Both Hands is a terrific song by Ani DiFranco. It’s also what I’m calling this post. I should probably call it 2 Hands Theology, but if you’re reading this, maybe you’ll check that song out as you’re reading this (or after you read this, the two are unrelated as far as I can tell – the song is about a last night of passion and this post is about Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. Hmm. Maybe they are related…I’ll try to tie these 2 clouds together at the end.)
So. The new 30 For 30 ESPN documentary is about the great home run race of 1998. These 2 behemoths hit homeruns at a rate we hadn’t seen before, breaking all records and “saving baseball.” Later, we’d acknowledge the fact that was hiding in plain sight all along: that they were juiced out of their minds. Of course we knew. Everybody knew. But we agreed to act shocked and disgusted later if anybody pointed out this heaving musclebound mammoth in the middle of the room. A few years later, Barry Bonds would return from the offseason with 30 extra pounds of muscle and a hat sized 25% bigger than last year and break that homerun record.
Now, I really couldn’t care less about the discussion of performance enhancing drugs and statistics and halls of fame. We were happy then to pretend, so maybe the asterisk belongs in our homes and not next to Bonds’ 73. Whatever.
What I care about is how our lives and the surrounding circumstances are rarely strictly black and white. We pretend they are, too. We have such frustration with the complexity of reality, of authenticity.
We loved the home run race. They were just really great guys playing the game they loved for us. (Probably not.)
Then, they were “outed” as “cheaters.” Sosa lied to Congress and pretended he couldn’t speak English. They were monsters. (Also probably not.)
Instead, I would be willing to bet they are human beings, just like me and you. Maybe under the weight of expectation and dollars, I would make the same decision.
I pastor a small church in a small town and all through the old Testament, we read the story of the Israelites, “God’s chosen people.” The narrative is a roller coaster, where they make all the mistakes, call out and are rescued, then make all the mistakes again until they call out and are rescued again, then make all the mistakes again and on and on, ad nauseam. We read that and say “Those people,” while shaking our heads. King David is “a man after God’s own heart,” AND a guy who slept with his buddy’s wife and when she was pregnant, had him killed. There are examples on nearly every page of the Bible of things that don’t fit. Our palms get sweaty because of the unresolved nature, the inability to generalize. What do we do when our boxes absolutely don’t apply?
Barry Bonds is the best baseball player I’ve ever seen, narrowly beating Roger Clemens for that imaginary honor. Both were, by all accounts, humongous donkeys to everyone they viewed as less than them. All of that is true. I had posters of Clemens on my wall growing up. (I also had posters of Morrissey. On one side was toxic masculinity and on the other, its antithesis.)
The danger of judgment is that judgment is usually based on only one aspect of our personality or behavior. McGwire and Sosa are cheaters…and dads and friends and grandfathers and neighbors and would probably carry an elderly woman’s groceries into her house for her. (I’m not sure about Bonds or Clemens carrying groceries, though, but who knows? For sure not me.)
David is flawed. He’s also courageous and forgiving and faithful. The Israelites are a foolish, stubborn lot who live a maddening loop. And yet there is tremendous kindness and generosity as this loop repeats. We are all of this. God, and the Bible, seem very comfortable with us, with this dichotomy.
Ani and her girlfriend can’t make it work, no matter “how hard they tried.” This is their “swan song.” And yet they are sharing this moment, clearly still in love. Both can be true. As a country, as neighbors, as a culture, we’ve been sold a lie that we are all 1 thing. We are Democrats OR Republicans and forced to draw battle lines and choose sides. The truth is, we are far more like a Venn diagram, where the vast majority of us overlap. Of course there are parts that don’t, but when did we start to believe that those were the only parts that matter?
It’s easy to hold tightly to our need to judge and label, it neatly suits our need for control. And look where easy got us; do you feel in control? Maybe we need to adopt this 2 Hands Theology and this fresh, new metanarrative where we are fingers AND toes, cheaters AND daddies, foolish AND faithful, but always human.