I’ve been a fan of Tiger Woods for a long time. As a youngster, I aspired to golf like him, and as an adult, I’ve spent hours watching nervously as his putts rolled in – or past – the hole. However, this week, Holy Week, Nike’s self-effacing advert for Tiger has gone one fairway too far.
The controversial Nike ad heralding that “Winning takes care of everything” is making the circuit trans-media. Radio shock-jocks love it, Today Show professionals are confused by it, and those who have ever felt the sting of marital infidelity once again feel enraged by the audacity of shamelessness exhibited by the world’s number one golfer and brand.
Tiger’s indiscretions are not the issue. My concern is what this narrative, this “winning is all that matters” attitude, means in light of this week – the most important week in the life of the Christian calendar.
From Palm Sunday until Easter, many mainline churches in America will have somewhere in the neighborhood of 19 services compared to their usual 4 or 5. This Holy Week, more than all other weeks, winning has nothing to do with who we as Christians claim to be in the world. Rather, if anything is to take care of everything, it is the deep and ancient practice of walking the Way of the Cross – a way that is marked not by what one is able to accomplish or win, but a way that is marked by how we are able to discover and live fully into deep oneness with God in the world.
Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of Christian triumphalists who will herald that the Nike ad is right on point with the message of Easter Sunday. Many will suggest that the Christian belief in resurrection is a winning, a taking care of everything. Yet what these Christians and Nike mistake in common is what Tiger and those who take the Way of the Cross seriously know best: the road to winning is filled with more self-learning, falling, failing, judgment, support from others, death, and personal inner growth than could ever be imagined. In a sense, victory is nothing if in the process you lose your self.
The Gospel of Luke remembers Jesus of Nazareth as having asked, “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world and yet forfeit his very self?” The radical thing about the Christian narrative of Easter is that Jesus won through losing; he proved that life comes not from conquering first, but from loss.
Tiger Woods has been down this road before. He is again the #1 golfer in the world. But by my read, Nike does a disservice to Tiger and the journey he has been on when they ignore the brutal human and spiritual course he has walked to get back to glory.
This Easter Sunday, at the end of Lent and Holy Week, Christians have the same chance as Tiger Woods did on Monday at Bay Hill: we are invited to celebrate our proverbial return to Eastertide, to winning. Yet, we who walk in the Way must not buy the lie the Nike advertisement suggests, but find truth in the opposite: winning takes care of nothing! New life, even God, is found not on the road filled with personal accolades, but on the journey of self-discovery that leads through pain.
Joshua Case is an Episcopal blogger, curator, and public theologian. Joshua currently works at Holy Innocents’ Episcopal Church in Atlanta. When not curating things religious and technological, Joshua works as a professional golf instructor.