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Success At What Expense?

I’ve had the Last Dance on my Netflix docket since late 2020 but with the arrival of Air Jordan movie in theaters, I circled back and started watching it. The Last Dance examines the Chicago Bulls rise to the top, led by Michael Jordan.  I like biopics, and have always been drawn to people’s stories and their why. But because of my range of thoughts on Jordan and his legacy I wasn’t really compelled to tune in. Though I don’t know Jordan personally, I’ve always felt slightly betrayed and disappointed in him because I think he could do more- specifically for the black community. That his self-interests exceeded his desire to help.  I’m about six episodes in and though I have a better understanding and more positive view of Jordan, I can’t say my initial feelings have changed.

Another American icon story I’ve wanted to delve into is Steve Jobs. He’s contributed a lot to our American way of life, and his legacy is not without complications. 

What do Jordan and Jobs have in common? Their success, their impact, their legacy. They both have left their mark on the world, both household names, and many look up to them in admiration. But reflecting on their legacy I wonder if the admiration is warranted. Hopefully, this is not coming across as looking for cracks and faults in their image because of their notoriety. 

Is it true success if your legacy is built on dominating people? On overlooking and devaluing people?

Who knows? My motivation for examining their success and legacy may be that I’m swiftly approaching 40 and am in a reflective state.  Either way, it feels like a necessary conversation against the backdrop of our culture - the rise and fall of influencers– even the Christian ones, and our constant thirst for fame, for mega-stars. 

I guess, I’m just wondering if it all adds up. Is what we call success, real success? Pardon the forthcoming Bachelor phrase…Do we admire the right people for the right reasons?

From what I’ve learned thus far, Jordan was loyal, cared about his teammates but was very motivated by competition, being the best, and dominating. From what I know about Jobs, competition, being innovative, and being the best motivated him as well. It seems that motivation can help you achieve, become the best, and become household names but doesn’t lead to the best character. And I wonder if that is true success. 

Is it true success if your legacy is built on dominating people? On overlooking and devaluing people? I’m not saying that’s specifically what Jordan and Jobs have done BUT I can see a bit of that in American history. Americans consider the US to be one of the most successful nations in the world, yet at the expense of others. Does it matter that we’re one of the most successful nations if it was built on a blatant disregard for the humanity of people of color? I think this ideology lends itself to the false American Dream and ideas of success. Though not explicitly spoken, tangibly felt in a lot of our culture–do what you need to do regardless of how it affects others. 

Our success, our legacy, our calling begins at the cross.

But following the way of Jesus calls for a different kind of success than what is typical. It begins and ends with Christ and lasts eternally. And ss I get closer and closer to the middle point of my life I can hear Commissioned’s song getting louder: “Only what you do for Christ will last.” While Jordan and Jobs built the empires of Air Jordan and Apple respectively, Jesus introduced the kingdom way. 

I think building an Empire is our natural state, Jesus’ disciples thought his kingdom would come by force. It’s likely they expected it even at the garden of Gethsemane, hence Peter cutting off a man’s ear. A few chapters prior, the people shouting Hosanna, weren’t shouting it in the way we glamorize in worship songs today– it was more like Knuck if ya buck, Rome! I think our desire and success can present itself in ways of self-assertion. And this is not to minimize the Jews’ sincere desire to be released from the oppression of Rome. Yet, Jesus reminded us his way is the cross. 

Consider the following: 

“You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them.  But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant,  and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave.  For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.”- Matthew 20:26

Jesus modeled a pathway for eternal legacy by laying down his life. Our success, our legacy, our calling begins at the cross. It begins when we yield our own way to his. And his way is often to yield our way to others. 

Consider a story I heard recently. A rabbi had a dream about heaven and hell. In the dream, both consisted of many people at a banquet with lots of food and drink but their elbows were locked and couldn’t bend their arms to feed themselves. One person asked the rabbi, “How did you know the difference between heaven and hell?” The rabbi replied: “In one of them, they used their locked arms to feed each other.” 

May we remember true success and legacy building starts at the cross, builds his kingdom and honors others.


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