Posted on 8/30/2016 9:11 AM By Trevor Sides
Andrea Baker’s story is dark and painful. It is also beautiful and redemptive. And she is thankful for every bit of it.
“I don't regret anything that God has brought me through,” she told me during our interview. “I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Because God brought me through it, I am able to know—deeply—how much he cares for me as a daughter and how he can take care of me. I can trust that he will take care of me.”
Posted on 7/26/2013 9:08 AM By Aaron Ritter
“There’s one person who holds the keys to my redemption, and that’s me.”
This is reportedly what Lance Armstrong angrily said in December 2012 as he was walking out of a meeting with Travis Tygart, CEO of the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA). Tygart had offered to reduce Armstrong’s competitive cycling ban from life to eight years if he simply came clean and confessed to using performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs).
Obviously, at that time Armstrong was not going to make a deal and his response made it clear that his savior was only going to be himself, not some compromise offered by an authority. His words are chilling for those of us who think in terms of redemption a little more regularly. And it’s fascinating when a public figure is forced into a corner and unwittingly blurts out a profound theological statement that exposes the heart in a way that most rarely do.
About a month later Armstrong finally recognized that he could not continue to deny the overwhelming case against him and publicly confessed to Oprah Winfrey in a nationally televised interview. Now, as we look back at the years leading up to his confession, we see a startling amount of lying and covering and blame shifting.
Posted on 3/28/2013 11:40 AM By Mitch Majeski
Winning his last two PGA tournaments, Tiger Woods is again the world's No. 1 golfer. This is the first time since Tiger’s marital indiscretions in 2009 that he has claimed golf’s top spot.
The truth is that, in pure athletic ability, Tiger probably always has been the best. It's not unreasonable to assume that the darkness and destruction of his life derailed his game for a few years. But, in the golfing sections, Tiger's DNA contains unique sequences that form the roots of his athletic brilliance. He is a rare talent. It will be his ruin.
The folks at Nike also possess a unique brilliance. For decades, Nike’s marketers have defined the times by capturing the values that move us with a few stark words and images. They are the "mirror, mirror on the wall."
America, we are Tiger.
Not simply in our lost moral compass. Not only in our vanity. Not merely in our desire for redemption.
But in the story of our redemption. "Winning takes care of everything."
Posted on 2/22/2013 10:06 AM By Trevor Sides
Michael Jordan turned 50 last Sunday. For many us who watched him play in the 1980s and ‘90s, we never thought he’d come down from a dunk, let alone turn 50.
Once upon a time, Michael Jeffrey Jordan won six NBA titles, six Finals MVPs, five regular-season MVPs, two Olympic gold medals (one as a member of the “Dream Team”), fundamentally changed the way athletes wear clothes and drink liquids, starred in a movie with Bugs Bunny and basically ruled the entire world through his mastery of the game of basketball. Every athletically inclined boy in America from elementary school through high school drank Gatorade, ate Wheaties and wore Air Jordans.
I was one of those boys. I had the shoes. I still have his shoes. I had the posters on the wall. I remember exactly where I was and how crazy I went when he hit that 17-footer against the Utah Jazz in June of 1998 (RIP, Bryon Russell). When he came out of retirement the second time with the Washington Wizards, my family got tickets to see him play against the Nuggets. I thought my life was complete, seeing Air Jordan in the flesh. I was Simeon to Jordan’s Jesus.
You may think this sounds crazy. It is. And it isn’t.
What goes up must come down
Jordan’s fiftieth birthday generated a lot of media attention, most of which centered on Jordan’s legacy and his place in basketball history. But Wright Thompson, a senior writer at ESPN.com, wrote a lengthy piece about Jordan’s life now.
It’s a remarkable, jaw-dropping read. Thompson punctuates his story with anecdotes of Jordan’s vicious, rage-filled competitiveness (more on this in a minute). But the heart of the piece focuses on Jordan’s inability to find purpose off the court.
Writes Thompson: “His self-esteem has always been, as he says, ‘tied directly to the game.’ Without it, he feels adrift. Who am I? What am I doing?”
He quotes Jordan as saying, “Man, I wish I was playing right now. I would give up everything now to go back and play the game of basketball."
It’s all about relationships
Did you catch that phrase, “the game of basketball”? Most people would stop at “to go back and play.” Jordan is showing his love and reverence for the game by spelling it out fully. He has used this phrase repeatedly throughout his career. It’s an affirmation of his relationship with basketball.
This relationship is fueled by much more than a mere “love of the game.”
In 2009, Jordan was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame. His speech was a vindictive, I-told-you-so account of how he proved all his naysayers and detractors wrong. Everyone on the list, said Jordan, “added wood to the fire” of his competitive, all-consuming desire to win. (Profanity alert just before the three-minute mark. And for an experiment in contrasts, watch Jordan’s speech, then watch David Robinson’s earlier in the same induction ceremony.)
