No Nonstop Flights

Michael Metzger

All eyes will be on Tiger Woods at The Masters this weekend. Huge galleries will root for him. A few folks won’t, however. Ever wonder why?

Most of us know Woods’ story. He was 20 years old when he turned professional at the end of the summer in 1996. Woods had already won two PGA Tour events when he arrived at The Masters in April 1997. He shot a 40 (+4) on the first nine but a 30 (-6) on the back nine. Then he pulled away from the field, winning the event by 12 strokes.

For 14 years, Woods was ascendant: 79 wins on the PGA tour, 14 major championships. Then he crashed and burned. In their new book Tiger Woods, Jeff Benedict and Armen Keteyian write that Woods’ “unapologetically self-centered attitude” was critical to his golf success but destructive in his personal life. He was rude, boorish, and unable to sustain long relationships. Woods traded his humanity for money, fame, and power.

Today Woods seems to be more human, happier. The change appears to be genuine, which is why it’s dismaying when I hear folks say they hope Woods doesn’t win. Many are Christians. They don’t like that Woods cheated on his wife. He’s an adulterer. They don’t root for adulterers.

This is either/or, dualistic thinking. For Christians, it’s an example of having not made it out of the “first half of life,” writes Walter Brueggemann, an esteemed Old Testament scholar.[1] He sees life featuring two halves. They follow the trajectory of the Hebrew Scriptures: the Torah, the Prophets, and the Wisdom literature.

The Torah corresponds to the good and necessary “first half of life.” This is when the people of Israel discover their identity through being chosen. They learn the law, tradition, rituals and structure. The aim is clarity and certitude. It’s how children learn. You’re special, you’re made to feel “safe,” the faith provides protective boundaries.

The Prophets introduce you to the second half of life. It’s disruptive, with suffering, “stumbling stones,” and failures. Prophets deepen our capacity for healthy self-criticism. Without them, people of faith never move beyond infancy and “safe” religion. We never get past either/or thinking and realize all things are both good and bad, including us.

Richard Rohr thinks most Christians are stuck in infancy. He attributes it to the fact that “prophets have never been much sought after by most Christian groups.”[2] So Christians don’t know God’s growth pattern: order-disorder-reorder. They think maturity is simple steps—come to Christ, grow in your faith, go to heaven. No disruptions.

“There is no nonstop flight from order to reorder,” Rohr writes. “We have to go through a period of disruption and disordering” to get to the second half of life. For people of faith, prophets light the path.

Once you arrive in the second half, you hold together contradictions in yourself and others. And you do so with compassion, forgiveness, and patience. You realize that, while Woods is an adulterer, so is every Christian. Jesus said if you lust after someone you’re not married to, you’re an adulterer. James defines adultery as indulging your pleasures (James 4:3-4). I’m an adulterer. We all are, which is why Jesus invited anyone who wasn’t to throw the first stone at the adulterous woman. No one did.

You’re stuck in the first half of life if you believe you’ve never committed adultery, or been as “bad” as, say, Tiger Woods. The disciples were stuck for a while. They struggled when Jesus praised two people as having the greatest faith—the Samaritan woman and Roman centurion, both non-Jews and “bad” people. The disciples had not yet learned that the qualities we hate in others are actually within us. We’re not so moral after all.

It’s the height of hypocrisy to root against Woods while ignoring our adulteries. Tiger was arrogant, no doubt about it. But you have imagined doing “bad” things; and if you could get away with it, you’d probably do it. If you say Not me! you’re in the first half of life. You’d never had a layover in an airport called failure, or humiliation. On the other hand, if you see Woods and think, there but for the grace of God go I, you’re in the second half. You’ll root for the most deserving Masters winner, even if it’s Tiger Woods.


[1] Walter Brueggemann and Tod Linafelt, An Introduction to the Old Testament: The Canon and Christian Imagination, 2nd ed. (Westminster John Knox Press: 2012)

[2] Adapted from Richard Rohr, Adult Christianity and How to Get There, disc 1 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2004), CDMP3 download.


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  1. We definitely do need to remember that we too are sinners just as great as–or more than–a Tiger Woods. We do need to be careful not to stand in the place of judgment God reserves for himself. At the same time, however, if there is no evidence of repentance, we also are not called to continue to treat those unrepentant of their public sins as celebrities or heroes.

  2. Mike, a good word as always. I have a question: I’m familiar with Jesus’ commending the centurion for his faith. But I’m lost on this sentence:

    They struggled when Jesus praised two people as having the greatest faith—the Samaritan man and Roman centurion, both non-Jews and “bad” people.

    What’s the reference for the Samaritan man and his faith?

  3. That clarifies part of it, but I don’t see Jesus praising her “greatest faith” as he did with the centurion. No matter because the point is he interacted with her: a woman, a Samaritan, and a disreputable one at that.

  4. While I appreciate the point you are making, Mike, I think your critique mis-diagnoses many people’s ambivalence towards Tiger.

    Without a doubt, we are all sinners with feet of clay. No thoughtful adult I know expects moral perfection from professional athletes. Our sin is ever before us, and there is plenty it to go around.

