Thursday of Lent 2

Jeremiah 4:9-28

Teacher and Coach

According to those in the know, he had a brilliant defensive mind as a football coach. His best friend from high school football had gone on to play professional ball, and they kept an ongoing conversation through the years about how to play against the various sophisticated offensive schemes.

He was a born teacher, who taught the most demanding sciences to high school students. He did not fit the caricature many have of coaches, who want the least academic load in order to devote most of their time and energy to football, which is the cash cow in any sized school. During his tenure as the top assistant football coach, the team had its greatest success in school history. Many of his players received scholarships to major schools, were able to do the work there, and eventually graduated. A few went pro.

I am not sure why he became high school principal. Perhaps, the pay was better at a time when his own kids were looking at going away to college. Maybe, it was the inevitable next step when his head coach was forced by health to leave coaching. Whatever the reason, he was not a happy man. There were 162 seniors as the high school moved into a new building for the first time in 50 years. With hardly more than an hour’s drive to Dallas, drugs were becoming a problem in the fall of 1971. The seniors were angry that they could not leave campus at lunchtime as they had been able to do the previous three years. So, some students dropped pills or smoked grass on the way to school for their first class. The strict dress and hair codes were hugely unpopular, and the “cool” parents protested before the school board.

Having registered for the draft on our eighteenth birthday, the minds of all the male seniors were on the Vietnam war as the year wound down. Some of the farm and ranch kids signed on at the recruitment office in order to choose which branch and how they might be able to serve. A not inconsequential number of seniors went out of their way to be disrespectful to the principal. He was the gatekeeper of the kingdom, and, when he said that this senior class was the worst he had seen, he received a standing ovation. You may remember that the motto of baby boomers was: “Question Authority!”

I wonder how many nights he asked himself, “Why didn’t I stay a teacher and coach?” Was he like the central character in Pat Conroy’s “The Prince of Tides,” who had to learn to accept who he was and to learn what gave him joy in life? Did he have to admit finally that he had placed himself in the wrong seat on the bus? It is possible to be quite competent in work that gives you no joy. And, as I often tell younger folks, “The happiest people in life do what gives them joy and are almost surprised that they are being paid to do what they love to do.”

The year came to an end, and some married right away and found work that would pay good students to go to college part-time while working full-time. Others of us scattered far away, but many of us stayed very close to home. As it turned out, the class of 1972 was the last group to participate in the draft lottery. Richard Nixon was reelected President with his plan to end the war, and Henry Kissinger, the Secretary of State, was in Paris to negotiate the slow exit of American troops from southeast Asia. So, the next classes worried less about dying in southeast Asia. They partied and fully embraced the “me decade,” yet they were probably a lot easier for the principal to deal with. He soldiered on toward his retirement.

I have often thought that counting down to retirement was a kind of slow death of the soul. Pastoral conversation, even coupled with Private Confession and Forgiveness, can lead to a rediscovery of joy.

Dear Heavenly Father, grant us grace to find joy in our work and to exude that joy to others for the sake of the unbelieving world. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Put sixteen pennies, nickels, or dimes in a bowl or box to feed the poor (Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard).

Pastor Samuel D. Zumwalt, STS
St Matthew's Evangelical Lutheran Church
Wilmington, NC

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.