Forgiving Michael Vick

I want to take a quick moment, and show you all one of the gifts that I got for Christmas.  This is a fantastic gift that will take my neurosis to a  whole new level.    It’s called the NIKE PLUS Sports Band.     I want to take a moment and show you all just how cool this gift is.

It is all built around a tiny little device, called the Nike Plus.   



Along with this little gadget you need an incredibly flashy pair of running shoes, like these:


(Note:   Besides being almost obnoxious in color, don’t they look fast to boot?)

Now, here is the genius of the plus;   you pull out the insole of your shoe and insert the device and you can get all kinds of data, wirelessly beamed up to your wrist.  

Then you pull a USB adapter out; plug it into your computer, and instantly all your runs, calories burned, effort, mileage and pace are wired up to cyberspace for safe keeping and bragging rights.

At first it seems too easy to be true, but it works.    All you have to do is enter your height, weight, and age, take a few steps, and boom! It tells you, that you are ready to run.   Somehow it counts the number of steps you take, calculates everything you need to know.  

You should see me with this thing going.   I try to fool it at the gym, by taking extremely small steps to convince it, that I have run a marathon, but somehow it knows. Like I said, it brings my neurosis to a brand new level.   

The NIKE Plus Sport Band and Snazzy Shoes are like the ALMOST perfect gift for runners.   I say ALMOST because in the end it is a NIKE product, and I have an enormous love hate relationship with this company.  If you have ever talked to me about Nike in the past, you would know how angry I was with something Nike did a little over two years ago.  

I very deliberately made the decision almost a year ago to shed all my NIKE products due to their endorsement of Michael Vick.    It wasn’t so much that I did not believe in the ability for a man to make good on past crimes, but rather spoke to my disappointment with NIKE.

It started long before Vick came crashing front and center. Well over two decades ago, NIKE found themselves as part of the sweat shop scandals of the mid 1980 and 90s.    It turns out they had deliberately chosen to manufacture their shoes in some of the poorest places of the world, and do so for pennies a shoe.    Instantly my stomach churned at the thought.     Shame on them, I thought.  I started to see them as the proverbial face of evil, corporate America.

Yet, amidst the pressures of an angry shoe buying public, NIKE started to change.   They were one of the first companies to create large departments with large budgets focused on Social and Corporate Responsibility.   The changes were quick and impactful.    Millions upon millions of dollars has left the coiffeurs at Nike and made its way to underdeveloped countries, non profits, inner city missions, and schools across the globe.

They soon became the example of what a company could be.    Although far from perfect, they were trying.   In the end, I found that refreshing.    In the end, all we could do is ask that others try;  try to be different and to make a difference.

Then, enter Michael Vick.

Vick was the new face of the National Football League and a role model for millions.    His was a story of a young boy growing up in the Ridley Public Housing Project in Newport News Virginia.   His parents were on welfare, and on his front stoop drive by shootings, drug dealing and violence were common place.    As a kid he dreamed of being a professional fisherman, as fishing was his escape from the violent neighborhood he grew up in.    He used to put his hook into the dirtiest of water, just to be away from his neighborhood.    Eventually, he chose football over fishing.   

At football he was a star.   He was drafted by Virginia Tech, broke all kinds of record and started to grow in popularity.    He was third in the Heisman Trophy balloting while in college, and he was drafted first overall in 2001 by the Falcons.  Atlanta quickly started building a team around him. 

Sadly, a great deal of it, if not all of it went to his head.   Soon the size of his ego exceeded his talent.  That is a dangerous situation.

Due to that enormous ego, the world was not entirely surprised when they learned that he was an investor in an illegal dog fighting operation with his cousin.   The world was shocked, however, by the barbaric way he treated those dogs though.    The cruelty of this man towards his dogs was immense, and he was eventually sentenced to 21 months in prison, and two months of house arrest for his crime.   Along the way, he went bankrupt.   He lost his career, his home, and the respect of a nation, if not a world.   To be honest, there was little sympathy or compassion from me on this.

When he finished his prison sentence, he chose to start over.   In 2010 he became the starting quarterback of the Philadelphia Eagles and was named the 2010 comeback player of the year, and was named to the Pro Bowl.   As his reputation started to return so did the endorsements.  

When NIKE signed him again, I was angry.    I was mad that NIKE had made it back from the sweat shop scandals only to once again throw it all away with the likes of Michael Vick.  It made me sick to my stomach.

