The Fine Art of Falling Down… the Lance Armstrong Story

Another hero bites the dust… well really, Lance Armstrong’s legacy bit the dust a few months ago. But after years of vehemently and passionately denying any wrongdoing, after years of disparaging and finger-pointing, and after years of hiding behind the work of a great charitable organization Lance Armstrong admits he cheated. He “doped” – the term used in competitive cycling and running circles.

Over the course of the past decade, Armstrong has demonstrated what it takes to fool, and lie, and corrupt justice in front of the American public… almost. He became a national hero in an unlikely sport, beat cancer, and beat the hills of the Tour de France. His inspirational “Livestrong” motto turned into a force for tremendous good. In fact, Armstrong wasn’t really famous for cycling… In all of his seven tour victories (now vacated) I confess I didn’t watch a single stage, but I knew who he was… and I’m sure I wasn’t the only person who knew of Armstrong’s achievements without being even a modest fan of cycling.

The downfall of Lance Armstrong has more to do with his reaction to the criticisms and allegations he faced over the years. In short, he has been nasty about it. Destroying others’ livelihoods and reputations, levying lawsuits of his own, and claiming absolute innocence.

Now, he is admitting to it… to Oprah. (I could make a statement about Oprah being the culture-appointed messiah of our age… but I won’t). But what does his admission mean?

I have watched interviews, read articles, and heard public reaction over the last two days; some have wanted to crucify Armstrong for his deception and arrogance while others have wanted to canonize him in spite of his foibles because of his foundation and the countless people who have benefited from it. There have been debates about the definition of cheating and the “need” to change the rules regarding performance-enhancing drugs across all sports. There have been questions about Armstrong’s motivation, timing, and the aftermath. Does he merely want to get back into competition? Will he testify before international commissions? What about the lives he has stepped on to try and hide the truth? After the release of his interview with Oprah tomorrow, the debates will continue and grow ever hotter.

And in the middle of the mess another hero is lost.

When will we stop looking for heroes in places where none are to be found? Long ago, we gave up the delusion that musicians or rock stars could be heroes… anti-heroes maybe… but not heroes. Watergate, the Iran-Contra Affair, and Monica Lewinsky cemented in our minds that politicians really aren’t heroes… and a deeper look at the nitty-gritty points of history may even reveal the politicians of our past aren’t worthy of the ivory pedestals on which we place them. Actors and actresses are more like deeply-rooted sideshow artists than anything else. We are fascinated by them and gawk at their lives, but few of them hold the place of “hero.” For some reason, though, in our culture the sadness over a fallen athlete – even in a sport we couldn’t careless about – is more profound… more gut-wrenching.

Don’t get me wrong. Athletes, politicians, musicians, movie stars, they can all do profoundly great things with their influence and appeal, and they should, but it’s up to us to make the distinction between philanthropist and savior. It’s up to us to determine how much we value we will place in their fallible hands.

This is what David said in Psalm 25

In you, Lord my God,
I put my trust.

I trust in you;
do not let me be put to shame,
nor let my enemies triumph over me.
No one who hopes in you
will ever be put to shame,
but shame will come on those
who are treacherous without cause.

Show me your ways, Lord,
teach me your paths.
Guide me in your truth and teach me,
for you are God my Savior,
and my hope is in you all day long.
Remember, Lord, your great mercy and love,
for they are from of old.
Do not remember the sins of my youth
and my rebellious ways;
according to your love remember me,
for you, Lord, are good.

Good and upright is the Lord;
therefore he instructs sinners in his ways.
He guides the humble in what is right
and teaches them his way.
10 All the ways of the Lord are loving and faithful
toward those who keep the demands of his covenant.
11 For the sake of your name, Lord,
forgive my iniquity, though it is great.

12 Who, then, are those who fear the Lord?
He will instruct them in the ways they should choose.
13 They will spend their days in prosperity,
and their descendants will inherit the land.
14 The Lord confides in those who fear him;
he makes his covenant known to them.
15 My eyes are ever on the Lord,
for only he will release my feet from the snare.

16 Turn to me and be gracious to me,
for I am lonely and afflicted.
17 Relieve the troubles of my heart
and free me from my anguish.
18 Look on my affliction and my distress
and take away all my sins.
19 See how numerous are my enemies
and how fiercely they hate me!

20 Guard my life and rescue me;
do not let me be put to shame,
for I take refuge in you.
21 May integrity and uprightness protect me,
because my hope, Lord,is in you.

22 Deliver Israel, O God,
from all their troubles!

We are starved for salvation. We are starved for someone to reach down and bring us out of our troubles, and so we lift up those who seem like they can do it… those who seem like they have the power or inspiration to pull us out of our trials. The only problem is they have problems of their own. They have have issues.

In the Old Testament, there were a series of “heroes” that followed a similar path to Lance Armstrong… greatness, thwarted by hubris, and a fall. Moses, Aaron, David, Solomon, and others. The people held these men in the highest esteem, and yet each one messed up… each failed. When I look at the stories of these men in the Bible and the fall of everyone from elite athletes to pastors of highly-influential churches, I am reminded only the Lord reigns, and he is the only one on whom we can really trust.

Through Jesus Christ he offered us a way to be brought out from our troubles, to be forgiven of our sins, to have a purpose that goes beyond cancer or poverty or gun-control issues. He is THE Savior because he led a perfect sinless life, and so he didn’t have his own issues to overcome. When he gave up that perfect life on the cross he did it that our issues might not drown us nor define us.

Armstrong may yet make another comeback and people may put him up on the proverbial pedestal of public opinion, but will he be a “hero” again? Maybe. But no matter how much money his foundation raises for cancer research, no matter how many races he may win. Armstrong can never be a savior.

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