Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Santa & The Iron Man

Yesterday I mentioned a number of the jobs I worked at besides my years in ministry, but I saved my favorite for today.  For several years I was a mall Santa Claus at Christmas.  You know the guy- parents bring children to sit on his knee so a photographer can take a $20 Polaroid picture.  That was me!  Actually, I enjoyed it so much (except for occasionally being wet on!) that in later years I would moonlight at the job, working at strange locations like an Express Lube in Kissimmee.  I still own my Santa suit.  It was a joy to bring smiles to the faces of so many kids- and of course, when they knew about it, the students in my youth groups would show up as well.  I eventually wore the suit to youth Christmas parties (see the picture below; that's me with Jerry Hanbery and Ben Thacker in Kissimmee!).  It was, for the most part, a wonderful experience.

In 1981 I was working at an Outlet Mall in Greensboro, sharing Santa duty with an older guy.  When we weren't playing Santa we also worked at a kiosk selling leather hand bags, brief cases and trinkets.  This man (his name has long since escaped me; I'll just refer to him as Santa) had spent a number of years in the Navy and had lived in the Baltimore area before moving to NC.  He, like me, was a huge sports fan and much of our conversation concerned the current NFL season and the upcoming baseball season.  Santa was a huge Baltimore Orioles fan, and he told me one day of a young man who had grown up in the same neighborhood in Aberdeen, MD that he had lived in.  This young man was a player in the Orioles farm system who was ready for the major leagues, according to Santa- and he was a better person than baseball player.  His name was Cal Ripken, Jr.  Santa was right; Cal was ready for the big time.  He joined the Orioles in May of 1982, and at the end of the season was named the American League Rookie of the Year.  In 1983 he took another step towards greatness and was the A.L.  Most Valuable Player.  He led the Orioles to a World Series victory.  I couldn't help but think to myself at the time that old Santa had really been on to something...

Fast forward to September 6, 1995.  Cal Ripken, Jr. (now known as The Iron Man) is playing in his 2,131st consecutive game for the Orioles, breaking Lou Gehrig's record for most consecutive games (see picture at top).  The entire sports world stops to watch and pay homage to Cal- for simply showing up every day.  Cal Ripken, Jr. was someone we could all identify with.  He had done something incredible without doing anything spectacular.  He was a guy who despite fame and fortune, despite bumps and bruises and despite everyone doubting his motives had simply shown up and done his job for what turned out to be almost 17 years- a total of 2,632 straight games.  He wasn't celebrated because of his great baseball skills; he was celebrated for being exceptional at the ordinary.

As I watched Cal take a victory lap around Camden Yards after the record became official, I couldn't help but wonder what his accomplishment had to say to people of faith.  I think it says a great deal.  Scripture says "and what does the Lord require of us?  Do justice; love mercy; and walk humbly with God."  In other words, God wants us to show up!  Every day.  No matter our sin, no matter our mood, and no matter our circumstances.  Just show up and do our best in the name of Jesus.  We are not called to do OK under the circumstances; we are called to let God lift us ABOVE the circumstances of our lives.  But we do have to show up.  God doesn't need more superstars, God needs more everyday players. Santa was so right.  Cal Ripken, Jr. was someone special- just like all of us who are created in the image of God.  All we have to do is refuse to take a day off, even when we are no where near our best- and we too can be in the Hall of Fame.  It's called the Kingdom of God...

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