Over the Easter weekend I made an important and foolish decision: I agreed to play golf with complete strangers. I have NO idea what I was thinking. I love the game; but, despite my cultural heritage and genetic links to the homeland, it is painfully clear the game does not love me. I usually play with my three friends, Dick, Jim and Ron, at a course so far out of the way that no one with any real duffing skills goes there. The course is our speed. Walt, the owner and designer, decided he wasn’t “making it” as a farmer, and so he turned the farm into a golf course. At one point there were only thirteen holes. Thirteen. And next to the second fairway is a horse pasture. I am not making this up. It is my kinda course.
Like I said, I have no idea what I was thinking. Perhaps I was inspired that some guy named “Bubba” had just won the Masters. If a “Bubba” can win that tournament, I guess I figured I could play with strangers. Another reason for that fateful decision is this: I felt sorry for my nephew, Eric. I was watching Newcastle, my soccer team, play Bolton, his team. On Saturday mornings between mid-August and mid-May I sit in the living room watching the Fox Soccer channel with my laptop on so I can follow the other EPL games…and check Facebook. Early in the game Eric updated his Facebook status informing readers he needed people to enter the “Second Annual Push the Rock” ministry golf outing fundraiser. When he posted that status Bolton was doing okay, not great, but they were holding their own against a far superior team. Lacking confidence in Newcastle, I wrote, “If Newcastle wins today, I will be part of your group.” I was joking and toying with him. Seemingly Newcastle had been toying with Bolton as well. The final score was 2-0, and at the end of the game Newcastle was challenging for a top five spot, and Bolton was still fighting to keep from being relegated. As I said, I felt sorry for Eric. He’s a great guy working for a very good international sports ministry organization. He just can’t be trusted to pick a high quality soccer team to follow.
So, here I am a few days later trying to salvage a little personal dignity knowing full well there will be little or no personal dignity on the day of the tournament. To make matters worse I just learned Corie, Eric’s wife, will be part of our group. I really enjoy Corie, but for some reason she mercilessly picks on me. I have no idea why that is the case. I have never pestered her. So, in addition to playing that infernal game with strangers, I am also playing with Corie, who so far as I can tell is a gifted athlete. At least, she played soccer at the collegiate level with a respectable program. I am praying the two sports are sufficiently different that she will be as bad as me. If not, I will claim my advanced years are the reason “I got beat by a girl.”
I wish I was as good as Bubba Watson or Tiger Woods or Arnie Palmer or Tom Morris, Jr. or Tom Morris, Sr. Well, not father and son Morris, they are long dead. But, you know what I mean. I look at great golfers and think, “How do they do that?” I am just a clown when I pick up a golf club. The first time I golfed I hit a barn. The second time I golfed I hit a house so hard you could hear the impact over the noise of a circular saw cutting two by fours. After that outing I took a break from golf and moved to Kenya for a year. Literally, I left the country. Upon returning my friends announced they found the perfect course for me. There were no large buildings for me to hit. Then one of them pointed out that the fifth hole had that maintenance shed to the left and behind the tee-area. But there was no way I could hit that. They forgot that half way down the fairway and to the right there was a large limestone slab standing behind a small pond. I assure you, if you swing hard enough and inaccurately enough you can ricochet a ball off that stone and send it flying behind you to hit the shed. I know. I did it. I think I broke a window, but I am not sure about that. I do remember the howls of laughter, however.
All of this leads me to think of another person I consider one of my spiritual heroes: Henri Nouwen. The poor man was plagued by self-doubt and searched long and hard for acceptance. All the while he was revered by thousands and thousands of adoring readers. His book, Clowning in Rome, is helpful. Written during a five month stay in Rome, Nouwen was torn between, on the one hand, the power, glory, and pageantry present in the Vatican City and the ancient/modern city of Rome and, on the other hand, the clowns. Not “actual” clowns, but people who lived on the margins and engaged in what surely seemed like foolishness to those in power. People who collected drunks off the streets at night and took them to safe and warm locations caught Nouwen’s attention. People who cared for the elderly and disabled captured his imagination. People who “wasted” their time with grade-school dropouts impressed him. He writes, “…I started to realize that in the great circus of Rome, full of lion-tamers and trapeze artists whose dazzling feats claim our attention, the real and true story was told by the clowns. Clowns are not in the center of the events. They appear between the great acts, fumble and fall, and make us smile again after the tension created by the heroes we came to admire. The clowns don’t have it together, they do not succeed in what they try, they are awkward, out of balance, and left-handed, but…they are on our side. We respond to them not with admiration but with sympathy, not with amazement but with understanding, not with tension but with a smile. Of the virtuosi we say, ‘How can they do it?’ Of the clowns we say, ‘They are like us.’ The clowns remind us with a tear and a smile that we share the same human weaknesses.” (p. 2)
And yet those “clowns” Nouwen observed were and are important witnesses to the kingdom. Perhaps, just perhaps, they should be our role models. What we are called to do is so much bigger than what most of us can pull off in an impressive fashion. Often we look foolish. However, our fumbling feebleness is no excuse for not attempting to do our best. We do the best we can, as silly as it often appears, knowing God is glorified in our humble, sincere, and awkward attempts to point people in God’s direction. So, come May 5th, I will be the best (and most incompetent) golfer at the tournament. I can handle the ridicule, if it means other people are empowered to be kingdom builders in places where I can’t go.
Corie, dearest, please don’t make me cry.