And where did this fire originate? With his father. Thompson pulls back the curtain on how the daddy issues began:
Jordan genuinely believed his father liked his older brother, Larry, more than he liked him, and he used that insecurity as motivation. He burned, and thought if he succeeded, he would demand an equal share of affection. His whole life has been about proving things, to the people around him, to strangers, to himself.
James Jordan, Sr. was murdered in 1993. Jordan won his fourth NBA title in 1996 – on Father’s Day. Cameras found him lying on the locker room floor after the game, sobbing uncontrollably.
One of the more fascinating details Thompson shares about Jordan’s life is his affinity for westerns. It was something he and his dad did together on a regular basis. “Jordan still watches them obsessively,” Thompson notes, “and it's easy to imagine he does it to feel the presence of his father.”
It took Michael a good minute or so to shut off the tears when he first reached the podium at the Hall of Fame ceremony. It’s possible the majority of those tears were for his father. The father who lit the fire; the father he wanted to prove himself to one more time, but couldn’t. Michael was still burning for affection. He was still trying to remind us that he belonged. This should break our hearts.
Near the very end of his speech, someone from the audience yelled, “You’re the greatest, Michael!”
As if we needed another reminder. But it seems that he did.
Death and basketball
There’s a particularly revealing point in his 2009 induction speech where we get the full view of Jordan’s (unhealthy/idolatrous) relationship with basketball:
“The game of basketball has been everything to me. My refuge. My place I’ve always gone when I’ve needed to find comfort and peace.”
And now? He tells Thompson, “How can I enjoy the next 20 years without so much of this consuming me? How can I find peace away from the game of basketball?”
Jordan is not having a mid-life crisis; he is having a life crisis. Imagine what this panic must be like for the man whom everyone, at one point in time, wanted to be like. All the significance, performance and hope that he’s poured into the game have backfired on him. He never thought he would have to deal with this nostalgia, this questioning, this second search for significance.
Why? “I thought I would die young,” he admitted to Thompson.
He’s found the one opponent he can’t compete against: a slow aging process, leading to death. Dying young would have solidified immortality. Now he’s watching LeBron James ascend to his own rarefied air.
One of James Jordan’s favorite westerns was Unforgiven. And it’s this movie that Michael himself is watching at 1 a.m. at the end of Thompson’s piece. This is not a minor detail. The burning. The relentless, cutthroat competitive nature. The never-ending justification by works. The reality of aging and mortality. Michael Jordan sees himself in William Money. Or maybe his father. But he’s finally realizing that we all have it coming.
He’s realizing the emptiness of gaining recognition and acceptance through performance. But he can’t bring himself to letting Someone else do the work for him.
We’re all like Mike
“How can I find peace away from the game of basketball?”
The answer that haunts this question is Christ himself. Jordan found status and a fleeting form of acceptance in the game of basketball, but peace? Everything has rested on his performance being good enough to earn the favor of his opponents, the media and even his own father. There is no rest, no peace in this Unforgiven worldview.
But we need to understand that this tendency to prove ourselves, to make our vocation (or hobby) the distinguishing aspect of our identity is not something that only afflicts super-star athletes.
I played four years of basketball in high school, one in college and have coached six years at the high school level. For a long time, my heart was wrapped tightly around the identity I found in this game. It has taken me years to separate basketball me from the child of God me. But I still think I can play. I still think I can find meaning and acceptance through the game of basketball.
This trap of finding my significance in what I do followed me to the workplace after I graduated. It took a very painful firing from my first job after college to realize how deceived I was. I can identity with Jordan. I would especially argue that most men do identify with him. We try to save ourselves by our work, by that burning desire to prove we’re worthy of acceptance. But our efforts and those idols always fall short.
All of this is just an ego trip, anyway. We seek to become our own Messiah. Do you know what the code name Jordan’s security detail gives him? Jahweh. He literally is his own savior.
But why else do we spend so much time on Facebook? Jordan craves recognition and attention from his peers and his fans. Is what we do on our favorite social media outlet any different? It’s all one big performance, and our value rises and falls with the number of “likes,” friends and re-tweets we receive. We want others to worship us. The only difference between us and Jordan is a matter of scale. Our hearts are after the same thing. And it’s exhausting.
Jesus’ way is drastically different. “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).
The gospel of Jesus Christ is unique among all other gospels in that it provides undeserved acceptance (salvation) as well as a calling to do significant work (Ephesians 2:10). But our Father’s favor never fluctuates with how many shots we make or miss. Only here can we find lasting peace.