From the Top to Rock Bottom
by Christopher C. Thompson | 21 April 2022 |
You know, it’s amazing how one decision and corresponding action can change your entire life!
At this point, you have at least heard about “The Slap” that disrupted the Oscars live show. I know you’ve at least heard about it because not only did it disrupt the live show and broadcast, but it also disrupted the news cycle and everybody’s social media feed long after the event. I actually debated about whether I would even write about this because at this point I’m tired of hearing about it, and I’m confident that everybody else has had their fill of discussions about it.
I couldn’t resist, though, because of one tweet I saw that I thought recast the conversation in a different light.
Will Smith becoming a supervillain overnight after a 30-year flawless record is a reminder that all that respectability tap-dancing won’t save you when they decide that you’re no longer “one of the good ones”
— Josh Ben-Shachar (@lawless08) April 9, 2022
I can’t remember the last time I watched the live broadcast of an award show. I find significant satisfaction in receiving the major updates on the results of the major awards on Twitter. The unfortunate event was immediately viral, and the notifications and newsfeed on Twitter (and every other platform) were aflame. I think what made me most frustrated when the news first broke was everybody’s insistence on what Will Smith should’ve done…what Chris Rock should’ve done…what Jada should’ve done. It’s all so annoying to me.
I follow sports a lot, and in my lifetime I have participated in countless sporting events, from marathons to tennis matches, and countless basketball games. There’s nothing like being in the arena when the lights are on and the crowd is screaming. Because I know firsthand how difficult it is to hit two free throws with a few seconds left when the game is on the line. I’m pretty sure that I was the leading scorer in one particular game, but I missed those free throws and the entire team jumped on me in the locker room. One of my teammates literally wanted to fight.
When the team left, I was there with my coach. Shout out to Coach Hendricks. I just broke down and cried, and he just stood there and held me. Man, I loved that dude! He was a great coach. He was fair, he had fierce offensive and defensive schemes, and he never missed a free throw. True story.
With all the experience I have as an athlete, I’ve grown increasingly uncomfortable with weighing in on the failures of pro athletes. I’m pretty clear on how difficult it is to do what they do. It’s so easy to talk about what Tom Brady or LeBron James should’ve, could’ve done, because it’s not you with the ball in your hands with a few seconds left on the clock. In reality, it’s so much harder than it actually looks. And out of respect for the ones who are actually in the arena, these days I’m just inclined to criticize a lot less, if at all.
Peter’s Rock Bottom
I’ve been reflecting a lot on Peter’s most devastating moment. He swore that he would never forsake Jesus. He even promised that he would die for Jesus if and when the opportunity presented itself. He swore he knew what he do when the time came, and—surprise, surprise!— he was wrong. I wonder if we’re willing to sit with that fact for a bit. You’re certain you know what you would do. You just haven’t been placed in a situation that was all that difficult. You think you’re strong enough. You’re not. Period.
Peter’s case is profound because he never wanted to be a disciple to begin with. Peter had literally begged Jesus to leave him alone (see Luke 5:8). I’m confident that he wanted to just live the peaceful life of a fisherman and focus on maintaining his business and providing for his family. Jesus’ call was a disruption of the original plan. Nevertheless, Jesus insisted, saying, “Don’t be afraid. From now on you will catch men.” I can personally relate to this part. And for many of us, this is the story. We didn’t choose this life. This life chose us.
When Peter denied Jesus, it’s clear that he was completely disappointed in himself. And after several grueling, guilt-ridden days, he finally decided that he would dispense with the entire idea of discipleship. In John 21:3 he told the disciples that he was going fishing. It wasn’t because Peter was bored and needed something to do. This was his official resignation letter.
This is an extreme response to guilt, but this is Peter’s story. Can you relate to this? Have you ever experienced this kind of debilitating failure? If not, just keep on living. Or better yet, I hope you never have to. It’s really hard to bounce back from this kind of loss. The championship was on the line. All you had to do was hit two free throws, and you missed…both of them.
