Sunday, August 12, 2012

Olympic Medals, Christian Role Models, Winning & Losing

Michael Phelps Most Decorated Olympian Swimmer
So how much of the Olympics have you watched? I have to admit, I don't know that I have ever watched as much of the Games as I have this time. And I've enjoyed nearly everything I've seen! I've paid some attention to a little bit of archery, diving, field hockey, weight lifting and of course, gymnastics, track and field, as well as basketball.

Then, of course there are the personal stories. To me, that's really at the heart of sports. The stories of the athletes and the adversity they have overcome, the hard work they've put into their sport, the emotional investment they've put into doing their best. I am moved by their patriotism. Not just the Americans, but all of the athletes. It is touching to see that everyone wants to represent their country with dignity, honor and by performing to the best of their capabilities. In that regard, when they return home whether they have medaled or not, they will be known as 'Olympic athletes' and they will have the gratitude of their nation for their service.

And then there is the matter of faith. It was especially noticeable for the American athletes. Gabby Douglass gained the most recognition, but so did Lolo Jones and others who praised God and credited Him for their opportunity to compete in the Games.

Gabby Douglas falls off the balance beam
I was also challenged by the attitudes of Christians back home. We tend to be eager to take anyone who 'wins' and extol them as Kingdom Champions because, in this case, they 'bring home the Gold'. I guess that's fine. But I wonder where our full throated affirmation is when they don't do as well as they or we had hoped? Lolo Jones, for instance, didn't get the same support after coming in fourth in the women's 100 meter hurdles. Yet, she had been almost incessantly promoted because her faith was the foundation for not only her participation in sports, but because of her the misfortunes in her upbringing and her commitment to maintaining her virginity. No social media posts that I read lifted her up as a great example of the Christian faith or a 'role model' when she came in fourth place. Why? Is she any less a principled and devoted Christian, even though she didn't receive a gold, silver or bronze medal?

And what about Gabby. I think all of our hearts broke a little when she didn't continue to win gold medals. Not only that, she fell off the balance beam! Suddenly, there were not as many posts repeating her praise "The Praise goes up to God; the blessings fall down on me...' Wasn't Gabby equally as blessed when she failed as she was when she succeeded?

I'm not talking about her attitude, I'm talking about ours...

My point is there were other Christians in participating in the Games who were not as vocal or as 'quotable' as were Lolo or Gabby. Dawn Harper (who won gold in the 100 meter hurdles in Beijing), for instance, whose life story was filled with challenges also thanked God for her silver medal, but no one seemed to be interested in calling her a role model.

At the same time Michael Phelps, in winning his 21st career Olympic medal and being extolled as the greatest Olympic athlete ever (for my money I still say it's Jim Thorpe - but that's another story), has never, to my knowledge, ever expressed faith in Christ or credited Him for victory. What, if anything does that say about God, victory and earthly honors?

Personally I think American Christianity acts like someone with some type of inferiority complex that suggests that the only way we can prove the merit of our faith is if we can find some type of 'winning example'; some Lolo Jones, some Tim Tebow, some, Gabby Douglas. Someone whose 'success' proves to the world that we can 'compete'. It usually ends up with us being embarrassed by some 'failure'. I remember a book on leadership written by a former pastor who lifted up Enron, as a company whose executives had excellent leadership values. Suffice it to say, the example doesn't stand the test of time - or arguably eternity.

Lolo Jones
Here's the thing: the proof that faith in Christ transforms our lives isn't found in how much money you make, how well you do in a classroom, what possessions you have, how happy your marriage is or how many championships or gold medals you win. All of our stories are incomplete. Some of us who look like winners today, may look like losers tomorrow - and vice-versa. In the world's eyes, the Apostles, including Paul and even Jesus of Nazareth, looked like failures. It is only through our faith that we understand their victory. And the real 'proof' of our victory is in our capacity to remain devoted, faithful, committed, to God and to our fellow believers, win or lose.

The fact is in this life Christians don't always 'win', but we always win. It's just that for us, the victor's crown comes later...

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