Being Somebody

Bill Lewellis
An old sermon

Glengarry Glen Ross is a 1992 screen adaptation of David Mamet’s play about four salesmen who work in a cutthroat marketplace. Their company values them only for the leads they close. They give in to their worst instincts. To survive. GGR has been described as one of the most powerful and convincing films ever made about how the human spirit is often violated in the workplace.

The film opens with a hot shot motivator from the home office berating three salesmen while kicking off a new, week-long contest to boost sales. The winner gets a Cadillac, he tells them. Second prize is a set of steak knives. Third prize: you get fired.

The motivator spews more verbal abuse than, I suspect, most of us have ever experienced during one brief interval. Finally, one of the salesmen says, “Who do you think you are, talking to us like that?” Then follows the motivator’s self-definition, who he thinks he is: “You drove here in a Hyundai,” he says. “I drove here in a BMW. This watch is worth more than your car. That’s who I am!”

It’s a version of the lie once told to Jesus. “You won’t be somebody until you do something, so turn stones into bread,” Jesus heard within himself in the desert. “You won’t be somebody until people speak well of you. Show them something. Jump from the top of the temple and let angels catch you unharmed. You won’t be somebody until you have something. Worship me and I will give you many things. Then, you’ll be somebody.”

“That’s a lie,” Jesus said. “I know who I am. I am somebody. I’ve heard the Father say I am loved.” Jesus identified himself in relationship to the Father who loved him. Because Jesus remembered that, he recognized the lie he heard in the desert. Then he proclaimed publicly in the synagogue at Nazareth what it means to live the life of the beloved. “The Spirit of the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor to proclaim release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free.” You can read that “screened scripture” in the third and fourth chapters of the Gospel according to Luke (3:21 - 4:21).

Throughout our lives, two myths compete to define us. One, from our scriptures, tells us we are somebody even before we do or have anything, even before anyone speaks well of us. Our dignity, it says, is God-given. It is within us. "Jesus loves me, this I know."

Don't confuse that myth with the religiously skewed version that goes, "God will love me, this I say, if I’m good and if I pray." Many who have experienced the temptation to put their trust in morality or piety rather than in God have been haunted by this version.

The secular competing myth, not so unlike the religiously skewed version, tells us our worth lies in what we do, what we have, what we buy and what others think and say about us. It's a cultural tape that plays over and over again. Throughout life, people expend extraordinary time and energy, even doing violence to themselves and others, in pursuit of those lies.

Glengarry Glen Ross is about people who let systems and corporations that do not love them define them. It’s about the classic temptations we experience around self-definition whenever we need to decide or remember who we are and which myth to claim and to live. Most of us struggle with those temptations more than once: “When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.” (Luke 4: 13)


The following is an excerpt from the film referenced above. Warning: A lot of colorful language.