Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Slice of Life

Mathieu Boya was practicing his golf swing in a pasture adjacent to Africa’s Benin Air Base in 1991 when things took a dramatic turn (Benin, next to Nigeria, is a country about the size of Pennsylvania). He hit what he later called “a glorious slice,” an errant shot which I have heard afflicts golfers from time to time but with which I have no personal experience, strictly speaking, since my slices have never been referred to in any sense as “glorious.” At any rate his ball hit a seagull flying overhead. The winged interloper dropped from the sky like a Shaquille O’Neal free throw. Clunk. Problem is it dropped into the open cockpit of a trainer jet whose pilot was taxiing into position for take-off; the feathery fiend then regained consciousness and began flapping its wings frantically in the pilot’s face. The young warrior, in reference to whom the appellation “Top Gun” most certainly never has been used, subsequently lost control of his craft and plowed into four shiny Mirage jets. The five jets, now all demolished, represented the ENTIRE air force of Benin. One golf swing, a wounded bird, a flustered pilot, five ruined jets, and a country’s national defense crippled.

Is golf a great game or what?

Boya was jailed immediately for “hooliganism,” which is not such a big deal; I’ve been called much worse while hacking my way around the links. But the problem is his country demanded that he pay $40 million to replace the five jets. At the time, Boya made $275 a year. No word on whether they offered him the 145,000 year installment plan.

This little episode reminds me of an important gift in life, the gift of perspective. Aside from its comedic elements, when I read this story I immediately thought, “My definition of a bad day has just been considerably altered.” I mean, a $100 traffic ticket? No problem! A totaled car? Piece of cake! A slice out of bounds on every hole of the round? Hey, it’s just a game!

On a more serious note, we talked about the gift of perspective recently in relation to the “continuum of resistance” we can anticipate as followers of Jesus. The gift of perspective helps us to understand that the few inconveniences and occasional hardships we experience in order to practice our faith and be the church pale in comparison to what many people experience as the cost of discipleship. My $100 inconvenience seems burdensome to me until I hear about someone else’s $40 million persecution, as it were. I’m not saying there is no place for feeling hard-pressed or wearied by circumstances, or even for acknowledging something as a crisis. To fail to do so would be to assume a Stoic philosophy that is not consistent with following Jesus, who, after all, wept at his friend’s death. What perspective often does, though, is help us to be “afflicted but not crushed.” (II Cor. 4).

So swing away, friends. And do not fret over the occasional slice. It could be much worse. You could be forced to golf in a pasture. – Matt Soper

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