Friday Deep- Tries

Posted on June 13, 2010


“He tries s***.”

That’s how ex-national team coach Bruce Arena once summed up the reason behind Clint Dempsey’s success on the soccer field.  I won’t endorse Arena’s use of profanity, but I will defend the sentiment:  Dempsey’s career with the US national team and with Fulham testifies to a penchant for scoring improbable goals that other players do not.  Against Juventus he drilled a 20 yard chip at an angle that allowed a 2  foot window to place the ball, and he did it with no time to look up towards the goal he shot at.  “9 times out of 10 you won’t make it,”  Dempsey said afterwards, ” but you have to take that risk.”  Translation:  he tried s***.

That bit of wisdom popped into my mind yesterday as I watched the USA/England soccer game.  In that game, Dempsey let fly a tame 18 yard shot that keeper Robert Green bobbled into the net, leveling the score and salvaging a draw for the United States.  Who else could be the benificiary of such a charitable goal?  Certainly no one but unpredictable Clint Dempsey.  True to his reputation as the US national team’s rogue element, Dempsey’s talents have stocked his career with some of the most unpredictable goals ever scored by an American player.  He’s like the Magic 8 Ball.  Just shake him and see what happens.  He tries s***.

I love that phrase.  What’s Clint Dempsey and “tries s***” got to do with God and grace?  It’s certainly not an obvious analogy on the surface.  The pictures of God and grace that we see in the real world usually don’t look like that.  And American Christianity is worse; it gives us books about Amish girls and runaway bad boys that play like this:

Bad Boy: I’m on the run from the law for committing some vague, bad-but-not-too-bad crime, like non-violently stealing cars.  I won this motorcycle in an underground Uno tournament, and this goatee only took me 6 days to grow.  Your extremely trusting father agreed that I could sleep in this hayloft while the heat cools down.  Dig the bonnet.

Amish Girl:  I don’t know what your problem is, but there’s no way I’m ever taking off this bonnet around you.  I’m so offended that I’m going right up to my room to not stop thinking about you for the rest of the night.  I’ll probably journal about it and maybe do some quilting to drive away impure thoughts.  Good night!

—— (much later)

Bad Boy:  Amish Girl, I don’t know what happened- maybe it was how you pushed me in the lake after I cheated at wheel rolling, or later when you secretly watched me deliver a baby calf in the rain, or even later when all the lamps burned out and we lit multiple Unity Candles to drive out the darkness- but your love and gentle spirit have redeemed me.  Especially that gentle spirit.  Boy, were you mild.

Amish Girl:  I sure was.  I’m glad you’re redeemed, since my love for you was totally conditional and completely based on you changing your way of living, which I disapproved of.  But now that you’re different, we can be together!  And not a moment too soon; I’m experiencing some serious righteous lust over here.

Bad Boy: Me too.  But my passion for you is pure like AC Green, not that you would know who that is, since you’re Amish and you’ve never seen basketball, let alone a non-white person.  In light of this purity, I promise to keep a chaste distance between us.  I will communicate my new, good-guy love for you via Morse code and semaphore flags.  I won’t so much as look at you or make eye contact until after we’re married.

Amish Girl:  I won’t even touch you until after our 3rd child is born.  Good luck figuring that one out!

And somehow this is all also about Jesus.  I don’t get it.

When I was a freshman in high school, I was a fair baseball player in a body the size of a Monopoly hotel.  I knew I was little, and I knew other guys were big, and I  turned into a typhoon of insecurity.  I wanted to play high school baseball, but everyone was so much bigger.  What should I do?  Should I go out for the team?  Freshman baseball had no cuts.  My place on the team was guaranteed.  Even if I had shown up with a 3 Musketeers bar for a bat, they still would have let me play.  Yet I decided not to.  In the face of only my imagined future failure, with guaranteed success in front of me, I passed on baseball.  I never even tried.

Christianity is that guaranteed spot on the freshman baseball team.  Once Christ has taken all my sins on the cross, I’m guaranteed, 100% percent saved from them and any others I will commit.  I can’t fail at the Christian life because Jesus already did it all.  I’m free to follow Christ, regardless of the possibility of failure or stumble.  But once saved, Christians love to turn their attention to eradicating their sins, toward trying to perfect themselves, and Satan loves to help them.  He drives us deeper into ourselves, out  from the active world and in toward self-obsession.

“Tries s***” is the expression of the freedom to follow Jesus this perfectionism opposes.  Jesus tells a parable about 3 servants that were given money to invest while their master left on business.  One servant, frightened over the prospect of losing all the money and disappointing the master, buried it, intending to return it when the master returned.  So who was the only servant to get in trouble?  The one who got scared and buried his cash.  The point?  Stop obsessing about sin, like the purpose of new life in Christ is to stop sinning, which we can’t do anyway.  Start following Jesus.  Love others.  Give a bunch of money to poor people.  Dance in church.  Talk to a stranger about Christ.  9 out of 10 times I might fail, and probably 10 out of 10 times I’ll sin.  But I have to take that risk.  I was going to sin anyway, and Christ paid for it and forgave it all.  The real sin is to bury the life God gave me because we didn’t want to let Him down- so do something.  TRY S***.

I’m well aware of how lame it is to have a favorite athlete as a 27 year old.  It’s not dignified.  By that age you should have outgrown the impulse to appropriate the success of a pro athlete for yourself, and replaced it with more grown up pursuits, like raising your credit rating or reading Dilbert cartoons.  I thought I entered that phase when I stopped wearing a baseball cap backwards.  But now the the World Cup is in full swing, and I’m confronted again with an undeniable truth:  I’m a major fan of Clint Dempsey.  Why?  He tries….. well, you know.

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