About a year after Lev’s death, I found it necessary to replace my attorney. As a new widow, I had no experience in hiring and firing advisors. Fortunately, I did not need to turn to the Yellow Pages, for I was acquainted with an attorney who represented people and institutions I respected.
When my son and I met with him for the first time, I explained that Lev always counted on his professional advisors to keep him legal. He did not want to operate in gray areas. He did not want help in evading laws and regulations.
“That’s known as ‘playing between the hash marks,’” the attorney responded. He was an old football player, and he explained that his coach always encouraged players to stay between the hash marks, those short lines 40 feet apart, 60 feet from the sidelines on a college football field.
“My coach said that when you play outside the hash marks, it’s real easy to step out of bounds.”
I have been thinking a lot about hash marks this fall. They are a metaphor for how we live our lives—with our family and friends, in our professional lives, in our civic lives…and with our God. To stay between the hash marks is to live life with excellence and integrity, to be exemplary in our speech and conduct. That’s how we earn the trust and respect of others.
We all know people who are a little “shady.” There are whispers about deals that are self-serving, about people getting cheated or lied to, about not being trustworthy, not being ethical. When people live their lives outside the hash marks, close to the sidelines, when they take ethical risks, they sometimes drift out of bounds.
I am convinced that few set out to be unethical, let alone criminal. Instead, they have not developed a strong personal code of ethics; they lack a moral plumbline; and they want more than they have, whether it’s money, love, power, control, fame…. They take shortcuts.
That’s really the eternal temptation, isn’t it? That’s how the devil tempted Jesus in the wilderness. If you worship before me, it shall all be yours. [Luke 4:7 NASB] It’s the Faustian bargain—to be willing to sacrifice anything to satisfy a limitless desire for knowledge or power. It’s what David Brooks has been writing and speaking about in recent years, résumé virtues versus eulogy virtues.
And what does the Lord require of you
But to do justice, to love kindness,
And to walk humbly with your God? [Micah 6:8 NASB]