“All organizations like to boast that they’re building a culture, but when it comes down to it everyone only really cares about the culture of winning…We love winners, even though they’re very rarely particularly likable people…That doesn’t matter. We forgive them. We like them while they’re winning.” Fredrik Backman
My husband and I like to watch baseball. Specifically, we are fans of the Philadelphia Phillies.
We have a goofy joke, the type long-married couples often do, that is funny only to the two of us.
When we see a fan wearing a Phillies jersey with a player’s name on the back, like “Bryce Harper” (a Phillies outfielder), one of us will say to the other something hilarious, like “Huh! I thought Bryce Harper was taller and had a beard.“
Over a decade ago, when the team was on a winning streak, we were in Pittsburgh for a baseball weekend while the Phillies played the Pittsburgh Pirates. One evening after the game, we went to get a bite to eat at a restaurant about half a mile from the stadium.
As we entered the restaurant, we saw a man wearing a Cole Hamels (a Phillies pitcher) jersey sitting at a table outside on the sidewalk. “Look!” I said to Bill, “It’s Cole Hamels!“
We both cracked up at my very witty remark.
As we were exiting the restaurant after dinner, I saw, walking toward us, the Phillies shortstop, Jimmie Rollins. He was walking into the restaurant as we were walking out. Bill was looking elsewhere and didn’t notice him.
As soon as he passed, I excitedly turned to Bill “Look!” I said, “It’s Jimmy Rollins!“
“Haha!” Bill replied, “Yeah, and ‘Cole Hamels’ is still sitting at that table.“
“No – that’s the real Jimmy Rollins. He just brushed against my sleeve.“
Bill turned to get a glimpse of Jimmy Rollins, but by then, it was too late. He had entered the restaurant and was whisked off to a private room.
Jimmy Rollins is now retired. He sometimes gives color commentary on baseball games. He seems like a nice guy, but I am always a little wary about making heroes out of sports figures.
Having good hand-eye coordination, strength, speed, or agility does not make one a hero. Besides, these men have been idolized since they were 10-year-old boys. It takes true strength of character to overcome that.
I have seen too many good high school athletes getting used to being given the star treatment. In our school, student-athletes were forbidden to play in a game if they were failing two or more subjects.
More than once, I had a coach call me on a Friday afternoon to ask if I could bump up a player’s grade from an F to a D minus. I never did.
Our culture is one that celebrates success. We adore winners. We love to jump on bandwagons.
We believe by linking ourselves with success, some of the power, influence, or prestige will rub off on us. We hope we will become successful by association.
It is so much easier to achieve secondhand success than to have the skill, talent, dedication, or luck it takes to earn it.
We view the star athlete, the powerful businessman, the winner of elections, the famous celebrity with a mixture of admiration, envy, and worship. We forgive their sins with a grace we do not extend to others who are less successful.
Here is what German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer has to say about success: “In a world where success is the measure and justification of all things the figure of Him who was sentenced and crucified remains a stranger and is at best the object of pity. The world will allow itself to be subdued only by success…Success alone justifies wrongs done.“
Maybe it is time to redefine success.
Maybe our hero should be the father who tenderly bathes his children and tucks them into bed even as he worries about how to pay the bills.
Maybe the nurse who drags herself out of bed each morning, dons protective gear, and holds the hands of COVID patients as they slip, isolated from their families, from this world to the next deserves our veneration.
Maybe we should admire the disheveled homeless man on the street who battles addiction, mental illness, or desperation but somehow finds a way to share his meager resources with others in the same condition.
Christ ruled by serving. He preached about becoming rich by giving away possessions. He won by losing. By dying, He gave life.
Let’s remove arrogant idols from their pedestals. Let’s recognize those whose love illuminates a dark world as our heroes. Let’s reevaluate how we determine who “winners” are.
“Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.” James 4:10
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