We knew it was coming, but that didn’t lessen the blow.
Lance Armstrong’s confession hit hard at the heart of our competitive culture. It was a confirmation that we’ve set unattainable targets, unreachable goals, unrealistic benchmarks. It showed that we applaud achievement over character, money over substance, fame over family. It revealed our drive towards perfection and excellence at the cost of all else.
Lance Armstrong isn’t the only cheat in this story. The world we live in sets all of us up to aim for an unrealistic standard of perfection. Pinterest and Better Homes and Gardens make us feel we should be living in show homes. Reality TV shows make us feel dreadful about our bodies and think we need plastic surgery, extreme diets and military-style exercise regimes to be attractive. Movies and television urge us to have the perfect house, the perfect job, the perfect family, the perfect body and the perfect life. Superstar pastors make us feel like we need to have a persuasive way with words, a seminary degree and a charismatic personality to be acceptable to God.
All this continuous pressure turns us into cheats. We scramble to clean the house before guests arrive. We say we’re happy when we’re not. We hiss at the kids to get them to behave in public. We buy things we don’t need to impress others. We break our New Year’s resolutions. We pretend to have it all together, even though we’re making others feel bad. We put on our best clothes, our best behavior and our happy face Sunday mornings.
Church should be one place that is free from this competitive culture, but it’s not. Churches place the most talented communicators on a stage and get everyone else to sit silently and listen. They present sermons which “have all the answers”. They keep the structure tight to avoid the risk of being messy and interpersonal. They don’t create any spaces for people to talk, and contribute, and be deep and honest. They make “having it all together” a witnessing strategy. They encourage congregations to grow way beyond the natural limits of community. They celebrate numbers over depth, and focus on conversions over maturity.
Church should be the very place where you don’t have to have it together before you come. It should draw the broken hearted, the downtrodden and the hurting – instead of feeling like you’ve got to be perfect before you step through the door. Some churches seem to carry an invisible sign over the doorway – “we only accept white, middle class, two parent families with an acceptable level of dress, hygiene and vocabulary”.
How can we do church differently tomorrow so we don’t all end up being spiritual Lance Armstrongs? Start being real with one another. Share our stories. Share our lives. Be honest. Be deep. Risk. Be messy. Laugh together. Cry together. Bear one another’s burdens. Let everyone speak. Turn the chairs around so you can see one another’s faces. Celebrate everyone, not just the superstars. Accept one another, just as Christ accepted you.
So go ahead, judge Lance for what he’s done. Be disappointed in him. I know I am. The dream he was selling was so very alluring. But it was not a godly one. One person cannot do it on their own. One person cannot be perfect – only Jesus was perfect. The good news is that we don’t have to be. We were built to work together, in families and communities and churches. We are forgiven, and free, and don’t have to strive anymore to pretend to be adequate. Let’s make church a place that oozes acceptance and inclusion, not contributes further to the pressures of this competitive culture.