I’ll confess, I believed Lance Armstrong, I believed him to the point that I was annoyed at all his so-called, “postal service teammates” that were throwing him under the bus, and accusing him of doping for the past several years. Turns out they were absolutely right. Now I’m left to consider why I felt the need to believe in Lance and even defend him from his critics. I think I put my finger on it this morning as I was driving to my church office. It all hinges on his story.
John Eldridge says that, “story is the language of the heart,” and Eugene Peterson says this about why story is so compelling, “We live in narrative, we live in story. Existence has a story shape to it. We have a beginning and an end, we have a plot, we have characters.”
Lance Armstrong’s story is what drew me in, and caused me to believe the notion, that somehow, in a sport where it is well known that everyone is using “PEDs,” the one guy at the very top is clean. His story is compelling, powerful, and believable. It is, in some ways the stereotypical comeback story that has captured the hearts of men, women, and children in every generation. He’s a gifted athlete, stricken with a disease that threatens to take his life. He’s down and out. Just when we think it was the end, he courageously summons all of his strength and recovers, and competes again. This same guy is then, so inspired, determined, and driven that he trains his body and accomplishes the extraordinary (7 Tour De France titles). Along the way, our gifted athlete becomes a hero, and a spokesperson for the cancer community, bringing awareness to, and raising hundreds of millions of dollars for cancer research. Powerful.
But his story wasn’t just extraordinary; it became supernatural, or even transcendent. That’s where it got so many others and me. In some ways perhaps it affirmed our notion of the existence of God. After all, that could be the only explanation for how someone could possibly be so athletically gifted, disciplined, and inspired to do what Lance did. He had to be chosen, special, even “anointed”.
The word transcendence refers to someone or something that is “beyond” the norm. The word is used in the sports world to describe the likes of Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan, and Michael Phelps. They’ve all granted us glimpses of a type of “transcendence” that captures our attention and often leaves us in awe of their athletic feats. No question Lance Armstrong belongs in the same category. His meteoric accomplishments on his bike were clearly from beyond, or so we thought.
So yes, I bought his story, hook, line, and sinker. I even used his great accomplishments as illustrations in sermons. I loved his story and to some extent still do. I just know now that it isn’t transcendent. It isn’t beyond. It was merely enhanced, artificial, and mixed with human depravity.
Lance’s confession is notable in that it reveals more about me, and our culture’s desire to believe and even worship our human heroes. Interesting how the Bible describes Jesus, “He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.” (Isaiah 53:2)
Jesus was not enhanced, he was no celebrity, and yet he was transcendent, he was “beyond”. In fact, at the end of the day, He is the only one who’s accomplishments we can place our faith in.