June 2011


Ok, full disclosure up front.  As a sports fan, I was turned off by LeBron James making his free agent choice known in an hour-long, ego-inflating special on ESPN (and, no I did not bother to watch).  As a Chicago Bulls fan I was miffed that he bolted Cleveland to join forces with Dwayne Wade in Miami.  I joined the rest of the country (except perhaps for South Florida) in rooting for the Dallas Mavericks.  I felt vindicated watching Game 6, seeing James and Wade come unraveled and watching guys like Kidd, Terry, and Nowitzki celebrate something they had worked hard for.

I give full disclosure because this is not another treatise on why Miami lost or what is wrong with LeBron James.  There are already plenty of those available in cyberspace.  After reading several articles dissecting the NBA Championships, the Miami Heat, and LeBron, I realized that one reason it is easy to foment ill-will toward James and Wade, and to rejoice that the good guys won, is that it distracts me from asking some hard questions about myself.  You see, this is not about LeBron James.  This is about me.

I realized this while reading a great article by the always entertaining Bill Simmons, a writer for ESPN (if you are a basketball fan, read the entire column!).  In addition to an insightful breakdown of Game 6, he raises some great questions, regardless of whether you are the most gifted basketball player on the planet, or just an average person who, in the words of LeBron, “ha(s) to get back to the real world at some point.”  So with the help of Bill Simmons, allow me to ask three questions, not of LeBron, but of myself.

  • Do I have people in my life who will tell me the truth?

When was the last time anyone ever really yelled at LeBron James? You’d have to go back to high school, right? He just spent the past 10 years being coddled by everyone (teammates, coaches, agents, entourage members, yes-men, general managers, owners, media members, etc.). Imagine he was a little kid (which really, he might be to some degree), and imagine you were his father and didn’t believe in yelling at your kids. Now, imagine your kid screwed up in his second-grade play and, for whatever reason, you broke character, snapped, and berated him for eight seconds in front of everyone. How would he handle that? Poorly, right? He’d pretend it didn’t affect him, but the more he thought about it, it would gnaw away at him (especially once his buddies said, “I can’t believe your dad yelled at you like that”).

Back in Game 3, Wade called out LeBron and the cameras caught it.  LeBron didn’t play the same from that point on.  But this is what happens when any of us don’t want to hear truth about ourselves – our blind spots, our weaknesses, our idiosyncrasies.  And we all have them.  So the question is: Do I have people around me whom I can trust to call me out when I need it?  Ok, maybe not yell at me, but give me honest feedback when called for?  It might not be easy to hear, and it might not be caught on national TV, but if we are to experience personal growth, we need truth tellers in our lives.

  • Do I take the time for introspection and take responsibility for what I find?

And maybe that’s why, right now, (LeBron)’s in total denial. Even in the postgame presser, when he should have been devastated the same way Magic Johnson was distraught after coming up small in the 1984 Finals, LeBron was doing the Frank Drebin “Nothing to see here, please disperse” routine, bristling at the notion that he choked and taking shots at anyone who rooted against him. That’s what you do when you’re surrounded by enablers — you blame everyone else, and you never look within. He never understood that people only rooted against him because that’s what you do when someone boasts before they’ve ever actually done anything.

I might state it a slightly different way, “That’s what happens when you never look within – you blame everyone else and surround yourself with enablers.”  One of my first experiences with solitude was a week by myself in a mountain cabin.  And it was downright scary what I encountered when there was no one else around!  But it was also a wonderful time of healing and identifying blind spots.  Ever since then, I have found myself craving times of solitude.  If you have the courage to face up to what you will encounter, it can be wonderfully rewarding.

  • Am I searching out ways to use the gifts God gave me?

If that sequence alone isn’t enough to inspire LeBron to lock himself in a gym all summer until he emerges with a spin move, a jump hook, and a Jordan-eseque fallaway, then he’s the biggest waste of talent in NBA history. You know at the car wash when they offer the “everything” package? That’s what God gave LeBron. He’s threatening to waste it. In a nutshell, this is what makes us so angry about him. It’s not The Decision, or his lack of self-awareness, or the fact that he’s a front-runner … it’s that he’s blowing the “everything” car-wash package.

Remember the biblical parable of the talents?  I may not have been given the “everything” package, but I am no less responsible for developing the gifts God gave me.  At times I have felt like there is no outlet for those gifts, but I have to keep searching.  Last summer a friend called me out, challenging me to put myself out there and not be held back by excuses.  Again, it’s not always easy, but neither is winning an NBA Championship.

The thing LeBron doesn’t seem to grasp yet is that his mansions and millions do not exempt him from questions we must all ultimately ask ourselves.  But then again, I am no better if, upon my “return to the real world”, I fail to ask these same questions of myself.

Gerald Schroeder

This is actually the second book by Gerald Schroeder I have read recently.  Schroeder is perhaps best known for his book The Science of God.  He is a physicist, who attempts to reconcile Genesis with what science is discovering about the big bang and the origins of the universe.  Actually, he doesn’t so much try to reconcile the two, with a forced agenda as many have tried to do.  His understanding of the Hebrew language has led him to uncover many misunderstandings of Genesis on the part of the religious, and to lay bare many of the shortcomings of science.  He maintains that the two are not that far apart when all of the misunderstandings are stripped away.  I didn’t agree with everything Schroeder put forth in The Science Of God, and there were many areas where I had to confess my own lack of knowledge when it came to areas, such as quantum physics and astronomy.  But he did have some very insightful points that call for a fresh understanding of both science and Genesis.  And it lead me to read another one of his books, God According To God.

In God According To God, Schroeder touches on the origins of the universe, but this time from the perspective of a deeper understanding of God.  He examines many ways in which our notions of God do not match up with the Hebrew Bible.  Two chapters in particular intrigued me.

In the seventh chapter, Schroeder examines the nuances in the stories of Abraham and Job.  From God’s interactions with these two biblical figures, he draws some conclusions about God that I imagine would begin to make some uncomfortable.  We have attributed such a high view of sovereignty to God, that there is scarcely room for pain, misfortune, or suffering.  Many today would teach that these things are “God’s will” because God is in control of everything.  But God can still be sovereign and mourn with us when bad things happen, without being the One who willed it to happen.  We are afraid to let God be God.

God has not designed a mechanical ‘vending machine’ world where you put in two good deeds, pull a lever, and out pops the commensurate comfort of a material reward.

Unfortunately, this is what is too often being taught in churches today.  Rather than being a god whose hands are always on the chess board, moving every piece, God just might be more “hands off” than we would like to imagine. But this does not mean God is neither distant nor powerless.  Like Job, God wants us to argue, to protest, and to wrestle.  And at times God will intervene, as it is always in God’s power to do.

Schroeder summarizes his observations in chapter twelve: “There’s no hint of a constant microengineering by God either in the world or in the Bible.”  True, God can intervene when needed.  But often that intervention falls far short of our expectations.  When God promises Israel victory in battle, God also excuses those who are newly married lest they die in battle.  If God promised victory, why the chance people are going to die?  Because God is not a micromanager.  The implication is that we are partners with God in restoring creation toward its intended purpose.

It is interesting that Schroeder closes with the statement, “The God that most skeptics reject, a God with unceasing hands-on control, is simply not the God of the Bible.”  My own observation is that the god the skeptics reject, which is not the God of the Bible,  is also the god that many Christians want to embrace.  The more we are able to attribute to “the will of God”, the less personal responsibility we have to accept for ourselves.  While some may be uncomfortable with the picture of God that God According To God constructs, I found it refreshing, challenging some of my own constructs.