8.18.2008

WHAT CHRISTIANS CAN LEARN FROM USAIN BOLT, SPIDERMAN, AND BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER

I haven't had much time to watch the Olympics this month, but when even my mom is telling me stuff like, "How about that Michael Phelps," you know this thing has gone mainstream. Almost lost in the wake of Phelps' historic week was the record-shattering performance by Jamaica's Usain Bolt, who not only broke his own world record in the marquee 100-meter dash, but did so with elan, extending his arms and beating his chest well before the finish line.

Some stat-lusty watchers, such as myself, felt almost cheated; even as we relished in the indelible moment, we wondered what his time would have been had he run straight through the finish line. Never mind that that wasn't Bolt's own goal, which was to win and to have fun doing it; the public deserves him running to the tape, in our minds, for what we want is for him to run for history and not for himself. Never mind that we ourselves rarely hold ourselves to the same standard, extending ourselves for a cause bigger than ourselves rather than seeking our own comfort and pleasure.

And so I add Bolt to my list of people we Christians can learn from as it relates to exchanging personal comfort for eternal impact. I've blogged in this space before about how Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Spiderman both faced the temptation to trade in their unique opportunity to do good for the world, in order to lead happy and normal lives. And so Bolt's historic 100-meter run is a reminder of the trade-offs we face between our own desires and the opportunity to subordinate them to an even greater cause.

If I may induce a yawn by introducing an economics term, there is a very real sense of asymmetry here: people like Bolt, Buffy, and Spidey can do a little good for all of us, but at great cost to themselves. It's easy for an impartial observer, let alone one who benefits directly, to want that cost to be borne, since they don't have to bear it; and it's easy to see why the ones who have to bear that cost are reluctant to, since it can be such a heavy, thankless burden.

Let me be clear: God doesn't need our skills. The moment we think we're that important, we're well down the road of burn-out, pride, and numerous other attitudes that displease our Maker. Bolt is just as much of example to us Christians because of his carefree exuberance as he is because of his world-class training efforts. So we too must remember to balance self-sacrifice with self-feeding, and so we too must remember that the skills and resources and energy we expend are ultimately sourced not from our own selves but from the One who provides them to us.

Yet, having offered those counter-balancing comments, I have to think that the word we need to hear - the word I need to hear - is that the greater temptation is to trade in eternal impact for present ease. When the One we purport to follow marked Himself as the One precisely by making the ultimate sacrifice, so should we also live.

Here's hoping that after the Games are over and the athletes have gone home and the feelings of victory and defeat have faded away, that we will remember what sacrifices all contestants made for their own satisfaction's sake, for our viewing pleasure, and for history. And here's hoping we'll be similarly inspired to focus ourselves for glory - not our own, but a far greater, juster, more satisfying glory.
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