We’ve been spending a lot of time in West Texas. First in the TV series “Friday Night Lights,” then reading the book upon which it was based and sorting through the memories of the time we spent on the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles. I would like to use the TV episodes as conversation provokers for families and kids in middle-school, junior high and high school. No series has stimulated my thinking about marriage, family and what high school—especially the sports environment—as “Lights.”
The reasons I haven’t up to now: I’m reluctant to fail. I do not know what facility I could use. It would cost too much to “rent” the episodes. I do not know of one church that would partner with me that would not have a negative draw impact on those I was trying to reach. I’m reluctant to fail.
The book Friday Night Lights by H. G. Bissinger (De Capo Press, 1990) created in me an emotional crisis bordering on depression and dread. Sports Illustrated calls it the best football book ever written. I was totally unprepared. The writer sets the background for Texas football as few sports fans can imagine. High school stadiums that seat 20,000 and a devotion that conservative theologians would say exceeds commitment to Jesus. Texas football is god! What I’m deciding is that the stories are not about football at all.
I am learning much about national politics, small town (not villages) customs and churches. I have often been embarrassed by memories of our attempted ministry in communities outside our “nation.” We must have looked like carpet baggers and stupid outsiders. I was very aware of the Nine Nations of Americas, but I didn’t even begin to grasp how places like Garden City, Kansas, Spearman, Texas, Odessa and Midland were like settlements on a different planet. Had I viewed the TV series, read the book or talked to people who would have been bluntly honest rather than hospitable, I would never have booked a date outside of Iowa.
The above statement is inadequate. After a conversation with a black pastor in Louisiana, he invited us to his church anytime we were in the area. As different as our culture and color, he connected to The Kingdom. His people, he assumed, would hear past the regional accent to hear the Kingdom. That was true in many places where we were out of our place.
I loved the people we met in Texas and Oklahoma. But I knew they came from a different tribe than I had met before. That was also true of places in the Deep South and Minnesota. I just didn’t grasp their uniqueness and how localism impacts institutions and individuals. One crass South Carolina pastor invited us to spend the night. He said during the after-concert conversation, “I never dreamed I would ever have a Yankee sleeping in my house.” Without a hint of humor or jest, he suggested we might want to make sure our bedroom doors were locked. For him, the war was still on and there was only one war—the one that began at Ft. Sumter. We checked the locks. We were never sure what he was suggesting, but we knew there was unsettled business in him.
Most people are more (…?) than that preacher. But I came to appreciate what—a Canadian border guard said it best: “You cannot ever forget that you are a guest of her majesty The Queen.” We were outsiders and our opinions were not worth much and our behavior could easily be misinterpreted. I love those places and many of the people. I just understand a lot more.
Friday Night Lights—the book—was written about the 1988 football season. The 80s oil business was something I’m still having a hard time getting my head around.
“By the time you added it up, Aaron Giebel’s losses from boom to bust totaled somewhere around $55 million.” (page 235)
During the boom, people bought multiple Lear jets and private landing strips. They built 13,000 square foot houses. There is a paragraph that captures a part of the madness. (Giebel, a cautious and wise businessman, claimed to have been caught in the madness)
“From 1973 through 1981, when the price of oil went up more than 800 percent, he and thousands of others made the fatal error of forgetting that every ounce of their success was due to the geopolitics of the Arab oil embargo and the Carter energy policy and the Iranian Revolution. They had actually thought that they themselves had something to do with what was happening and were somehow in control of their own destinies. … Instead of understanding that they were the beneficiaries of history, they began to believe they were the creators of it.” (Page 237)
As H. G. Bissinger describes the culture and some of the people, I liked some of those people. I liked almost everyone in the TV series. The money and toys are beyond my capacity to even imagine, but I think I would be comfortable drinking coffee with Mr. Giebel. The people in Odessa and Midland were the neighbors of George W. and the senior Bush families. The Gatlin Brothers grew up in Odessa. There is a picture of Rudy Gatlin in the book. The culture built war heroes and entertainment stars and people of God. But this experience has caused my stomach to sour and my emotions turn dark. Not everyone was welcomed to the big house and not everyone starred on the football teams.
James Robison tells a story about a meeting with oil men who had the kind of wealth just described. The men were invited to a meal to help finance a mission project. Robison is a Texas evangelist whose primary focus now is providing fresh water wells and food in third world countries. When the pledge cards were passed out not one oil man gave a nickel. The only one in that room to make a financial pledge was a waitress. Within a year, the oil men had lost everything and the only one in that gathering to have gained was the waitress.
My stomach hurts when I pick up the book. I come away from these stories wondering if I would have filled out a pledge card. I wonder how I would have measured the risk and responsibility. I have a burden for the debris—the people left behind when the stadium lights go out and those who didn’t even bother. Sitting around seminar table may be a start, but only the released power of God will heal and transform. I’m wondering how that happens.
©2016 D. Dean Benton Writer, Wonderer