Seriously… What Should I Do?

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

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12 Responses to Seriously… What Should I Do?

  1. JungleBee15 says:

    This is a great article and it tackles a very interesting problem in our society today. I like the fact that you pointed out the original response that most of us hold today, “No, you should be you.” Today society has molded citizens into people who are focused more on themselves rather than the community as a whole. This fact can also be carried to other areas within our lives. In today’s consumerist society everyone is focusing and competing for their own success and they will do anything to get there, even if it means belittling or harming others. They “are doing them”.

    Although I do agree with the statement of our natural response today, I do not believe that it is inherently bad. I believe that through being ourselves we find God. If we discover who we truly are, then we will find God’s presence in our lives. God wants us to live a life that is in the footsteps of His son, but He also wants us to lead a life that portrays who we truly are. If everyone said that they were just going to live a life that imitates that of Jesus’, then we would lose the sense of our individualism. We must live a life in likeness to Jesus’; however, we must do it in such a way that it is through who we truly are.
    I believe that we need to do ourselves, but in a way that does not separate us from others, and that is a life that brings the word of God to all.

  2. buffalohunter23 says:

    I found this recently added article as very provoking to the idea of our own individual goals vs. the broader community at hand. I realized that society will always try to confront us and tell us to be who they want us to be, and during these times we must focus even more so on our own character and build ourselves up to a nature of confounding self respect so that we ourselves may be able to resist popular opinion in our day to day life struggles. We must follow and live out our own moral code, coated with engagments to who we want to be in our lifetime.

    I find this idea very relative in my life however, I find it very difficult to comprehend the disadvantage of sorting things out by one’s self. In this commercial, Lebron does what he feels suits him the best and I feel that in some terms we must do this ourselves when conflicting opinions arise and we are borderline between them. I and a group of classmates have discussed that humility must be the starting point of realization and I have come to conclude that if Lebron had not been at his own liberated humility, he would have never been able to find his true self beyond what others thought. What do you think?

  3. Smurphzilla06 says:

    First off, i would like to say that i do agree when you said that we need to be like Jesus because we do not know who wea are. its difficult to be ourselves when we are not sure who we are. If we act more like Jesus, God will help us find ourselves.

    With that in mind though, i believe that this article is a little miscued. The ability to act like oneself can also come from the reaction of others around you. Lebron James should not try to be the nice guy in this situation, but rather just be who he wants to be. Other people are trying to conform him to their ideas and make him be who they want him to be. I believe that the fans should allow Lebron to be who he wants to be, because especially in this society, we are all offered more ways than ever to be unique. Jesus is the way that we should act in order to find ourselves, and Lebron may not be specifically acting in Jesus’ footsteps, but he is trying to act out on his own.

    • Smurphzilla06 says:

      Just as a follow up, i believe that Lebron James can act however he wants but he is acting this way because of the people around him. Do you think tat Lebron would act this way if people were not bashing him? I believe he would not at all.

    • Smurph, thanks much for your commments. I take them seriously. I think that you make some good points about him being influenced by others. Two things: 1) certainly there are other people can teach us how to be ourselves, although I think that the kind of person who can teach us to be our Truest selves is very rare and very holy. 2) I think there might be a conflict in what you’re saying (or in what I’m understanding) between you’re agreement that we should all be like Jesus and your statement that LeBron should “just be who he wants to be.” There’s no conflict if LeBron wants to be just like Jesus, but if he doesn’t… that’s where the rubber hits the proverbial road for me… and I don’t want to be the kind of person who bossily tries to tell him what to do, but, that said, if somebody I care about (anybody, not just some celebrity) is become a version of themselves that isn’t like Jesus I’m not sure that I can just sit back and say “It’s okay, be who you want to be.” No doubt you’ve already thought through that, but at least it clears up where I’m coming from. Thanks for real.

