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Monday, August 29, 2005
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MYTHOLOGY, NEW AND OLD: I never got hooked on the whole Lance Armstrong thing. In fact, I didn’t even know who Lance Armstrong was until a few months ago, when I heard he was about to retire. But since then I’ve gotten up-to-date on Mr. Armstrong and the wave of admiration that he has stirred here in the good old USofA. Obviously, I don’t pay much attention to cycling. The last time I gave it any thought was in 1980 when I saw “Breaking Away” (good movie). Oh, and maybe when I’m driving here in town and come upon a bunch of local guys in tight uniforms and aero helmets pretending to be Team Cinzano, making me crawl behind them as they huff and puff their way up the hill.

Mr. Armstrong touched upon our nation’s penchant for resurrection stories. As with Jesus Christ, Lance Armstrong came back from the dead. But to Americanize the myth, Mr. Armstrong took on the snobby French and beat them. Again and again!

But now those agnostic French have struck back. They took out their frozen urine samples and found something called EPO, which is both a banned performance enhancer and a medicine for cancer patients. So far Mr. Armstrong is denying that he took EPO, but I can’t help but believe that he did. However, I don’t think that he took an illegal enhancer in the same way that so many other athletes did (and probably still do). I believe that it was a quiet medical decision between Mr. Armstrong and his doctors, and not a quest to set new records of athletic endurance. I think that his doctors said something like this: “Lance, the Lord has been good to you, but you’re still not the same guy as before you got the cancer; I can’t stop you from pushing a bike over 2,000 miles of hills and dales, but just to make sure that it doesn’t hurt you and that you finish OK, why don’t we give your system a little boost, just to even things out a bit”.

If that’s the case, then I have no problem with Mr. Armstrong keeping all his medals. But as far as the American Myth goes, the dream is over. Cancer is the horrid shadow of inevitable death, the thing we can do nothing about; if I remember my Joseph Campbell right, Lance Armstrong has assumed the role of the hero who got up and vanquished the unconquerable foe. But if my imaginary doctor is correct and Lance Armstrong is not the same as a guy who never had cancer, then our worst fears remain. And that explains the ruckus and the denial that the French “B Sample” test results have caused.

THE ORIGINAL RESURRECTION MYTH: Lance Armstrong is the new resurrectional myth maker, and Jesus of Nazareth is the old one. As I’ve discussed here before, I have come to believe that the academians are correct in describing Jesus as another in a long line of Jewish apocalypticists from the time of the Greek and Roman occupation of Palestine. But in their academic world view, the big professors miss something essential about Jesus, something that explains why so many people profess Jesus as the Son of God who was raised from the dead. It’s because Jesus said to his followers that he was Son of God (“Son of Man”, more accurately) and that he would come back from the dead! Because Jesus said it, his disciples wanted to believe it; he was obviously a very charismatic figure.

Jesus came to believe that he, as a Jew, was amidst God’s chosen people; but moreover, as a man of intense spirituality in a time of crisis, Jesus also came to believe that he was the chosen of the chosen. The Jews of the time had a myth about God appointing a “Son of Man” who would come along in the clouds and set up God’s Kingdom right there in the Holy Land, along the far eastern shores of the Mediterranean. For proof, read the Book of Daniel. Jesus decided that the time had come and God had given him the mission of readying himself — and anyone who would listen — for the carrying out of THE BIG CHANGE. When Jesus was handed over to Pilate during that fateful Passover celebration, he probably figured that everything was right on track; just as his body was dying on the Roman cross in the cruel afternoon sun, God would start the BIG EVENT.

But the big event never came. Therefore, it’s no surprise that some of the early followers remembered Jesus crying out from the cross, “My God, why have you forsaken me?” The standard Christian mythological interpretation is that these words were a foil meant to emphasize the sweetness of the resurrection that followed. But I think that they were actually remembered in despair by the disciples. Many scholars doubt that any of Jesus’ followers were standing near by throughout the crucifixion event, since they would also be picked up by the Romans and be killed. But these words may well have reflected their own dismay and disappointment about Jesus being wrong. The sun had set that evening and the Kingdom had not arrived.

Something obviously happened later on to restore the disciples’ faith that Jesus and the BIG EVENT were delayed but were still on the way. Jesus was not wrong; his timing was just a little bit off. Without that faith-restoring thing (whatever it was), there wouldn’t be any Christianity today. I’m not saying that a miracle actually occurred. It could have been a case of mistaken identity, or a bout of meditative exuberance as Paul seems to have had on the road to Damascus (described in Corinthians).

OK, so where am I going with all of this? Well, what I’m asking here is this: what do we do when we finally get past the myths, when the masks of wishful thinking finally come off? How do we look at death and life and find hope, after we admit that Lance Armstrong did have a banned performance enhancer in him, and that Jesus of Nazarteh died without bringing on God’s Kingdom and that he stayed dead, just like everyone before him and since? (And let’s not even get started about the Buddha and Mohammed). I think that there is a way to do it, and that it involves wisdom and maturity. Hey, it’s never too late to keep on growing up. But it’s a huge challenge, and I’m not at all sure that I’ll ever live up to it.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 4:57 pm      

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