I remember calling NIKE, telling them that all my NIKE gear would now be trashed…and that’s what I did.   I was angry and there would be no way my hard earned income would find its way into NIKE or Vick’s pockets. 

Today, now that it is two years later, and in my gym bag, I find two new NIKE products, I can’t help but ask had anything changed or did I just forget?   Are my principles less intense than my desire to own the new fancy gadget?   What happened?

Over the last few weeks, I have struggled with this.

 It wasn’t until just recently that I started to remember that I am a follower of Jesus, who is a God of Second chances.   I am a person who believes in the power of forgiveness and fresh starts.     If I truly believe that, how can I reconcile what I believe with my anger and resentment towards both Vick and NIKE?   

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to me.  A few months ago, I remember a turning point.  Like the rubber-necker at the accident scene, I decided to download the 10 episode documentary entitled “The Michael Vick Project” which televised his attempts to revive his career.     In that series, I saw a genuine regret, shame, and desire to make things right and doubt started to creep in.   I was still angry, but perhaps in watching that series, the ground work for my eventual return to the world of Nike was laid.

Don’t get me wrong, there is a foul taste that Vick still illicit in me.

Today, I see Michael Vick and I still see what he did to those dogs.    I see in Vick, what is wrong with our country, our sons, and the sport that I love.    I still get angry when I see the pictures of the saved dogs in a newspaper or magazine.    Part of me is convinced that he got off easy in light of the fate of those dogs.

But… and there is always a but…

I also recognize something that NIKE seemed to have embraced that I, as a pastor and follower of Jesus failed to see.  

When asked about the decision, NIKE officials issued a very clear cut response to the controversy, which I never discovered until much, much later; 

“We, under no circumstance support or condone the past decisions of Michael Vick,” NIKE commented, “but sometimes forgiveness is only possible when another is willing to take a second chance.”   They continued:  “sure, we might hurt because of it, or we might gain immensely, but we believe we are called to be about second chances to people trying to make a change.    Should we all be willing, now that we told Vick he was wrong, to listen to see if Vick has said he has heard?  Truth be told the power of redemption is seen in proportional levels to how far the redeemed have fallen, and few have fallen further.”

So there we have it.   

I read the statement and wondered.  

I wondered why when I was calling for the life time imprisonment of Michael Vick, NIKE was able to act more like a Christian than I.

Sitting back and thinking about it, maybe there is finally SOME forgiveness on my part available to Michael Vick.  At the same time, I think that point when I can freely give it is miles away.  While I still look at him and see the face of a dog beater, I feel compelled, by the nature of my faith, to be willing to let him prove me wrong again.  I feel compelled, while part of me, still wants the jury to be out a little while longer.

I want to be ready to offer Michael Vick forgiveness because I want to be more Christ like in my walk…but I still see the faces of those dogs.

I want to be ready to offer forgiveness for the vile acts of this man because if I can forgive a man that did this horrible things…but nothing directly to me….maybe,…just maybe…  I can forgive those who did bad things to me….   

Or maybe, better yet,  I can forgive myself for the stupid things I’ve done.

I want to be ready to offer Michael Vick forgiveness because I want to experience what a life fully lived in Christ is like, and I can’t do that until I am willing to let go of the reality of all the past hurts, past mistakes, and past shames of my own life. 

If I am ready to admit that freedom from the crap of the past is available to Vick, than its available to me too.  When I close my eyes and see the images of the mistakes I’ve made I know that I want them gone.   I won’t be able to fully recognize that ours is a God that erases the past guilt, embarrassment, and shame of all of our lives until I can offer it to myself.

Although I am ready, I am not there.   Maybe part of me doesn’t want to forgive.  I certainly cannot envision forgetting.    Maybe it’s because there is something bigger than football, and fame.  Maybe when I give my forgiveness to Vick, I can’t see past my own dogs…   or maybe I can’t see past my own mistakes.

Maybe I am wrapping up forgiveness in the separate concept of fairness.  Maybe I want more punishment and less love.

 Then again, maybe its more about me not being ready to fully being ready to admit that I am a new creature in Christ, and as such there are implications and responsibilities due to that fact.   Maybe I am not ready to let go of the same old same old.  

Maybe I am hesitant to admit that I was made new, but that’s for me, and not Michael Vick.  

