E-pistle August 14

Garbage Redemption: Michael Vick and the Gospel of Grace
 
They say that confession is good for the soul, so I will start there.  I must confess that I was watching the Steelers beat the Cardinals when I heard the news.  The Philadelphia Eagles had signed Michael Vick to a two-year contract.  My first thought was that it’s not all that bad being a Steelers fan. 
 
This morning I hit the websites and read the news and the comments in the columns.  I cast my vote.  I listened to what Andy Reid had to say. I’m big on second chances, too, but in this case…
 
Then I came across a really nasty column that coins the phrase “garbage redemption” and that got me to thinking.  I know nothing about Dan Brown, the Huffington Post columnist, and I’m no fan of the Huffington Post, but there’s something to this idea of garbage redemption, those media-friendly stories of second chances, as Mr. Brown calls them.   
 
Brown is right in too many ways for me to dismiss his cynicism. We love feel-good stories of second-chance redemption. We like it when things go better the next time. But Michael Vick was nothing short of evil the first time around. Will we call it redemption if he’s not quite as obviously bad this time? We’ll probably call it a miracle if he helps the Eagles get to the Super Bowl.  And we will love him. But will there have been redemption?
 
Michael Vick has not been redeemed in any non-theological sense.  At best he now begins the process of redemption.  But it won’t happen at Lincoln Field.  No one ever said he’s not a great athlete and a good football player.  What we learned about Michael Vick is that he is/was a miserable human being.  His redemption will come over the years as he learns to live not out of misery but out of decency; he will need to learn modesty and manners, consideration and self-control – the sorts of things decent parents (who Michael Vick did not have) teach their kids around the dinner table, as they do chores together and go on family outings.  Anything less will be garbage redemption.
 
Michael Vick suffers from character deprivation due in no small part by the lack of decent parenting, a dinner table to come home to, chores to do or family outings to go on.  The journey to decency is going to be hard and if he fails again, no matter what happens on the football field, this will, indeed, be a case of garbage redemption. 
 
But maybe there’s hope for something beyond garbage redemption.  As the story unfolds, a familiar name keeps popping up, the name of former Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy.  It turns out that Dungy has been talking with Michael Vick.  Tony Dungy knows that garbage redemption never lasts.  He knows that we can’t redeem ourselves, certainly not off the football field. 
 
In his Dungy’s Diaries blog, Tony writes about some his conversations with Michael Vick and the decision he has to make, “We’ve talked about how he’s going to make those decisions and where the Lord fits into all this.  Sometimes you don’t know exactly what to do or what the next step should be.  That’s when your faith in Christ has to take over.  You have to pray about things and let God direct your course.  I want to help Michael do this…”
 
In a Sports Illustrated column last May, Dungy wrote, “As a Christian, I follow the Biblical model of how a community should be structured—wisdom should be passed down from elders to juniors, and when that doesn't happen the results won't be good. That's why I'm concerned about the number of young men growing up without active fathers in their lives. This is an increasing problem all across society but especially in African-American homes.
It's ironic that, as I'm leaving pro football, one of the people I'm trying to help was once one of the NFL's biggest stars. But I'm concerned about Michael Vick's life, not his career. And Michael's future, just like those of thousands of other inmates around the country, is worth saving.”
 
Redemption is about much more than trying to get it right the second time.  It is about becoming a new person. Sometimes some people are able to make the journey from misery to decency.  Redemption is the journey from death to life. Only Christ can take us there. It’s not just Michael Vick’s future, it is his life that is worth saving.  The Gospel of grace is the story of how God has saved us from misery, beyond decency and to joy.  Michael Vick.  You.  Me. Thanks be to God.
 
God has given us much more than garbage redemption.  I’m hoping Michael Vick discovers it.  I’ll be rooting for him.  I may even root for the Eagles.