My first road bike was a beater. I bought it during my first year of Divinity School in Winston-Salem. Living alone in a three bedroom ranch house and studying Greek every night will lead one to sit on a too-small seat and wear too-tight shorts. Actually, it wasn't the Greek or the ranch house that inspired me to take up cycling. It was Lance Armstrong.
Cycling doesn't make sense as an efficient means of exercise. It hurts. The equipment is expensive and specialized. A good workout demands multiple hours. Falling on a hard surface while moving faster than you can sprint is inevitable. The shorts.
But still I rode, and grew to love it. The all aluminum Trek 1000 was quickly traded in for another model with a carbon front fork to ease the pain on long rides. Now, four bikes later, my whole bike is carbon, even the water cages, and the custom build likely cost more than the car I drive everyday. My wife knows about the madness. I tell her it's still cheaper than golf and that Lance did it to me.
The first time I watched the Tour de France in earnest, it happened to be the day Lance stared down Jan Ulrich before his famous attack in 2001 on Alpe D'Huez. I was hooked. Every year after that, I've taken extended lunch breaks during the Tour to catch the key moments of mountain stages. Since my young-ins were born I don't cycle as often, but when I do I like to ride hard and up hills, until it hurts. I thought that if Lance could win the Tour de France 7 times after cancer, surely I can climb up puny hills and love it.
Even while I cheered him on at lunch, I wasn't ignorant to the possibility that the inspiring performances were aided by drugs. But I withheld my judgment and hoped that it was me and my cynicism, not Lance and his drugs, that should be judged. This week we learned that he's going to confess to Oprah that it was him, not us.
Every Sunday we admit our sins to each other and God during worship. Because we aren't racing up mountains, making millions, and selling bikes, we are allowed the privilege of making mistakes in private. Our public confessions in church are safe since we use a common prayer and say it together, at the same time, with almost the same volume, so as not to draw too much attention to any one individual. That's the cynic in me creeping out again.
My more sanctified side believes that our togetherness in confession is an admission that all of us get it wrong. And that we need help. So we lift our voices and call on Jesus. My more sanctified side got sad reading Lance's comment below captured in a recent Wall Street Journal article. He said this to the chief of the agency that extended a life-time ban from competition.
You don't hold the keys to my redemption... There's one person who holds the keys to my redemption, he went on, pointing at himself, and that's me.
We've got about as much power to redeem ourselves as we do to live blameless, perfect, lives. Confessing our sin in public on Sunday is a means of asking for help - from Jesus, and from each other. Let's not beat up our heroes cause it makes us feel better to see them fall. And let's make sure our confessions mean something.