Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Manufactured Emotion?

Mark Richt is the head coach of the University of Georgia Bulldogs football team. I’ve never met him, but by all accounts he’s a first-class guy. Georgia has been very successful since Richt became the coach before the 2001 season, which is good, since winning is what keeps a head coach in his job. But he has also exhibited a lot of class and character, which is frankly much more important.

Coach Richt is also a professing Christian who seems to practice what he professes. He’s even a Baptist!

Richt is a calm, steady kind of fellow. Some folks commend him for those characteristics, figuring that such a demeanor is good over the long haul when you’re trying to lead a bunch of teenaged and young adult football players. Others have at times questioned whether his approach creates an appropriate level of enthusiasm, given that playing a college football game is such an emotional endeavor.

With all due respect to Georgia Tech, the most emotional game of the year for the Dawgs is the annual face-off with the Florida Gators in Jacksonville. I’ve been to that game three times and it is quite a sight to see half the stadium dressed in red and half the stadium dressed in blue. Lately, the series has gone the Gators’ way; going into this year, the Bulldogs had won only two of the last seventeen games. Florida had all the momentum and most of the confidence every year. It was usually pretty obvious going in to the games that Georgia’s team would wilt under the pressure. When it came to the stare down, Georgia always blinked first.

Debra and I were driving to Augusta from Macon last Saturday afternoon so we were listening to the first half of the Georgia-Florida game on the radio. When Georgia scored the first touchdown of the game, we heard Scott Howard, who is doing a good job of subbing for Larry Munson on road games, saying that the entire Georgia bench had swarmed into the end zone to celebrate. The announcers agreed that they had never seen anything like that before. Georgia drew two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties for the celebration and had to kick off from the seven-yard line.

It wasn’t spontaneous. It turns out that Coach Richt had told the team as they had begun preparations for the Florida game that if they didn’t draw an excessive celebration penalty after their first touchdown they would all be running at 5:30 the next morning. He has since said that he only meant for the offense to celebrate and that he didn’t anticipate the entire team taking part. He also has apologized to the SEC for the demonstration.

On the one hand, I think that Coach Richt exhibited creative leadership and shrewd psychology. Georgia needed to make a statement that they intended to go nose-to-nose with the Gators. Thankfully, the Dawgs were able to back it up with a well-played game. But there is no doubt in my mind that the emotion created by the planned celebration had a lot to do with their success. We may look back on that event as one that changed the entire tenor of the series.

On the other hand, if Urban Meyer or Steve Spurrier or Phil Fulmer or Nick Saban had pulled such a stunt against Georgia, I’d probably be mad. Such is college football. We don’t claim a lack of bias.

Like everything else, this all got me to thinking about my leadership in the church. I won’t try to compare my Christian commitment and character to that of Richt, but I do think that I tend to have a pretty calm and steady approach to life and to leadership. Should I do more to “create” enthusiasm and excitement? Should I try to find more ways to motivate my folks to “feel” their faith more and to have that feeling permeate their lives more?

I’m not sure what I would do if I wanted to try to create such enthusiasm.

How about this: I’ll tell them that, if we don’t draw an excessive celebration penalty the next time somebody gets saved, I’ll have them all back at church praying at 5:30 on Monday morning. I can see it now—all the members of The Hill Baptist Church swarming down to the front, jumping and dancing and shouting and celebrating. I won’t speculate on which members would be throwing the yellow penalty flags.

OK, maybe I shouldn't try such—but still, I wonder.

Maybe if I tried it, I could post a celebration picture like this one taken right after the game of Coach Richt and his wife Kathryn.

I can see it now: church members celebrating, penalty flags flying, and my wife giving me a big old kiss for all the world to see.

It might be worth a try.

Still, I can't stop thinking--shouldn't major college football players really care just for the sake of caring? And shouldn't Christians be filled with concern and enthusiasm just because we are Christians? I know that the Dawgs were successful last week, but just how legitimate and long-term can manufactured emotion be? Can the church, which has nothing if it doesn't have integrity, afford to resort to whipped-up enthusiasm?

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