Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Spectacular Vulnerability

To read the sports news write-ups of Floyd Landis's victory in this year's Tour de France, you have to wonder how anyone could have ever admired or loved Lance Armstrong (record-breaking winner of the previous seven Tours). "Floyd is human; Lance was machine..." they suggest. "Floyd rides with heart; Lance was ruthless and calculating... Floyd is maverick; Lance was predictable... Floyd wins the hearts of the world; Lance was aloof and lonely in his perfection..." Can the difference between these two champions really be this great?

As far as I can tell, really, the primary point of distinction between Floyd Landis and Lance Armstrong is simply this: spectacular vulnerability.

What else could be the reason? One single performance (among a depleted field of contenders, at that) -- somehow celebrated and serenaded over the staggering feat of seven consecutive championships... It seems illogical and imbalanced (and, yes, perhaps an attempt to make a big news story that an American audience would want to read after the sport's most recognizable name and face has retired), but I believe you can pick up the clues for this celebration from the adjectives used to describe Floyd Landis's ride to victory: "gutsy... resurrected... heroic... legendary... big-hearted..." It's not the fact that he won that's so special; rather, it's the fact that he almost lost it all that made everything so special. One day, Floyd Landis took the lead in the three-week race, seeming to lock in his victory. The next day, Floyd Landis bombed miserably and gave it all back (and then some). And then the very next day, Floyd Landis came back from the depths of despair to dramatically put himself back in contention.

Essentially, the glory of Floyd Landis's victory in the Tour de France this year came from the fact that he was dramatically unveiled to be human. Weak, powerless, ashamed... a loser -- who suddenly became a winner. And, let's face it, losing is much closer to the reality of the world. The sports-viewing public -- for all their worship of dynasties and hall-of-fame credentials -- can actually relate much more easily to a loser. And a loser who somehow, dramatically, figures out a way to become a winner becomes a type of mythical figure giving hope to the frustrated and downcast masses.

So why -- perhaps you wonder -- am I musing and waxing eloquent about all this?

It's true that I've become a bit of a cycling enthusiast over the last couple of years living in Amstesrdam, and I see many parallels and lessons for life from the long and winding roads of France. But, actually, the truth is that I worry sometimes that my efforts to live to the most of my potential in the world -- to be a good follower of Jesus, good husband, a good father, a good church leader, a good citizen, ad infinitum, ad nauseum -- have unknowingly cast me in the role of Lance Armstrong, doomed to be overshadowed by the gutsy, spunky, spectacularly vulnerable Floyd Landises of the world.

Too often (I fear), I hear people praise my organizational skills, my self-discipline, my conscientious maintainance of personal priorities and boundaries... But I rarely hear people complimenting my heart, my reckless abandon, my gutsy comebacks...

So I can hardly help myself from wondering: What does this mean?

It would be a gross overstatement (not to mention arrogant hubris) to declare that I am the "Lance Armstrong of Life" -- but perhaps you can sense my conundrum. Can the "good guy" ever really be the hero? Does the "nice guy" ever get the girl? Must I fail dramatically for people to love me? Or what if my tragic flaws tend to be more internal in nature? Can long-term perseverence on a gradually sloping incline be considered "gutsy" -- or must my life resemble a sine wave to be considered in any way remarkable? I always try to be as humble, as transparent, and as vulnerable as possible -- about both my strengths and my weaknesses -- but if I cannot be spectacularly so, will anyone notice or care?

In the end, I realize that it does not matter what anyone else thinks of me, so long as I am secure in my identity in Christ. But I would be lying if I said that these questions do not bug me.


At 4:31 PM, Blogger Stef said...

For the last several years, I've been fascinated by (obsessed with?) mountain climbing. I've even had the privilege of meeting and talking with people who have summited Mt. Everest.

The last 300 ft. to the summit of Everest can take hours. You'll never see a live television broadcast. It's a quiet process. There's no cheering crowd, no grand gestures by climbers who reach the summit. There's no pageantry- and the world is tragically addicted to pageantry.

When people *do* pay attention, what they see is strength. Dedication. Persistence. But they don't seem to understand that the strength, dedication, and persistence are borne of love. A passionate love of the climb, and of the other climbers on the team. Most people simply don't understand the heart of a climber, because they themselves have never struggled to reach the summit. People who haven't climbed can't understand.

And though climbers will never get the attention or accolades they deserve, the fact remains that they are some of the strongest - both internally and externally, bravest, most passionate people I have ever met.

At 5:52 PM, Blogger Bret said...

cool post Eric. It is worth the discussion for sure as it seems you are dead on with your observations. I'm intrigued to think about it further. Can the steady, consistent guy get the fame...? Does he even want it...?

At 11:28 PM, Blogger patricia said...

Thanks for another vulnerable, insightful bit of writing, Eric. It's amazing how you are able to take an international event and use it to shed light on some of the deepest, most personal questions in your heart. My honest response ..... the only one who often fails to see how spectacular you are is you!


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