Donning the Green and Gold

The following comes to us from Larry Parsley. During most of the summer, three of […]

Mockingbird / 9.6.16

The following comes to us from Larry Parsley.

During most of the summer, three of my most frequently worn shirts have hung, forlornly, in my closet. The white polo with green insignia, the green t-shirt with gold lettering, and the green and gold shiny Dry-FIT were all benched from my weekly rotation. Why? It is because they bore the logo of my alma mater (my academic mother), Baylor University.

On May 26, I sat in one of those male-friendly barbecue joints in Dallas, with elevated TVs streaming ESPN. I struggled to enjoy my chicken sandwich that day, or to pay sufficient attention to the conversation with those church leaders I was meeting for lunch. My attention was fixed on the crawl beneath the ESPN anchors: “Baylor Football Coach Art Briles to be Fired.” Over the next few hours and days, my family (including two sons who are current Baylor students) would watch as our university fired its head coach, athletic director, and ultimately its president, over their combined failure to deal with a grievously large number of sexual assault complaints against Baylor football players.

art briles

In the wake of the firings, hard questions emerged. Why were there no sufficient procedures in place to protect and respond appropriately to the victims? Where were the checks and balances necessary to counterbalance a wildly successful football program? And then there is the matter of all this is taking place at a hardly-nominally-Christian college. Our school has played such a prominent part in the spiritual and moral development of tens of thousands of alums. How could this happen?

Now, I realize that the status of my three shirts is absurdly trivial. I keep telling myself this as I pray healing for the victims and wisdom for Baylor’s leaders. But still, on many summer mornings, I would stand in my closet and wonder when I would confidently wear the green and gold again.

Baylor University first entered the picture for me during my senior year of high school. When I announced to my Baptist pastor that I felt called to vocational ministry, he all but declared that I would go to a Baptist college in our home state of Texas, and recommended Baylor. My parents nearly fainted when I told them I wanted to go to a private school, and we agreed that I would attend our local junior college for a year while all three of us worked to save money. In the fall of my sophomore year, I moved to Waco. I majored in English literature, met my future wife, and began to exercise some ministerial muscles in various campus ministries. I met lifelong friends, made prank calls, played intramurals, went on campus sponsored mission trips, and listened to the carillon play hymns as I walked under ancient oak trees on my way to class each day. It was an enchanted time. Very little of that enchantment had worn off when I returned to Waco after seminary to pursue a Ph.D. This school means the world to me. To be sure, I did not have super great football memories from that season of my life. There were many years when a blowout was evident long before halftime. But somehow, I made my peace with our mediocre athletic performance. We were a smaller, Baptist college in a small town in central Texas — how could we compete with the big state schools? We were lucky to even be in the Big 12. After all, in 2002, our fans actually tore down the goal posts after snapping a 29 game conference losing streak.


But our football fortunes shifted dramatically almost a decade ago with the hiring of Art Briles. The folksy stylings of the former Texas high school football coach played extraordinarily well with Baylor fandom. Indeed, you could easily imagine Briles standing on the set of Friday Night Lights. In fairly short succession, we recruited a future Heisman trophy winner and built a beautiful new stadium along the Brazos River next to campus. Suddenly, we were “sailgating” before games! And soon, we longtime Baylor people found ourselves sporting an unfamiliar swagger. We who had dwelt in obscurity now swelled with pride as we mowed over the big name programs that used to decimate us. We had #americastopoffense, after all. I’m telling you, we were euphoric.

But after May 26, the swagger shriveled. Editorials were written, scorn was heaped, a blue-chip quarterback transferred, top recruits de-committed. Baylor became shorthand for hypocrisy. Suddenly, a school founded 15 years before the Civil War was being defined by the last few years.

And, on a related note, my stupid shirts hung untouched in my closet. As a two-time alumnus, I am inextricably linked with that interlocking “B” and “U.”

These shirts define me, to a certain degree. But how could I wear the shirts without feeling shame? Indeed, I had a tiny awareness of what the Hebrew Scriptures call a ‘mashal’ — a byword, a proverb, a joke. (Psalm 44:14 You have made us a byword among the nations; the peoples shake their heads at us.)nathan_for_you_dumb_starbucks

Most of us — students, employees, citizens, church members— make a relatively tiny contribution to the value of our “brand,” but we have a significant investment in the destiny of the brand. This directly feeds our hubris when times are good, our insecurity when times are unsettled, and our despair when times are dreadful. It’s like a friend years ago, between jobs, who was fortunate to score a position with a rising petroleum company in Houston. We were so thrilled for him. That is, until Enron became a byword.

Certainly, this vulnerability inherent in our associations is part of the human condition. That’s why I hope it is not a leap to move from my closet to Luther’s corpus.

I wish I could remember who first drew my attention to Martin Luther’s wonderful “Preface to the New Testament” (Tim Keller, maybe?). There, Luther expresses the fundamental meaning of “Gospel.”

“For Gospel is a Greek word, and means in Greek, a good message, good tidings, good news, a good report, which one sings and tells with rejoicing. So, when David overcame the great Goliath, there came among the Jewish people the good report and encouraging news that their terrible enemy had been smitten and they had been rescued and given joy and peace; and they sang and danced and were glad for it.

So the Gospel, too, is a good story and report, sounded forth into all the world by the apostles, telling of a true David who strove with sin, death, and devil, and overcame them, and thereby rescued all those who were captive in sin, afflicted with death, and overpowered by the devil; He made them righteous, gave them life, and saved them, so that they were given peace and brought back to God. For this they sing, and thank and praise God, and are glad forever, if only they believe firmly and are steadfast in faith.”

Picture yourself in the Valley of Elah, wearing your favorite Israelite jersey. Across the expanse, assorted Philistines wear “Goliath for Heisman” jerseys. One fact is indisputable to everyone: after the battle, one side will rush forward in the rapture of victory, and the other side will retreat in abject fear and shame. After the battle, one side’s jerseys will be framed and hung above the mantle, while the others will be disposed of at thrift stores. And the jersey wearers will have no say in the destiny of their brand – a massive investment, but zero influence (that is for their respective champions to determine). And with stakes infinitely higher than a National Championship game, David’s side won, because (as 1 Samuel 17 tells us) David’s champion was Yahweh. And that exultant whoop that went up in the valley? Luther declares that this “good report” portrays the gospel in purest form.


The gospel declares that our “true David” has won the decisive victory. And whatever happens to the various entities we belong to — college or business or family or church or denomination— our champion still drapes his father’s robe around our shoulders. I will remember that garment, invisible and ever appreciating in value, as I don my green and gold for a new season.

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