Legend or God?

by Sarah McCool

This is Sarah McCool and this is my first ever blog. For those that have known my husband, Brandon, and I for any length of time will find it no surprise that my first blog is about Kobe Bryant, or is it? To some, it seems silly, but to most, fans or otherwise, the world has come together in a moment of stunned silence as we recognize the loses that occurred over the weekend of January 25-26, 2020. For those unfamiliar, Sunday January 26th Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and 7 other passengers lost their lives in a helicopter crash. The loss of a legend like Kobe is sad in itself, but to also lose his daughter and two of her teenage friends (all of whom are barely on the brink of exploring those awkward teenage years ) in the same accident is heart-breaking. ,. Parents with kids left behind, spouses who will never see their loved one again, it puts a lump in my throat every time I think of it.

I sat in church service on Sunday as my phone went off with a text, then another, then a phone call, then more texts…I knew something was happening. When I finally checked all the alerts and saw how many people were concerned about me because a celebrity died, it sent me on a journey for a few days of realizing just how I had let this figure (celebrity) become so important in my life. I shared with a dear friend how silly it seemed to shed so many tears over a celebrity;  a man I had never met. My tears were not simple tears of sympathy, but sobbing in my husband’s arms having trouble catching my breath. I then started justifying my emotions with how the name Kobe Bryant brings so many memories flooding into my heart. Some of the only happy memories I have left of my dad are of us watching basketball games together or going to games together at the Forum and the Staple Center. I have memories of my dad and I defending Kobe to my Mom, who I think just loved to root against us, as if he were our family member. Later in life, Kobe and the Lakers were the first thing I found in common with the man I would end up marrying in a wedding decorated in purple and gold;  we even introduced our Wedding Party like a starting line up using the same music the Lakers use to announce theirs.

I had a friend jokingly say, “I’m sorry your priest died.” Ok, we all know that friend was Aaron. I couldn’t help but laugh as I had to acknowledge the pedestal that I have put this human on. All these memories I cherished I felt had to die because he died. That’s when I realized how easy it is to have someone jump from a legend to a god in our heart. When I hear about idolatry and false gods, I think of golden calves and Zeus. Or maybe more relatable today: money, material things, or children. But did I really turn a celebrity into a god? I mean, I wasn’t REALLY worshiping him (or was I)? I tied all these memories of my life to this human and ultimately believed because he was dead, my memories were gone with him. I kept waiting for reports to come out that there was a mistake and everyone else was dead but not him. I quickly realized how immortal I thought he was.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with admiring someone for their hard work, their skill, or even their legacy. The problem is when your respect for that person begins to dictate your beliefs, like mine with the memories. Without realizing it, I began believing this person would always be part of my life (even though I never met them). I found myself empty when he wasn’t alive any more. EMPTY! I would say that I had indeed changed part of my identity of being fulfilled with Christ to feeling empty without this celebrity. I put more on this human than was intended for a human to bear, celebrity or otherwise.  The truth is that  regardless of who they are: your kids, your spouse, a parent, or even a celebrity, they are human. 

Human beings are feeble, breakable, and unsurprisingly mortal. When a person is no longer there and you are destroyed because they take all of your hopes with them (including your identity), that’s when they’ve become a god.

But here’s the most amazing thing as a believer in Jesus, we know there IS someone immortal that we can put all of our hope and faith in. For the early disciples, when Jesus died, they also felt like they had lost everything…but then Jesus rose from the grave in fulfillment of all that God had promised. Because of the resurrection Jesus’ death, far from stealing our joy, gives us a reason to be joyful. He has covered us with His grace to walk us through the hard times. He covers us with forgiveness when we stumble and reminds of who He is when we put someone in front of Him. He is the reason we get to love and He sends us to spread His love. Our job is to comfort those who are in pain and extend His love on His behalf. He is to be glorified above the Kobe’s, the Princess Diana’s, the Mother Theresa’s. When we have a proper perspective of who Jesus is we get to help people see they can have hope past pain and loss…and just as Kobe would, get back to work (see, I couldn’t resist one last pedestal).

I will still cherish the sweet memories of my Dad and I bonding together in those basketball moments and attach a certain degree to #24 (one of Kobe’s jersey numbers, yes, he had 2). I will still call “Kobe” any time I throw something towards the garbage in an attempt to make it in some sort of “goal.” I can still mourn and share sadness in a situation that is truly tragic, but I don’t need to wallow in it. I can move on. I can celebrate what has been given by the true God and hopefully also help you move past the false gods that you set up in your life.