Thursday, August 30, 2012

A Video That Hitler Would Have Hated...

A video that has recently become quite popular on YouTube, and was even featured this past week on ESPN, details an Ohio boy with cerebral palsy who competed in a 400 meter race against children without any similar limitations. At several points in the race, it looks as if the boy will not make it and perhaps even stop on the track. But spurred on by his gym coach and a spontaneous gathering of fellow students, he manages to persevere and finish the race long after the others. You would have to be hard-hearted not to be moved by such a spectacle- either because of the struggle the child had to endure, and/or because of the support he received along the way. Yet why do I even need to bring this up? Is this not a response which is "self evident?" Does not a sentiment like this come naturally to the human race? The simple answer to that is no.

The truth is you don't need to be Adolph Hitler or Friedrich Nietzsche to despise what is being celebrated in this video. Indeed, the pagans of the ancient world would have found such a spectacle more than a little curious. The sad fact is a boy like the one depicted in the video below- far from being recognized as a symbol of courage- would have been perceived (if he had even been allowed to survive infancy) as a drain and a disappointment, a life devoid of any real virtue or meaning. Consequently, scenes like this should remind us that had Christ not come, a video like this would have been absolutely inconceivable. After all, let's face it, the boy is not Usain Bolt. In fact, he can't run to save his life. Forrest Gump is an olympic medalist in comparison to this kid. Going strictly on appearances, this event is little more than an exercise in futility, an undignified and useless struggle to finish last- an outcome, by the way, of which there was never any doubt.

And yet, here are all these people moved and inspired and walking along with him, not because there is any great accomplishment in coming in last place, but because it is part of the air we breathe as Christians. So long have we been psychological Christians that we no longer marvel or even recognize how Christ has changed our perceptions of power and success. Of course, people still measure success by the standards of the world (which is fine because we do live in the world), but what Jesus introduces is an altogether unique barometer for measurement. What I am referring to here is the somewhat mystical recognition that the most impressive virtues in life are not necessarily those that come most naturally to us (like good looks, or innate athleticism), but rather those that come least naturally to us, like running a race in a body barely built to crawl. It gets us no where to compare a kid like this to Usain Bolt, for his success is not to be measured by sheer speed, but by an interior strength. What moves us to tears does not consist in his ability to break any records, it consists in his ability to persevere and bravely run a race that he is guaranteed to lose... by a lot. Ultimately this story embodies the mystery of Christian triumph- a riddle hinted at by St. Paul in his letter to the Corinthians; "Run the race so as to win...They (the pagans) do it to receive a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one" 1 Corinthians 9:24-25.

If we were to be honest with ourselves and see things as heaven sees them, we might realize that the boy with cerebral palsy is not just some poor sap that was fortunate enough to be king for a day, but a symbol of our own fragile humanity. We are all, as it were, palsied and limited beings (especially as fallen human beings), and we all need the help of our divine family- otherwise uninhibited by the aforementioned malady- to spur us on and encourage us until we cross the finish line. Indeed, our unique gift to God is not that we should all be a bunch of Adonises or Greek gods; our gift to him is that in spite of our blatant and almost shameful vulnerability, we demonstrate a profound unwillingness to be conquered. Therefore, we do not win this particular bout by sending our opponents to the canvas, but rather by- in the spirit of Cool Hand Luke- perpetually lifting ourselves off of it.          

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