I believe, with every ounce of my being, that forgiveness is more something we do for ourselves than for others.  In the end, there is nothing easy about it.   It’s hard and its unnatural.   Maybe that’s precisely why we need to be about it.    If it was easy and without effort, would it be worth doing?  If I don’t accept the possibility of another being a new person, can I ever expect to view myself that way?    When I see myself in the mirror do I see the man before my own Damascus road experience or the man after?    

I wish that when I lace up my shoes on the sidewalk or in the gym and I see that swoosh, I didn’t think of Vick with each step.   I wish I wasn’t thinking about the mistakes of years or decades past.  I wish I wasnt thinking of those dogs.

God, I wish this entire faith thing was easier, amen.

1,000 Miles Baby!

As of last week, I reached my goal of 1,000 miles run for 2011 .  It was an overwhelmingly  large figure on January 1st, but one whose passing required an amazing number of ups and downs over this past year, each one as big or as low as the one prior…

  • I broke the twenty mile mark in July.
  • I suffered a nasty ankle injury running seven miles five days later.
  • I signed up for the Hartford Marathon, and bowed out two weeks later due to injury.
  • I experienced the Wall for the first time the first time I broke 18miles…and it was ten times worse than anything I ever imagined.
  • I have lost two toenails.
  • I have run through three pair of shoes, two running watches, and three ear buds.
  • I have impaled myself on steel belted radial shreds…twice.
  • I have run with a full out fear of Skunks, Copperheads, and muggers.
  • I put on a race for the UMC Imagine No Malaria Initiative in June.
  • I ran five other 5Ks since then.
  • I have run in the Appalachian Mountains, The Mountains of NH, and the Smokey Mountains.
  • I used my runs to listen to Audio books that my daughter is reading.
  • I tried minimalist running for seven days, switched back on day 8
  • I ran two a days, one a days, and none a days.
  • I decided to be quiet about my runs…as they were for me alone.
  • I broke the 7:00min mile.
  • I have taken 36 days off…out of the close to 278 of the year…
  • I have prayed 252 times before the start of my run…and many more throughout.
  • I suffered the most evil of shin splints all year accompanied by calf pain unlike any other (which prevents the crossing of my legs)
  • I have started to refer to Ibuprofen as Vitamin I
  • I spent 166 hours running… (That’s a full week, 24-7)
  • I have lost weight…put it back on….lost it again…and again…
  • I brought my half marathon time down to 2:15, my 5K to 27:13, 10K to 56:30…and in the end… I’m still slower than 2010
  • I have developed the PERFECT Play list of 160BPM songs.
  • I discovered that gnu gels make my newly restored teeth hurt…but gummy bears do not.
  • I had knee sleeves on my right knee, then my left, then my right, and now my left.
  • I have made P90X routines my easy days.
  • I saw my wife and girls participate in their first 5K.
  • I realized that eating while running looks really weird.

Yet, as I smile at the attainment of this year long goal (which at one point seemed so out of reach) and this abbreviated list of ups and downs, I am thinking that perhaps it’s time for a new challenge. 

I look at that 1000 miles and I think that maybe I want to try the next item on the list.    Maybe it’s time to find a new and bigger challenge.   Maybe it’s time for something completely off the radar.  I want a big “to-do” item.  As I consider the next hurdle on the list, I find myself considering Brazilian Jiu Jitsu or Boxing.  Then again,…maybe it’s something exponentially more simple but much harder to reach.  Maybe it’s Crossfit, Extreme P90X or simply reducing my body fat to under 10% (would really like that six pack).   

Whatever the next fitness goal is…I have realized that it has been running that has reminded me I am no longer the smoker…  I am no longer soft…  And I am no longer stuck on the couch.   I am better than that.   As Psalm 139:14 reminds me,…I give thanks….because I am fearfully and wonderfully made…and his works are awesome…

 (By the way…1,000 miles is the distance from Keene NH to Savannah, GA, to Chicago, or to Knoxville, TN and is AWESOME!).

The Stupidity of a Long Distance Runner

Last week, Iunfortunately spent a morning in the emergency room at Cheshire Medical Center.  Although I have never had anything but a pleasing experience at the Clinic, it’s not a place you want to find yourself.    Usually, the times I am there are either scary or stressed.   Although I have had worse visits, this one had some degree of both.  The adventure that would inevitably lead me to a stretcher at Cheshire Med. began the night before, when I decided to leave work a little early and do my long run through the back woods and dirt roads of Hillsboro.   

