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In Memory of a Coach

Posted by griffithd@ecsphilly.org on May 15, 2020 at 1:35 PM

When I was a young man in boarding school, my Latin teacher was Mr. Hopley who, while proficient with the language of ancient Rome, also had a sense for the English language that he would use from time to time to turn a phrase such that many remain in my memory forty years later. He believed that words can inspire, that the spoken word, well turned, could stiffen a backbone, instill character, provoke thought, and become a touchstone for one’s values. His great gift was the lesson that words spoken, words written, only had true meaning if one could back them up with deeds and actions that matched the rhetoric.

 

 

 

One thinks of JFK’s enduring question; “My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country?” or Lincoln’s well-chosen words at Gettysburg “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”

 

 

 

My favorite, probably due to Mr. Hopley’s influence, comes from Gene Edward’s well-conceived book, A Tale of Three Kings: A Study in Brokenness, a fictional tale about King David, Saul, and Absalom. In one chapter David, living in King Saul’s house, asks what to do when a spear is thrown at him. The answer?

 

 

 

When someone throws a spear at you, David, just wrench it right out of the wall and throw it back. Everyone else does… And in doing this small feat of returning thrown spears, you will prove many things. You are courageous. You stand for the right. You boldly stand against the wrong. You are tough and can’t be pushed around. You will not stand for injustice or unfair treatment. You are the defender of the faith, keeper of the flame, detector of all heresy.

 

 

 

Upon first reading, I was sure I had heard those words before. I continue to think about this passage a lot. On first read: Go ahead, return the spear. Justify it as a defender of the faith, keeper of the flame. Often our reaction to attack is to return the favor and to find some nobleness in doing so. In the end you both end up wounded, or perhaps dead. In the following passage, however, Edwards’s writes that perhaps you will be the finest spear thrower in the realm, but you will also be more than likely become quite mad. He understood PTSD before it had a name.

 

 

 

Edwards goes on to suggest that perhaps the true defender of the faith is the one who does not throw the spear, does not spend time with spear throwers, and the true keeper of the flame is quiet, even as one’s heart is pierced. Herein lays true leadership and strength.

 

 

 

How ironic that the classic phrase of English coronations, Fidei Defensor, defender of the faith (that’s where I’d heard the phrase), is turned from the old biblical story of David and Saul when that very same story speaks to the true king, one who would come after David and from the House of David and speak not of armies and violence, but of peace. We respect warriors, but we honor peacemakers.

 

 

 

So perhaps true defenders of the faith, true keepers of the flame, do not stand their ground on the strength of their swords. Perhaps the true defenders look for the common ground and the strength of peace. Perhaps the early deeds of a young King David match the words (ironically not his later ones, but Edwards has the liberty of prose here). Perhaps, Mr. Hopley was right. And to quote another man from Massachusetts “the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.”

 

 

 

The work of peace goes on, and with it the notion that peace on the battlefield needs to be matched with peace on our streets and in our hearts. Peace that comes when the spear of poverty has been stilled. Then we can be true defenders of the faith. In a new land and in a new time. Fidei Defensor, Mr Hopley

Categories: Leadership, Griffith Thoughts, Muddy Boots

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