By Bob Hiller –
At his summer basketball clinic this past week, Michael Jordan was asked if he believed he could beat LeBron James one-on-one while in his prime. To no one’s surprise, Jordan said, “No question.” As much as I would love to get into a debate over his answer here, I know that you readers of The Jagged Word rarely come here to engage such inane sports questions. (Though, of course, we all know Jordan would beat LeBron. James lacks the killer-instinct necessary to survive against his Air-ness). However, I do want to talk a bit about Jordan and his legacy.
No one in the history of basketball has meant more to the NBA than Michael Jordan. To be sure, many players before MJ and after have made significant strides for the Association. However, no one has dominated both his sport and popular culture quite like Mike. Apart from an ill-advised stint in minor league baseball, Jordan ruled the 90’s as the most dominant and popular athlete in the wide world of sports. He led the Chicago Bulls to six NBA championships in his last six seasons with the team. He starred in Nike commercials with Spike Lee and people would (literally) kill to get the shoes that bore his name. Until he faded away with the Washington Wizards at the end of his career, his reputation as America’s premier athlete was virtually spotless. Everyone wanted to be like Mike, and who wouldn’t? He is rightly considered to be the all-time greatest at his craft. I mean, his name is synonymous with greatness. Jordan was the Michael Jordan of basketball.
And now? Though MJ was inducted into the Hall-of-Fame, his post-basketball career has been less than glamorous. For instance, in 2010 he became majority owner of the Charlotte Bobcats Hornets (the team was renamed during the 2014-15 season). Since joining up with Charlotte’s management in 2006, the team has only made the playoffs twice. As a result of not being able to create a winning team, Jordan has been viewed far less favorably by the media. Even his crowning post-career moment, his induction into the Hall of Fame, was a bad PR move. His acceptance speech came across bitter and vengeful. His previously celebrated over-competitive nature now feels vindictive and slightly deranged. No one wants to be like Mike anymore.
As I look at the Jordan of the ‘90s and where he is now, I cannot help but feel a bit sorry for him. After all, he is forced to live in his former glory. Though it may sound incredible to have “the greatest to ever play the game” as one’s legacy, I can’t help but think it gets depressing from time to time. I mean, his whole life is lived with people reminding him of how great he used to be. His past is constantly under the spotlight, while his present is sneered at. His life is filled with absurd, unanswerable questions like, “If you were x-number of years younger, could you beat so-and-so one-on-one?” This can only impress upon him that, now, he is washed-up. And, Mike (because I know you are reading this) your “in-my-day” answers to such questions only make you look worse. The harsh truth is that no matter how great the Hornets become, Jordan will never be able to re-live the past that defines him.
Being defined by your past can be horribly oppressive. In Jordan’s case, he is bound by the terrifying legalism that says, “Your best days are behind you.” For others, it’s not the lost glory of years past that haunts them, but a darkness in the past that they cannot seem to forget. I’ve lately had cause to look back on my years serving as a parish pastor. And though I can say that my ministry has been one of joy-filled service, I have lately, for whatever reason, been terrified by the failures and sins that I have committed in my calling. Faces of parishioners I have failed seem to haunt me. People whose sins I have not confronted properly are now hurting because of my missteps. I have knowingly communed people who should not be at the altar. I haven’t done nearly enough in terms of evangelism or outreach. I have not preached the Law hard enough or given the proper directives. I have watered down the Gospel. I have not been above reproach. I’ve read 1 Timothy 3 innumerable times, and it is becoming more of a deathblow to me the further along I get in this ministry. I am the Michael Jordan of pastoral failures!
Now, it may sound like I am being hard on myself, and perhaps I am. And you don’t come here to read a whiny pastor bitch about his shortcomings and sins (nor am I seeking some kind of sympathetic response). However, I would venture to guess that I am not alone in my guilt as a pastor, nor am I alone in my struggles as a Christian. In fact, I would bet there are a number of you who find yourselves having to fight some demon when it comes to your past. Either you miss the glory days and loathe present circumstances, or, you fear that your past sins define you and you can’t shake them off. It’s hard to dance with the devil on your back, as Florence and the Machine sings, and your past has now bound you to the wall…and the future doesn’t look bright.
Which is why there is freedom in hearing the promise that the Lord is not nearly as enamored with our pasts as we are! He is far too gracious for that. For you, like Mike, who are bound to dwell in the glory of the past, hear this: the Lord is over your past. He’s not impressed. Never was. He has called your view of it what it is: idolatrous pride. Repent of it, don’t revel in it! For He has drowned that idol in His blood. He speaks to you now only a Word of grace that shatters your former glory on the floor and raises you in hope-filled humility: “You are not your past. You are mine.”
And for you, whose past demons dwell heavy on your shoulders, hear this: the Lord is over your past as well. There is no sin, past, present, or future too big for Him to forgive. It is not too heavy for him to carry. He is not nearly as impressed with your sinfulness as you are and He’s not afraid to call you a sinner. But remember, He comes only for sinners. Your past (and mine) qualifies you (and me) to be guests at His table. The record that stood opposed to you is nailed to the cross, erased in His blood, and buried in the grave never to rise again. You who live in fear and shame, wallowing on the floor, Jesus raises you up as well with the same blood-stained, life-giving Word: “You are not your past. You are mine.”
No matter whether you used to be Michael Jordan or some self-loathing pathetic pastor, in Christ you no longer live your past. You are free through His blood now and forever.