Thursday, January 17, 2013

Campaigns and Cover-ups: Lance Armstrong and Manti Te'o

Campaigns and Cover-ups.

Whether they are political, personal or commercial, campaigns usually leave us with a sense of emptiness from lofty expectations that are never met. After campaigns are over, we always seem to be asking, “What happened to those promises!?” Political candidates never seem to live up to expectations of voters, and are vilified for not becoming all that they campaigned themselves to be. Commercial campaigns tend to oversell and under deliver. Cover-ups then occur when we want to conduct damage control, limiting the negative perceptions that follow as particular details are exposed.

Campaigns and Cover-ups sounds like it should have been the name of a Fall Out Boy album from the summer of 2005, but sadly it’s a description of the lengths that we will go to create or maintain a particular identity or image. We are inundated each day with suggestions of what we should look like, how we should act, who we should be with.

For those sports fans out there, this idea of a false identity has been brought into the spotlight not once, but twice this week. First, there has been the long-drawn-out story of Lance Armstrong, which, finally this week, has resulted in his alleged admission of using performance-enhancing drugs, which had enabled him to win 7 consecutive Tour de France titles, establishing himself as arguably the best cyclist in history. Then yesterday, Deadspin broke a story exposing the fabrications surrounding MantiTe’o, Notre Dame’s Heisman-finalist inside linebacker. Details are still being brought into the light, but it has been alleged that Te’o’s girlfriend, whose supposed car crash and Leukemia-induced-death kindled the emotions of Notre Dame fans and players all the way to the NCAA FBS national championship, was totally fictional.

As more details emerge today from both cases, it will become more evident as to the motives behind each scheme. Lance Armstrong seemed to enjoy the success of dominating the cycling circuit, beating testicular cancer, as well as the commercial success that followed. Manti Te’o has NFL talent, and was a Heisman finalist. Both men seemed to be drawn to the idea of overcoming adversity, using it as a springboard and mental edge over their opponents. These adversities were all lies. We will still learn more about each story, so there is much we should not speculate about. But what is clear is that both of these men are broken, and built themselves up to please others, or themselves.

Campaigns and Cover-ups.

Sadly, this is also a description of bits and pieces of our own lives. We conduct campaigns and complete cover-ups to project an image of ourselves, or save ourselves from some sort of disgrace in the short-term. These symptoms are part of the larger issue of a struggle with our identities. We pretend to be who we are not. We think that the temporary pleasures and comforts we receive through these false identities will somehow satisfy us. This is idolatry. We build our lives on idols, and when exposed, the benefits of these idols all crumble in our hands.

Even for those of us in Christ, we continue to believe lies, and do not align ourselves with the identity that is given to us in Christ. As I am reading through “Who Do You Think You Are?” by Mark Driscoll, he reminds us that “…This world’s most fundamental problem is that we don’t understand who we truly are – children of God made in his image…” (page 20).

This can be a messy problem to work through. Mercifully, we are not left with this mess, and the Lord is gracious in reminding us of our identity as created beings that bear his image and character. Nowhere is the theme of identity more prevalent than in Ephesians. Ephesians tells us who we are in Christ.

For those of us in Christ, we can be sure that our acceptance by God is not based on beating cancer, winning Tour de France titles, winning national championships, Heisman trophy nominations, making money, or being in a relationship. Our acceptance from others shouldn't be based on any of those things either. It may sound like too much of a simple truth, but our identities are found solely in Christ. Let us continue to know Christ and his character more deeply, replacing the shifting foundations of our idols with the solid bedrock of God’s revealed character through his word.

In a particular episode of Seinfeld, George Costanza tells Jerry, as Jerry is trying to beat lie detector test to avoid admitting that he enjoyed watching Melrose Place, that “It’s not a lie, if you believe it.” Thankfully, this is not true. Let’s not tell ourselves any more lies.

Let us not mask our identity for the sake of others or our own temporary enjoyment, but instead find joy in what God has created us to do, and who he has created us to be. In a world where we are suffocated with many people telling us who we should be or what we should do, this is necessary to repeat to ourselves. Let’s put aside our campaigns and cover-ups, and instead cover ourselves with God's revelation of who we are in him.