Category: Redemption

Lessons From Kobe

Lessons From Kobe

One week ago we were stunned by the news that NBA star Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna, and seven others were killed in a helicopter crash in California. Since then we have seen an outpouring of grief and accolades on a scale rarely seen:

  • Kobe’s death has been mourned by millions around the globe
  • Superstars in all sports have been reduced to tears as they’ve described their loss
  • Some, like Shaquille O’Neal who had years-long tension in his relationship with Kobe, have committed themselves to changing their lives
  • Perhaps all of us have felt some level of stunned grief

Perhaps we’ve also felt a sense of mixed emotions at the adulation Kobe has received. Yes, we know he was a talented basketball player; but we can’t forget the incident in Colorado when he was accused of assaulting a young woman.

As I’ve read blogs and articles, listened to broadcasts and paid attention to my own reactions, I wonder, Why the overwhelming grief, and why mixed emotions? Here are my thoughts:

1. He was a living legend.

For those under age 35, there’s a very strong likelihood that he was the embodiment of a living basketball legend.

  • For those a little older it’s Magic and Larry.
  • For those a little older, it’s MJ and Dr. J.
  • For those a little older still, it was Bill Russell and Oscar Robertson.
  • And for some who can’t remember…it was Jerry West or Bob Cousy.

For a whole current generation, full of energy and dreams, Kobe was a hero in the flesh. (And of course, LeBron James is a part of that conversation, too). That’s one reason the grief has been so enormous. Living legends are supposed to be living.

2. His accomplishments are simply astounding. Kobe was:

  • One of the first to sign a pro contract right out of high school
  • 5 time NBA champ
  • 2 time NBA finals MVP
  • 18 time All-star
  • 4 time All-star game MVP
  • 2 time Olympic gold medalist

The list goes on. Most agree Kobe was absolutely one of the Top 10 most accomplished basketball players ever. It’s quite likely many would agree he’s in the Top 5. The world is grieving the loss of a stunningly accomplished athlete.

3. For many he became a villain. For them Kobe represented all that is wrong with prima-donna athletes who force themselves on others and expect special privileges of exoneration. An honest appraisal of his life requires us to acknowledge that:

  • He was accused of rape by a 19 year-old hotel worker in Eagle, CO
  • She eventually refused to testify and the case was dropped
  • He did however agree to a plea deal in a civil suit, and publicly apologized
  • Many NBA fans, and certainly almost all Denver Nuggets fans, never forgave him. For the remainder of his career, the Denver Pepsi Center was filled with boos and jeers every time Kobe touched the ball.

As a result, for many he remained a permanent, infamous, unforgivable villain.

4. His focus after basketball has without any question been his family, especially his four girls. Whatever one’s opinion of Kobe the opponent, or the abuser, there is no denying he restored his marriage, and along with a supremely forgiving wife, turned much of his attention to his daughters:

  • He started and ran the Mamba Sports Academy to teach girls basketball. He and Gianna had hopes that she might play for U. of Conn some day.
  • He was on a flight to oversee an event at that academy when the helicopter crashed into a hill in the fog.
  • Fathers across the globe have posted on #girldad over 175,000 time to express their respect for Kobe and their commitment to their daughters. The most repeated word: Love
  • As the proud father and father-in-law of two wonderful women and the grandfather of 5 girls I can relate.

Countless athletes, bloggers, broadcasters and journalists have vouched for the visible impact Kobe made on them as they watched his undeniable dedication and love toward his girls.

It makes me wonder, could there be a connection between his shameful disrespect of a young woman in 2003 and his admirable respect for his daughters in 2020? What do you think?

5. Lastly, perhaps the most subtle, but deepest reason for the outpouring of grief and admiration is, his story is like all of ours…just vastly more pronounced and evident. It looks like redemption to me:

  • Like Kobe, we all have God-given, innate talents that we can hardly take credit for. We should gratefully acknowledge, embrace and deploy them.
  • Like him, we have accomplishments for which we are known. Just vastly more unnoticed.
  • Like him, we are engaged in a career, vastly less profitable, that results in provision and impact. Whatever the scale of ours, there is dignity in our work.
  • Like him, every one of us has committed self-serving, other-harming acts of outright sin. Ours have just been vastly less publicized.

Jesus said to pious men who would stone a sinful woman, “Whichever of you is without sin, cast the first stone.” (John 8) They had enough sense to turn around and slink away, or just run. We should have the same reaction whenever we get in a pious, judgmental mood toward others.

