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Intersection of Life and Faith

Under New Management

  • Dick Staub Religion News Service
  • 2010 1 Jan
  • COMMENTS
Under New Management


(RNS) "What the hell were you thinking?" Jay Leno asked Hugh Grant when he was caught in an embarrassing sex scandal back in 1995. The same could be asked of Tiger Woods, Bill Clinton and anyone else who risks losing a successful career for a sexual dalliance.

Woods' press release in the aftermath of his public humiliation was remorseful: "I have let my family down and I regret those transgressions with all of my heart." He also registered a complaint: "Personal sins should not require press releases and problems within a family shouldn't have to mean public confessions."

I agree with this to a point, but it's time we seize this teachable moment to remember what it means to be a whole and restored person, and then to aim higher.

The Hebrews aimed for "shalom," which is generally translated in English as "peace." But shalom actually refers less to the cessation of war than to wholeness and well-being. To achieve shalom means to arrive at a balanced, healthy and whole life.

Unfortunately, our society has decided that a compartmentalized life is acceptable, even ideal. Most of us know little about Tiger Woods other than his extraordinary golf game. When Olympic phenom Michael Phelps swam his way to sports history last year in Beijing, we learned of his monastic life of swimming, eating, swimming, sleeping, swimming, watching TV and then swimming some more. Even though he's a wildly successful athlete, one might say Phelps actually lives a partial life, not a fully human life.

A compartmentalized life isn't often a healthy one because being a "whole" person requires the development of body, soul, mind and spirit.

The ancient Greeks called this complete life "arete," a word used to describe the person who has reached their fullest potential in every area of life.

Fame, wealth, awards and success aren't the exclusive measure of such a life because achieving "arete" means becoming a well-rounded, fully developed person in every way: physically, mentally, morally and spiritually.

Drive by the gym and you'll see people attentive to their bodies.

Attend a typical worship service and you'll see folks tending to their souls. Visit a library and you'll see people nurturing their intellect.

But how many of these people see the need to be attentive to their whole person?

When Clinton admitted his indiscretion with Monica Lewinski, his defenders made the case that his personal life was unrelated to his professional life. That distinction isn't all that unusual. We confer fame and responsibility to people known to be living an immoral life all the time. We fast-track academically challenged athletes through college without requiring them to meet standards that apply to everyone else.

The Greeks and Hebrews assumed that achieving less than a full, complete and balanced life leaves one with a sense of incompleteness.

And let's be honest -- doesn't that describe most of us? The business executive who achieves a successful career but loses a marriage; the artist who reaches fame but is barren of soul and spirit; the researcher whose breakthrough will save multiple lives but who has no friends to call his own. All these are examples of partial lives -- outstanding in one aspect of life, totally deficient in others.

During this Christmas season, I'm reminded of a provocative statement by art historian Hans Rookmaaker: "Jesus didn't come to make us Christian," he said. "Jesus came to make us fully human."

To be sure, Christians are as guilty of compartmentalization as anyone else. Even Jesus has been portrayed as primarily interested in only our souls, yet he offered an abundant (whole) life that he said would transform his follower's minds, souls, spirits, relationships and morality.

Tiger Woods -- and anybody else, for that matter -- can ask and receive forgiveness from God, but God also expects something in return: that redeemed life must come under new management. When put in charge, God will move into every area of our lives and change us. God's aim, after all, is to make fallen humans fully human.

Dick Staub is the author of "The Culturally Savvy Christian" and the host of The Kindlings Muse (www.thekindlings.com). His blog can be read at www.dickstaub.com.
c. 2009 Religion News Service. Used with permission.

Original publication date: January 4, 2010