Thursday, June 17, 2010

Faith Works 6-19

Faith Works 6-19-10

Jeff Gill

The Dog That Barked In the Nighttime


John Wooden clearly had many fans among Advocate readers, and I'm pleased that so many of you appreciated hearing a bit more about what made this legendary basketball coach the man and role model that he became.

There was one other element of Wooden's story that I wanted to get to (as long as last week's column was, for which I thank the forebearance of my editors). It had to do with his father, appropriately enough for this Father's Day weekend.

His father lost the farm during the Depression, but he taught John Wooden a set of life principles which Coach carried on a piece of paper in his wallet the rest of his life. Wooden was never shy about sharing copies of this list with players, friends, and in speaking engagements, so it was very well known – you may have seen it before yourself.
It was so much of the John Wooden legend that the Los Angeles Times included the list in their front page obituary: "Be true to yourself. Make each day a masterpiece. Help others. Drink deeply from good books. Make friendship a fine art. Build a shelter against a rainy day."
That's how they ran it, anyhow. Without a word to let the reader know they, um, edited it a little. The problem being that so many of us out here almost knew the original text by heart (a useful skill to develop for many reasons) . . .
"Be true to yourself. Make each day a masterpiece. Help others. Drink deeply from good books, especially the Bible. Make friendship a fine art. Build a shelter against a rainy day. Pray for guidance, count and give thanks for your blessings every day."

Fascinating edits, no? I certainly understand that sometimes an article or even, perish forbid, a column might have to be cut down a bit, but this was a remarkably surgical excision of three key words from the end of the fourth point, which makes the dropping of the seventh item somewhat suspect beyond the limits of the daily news hole on page one.

Why drop those notes of religious faith? Isn't that what is key to understanding the phenomenon that was and is John Wooden? Would so very many readers of the Los Angeles Times be offended by the very sight of an acknowledgement of belief?

Apparently, someone thought so.  Obviously those who are of a religious persuasion find such sentiments not only inoffensive but encouraging and uplifting, and those whose orientation is more atheistic or agnostic react with a weary sigh. Thus it long has been, and no doubt always shall be.

What's new here is the pre-editing of content based on an assumption of offense by some; to treat religious observations like a hostile act of language akin to a racist name or shocking incident that needs to be elided and adjusted for general audiences.

Other than keeping a wary eye out for such alterations of reality to fit certain narrow assumptions, I don't know what can be said beyond quoting John Wooden a few more times in full, such as:

"Talent is God-given; be humble. Fame is man-given; be thankful. Conceit is self-given; be careful."

And at the risk of giving offense to anyone who doesn't agree with him . . . about basketball . . .

"Basketball is not the ultimate. It is of small importance in comparison to the total life we live. There is only one kind of life that truly wins, and that is the one that places faith in the hands of the Savior. Until that is done, we are on an aimless course that runs in circles and goes nowhere." 

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; he has a truly dreadful top of the key jump shot, and occasionally misses wide open layups. Give him some tips at, or follow Knapsack @Twitter.