Did you catch the recent Oscars? Generally, in my opinion, not a strong year for movies. The fact that “The Bridesmaids” received at least two nominations bares that out. While a somewhat humorous comedy, not exactly what one thinks of as Oscar material. Yet a couple of movies were standouts last year, according to this self-appointed movie critic. “The Descendants” proved to be a touching drama, with some humour too, and some incredible views of Hawaii! “Moneyball” told the true story of a professional baseball phenom turned failure turned phenom once again. Billy Bean was drafted back in the 80’s at a young age and chose to enter the big leagues at 18 rather than put in a few years in the minors or in university ball. Possessing all the God-given gifts to excel, told by hungry scouts that he’d even become, perhaps, a hall-of-famer, the pressure of being an 18-year-old in that situation proved to be too much for him. He never found his stride, lost his confidence, then eventually the confidence of his coaches and manager, then his team, and finally the league, which spat him out like used-up chewing tobacco after only a few years of mediocre performance. Many years later, as a major league baseball executive, he embarked on a radical new system of baseball team management. He figured out how to put together a top notch team with little money on hand, a team without major stars. The goal was to compose a team in Oakland, CA, that could compete at the highest levels but with the lowest amassed salaries, and to do it using mathematical statistics. He succeeded and continues succeeding to this day.
At one point in the film Billy Bean, having finally produced a strong, competitive team, but then having lost in the playoffs, is haunted by his earlier failure as a player. The same feelings of shame, embarrassment, and humiliation wash over him. He can’t shake it. Although lauded for his incredible success, Bean takes no pleasure in it. The team lost, that’s all he can see. In other words there’s a forest there, but he can’t see it for the trees, so to speak. His computer whiz assistant steps in with a little perspective, and he does it by showing Bean an old video of a minor league player’s extremely embarrassing but illustrative blunder, all caught on video. The minor leaguer was (can’t recall his name but I’m sure we could find it on YouTube) a hefty, verging on obese, slugger and designated hitter. The video clip shows this career minor-leaguer connecting perfectly with a fast-ball, sending the ball high into the outfield. As this rather out-of-shape player rounds first base at a speed clearly less than impressive but giving it all he’s got, the poor guy’s pants begin to fall down. Nothing risqué occurs, nothing more than humiliation, really. For as he finds himself half way to second base, thinking he’s stuck in no man’s land, he races back as best he can to the safety of first base, tripping and stumbling due to his compromised pants. Little does he know that his 20-second period of urgent, slapstick running and stumbling was all unnecessary. He had blasted the ball out of the park. Other players, players of the opposite team, caught up in the absurdity of the situation, knowing what the poor guy has accomplished, try to convince him that he can relax, take it easy, get up off the ground and take his own pace around the bases. He is safe. He hit a home run. All is well. Yet he had assumed he was in trouble, in danger of being thrown out. His perspective was off.
What about our perspective on life? On God? Can we see the forest for the trees? The great old hymn “Just as I am, Without one Plea” was long associated with the television broadcasts of Billy Graham’s “crusades”, but written long before Billy was born. Just as I am. Just as we are, God loves us, graces us, values us! Sometimes it is so easy to get caught up in what we perceive to be the mistakes of our lives, the failures of our efforts at work or at home, the imperfection of our spirits, thoughts, words, and actions. And the weight of our self-judgement just keeps pushing us downward, into the dust in a way, like a chunky baseball player whose faulty perspective pushed him down, literally, into the dust. God doesn’t want us to be “caught up”, as far as my reading of the New Testament tells me. God wants, desires, our liberation from self-judgement and for some self-loathing. Even deep into Lent it’s important we hear and remember this gospel message. The Lord hopes to give us another perspective on things, one of confidence, peace, and the ability to holds our heads high, to walk with our backs straight. For in Christ God has declared above all else, “Just as we are, imperfect, flawed, human, we are embraced, welcomed, adored by God. Just as we are! “For freedom Christ has set us free”, writes Paul in Galatians. For freedom, Christ has set us free!!
Perspective, faith, belief. Let us not forget that Lent always leads to Easter! Penitence leads to empowerment. Our lives are producing something for the building of God’s kingdom, even if we’re not aware of it. We are more than our mistakes, much more. God knows that, celebrates it. Do we?