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Deacon Bill Stimpson
A popular TV commercial today features a letter supposedly written by football great Tom Brady to some young man (or all young men and women). The commercial begins with the line ¨someone says you are the next Tom Brady….” The letter credited to Tom Brady himself, cautions the young athlete to not compare himself to anyone other that the person in the mirror. It is my opinion that this commercial could be one of the more profoundly significant messages for today’s troubled world. Be honest to the image in the mirror!
Neither Hollywood nor Bollywood created the age of “super heroism” we find ourselves in today. Super heroes – fictious or real – have existed as long as human societies. Eons ago, people gathered around the “story teller” to hear of the exploits of some hero – real or mythological – and imagine themselves living a vicarious thrill of success against the dragons and demons of their time. In 8th Century B.C.E., men and women, young and old were thrilled by the exploits of the Greek Hero, Achilles and the epic stories of the Trojan War; Hercules and his ten-year journey home after the Trojan Wars. A thousand years earlier, the exploits of Sargon the Great entertained and thrilled the populations of the ancient Levant.
Me, I grew up playing Robin Hood (Richard Greene) in the woods near our house. Or I was the Lone Ranger on the trail of some cowardly villein. Somedays I was a “commando” on a secret mission to blow up a Nazi stronghold. My life was filled with super heroes, some real, and some fictitious. Being physically small and not muscular, I was never the first person chosen to be on anyone’s team, but usually the last; by default. My biggest hero was my dad. He was a natural athlete who had his own scrapbook of newspaper accounts (given to us by our grandmother) of his many awards in the sports of football, track and competitive diving. By the age of sixteen, my dad had built and raced his own speedboat in competitions on American Lake in Seattle. He had set a State of Washington high school record in the High Jump that held up for over thirty years. Our house was filled with trophies from bowling to tennis from my mom and dad, and I didn’t even have a participation trophy. My young life seemed a laundry lists of fantasies to rival Walter Mitty.
A week before my dad passed away, Joyce, our two children and I drove down to Atlanta, Georgia to visit mom and dad. He was dying of congestive heart failure and we wanted the opportunity of a last farewell. Sitting on the deck off the back of the house, I shared with my dad how I had felt that I never measured up to him, I was never the athlete that he was, I never won a race or a trophy. He shared with me his pride in the man I had become. I was honest, hardworking and a faithful husband and father. In his eyes and heart, I had flourished in the real and important contests of life. Perhaps the reason the words of the Tom Brady commercial strike me deeply, is because they echo the words my dad said a week before he died. You have to be true to the man in the mirror.
There are some critical concepts involved with the Person in the Mirror. The image in the mirror is not real. Step away from the mirror and the image disappears. The image, the reflection is pure reflection of light bouncing off a polished surface. The image is purely objective. What we see is purely subjective. If I look into the mirror in the morning, just getting out of bed, there is this old man with stubble on his chin looking back. That is an objective reality; how I respond to this image is subjective. So I ask, to what Person in the mirror are we to be faithful to; the objective or subjective?
This is not an easy question to answer because we are simultaneously both objective and subjective realities. We are objective because we are corporate, we occupy space, have specific physical features. At the same time, we have ideas and attitudes, emotions, fears and hopes that motivate us, making us subjective beings. To which are we to be true to? 16th century philosopher and mathematician Reneé Descartes wrote a thesis titled Meditations on the First Philosophy in which the Existence of God and the Distinction Between Mind and Body Are Demonstrated. In this work came one of his most famous sayings – truths – Cogito Ergo Sum! I think, therefore, I Am! Descartes was searching for an undeniable truth, a truth that could withstand every inquiry, every challenge. He was no neural scientist, neural science didn’t exist back then, but he understood that the eyes don’t see, the mind sees. Light passes through the lens of the eye, to the optic nerve and to the visual cortex in the brain. Reneé Descartes understood that we can be misled by what we see, because of outside influences and mental capacity. Ultimately all of our senses can mislead us, confuse us, even lie to us. The only real, undeniable truth for Reneé Descartes was that of existence. Cogito Ergo Sum. Because I think, I must exist!
I believe that this is the key to the question about which image demands our fidelity. Humanity was created in the image of God. In our limited human experience, we are incapable of completely comprehending the reality of God and we tend to anthropomorphize God (a really fancy word for giving God qualities of human characteristics and form). Our imaging of God is to be found in our rationality, our spiritual being – soul – and our will. Looking back at us from the polished surface is our real image – a creation of God. This is the image, the only image, worthy of our fidelity. True fidelity to this image is simple in words, difficult in practice.
“Hear O Israel, the Lord is God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord with all your heart, whit all your mind and with all your strength. And you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”