Would you rather be lucky or good?
I mean, you can work your whole life to be as good as you can be, better than everyone else, the best in the business, top of your game and then, in an instant, a little bad luck takes the game away from you.
I’m not sure this description holds for Malcolm Butler, rookie corner back for the Patriots, whose terrific defense denied the ball to Seahawk’s Jermaine Kearse, until luck took a turn and the bobble, twice tipped, once kicked, landed deftly in the hands of the Patriot’s wide receiver.
Good is not good enough when luck has the upper hand.
But that’s when great steps up. Great is full-bodied. It rises up even in controversy, even in consequence, even in bad luck. It’s the ability to put behind us what went before, so we can focus clearly and certainly on the moment at hand, even if we have been at fault and even if we have been unfairly judged or tested beyond our abilities. Great wipes the slate clean and lives the next moment, even in the face of despairing teammates or finger-pointing critics, even knowing the camera is focused squarely on us. Great focuses on the job to be done and the preparation supplied, undistracted.
Butler had this moment, and he executed. A pick on the goal line to seal the Super Bowl. No, the Kearse catch would not be the defining image from Super Bowl XLIX. It would not be “the Catch.” That would come on the next play. When the game invited Butler to step up and make the play for the team that had prepared him.
Lucky or good? If I have to choose, I’m going with good. Lucky doesn’t last. And it threatens to swipe my confidence and erase my eloquence. I’d rather be good, because you can build on good to make it better and better. That helps me up, even when the other guy is lucky.
The Lucky life is slippery and it puts my destiny in someone else’s hands. I’d rather take hold of that myself and for the sake of my teammates. Life, after all, is an individual sport played on a team. I’m in it for the win. Why leave that to chance?
Those wide receivers and tight ends are so full of themselves, dancing around in the end zone like that. Shakin’ their booty and strutting their superiority. Right there in front of the defender they just beat to score the touchdown. It got so bad they had to regulate it, penalizing them for excessive celebration. I wonder how the refs decide how much is “excessive”?
I have to admit, though, most of those guys are pretty good dancers. I mean they’ve got rhythm and moves. Set aside the pomposity and they are really quite fun to watch.
And it’s not just football players. There is the dog pile and the chest slide and the mob and the high-five-the-bench and the jump into my teammates arms and… well, when we score, we celebrate. Not choreographed, not planned, just pure joy, done physically.
Then, I stand to sing at praise songs at my local church and that’s all we do. Stand and sing. No jumping. No sliding. No high fiving. We stand. And we sing. And we sit down. There’s not even any applause. Where’s the joy?
We’re celebrating the biggest score in the history of mankind and we don’t even sway to the beat. The bravest among us may raise a hand or clap limply along, but it takes a very secure person to clap the beat when no one joins in. I salute those people. Quietly. In my mind. With a nod of approval. Where’s my joy?
But sport offers another option, the finger point to the heavens. Some people would disagree with it, considering it wrong or rude to suppose that God is ‘on my side’ or has ‘helped me score this touchdown or hit this home run.’ That’s pretty bold, really, to suppose that our God is a side-taker. I suppose He couldn’t care less about the outcome of a college football game on a Saturday in September. But I have every confidence that He does care about the one who plays, and I can imagine that He celebrates with the one who scores, on either team.
So, what if the finger point (or the take a knee, popularized by Tebow) was not meant as an acknowledgement that God did this for me but an “I give this back to you” moment? An acknowledgement that “what I’ve just done, I couldn’t have done without you. So, in front of all these people I give you thanks.” Bold.
Alfred Morris, rookie Redskin running back phenom, goes this one better. His end zone celebration is a home run swing. He met a bunch of little leaguers who needed some support and a mentor and he promised to acknowledge them with “the swing” if he scored a touchdown. Imagine their joy to see Alfred Morris saying with his swing, “that one was for you, guys.” Alfred keeps on scoring and keeps on swinging. He doesn’t need to point upward; he points outward. Even his celebration is an outreach.
Celebration is natural; why do we contain it? Okay, it’s embarrassing to our teenagers, but other than that. Isn’t God working great things through us all day long? Can we celebrate just a little? Not raucous and “in your face” but with a little more gusto?
I mean, who would know if the next time my training session really rocked the house I sneaked in a little finger point to the heavens? A little acknowledgement of thanks for getting me to that moment and a “right back atcha” to God. Such a small thing. Easy to forget, if you have to think about it. But joy, pure unadulterated joy, doesn’t think. It just does. And there would be worship, right there on the field, or the court, or the pool.
It’s not for the crowd to see or the congregation to follow or the fans to remember. It’s just for God. Let ’em think what they want. Go ahead, throw the flag.
For you, O Lord, have made me glad by Your work; at the works of Your hands I sing for joy. ~ Psalm 92:4