Wednesday, August 26, 2015

No Brag—Just Fact

The year was 1974. George Roy Hill had just won the Academy Award for Best Director for his work on the wonderful film The Sting when he received the following letter:

Dear Mr. Hill,

Seeing that ... I have seen your fantastically entertaining and award-winning film "The Sting," starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford, and enjoyed it very much, it is all together fitting and proper that you should "discover" me.
Now, right away I know what you are thinking ("who is this kid?"), and I can understand your apprehensions. I am a nobody. No one outside of Skyline High School has heard of me. ... My looks are not stunning. I am not built like a Greek God, and I can't even grow a mustache, but I figure if people will pay to see certain films ... they will pay to see me.
Let's work out the details of my discovery. We can do it the way Lana Turner was discovered, me sitting on a soda shop stool, you walk in and notice me and — BANGO — I am a star.
Or maybe we can do it this way. I stumble into your office one day and beg for a job. To get rid of me, you give me a stand-in part in your next film. While shooting the film, the star breaks his leg in the dressing room, and, because you are behind schedule already, you arbitrarily place me in his part and — BANGO — I am a star.
All of these plans are fine with me, or we could do it any way you would like, it makes no difference to me! But let's get one thing straight. Mr. Hill, I do not want to be some bigtime, Hollywood superstar with girls crawling all over me, just a hometown American boy who has hit the big-time, owns a Porsche, and calls Robert Redford "Bob".

Respectfully submitted,

Your Pal Forever,
Thomas J. Hanks
Alameda, California

Yep, the writer of the letter was Tom Hanks—that Tom Hanks—who was at the time an eighteen-year old high school senior. I don’t know how he actually was discovered, but he was, and the rest, as they say, is history; he has starred in Forrest Gump, Castaway, Captain Phillips, Big, Philadelphia, Saving Private Ryan, Sleepless in Seattle, Apollo 13, The Da Vinci Code, and, in the television role that made him a star, Bosom Buddies. The kid had chutzpah, a Yiddish word that, translated into Southern, means “That’s who I am, and y’all can like it or lump it!”

As my father, the late great Champ Ruffin, never tired of saying, “He that tooteth not his own horn, the same shall not be tooteth for him!” Clearly, Hanks had something to toot about. As Walter Brennan’s character in the 1960s Western series The Guns of Will Sonnett, would say after describing his skill with a gun, it was “No brag—just fact!”

Strength of character and self-esteem are desirable traits in a person. It’s good to be self-aware enough to know who you are and self-confident enough to put yourself out there.

But it’s also good to be self-critical enough to understand your limitations and self-effacing enough to be willing to be in the background and not in the spotlight. Tom Hanks is a star, but I think he would tell you that he couldn’t do what he does without all the people who work behind the scenes to make a film.

To be a Christian requires a great deal of humility. After all, to put your trust in God is to confess that you can’t make it on your own and that you must have the help of someone who is better and stronger than you’ll ever be. Paradoxically, to grow as a Christian is to become simultaneously more confident and more humble. As we come to know Christ better and as we grow to know ourselves better, we become stronger and stronger. But that strength leads us to become weaker and weaker; that is, our strength in Christ becomes a basis from which we choose to give ourselves away, to serve, and to love. We know that God loves us and that our calling is to give that love away.

It may be that too many of us are afflicted by Ken-L Ration Syndrome. Do you remember those commercials? “My dog’s better than your dog, my dog’s better than yours. My dog’s better ‘cause he eats Ken-L Ration; my dog’s better than yours!” Maybe too many of us sing that song but substitute “my church” or “my faith” for “my dog” and “’cause we/I follow Jesus better …”

It’s natural for us to want to be discovered. It’s human for us to want to be successful.

But we’ve already been discovered by God. We’ve already been found by Jesus. We’ve already been blessed by God’s love and grace.

We become who we’re supposed to be when we discover how much God loves everybody else and when we discover how much we have to give.

If we would humble ourselves before God and before each other, we could do a lot more good than we’re doing.

That’s no brag. It’s just fact.

(First appeared in "Ruffin's Renderings" in the Barnesville (GA) Herald Gazette on August 25, 2015)

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