Sunday, August 16, 2009

Of Josh, Mike, Hypocrisy, and Cynicism

Interesting how the world responds to the fallen, the falling, and the repentant.

You have read the stories this week. Heroes of the sports world whose transgressions have been published for the world to see.

Josh Hamilton, recovering alcoholic and drug addict, very public Christian, whose wild night in Arizona last January outed him for falling off the wagon.

Michael Vick, recently released ex-convict, public Christian, whose proclaimed "disgust" at his own actions and planned penance to be served in the community were broadcast on "60 Minutes" tonight.

I have been interested and a little saddened by the responses I have heard this week. The Hamilton story - undoubtedly in part because of the prurient nature of the pictures and the story that must go with them - has led many to say "I told you so" about his public testimonies of conversion. The Vick story has led person after person to scoff at his proclamations of reform and note with interest how many "handlers" Vick has.

Maybe I am just naive, but I look at some of this differently.

I am not ready to label Hamilton a hypocrite. To me, he seems to be someone who is struggling with a fight that will be with him for the rest of this life. When he says he thought he could handle one drink and found out he could not, that rings true to me. The rest of the story of what happened that night is easy to play out from there. Does that make him a hypocrite? Only if you decide that all of us who proclaim Christ but fall along the way are hypocrites. Maybe we are, but if so, it is a big club. Failure is not hypocritical; it is human. Owning up to your failure without calling in the players' union and the press agents to spin the story is admirable to me.

I am not ready to label Vick insincere. He may be. But the only pieces of evidence we have so far are his past actions and his present statements. His past actions label him a criminal, a person of horrible judgment, and something of a spoiled brat with little sense of propriety - in other words, a sinner. His present statements are those of someone who has been broken, who has been (in church language) convicted, who has repented. There is no way for me to judge his sincerity now because I cannot see his heart - I will have to follow his actions and try to make a judgment based on what I see. So too, however, there is no way for the cynics to judge his sincerity now, for they are no more able to see into his heart than I am.

My point is not to hold up Josh Hamilton and Michael Vick as icons or paragons of virtue. I may be wrong about Hamilton, and I may be naively guessing wrong about Vick. If so, ok... I have been wrong many times before.

My point is to note how cynical our society is when it comes to issues of repentance, forgiveness, confession, and changed heart. So many of us simply don't believe it when we see it. Is that because people have not experienced it for themselves? Is it simply because we have seen so many phoneys that we cannot accept it for real?

Like Josh Hamilton, Michael Vick may have a new public failure that leads to ridicule and cries of hypocrisy. If it is a pattern that exposes his statements of tonight as lies, then so be it. If it is a single terrible failure that illuminates the fact (that should be obvious to us all) that his struggles are far from over, then I hope somebody continues to allow him to go through the process.

I am not defending dog fighting, drunken escapades by married men with party girls, or any other failings. I am only noting that we all fail, we all fight our fights and sometimes lose. I would hope that we can see our own fight in the struggles of others and cut them some slack.

Are they hypocrites? Maybe. Are we cynics? Definitely.

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