Posted on January 5, 2011


Sometimes I wonder who invented getting posterized.

The smart aleck answer is, ‘the poster’, although the question of whether the poster created posterization, or whether the concept of getting posterized existed before the poster gave it expression is one that philosophers have been arguing about since antiquity.

Plato– I’m glad we could all assemble here in Ancient Greece.  I just wanted to make sure everyone was clear on my philosophical teaching that the universal ideal of ‘posterization’ is independently real of the particular act of posterizing somebody.

Socrates– I think we are confused, actually.

Confucius– I’m definitely confused.  I’m on the wrong continent.  Has anyone seen my little cookies anywhere?

Plato– Let me clarify.  Posterizing is what happens when a basketball player dunks on another with such force that, on a poster of the moment, one player is captured in the dunking act, while the other is usually falling down or cowering in the corner of the photo.  Socrates, a good example is that poster you have of Achilles about to club the Trojan warrior; the one where he’s oiled up and flexing.

Socrates:  I don’t have that poster.  I don’t know what you’re talking about.

Plato:  So what I’m saying is that when Clippers power forward Blake Griffin drop-steps on Tim Thomas in the low post and makes him his girlfriend, Blake Griffin’s posterization is merely the imperfect embodiment of a larger abstraction known as ‘posterizing’.

Aristotle– I see where you’re coming from, Plato, but I have an important question which philosophers such as ourselves have been wrestling with for ages: what about Tim Hardaway’s crossover dribble?  We call it the UTEP Two-Step.  It has nothing to do with dunking.

Plato– Many things can be considered ‘posterizing’, not just dunking on somebody.  Each individual act is a rendering of something larger, more elemental.  When we see a defender get his ankles broken, we recognize instinctively that he was just posterized.  How?  Because it represents the larger ideal of posterization.

Socrates:  Look, my mom gave me that poster.  It’s the only reason I hung it up.  I don’t like Achilles or anything.

Confucius– Both of you should take a page from my book- if you say practically nothing, there’s nothing to argue about.   For example, take my saying, “Use ‘no way’ as a way.”  Who can argue with that?  It’s six words long.  It’s not even a haiku.

Aristotle–  I think Bruce Lee said that, actually.  Plato, consider what I call the Third Man Argument, which came to me while I was watching an Orson Welles marathon.  If all different kinds of posterizing are representations of an ideal Posterization, we only know that because that ideal itself is in relation to another, larger ideal of Posterization, and so on to infinity.  Boom!

Plato– Fascinating.  I think I just got posterized.

Aristotle’s point about Tim Hardaway aside, most posterizations are dunks.  Elevating for a real dunk is a heady, electrifying experience, but it’s one typically reserved for those with the spiritual gift of hops.  I personally have no chance of ever dunking a basketball, except, perhaps, on the surface of the moon.

This is partially because I’m Swedish.  Swedes are good people, honest and straightforward, excellent at drinking coffee, but in the leaping category, we make the Budweiser Clydesdales look like pole vaulters.  In the Stockholm police department, running hurdles is actually an interrogation technique .  And Swedish high jumpers have been banned from competing in the Olympics since 1964, when one competitor set the Scandinavian high-jump record at 2.1 feet, got an altitude nosebleed and nearly died.

The other problem is that I grew up on a street named ‘Holly Springs’.  Nobody has ever dunked a basketball who lived on a street named for a flower or a naturally occurring water phenomenon.  It just hasn’t happened.  Kevin Harlan has never shouted into his microphone, as a player loaded up a hellacious breakaway dunk, “Buckle up for Andrew Larson!  Straight from Carnation Meadows, with no regard for human life!”

Now, if you grew up in playing basketball in a place with a little more “street cred”, you’re probably asking yourself, “What’s the big deal about dunking?”   You’re bored of dunks.  It’s entirely possible you’ve been posterizing people and dunking basketballs all your life.  You might be dunking at this very moment, even while reading this**.  If so, I’d like to be your agent.

**– Let’s see Dwight Howard do that.

Posterization is about helplessness.  It’s that moment, captured in a photograph, where one player is completely humbled by another.  There is the dunker, in flight like Phaeton, above the one who is being dunked on, who is able only to watch the action unfold from below as he is beaten.  Posterizing someone is fun.  Being posterized, on the other hand, is not.

That helplessness is at the core of the Christian’s experience with sin.  The best known expression of it comes from Romans 7.  The apostle Paul, in his discussion about the Law and sin, says these words:

(v. 15) I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate…. (v. 17-21) And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t.  I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway.  But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.  I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong.

Smack in the middle of a treatise on the relationship between the Law and man’s sin nature, Paul reasons his way to a place of surprising frankness.  If I know one thing, it’s that I don’t get myself, he says.  I know the right thing to do, but I don’t do it.  Something inside me wants to do something else, and so I do that instead.  Everywhere I look inside me, sin is winning.

It’s hard to know if Paul’s tone here is didactic or confessional.  Is it the calm voice of a teacher, or the anguished cry of a beaten perfectionist?  The point is clear in either case: by his own admission, at the heart of the life of Paul- Paul the indefatigable missionary, Paul the firebrand defender of the Gospel, Paul the chosen apostle to evangelize the Gentiles- is the fact that sin continues to posterize him.

For most Christians the experience is the same.  Our minds are made up:  we are following Jesus.  Our hearts have been transformed, our wills baptized into an awareness of the presence of God in our lives.  And yet, we fail.  Anger surges over our dams of self-control and peace.  Lust blows off the storm windows of our supposed purity.  Pride quakes down all our reinforced buildings of humility.  Anytime we look, in some crevice of our lives, we find sin leaping high above us, dunking with glee on our best efforts at trying to be good.  No amount of spiritual elbow grease can change it.  Our honest efforts at the Christian life are a sham- we are getting posterized, over and over again.

The power of sin lies in the poster.  Sin papers the walls of our heart with picture after picture of the times it has dominated our willpower.  Our good works are no match.  Those posters of our victories over sin are sparse by comparison, and as a shrine to our good moments- calling timeout while falling out of bounds, or shooting underhanded, Rick Barry free throws- they embarrass us with their measliness.  Everywhere we look, the posters of sin condemn us with the volume of our failures.  Paul asks at the end of Romans 7, ‘Who can save me from this body of death?”, but he may as well ask, “What can anyone do about all these posters?!”

The power of sin is in the poster.  The power of Christ over sin and death is that it coats the walls of our heart in Teflon.  No posters will hang up- not of sin’s power over us, or of our own personal goodness.  In their place come the famous words that begin Romans chapter 8, and put an end to the problem of posterization from Romans 7:  therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

What can anyone do about all these posters?  It was Paul’s cry, and that of every Christian who still struggles with sin.  It’s the wish of every non-Christian who wants to be made right with God but doesn’t know how.  It was the desire of every Jew from the time of Abraham that ever sacrificed a burnt offering.  What can anyone do about all these posters?

The cross of Jesus eradicates posterization forever.  We’ve heard it said that our sins will be cast to the bottom of the sea, or as far as the east is from the west, but maybe we need to hear it another way: no longer can our sins taunt us from the walls of our hearts.  The staple gun has been taken away.   The posters never stay up.

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