I had it all planned out by nine in the morning, I skipped my lunch, and by the time 4:00 hit, I was ready to go, I was really looking forward to the run.  Weather was perfect, and the first half of the run was uneventful; uneventful but beautiful

At one point I actually found myself running alongside a Llama farm!  Llamas are not the expected sight or sound on one of my average runs, and I was surprised when I stumbled upon them.   I actually stopped and watched a pair for a minute or two.  

Later on the run, I passed some gorgeous farms and fields, and I even stopped to snap a picture in a couple of places.   There were some waterfalls, a raging brook, and plenty of stone walls that stole my attention from one corner to the next.   It was only when I reached the 7 mile mark of my 14 mile run that all hell broke loose.  As is my standard operating procedure, I stopped at the half way point to take a two or three minute break and allow my heart rate to return to normal and the air to return to my lungs.  As I took a swig of water, I decided to walk a couple of minutes before kicking it into gear for the return trip home.

After finishing the water and tightening up my shoelaces, I jumped ahead.    In the next instant a piercing and incredible pain ran up my foot, and leg, and I found myself in a heap on the side of the road.  After the initial pain of road rash as I crumbled subsided, I knew I was in trouble.  Something had happened to my ankle and the pain was intense.

I shimmied up to a rock, sat down, and unlaced my shoe.   As I did, I literally saw my ankle start to swell, and turn this funky color.   I like to tell folks that the only part of me that isn’t Italian is my feet, which embraces the Irish Scot in me.    Usually, they shine in their paleness.   On the side of the rock, I watched as they turned a lovely shade of purple-gray.

I sat there for a moment, massaging my foot, wondering what my next step would be.  As I sat cursing my poor fortune, I noticed the skies becoming ominously dark.    A storm was rolling in.   I had better call the run quit, and give someone a call to pick me up before the storm rolled in.    As humbling as it was to call my wife (45 minutes away), it was worse than dealing with the sheering pain or the drenching that was about to occur.  As I turned on the cell phone I was greeted with the less than pleasing “no service” warning.

As I cringe at the memories of this moment, I would like to show you a picture.  

This is my training binder.   It contains all you need to know about my running.   It contains logs of my runs, the number of miles on my sneakers, how much I plan on running tomorrow, next week, or next month.   It contains information on my calorie intake and if I had the 50% carbs, 25% protein, and 25% targets.   It even logs the number of hours I have slept the night before each run, and the general feel of my thighs, knees, calves and shins.   It tells me when I should eat my jelly beans or gels on each run.   It reminds when I need to take a salt capsule.

As I compose this post, light has dawned on Marblehead.  That binder is the most absurd thing ever.

For the deep woods Hillsboro run I planned absolutely everything.   I took some time strategically placed water bottles along the route before I took off.   I made mental notes of blind curves so I wasn’t caught of guard.   I marked my mile markers along the way.  I even checked for cell phone service.  What I hadn’t accounted for was the brewing storm, and those dark clouds preventing service on my phone.   

I ended up trying to make the run back home, but only made it a mile when by the time the pain set in.  No cell phone service.   After a little way further, I found a stick on the side of the road, and used it to carry some of my weight.    It wasn’t long before the skies proceeded to open and the deluge began.  It rained, and rained, and rained some more.    Then there was lighting and thunder.    I shivered, cold and wet, as I limped the many miles back to my car.    I hit the parking lot where my car was at 9:00pm, after almost 4 hours of hobbled walking through nowhere.

That evening back in my house, I was sure that I had broken my ankle.    I was convinced that I wouldn’t be walking, let alone running, for a long time to come.  We headed to the emergency room, where I was told I had a serious strain, with potential ligament damage and I needed to stop running for 6 weeks, and use crutches.  To be honest, I stopped listening at that point.  

My marathon was at that point exactly 9 weeks away and I had just paid the $125 for registration that morning. I could not afford a day off, let alone 42.   I said to myself; “Self…what does that doctor know?”    I turned to the oh-so-great physician called the internet for a better answer. 

At some site, aptly named something akin to I learned that using a splint or air cast often delays the onset of healing by weeks, so I tossed that away.    I learned that crutches do the same, so enough of them.   At a myriad of sites I found exercises, recommendations for icing, stretching, and compression, and cranked them all up.   I even decided to do some water laps in a pool.

