The Ultimate Wager

She nods in my direction as I enter the Foxboro Sports Tavern in Naples, Florida.  The senior waitress by a couple of decades, she says I can sit wherever I like.  I am a regular over the last week, but this is the first time she is my server.  She provides excellent service and I tip her appropriately.  

The next day we are on first name basis, “Dan” and “Peggy.”  She leads me to my normal seat and asks which games I want to see.  I tell her my three choices and she conveys my request to the remote control “controller.”  When she returns to my table with my drink, she smiles and asks a never before asked question:  “Are you a bookie?” 

I doubt many people in Kentucky do not know what a bookie is, but let me remind you.  A “bookie” is someone who facilitates gambling, commonly on sporting events, by setting odds, accepting and placing bets, and paying out winnings on behalf of other people.  “Bookie” is a slang term for “bookmaker.”  Bookies do not usually make their money by placing bets themselves, but by charging a transaction fee on their customers’ bets known as a “vigorish,” or “the vig” also call the “juice, cut or take.”  Bookies may also lend money to bettors.  

I smile, say no, but thinking back, her response makes sense.  “I see you in here every day, you watch several games and you are always on your computer.  I thought you might be a bookie!”  Then, I simply say, “No, actually I am a minister.”  Pregnant pause, then she says, “Wow, that is great.  I am very spiritual too.”  

Peggy and I become friends, speaking every time I come to eat.  I know her story of alcoholism and 10 years of sobriety.  I know her story of infertility until the year before her husband dies.  I meet her only child, a son. 

My journey back to Kentucky allows for several hours of “thinking” time and this whole idea of “betting” lingers.  Honestly, I am a kind of “spiritual bookie.”  I routinely assist folks in placing bets on the investment of their lives in Christ.  No wonder I was attracted to a “bet” which took place on March 16, 2007.  

For the first time in its 23-year history, there was a 3-way tie on the game show, JeopardyMathematicians calculate the odds of this occurrence to be one in 25 million. What a mathematical calculation cannot gauge is the graciousness and generosity of Scott Weiss.  

In the ‘Final Jeopardy’ round, the second and third place players both have $8,000.  Scott had over $12,000.  The players make their bids before they even hear the question they need to answer.  If you see the replay, Scott’s face shows the excitement and calculation of a possible three-way tie. 

Often on Jeopardy, the winner makes a bet on that final question that leads to a victory of one dollar.  It is, after all, a competition.  Scott bet exactly enough money so if the other two players bet their entire $8,000 and got the question right, all three players would have a total of $16,000.  That is exactly what happens. Scott forfeits his victory so that all three players can be winners.  It is a moment of pure joy made possible by an act of generosity and graciousness.

All this “betting” talk causes me to remember the ultimate wager Christ placed on our lives.  The longer I live, the more I like the “bet” I have placed on Christ being the center of my life.  How about you?

BEACH REFLECTIONS: “Image is Everything . . . NOT!”

It is 1990 and tennis star Andre Agassi with his trademark flowing dirty blond, lion-mane mullet, cuts a commercial for the Canon EOS Rebel camera with the hollow tagline, “Image is Everything.”  The spot features Andre riding in a Jeep, smoothing back his hair and generally looking like the essence of California cool.

The problem with the vain bravado of Agassi’s comments is revealed in his 2009 autobiography, Open.  Agassi admits he starts losing his hair at age 17, and is actually wearing a wig during the commercial.  He even says wearing his wig cost him the 1990 French Open.  Andre worries his hairpiece will fall off in the middle of the match, so he plays stiff and gets beat.

To his credit, Andre later recognizes the folly of his “Image is Everything” commercial, shaves off his hair and makes his image about what happens on the tennis court.  What he didn’t know, however, is that his signature line, “Image is Everything,” would become the collective chant for the first two decades of the 21st century.  How else do you explain Paris Hilton, the Kardashians and the embarrassing cast of Jersey Shore and seemingly endless parade of mindless programing masquerading as reality TV? 

