Tuesday, April 10, 2007

From The Masters to The Master

I remember moments. Certain indelible events take place during the course of my life that sear themselves into my brain and do not leave. I cannot remember what came before the event, what came after the event, or even precisely when the event occurred. I simply remember the moment.

I remember the first shower I ever took. More precisely, I remember the moment I first washed my hair in the shower. I used Dad's Johnson and Johnson shampoo, the kind that looked like the amber which held the dinosaur DNA in Jurassic Park. The disasterous fate which awaited me that morning superceded even that met by Jeff Goldblum and company.

The Johnson and Johnson brand of shampoo proclaimed the unique characteristic that it was "No Tears," meaning one could get the goo in one's eyes without the violent pain that often brought about tears in young people. That morning, I put Johnson and Johnson to the test, as the shampoo ran into my eyes when this first-time showerer stuck his head, backwards, under the nozzle so that the water ran past my face and not away from it. The pain burned. Tears came.

I did not brave this thing called "shower" for months after that.

This past Sunday, my eyes took in some more Johnson. As in the day of yore, the tears came.

I like golf. Especially the majors. This past weekend, Zach Johnson won The Masters, arguably the most prestigious golf event of the year. He was an unsuspected upstart, having won only one previous tournament in his PGA career. His best finish in a major before Sunday was 17th place.

Now major golf tournaments have often brought me to tears. Payne Stewart defeating father-to-be Phil Mickelson at Pinehurst. Steely-eyed Jim Furyk walking up the final fairway weeping at the U.S. Open with his father shadowing him stride for stride. Ben Curtis trying, and failing, to keep it together in order to thank his girlfriend for her support after his surprise win at the Brittish Open. Phil Mickelson calling out a legion of monkeys from his back by winning his first major on the Augusta's 18th green.

The accomplishment of victory and the achievement of a dream is what moves me. These golfers spend lives working on their games, practicing and practicing in the pursuit of perfection. Avid golf fans know the famous story of Vijay Singh hitting range balls on Christmas day. What's more than this though, they dream. They desire something great regardless of the outcome's probability. They risk failure for their dream. This, dear reader, is rare.

Golf exists as particularly striking in this respect because it is an individual sport. Victory is an individual accomplishment. When I received a technical foul for cussing with 45 seconds to go in the championship game of the church league basketball playoffs, my teammate picked me up and hit the game-winner, letting my ass (don't give me a technical) off the hook for one of the dumbest plays in the history of church league basketball. When Geoff Ogilvy plopped consecutive shots in the drink at 15 on Sunday, he had no one to pick him up and return him his dream.

So here we have Zach Johnson, whose golf career has been defined by "not's". Not the best golfer on his high school team. Not the best golfer on his college team. Not good enough for the PGA Tour. Not good enough to win a major. And on Sunday, is hard work paid off. He was number one. He was the best.

His response in his first interview to CBS:

"I was not alone out there. Jesus was with me every step of the way."

His voice broke, and he cried.

In his book "Blue Like Jazz," Donald Miller writes of a friend, Alan, who once asked a pastor named Bill Bright "what Jesus meant to him. Alan said Dr. Bright could not answer the question. He said Dr. Bright just started to cry. He sat there in his big chair behind his big desk and wept."

When speaking of Jesus, Zach Johnson cried too.

How seamlessly the champ moved from The Masters to The Master. CBS renaissance man Jim Nantz must be getting tired of hearing about this Jesus guy, what with Tony Dungy and Zach Johnson earning all these interviews after colossal sports victories.

What's most amazing about Johnson comment is that it was in no way coerced. The CBS reporter did not ask him, "So Zach, what divine being do you give credit to for your victory today?" or "Would you like to give mad props to Jesus Christ on live television right now?" In fact, Johnson avoided the safe route in committing cultural blasphemy and dropping the J-Bomb, as evidenced by the discussion his comments created on the inside of Tuesday's "USA Today" sports section.

It seemed that Johnson diverted the glory for his victory towards Jesus because it never crossed his mind not to. In the midst of great personal accomplishment, of years of work ethic paying off, of the achievement of the American dream, Johnson refused to feed his pride because he knew of his own inadequacy. But what's more, he also know of the perfect sufficiency of the one he called Lord.

What a lesson in humility for me. I work in a bookstore shelving books. Upon completion of a cart, I often suppress the desire to thump my chest, give a fiercely intense look to the nearest customer, and let out a primordial scream followed by the question that is a proclamation, "Who's the man!" I suppress this urge not out of humility, mind you, but because I do not want to look silly. How can I claim prideful accomplish in the face of overwhelming grace? May God forgive me and forbid it.

What's more, living this life of relationship with Christ meant that Zach could not help but share the Gospel with the watching world. On Sunday, he told the truth, that the stregnth for his victory came from the presence of his Jesus. Certainly this ruffled some feathers. CBS refused to ask a follow-up question concerning Zach's faith, and many of the aforementioned "USA Today" readers responded negatively. Yet for Zach, no other way seemed possible. He answered the question honestly, and in doing so, tactfully told the world about the goodness of God in his life. If you will permit me another dirty word often deserving of a technical foul, he evangelized.

How I often try to hide Christ's glory when I refuse to articulate his work in my life. How I often say that I am "lucky" when God's grace, and certainly not luck, sustains me. How I often hinder people from seeing how great God is when I balk at giving the deserving credit to him.

Here's to moving from The Masters to The Master of my life as seamlessly as Zach Johnson did. In reality, no movement is required because the two are inseparable. I thanked God Sunday for the example of humility and faith that Zach set for me.

Like my first encouter with shampoo, a tearful moment I shall always remember.


Anna said...

So you did cuss at that basketball game...
The truth is revealed at last.

Anonymous said...

Amen!! I also receive tearful moments when taking communion. The awesome moment of it all...His sacrifice, His love and His promise.

Ant B

Wilson said...

Man, I had forgotten about how short that interview became after Johnson made that comment. You could tell Nantz was caught totally off guard and the only way he figured he could get out of it was cut off the interview abrubtly. I was left going, "Huh? That's it? They just interviewed the Masters champion and that's all the say?"

Ben said...


I merely said that for the sake of the story. It would have taken way too long to explain what REALLY happened. I still contend that the call the referee made was unjust and self-promoting. You can't call a T on anyone in the last minute of a playoff basketball game unless it's blatantly obvious. Slapping the floor and yelling, "ARRRRRGGGGGGGGG!!!!!!!" because I missed a lay-up certainly did not deserve a T. Fortunately, thanks to my teammate, justice was done.

THAT'S what really happened :)

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