I read an interesting article by Jeff Pearlman today concerning the recent plight of Roger Clemens. He writes,

No, the vanity is what, one must think, brought Clemens to this dreaded point in his life; the belief that throwing a baseball — a random act somehow deemed valuable by our society — is important and powerful and worthy of great riches and praise and status.”

It is interesting because in our society, in our culture, in our nature there is something very troubling, though very subtle, about how we idolize athletes. I grew up playing sports, loving sports, and even loving to hate the rival teams. Riding the emotional roller coaster it became addictive. But when I was overseas and no one there knew anything about my favorite basketball team, let alone how many national championships they had, and before I knew it, the identity connected with a certain team, sport, athlete, came obsolete. For this I am grateful for it freed me.

We praise athletes for being able to run fast, throw hard, jump high, without giving much value to what is truly valuable in life. We pack stadiums to watch college kids run back forth on a field to the point that sports have become our identity.

I don’t know Roger Clemens personally so I cannot judge if he is proud or not. I know that he has been a phenomenal athlete throughout his brilliant career. My mom and I used to look forward to watching him play and we thoroughly enjoyed hearing about his work ethic. It was most impressive the longevity of his career. I must admit that I admired him for his athletic ability the same way I admired Michael Jordan in his “greatness” on the basketball court.

I don’t think it is wrong to appreciate a competitor like Clemens or Jordan, like I don’t think it is wrong to appreciate a brilliant musician. But I don’t know these men personally, and I wonder if I don’t give the credit due to the men and women in my life that are excellent in being good husbands and wives, in being good at their jobs day in and day out without praise.

How does one define greatness? Is it how well someone can play a particular sport? Or does greatness take on different characteristics?

If I had to truly weigh what is important in life I would come to the conclusion that the men and women I do know who love the Lord and live for Him faithfully have earned my respect infinitely far more than a man who throws an incredible fastball, whom I don’t even know.

Maybe greatness lies in the one who is a servant. The one who loves their enemies. The one who chooses to humble themselves so others can take the seat of honor.

I believe that I read that somewhere. I also believe that it is right and true.

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One Response to Greatness

  1. Stephen says:

    Not being a big sports fan, the hype and indeed obsession about it in our society has seemed kinda crazy to me. And the huge money in it, for something which is purely entertainment, sometimes seems obscene. Of course, part of that could be a kind of jealousy and greed on my part, rationalized by the thought of how all that money could have been better spent on something actually useful. And I know too that that way lies the presumptuous desire to control others, to judge them for violating what I think is right, etc. So I try to let it go and not get too exercised about it. :-)I think your observation about self-identity is right though. We do have a strong tendency to vicariously invest ourselves in things and to see those things as what define us. It could be a sports team or an athlete, it could be our work, it could be our hobbies, our homes, our cars, our bank accounts, our social circles, our pets, our families, even our religions, etc., etc.All of these things, even the ones which seem good and wholesome, can be perilous to us if we define ourselves by them and invest our identities in them. For one thing, what happens when we lose them? It's like losing a part of ourselves. Or if we desperately want to be identified by them, but fail to obtain them, again our sense of identity and worth is shaken. And what of those who deny the value we see in our chosen identifiers? They become our enemies, because they defy us and reject who we see ourselves to be. It is a madness to get caught up in all of that, dragged around by the 'passions'.My inclusion of religion above may seem a little excessive, but I think it's true. Just look at Muslims vs Hindus in India, Muslims vs Christians anywhere, Sunnis vs Shiites in Iraq, Catholics vs Protestants (most recently in Ireland, but all across Europe in earlier centuries)–the list goes on. When we identify ourselves by something external to us, including our religions, we suffer the same problems as above.Let me quickly say though that I'm not knocking religion. Far from it. I just think that true religion has to come from inside, not outside. St Seraphim of Sarov reputedly often said that the goal of the Christian life is the acquisition of the Holy Spirit; he also said to "acquire the Spirit of peace, and thousands around you will be saved". Without this indwelling, even our religion–as something external to us by which we define ourselves (and others)–can be an occasion for stumbling for us. Or so it seems to me.

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