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Considering #44 on my 44th


Reggie Jackson demonstrating his iconic swing and displaying his iconic #44. Taken from Wikipedia at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reggie_Jackson. License found at https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/.


Forty-four years ago today, I was born dead center in the socially tumultuous, big-hair, leisure-suit wearing, rock-n-roll obsessed 1970s. On the day of my birth, a Led Zeppelin concert turned into a riot, A. R. Ammons won the Bollington prize for poetry, and the musical "Shenandoah" premiered in New York City. In the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia itself (where I was born), it was a day to be remembered for its record-setting ice storm. As my mother tells the story, there was some question about whether she was going to make it to the hospital. The roads were glazed, trees were falling from the excessive weight of ice, and the temperatures were almost unbearable. This is how I came into the world!


But January 7, 1975, was just another day for one of the greatest baseball players ever to grace the short grass. On this ordinary day in January, Reggie Jackson was no doubt finishing up his off-season vacation and preparing for another year of spring training with the Oakland Athletics. Jackson was a powerhouse of a man, and both on and off the field, he was a contender in the game of life. On the field, he racked up an impressive set of credentials: 14 All-Star appearances, five World Series Championships, two World Series MVPs, two Silver Slugger Awards, 2,584 career hits, 563 home runs, and 1,702 RBIs. For these feats of athletic prowess, he was honored with a coveted place in the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1993. What's more, his iconic jersey number, 44, was retired by the New York Yankees, which is quite an honor considering the other numbers that hang alongside his (e.g., those of Ruth, Mantle, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Berra, Maris, and others). Off the field, Jackson did some feature-film acting, spent time as a sports commentator, wrote a book entitled Sixty Feet, Six Inches, and became the centerpiece of a sports video game. In many ways, then, Jackson's life is a case study in success.


However, all was not positive. Jackson had a fiery reputation. He demonstrated little restraint in his public criticisms of other athletes and coaches, found himself in several on- and off-field physical altercations, and was known as quite an arrogant megalomaniac--baseball's version of Mohammad Ali. I was told once by a 13-year Major League Baseball veteran that Jackson was...well...a jerk! Like all of us, then, Jackson had (and still has) a dark side. Accomplished? Yes! Impressive? No doubt! Perfect? Not in the least!


Yet isn't this true for all of us? In our success, there is always failure. In our humility, there is always pride. In our restraint, there is always impulsiveness. In our kindness, there are always "jerkish" tendencies. These are facts of fallenness!

Fortunately, we don't have to rest in our depravity. Through the power of God's Holy Spirit and the Truth of Jesus' sacrificial atonement, we can be "more than conquerors" (Romans 8:37). We have a power inside of us that is greater than the world outside of us, and if we trust in and follow Christ, then we can rise above the flesh. Sure, we'll still have sin in our lives...this is inevitable. But it doesn't have to control us. We can live as champions!


As a kid, I loved Reggie Jackson! And, admittedly, I'm still a bit smitten by Mr. October's ability to handle so masterfully the pine tar and wood. Number 44 will always have a special place in my heart. Nevertheless, I realize that, like the day of my birth, there is a coldness to the man and a glaze of ice that weighs him down...a dark side that makes him human...just like the rest of us. So, I proceed cautiously in my admiration, while at the same time celebrating a God who can conquer our flawed humanity.

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