A vulnerable moment
I watched Will Smith’s acceptance speech for the Oscar he won for Best Actor for his role in King Richard. Ironically, he played the eccentric and brash father of tennis icons Venus and Serena Williams. He spoke through the tears streaming down his face as he tried to explain the complicated emotions that he felt at the moment as well as the complex space he finds himself in as a “protector of people” in his orbit (women, in particular). He shared the comments that Denzel Washington shared with him right after the tragic moment on stage. “At your highest moment…Be careful. That’s when the devil comes for you.” Such a profound byte of wisdom from another Hollywood icon. Whether you accept what Will Smith had to say in his defense is of little consequence, in my opinion.
What I couldn’t help but notice was a man whom many consider a hero, having a terribly vulnerable and difficult public moment. The complexity here is astounding. Even after a staggeringly successful career, this was indeed his crowning achievement. Yet, it was simultaneously his most embarrassing and horrific failure. I immediately thought about how difficult it must be to be him in that moment. He missed those free throws in front of the entire world. But not only him, it was also Chris Rock that has to navigate the pain and humiliation of being assaulted on network television by someone whom he considers a friend and colleague. With that said, it’s telling that Chris Rock hasn’t really been vocal about the event. It appears to me that he was genuinely hurt and embarrassed by the entire ordeal. This is a terrible tragedy.
And now to add insult to injury, The Academy has banned Will Smith from all Academy events for the next ten years. In addition to that, Sony, Apple and Netflix are all halting projects related to Will Smith as a result of the slap. First it was that Everybody Hates Chris, but now everybody hates Will. I’m not going to waste any time here pointing out the lists of people who could’ve or should’ve been punished by the Academy; there are those who are already making that point. For me, what’s most frustrating is the fact that everyone rushed to establish their sanctimonious stance and demonstrate that they “would never…” And just like that, popular opinion threatens to diminish the legacy of an entertainment icon to that of a classless thug who needs to be policed and punished.
Standing on the Seashore
John 21 is one of my favorite stories in all of scripture. I think it communicates the heart of God in such a vivid and powerful image. After the resurrection, Jesus doesn’t need to see the rest of the disciples that morning on the seashore as much as he needed to see Peter. Jesus needed to see Peter, and more importantly, Peter needed to see Jesus. I love this scene of the story.
Jesus and Peter are having this deep face-to-face conversation. We always dig deep into the minutiae of the words they spoke, but I simply love the scene. I love it that Jesus came back for Peter. I love it that Jesus met Peter at his most embarrassing and devastating moment and did the very thing that Coach Hendricks did for me in that locker room. Jesus was present right at the moment that he needed him. Peter’s entire legacy was weighing in the balance. This is a major turning point; a breaking point. Jesus won’t let Peter fold. He won’t let Peter quit. Jesus won’t let it be. Jesus shows up at the very moment that Peter needs him most, because presence is power and this meeting is about empowerment.
Jesus extends another invitation for Peter to be his disciple and care for the flock. Jesus informs Peter that he’s still called…rather, he has received a second call. This call demands more maturity, more insight, more depth. And there is nothing in this world that adds seasoning and wisdom like failure and loss and grief. Jesus sees that and he says, “Yes! I can use that. Bring it to me. I know what to do with that.” Jesus comes to the shore to help us to prepare for what’s next.
I think this is my favorite part about the resurrection. It’s the fact that Jesus is resurrected and is immediately dispatched to meet us at the seashore of our failures and invite us back into the fold. The world may be standing off at a distance and playing armchair quarterback, but God is not that way. Jesus has pulled us off to the side for a one-on-one conversation. Jesus is standing right there coaching us and getting us ready to take the next shot.
I love it that the resurrection means that Jesus will always come back for us. I love it that while the world is ready to vilify us at a moment’s notice, Jesus is standing there ready to help us pick up the pieces and begin again.
Christopher C. Thompson writes about culture and communication at thinkinwrite.com. He’s the author of Choose to Dream. When not writing, he’s jogging or binge-watching Designated Survivor. He’s married to Tracy, who teaches at Oakwood University.