hopefully he will decide to learn and grow into the person that some people think he is and that he claims to be.

How Gruden’s story goes from here is largely up to him. Perhaps we can join him in living up to the challenge of being the good people publicly and privately, in both word and deed. Our decision to strive for that allows us to build the Christ-centered character that the Lord expects of us.

Church PTSD: It’s a Real Thing

Some church leaders want to belittle or diminish those who have left the congregation, or abandoned the faith altogether. Unless you have experienced the full weight of church trauma, you may want to re-think this position.

About 10 months ago, the nightmares finally stopped. As did the anxiety about driving close to the street where it all happened. Or the stomach-turning fear of running into former members of the “board.”

It seemed I was finally moving past the long-term hangover of the dysfunctional leadership of a church.

Then it happened.

Out of nowhere comes another dream, and I am suddenly transported back into the nightmare.

Suddenly I am struggling to breathe through the disingenuous, passive aggressive, and dishonest behavior of church “leaders.” Rebranded images of the utter disrespect, arrogance, and self-righteousness heaped on my family. This includes my immediate and my church family—the very people I was helpless to pastor when they needed it most.

If you do not think church trauma is a real thing, then perhaps you have avoided it in its most severe forms. I am glad for you. Yet, trust me when I tell you that the wounds of extreme church trauma are deep, and the scars remain for a long time. Maybe forever.

As one of my students has said, there may not be any hurt quite like “church hurt.” And the Post-traumatic Stress Disorder of it is real. Church PTSD may not be a clinical diagnosis exactly, but rest assured that it happens.

My return nightmare is not the only, or even the primary, reason for bringing this up. I notice some regular criticism of Christians (or former Christians) who are “deconstructing” or outright leaving the faith. These are formerly avid church goers who stepped away and are stripping down the damaging baggage from their formative faith years.

Outside of the criticism and belittling of those who departed, the talk centers on how to get these people to come back to church. This may be a legitimate concern for the well being of those who left, or perhaps it is a concerned for the bottom line numbers—particularly in the post-COVID (kind of) era.

I do not fully understand deconstructing or all the reasons for it. But I do comprehend the reasons for it, particularly among victims of church trauma. Church PTSD is more than enough to cause people to question their faith—and possibly move away from it.

Among the critics are some pastors, evangelical musicians, and so-called Christian scholars. Evangelicals are taught that attracting people to the faith is essential. If people leave and share their reasons, it potentially damages the overall purpose of evangelical-leaning congregations.

The critics, however, are missing some key understanding. A lot of people attend or participate in church in semi-active ways. They go to services, serve as greeters, or maybe assist the Events Team. But they never get a look at the inside—and they don’t want to because they are justifiably afraid of what they might find.

And with good reason. Becoming a deacon, team lead, advisory council member, etc. carries a whole different weight. As does being a pastor, associate pastor, or pastor’s wife. When people experience the weight of such positions and see the inner workings of the church, it can raise a lot of questions about the nature of faith/church.

Some of us experienced a particularly ugly, debilitating side of church that many do not know. Church leaders seem reluctant to acknowledge it. But it is far too real for many who are leaving the faith.

I still feel physically ill when I think about re-joining a church in any kind of official format. That feeling gets worse when the idea of being asked to serve on a committee or lead a ministry effort for more than occasional stand-in duty. Oh, I’ve considered doing those things on multiple occasions, but it always comes with a sense that I should more than a sense of “want to.”

Some will deconstruct and never return. Others eventually reconstructed and DID return, although they chose a much different style of church/theology on their second round. That was not our path, and we have returned to church on a (fairly) regular basis.

But I understand why people leave. I get why the hurt is too much and the reality of some church experience pushes them too far to ever return. However, the church can play a significant role for those experiencing the trauma, by thinking outside the goal of getting people to return.

Quite often, people need a lot of time, space, and grace–and some people willing to hear their story. It also helps to actively work to not repeat that painful story for anyone else.

I am beyond fortunate that I found a place to return in good conscience (Pelham Rd. to be exact) and I did so without a full deconstructing-type of process. But that search is not nearly so easy for others.

