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Cheer for class acts

Jack Van Ens

The Winter Olympic Games feature world-class athletes who excel.

After taking off from a high ramp, ski jumpers form a distinctive V-shaped flying position with their lips nearly touching ski tips. They jump as far as possible down the hill before making stunning landings.

Alpine skiers race downhill, taking hairpin turns at what’s been described as an “adrenaline-fueled test of guts at 80-plus miles per hour.



Snowboarders ride the slopes, performing aerial somersaults that defy gravity.

Such excellence makes the Olympic Games attractive. Keen competitors show human spirit, achieving excellence — what Abraham Lincoln referred to as “the better angels of our nature.” Their accomplishments enlarge our souls.



Class Vs. Crass

When competitors occasionally engage in trash talk, crass behavior gains an edge. Two recent big-time events show the difference between class and crass. Denver Bronco quarterback Peyton Manning displayed class. Diva Beyonce’s Grammy performance was crass.



Though the Broncos were drubbed at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey’s Meadowlands, Manning still established a record for Super Bowl pass completions. His performance leading up to the big game proved even more impressive. He didn’t skirt reporters’ inane questions. Manning’s wit on camera proved contagious. His photo ops and autograph sessions pleased fans and the press. He’s a consummate professional under the spotlight.

What characteristics distinguish showing class from acting crassly? Understatement trumps braggadocio. Conversation replaces in-your-face taunts. Manners reflect graceful conduct instead of rude, inappropriate behavior that’s coarse. Creativity expressed thoughtfully generates headlines, rather than trash talk.

The difference between quarterback Peyton Manning’s Super Bowl conduct and the Grammy’s opening act featuring Beyonce and rapper husband Jay-Z shows the chasm separating class from crass behavior.

These vocal superstars opened the Grammy’s telecast with a bumping and grinding rendition of Beyonce’s “Drunk in Love.” Censors bleeped a barrage of “this sh-t” lyrics lacing her hit song.

This wife-husband musical duo has moved a long way from a Houston childhood when Beyonce sang gospel songs in a church choir. A news service reported that she, barely clad in black leather, suggestively sang potty-mouthed lyrics of “Drunk in Love” while seated that “managed to make an IKEA chair look like a peep show prop.” Jay-Z slinked alongside, sliding his hand up his wife’s derriere.

Of course, the couple received raves from unexpected quarters, including a conservative commentator who believes this act did a good turn for up-tight marriages. Alyssa Rosenberg cooed in her blog, “Beyonce Knowles Carter and Jay-Z got on the Grammy stage last night and did what conservatives have been dying for someone to do for ages: They made marriage look fun, and sexy and a source of mutual profession fulfillment.” Isn’t such drivel demeaning to how a couple acts in a healthy marriage?

Colonial history reveals tension between showing class and doing what’s crass. Minister to France Benjamin Franklin relished acting naughty. He flirted with French wives whose plunging necklines left little to the imagination. Such flirting offended John Adams’ sensibilities.

Some critics dismiss Adams’ censure of Franklin’s risque conduct as off-the-charts puritanical distaste. Was he too uptight?

David McCullough, in his biography “John Adams,” offers a corrective. “Adams’ objections stemmed not so much from a Puritanical background — as is often said — but from the ideal of republican virtue, the classic Roman stoic emphasis on simplicity and the view that decadence invariably followed luxury, age-old themes replete in the writings of his favorites Romans” (p.192). Acting mannerly was expected in ancient Rome and among American colonial leaders.

Peyton Manning emulates what Beyonce defies: Adams’ code of conduct. Act mature. Elevate manners. Honor biblical instruction: “Be blameless and pure … faultless in a crooked and perverted generation, among whom you shine like the stars in the world” (Philippians 2:14-15). Manning’s manners glisten. Beyonce’s turn shabby and fizzle like a shooting star.

Zelda Fitzgerald, a literary starlet in the 1920s flapper era, and her husband, novelist F. Scott, led shocking lives mocking social mores. She turned insane, and then died in a fire that swept through an asylum where she was a patient.

Before flames snuffed out her tragic, crass life, Zelda confessed, “It’s the loose ends with which men (and women) hang themselves.”

Peyton Manning’s manners tie up loose ends, similar to Olympic competitors whose achievements on snow and ice set high standards.

Their gold-medal efforts grace life with class.

The Rev. Jack R. Van Ens is a Presbyterian minister who heads the nonprofit, tax-exempt Creative Growth (www.theliving history.com), which enhances Christian worship through storytelling and dramatic presentations aimed to make God’s history come alive. Van Ens’ book, “How Jefferson Made the Best of Bad Messes,” is available in local bookstores for $7.95.

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