Less of me, more of we.
We ran. And ran. As the filthy Fresno heat of late August crept into September and hung dreadfully through October like an unwanted dinner party guest. We ran. The kind of running that leads you to think your lungs are going to explode, accompanied by the kind of sweat that pours from your body for the rest of the day. The stench of sweaty grass occupied my nostrils permanently through those teenage months.
We ran together. It was basketball conditioning, but we never touched a ball. Jogs. Sprints. Timed runs. Change of directions. Intervals. Relays. More jogs, more sprints. Countless cones.
The coach inflicting this torture upon us was Ericlee Gilmore, and we loved him. He had an infectious energy and zest for life. His voice was deep, and booming was an understatement. In the chaos of a basketball game, in a packed gym, you never failed to hear Coach Gilmore’s instructions, always at maximum volume, drenched with enthusiasm.
But he made us run. And during those times, it was a good thing Coach Gilmore loved us. If not, there was no way any of us would have endured the torturous heat, the terrible air and the joylessness of endless sprints. We considered mutiny. But he led us too well, had served and invested in us too much.
And so, we would run. And run. And Gilmore would yell encouragement, his words covering hundreds of yards. I am confident every one of my Fresno Christian High School teammates would recall this as Coach Gilmore’s favorite saying: “Less of me, more of we.”
Someone would slow on a sprint, and the words would ring out. We would breathe harder, legs aching, chest tight, covered in sweat. “Less of me, more of we.”
Athletics is filled with clichés. They inundate our media. They are repeated ad nauseam. And yet, within them is captured the essence of the human experience. Within them, the simple and profound narratives of Jesus ring true. Within them, a life of great abundance is accessible and available to us. And, the simple truths that create connectivity and endurance in athletics teams can do the same for larger organizations.
Less of me, more of we. This idea carries us through the necessary conflict that comes from actively seeking excellence at Fresno Pacific University. It carries us through the often-painful confrontation of personal biases we must stare down in order to serve. It carries us though conference calls and professional development. It carries us through arriving home at 4:00 a.m. and preparing for the next day’s instruction until deep into the night.
It carried us when a 6’8” transfer student-athlete folded himself into a too-small chair in my office every Tuesday and Thursday after JCC to unpack new-found revelations completely foreign to him. The hours of help he needed to translate the cultural norms of Christian faith made the travel requests, expense reports and practice planning diagrams on my desk suddenly diminish in importance.
It carried us when a young man in our program, having been on our campus less than 48 hours, collapsed in tears on my office couch after learning he had lost a childhood friend to gun violence. It carried us 10 days later when another member of our team was confronted with the exact same challenge.
It carried our basketball team into the Fresno Rescue Mission last fall to serve, fellowship and be in community with men who had great wisdom to share. It carried us into ongoing work with Every Neighborhood Partnership, where our young men serve our city and have their eyes opened to the daunting challenges our community faces. It carried us to complete 1,099 hours of community service in our city over the last three years.
Less of me, more of we.
May we all be reminded of the simple profoundness of the realization that our work has a deep mission to it, and has life breathed into it when there is less of me and more of we. When our email is overwhelmed with student requests that require responses well outside standard work hours, and when we are asked to make difficult decisions or navigate opportunities of mentorship and accountability for young people, then may we whisper: “Less of me, more of we.”
In his favorite saying, Coach Gilmore caught the essence of the life we were created for. “Less of me, more of we” is a defining quality of communities that build transformative identities. It's also a defining quality of our individual calling. In his favorite phrase, Coach Gilmore chose six words that sum up what it means to live a life worthy of six more words: “well done, good and faithful servant.”
Coach Gilmore heard those words sweetly whispered five years ago this September, when his earthly body succumbed to cancer. Almost 20 years after I graduated, his words still ring true for me, my vocation and purpose as a reminder of the profound influence available to us all. He never met any of the members of the team I get to lead today, but I pray they feel his influence every single day. And every day, I pray we are all reminded of our opportunity to live and breathe simple truths that will resonate with our students for years to come. I pray every day that our lives scream “less of me, more of we.”
This mantra is simple, but daunting and gut-wrenching to live out faithfully. The beauty of the simplicity is that which we were created for. It’s our opportunity to lean into our identity as a Christian university in a world and community that needs our transformational service.
As we celebrate the 75th anniversary of a vibrant, life-giving, transformative institution, may we not lose the student-centeredness that has defined us for decades, and is the heart and soul of our university.
Less of me, more of we.