by Ben Howard
All great things ultimately become legendary and mythical.
I started paying attention to the NBA right after Michael Jordan retired the first time in 1993. I would read all my brother's sports magazines and there was almost always a story about "The Next Jordan". I remember glowing pieces about Grant Hill and Harold Miner and Isaiah Rider, none of whom came close to the transcendent mega-star (though Hill carved out a nice career).
The same comparison has been made to even more players since Jordan's actual retirement in 2003. Even though players like Tracy McGrady and Kobe Bryant have had fantastic careers, they still can't be Michael Jordan. In fact, if Michael Jordan came back to the NBA today as a 20-year old and did the same things that he did in real life he still wouldn't match the legend. The myth of "Michael Jordan" transcended the reality of the man a long time ago.
There is a similar dynamic when it comes to ranking United States Presidents. No matter what list you see, or create yourself, the same names will be at the top of the list. Washington. Lincoln. Jefferson. It's no longer possible to be a better president than these men because they make up the definition of what it is to be a good president. You can't be more Washington than Washington actually was, or more like Lincoln than Lincoln himself.
Of course, the factual reality is that neither Washington or Jefferson had nearly the same power and clout as a modern president, and Lincoln, for all the esteem we give him in historical hindsight, was despised by more than half the country during his life. Reality doesn't matter when we're dealing in myth.
This idea has been on my mind this week with the premier of season four of Arrested Development. Though many, including myself, have enjoyed the new episodes, the season as a whole has been roundly viewed as a disappointment. To be fair to the writers and actors involved, I'm not ever sure that it was possible to be anything else. The prior incarnation of the show had become so revered and beloved that even perfection could not have surpassed it. No matter how good season four was, it was always going to be underwhelming.
Myths and legends define us, or to be more specific, they serve as our definitions, our benchmarks for what it means to be truly good, truly valuable. They can be incredibly useful because they force us to strive past being merely good enough. They cause us to aspire.
At the same time, the legends which come before us, which serve as our templates, are often detached from reality. By existing for so long in a revered state, they no longer connect to our tangible existent.
For me, the Bible often falls into the tricky territory. It has been so exalted within the corners of the world where I've existed, that I have a difficult and often tenuous relationship with it's tangible reality. On one hand, I've seen it lifted and mythologized to a status as an inerrant, infallible document handed down personally from God that simply has no basis in fact. On the other, I've seen this mythological relationship deconstructed so completely that it robs the Bible of it's utility as a founding document and a well of truth for the Christian community.
I find myself frustrated and struggling with the legendary and mythical status of the Bible, Jesus, and the Church. At the same time, I am aware that complete and total deconstruction of this status strips them of both the legend and their value. So where is the reality in the tension between these two extremes and how do we get there?
Ben Howard is an accidental iconoclast and generally curious individual living in Nashville, Tennessee. He is also the editor-in-chief of On Pop Theology and an avid fan of waving at strangers for no reason. You can follow him on Twitter @BenHoward87.
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