Toxic leadership, sexual abuse, cover-ups, lack of transparency, controlling or abusive pastors, arrogant/dismissive leaders, or even just really bad deeply ingrained theology all do real damage to people. Their fear may bubble up at the most unexpected moments. Rather than criticizing those who battle these fears, the church can choose to EMBRACE them.

The foundation of Christian faith is GRACE, and those who left the church need a lot of it (as we all do). Perhaps they witnessed episodes that are far more traumatic than those that my wife and I did. Rather than heaping anger and criticism, the church needs to find that gracious response to their PTSD.

For starters, you can create intentional space for those who are trying to return. Not every visitor needs to join right away. Not everyone is ready to be on a committee. Not everyone is ready to tell their full story. Leave folks room to breathe and turn down the pressure to “get involved” right away.

A lot of churches hear the stories of those who leave and deconstruct and think, “Oh, but OUR church isn’t like that!”

Are you sure?

One way to help people reconstruct and/or reconnect is to deal with your own toxic elements. This is certainly not to say that every church has severely toxic elements. But what does it hurt to take some introspection on a regular basis to find out?

A little self-awareness goes a long way, and it will help people to reconnect. It may also force you to look at some toxic theology/practice that will bring the entire congregation closer to a Christ-centered view.

One of the most damaging elements, particularly for those who did not grow up in church, is the “Pie in the Sky” approach that drew them to certain churches. Perhaps they were sold on the idea that this church/pastor/theological approach is far and away the best thing out there.

Suddenly something happens and they discover the truth. We are all just flawed, sinful human beings who gather regularly in the hope of forgiveness  and redemption. But because churches do not portray that on the front end, people grow disheartened when the reality becomes obvious. One way or another, it always does.

This is why all church communities need to be honest about who they are–with others and themselves. At the heart of it, we (including pastors and staff ministers) are struggling human beings, trying to put ourselves aside in order to live in a Christ-centered community. By presenting the church as an imperfect search for the perfected Christ, you give an honest impression from the beginning. And you avoid the idol worship or cult of personality that sometimes draws large (and spiritually vulnerable) throngs of people.

Will these steps bring these hurting folks back to the church? Maybe not—but maybe that should never be the goal. Church trauma is grueling and gut-wrenching. Perhaps those experiencing it need patience and grace above anything else the church may offer.

As Christians, our default mode is to want to save people and help them, to talk about our faith and how great our church is. As human beings, our default mode is to get defensive when people share harsh realities about groups or institutions that we invest in and love.

Such modes are not the path to healing, or to avoiding further damage to those who are already hurting. Giving much-needed grace–without belittling or critiquing–is much more likely to create such a path. Maybe Christians and church leaders can also stop to ask why, and learn how to do better in the future.

Rather than denying or denigrating the pain of Church PTSD, let us lean into it and seek ways to get better and do better. Perhaps even walk with people through it, however they need it. The process could prove long and rocky, but the road less traveled may be the best path towards healing.

Dear Parents, No One Is Teaching Your Child Critical Race Theory

Dear Parents,

It seems that your latest fear is the specter of Critical Race Theory.

You demand laws in various states against the teaching of CRT in public classrooms. You oppose the concept in your colleges, universities, and seminaries. You fight because you fear that teachers are immersing your children in CRT—especially your white children.

Mad about…what???

You will even go so far as to allow massive government overreach and interference with academic freedom in order to prevent the spread of this allegedly insidious theory.

Thank you for caring enough to raise your voice. There is, however, one small problem.

No one is teaching your children Critical Race Theory, certainly not in the way you are being told. In all likelihood they are not teaching it at any level—even in college or graduate school.

How do I know this? For starters, I have taught in college for the last seven years. I encountered zero professors, administrators, or staff who ever brought up the concept of CRT. Much less pushed us to teach it.

In fact, most of us have no idea what Critical Race Theory is. We cannot teach it if we cannot even properly define it. Professors heard about this at the same time you did—after it became a lit match in the hands of political pundits.

