(This is the Aloha Friday with Fr. Tim for July 14. If you’re looking for the Aloha Friday from July 7, which was published a week late due to Fr. Tim’s computer malfunctioning, please click here.)
I remember vividly the day when I was in seminary and I received a letter from the academic dean informing me that in order to continue my studies, I would be assigned a writing tutor. I was heartbroken to receive this news. For years and years I worked as a professional writer. I had been a sports reporter and a news reporter for 15 years before entering seminary, and I studied English and journalism at San Diego State University. Why would I need a writing tutor? I’m a very experienced writer with a degree in writing. I felt humiliated and insulted. In fact, I doubted my call as a priest. I felt like my years of success as a writer must have been fraudulent. I’m happy to say that after working with the tutor, I was able to resolve my “problem.” But what happened here? Why did the academic dean assign me a tutor?
In reality, it was a number of things. Firstly, there was (and in fact still is!) a personality clash between me and my seminary history professor, Dan. Dan is the professor who recommended that I be assigned a tutor. He didn’t understand me as a person. And in fairness, I don’t understand him as a person. I find him odd and quirky and I’m sure he finds those same critiques in me (Dan, if you’re reading this, I have no hard feelings toward you. We both know what I’m writing is true. We simply don’t see eye to eye, and that’s ok). Secondly, while I am a skilled journalist, I was not well versed in “academic writing.” All that needed to be explained to me was that I needed to adjust my writing style. Instead of my professors recognizing that I was simply writing in a style I was accustomed to, I was made to feel like I was stupid. Essentially, it boiled down to a misunderstanding. It took a lot of effort for me to rebuild confidence in my intelligence and ability. I finally reached a point where I once again began to believe in myself as a writer. While hindsight is almost always 20/20, I now know what would have been a more productive model for helping me to understand expectations: coaching.
Coaching is crucial for nurturing and promoting the gifts that every person inherently possesses. While we usually think of coaching within the context of athletics, coaching is helpful in all areas of development. Quality coaching can help us to understand our strengths and our challenges. It can help us to recognize our mistakes and shortcomings and how to use healthy mechanisms to improve. Good coaching is done with care, kindness, and enthusiasm. It helps us to become fuller versions of the people we are called to be.
Certainly, in popular culture, the most visible coaches are in athletics. Every sport in every league at every level requires at least one coach. But only one team wins a championship every year and only a handful of teams are even competitive. What do these teams frequently have that others don’t? Quality coaching. When a team is successful, it’s almost always because of good coaching. And when a team does poorly, it’s almost always because of inferior coaching. It’s funny how that works, isn’t it?
While college recruiters frequently try to get as many five-star recruits as possible (high school athletes who have been ranked highly by recruiting “experts”), a team chock full of five-star athletes is not guaranteed to win championships. At the same time, teams built on the backs of lower ranked players can overcome the odds and play above their on-paper expectations. During the 2020 NFL football season, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had a team full of players who were essentially two-star athletes out of high school. The Buccaneers that year went on to win the NFC championship and an opportunity to play in the Super Bowl in their home stadium. At the end of the game, the Buccaneers, a team full of two-star recruits, were NFL champions.
Now you might say, yes, they had a lot of two-star athletes. But they had Tom Brady playing quarterback! He’s the best quarterback of all time! Well guess what? Even Brady was not a highly rated quarterback out of high school or college. Brady began his college career as the seventh string quarterback for the Michigan Wolverines before finally working his way to a starting position. After college, he was not heavily regarded as top-tier NFL talent. He was drafted in the sixth round of the 2000 NFL draft at number 199 overall and after seven other quarterbacks had already been selected. He started his NFL career as a fourth string QB and only earned a chance to start when Drew Bledsoe was injured during Brady’s second season. And guess what? Because of quality coaching, Brady is now the owner of about every NFL passing record in the book, along with his seven Super Bowl rings and three conference championships. That’s not too bad.
Certainly Brady has a lot of talent. But it was coaching that led him to recognize the optimal use for his talent. He isn’t a razzle dazzle quarterback like Michael Vick. In fact, Vick is probably more athletic than Brady! But Brady was coached in a way that emphasized his strengths and worked around his weaknesses. His talents (which are unquestionably tremendous) were maximized by quality coaching and his willingness to learn from his coaches. We can all learn a lot from Brady and his coaches.
Part of my role as your priest is to coach you in your spiritual life. That means it’s important for me to help you to listen for God’s call and to help you to discern where it is that your talents will come in handy. Together, we can put those talents to work to make the Church a better place. Some people have natural gifts for hands-on labor. Some people have gifts for gardening. Some have gifts for reading in public. Some have gifts for talking to people. Some have gifts for singing or playing music. As your priest, I hope to empower you to use those gifts to enhance your relationship with God and with the community. Your gifts and talents are a key component to keeping our church functioning.
You might be asking, “but what if I try a ministry I’m no good at it?” Well, that’s where coaching comes in. I don’t expect you to get it right the first time. Or the fifth time. Or even the tenth time. We don’t learn by doing things perfectly. We learn by making mistakes. Once in seminary, I dropped an altar candle and it shattered on the floor. I wasn’t being careful when I picked it up. I bobbled it and watched helplessly as it made its way to the floor. Guess what I never did ever again? Pick up an altar candle carelessly! I recognized my mistake, thought about what I could do differently, and made necessary adjustments. Unfortunately, my adjustments did not get me any Super Bowl rings. But they did make me a better sacristan. Mistakes are welcome in the Church. This isn’t to say recklessness is ok. It’s not good to be careless and inattentive. But if a mistake happens, it ought to be handled with grace as a learning opportunity.
I wish my shortcomings in writing during seminary would have been handled with a little more grace and a little better coaching. Had I been given clearer direction and specific examples of what I was missing, I could have easily adjusted my writing style to fit the expectations. Instead, I was made to feel inferior and unintelligent. In fact, I think my history professor still believes I am inferior and unintelligent. But I know that’s his problem and not mine. I am capable and I am continuing to learn. I want to shepherd you to continue to learn as well. And I hope to shepherd you with love, grace, and the best coaching I can offer. Make all the mistakes you need to. All I ask is that you learn from them.