What with the NBA season all of five days old, no doubt all you b-ball junkies out there have watched, discussed, contemplated, quantified, deep fried and blogged-about the King (LeBron James) and “The Decision” – the now infamous one hour special where he proclaimed that he was leaving the anawim Cleveland Cavaliers to play in South Beach for the Miami Heat.
And now he and the good ol’ folks at Nike have released a new commercial responding to the incredible backlash against LeBron since the deciding day. In case you haven’t seen it take 90 seconds and watch it. I’ll be right here.
… checking email…
… playing some dumb Facebook game…
Time’s up. What did you think? I’ll tell you what I thought in one word: “wow.” Or four more: “now that’s a commercial!”
And where should we take it? There are so many angles my head’s exploding! We could talk about what’s actually being sold here (shoes? Nike? Cred? LeBron? All of them at once?). We could talk about public perception and media personas. We could talk about the un/deserved fickleness of players or fans. But I want to talk about formation, about self-understanding and self-creation.
This struck me as I watched the end of the commercial. The vilified LeBron floats sweetly toward the hoop in slow-mo. The overdubbed question rains down like the voice of God: “Should I be who you want me to be?” And, like LeBron, it hangs in the air for the space of a breath – giving me that second of quiet I needed to become aware of my first, visceral, response. I don’t know about you guys, but I felt the typical American allergy to judgment rise up in that silent moment with quick defiance, snapping: “No! I can’t tell you what to do! Be yourself!”
But then I took another breath. And I thought: is that really what I want for him? And finally I felt the more a-typical Catholic response rise up in me with a softer: “No. I don’t want you to be just yourself. Be like Jesus.”
I find these antithetical mantras – both of them ringing in myself in that space of a breath – fascinating. It’s the visceral conflict in me between the “You be you; I’ll be me” voice of pop-culture and St. Paul’s “be imitators of me as I am of Christ.” It’s the conflict between creating ourselves and being created. So often in our American pop-culture we are told to “be ourselves.” It’s a refrain that lies very deeply within all of us, something that we can’t just excise but have to work with. And – for real, I know it – this “working with” is a real challenge. And that’s because being like Jesus requires us to be formed. It’s easy to say “be yourself”, but we don’t know our selves. Instead, like St. Paul, we’re striving to live in awareness not of just knowing ourselves, but of being “fully known” by God.
As we grow as ministers we may want to challenge ourselves to bring the conflict between these two voices out into the open and help people (help ourselves) to follow one over the other. And yet, in our culture today we’re inundated with so much information, so many individuals and institutions who want to influence us, that we can end up like one of LeBron’s pantomime’s, blocking out everything:
And that can’t be the goal either, because we do want to be influenced by the Lord who fully knows us. It’s the age-old question of what to let in, and what to keep out. It’s the question of discernment. Thinking of LeBron’s new commercial, it’s the question of how we can learn to hear, not LeBron’s overdubbed voice questioning us, but our own voices petitioning God, our own voices asking the Lord: “Should I be who you want me to be?”
And maybe then, instead of a visceral “No”, our hearts will hear a still small voice replying: “Yes.”
– Paddy Gilger, SJ