Thursday, March 06, 2008

Striving for the Mastery

"And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible."

The Apostle's well-known comparison of Christian life to the life of an athlete suggests that there is something enduring in the legends we watch from the sidelines and living rooms. There is something very adult and abiding in our desire to have heroes about whose lives off the field we don't have to be embarrassed.

Brett Favre is one such man, and he will be sorely missed.

I've been a fan of the Green Bay Packers ever since my childhood; I still remember the boyhood thrill of watching Herb Adderley return an interception for a touchdown, or of Carroll Dale in full stride, catching a bomb from Bart Starr. And I know that my own sons will always have the same kinds of memories about Brett Favre.

But I do think there's more about Brett Favre to remember than that, something that people who are not even football fans, much less Packer fans, can appreciate. It's rather as he himself put it so well today in a tearful good-bye interview: when he cheered, we cheered; when he cried, we cried; when he mourned, we mourned; and when he played, we played with him. He's one of us.

When in celebration he would run across the field, helmet held high, and playfully tumble into his teammates, or hoist one one his shoulders, you might say he was in the backyard with us, reliving our childhood dreams for us, right before our very eyes.

When he checked into drug rehab for the overuse of pain killers, we saw him as a man who makes mistakes, just as the rest of us do. And when he overcame that and moved on, we rejoiced with him, and gained encouragement to do the same.

When his father died, we all felt the pain, even in the midst of our cheering over that unbelievable Monday night game he played the next day at Oakland. Even the Oakland fans, I recall, were cheering for him. It was the best night of his career, and it was the saddest. It was a comedy and a tragedy, all wrapped in one. And we were there with him, experiencing every moment.

Today, as he bid the game farewell, he was, as ever, dignified and humble. In explaining why he felt it was time to retire, he said that he didn't feel as though he could give it 100% any more, so therefore it was time to retire; otherwise it wouldn't be fair to the team. Every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Perhaps he felt that if he had reached the point that he couldn't do this any more, then he was unfit to remain as an icon and role model for his fans.

As he rides his John Deere lawnmower into the sunset, we can remember a lesson from St. Paul: the games at which we are spectators are microcosms of Christian life itself, with all its highs and lows, our own disappointments and challenges. Keeping the body under: maintaining self-discipline, and all the preparations and duties of faithfulness the Apostle bids us to maintain. It's like the preparations of an athlete. Maybe it's easier to grasp this when we watch an athlete like Brett Favre, since he has been so very easy to identify with; and so also, maybe it's easier to tell ourselves to live as we will remember Brett Favre to have played on the field--though not to obtain a corruptible crown, but an incorruptible.

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