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.

The Battle on Park and Maple Avenues

(Or…”Yet One More Running Sermon for You.”)

The following is a sermon delivered at Asbury Church on Sunday, October 16th.    The scripture for the message was Psalm 55)

I make no qualms about the fact that I am very hesitant when it comes to singing.    I have no skill, and virtually no ability to hold a tune or a note for any extended period of time.   When I sing paint peels and dogs bark.   It is my cross to bear, so more often than not, I keep my mouth shut.   Otherwise, the cross becomes yours to bear.

Yet, someday I will learn how to hold my own.  A wise man has told me time and time again,…especially after witnessing me mouthing the words to some hymn or a round of Happy Birthday, that God does not care  whether or not I have a voice to sing.  Instead God  only cares that I have a song to voice.  There is some comfort in this, because deep down I know that regardless of how hard it is for me to string the notes together,  I do have a song to voice.

Between you and I, I do wish that I could sing.   I wish I could witness a room made silent through gentle melodies of my voice, rather than disbelief that one could harness such hideous noises.    I enjoy the thought of singing.    I find myself singing all the time.  I sing in my car.   I sing in the shower.   I sing on the treadmill and on long runs through the middle of nowhere. Its singing in front of other  people that I have issue with.  

As a matter of fact, when I run, singing is one of those mental tools that get me through. When the body slows and the hills become steeper sometimes trying to pick through my noggin for songs and lyrics become a way to forget out the shin splits or the Charlie horses.

Oftentimes the songs I choose range from old 80 hair bands or pop classics, while other times it might be the music that I hear each Sunday.  When all else fails I pull out the Beverly Hillbillies, Flintstones, or Gilligan’s Island theme songs to help me forget the screaming of my calves or gasping of my lungs.  Nine times out of ten it works.  

Because it works, no music is beyond my exploitation or my massacre. From Lady Gaga to Bruce Springsteen and Frank Sinatra to Whitney Houston,  I have many favorites.  I certainly have my favorites from our hymnal; and Amazing Grace, I’ll Fly Away, and We are Marching, are all songs that seem to repeatedly enter my running repertoire.  

Among all of them, there is one that surfaces more frequently than all the others combined.   Oddly, its “Take my Life and Let it Be”

On that note,…when it came time to get the t-shirts printed up for the church’s run last year, I thought about using one of the lyrics from this song.   Eventually the words from Hebrews 12 won out (“And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us”).   Maybe next year it will be this classic.

We all know the song;  

Take my life and let it be
Consecrated, Lord, to Thee.
Take my moments and my days,
Let them flow in endless praise.

In the end, it was the second verse that almost made the back of a couple hundred t-shirts alongside a cartoon mosquito.   Verse two is the piece of the song that always seems to come back to me when I am struggling to complete that extra mile.  The words seem incredible appropriate as I push myself along the road side.

Take my hands and let them move
At the impulse of Thy love.
Take my feet and let them be
Swift and beautiful for Thee

When I am running, and the muscles ache and the chest burns, I want to give up.  I am pleading for some part (any part) of me to be swift and beautiful.   The truth is something far from that reality.    I want to stop and walk to the closest 7-11 and buy me the biggest tub of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream I can find.  I want to sink my face into a giant tub of Chunky Monkey, Chubby Hubby, or Cherry Garcia with wild abandon.   When I am done I want to wash it all down with all the syrupy rich Grape Soda I can find..

I want to pick up my running shoes and throw them into the nearest river without thinking twice.  I want to find that spot in my couch that was once so perfectly formed to my backside and slip back into blissful vegetation.   I want to fall asleep with the front of my shirt being used as a platter for Buffalo Wings, and not think twice.   Right there and then, I want to surrender but something in me tells me not to.

It is in that moment the war begins.  It’s a war like no other.   It’s a war between the man I am called to be, and the man that I am all too frequently willing to accept.  It’s a war that pits good Scott versus Bad Scott.

There on the side of Maple or Park Ave in Keene, I experience a colossal and cosmic battle with the Fat Scott of old, and the Scott that is too tough to stop because of some cramp or blister.   Somewhere just outside my grasp, and just outside of that moment, is the Scott I want to be, the Scott that I could be, and the Scott that I should be.   It’s a battle between the cramp that says stop, and the voice that says keep trying to move that mountain.

As I said earlier, In that colossal battle one of my weapons of choice is a random tune, a passing lyric, or some made up melody.    It might be Michael Jackson, or it might be some long since obscure hymn writer. It might be the Doxology or it might be Gilligan.   Whatever form that weapon takes, I weld it like some long since gone, knight of the round table.

As in all wars, sometimes the battle doesn’t go as planned.  In those moments when victory seems to quickly elude my grasp, its usually good old Frances Havergall’s Take My Life that is pulled from my quiver.    It becomes my weapon of last resort.

The hymn becomes a plea.   The words become a desperate plea to God to take those lummoxing, smelly size 13 things I call feet and transform them into something beautiful, whose primary purpose is to give God glory.

Take my hands and let them move
At the impulse of Thy love.
Take my feet and let them be
Swift and beautiful for Thee.

In between gasps of breath, the words take flight.   At first it sounds like some meditative chant, but slowly it brings me back.     The words remind me to surrender fully and completely.  If you begin telling yourself that each step is not for you, but for God, the idea of giving up quickly loses its appeal.

In that moment, the pain and the struggle becomes about something else. Its not about the battle, its simply about moving forward.   Its not about the next mile, its about the next step.   Slowly the next step becomes the next two, the next two becomes the next ten, and so on.    The song slowly finds its voice.  God doesn’t care whether you make it to mile 6, 9 or 12.  He cares that you make that next step, and trust that he’ll keep pushing you along.

