Sunday, October 30, 2016

The Biography

Late last week, there was a package waiting for me at the front desk of my school. It was a DVD, a movie I'd been wanting to see. The film, My Many Sons, was about Don Meyer, a basketball coaching legend not widely known outside of serious basketball students. Meyer at one time was the winningest men's college basketball coach in US history until passed by Duke's Mike Krzyzewski. The movie centers around his coaching stops at Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tennessee and Northern State University in Aberdeen, South Dakota. Woven into the plot is the complicated relationship Coach Meyer had with his son, Jerry, a great player in his own right. Several Lipscomb and Northern players are spotlighted, too. It was a low budget film without many prominent actors. There were no bad words, no bad scenes, and a story of rehabilitation after Coach Meyer is nearly killed in a car crash. During his emergency treatment, cancer is discovered and the remainder of the movie centers around his return to the sidelines. There were some genuine moments and tender scenes. My guess is the final few minutes left more than a few viewers teary eyed as Don Meyer walks into retirement on his own terms. That's how these movies are supposed to end. 

If I had been a casual fan of basketball, I probably would have found my experience satisfying as My Many Sons fulfilled its purpose. But like many other coaches, I knew Don Meyer. Not like those who played for him or coached on his staff but I knew him. For fifteen summers, I worked at his basketball camps in Nashville, sometimes for five weeks at a time. As I was confined to the campus on the weekends, Don and his family took me in, taking me to eat and to baseball games. I played Trivial Pursuit with his wife, Carmen, and coached all three of their children in one camp session or another. One summer, Don had me follow him around all week and write down EVERYTHING he said and recopy the volumes each night for fabled queen of the program, Barb Anderson, to retype. (My guess is there is still a copy somewhere!) Because of watching how he did things at Lipscomb, I began rethinking almost everything in basketball.... but that wasn't all. I began keeping a journal, reading a One Year Bible, ordering Day-Timers for my players, started running, etc. Don was easily one of the most influential people in my life although comparatively speaking, I was around him very little. 

He was brilliant, very funny, and he had his idiosyncrasies. Once, I had not seen him for about five months and I ran into him at a tournament we were in at Lipscomb. His greeting?
"I don't know, Steve. I think we're playing hard....."

Then there was the time he called me at 5:45 AM and I awoke to these words:
"Steve. Don. Need you to work camp."
But the day before my father died, Don tracked me down in a hospital in St. Louis and over the phone, did a bit of grief counseling. Then there was the summer one of my players was almost killed in a car accident and for the rest of the three weeks of camp, one or more of the Bison visited her every day, always bringing a gift. His compassion was legendary among those who knew him but he didn't broadcast it. It was just part of his makeup.

A week ago, I was talking to Casey Farris, a former colleague who also worked the Lipscomb camps. As we discussed the movie, Casey said something I thought was profound.
"Anyone who watches a biography who actually knew the subject is bound to be disappointed."
And he hit the nail on the head for me. I found myself wanting the Ken Burns' treatment for Don. You know, five straight nights on the Civil War and nine innings worth of baseball history. Real interviews and pictures and film clips. I told Greg Glenn, my former WCS boss and one of Don's student coaches/players, that I would love an ESPN 30 For 30 documentary on the life of Don Meyer. I think they could do it justice.....maybe. If you can be bigger than life, Don was, to many of us. 

All of my classes at Westbury Christian are about Jesus. Two are 8th grade sections in which we spend the year on Luke and three are junior sessions of Gospels in which we study Matthew/Mark/Luke/John. To supplement the written word and give my students a visual baseline, I use movies about Jesus. Some of them are word for word narratives. And yet the way the Savior is portrayed varies wildly, even in the word for word accounts. Scenes can be accurate to the text but facial expressions and body languages alter the viewer's perception. I have seen Jesus laugh at Peter when he sinks walking on the water and I have seen Jesus almost angry at Peter's failing. (And please remember, I am referring to the actors playing Jesus!) I wonder if you could somehow transport Peter/Andrew/James/John and company to the present, how would they respond to the portrayals of their Master and friend. Would they laugh at a clip and say, "NO! NO! NO! That's not the way it was!" Or maybe nod in agreement at the way an event came over on film. We will never know, of course. I am sure of this. If my desire is to learn more about the Son of God, it will take more than something off a movie screen. Philippians 3:10 starts with these powerful words by Paul- "I want to know Christ...."  If I do as well, I have to get past the surface. It takes study and prayer and time and meditation. That wasn't Don I saw on the DVD in the ninety-eight minute version of parts of his life- it was an admirable attempt to tell his remarkable story to strangers. I just found myself wanting more- just like I should want more of Christ.

Applicable quote of the day:
Biographies are but the clothes and buttons of the man. The biography of the man himself cannot be written. 
Mark Twain

God bless,
Luke 18:1
E-mail me at

No comments: