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from time to time, i wonder to myself if belief is a cheap thing.

i struggled to understand what belief was when i was a kid. belief was mostly a religious concept to me back then, and i understood it as a condition of “active acceptance”. and as my church experience tended toward the charismatic, i almost came to view belief as an “actualizing sensation”. i could believe something into existence. i could make a miracle happen by believing it could happen. i could succeed at something by believing in myself.

in my 30s, i graduated from that idea of belief to the idea that i currently hold—a belief manifested in rootedness. nowadays, you know that i believe in something if i stick to it, even when i have good reasons to abandon it. i’ve had good reasons to leave my job, my church, and the sports teams that i’ve stuck by. but i’ve remained with them for a reason that transcends mere loyalty. i believe in those organizations. and more specifically, i believe in very specific people at those organizations. in fact, it is my belief in individuals that has inspired my belief in their peoples. i could fairly say that my entire life and all of the commitments that i engage in revolve around my belief in just a few people. belief is the very foundation of all the work, life, and love that i have.

at my work, for example, i think it’s fair to say that i’ve stayed at my company for as long as i have because of my belief in two people: my co-director, and a personal mentor in senior leadership. my relationships with each of them have taught me one very critical thing about life: that the most important predictor of success and happiness on the job is one’s fit within his or her team. there is no single personal attribute that can guarantee success and productivity in any situation. it’s that complex interplay of personality, relationships, and interpersonal dynamics that make or break a situation for any member of the team. if there’s anything i could teach my children about making it in life, it’s the simple fact that their self-awareness of their needs and their effects on others will be the difference between success and failure in most every venture. their educational degrees, skills, and wealth of experiences can only matter insofar as the quality of the teams that they create.

the same goes with church and spiritual community. it’s not sufficient to believe in a cause or a religion. i’ve put down roots at my particular church because i believe in about a half a dozen people in that community, including its head pastor. belief in those people connotes a lot of things. it connotes mutual dependence. it connotes a sense of shared journey. and it connotes a deep motivation to influence the other toward betterment or deeper fulfillment. the interesting is that i don’t necessarily like all the people that i believe in. but i recognize that the stakes for those particular relationships are high. if those relationships fail, then i fail. if those individuals fall, then i fall with them. belief is about intentional and persistent devotion.

lastly, my belief in the Eagles and Sixers has taught me the very same lessons about belief. every year, of course, i go through the internal process of evaluating my loyalty to those organizations. decades of embarrassment and heartbreak can go a long way in alienating a fan base; and i’ve been through the wars with these teams. i’m really not proud of the anger and resentment that i carry within me from all the tragic seasons, because winning is what i live for. in most everything i do, i reap joy from doing it better than others can. and the Eagles and Sixers have not distinguished themselves as winners.

but one can believe in teams that consistently lose, if one can believe in the people associated with those teams. i believe in won ho, the roommate who made me watch Sixer games on television with him at our philadelphia apartment; the guy who had me over when the Sixers had their first series victory over the Pacers; the friend who celebrated “4th and 26″ with me at his friend’s place in Jersey; the one who shared that terrible silence with me in the aftermath of the Eagles’ loss to the Pats in ‘05. i believe that we have not shared that much pain and anguish over all these years simply to go to our graves with emptiness and loss. i believe in philadelphia, because i believe in the importance of a personal relationship. that is why i believe.

it does not reduce my faith in an organization when i recognize that its value to me resides in one or two important relationships. it clarifies the nature of that faith; it makes my adherence and my perseverance meaningful. because i am not a man of great causes and ambitions; i’m a guy who was created and designed to believe in people. believing in them makes my life worth living, and it enables me to experience life’s greater pleasures. and even now, it enables me to understand why, after yet another miserably failed effort by the Eagles, i continue to keep a corner of my soul empty and utterly reserved for the Lombardi trophy that is destined to complete my life someday

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