Reflection: Fathers and Daughters
Just then there came a man named Jairus, a leader of the synagogue. He fell at Jesus’ feet and begged him to come to his house, for he had an only daughter, about twelve years old, who was dying.
I was sitting in a church meeting where the congregation was beginning a discernment process before searching for a pastor. The man sitting next to me picked up his phone because it beeped; his eyes went wide with shock and he whispered to me “Kobe Bryant was killed in a helicopter crash.”
In ways that surprise newcomers to Los Angeles, LA can act like a small town, and our folks have reacted to this news similarly to any other small town mourning the tragic death of their hometown hero—though rather than gathering at the town church or town hall, folks were gathering outside the plaza of Staples Center, intermingling with celebrities coming to attend the Grammys.
Tributes poured in, lionizing this still-young man not only for his supreme skills on the basketball court but also for his business savvy, intelligence, character, and family life. Every once in a while people would admit that he wasn’t a perfect man, that he had made mistakes.
As it happens, my friend Bertrand, who is still detained at Adelanto, called yesterday. He said that the detainees were shocked by Kobe’s death. They had just seen the tribute LeBron James gave the night before (an amazing coincidence, that Kobe’s last known tweet was congratulating LeBron for passing him as the third-highest scorer in NBA history). I joked with Bertrand that he is truly becoming an American, as most of us are bound together by news sent to us by television and social media. I asked him if he had known about Kobe in Cameroon. He said absolutely, and that he was revered for someone who had so much success, and without scandal.
I told Bertrand that Kobe was not without scandal. Back in 2003, when he was 25, Kobe was accused of rape. The trial was ended as he issued a thoughtful apology and he and the woman made a private civil settlement.
Of course I do not know the details of the situation, but in this time of “no apologies” his statement seemed to demonstrate an understanding of the pain the woman experienced, and his reputation and marriage survived.
Kobe and his wife had four daughters, and by all accounts he was devoted to them. Sadly, one of the daughters died in the same crash. Much has been said of his connection with Gianna because of her interest in basketball, but he didn’t push that; his oldest daughter plays volleyball. In his interviews, what is clear is that Kobe has evolved from the young man abusing a woman at a hotel to become a proud father of four young women, and a strong advocate for women in sports. In a social setting that does not lend itself to advocacy for young girls, Kobe reminds me of Jairus, another leader in a male-dominated circle who yet demonstrated profound love for his daughter—and for that I am glad that Kobe’s legacy is in these young daughters he loved and respected, not for his worst bad act.
I do not tell this story because I’m such a huge Kobe Bryant fan (though he was impressive in his multilingual abilities and his eloquent manner, and hey, I have loved basketball—one of the more memorable communions I’ve experienced was when I was served communion by Marques Johnson). I share this because I have been thinking lately about God’s call to repentance, and the freedom that comes with repentance, and—most importantly—whether we as “good church folk” forgive as God forgives. Do we in fact allow people to repent and move forward as Jesus calls us to do, or do we continue to see people through the filter of their worst bad act?
We all fall short of the glory of God. Some of us make spectacularly bad acts; some of us just live in the lukewarm integrity of risk aversion. We are all offered forgiveness for our sins of commission—or omission—but are called to forgive others as we have been forgiven.
Thank God for second, and third, and many more chances to live, and forgive, and be forgiven. Thank God for fathers who come to care for, learn from, and advocate for their daughters. May all of us learn from the circumstances of our lives, and share our wisdom with others.