This is being written on the eve of the airing of the Oprah show where it is suspected that Lance Armstrong, once seven-times Tour de France winner (stripped of his titles by USADA) will confess to doping throughout large portions of his career.
As I was listening to BBC Radio 5Live tonight, I heard two presenters discussing whether it would be better for Lance to be interviewed by a “terrier like Paxman” or by someone who is more like a friend or confidant. They came to the conclusion that someone gentle who could talk with Mr Armstrong as one friend talks to another, encouraging him
to open up and be more candid would make it more likely that we would “see the real Armstrong”.
That immediately got me thinking.
And my mind jumped to Peter Rollins and a talk he did at Mars Hill Church, Grand Rapids, Michigan.
The core of what Peter was saying was that the ‘real us’ is not the ‘us’ we see behind closed doors or on the couch with a friend, it is not the stylised and sanitised self projection of who we want people to thing we are that we out up on Facebook, but the ‘real us’ is the sum of the ‘totality of our existence’.
Meaning that to look at the whole picture of a person is to see the truth about their material reality. Peter used the idea that behind closed doors, Hitler may well have been a ‘really nice guy’, when he was playing the piano and people were drinking tea and having dinner with the polite house painter. But the material reality of Hitler – the totality of his existence, the big, whole picture was that he sanctioned and ordered the ethnic and elitist ‘cleansing’ of Germany and the killing of over six million Jews.
Which led me to the thought that, if Lance does admit to the doping allegations, then no matter who interviews him, we have already seen the ‘real Armstrong’. The ‘real Armstrong’ is in the totality of his material reality, not in the soft, contrite and repentant man that we might see on a tv screen attempting to win back the favour of the public.
If the allegations are true, the ‘real Armstrong’ has already revealed his hand and shown his true colours: someone who is ruthless, prepared to systematically cheat his way to the top of a sport, push others out, lie repeatedly about it, bully his way through to rule the peloton and bully a number of journalists on the way as he churned out untruth after obfuscated distraction over and over again (I’ve heard many of the interviews over the years). Someone who has to be in control and on top and will stop at nothing to get there.
I’m afraid that no amount of tears or contrition can change the ‘real Armstrong’ that we have already seen.
That doesn’t mean there is no room for forgiveness, redemption, healing and change, and yes, the Livestrong foundation has done some great things, but we are going to need to see a whole, long, complete change of Armstrong’s material reality to be convinced that he is someone different to who he has already shown himself to be, should the allegations be true.
Which brings us back to me and to you! What material reality do we live in? Do we constantly live the ironic gesture
- saying we are against child labour but still buying products made in sweatshops
- bemoaning global warming whilst cruising along the motorway at 80mph in our gas guzzling SUV
- ranting about evil multinationals while we sip our Starbucks cappuccino or shop in Tesco because it’s convenient
- whatever other example you want to choose
I accept most of us live in a certain amount of paradox and hypocrisy, it’s hard to live any other way in our culture, but, especially for those of us who are claiming to follow Jesus, does the totality of our material reality genuinely reflect that claim as a way of life or are we fooling ourselves and just going through the motions and saying we believe something without actually putting it into practice?
Nobody can answer that question for me but me and nobody but you can answer it for you. Maybe observing what has happened to someone who was once a hero to many might just be the mirror we needed to look in to help ‘clean up’ our own act?
Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.