When did being a celebrity skip over having even a measure of talent?  When did being ONLY attractive or ONLY rich qualify you to be famous for being famous?  Today I am told it is only about the “bling.”

So, you don’t know about “bling?”  Well, that is why I am here.  Bling is a slang term popularized in hip hop culture, referring to flashing, elaborate jewelry and ornamented accessories that are carried, worn or installed, such as cell phones and tooth caps.  (I am checking into that “tooth cap” thing while I am down in Florida!)

Case in point: A number of cottage industries have surfaced with the culture’s obsession with fame.  There are actually real businesses, which give you the celebrity treatment even if you do not have any celebrity credibility whatsoever.  You may not be a real celebrity, but you can play one in your own mind.  Image can be everything, but only if you are willing to pay for it.

You may not be able to own the runway at the Oscars, but you can borrow a designer dress from a company called Rent the Runway for about $75; just don’t forget to order it in two sizes in case you, um, misjudge the fit.  The owners of Rent the Runway say their business has tripled in a year.

Need some bling to go with that dress?  Jewelry company Adorn will rent you a $24,000 diamond necklace for $260 and a pair of $8,250 earrings like Princess Kate wore at her wedding for just $160 (yes, but there is a security deposit).  Avelle will rent you a Louis Vuitton handbag (retail price $1,680) for just $60 a week.

Of course, none of that will matter if no one’s looking.  Image, after all, is a visual medium.  Why not head out on the town in style in a Bentley, Maserati or Rolls Royce rented from Gotham Dream Cars?  A Rolls Royce Phantom convertible will cost you $1,950 a day, which is chump change compared to its retail price of $427,000.

And since the whole “Image is Everything” mantra was started by a camera commercial, what does a fake celebrity need more than a pack of fake paparazzi?  Turns out you can rent them, too.  Celeb 4 A Day was founded in 2007 by photographer Tania Roberts and operates in four celebrity-rich cities in the United States.: Los Angeles, San Francisco, Austin and New York.  In L.A., $499 will buy you four personal paparazzi to follow your every move and shout questions at you for 30 minutes. You can upgrade to the “Megastar” package, however, and get a two-hour experience that includes six personal paparazzi, one bodyguard, a publicist and a limousine.

So, where am I going with this?  Yesterday I saw an example on the beach where “Image is Everything” took a beating.  OK, I know what you are thinking, but stay with me on this.  I was enjoying the beach, reading a book and taking my periodic ocean dips to cool off when 4 bikini-clad young ladies blocked my view to the beach.  I was really upset. 🙂 

All their frolicking around with a volleyball was quite annoying, but I took solace in my book.    Then it happens.  Waving and motioning with great joy, they look right at me.  Having been in this situation many times, I do not respond immediately.  Within seconds, I am so very grateful for my delayed response.  From behind me comes one of their friends, and from the look on their faces, she is special to them. 

As she joins them on the beach I smile with relief and gratitude.  Relief because I did not make a fool of myself, gratitude because “Image is Everything” just took a beating.  The appearance of the newly arrived friend is startling and blatant in comparison to her 4 friends.  Honestly, she is twice the size of each of the girls. 

As I watch them gather around their friend and even move their towels to be close to her, I smile and thank God that 4 bikini-clad young ladies do not swallow the lie that “Image is Everything.”  Mark it well, what matters to God is not the image we create, but his own image in us.  God rips through the appearances and disguises we wear, and looks deep into our hearts. 

I remember an encounter Jesus had with the Pharisees about this subject:  “When the Pharisees, a money-obsessed bunch, heard him say these things, they rolled their eyes, dismissing him as hopelessly out of touch. So Jesus spoke to them: ‘You are masters at making yourselves look good in front of others, but God knows what’s behind the appearance. What society sees and calls monumental, God sees through and calls monstrous” (Luke 16:14-16).

In a world where we too often choose our friends on their appearance and even how their appearance mirrors our own, I am grateful for 4 young ladies who have a friend that does neither.  I believe God smiles right along with me.