A-Roid, Vigilante Justice, and the need for a Judge

The other day Alex Rodriguez aka A-Rod or A-Roid, faced Red Sox pitcher Ryan Dempster. After several clear inside pitches designed to hit A-Roid, one finally hit the mark. Immediately benches were warned, but Dempster stayed in the game. Afterwards, Red Sox manager belied ignorance of any seeming intent on behalf of his less than star pitcher. 

As an avid Rays fan, I’m partial to both the Sox and the Yankees, always hoping against hope that both can lose. But since baseball is not soccer, that’s just not really an option. Regardless of the fact that hit batter fueled a Yankees rally which proved the difference in their victory, the real discussion afterwards lay in the ethics of such a pitch, not in pragmatics (how un-American of us to push the pragmatic to the side).

Who was right? 

A-Roid is facing more than a 200 game suspension for his alleged involvement in steroids, which he admitted to using before. MLB has somewhat of smoking gun, so after his appeal is heard, A-Roid will be A-Bored for a season and a half. On top of that, A-Rod might be the most unlike-able baseball player on one of the more polarizing teams. Despite his individual and team success, he plays himself up to be the victim. Some of these players have been lying their whole lives, that they actually believe the lies they tell. Perhaps that, or an extreme narcissism, or both is at the root to why A-Roid won’t simply admit he did wrong? 

So pitchers have every “reason” to hate A-Rod. The rest of the 10+ players suspended by MLB have taken their suspensions, but not A-Rod. That’s why Dempster beaned him, even though it took him 4 pitches to do so. 

So who is right? 

Should pitchers be able to hit the “cheater” (allegedly)? Or is A-Rod right, for according to the letter of the law, he has the right to appeal-which will allow him to play the rest of the season? In that case, he shouldn’t be “targeted” (again, allegedly because no one admits to hitting someone) by pitchers.

Who’s side should one take?

It’s probably important to look at something more than the arm that through the baseball. What’s really being said by that pitch? You cheat, we don’t, and we will punish you the best way we can for cheating. It’s the position of the legalist. The one who says I follow the law, you don’t, so I will punish you the best way I can. Perhaps shunning, running or gunning. Many folks fall into this category even though they would never admit to this. You judge, we don’t judge, so we will judge you for judging. We will do something about it, and not leave it to the legal process.  

You don’t have to be a Westboro Baptist member to fall into this line of work. You don’t have to vote Republican. Behind the pitch, there is an unrealized self-righteousness which produces anger. Whether it comes out in a subtle form as with labels, racism, or blatant insults and violence, the heart behind it is the same. Self-righteousness always pops its ugly head.

Is it possible to take another route? Is it possible to believe that A-Rod shouldn’t be allowed to play yet not personally take matters into your own hands? Can you disagree with someone’s behavior, believe it a sin, and yet not judge them? Can you not make someone pay by shunning, gunning, or running, but instead leave it to another Judge?

That is the position the Rays will take when A-Roid and his company play the Tampa Bay Rays in a week.

“You know what, vigilante justice and unilateral decisions, I’m not into that stuff,” Maddon said. “There’s rules in place. There’s a board  assigned to make those kind of decisions. I believe in players’ controlling the game itself in regards to what’s happening in that game, and we always talk about policing that. But  that is totally separate from the unwritten rules of baseball. So I do not agree with that at all. And, again, I don’t believe in rogue unilateral decisions or players meting out discipline, whereas this is something entirely different.”

Asked if the Rays pitchers would act similarly, Maddon said: “There’s no reason to. There’s absolutely zero reason to do that for me. That’s what I believe. I believe let the mechanism in place work and everybody do their jobs. … Don’t attempt to be judge and jury and just let everybody do their jobs.”

MLB, led by Bud Selig is probably not much more than a joke. The man who promoted the Roided out long-ball era now wants to be known by cleaning it up? Yet there is another judge to whom we can leave things. 

Without a Judge, on whom you can never pull a fast one, we are forced to take matters into our own hands. Without such a Judge, we only have the options of retaliating or overlooking. We only have the options of becoming an angry self-righteous legalist or driven by indifference at what we know to be wrong. A legalist or one with license to do whatever fulfills us at the moment. 

The irony behind removing God’s wrath or judgment from our picture of Him is that we become more wrathful and judgmental. Or we become a completely self absorbed relativist caring about self before family and community. Neither seem all that good to me.  

Oprah, Lance, and judgments

It has been well over a week since Oprah v. Lance. Not quite as big as Roe v. Wade, but big. I actually just saw snippets here and there on SportsCenter, since I, like most of the world, doesn’t have or watch Oprah’s network. And of course I heard sports talk hosts banter around some of the ideas, respond to what was said, as well as to what wasn’t said.

In the end, here are some of my thoughts in a very unorganized/steam of consciousness sort of way.

What if Lance had responded this way?
Oprah, doesn’t this sound like a judgment? Aren’t you judging me? Isn’t that what you are all about?

The reality is that it is not too difficult to judge Lance. The dude cheated, as probably most folks on the tour did, by the use of performance enhancing drugs. Then he consistently promoted the lie and sued numbers of people who questioned his “drugless” performances. He sued so many people, that he couldn’t remember exactly who he sued. I’ve never sued anyone, and hopefully never will, but I’m pretty sure I might stop after losing track of my victims. Hopefully, but pride does come before the fall…..

And Lance doesn’t do himself any favors by coming off as fairly-extremely unlikeable. 

People used to love Lance. He even had a powerful cameo in Dodgeball. But now I’m thinking he wouldn’t be asked back for a potential sequel. People don’t love Lance anymore. 

