Fools, Guilt, and Making Amends

I’m still super-busy, but I absolutely had to take a quick break and blog about something I just read and what it made me think of.

I’m getting caught up on my Bible reading plan, and right now I’m reading through most of Proverbs. Proverbs 14:9 (NLT) says, “Fools make fun of guilt, but the godly acknowledge it and seek reconciliation.” By the way, according to one of the notes in my Bible (Life Application Study Bible), the word “fool” in Proverbs does not refer to someone with a mental deficiency, but to someone with a character deficiency; a fool is someone who is not stupid, but is regardless unable to tell right from wrong, good from bad.

I was immediately reminded of several high-profile incidents in the lives of public officials, celebrities, athletes, etc., over the last year or so. On the Fool Team are the people who have been caught red-handed doing something lascivious and/or illegal, and have followed our culture’s trajectory for making amends. That is, they have A) made a carefully-scripted public statement using the most general and vague terms possible to describe their “transgressions” and how “deeply remorseful” they are for the “public embarrassment” they have caused to their “friends, employers/sponsors/voters, but most importantly to [their] family”, B) spent some amount of time in seclusion, possibly at a rehabilitation program that they may or may not have completed, and C) they have emerged into the public eye again, claiming that they are a “better person” or are in “a better place” now, and that they have “rededicated their lives to their core principles” and will do their best to “make [their] family proud” as they “move forward”. (Seriously, you could make a drinking game out of all the catch-phrases our culture has for these types of situations.) I’m thinking specifically this morning of South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, Lindsay Lohan, and Tiger Woods.

Sanford has already said publicly that he is still in love with his Argentinian mistress and will not end the relationship. Lohan was back in the news this morning because her alcohol monitoring anklet alerted authorities that she had been drinking again. To be fair to Tiger Woods, we don’t know if he’s stopped being a philanderer or not, so we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt on that, but his public apology speech did use approximately 95% of the available catch-phrases.

The net result of these, and other similar situations, is that it really begins to seem like all you have to do to be redeemed in our culture is spend a little time in rehab, or somewhere else “getting help”, and say all the right words publicly. It’s a very easy path that smacks (to me, at least) of a lack of true guilt. To put it bluntly, I feel like these celebrities are making fun of guilt.

Contrast that with Jim Joyce, the major league umpire who absolutely blew a call with 2 outs in the bottom of the 9th inning a week ago, which cost Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga a perfect game and a spot in the history books. Joyce stood by his call until he saw the replay, saw that he most definitely blew the call. He immediately, and without any scripting or coaching, contacted the media and made a heartfelt public apology to Galarraga. His apology was genuine and raw. I don’t think he used any of the politically correct apology catch-phrases. Instead he used profanity, because that’s how Jim Joyce talks in real life, and because he was that upset about it. The gist of his statement was, “I screwed up. I blew the call. I cost a deserving young pitcher a spot in the history books, and I feel terrible about it.”

Do you see the difference? Sanford, Lohan, and even Woods, in their public “admissions of guilt”, deflected the cause of their problems to outside influences, spinning long stories and histories in the hopes of explaining and helping people understand their behavior. Joyce just said, “I messed up, and I’m sorry,” and he meant it.

The result? Sanford, Lohan, and Woods are still in a state of semi-redemption; the gossip-public is watching them with a close eye, hoping to get another story out of them. Joyce, on the other hand, was greeted as a friend by Galarraga himself, who came out to the pitcher’s mound to present him with the Tigers’ lineup in the game following Joyce’s blown call. Joyce cried. He cried tears of remorse for what he had cost Galarraga, but also tears of joy and relief that he had been shown such grace from Galarraga and the rest of the sporting community.

I’m not trying to say that Jim Joyce is godly and that Mark Sanford, Lindsay Lohan, and Tiger Woods are not. I don’t know any of them at all, much less well enough to judge their lives. But I think the example of Jim Joyce’s heartfelt and spontaneous apology, and the redemption of that story from something ugly into something beautiful, stand on their own. Especially when you contrast them with an outgoing governor whose private life is still in shambles, a young actress with a lot of potential who can’t get a job because she can’t keep herself clean, and an incredibly gifted golfer with unlimited potential who just can’t seem to get it together right now.

Peace.

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