Passion more important than years

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Roger Clemens will pitch Monday for the New York Yankees. He'll be 45 years old in a couple of months. He's won seven Cy Young Awards, emblematic of being the best pitcher in major league baseball in those years. That's two more Cy Youngs than anybody else. Not only is Clemens still pitching well beyond what is normally considered the sport's retirement age, he is still one of the best in the game. So good is Clemens that the Yankees are willing to allow him to stay home on days when he is not pitching--a privilege offered to no other player.

Julio Franco is even older than Clemens. He's the oldest player in the game today. He's the oldest position player (non-pitcher) in league history. He's used mainly today as a pinch-hitter for the New York Mets. The other night, Franco entered the game in a clutch situation. The ESPN announcer said as the well-sculpted Dominican-born player strode to the plate, "Here comes Father Time." Franco is 48 years old. I'm 48 years old.

Father Time? Have we lost a sense of perspective somewhere?

Several years ago, I played a minor role in trying to help a fellow clergyman be elected a United Methodist bishop. In literature that was being written about him, he asked that his age be downplayed; he was concerned that others might consider him too young for the job. He was 51 at the time.

Too young. Too old. Who has the right to decide these things? (There is such a thing as too young, of course; without elaboration, there is such a thing as legal minors.)

Methuselah, the Bible's senior statesman, according to the Old Testament lived to be 969. (There is much scholarly conversation about whether that number is to be taken literally.) For example, Genesis 6:3 sets an upper boundary on life span of 120 years.

Number-crunching aside, one biblical figure did his best work later in life. Abram (the future patriarch Abraham) was 75 when he was called to leave his home and go to wherever it was God would lead him. At retirement age, Abram did what God wanted and embarked on the adventure of his life. Today, in the 21st century, an age of religious pluralism, "old man" Abraham is regarded as the faith father of the three monotheistic religions: Christianity, Judaism and Islam.

Age is just a number, we're told."50 is the new 30," one book proclaimed a few years ago. I don't know if that's true. I wasn't taking blood pressure and cholesterol meds when I was 30, but I am now. Biblically, though, it's true. Age is just a number. More important than age is passion.

What are you and I passionate about? It is said in ancient Greece that when a man died the only question worth addressing in a eulogy was, "Did he have passion?"Abraham found his passion at a settling-down, settling-in age. Jesus discovered his in his physical prime, his early 30s. Both accomplished work that will be remembered as long as there is civilization. Are you too young or too old? Ah, forget that, will you? What really matters in this world, on this side of the grave is, do you have passion? That's what God ends up using.

Jeff Long is pastor of Centenary United Methodist Church in Cape Girardeau. Married with two daughters, he is of Scots and Swedish descent, loves movies and is a lifelong fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

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