Spectator or participant? Is it better to watch, study, and give commentary on the great works of other or to strive to do the great works yourself? And for that matter what clarifies greatness? Mankind seems to have divided greatness up into categories: there are great scholars, great composers, great authors, great generals...all conquerors in their field to some degree or another. And they are all famous for the most part. Who can say who is greatest among the greats? Comparing a Bach to a Belisarius or a Hemingway to a Peyton Manning would be like comparing apples to oranges. Their common thread is greatness, if nothing else.
How does one become great? By being exceptional...at one particular thing. It's interesting to note that some of the world's "greatest" men and women display some of the most appalling and gaping personality flaws. Hemingway shot himself and was a chronic narcissist. Jefferson owned slaves. James Bond had/has (the cheeky English bastard never dies after all) numerous affairs ;) Being a person of greatness does not make you great, simply excellent at one thing. So how does one live a truly great life? By excelling in all things.
The Bible provides some interesting thought into this topic - nothing. For all the literary examples of great men peppered throughout the Bible, from Moses to David to Paul, the one common thread among them is selflessness. In fact many times these great men purposely took measures to avoid having greatness thrust upon them. Moses was all but forced to return to Egypt. David consistently spared the life of the one man who was trying to kill him, and the one man stopping him from becoming king of Israel. Paul used his considerable power and influence in spreading the Gospel to earn a prized spot in prison. He would later be executed. When the Bible does talk about greatness it is always in association with servitude. To be the greatest, learn to be the least. After all what does Jesus do when He comes on the scene? Rather than use his power to wrest control from Rome, He chooses poverty and homelessness. He washes the feet of fisherman and cavorts in the company of prostitutes and society's outcasts. Ironically, these great men excelled at more than just one thing. They excelled in life.
In Proverbs we are told to live simply. Paul tells us as Christians to be a boon on society, to be productive, to be faithful in our labor and loving to friend and foe alike. We sow charity not discord. And we live simply in adherence to the calling of our Lord and His son Jesus, who likewise lived simply using his talents for the good of others.
The call to greatness is strong within the American psyche, and while this nation truly is a great one, the way in which its citizens choose to strive for greatness makes all the difference. In a nation where corporate scandal has become the norm, evil is being called good, and the line between black and white has given way to an era of moral gray, I earnestly pray that the inner cry for greatness creates a generation of servants instead of schemers. Be excellent in how you live, not for what you do. By all means strive for excellence, pursue your studies with passion, your work with diligence, and your renown will increase in some small or large capacity. But do so with the knowledge that true greatness isn't being an Olympian, or a rock star, or a Senator. It's using your God-given talents to best of your ability for the service of others. You can pursue greatness in one of two ways: I will strive to pursue it through the latter.