Nothing to prove (stay on the porch)

I saw a very intriguing image while recently taking my evening scroll through the internet Monday night.

The image was an old, grainy, sepia-colored photograph. In the foreground, there are four greyhound dogs coming out of the starting gates for a race. In the background, still lying down in its gate, looking exceptionally disinterested in the race unfolding before it, is a cheetah.

A quick Google search revealed the original image was created by a luxury car company for an ad campaign in 2000. The slogan for the campaign was simply “Nothing to prove.”

Though the image doesn’t depict an actual event, I love what it communicates. Cheetahs are faster than greyhound dogs, and by a wide margin. The top speed of a greyhound is around 40 miles per hour. The top speed of a cheetah is 25 miles per hour faster at 65 miles per hour.

It’s fun to imagine this scene unfolding in my mind. The dogs and the cheetah all take their places at the gate. The dogs bark in anticipation of the race ahead. They are ready for the gates to open so they can prove their worth. The cheetah, on the other hand, hears all of the yipping, looks at the competition and decides to take a nap.

A race may take place, but the cheetah doesn’t belong in this competition, not because it isn’t good enough but because this particular race is beneath it.

The image presents a counter-cultural way of thinking, sitting in direct opposition to one of our most well-loved and oft-repeated American idioms: “If you can’t run with the big dogs, stay on the porch.” The phrase highlights the presumed weakness, fear and fragility of the porch sitters while emphasizing the strength, courage and toughness of the “big dogs” on the ground.

The phrase captures well the “win at all costs” mentality that is so prevalent in American culture. I wonder, though, if our desire to prove ourselves sometimes drives us to do and say things that are beneath us. All too often, our efforts cause us to sacrifice pieces of our integrity, aspects of our character and the dignity of others. Rather than validating how much more we are, we show ourselves to be shamefully less.

Perhaps we need to remember who we are, stay put on the porch and leave the slinging of the dirt to the dogs. This is particularly important for followers of Jesus. It is what he modeled for us again and again. I’m always struck by the ability of Jesus to stay calm in the face of conflict. I understand that Jesus on at least two occasions came down off of the proverbial porch and drove the “big dogs” away.

But those two examples are the exception, not the rule. Powerful political and religious leaders were constantly challenging Jesus, making every effort to goad him into an altercation. Jesus, however, knew the truth of who he was and what he had come to do and was able to rest in that truth while resisting the temptation to engage in unhelpful ways.

Nowhere is this more clearly seen than as he hung dying on a cruel Roman cross. The “big dogs” of the day shouted at him, “He saved others, but he can’t save himself? So he is the king of Israel, is he? Let him come down from the cross right now and we will believe in him.”

Jesus allowed them to speak poorly and think less of him, understanding full well that it spoke more of their need than his worth, and maintained his integrity and character while not only protecting the dignity of others but providing salvation for all who would believe.

The Bible tells us if we believe, we aren’t just saved, we are the children of God. There is no need to prove our worth and our strength. Jesus proved and provided for us through his sacrificial death and resurrection.

We need to rest in the truth we claim to believe, making every effort to allow it to impact the ways we do and do not interact with the world around us. We need to realize the sacrifice of our integrity, character and the dignity of others isn’t worth whatever stands to be gained. We need to remember who and whose we are and realize that we, like the cheetah, have nothing to prove.

The Rev. Jeremy Myers is the lead pastor of First Baptist Church in Seymour. Read his blog at Send comments to [email protected].