Lying, wrestling and the limp to come

lance-armstrong-oprah_510x289On August 31st of last year, I wrote a post about the controversy surrounding Lance Armstrong and the allegations that he had taken “performance enhancing drugs.” Towards the end of that article I made a prophetic prediction, “One day (soon) we will know whether Lance’s accomplishment was a true physical feat or a fraud.”

That “one day” is now upon us.   The feat turned out to be the fraud.

Lance has finally “come clean” – admitting to doping and by default, lying about his past.  It does not appear that anyone is too surprised at the admission.  What is shocking is the degree of deception and the years of passionate denials.  The dust has now settled and we find Lance has lost the only thing he really had left to cling to; his word.   That, by the way, is now considered worthless.  Such is the consequence of serial lying.

Sadly, it seems to be a common occurrence these days.  A foul is committed and the person under scrutiny declares their innocence on national television.  As a nation, we want to believe them.  We hope they were wrongly accused.  We wish the evidence was less certain.  We struggle with the dichotomy between their words of innocence and the damning facts in hand.  Even though their denials often go against evidence and common sense, we still believe – hoping against hope.   Lance officially joins a growing, infamous group of deceivers:

  • For those of us old enough to remember, we flashback to a former sitting President declaring his innocence with all sincerity about the extra-marital relationship he didn’t have.  Lies.
  • We recall an emotional husband declaring his innocence with all sincerity about his wife and unborn child and how they went missing.  Lies.
  • With disgust, we remember a prominent football coach who declared his innocence with all sincerity and what didn’t happen with boys in the locker room.  Lies.

Our country’s legal system was based upon the assumption that everyone would be considered “innocent until proven guilty.”   It’s becoming harder and harder to maintain that assumption.  You hate to doubt every person who ever denies an allegation but we have seen too many people deny too many things too many times to give us hope that anyone under suspicion is telling the truth anymore.  The more sincere someone is in their denial the more cynical we can become.  Sincerity, it turns out, is an irrelevant indicator of truth – even if it is heart-felt and convincing.

The following poem reveals that sincerity, though important, just isn’t enough.

“Charlie was a Chemist but Charlie is no more for what Charlie thought was H2O was really H2SO4.”

Charlie can sincerely believe the liquid in the test tube is water.  His sincerity does not change the fact that he is performing a lab experiment with sulfuric acid.

Many questions abound after the truth rises to the surface.  Too often, we never get straight answers to these questions.   Concerning Lance, we all want to know why?   Why he lied is obvious but why did he finally come clean?  Why did he come clean now and not in the beginning or during his testimony under oath?   Why did he lie for so long?   Why did he try to deceive everyone at every level, even attacking his accusers now proved justified in their accusations?   More importantly, can he ever be trusted again?

It’s easy to villianize Lance (and others like him) in the media.  We tend to enjoy sitting on our moral high horse and judge the poor decisions of the rich and famous.  But truth be told, the only difference between Lance and me or you is that he is rich and famous.  Our heart is just as likely to be led astray by fame, fortune and world championships as anyone else.  One man is tempted to abuse drugs while another man is tempted to abuse children.  One woman might steal clothes while another prefers to steal husbands.  Granted, the consequences to some sins are very different and more severe, but the capacity for wrong exists in all people.

This was Jesus’ point when the Scribes & Pharisees (religious leaders of His day) brought a woman caught in the act of adultery to Him (John 8).  The Law stated that she should be stoned (to death) for her sin.  Jesus saw the problem with their approach immediately.  None of these religious leaders were in a moral position to judge this sinful woman.  None of them (priest and prostitute alike) are worthy to throw a stone at anyone.  Jesus gave them permission to stone her… under one condition, “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.”  Isn’t that the heart of the issue? 

Unfortunately, we have not seen the last of duplicitous divas.  In a few months, we will forget about Lance as the next celebrity will shock us with his/her tales of living a double life.  Another salacious story will grab our attention.  Another tale of deception will captivate our minds and appease our lust for sensational news.  Hollywood will capitalize on the story for their next movie much like I have used it as fodder for this blog (Sorry Jim!).  Deception will continue to rear its ugly head and only the super hero of truth can defeat it.  Truth will always beat a lie even if it does take awhile to pin it to the mat.

Truth wrestling deception turns out to be a fitting analogy.  In the Old Testament, Jacob (whose name means deceiver) had been living up to his name. After deceiving his father and stealing his eldest brother’s birthright blessing (Genesis 27), Jacob was on the run – from his brother and from living a truthful life.  By chapter 32, we find that Jacob was “left alone.” That is where those who walk the road of deception eventually find themselves, alone.  Mysteriously, a “man” begins to wrestle with him until daybreak.  Wrestling a total stranger is a strange thing to do at any hour of the day.  But this match began in the middle of the night, certainly an odd time to wrestle anyone.  The writer of Genesis identifies the mysterious wrestler as none other than God Himself.

