Redemption or not.

Michael Vick, #7. QB Philadelphia Eagles

I feeling surprisingly strongly about this:

Either you believe in redemption or you don’t. Your answer to that question will profoundly affect they way you think about many other “big ticket” items in your ethical closet. Items like the purpose of the criminal justice system, the death penalty, pacifism, the value of negotiations, the purpose of punishment, the value of retribution, the concept of sin, the concept of guilt, the concept of innocence and, ultimately, the teachings of Jesus Christ.

I am pissed off at the people who say “I will never, ever forgive Michael Vick.” Not because he’s the quarterback for a football team I support, not because I don’t think what he did was heinous (I do) and not because I think it’s easy to forgive. No, I’m pissed off at the refusal to forgive, period. Because once you refuse to forgive, refuse to be open to the possibility that people who make mistakes – even grave ones – can learn from them and become better, then you have essentially given up on humanity. Really, you might as well go live in a cave.

Anyone who has committed a crime and done time for it should be observed carefully once they are released from prison. Redemption is in the deeds not the words. No one gets watched more closely than a celebrity who has transgressed (which is why so many of them self-destruct, but that’s for another post). I think Michael Vick has done everything right, even after serving time in an punitive prison system, under the bright spotlight of the media and in front of population full of people rooting for him to fail.

That’s right. There’s nothing so fun as watching a big tree come down, to mangle Ken Kesey. Many people wanted to watch Vick self-destruct: get caught at a dog fight, get a DUI, whatever. We loved watching Anna Nicole Smith come apart, and MJ, and LiLo, and Brittany . . . But alas, Vick is writing a different story, the one where the celebrity doesn’t come apart. This story is not often told: it’s the one where the sinner is redeemed. It’s the one Jesus preached about.

This story is made all the more galling to many Americans because Michael Vick is not the kind of person who should be granted redemption. You see Michael Vick is a black man – still the lowest category in our not-so-subtle caste system in the USA. Black men are the lowest of the low in this country. I submit that we will not be the nation we aspire to be until we bend all our efforts to improving the condition of black men in America.

Some of Michael Vick's dogs

But here comes Michael Vick, agreeing to the interviews, apologizing again and again, working in support of the humane society, speaking to kids in inner city high schools, and playing lights-out football in the toughest sports city in the nation. The irony is that Vick may just be the best thing to ever happen in the fight to end dog fighting. Who even knew it was going on until he got arrested? Not me. And now I’m outraged and I want to it to stop. And he is humbled, chagrined, and he too wants it to stop.

Jesus came into the world with a simple message: even if you are a sinner, if you believe in me, you can be saved. That is the essence of redemption. It is right there at the center – at the beating heart of Christian faith. And I’m pretty sure Muslims, Jews and people of other faiths have their own versions of the redemption story. We can all be redeemed. Even number seven. No exceptions.

Finally there’s this: without redemption we lose the chance to learn from the ones redeemed. I believe that no one can teach us better about darkness and despair than the people who have walked through it and lived to tell the story. In the rooms of AA there is this idea: among recovering alcoholics there are students and teachers. The teachers are the ones who drink and come back in to tell us about it. The rest of us are students.

Pay attention to the redeemed one. He may just save you from making the same mistake as him. Because we are all going to make mistakes.