At last week’s Schola Cantorum concert, I thanked those younger students not yet in one of our programs for the good attention they showed their older siblings who were performing. “If you want to show someone you love them,” I said, “you listen to them.” I was surprised by how many parents came up to me afterward to voice their approval of that sentiment.
Now that we have four Petra basketball teams competing each week, I’d like to offer a corollary for the court: “If you want to show someone you love them, you cheer for them and watch them play.”
If you’ve been to a game, you may have seen me occasionally ask students (ours or others) to refrain from grabbing a basketball at halftime or between games to head out on the court to shoot. My goal in doing this is not to be mean, but to encourage students to respect and support team members who have put in the hard work to wear the uniform.
As we pursue excellence in the classroom, I want to see us do the same in our competitions and the way we think about what a Petra athletic event is and should be. I want to raise the profile of what it takes to participate in athletics and honor the effort of those who give themselves to a sport in addition to their studies.
Our uber-informal Bozeman culture, coupled with an overly child-centric American parenting view, can work against us in terms of teaching kids delayed gratification and the value of earning a spot on a team. Setting aside the court (or sports field) for those who have fulfilled the requirements to be there is a small push back against the entitlement mentality that teaches kids they can do what they want by just showing up.
Thank you for teaching and helping your young ones understand that, on game days, the court is reserved for the athletes playing the games. One day, your aspiring athlete will get his or her turn, and we will show them we love them by being there to cheer for them and watch them play.
(The following homily was given at Petra Academy’s All Saints’ Feast.)
All Saints’ Day is a holy day that the Orthodox church traces back to church father John Chrysostom in the 4th century as a recognition of saints – many of whom were martyrs – celebrated on the first Sunday after Pentecost. Pope Boniface IV, who consecrated the Parthenon at Rome to Mary and the martyrs, initiated the practice in the Catholic church in 609 A.D. before Pope Gregory III officially established the holy day on November 1 in the mid-eighth century.
Historically, Catholic churches have thought of “saints” as those officially canonized or “made” saints by the church, but in the Orthodox church, as well as in many Protestant denominations today, All Saints’ Day is celebrated as a remembrance of departed Christians from any time and place – those whom Hebrews 12:1 calls a “great cloud of witnesses” surrounding the Church universal. Thus, All Saints’ Day is a day on which we honor faithful believers who have died, but also those by whom we are sitting even now.
I wonder, though, if we really believe this – that we are sitting next to saints? I know that I struggle with the idea, not so much because I know all of you but because I know me. I’m much more likely to think of myself as a sinner saved by grace than a saint who sins.
How do you think about yourself? As someone who usually messes up but miraculously gets it right every now and then? Or as someone who is loved and cherished even (and especially) when he messes up? Does it matter? I think it does.
Let me tell you a Little Mr. Dunham story.
When Little Mr. Dunham was in 7th grade, he played basketball on a really good school team. Little Mr. Dunham wasn’t the best player on the team, but he was a perfectionist and often got down on himself pretty easily if he didn’t play up to his standards. One night, after a particularly bad game, Little Mr. Dunham came home, threw his duffel bag in the corner of his room, sat down at his desk, and carved into the wood a question: “Why does Little Mr. Dunham play basketball?” And then, in the throes of true teenage angst, he carved the answer: “No apparent reason.”
Little Mr. Dunham’s coach noticed his tendency to get down on himself and made the comment to Little Mr. Dunham’s parents that he was going to die at the age of 14 from beating himself up over his perfectionistic ways. Little Mr. Dunham’s parents told him this, which made him feel even worse…until his parents told him what the coach had also said: “But he’s the smartest player I’ve ever coached.”
This was what Little Mr. Dunham needed. He knew he would never be the fastest player or the best rebounder or the top scorer, so he tried to play up to what the coach had said about him being the smartest player. Someone else loved him enough to believe in him, and that made all the difference for Little Mr. Dunham and his team for the next six years. He no longer thought of himself as a bad player who only rarely and miraculously got things right; instead, he learned (and it was a process) to think of himself as a smart player who, yes, sometimes missed the mark, but was loved and trusted by his coach and his teammates anyway.
It’s true that you and I are sinners – ones who miss the mark of God’s commanded perfection. It’s also true that, if we trust in the work Jesus has done for us on the cross, we are sinners saved by grace – by a love we never deserved, but were given anyway. It is only by this undeserved love any of us can call ourselves Christians.
But God thinks of those who are Christians much more as saints who sin instead of merely sinners saved by grace. There are plenty of passages from the Psalms (among other books) that tell us this (see Psalm 16:3; 30:4; 31:23; 34:9; 37:28; 85:8; 97:10; 116:15; 132:9; 132:16; 145:10; 148:14).
It feels good and means a lot to hear God call us his saints, but I wish we were better at thinking of each other in this way. Sometimes we don’t treat each other like saints at all. We talk poorly about one another; we do mean things to one another; we think of ourselves as being better than one another.
You know where we most often see this happen at school? On the playground, in the garment rooms, in the hallways, in the gymnasium, in the bathrooms in the parking lot – places where we think no adult is watching or listening closely, but God always is.
