11.25.2010

LeBron Took His Talents to South Beach; Where Will You Be Taking Yours?


Earlier this year, when the sports world awaited where LeBron James would end up, ESPN columnist Bill Simmons wrote an article summarizing LeBron's choices as follows: "loyalty" (Cleveland, where he's from and where he has spent his entire career), "success" (Chicago, where his skills would've been the best fit towards building a dynastic team), or "fame" (New York, the world's greatest stage and its biggest media market). We now know that LeBron chose none of the above; or rather, he chose "friends" (to "take his talents to South Beach" with best friends Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami).

Loyalty, success, fame, or friends/fun. Very often, our major life decisions are made according to which of these is most important to us. For most Christians, and probably for many others, loyalty and friends seem to be nobler pursuits than success or fame. All else equal, if given four career paths like LeBron James had before him, we’d have an easier time justifying our choices to our pastor, our small group Bible study, or to other Christian friends if we said we chose loyalty or friends than if we chose success or fame.

All well and good, I suppose. Are loyalty or friends inherently better reasons than success or fame? Perhaps they are. Can success and fame become traps that lead us astray? Most certainly they can.

But let me offer a counterpoint, not necessarily to argue that the convention wisdom is wrong but to provide some balance to this discussion. Whether or not LeBron James made the right choice or had the right reasons can be debated. But what if, out of millions of Christians making similar, albeit less televised, decisions, almost no one chooses the path of success or fame? And, is that necessarily a good thing? In other words, are our natural predilections, to value loyalty or friends as noble and success or fame as dirty, leading us to an outcome in which we are underrepresented in certain arenas that would be better served having some leavening influence from us?

On a related but not completely parallel note, let us consider some specific professions and industries. It may be easier to make the connection between following Jesus and being a teacher, or a social worker, or an international aid worker. It may be harder to justify to one’s Christian peers a decision to become a high-powered investment banker, or a local politician, or a Hollywood exec, and harder still to do those careers well without compromising one’s values or ruining one’s health and family. But what if, out of a million decision points for a million young Christians, very few choose the latter jobs? If we are to be salt and light in this world, to use an analogy from Jesus, would that not mean that some of the very places that most need salt and light remain bland and dark?

Please don’t mistake my point. I am not arguing that we have too many Christian teachers or social workers or international aid workers. I am not arguing that just because one has the opportunity and the skill to serve in the latter professions, one should not be dissuaded from yet avoiding them, to say no to the trappings of success and fame, no to the potentially ruinous sacrifices one might have to make to make it in those sectors. I am not arguing that we should abandon our consciences, such that if we find ourselves feeling compromised because of the innate conflicts in those professions, we shouldn’t make hard choices to get out and leave it all behind.

All I am suggesting is that, if out of a million of us, none of us end up in those places, that might not necessarily be a good thing in terms of making an impact for the now and for the hereafter. If we seek those difficult jobs and feel God is leading us into them, let us seek them with the support of a community of believers who can keep us in check against temptations and dangers, but let us seek them nonetheless. Goodness knows the world could use some justice-seeking investment bankers, some honest politicians, some moral Hollywood execs.

If you have talent and leaning for these or other professions we Christians sometimes look down on, I am not saying you necessarily must end up there. But I am saying we Christians should probably open our minds a bit; and, if it does in fact seem God is leading you in that direction, we ought to be happy for you, and supportive of your effort to go to places not often trod by followers of Jesus, to be an agent for change and for good and for what matters for eternity. At the very least, we should not dismiss your motives as impure or your courage as lacking.

In the journey of life, we will hit forks in the road, and sometimes the paths will be clearly labeled: “loyalty,” “success,” “fame,” and “friends.” To be sure, sometimes there will be a clear sense of which paths are good and which aren’t. But, God is big enough to be with you and use you whichever path you take, if you are willing to go for Him and not for other, lesser motives. And if not enough of us are choosing the paths that seem darker from our present vantage point, I would venture to say we may not necessarily be distributing the light of our influence as effectively as we might.

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