“Strange Melancholy in the Midst of Abundance”

I am currently in the middle of Tim Keller’s book “Counterfeit Gods”. Keller has become one of my favorite authors over the past three years. He has a knack for pulling no punches when it comes to applying the gospel in the day to day. I was struck by a quote in the introduction of the book attributed to the French political thinker and historian Alexis de Tocqueville. In one of Tocqueville’s famous observations on America dating back to the 1830’s, he noted a “strange melancholy that haunts the inhabitants…in the midst of abundance”.

My my, how things have changed! To the contrary, I am quite sure if Tocqueville were to visit America today he may very well write the exact words he chose almost 200 years ago. We have discussed numerous times on this blog, as well as from the pulpit at The Crossing, the pervasive pursuit of idols of abundance and its ultimate end being disappointment, melancholy and despair. How many examples of this vicious cycle do we need before we begin applying the reality of it in our own lives? Would you like to hear another one?

If you are considered to be even a relatively moderate fan of football, you probably remember the name Ryan Leaf. Leaf was considered to be one of the two best players in the 1998 NFL draft. The other player? Peyton Manning. Even if you think “real” football requires two nets and a round ball, you surely have heard of Manning. Leaf was predicted to be the better pro player of the two. He went on to play four unsuccessful seasons in the NFL marred by poor performance, injuries and poor relations with media and teammates. He is widely considered to be one of the top busts in NFL history.

In fact, I have the distinct pleasure of attending the only NFL game in history where the starting quarterback completed more passes to the opposing team than his own. The starting quarterback that day? Yep, Ryan Leaf. Shortly after being drafted and awarded a contract worth $31.25 million dollars (including a $11.25 million signing bonus) Leaf declared, “I’m looking forward to a 15 year career, a couple of trips to the Super Bowl, and a parade through downtown San Diego.”

A recent AP story brought us up to speed on Leaf’s recent happenings. Leaf has agreed to plead guilty in a Texas drug and burglary case in exchange for 10 years of probation. Apparently while Leaf was an assistant at West Texas A&M he misrepresented himself to physicians in an attempt to obtain the painkiller Hydrocodone and even broke into one of his injured player’s apartment looking for the prescription pain killer.

There are many ways for us to examine our own lives in light of Mr. Leaf’s tragic story. Most of us will simply cast a prideful rebuke of Leaf and excuse his poor decisions as the casualty of immaturity. How does one plummet from the pinnacle of sports to a courthouse in west Texas? In “Counterfeit Gods”, Keller suggests such a fall comes from loving, trusting and obeying our Idols. It is when our our love and trust yields emptiness that we all seem inclined to be “haunted by that strange melancholy, even in the midst of abundance”.

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