Redeeming Competition


Redeeming Competition
by Keith Wahl

This past weekend, I watched the HBO documentary about Steven Spielberg. While Spielberg’s career is certainly fascinating on its own, there was an element of his early career that caught my attention. Spielberg shared close relationships with fellow filmmakers of the 1970s such as George Lucas, Brian De Palma, and Martin Scorsese. These men, and others from their collaborative circle, shaped filmmaking as we know it today. It reminded me of other artistic achievements from history, like those in the Renaissance or Paris in the 1920s. 

These eras seem to define the word “competition” very differently. In a TED talk by Brett Ledbetter called “How to stop comparing and start competing”, Ledbetter identifies the Latin root of competition as “competere,” which means “to strive together.” Instead of competition drawing out the worst in people, striving together like the artists above allowed for greater creative achievement.

This idea is central to the teachings of Christ and the writings of Paul in the New Testament. Christ most often speaks about the heart, not external conflict. The battle in the Christian life is most often within ourselves and how the overflow of our hearts affect our outward actions.

In Philippians 3:14, Paul says, “I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.” Paul’s race is his race, not someone else’s race. One of my friends recently commented on how "customizable" each of our pursuits of Christ can be. In Ledbetter’s talk, he outlines how Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski encourages his players to “run your race.” Both Jesus and Paul turn the idea of competition in a spiritual sense inward.

The game of baseball is an artistic and spiritual expression. The teams in the World Series this weekend are there because they have sharpened one another to allow for greater creative achievement. Watch the players discuss how to attack the pitcher, what they’re seeing as the game develops, and how sport becomes the canvas for artistic human action. People too often fail to recognize sports as artistic expression. Yet when they do, they begin to strive together in a way that reflects our Lord. We would all benefit from redeeming the word “competition” and seek to strive together.