Originally created 04/08/00

What size is your master



Like monarch butterflies returning to Pacific Grove every fall, springtime brings the annual migration of azalea-loving golf-worshippers to Augusta.

The pilgrimage to our well-maintained outdoor shrine is inescapably impressive when we see long "communion lines" on Washington Road. The "ministers" are a big part of the draw: the expert practitioners with special skills in the secret arts of sacred tools: drivers, wedges, and putters.

It isn't surprising that galleries following Tiger Woods and many other active players are large. But over the last 40 years, our "archbishop of golf," six-time Masters winner Jack Nicklaus, has won not only the respect of golfers around the world, but also the hearts of many Augustans. We know he is worthy of our veneration.

But, as we read in a newspaper article last Christmas, it was just a couple of years ago that "Mr. Jack" revealed a long-kept secret to the board of the Augusta National Golf Club: he had never received his own official green jacket, the well-recognized trophy limited to members and winners of the annual tournament. Each year that the self-effacing golf superstar made an appearance at the clubhouse, he had been loaned a jacket belonging to someone else, or worn a jacket provided by one of his tour sponsors.

As the story unfolded, it seems that on the occasion of his first Masters victory, the person in charge of ordering the champion's trophy garment simply guessed wrong about Mr. Nicklaus's girth. Granted, his then-chunky appearance back in 1963 was a bit misleading. But the reality of his shoulder, chest, and arm measurements did not match the 46-long jacket he was offered.

With all the right intentions, the people in charge that year, 40-plus years ago, made a mistake based upon their perception of the man they wanted to honor. So Nicklaus graciously accepted the loan of a jacket belonging to a prominent member who was more than happy to share with the new hero. But, afterward, nobody remembered that Jack was still waiting for his own properly sized green garment.

Politely, he didn't bring it up. Every year, when he returned to Augusta, he just didn't let on that the jacket he wore wasn't the official trophy he was entitled to. Even when he won five more times.

Thankfully, in 1998 when Jack returned to attend the dedication of a monument to his feats, a personalized jacket was hanging in his locker in the clubhouse, provided by the embarrassed officials of our hometown institution who had heard this story (from someone else). But the irony that the most-honored champion of the National's annual tournament of champions had waited 40 years to receive his due (symbolic) reward, was not lost on anyone.

We might look at our misconceptions about celebrities as projections or stereotypes, which don't necessarily fit reality. But let's go a step further: Is it possible that in our efforts to explain the infinite and transcendent nature of divinity, we have "fallen in love" with the metaphors which humanity uses for something that inherently defies literal description?

In humility, we might find that neither the Hebrew Bible, nor the Koran, nor the Bhagavad-Vita, nor the words of Jesus or the Buddha or their followers (nor anyone inspired to interpret who God is or what God wants) should be elevated to the status of inerrant, "Absolute Truth" because all human terms and descriptions about God are like prescribing a size 46-long jacket to someone who can't be measured, with the expectation of a perfect fit.

For example, isn't it more likely that divinity we might describe in familiar terms like male, or female, or father or mother, or black or brown or yellow or white, must be (if any of these) all of them at the same time?

So the next time we're tempted to describe someone else's view of God, or religion, as "wrong," perhaps we can remind ourselves of Jack Nicklaus and his almost-new size 44 regular jacket, coming 40 years late. And let's stay in dialogue with all who seek ultimate truth and wholeness in human relations, with humility.

The Rev. Dan King is pastor of Unitarian Universalist Church of Augusta.