Jesus was explicitly clear about how he felt about those who would point out a speck of sawdust in someone else’s eye, while ignoring the plank in their own. The word he used was “hypocrite.” (Matt. 7)

In the clarifying light of God’s righteousness none of us has the slightest excuse for standing in judgment of others. Especially when it seems evident that the other has experienced a transformative change in their priorities and behavior.

As I watch and read I think these are the reasons behind the almost unparalleled grief we have seen over Kobe’s death:

1. For a whole generation he was a living legend.

2. His accomplishments are simply astounding.

3. For many he became an infamous villain.

4. He directed exceptional love toward the women of his family.

5. His story is wounded just like ours. God redeems broken stories.

One of the most magnificent attributes of God’s nature, as illustrated by Jesus in his description of The Prodigal’s father, is his unlimited capacity to forgive and redeem the worst acts of our lives.

I thank God that he has done that for me. Perhaps he’s done that for you. I just wonder if he did the same for Kobe.

To me, his story looks like redemption.

Children of Light

We are entering the Season of Light, the Light Festival, the Christmas season when so much of the world decorates trees, wreathes, streetlamps, and even homes, with spectacular displays of light. Even those parts of the world that may not traditionally be Christian do so. There is an evident way in which the world loves […]

Children of Light
Honesty and Hope

Honesty and Hope

Perhaps you’ve seen the recent Gillette commercial about men being the best they can be. The phrase “the best a man can get” took me back to hazy “wonder years” when I wondered when I might need to shave anything at all.

As I watched the clip, it evoked similar beneath-the-surface feelings: recognition, conviction, inspiration and commitment. So I was surprised to hear and read that not everyone had the same positive impression of the clip as I did. In fact, I saw through one source that reactions against the commercial were 4:1 versus those that saw it as positive.

Reading a few of the angry posts denouncing it I saw a consistent theme: “I’m sick and tired of the countless messages I see and hear these days that tell me I’m not good enough as a man! In fact, I refuse to listen to your hate, shame and condemnation for what it means to be manly!”

If we’re honest I think we’d have to admit that, as timely or as needed as many think they are, #metoo or #timesup or the #toxicmasculinity posts often have a common thread to many men, “You’re gender is the problem. The less the rest of us have of you the better off we’ll be.”

I’ve met virtually no men who feel righteously convicted let alone inspired by that message. Especially if the communicator combines it with a sneer or a finger in the face. Any finger.

But that doesn’t mean the message is entirely off target; just the communication of it.

If you’re a guy, (or a woman for that matter), imagine a soccer coach, band director or debate coach who pulled you personally aside put his arm around your shoulder and said, “I’ve been watching you and I like what I see. But you consistently miss anticipating that pass, (or that key change or that opportunity to bring your point home). I know you have it in you. In fact, I’m convinced you have it in you. Others are counting on you because you matter. We need you.”

Is there anything you would not do to focus on that issue, listen to those around you, or learn from him in order to be who he sees you as being? No.

What I’ve learned over the years of being a guy, and speaking to them, is that men will respond to two significant messages: Honesty and Hope. But they both need to be present. Too much Honesty and no Hope, my brothers and I will walk away in disgust, shame or anger. Too much Hope and no Honesty, and the message doesn’t pierce. It just bounces off the outer armor.

Honesty and Hope. Jesus called it Truth and Grace. The apostle Paul called it Truth and Love. That’s what men need to hear. That’s what anyone needs to hear if they are going to be transformed.

So, male-bashers, enough with the shaming, demeaning, profanity-laced, one-directional messages that tear men down and ignore their God-designed glory. And men, lay down the armor just a minute when you see or hear a message that has both Honesty and Hope.

I’m telling you, I think Gillette got this one right. I’m done being one of the guys at the start of the clip. I want to be one of the guys at the end. I want to be the best man I can be. I think you do, too.

And we need you.

“It’s shocking. It’s awful. It’s tragic. There’s hope.”

Those were my words when the first accusations against Bill Hybels, founder and senior pastor of Willow Creek, came out in the Chicago Tribune and Christianity Today last spring. My words were in response to a group of men who asked how it felt for me, knowing I had served on staff at the church for four years in the 1990’s.