As the deceiver wrestled with Truth, there was more at stake than a mere championship.  Unbeknownst to Jacob, his very name and life were about to be changed.  In the heat of the battle, Truth touched the socket of Jacob’s thigh – dislocating his hip.  Tired, in pain and recognizing he was in the presence of one greater than him, Jacob would not let go until the mystery man blessed him.  Ironically, the one who stole a blessing is now seeking one for himself.  When asked for his name, the deceiver simply replied, “Jacob.”  The man of mystery said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome.”

God likes to engage His children.  He could have challenged Jacob to a game of chess and dealt with him on an intellectual level.  He could have challenged Jacob to a myriad of different physical challenges.  Instead, He chose to wrestle him.  Wrestling is intimate.  It is body on body.  It is sweat upon sweat.  No other physical contest provides as much physical contact.  It is just like God to desire that kind of contact with His children. It is just like God to pursue His wayward kids – even in their darkest night.  While you are alone in your darkness, He shows up and wants to wrestle.  While everyone else is running from you (in pain) or after you (in anger) – God is both brave enough and loving enough to deal with you head on.  God knows His children intimately and how to grow us – even if it requires Him to first “touch” us where it hurts.

Like Jacob, I spent quite a few years running from others.  Many of my decisions have also left me alone, in the dark.  As I look around the landscape, there have been no shortage of Pharisees with stones in their hands aimed at my direction.  I have done some late night wrestling with a mysterious God and have had virtually every area of my life dislocated as a result.  Like Jacob, I will spend the rest of my days walking with a reputational limp… every step reminding me of a past I’d prefer to forget.  And yet, in the gritty process I have been blessed.  I have received a new identity.  I understand a bit more clearer how the Redeemer redeems.

Oh, how that Redeemer loves to wrestle – even today.  He still dislocates hips.  And changes names.   And changes lives.  And gives a blessing to those who don’t deserve them. 

May it be so for Lance.   A new Lance with a limp. 

Character doping and nakedness

Did Lance Armstrong take performance enhancing drugs to help him win seven Tour de France titles or did he win legitimately?

That is the international debate around the water coolers this week and how you answer that question has little to do with the truth and more to do with your opinion about Lance, athletes in general, drugs, drug testing, competition, motives, hearsay, pragmatism, cover-ups, etc.

  • Fellow cyclists claim he has doped with them in the past.  Maybe they’re right.  While they certainly had access to Lance that others would not have, their motives are also easily questioned.  Some of them could benefit with such a discovery by either improving their standings in a particular race or receiving compensation of some sort for their “story.”  Of course, plain ole jealousy could cause a fellow racer to make a false accusation too.
  • A former masseuse claims she threw out used syringes on Lance’s behalf.  Maybe she did but not one syringe is left as examinable evidence.  I find their absence conspicuous.
  • A former employee claimed that he discovered a box of androstenone while cleaning a bathroom in Armstrong’s apartment in Girona, Spain.  Maybe he did.  However, androstenone is not one of the banned substances.  It doesn’t really matter anyway.  The mere mention of drugs (even “legal” ones) found in his possession plants more seeds of doubt in an already questionable garden.  Accusations and ulterior motives abound in situations like these.  And in this particular case with the employee, not all smoke leads to fire.
  • The USADA (United States Anti-Doping Agency) says he is guilty of doping and they have the evidence to prove it.  Maybe they do.  Although, after an alleged 500 tests to his body over a period of several years, the results have been (so far) inconclusive. (Translated: They couldn’t find any traceable amounts of performance enhancing drugs in his system).  Given his high-profile stature and the sheer number of tests given could make it reasonable to assume that Lance would be stupid to try and sneak something past all the probing needles given at unannounced times.  However, knowing the hubris of a professional athlete can be off the chart, anything is possible since many sports icons think they are invincible and above the law.
  • And then there is Lance’s opinion.   As you might expect, he proclaims his innocence and that he has won each race legitimately.  Maybe he has.  But when it comes to denying the allegations, no one has more motivation than Lance.  Who would want to be stripped of 7 championship trophies?  Who would want to forfeit the prestigious title of “best ever” in his field?  Who would want to lose all that prize money?  Who would want to face such public humiliation and disappoint supporting family, friends & fans?  Lastly, who wants an asterisk dangling after their name in the history books?  Yes, Lance has plenty of reasons to declare his innocence – especially if he is truly innocent.

