I like to win. Always have. Sports. Grades. Board games. Philosophical debates. Didn’t really matter what it was, I always wanted to win. In addition, true to character, I avoided things if I didn’t think I’d be good at them. Always have. You know why.
Taking Jesus seriously has always been somewhat problematic for me, what with his “turn the cheek” and “love your enemies” language, not to mention the whole “first will be last” shocker. Not really “winner” language if you ask me. Undeterred, I found comfort growing up with being told that our type of church was better than everyone else’s. That’s winner material. Further, the whole “heaven” concept was a sweet addition: “ultimate triumph” was a thought right up my alley.
But the actual language of Jesus was always there, and over time, I started facing it. And it threw me for a loop. In fact, as a young high school basketball coach, it was partially responsible for my first career change. When you begin thinking that winning is overrated, it sort of deflates one’s idea behind that particular career path. It messes with a lot of other things besides sports, too: academic accomplishment, patriotism, and yes, even religion. Maybe especially religion. The story of the Rich Young Ruler is practically inexplicable for winners.
Thankfully, for my personal sanity, my understanding of Jesus continued to evolve. A big breakthrough came when I understood that Jesus wasn’t a pushover, nor did he instruct his followers to be pushovers. (I credit Walter Wink with much of this personal breakthrough – check it out HERE.) Jesus doesn’t advocate being a loser; instead, he holds forth a very different conception of a winner.
I think I’m writing in an attempt to articulate what a “win” looks like Jesus-style. And to put it bluntly, I think it looks like this: when people learn to love and respect one another in spite of all the legitimate reasons not to.
Yeah, that’s what I think.
With that in mind, turning the other cheek and loving your enemies and the first will be last all make a heckuva lot more sense. In fact, the whole first will be last lesson is predicated on the desire to be a winner (“whomever among you wants to be great…”).
I don’t think the competitive nature of this world is wrong in and of itself. I am (at least, once again) all for non-violent competition (e.g. sports, business, politics, law, debate). It’s just that the definition of what it means to win is generally screwy in my humble opinion.
Take sports, for example. You see, I could be a basketball coach again. Now, however, while doing our very best to win the game on a scoreboard (the whole point of the sport), my ultimate (and countercultural) goal would be to learn to love and respect my team, the officiating crew, and our opponents. That’s what it really means to win.
Remember the recent story of umpire Jim Joyce and the destroyed perfect game of pitcher Armando Galarraga. Sports reporters used words like “sportsmanship” and “class” and phrases like “taking the high road” to describe what happened after the game (see HERE). I call it a win, Jesus-style.
I wish to God those of us who claim to follow Jesus would learn this lesson when we talk politics, but that’s another article for another day.
My latest challenge is to be a lawyer. I am set to enter a profession that is built on competition—winners and losers in an openly adversarial system. My challenge is to do my very best to win the case for my client, but my ultimate (and countercultural) goal will be to love and respect my client, my adversary, and everyone in between.
And I plan to do it, too.
Because you know me: I like to win.