    For over a decade, millions of sports fans looked up to Tiger as an exemplar of self-discipline, hard work, mental strength, and athletic virtuosity. He went on to present himself as a committed husband and father, which many of us appreciated. This made Tiger an inspiring male role model for African-Americans — a demographic group where those crucial qualities are currently in short supply.

    Then it turned out to be a big lie. Tiger was living a tawdry double life on a breathtaking scale. And his entire world came crashing down around him.

    Whatever lingering ambivalence people may feel towards Tiger today probably results from the depth of the deception that shattered the respect and admiration they invested in him. Once bitten, twice shy.

    Most of us wish Tiger well and hope he regains his footing in life — on a more constructive trajectory. But a vast public trust was broken that may take decades to rebuild — if rebuilding it is even possible.

    Golfers are far from perfect, and Tour stars face myriad temptations. Some manage all that better than others. Nonetheless, golf is an ancient game that still takes a person’s honor seriously. Golf’s great champions often embody impressive humility, character and grace — in the crucible of competition as well as in their personal lives.

    So, perhaps part of the reason golf fans struggle to cheer for Tiger again is the incongruity between him attaining extraordinary success in a sport that cherishes honor, while conducting his personal life in an epically dishonorable way. At a minimum, that precipitates cognitive and emotional dissonance in golf fans who value integrity.

    It is hard for most of us to imagine the liberties and opportunities a superstar like Tiger faced from a young age. I am not sure how well I could have navigated his situation — hopefully better, but who can know?

    That said, there is more to people’s mixed feelings about Tiger today than our own judgmental prudery and unforgiving hypocrisy. A sports icon fell hard by his own hand, disillusioning millions of us in the process. On a cultural level, something precious was not simply lost, it was crushed. That is not easy to reassemble and resurrect.

    These are hard facts of life, and why character ultimately matters. Tiger did this to himself. You are free to critique his former fans, but our reticent response does not necessarily imply a shortcoming on our parts. We are all for second chances but repentance comes first.

  5. Dare we enter the realm of political leadership? Why not, it could be my one way – non-stop flight out of this conversation – I might get tossed of the island.
    In any case, when it comes to judging the likes of Tiger Woods for his past 19th Hole indiscretions, I’m quite perplexed (that’s an UNDERstatement) at the Christian community’s almost complete acceptance and willingness to give mulligan after mulligan to the President. (“Tony Perkins: Trump Gets ‘a Mulligan’ on Life, Stormy Daniels” (From POLITICO)).

    Michael Gerson wrote (and I agree): “One of the most extraordinary things about our current politics—really, one of the most extraordinary developments of recent political history—is the loyal adherence of religious conservatives to Donald Trump. This is a man who has cruelly publicized his infidelities, made disturbing sexual comments about his elder daughter, and boasted about the size of his penis on the debate stage. His lawyer reportedly arranged a $130,000 payment to a porn star to dissuade her from disclosing an alleged affair. Yet religious conservatives who once blanched at PG-13 public standards now yawn at such NC-17 maneuvers. We are a long way from The Book of Virtues. Trump supporters tend to dismiss moral scruples about his behavior as squeamishness over the president’s “style.” But the problem is the distinctly non-Christian substance of his values.”

    Yeah, VALUES…VIRTUES….ANY semblance of real LEADERSHIP? MIA, AWOL, KIA….. And yet, most Christians/Evangelicals and my peers I ask about the President (and I just ask, I don’t offer rebuttals or arguments, not trying to make a point or do much of anything other than understand or learn what I’m missing, I just ask, “What do you think of our President?” and then I listen) start off with something to the effect of, “Well, I’m not crazy about the Tweets, but I really like what he’s doing and oh, by the way, what about Bill Clinton, he was just as bad….”

    First a blind eye, eventually a yawn, then acceptance, passive sanction (oxymoron?), and eventually denigration of our country’s great institutions, values and traditions becomes the norm. Will the church draw a line?

    Abraham Lincoln: Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal…..

    Teddy Roosevelt: Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure… than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.

    Donald Trump: Grab ’em by the pussy.

  6. I watched an interview with Tiger Woods after the Masters.

    The first part of the interview, which was by a Golf specialist, was shop talk about Tiger’s performance. He handled the questions with straight forward assessment of where he struggled. Tiger also showed appreciation for some ways his play was satisfactory. No beating himself up and yet no excuses. No puffing himself up and yet no attempt justify himself as a player.

    Finally, the reporter asked Tiger to reflect on how the tournament felt personally. Tiger’s countenance softened. He cracked a modest smile, praised the feeling of walking through Augusta National’s landscape, described the camaraderie of the players, and appreciated how the event treats all the players. He was specific and sincere.

    I don’t think Tiger “is back” but no doubt he is changed.

    Kent, in your reply you said of Tiger’s downfall, “On a cultural level, something precious was not simply lost, it was crushed. That is not easy to reassemble and resurrect.” I differ from your assessment in that I think the old Tiger that you described was not “something precious.” It was the ubiquitous self-made story. We did not need the old Tiger as a role model. The old Tiger, the old Ronald Reagan, the old ______(insert your favorite role model) can distract us from the truth of what/who we really need.

    “that is not easy to reassemble and resurrect” – I think it is actually not desirable to reassemble fallen role models. I think it is better, if we can, to relate to their fall as Mike did in this article.

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