Four days later, on Sunday night, I assessed my ankle to be at 75-80% of normal.  Really not sure what that meant and impatient to run again, I decided to test out the ankle, and I ran a good three miles across the City. They were slow and steady, and nowhere near the miles upon miles I had pushed myself through just a few weeks prior, but I was running.   In the end the  ankle throbbed, but it still hovered around 75-80%.    Unfortunately I was reminded in that throbbing, that the hefty 10, 15, or 20 mile runs are completely out of the question, for at least the time being.

Despite the fact that I was able to run and I beat the 6 weeks (We should not lose site of the fact that I am indeed Superman), the odds of me being able to run the mileage needed by early October are decreasing day by day.  With this realization (which I am more effectively dealing with today than I was last weekend), I have admittedly become a bit depressed.  

I have worked really hard to get where I am today, I clocked a great deal of time on the treadmill, on a bike, through the back roads, or on Nautilus machines. Over the past year,  I made running an absolute chore that at times has come close to sapping all of my energy.  I was like a chemist trying to find the right balance of energy gels, supplements, and salt tabs, and all was for naught.    I was running 20 miles evenings and now I was feeling lucky having completed 3 or 4. 

I look at that colossally stupid binder, and realize in an instant that all my planning has, in the end, failed me. For the second year in a row my body had broken.   Today, I am not sure I want to fully admit it, but I believe my marathon target is very close to become a goal for 2012, instead of October.    Feeling broken and depressed as this recognition grew, I told Stacey that I was not sure what I was going to do.   What now I asked out loud…   

Stacey, in those moments that just make me mad, employed a bit of the Wisdom of Solomon.   “Don’t you miss running simply for the fun of it?   All the plans, all the binders, all the stress of the plan….   Is it really what you want?”    At first I brushed her off (as I usually do, when I don’t want to admit that she is right), but I thought on it.

Those runs through Keene during the past week… maybe a half hour there,…or an hour here….   That is truly running.  The gentle rhythm of running on Arch, Maple, or Hasting Avenues is meditation and escape.  Watching the world as you count off distance in 100’s of yards is what running is all about.

The four hours straight on a treadmill that is something else.  Trying to figure out how to eat while running so your body does give out, doesn’t seem right.   Trying to relearn the mechanics of movement when you have hit that wall at 18, 19, or 20 is absurd.     The crazy sessions of strength conditioning at the gym are about as tedious as you can imagine.

I don’t like to exercise, I like to run.   Running is a holy moment for me.  Those shorter runs are my Sabbath, and I had forgotten about them.   I have started to realize that the binder and the plans have turned running into something else.   I missed the simple run to make it to the next corner approach to running.   I realized that when I couldn’t run 2 minutes straight but was willing to try like hell, I was falling love with running and the person I was becoming.  I thought about the runs where I would stop at 18 unable to go any further and spend the remainder of the night calling myself a failure.   What had snapped?

As of today, I have decided to toss out the binder, and work on returning to running for the love of running.  I have decided to just run for the month of August.   No plans, no goals, no agenda.  Maybe on the 1st of September my foot will be better but maybe not.   If come October the marathon is on the docket so be it,..   If not, so be it.    I need to respect the run again.    I need to embrace the Sabbath.

Although the trials of a bruised ankle is trivial compared to the road blocks and hurdles of so many, I am in the process of remembering that sometimes I too need to be better at practicing what I preach.    Too often we are convinced that we can control the world and our lives, by having one more spreadsheet or binder.   We plan for every eventuality, and without fail we are surprised when life shakes our footing.  In the end, I am guessing that is why I am sharing this story.   

We all need the reminder that we don’t come to church on Sunday or fight for our faith, to check off another item from our Binder.    We come because we need to embrace the reminder that life is not something we can plot, manage, or use sheer will power to direct.  Someone else is in control.   Someone else has a plan.   Someone else is in charge.  

I am glad that I can see this in something so small like running, and I pray that I can remember this in the bigger, more important aspects of my life.  Only when we respect that fact we are not in complete control, do we experience all life has to offer.    Through the really big moments, and those more everyday ones, we need to be people that are willing to toss out the binders and the spreadsheets in order to embrace the peace that a life of living in God delivers.

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.” – (1 Corinthians 9:24-25 NIV)

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