      – PG, SJ

  4. UNDflyer15 says:

    This article is very interesting and concerning to me at the same time. I agree with you and do also believe that we are exposed to so much and we are influenced by so many things that in the end, we find ourselves blocking most messages out. Unlike LeBron though, I find myself accepting and considering more messages than rejecting them. What all of us need to do is integrate the Lord into our lives. Then, like you said, we will be able to discern the good messages from the bad. From what I’ve learned, using humility as a tool will help us to submit oursleves to God and as we all know, once we find God the good messages are suddenly clear. By submitting ourselves to the One that knows us best, He will also help us along the way and protect us from the unwanted messages and influencial wrongs.
    After thinking about the subject of discernment and how it pertains to James, I found that he should have tried his hardest to lower the importance of his decision. I completely disagree with how he handled his situation, but in the end, if he stayed quiet, he really only had a few people to discuss his situation with. What people, if any, do you think should have helped him with his problem of where to go?

    • UNDflyer15 says:

      *Influential, *ourselves

    • UND, awesome response. I think you hit the nail right on the head when you talk about using humility as a tool that allows us to submit ourselves to the one who loves (and knows) us best. As for me, I didn’t mean to say that he did the wrong thing or that his commercial was bad, I do think he has the right to go where he wants (even though he didn’t do that so smoothly or respectfully). At the same time, I’m absolutely AMAZED by the amount of crap he’s taking! I mean, we have people in public life who have done much worse than this guy (LeBron seems genuinely nice to me!) and they’re still be-loved. Thanks a lot!

      – PG, SJ

  5. Class_Cloun says:

    I believe that we do need to work with Jesus in order to find ourselves, and in that regard I would agree with you.

    However, let’s be reasonable. Lebron James and his decision are his business, and he made his choice respectively, sure. Is choosing a certain basketball team really going to make him more or less Christ-like? While I agree with your overarching theme, I must express my confusion with your choice to focus on such a commercial aspect of life. In fact, it was literally a commercial. Truly there must be decisions in our lives more enriching and spiritual than deciding between teams. I find such an example only to be further proof that what should be considered trivial has now become pivotal in today’s society, distracting us from what is truly God. Do you find any logic in my reasoning, or is it I who is indeed being unreasonable?

  6. Qualis Rex says:

    Hello Paddy, nice multi-media style “SPLASH!” post. It has it all; a celebrity, video, topical agenda and theology. Kind of makes me think that after your ordination you should seriously consider going into PR for the Vatican (which really really needs it).

    What I got from it was this; if LeBron is talking to US, then the answer is “no”. There has always been the reality of society vs the city of God. I can think of no society which is based solely on the word of God, or a true theocracy if you will. And if you read between the lines in the bible and early church writings, I think there is a case that this may have never existed at all. So, there is always the sacred vs profane in any culture. But I would say that there has never been an era of time in human existence where decadence and secularism have been so intertwined…and detrimental to us as a people.

    To that end, LeBron’s answer of “no” is very appropriate. No to what our current society expects him to be. There is a higher calling for everyone based on a much older, less topical, less profane and less capriccious set of guidelines. I’m not saying that’s what LeBron or Nike was hinting at as I would have a hard time believing a mutual corporate venture would be pointing to something so noble : )

  7. Badger15 says:

    First, I agree with the overarching theme that a person should truly find themselves through God and that one should be open to society.

    However, Mr. James’ decision, like any pro athletic decision, was based off of a business prospective and it was challenging to use his example for the prospective of life you lay out. Moreover, in the modern world, society has become materialistic. In Kavanaugh’s book, Following Christ in a Consumerist Society, he argues that society has become driven by having materialistic goods, and that it leads one away from God. I think that it is no longer a question of what to keep in and out from society, but how one can reform society so that the foundations of society are traditional values. Mr. James’ commercial is a fine example. Ultimately, the commercial selling Nike products to the consumer because Mr. James truly listened to himself, and to be like Mr. James, one should buy Nike shoes. Not only is society materialistic, but it is sex-driven, and ultimately, a person cannot take values from today’s society that coincides with God, and we should look to reform society through God’s principles.

  8. Gregg Neuburg says:

    First off, great article Paddy. It was very interesting how you used sports and the media to make a point about theology. In my Christian Discipleship class we have talked about being a person of God and what that means. We have mostly have done this through various service work, but there are still man other ways to praise and serve God. God gave all of us, different talents and he wants us to use them in his name, no matter what those talents are. This just shows that God really does want us to be who he wants us to be. Also, I do not really understand what you are trying to say with that “we don’t understand ourselves.” If you could answer, that would be great. Thanks for the great article, I really enjoyed it.

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