During Oprah’s interview with Lance, it was clear that she was not simply gathering information, but gathering information with the intent of making a judgment. Now judgment looks differently for different people. Perhaps its verbal. Perhaps it appears as judgmental frown or look of disappointment. I think the statute of limitations had run out in regards to any perjury statement, so he’s OK there. But Oprah clearly sat in a expressive posture of judgment: you did wrong Lance.

But why? What gives her the right to pass judgment? And if you still don’t believe Oprah’s interview was judgmental, then what about the millions of people angered by the “truth” that came out?

Oprah has always advocated being true to oneself. So if that is the ultimate ethical standard, can you blame someone for cheating? What if he is a cheater? What if he “has” to win?  How can that be considered wrong? No one can live consistently with the “don’t judge me” religious conviction. At some point, we feel wronged when we are regularly lied to. We feel duped. And thus we say that person has done wrong. And we are right.

It is impossible to live consistently within that worldview. You can’t just be true to yourself, because if you do, you will wrong other people. Tons of them.

I wish Lance would have turned the tables and asked her what right she has to condemn. I would have loved to see her response.

In the end, we don’t like to be lied to. We don’t like it when others cheat-but we hold on to hope that they aren’t cheating. 

Oprah couldn’t express why Lance was wrong, but it it is not because she doesn’t believe it. In part.  Oprah and the legions of people angry with Lance, have suppressed the belief in God deep down (Romans 1:18-19). But that belief can only stay down so long. It comes up from time to time. And it manifests itself through righteous judgments: the simple conviction that certain things are just wrong. Not because cycling authorities say it’s wrong. Not because the Supreme Court says it’s wrong. Not because we feel that it’s wrong. Simply because it is wrong. That comes only from God, and belief in God, whether or not people agree that is in fact from Him who forms their belief. He is directing and exposing their belief in Him.

The gospel frees us from the “all judgments are wrong” category (that no one really lives out), but it also frees us from becoming judgmental. Lance didn’t sue me. If he did, I would probably be mad at him, and I would try to recoup that money. But for the most of us whom he didn’t sue, we don’t need to look down upon Lance. 

The Law brings us to our knees because we all fall short. Everyone. You, me, Lance, Barney-or at least the guy who plays Barney. The gospel, as Luther reminds us, reminds us that we are still sinners and at the same time, righteously declared Saints. How can a messed up sinner tell another messed up sinner he is in fact a hopelessly messed up sinner? How can a messed up sinner tell another messed up sinner the real problem is how far another has fallen short of his low standard, when it is God’s standard which we all fall short?

The gospel avoids the pitfalls of a judging and tolerating/excusing that which is clearly wrong.

I’ve never been a Lance fan, just like I’ve never been a Micheal Jordan, or Tiger Woods fan. I tend to pull for losers. But there’s plenty of room at the head table for more sinners like you me, Lance, and Barney. As a great hymn writer reminds us, “All the fitness he requires is that you feel your need of Him.”

Implications of believing in Judge Jesus

We have been watching the video Soul put out by Christianity Explored for youth group time. The video and materials that come with it are intentionally evangelistic, so any visitors will get to hear the gospel or at least part of it (the video is 7 weeks long). The benefit for those in the youth group is that they get to better understand it or believe it for the first time. I never assume everyone who regularly comes is a Christian.

In addition the youth are afforded a way to learn the gospel in a way that they can share it in the language of those outside the church, as opposed to “simply” using words like “ask Jesus into your heart” that only people in the church understand. 

But the final benefit of hearing and re-hearing the gospel is that it provides so much application for believers as well. For instance, the video highlighted the resurrection, but spent time explaining one of the “perks” of the resurrection for Jesus’ followers: Jesus is the Great Judge.

Jesus is being “judged” by the high priests, he tells him that they will see “The Son of man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds in heaven (Mark 14).” Jesus is ultimately saying, “You’re judging me now, but you will see me judging you in just a bit. And I’m right and you’re wrong.” What irony: that the one being judged is actually the just judge of all!

So what difference does that make? Well the video highlighted some helpful stuff. First of all that no one will pull a “fast one” on God. Jesus will have the last laugh. Not the Taliban, murderers, rapists, etc….

Since Christians don’t stand on their record but Jesus’ record, the image of a Great Judge should provide comfort. But it also makes a huge difference in life. We went a bit further than the video to mine this truth for more application.

Oprah teaches us to not let anyone judge us (meaning don’t let anyone tell you are sinning, even if you are). Paul teaches us to not let anyone judge us according to the new moon or a Sabbath (Col 2:16). I think he means that we can defend our not celebrating new moon or special Sabbaths (not referring to the weekly Sabbath). Don’t cave. Relax. You’re in the right. Let Jesus take care of it.

But what happens when people do judge us incorrectly? What happens when other Christians judge us according to standards not in line with the gospel? I think the Jesus response to the high priest applies for both situations: “you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power.”

Whether our accusers are Satan and his goons (the great accuser), non-Christians, or Christians, we will all face the great judge. Thankfully.

Give it to Jesus. If we’re right, we’ll be vindicated. If we’re not, we’ll be forgiven. Win-win.

Now that’s not always easy to do. In fact, whenever I’m judged incorrectly (as far as I know), I hate it. It seems so unfair. But it’s not nearly as unfair as what was done to Jesus. And I want to retaliate. Yet ultimately why I demand justice now is that I don’t believe what Jesus says. That’s really it.

But there is also hope in this life too. Consider Paul’s words to Timothy: 

Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds……At my first defense, no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me. May it not be charged against them! But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might by fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

-II Tim 4:14, 16-18

That perspective can be ours when we believe. Lord give us faith to believe.