Those words still hold true for me today; they are just stronger. As weeks have gone by more women have courageously stepped forward to reveal shocking stories of harassment, intimidation and inappropriate behavior they say they experienced from Hybels. He still denies the accusations and the elders are now re-investigating the claims, after months of their own denials and unkind characterizations against the women.

“It’s shocking. It’s awful. It’s tragic. There’s hope.”
American Exceptionalism: Random Male Violence, Part I

American Exceptionalism: Random Male Violence, Part I

Once again we wrestle with piercing feelings of grief, bewilderment and anger. Yet again a young American male has unleashed his wrath against a vulnerable group of students. Our hearts ache, our heads shake and our minds reel. How can this keep happening? What can we do to make sure this never happens again?

We’re familiar with the spectrum of suggested causes as well as solutions—it’s a mental health issue, it’s a gun access issue, it’s a cultural issue. It’s all of those to some degree, but in my opinion it’s a horrific case of American Exceptionalism.

I love my country, but I really dislike the way that term is typically used. It implies that American culture is first and best, as if we’re all in a global competition for a mythical cultural gold medal. Having traveled to more than 60 countries over the years I’ve experienced qualities in every one of them that are admirable as well as unfortunate. Mine included.

Yes, we Americans have demonstrated an outstanding technological ability to fly humans to the moon or to instantaneously connect and communicate with others half a world away. But honesty also compels us to admit our exceptionalism in incarcerating the highest number of citizens per capita of any nation in the world.

In grief we must also admit the exceptional acts we regularly face—young males who randomly unleash deadly violence against their own kind. Even a short-list of the locations where slaughter took place over the past 19 years evokes memories and emotions that should never entirely fade: Columbine, Orlando, Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech, Aurora, Las Vegas, and now Parkland. (See my previous post, Our Spirits Groan.)

Each stands out in its own uniqueness of location and horror, but they share two common characteristics: the perpetrator was male and he was an American.

Of course, other nations have violent young men, but they tend to slaughter those who are different from themselves. They go after those of another religion, ethnicity, tribe or political persuasion. In the US our violent males slaughter randomly.

Why does this happen here and not elsewhere? My opinion is that American culture produces young males who are profoundly self-absorbed and entitled. (See my previous post, Brilliant Jerks.) At the same time they are deeply uncertain of their own significance and place in a dramatically changing cultural and economic landscape. And, they often pick up the message—whether through bullying, macho posturing, gangs, or violent video games— that the solution to disagreement and conflict is often best settled through some form of violence.

I had intended to start writing this blog last weekend, but found myself gripped by both sadness and anger at the violence recently unleashed in Parkland, FL. Having decided to take a break and see a movie, I was stunned at what appeared in the very first frame: this quote from author D. H. Lawrence, “The essential American soul is hard, isolate, stoic and a killer.” It was all I could do to keep from gasping out loud at how horribly accurately this described exactly what I was grieving.

Man, how much I want to disagree with that statement! I know so many wonderful, connected, compassionate, life-giving men. And, Lawrence had a different, late 19th-early 20th century, American era in mind when he made that statement. But I have to also acknowledge the extent to which this quote fits today. So many young males in American culture are tough, alone, emotionless…and can so easily turn into killers.

In his book Guyland, author Michael Kimmel identified an American sub-culture of males, ages 16-26 whose key qualities are privilege, narcissism, entitlement and self-centeredness. They are convinced that they are the center of the universe, that they are the most sought out marketing demographic (unfortunately, they’re right), that they set the social rules, and that everyone else who wants to fit in, women above all others, needs to accept and adhere to those rules. As long as a male in that demographic succeeds, he’s in. If he doesn’t measure up by the group’s or his own standards, he’s out.

Some of those young males who find themselves “out,” simmer with anger and shame until they decide to resolve things in violence. Some of them grow older and never find a sense of community or significance, until the lava of hidden resentment suddenly erupts with deadly consequences. Then they become a headline.

Courage and humility require us to face the awful circumstances we repeatedly see in American culture. In the next post, American Exceptionalism, Part II, I’ll explore factors that indicate what some solutions might be.

A Spirit of Sadness

img_3554Today I’m filled with sadness.

This doesn’t often happen to me. I try to go about life with a spirit of gratitude and joy. Yet, I have known for several years now that the tragedies we encounter on almost a daily basis—whether personal, related to family or friends, or on a global scale—pierce me on an increasingly deeper level with each passing year.

