Monday, November 22, 2010

In the running for redemption

As I mentioned in my sermon, I sometimes need external validation to get me out the door for my runs. (Especially on the grey and rainy days of autumn.) This month’s Runner’s World has these cover headlines:

“Special Inspiration Issue” “Get Fired Up!” “The Secrets of Lasting Motivation”

On one corner, in a yellow box resembling a tattered post-it note, was the headline: “The Doper Comes Clean: A marathon champion’s EPO use and quest for redemption”.

It is not unusual to read about inspiration in a sport magazine. But usually, the only mention of “redemption” is about an athlete or team aiming for a comeback. Redemption is one of those words that gets used all the time, but rarely in the sense that I hear it as a pastor and preacher.

In “church talk”, redemption is about turning away from evil, turning towards God, and trying to make our lives right. Redemption is about forgiveness of sin, and our intention to not repeat our offenses. In some circles, talk of redemption is not complete without discussion of the “saving act” of Jesus, in dying on the cross, as the sacrifice that pays the price for all of our sins. I don’t live, work, pray, or think in a circle that finds that aspect of the conversation helpful. It raises questions for me that I have discussed in other places.

But it does grab my attention that in the article about Eddy Hellebuyck, the word redemption actually does refer to his confession that he is guilty of using performance enhancing drugs, despite having denied it for most of a decade. He comes across in the article as having remorse for his choices, and a desire to “come clean”, and have a new life.

In my sermon I compared Eddy to Zacchaeus, the notorious corrupt tax collector, who was a seen by his Jewish neighbours as a collaborator and a cheat. Zacchaeus receives external validation from Jesus, and this seems to help him find the courage to change his life.

The Runner’s World article tells us more about Eddy than we can know about Zacchaeus. We get more of the details about life before and after the decision to change. The writer is generally sympathetic to Eddy, but near the end of the article, makes some pointed observations:

“While he claims to be selflessly risking his well-being for the sake of the truth, for instance, his remorse comes exclusively on his own behalf. He worries that racing officials will come back and investigate him. He also worries that he could suffer financially. And then there's the toll it has taken on his friends and family. "After we talked the first time at the restaurant, I felt really good about it," Hellebuyck had told me. "I kept getting really emotional [about confessing]. It is very important to me. I just cannot die thinking that my whole life I was a cheater. I was not. I didn't get any medals or anything, but I did some really great things—I ran a lot of great races, I managed, I coached."

Not once in our conversations has Hellebuyck ever voiced concern for the runners who finished behind him in the races that he ran juiced; the honest athletes who, as DeHart points out, Hellebuyck cheated out of recognition and potential prize money.”

This reminds me that in my own life, and in the lives of people I know, redemption/ conversion/transformation is usually neither instantaneous, nor complete. We are works in progress.