Take my voice and let me sing, Always, only for my King.

Take my lips and let them be Filled with messages from Thee.

It might take a while, but eventually the song takes over.    Before I know it, I create a spectacle that – for the unknowing – is probably quite alarming.   There is some buffoon, running down the street, sweating like no one man should, with a giant Cheshire cat smile on his face, singing at the top of the lungs.  

 In that moment, I become the 16th century monk facing down persecution.   I become the priest in the coliseum eying the lion.   I become possessed with the idea of not giving up or not giving in.    That battle becomes a very real and very brutal acknowledgement and test of my faith.  I am a man possessed, and I would imagine that the casual passerby expects little white suited men with nets to be chasing right behind me.

When the run is over, and this one battle of this great war for my physical well being and with the demon that is Fat Scott comes to a close, I find myself continually surprised on how surrendering to the music works so well.  Somewhere between mile 5 and mile 6 it becomes all about him.

Take my will and make it Thine, It shall be no longer mine.

Take my heart, it is Thine own, It shall be Thy royal throne.

 Take my love, my Lord, I pour At Thy feet its treasure store.

Take myself and I will be Ever, only, all for Thee.

Maybe the reason I turn to this hymn so frequently is found in its pure simplicity.   It is a call for us to a complete and full surrender.    We are called to surrender everything we have, are, and own to God.   There is no second guessing.  If there is one truth about our relationship with God it is that there can be no second guessing.

I know that I tend towards the over dramatic.   I know that running down the street may not be the greatest battle of my life, and perhaps I over do the whole battle metaphor.  I also know that I find too many metaphors in my running, and I try not to bore you with some newly acquired revelation found in my running each week, but it is a big part of who I am, and in those moments I find, from time to time, a truth that needs sharing.  Today, its that there is a daily part of my faith journey that is all about surrender.   It should be the same for each of us.  It should be something that we embrace more fully.

Our faith journeys need to be about this.  Our faith calls for complete surrender.     No matter how bizarre or how melodramatic my point may be, I know that in that moment of complete surrender, I find my breath and I find my freedom.

Sadly, we are too often about control rather than surrender.  There is a great story that emphasizes this perfectly.   It’s about a little boy who is sitting at a table with his mother.   He had just spent the morning outside in the snow, making snowmen and snow angels and when the chill finally hit, he returned home and was greeted with a steaming mug of hot cocoa.

Together the Mom and little boy sat in complete silence, and the snow melted.   After a long time and a full mug of coffee, the Mother saw the boy absent mindedly staring at the empty mug.

“Is there something wrong Bill?” Mom asked?

“Mom, I got a question,” he replied.   “Is God Everywhere?”

“Of course,” said Mom.

After a pause, he asked “Is he in this room?”

“Yes, He is everywhere”

After still a longer pause; “Is he at our table?”

“Yes, Billy, God is everywhere”

After a much longer pause, Billy’s eyes got bigger and through what looked like equal parts revelation and fear, he asked a final question;  “If God is in this room, and at this table, and God is everywhere…   Does that mean he is in this mug too?” he asked as he raised his now empty cup of cocoa.

Not sure where little Billy was going with this, Mom replied as matter of fact as she could.   “God is everywhere Billy.”

No sooner did the words come out of her mouth than Billy slammed his hand on top of the mug, and screamed out “Gotchya!”

In the end, so many of us are like that little boy, thinking we can capture God.  We believe that we just need to get close.   When we are, we can trap God.

We look at this thing called faith, and we see that we are so close, but there always appears to be something just outside our grasp.   We know God.  We know and feel his presence among us, but there is something that just isn’t quite there.

We find ourselves cursing the mistakes we make from day to day, and wishing we were better parents, didn’t lose our temper so frequently, or were willing to take the next step to be a better spouse or friend.   We question.  We doubt.  We find ourselves coming close but never quite making it over that hill.  We figure if we can just get closer, we too can throw our hand over the top of the mug, and capture God.

In the end, it’s not about capture.

When we find ourselves hurting from the running, and we want to give ourselves over to what the world has to offer, and then wash it down with the most syrupy grape soda it has to offer, we need to realize that surrender is our only choice.    I’s about our surrender to him.

We spend so much time in this place dreaming of a world that is better.  We dream of the ways we could be different.    We long to know God more fully.   We long to know our calling.   We long to answer the questions of this world that haunt us.     We want to figure out a way to juggle the world of outside with a life lived fully in the Word.

The answer is simple.  We need to say take this life and let it be consecrated all to him.    We need to be about living, doing, and existing for him.    This means putting aside the selfishness, the ego, the materialism and choosing to pursue him with as much vigor.

We need to take our lips and let them be filled with Him and his Word.   We need to give our intellect, our feet, our hands, and everything we are to him and his will.   We need to allow his will to become ours fully and completely.   We need to give him our silver, our gold, and our treasure, and realize that all is worthless without Him.     It’s simple.   It’s a complete and total surrender to him.

This is the one war, the one battle, the one run, the one challenge we have in our life that is won by giving up.    It’s won when we say:

Take this life and let it be, consecrated all to thee.

Take these hands and let them move at the impulse of His love.

 Take these feet and let them be Swift and beautiful.

Take this voice and let me sing,

Take these lips and let them be Filled with messages from Thee.

Take my silver and my gold,

Take my intellect and use every power as you choose.

 Take my will and make it Thine,

It shall be no longer mine.

Thanks be to God Amen.

The above pic is credited to S.R. Pak 2007

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!).

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