Sadly, even if he is telling the truth, the ghost of athletes past still linger in our mind.   The scenario is all too common, if not predictable.  A superstar is accused of taking performance-enhancing drugs.  They deny it.  More accusations.  More denials.  The smoke eventually clears and the dust settles since there isn’t enough evidence to prove anything… yet.  Then it comes out (days or months or years later) that they were indeed lying through their teeth.  The athlete finally succumbs to the overwhelming evidence and admits wrong doing.  The icon is disgraced or arrested and we are left holding the pieces of a broken idol.  It may not be fair to Lance but you almost cannot blame us for doubting him, even if his drug testing record is spotless.   Too many “innocent” athletes before him have been found guilty.  After all, most of the time the adage is true, “Where there is smoke – there is fire.”

I understand why people lie, cheat and steal to get what they want.  Our human nature often wants what it cannot have and when the things “out-of-bounds” are within reach, we will do almost anything we can to grab it.  For some, the forbidden fruit is a championship win at any cost.  For others it is a forbidden relationship or money that is not theirs or material possessions.   The 10th commandment was given for a reason.  At our core, we are all just a bunch of coveters.

What baffles me is not why we do it but rather why we think we can successfully cover up our wrongs.  We never can.  It doesn’t matter if you are a high-profile Coach, beloved Priest or sitting President – your sins will find you out.  Our first parents (Adam & Eve) tried to hide their sin and cover up their nakedness with a fig leaf (Genesis 3).  The leaf did not work then.  It still doesn’t work today.  Even our most sophisticated cover-ups are still lacking.  A lie will eventually be uncovered.  A cheater is eventually exposed.  A thief will eventually be caught.  It may not be today.  It might not be tomorrow.  But it will happen.   History has shown us this much.   And there are two main reasons why:

  1. The first reason is because of the day and age we live in.   The technological age has ushered in “Big Brother.”  Someone is always watching, listening or recording the things we do and say.  Always.  Though you may not realize it, you are being tracked every day.  Literally.  You cannot drive down the street without a camera detecting your car.   There is not one aisle in one store where Big Brother’s eye cannot see you.   You may think you are running errands “alone.”  You actually have more eyes on you than you realize.  And thanks to technology, we leave a virtual footprint everywhere we go.  Cell phones are tracked and triangulated through towers.  Text messages, though deleted from your phone, can still be recovered.  Documents that we “trash” on our desktop never actually leave the computer.  Every picture and website you ever downloaded or visited can be made visible – even after you erased the cache.  Your credit card & the camera on your phone reveals your location every time you use it.  In the case of doping, technology can reveal what is in our bodies, even the small percentage of trace amounts.  In other words, we are all wearing muddy online shoes while walking on a white technological carpet.
  2. The second reason is more subtle.  Whether you recognize it or not, we live in a tiny fishbowl (called Earth) watched constantly by the Maker of the tank.  Just as most good parents know what their children are into, in the same way our Creator is well aware of our movements and our motives, our location and our lies, and how to expose them, in His timing.
  • When my children were little we played “hide and seek.”   In broad daylight, they would cover their eyes and actually think that would impede my ability to find them.  I would walk around the house yelling (playfully), “Wheeeere are youuuuu?”  All adults know it is a ridiculous attempt but kids actually think the plan might work.  In the same context, immediately after Adam ate the forbidden fruit and covered himself with a fig leaf, God asked him, “Where are you?”  God wasn’t trying to pinpoint his physical location.  He knew exactly where Adam was “hiding.”  The question was an opportunity for Adam to say, “Here I am!” and ‘fess up.
  • God asked the prophet Jeremiah, “Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? Do I not fill heaven and earth?” (Jeremiah 23:24).
  • King David recognized God’s omnipresence when he wrote, “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?  If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.” (Psalm 139:7-8).
  • The writer of Hebrews reminds us that “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.” (4:13)

The problem is, we think we are actually alone.  We believe that because something is done out of view, in the dark or behind closed doors that we are safe from discovery.  Our human nature tempts us to do what we shouldn’t.  Our pride tells us we can get away with it.  But our newspapers eventually confirm our worst fears.  If the people of power (coaches, clergy & congressmen) can’t get away with it, why would we think that we could?   And even if we can get away with it on earth, there are always two eyes in Heaven.  And because of that, we will always (eventually) reap what we sow.

It’s time we restore the “honor” system where we all do “right” simply because it is the right thing to do.   Perhaps our athletes need to place their right hand on a Bible and swear to compete honestly.   Perhaps our coaches need to do a better job of emphasizing sportsmanship and integrity over winning.   Perhaps we parents need to be more diligent in teaching our children the true definition of character, who we are when no one is looking.  For all of us, modeling good behavior is more caught than taught.

One day (soon) we will know whether Lance’s accomplishment was a true physical feat or a fraud.

Regardless of that outcome, what are you?   If your character was tested for moral dope, would you pass?   In what area of your life are you covering with a fig leaf?  Who are you really, when no one is looking?

“When wealth is lost, nothing is lost.  When health is lost, something is lost.  When character is lost, all is lost.” – Billy Graham, evangelist.