Are we learning more about it now? Yes, we certainly are. It is our job to understand what has so many of you so disturbed, and why legislators are passing laws that forbid academic freedom and integrity because of CRT. That said, we are miles away from knowing enough to teach it.

(Likewise, we are pretty sure that your children could not understand it even if we were teaching it).

Beyond that, the pundits, legislators, and education officials in various states talk about Critical Race Theory as an educational theory or concept.

It isn’t.

CRT is a legal—not educational—theory. There is no technique, methodology, or philosophy adopted by educators to infuse Critical Race Theory into the classrooms of college students, much less elementary school children.

The study of CRT involves the investigation of legal and political components that contribute to racial disparities in the United States. That is an over-simplified and crude definition at best, but it moves towards the concept. If there is a CRT curriculum, I have yet to see it or hear about it from anyone in the educational world.

In fact, you can make a solid case that CRT is the last thing on the minds of elementary school teachers across the country. If you think otherwise, then you need to spend a day in an elementary school classroom.

Have you ever tried to herd cats? Not just one cat, but a gaggle of cats—7, 8, 9, or perhaps 25 of them? This is the life of an elementary school teacher. She or he is trying to teach basic concepts, perhaps even basic life skills, to small children from every variety of background imaginable. They are worried about how to get kids to lunch, the bathroom, or recess. They are worried that their kids have pencils, ate something for breakfast, or came to school on a cold day without a jacket.

They are hoping that your child can master 7×11 before some senator or school board member rips into them about their standardized test scores. Advanced legal and sociological concepts are the furthest thing from their mind.

I would challenge you to find a place and time for these dedicated educators to work in the dynamic intricacies of a legal theory into the day. Sometime between lunch and the bathroom?

Now, it is true that educators are working harder to teach the full range of social studies and history that impacts the nation and the world. But teaching accurate history is NOT Critical Race Theory. It is, quite simply, history.

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of visiting Monticello, the majestic home of one Thomas Jefferson. My wife visited this site 20+ years ago, but it was my first trip. She quickly pointed out that several things changed since her last visit. Primarily, the tours had extensive information about Sally Hemmings and Jefferson’s participation in the practice of slavery.

Some would label that CRT. Damaging to the nation. Damaging to Jefferson’s legacy. Unfortunately, the truth quite often hurts.

HOWEVER, this is not CRT. It is not even damaging. Knowing the realities does not make us lesser, but instead makes us better. More than one thing can be true, and Jefferson’s positive and negative legacies demonstrate that. He did a lot of great things and was a very flawed human being.

In other words, he has a lot in common with the rest of us humans.

From that perspective, please understand that we will challenge our students as they move towards higher learning. We will present ideas in unique and creative ways. We will push them to look at the world from different perspectives. We will present a variety of ideas about history, religion, and the social sciences.

In my own work, that includes both the possibilities and problems that are raised by Christianity throughout history. We look at the significant issues facing Christian faith—and religion in general–in the modern world. This relates to race and all the aspects of society with which their faith intersects.

This is our job. Students do not move into higher education to hear what they have already heard. They go into it to learn and grow and expand their knowledge of the world.

If we are afraid to acknowledge and share the full weight of truth and reality with our children, what does that say about us?

No one is throwing this at grade school children. We are challenging them in these areas, slowly but surely, as it is educationally appropriate. Just as the vast majority of educators do.

Someone suggested that we need cameras in every classroom to monitor what teachers are doing with our children. First off, it would be interesting to hear how many of us will accept the tax hike required for this. Second, this seems an odd suggestion when so many people oppose “government intrusion” in our daily lives.

Finally, there is a much better and more effective option. As we move beyond COVID, perhaps you can volunteer at your child’s school. Maybe you can help a teacher at recess, file some papers, organize field trip forms, or watch the class while they get a bathroom break. You will get a firsthand look at what they do, how hard their job is, and how they go about that work.

It is likely that you will also soon realize that Critical Race Theory is the least of their—or your—concerns. Best of all you can rest easy by ignoring those who just want your vote, or your money, or both.

Sincerely,

Tom

Just another guy with a classroom