Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Ichabod! - What Tiger's Fall Says About Us

One of the ugliest words I have ever heard is Icahbod - used in 1 Samuel to commemorate the capture of the Ark of the Covenant of the nation of Israel and meaning "The Glory has Departed!" This word came to mind as I was reading my friend Daniel Yang's Facebook reflections on Tiger Woods' recent problems. He warned, "Samson wasn't strong enough, David wasn't holy enough, Solomon wasn't smart enough & Tiger wasn't rich enough. Fellas, be humbled & beware." I am troubled by the contemporary trend of treating celebrity's personal problems as entertainment. We seem comforted by the notion that those who appear mightier than we are have severe issues that regularly bring them down a peg or two, exposing their vulnerabilities and humanity. While I believe it is important to recognize the limitations of fame and fortune, I believe it is more important to consider what celebrity problems say about our society as a whole and the implications their troubles have for "ordinary folks".

We have to acknowledge that no one is surprised that Tiger is apparently committing adultery. It's what sports figures do. In his book "Out of Bounds" Jim Brown, one of the greatest running backs in NFL history boldly proclaimed that the general public shouldn't be surprised by celebrity excesses and vices because the unwritten rules of life make it crystal clear that "Special people deserve special treatment." In the circles in which Tiger travels, adultery and an undisciplined sexual lifestyle are the norm - consider one of his prime personal mentors was Michael Jordan, a man whose unfaithfulness towards his wife ultimately cost him his marriage and much much more. It appears that Tiger's alleged escapades may prove costly to him in what may be the most damaging area of all - his reputation.

This issue of costs is what links us with the celebrity world. Sin costs. We can pretend that our actions don't have an impact on the lives of others, but they always do. A casual sexual lifestyle as a youth, can sew the seeds of irresponsible and unfaithful behavior in my adulthood. A "devil may care" attitude towards personal integrity as long as I am "good at my job" may seem to make sense when I want to party all the time, but the reality that my life outside of work has an effect on my life inside of work will eventually catch up to me and exact a painful price I am not really prepared to pay in relationships, health and wealth.

It's not my desire to get "preachy" here but simply to make the point that our celebrities are celebrities because they reflect values we hold dear enough to pay for at astounding costs. Tiger makes his living because we place great value on what he does and the image he presents, not necessarily who he really is. It's the same with any celebrity you see in the tabloids today from "Brangelina" to "J-Lo" we don't really care about who they are, what's going on with them, or what they truly represent, we just want to be entertained! Why can't we name the top 10 teachers in the nation? Why don't we know the names of service personnel who have distinguished themselves in service to the nation in the War on Terror? Why do the most helpful organizations in the world have to beg us to send $20 a month while their staff members often live in on the edge of poverty while we'll pay a celebrity $50 just for an autographed picture - A picture that we had to buy in advance which will only take the celebrity a few seconds to sign at a convention where he will probably have a "love connection" with someone other than his spouse? The problem is us. We value superficial human abilities more than meaningful human character.

Humanity has wrestled with this problem since the beginning of time. The prophet Jeremiah challenges us to adopt a different set of standards:

This is what the LORD says: "Let not the wise man boast of his WISDOM
or the strong man boast of his STRENGTH
or the rich man boast of his RICHES,
but let him who boasts boast about this:
that he UNDERSTANDS AND KNOWS ME, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness,
justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight...(Jeremiah 9:23,24)

Jeremiah challenges us to idolize God and God alone and to spend ourselves to know Him and to commit whatever gifts we have to be about His business rather than being caught up in our own transient abilities. How can we be about His business rather than caught up in ourselves? By using our intellect, strength and wealth to show kindness, exercise justice and demonstrate righteousness everyday of our lives. Later in his challenge, Jeremiah calls people to "spend" themselves to the service of others leaving nothing behind - 100% of what we have for God's glory and others' benefit! (Just imagine, for example, if Wilt Chamberlain's boast had not been that he'd slept with 10,000 women but that he had mentored 10,000 people who had no hope before his intervention. That's spending yourself for a worthwhile cause!) If this challenge was our focus as a people, it might change the kind of people we lift up and encourage them to step up as the role models their amazing talents enable them to be.

So, with Jeremiah's words in mind and as Tiger's story unfolds, remember that his ascension to prominence is a reflection of our own values and his fall is a cause for prayer not celebration. As you pray for him and other celebrities (nationally and in your own community) whose falls are to come, make a commitment for yourself to step up Jeremiah's challenge and seek to influence others to not glory in abilities that wane, but to use whatever abilities you have been given to grow in character that lasts and can live on to produce fruit long after the "glory days" are gone. Until Next Time...


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