C.S. Lewis, the author of The Chronicles of Narnia and so many other great books you’ll read at Petra, writes in his book, The Weight of Glory, about how he, too, wished we could see each other more as God sees us because of Jesus. Listen to what he wrote:
It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship…It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal…it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously—no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption. And our charity must be real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner—no mere tolerance or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment. Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.”
We are called to see our fellow Christians the way God sees us – not just as sinners saved by grace (though we are), but also as saints who sin (because we do).
What would it look like if we thought of and spoke to and played with one another in ways that saw the good in one another rather than only the not-so-good? What if we believed – really believed – that when others sin against us and hurt our feelings, we should forgive them because they are saints who sometimes sin rather than dirty, rotten sinners saved by grace and a real pain in the neck? What if we ourselves experienced this kind of forgiveness when we hurt others but were treated as saints who sometimes sinned rather than sinners saved by grace?
As we celebrate All Saints’ Day and think about those who have gone before us, let’s remember to honor those saints we see everyday – at Petra and elsewhere. Let’s believe the best in one another, stand shoulder to shoulder with one another, and talk to and not about one another. And while we can all heartily affirm that, indeed, we are sinners saved by grace, let us also pray for courage for one another to live not just as ordinary people or mere mortals, but as saints – yes, who sin – but as saints nevertheless because of Jesus, who died on the cross to make us so.
This truth (and our unity as saints surrounding them) is what we celebrate today, just as those before us celebrated as well.
(The following is Mr. Dunham’s message given at our first-ever Fall Season JV and Varsity Athletic Dinner on Friday, October 27. Team portraits by Ashley Dawn Photography.)
You may not realize it, but Socrates was a sports fan. After all, it was he who said, “No citizen has the right to be an amateur in the matter of physical training. It is a shame for a man to grow old without seeing the beauty and strength of which his body is capable.” As we seek to train you to be upstanding citizens, we do so mindful of the bodily benefits Socrates mentions as part of the mix. Not only do we see the benefits of physical training, we have known the joy of you seeing the beauty and strength of which you are capable, which does our hearts good as parents.
In addition to your accomplishments on the court and the field these past months, I hope you have recognized that in some ways your effort has been and will be its own reward. You have been pushed by caring coaches and you have pushed yourselves and each other not just physically, but emotionally, intellectually, and even spiritually. This is proper and good, for as Socrates said, it’s a shame for us to grow old without experiencing any of this, lest we replace true competition with only its digital counterparts. (Thankfully, once you have played the games – of soccer, of volleyball – there’s no comparison to their video versions.)
Each of you accomplished much this season. I say this because each of your teams accomplished much this season. In this, our inaugural soccer season and under the leadership of Coaches Ashley and Wilmington, we not only showed up and competed, we won – 10 of 13 games! – by way of play that was beyond expectations for a first-year, co-ed, broad age combination of student-athletes. You learned your roles and played them well, deferring to strengths and protecting weaknesses, which is what a true team – in sport or otherwise – does. You were both surprising and inspiring, not to mention a whole lot of fun to watch, and we honor you for your efforts.
Our junior varsity volleyball team rose to the occasion this year as well, going 7-3 and improving almost every game. As you know, junior varsity players, JV in any sport requires flexibility, as in addition to practicing as a team, you never know when you’re going to be on the receiving end of the practice serves and spikes from the varsity. You rarely get as much glory or time on JV, and yet because of your attitudes this year, you became better as you worked hard and earned your place in our program. Along the way, you went 7-3 and earned the respect of those you played, as well as those varsity players you played against.
And now to our varsity volleyball team, a team that has won my respect for the way you have worked to improve, play together, and play for one another. When I first met you, few overhand serves were flying (let alone getting past the net), but together and with Coach Iversen working with you in new and strange ways – wall sitting, running with basketballs over your heads, and serving and spiking at you until you didn’t know to do anything different but bump, set, and spike it back – we as parents saw you blossom into a capable and fun volleyball team to watch. You came close – oh, so close! – to a .500 season, going 6-8, but more significantly you recorded our first varsity volleyball wins ever – and six of them to boot, one for every year that you, our seniors, went without.
All of our student-athletes have benefited from the physical training this season’s sports required, because as Paul reminds us in his words to Timothy, physical training is of some value! You’re better physically than you would have been otherwise, and you’ve tested your resolve, because sports don’t build character; they test it.
You have gotten better at ordering your loves and handling your responsibilities because you’ve had to – there are only so many hours in the day! You have learned how to handle pressure on and off the court and field. You have learned how to win humbly and how to lose graciously, how to lift one another up and how to repent from dragging one another down. You have learned how to humble yourself to take instruction, and you have learned that when you don’t, the game often does it for you. These are all important lessons – not just for soccer and volleyball – but for life, and I hope you see just how much they are and can be of great value.
Take what you have learned this fall – these years at Petra for some – and continue to train yourself to be godly, for as Paul writes, “godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.” Be disciplined, be humble, be hopeful, and persevere as you pursue living out the beauty and strength of which we have seen you are capable, by His grace and for His glory.
Non nobis Domine, Domine (Not unto us, O Lord, O Lord) Non nobis Do-mi-ne (Not unto us, O Lord) Sed nomini, sed nomini (But to Your name, but to Your name) Tu o da gloria (May all the glory be)