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2009 Person of the Year: Who Would You Name?

December 21, 2009

“I hope …you will know who I am. You will know because we will work and play together, fast and pray together, mourn and rejoice together, despair and hope together. You will know me as friend…You will know also that I love you.  For I am Joseph your brother” Cardinal Joseph Bernadin’s final words to his fellow priests and bishops, in his beautiful book The Gift of Peace

The floor is open for your nominations for 2009 Person of the Year.  But first the criteria:  name a person who provides a counterpoint to New York Times columnist Frank Rich’s surprise nomination …Tiger Woods.

Hear Rich out.  After making light of Time Magazine’s selection of Fed chairman Ben Bernanke as 2009 Person of the Year (“just as big a schnook as every other magical thinker in Washington and on Wall Street who believed that housing prices would go up in perpetuity to support an economy leveraged past the hilt”) I found Rich playing the unlikely role of sharp social prophet:

“If there’s been a consistent narrative to this year and every other in this decade, it’s that most of us, Bernanke included, have been so easily bamboozled. The men who played us for suckers, whether at Citigroup or Fannie Mae, at the White House or Ted Haggard’s megachurch, are the real movers and shakers of this century’s history so far. That’s why the obvious person of the year is Tiger Woods. His sham beatific image, questioned by almost no one until it collapsed, is nothing if not the farcical reductio ad absurdum of the decade’s flimflams, from the cancerous (the subprime mortgage) to the inane (balloon boy) … Tiger’s off-the-links elusiveness was no more questioned than Enron’s impenetrable balance sheets, with their “special-purpose entities” named after “Star Wars” characters. Fortune magazine named Enron as America’s “most innovative company” six years in a row.

I find that powerful.  Still, a true prophet goes beyond protest to an alternative.  And that’s when the final words of Bernadin’s painfully beautiful book came to mind:  “You will know who I am.  You will also know that I love you.”  How often do we hear this as the desire of a leader of great power and public visibility?

In stark contrast to “a sham beatific image” Bernadin wishes to reveal himself “for who I am.”  As he lays dying of cancer Bernadin gives an account of the last and most painful years of his life—years of false and humiliating public accusation, of cancer, of his growing ministry in weakness, in what he calls “letting go” in order to gain more of God.

In his column Frank Rich writes that “after a decade of being spun silly, Americans can’t be blamed for being cynical about any leader trying to sell anything. As we say goodbye to the year of Tiger Woods, it is the country, sad to say, that is left mired in a sand trap with no obvious way out.”

Cynicism alone is a cul-de-sac to nowhere.  So I ask?  Is there a 2009 Person of the Year more in the tradition of Bernadin?  Who would you name?  And why?  Hit comment below and submit your nominations–“big names” not required.  The floor is open.

I’ll consider yours, and offer my Person of the Year in my next post.

P.S.   As a rabid reader of Sports Illustrated and just-as-rabid Yankees-hater (confession) I had to reluctantly admit they got their 2009 Sportsman of the Year right.  Whether on the field, in the office, in friendship, or for the sake of the kingdom, who wouldn’t want a teammate with the enthusiasm, cheerfulness, skill, and grace of a Derek Jeter?

About the Author: Chris Rice is co-director of the Center for Reconciliation at Duke Divinity School.  He is author of Reconciling All Things, Grace Matters, and More Than Equals. He writes regularly at the blog Reconcilers.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Dan Sidey permalink
    December 22, 2009 2:56 am

    The Ugandan, Florence Lacor, who offers healing to child soldiers once adbucted by the Lord Resistence Army. She came to the World Vision rehabilitation camps looking for her daughter, who was abducted. Upon discovering all the children in need of love and great trauma healing she started helping. Soon she was leading. Florence Lacor ia an unsung hero, following God, committed to his quiet revolution.

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