I first noticed this deeper piercing a few years ago when I read of two local college girls, home on a brief break, gassing up a father’s SUV for a trip into the mountains, whose vehicle was hit by another car pulling into the adjacent gas pump. One of the girls was in the gas station buying snacks; the other pumped the gas, standing between her SUV and the gas pump. The collision caused a spark which became a conflagration that burned the girl alive. Paralyzed bystanders could only watch in stunned horror.

Black Lives Matter; Blue Lives Matter; All Lives Matter

Black Lives Matter; Blue Lives Matter; All Lives Matter

Once again, I’m stunned at the video footage that confronts all of us:

BLACK LIVES MATTER

  • 49 patrons of an Orlando dance club are brutally slaughtered by a man who apparently hates gays, non-Muslims or both
  • A black man in Louisiana shot twice in the chest as he’s wrestled to the ground by two officers
  • A black man in Minnesota is shot four times after getting pulled over by an officer for a broken taillight, as his wife and 4 year-old daughter watch in horror
  • A protest in Minneapolis turns into a virtual riot as firecrackers, Molotov Cocktails and bricks are thrown at police, who then respond with smoke and tear-gas. Dozens on both sides are injured
  • A peaceful protest in Dallas, in response to these shootings, turns into a sniper attack where a black man kills five police officers and wounds several others

The development of live video footage anywhere at anytime has exposed us to shocking injustice as well as outright evil. Many of us experience the disorientation and overload of being exposed to more violence, mistreatment and bloodshed than our senses and thought processes were designed to manage.

Meanwhile extreme voices on either end of the political spectrum take advantage of the horror to press their own predictable agendas.

Groups like Black Lives Matter, whose name and motto I fully agree with, seem too often to become violent and abusive in how they express their anguish. Sometimes it sounds like: Black lives matter more than yours. No, they don’t matter more: but they DO matter more than the prejudiced treatment they’ve lived under for centuries. I think we can agree on this, even though we may disagree with how it’s communicated.

Those espousing that Blue Lives Matter, whose name and motto I fully agree with, seem too often to ignore the demeaning, soul-crushing reality of what it feels like, as a black man or woman, to live in a society where you are constantly suspect, feared, over-looked or attacked. But, folks, where would we be without the courageously self-sacrificial service the great majority of police provide their neighbors? Utter anarchy.

Where do we land? For starters, though it sounds ridiculously simplistic to say it, we need to live with the unalterable conviction that All Lives Matter. Regardless of ethnicity, race or gender, the truth is that we have all been made in the image of God. (Gen. 1:27) That matters, or at least it should. You have never looked into the eyes of a person who God does not love with all his heart.

We also need to live with the unalterable conviction that every one of us, regardless of race, gender, demographic, addiction or sexual lifestyle choice, is deeply wounded. The Creator designed every one of us with deep longings for love, significance, security and joy. All of those were lost as a consequence of sin, pride and, ultimately, through self-centered separation from God.

As a result, all of us live with deep loss, brokenness and longing. We try to fill those longings with a wide variety of selfish behavior that still leaves us thirsty…until we discover the true Source of living water. (Jer. 2:13) And even then we all still have the capacity to live selfishly.

To me, this means we live with the unalterable conviction that, while the outward evidence and consequences of our self-centered choices may vary widely, every one of us has the capacity for prejudice, anger, pride, addictive behavior, destructive pursuit of pleasure and self-protection.

I’m not invulnerable to these; neither are you; neither are those whose lives are very different from yours. We’re all broken. We’re all longing for what our hearts were designed for, and then, was lost when mankind’s relationship with God was broken.

So how do we respond?

hug2

  • We live in humility. We recognize that deep inside we are all broken.
  • We work to understand others. We all long for the transcendent relationship with God we were built for; we pursue different wounded paths.
  • We forgive graciously. Because we have been forgiven so much.
  • We speak with conviction. To remain silent in the face of sin or injustice we disagree with, is to allow it to continue.
  • We act courageously. Action almost always requires courage.
  • We love extravagantly. One of the most powerful stories Jesus told, commonly known as the Prodigal Son, is really about the Extravagantly Loving Father. Even as that son was rebellious and self-absorbed, his father watched the horizon for him every day. Our Father does the same: watching, waiting, embracing and forgiving every child who comes to him. We should reflect that same love.

Because all lives matter.

A Do-It-Yourself-Psalm

diyI’m not much of a poet, but Psalm 124 provides a template that even I can follow in writing a personal expression of praise.

If the Lord had not been on our side—
let Israel say—
2 if the Lord had not been on our side
when people attacked us,
3 they would have swallowed us alive
when their anger flared against us;
4 the flood would have engulfed us,
the torrent would have swept over us,
5 the raging waters
would have swept us away.

6 Praise be to the Lord,
who has not let us be torn by their teeth.
7 We have escaped like a bird
from the fowler’s snare;
the snare has been broken,
and we have escaped.

8 Our help is in the Name of the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.

Shame Returns, The Sequel

Shame Returns, The Sequel

shameMan, am I vulnerable to Shame!

Those who know me, have heard me speak, or have read some of my blog posts, know I have a passion to see men (and women) freed from Shame. (I even capitalize the dang word because of its significance.)

I’m often reminded that the root of my passion about this subject is my own vulnerability to the message of self-condemnation, and disappointment in self, that rears its head on a regular basis.

Shame is the message that, not only did I do something wrong, but there is something wrong with who I am. Guilt is conviction about our behavior; Shame is condemnation about our identity. Conviction comes from the voice of the Holy Spirit. Shame is the condemning lie from the Enemy.

I know all of this. Yet I am still vulnerable. My guess is I’m not the only one. Because Shame returns.

  • I really should have gotten that group email out sooner
  • I left out a crucial individual that that email really should have gone to
  • I backed out of an engagement I looked forward to; I should have managed my schedule better
  • I responded defensively when a colleague implied I should have done more
  • I hurt a loved-one (OK, it was my wife) with my impatient response to a completely reasonable request. I should have been more loving

The condemnation of the word Should is a common thread. As a friend often reminds me, “We need to stop ‘shoulding’ on ourselves.” I know this. Yet Shame returns.

Types of Shame are legion. But, since a man most longs for respect, his greatest fear is failure—loss of respect from others. For men anything in the realm of failure has the potential to bring up the most Shame:

  • Divorce or separation
  • Bankruptcy
  • Failing college
  • Smudged reputation
  • Not measuring up in some physical effort
  • Getting fired
  • Getting kicked out of the military
  • Spending time in prison
  • Embarrassment about body image

But nothing casts more Shame than failure of sexual morals, (probably even for non-Christians): promiscuity, emotional affairs, porn, prostitutes, strip clubs, abortion. Scripture reminds us that sexual sin has the unique distinctive that it is the one sin that reverses direction and attacks ourselves the most. I Cor. 6:18

You may have heard me say this before, but today I’m reminding myself, and you, of the steps that bring about inner and outer reconciliation and freedom from Shame:

1. We embrace grace.

“…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,  and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. Rom. 3:23, 24

When we forget the power of Grace, we diminish the infinite power of the work of Jesus.

2.We believe what God says about forgiveness and acceptance.

“Their sinful and unlawful acts I will remember no more. And where these have been forgiven there is no longer any sacrifice for sin”!! Heb. 10: 17, 18

Though we continue to fall short of even our own standards, we remind ourselves that, unbelievably, God chooses to forget. Because the work of the cross is enough.

3. We believe what God’s word says about Shame.

“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Rom. 8:1

Or as The Message puts it, we “no longer have to live under a continuous low-lying black cloud.”

“No one whose hope is in you will ever be put to shame…” Psalm 25:3

“I sought the Lord and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame.” Psalm 34: 4, 5

4. We bring trusted friends into our journey.

We cannot experience freedom from shame in solitude. It requires open acknowledgement of our broken story with a few trusted friends.

“But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.” I John 1:7

When through God’s guidance we walk openly and honestly with others, in the light, we not only experience forgiveness, we have brotherhood, a deep bond, with those we entrust with our humanity.

5. We renounce Shame. Repeatedly. Verbally. That means out loud so Satan hears it.

There is no reason the Enemy shouldn’t continue his attacks on us. In the same way, there is no reason for us to hesitate to pray against them. Because Shame returns.

You and I may be vulnerable to the Should messages that whisper in our ears, but the truth is those are lies. The truth is:

“We are accepted by the Grace of the One whose acceptance of us matters most.” Lewis Smedes

Glory and Ruin, Part II

“If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the battleline between good and evil runs through the heart of every man.”   —Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn As a survivor of the Gulag Archipelago, the massive Soviet system of […]