Friday, July 24, 2009
When I lived in Nevada I rode my bike a fair amount to stay in shape. One of our local celebrities was a young man named Greg LeMond who was to become the first American to win the biggest bike race in the world, the Tour de France. In fact, he won it three times.
One day, a friend of mine and I, decided to duplicate a good chunk of one of Greg LeMond’s favorite training runs and we embarked on a ride around Lake Tahoe. It’s about 75 miles at altitude. The terrain was up and down and had some significant climbs for us amateurs. I walked away from that ride with a whole new appreciation of how fit world class athletes have to be. It also began a love affair with the Tour de France. I watch as much of it as I can.
In the Tour de France and other major cycling events most of the riders have virtually no opportunity to win the race. Each team has nine riders. One is the christened leader. The rest are called domestiques, each a world class rider in their own right. Some are great climbers, some sprinters, some can keep a great pace. Their role is to do whatever it takes to help the leader win the Tour de France. They are to spend themselves physically in order for the leader to draft behind them. The leader of the team stays on their wheel when the going gets tough. The domestiques help pull their man up the mountain and back down. They sacrifice their ego to support the leader. And everyone knows what the role demands. Do a good job as a domestique and perhaps you’ll get a chance to lead your own team someday. That’s what happened to LeMond and Armstrong. But for most riders they toil in a fair amount of obscurity year in and year out on bike racing’s biggest stages.
In show business they call this being a second banana. On rock tours it’s the warm-up band. In pastoral circles it’s the associate. In a bank it’s the vice-president. On a high school football team it’s the offensive line. It is what it is. There are people who have very distinct gifts and talents. Without them the star attraction wouldn’t shine as brightly or would be less effective. There’s no way Greg LeMond or Lance Armstrong could win the Tour de France with his own skills and abilities. They needed help. And in this year’s race 7 time champion Lance Armstrong is serving as a domestique not as team leader.
This year as I watch the Tour de France I’m reminded of its insane difficulty. I’m also reminded of the roles team members play both in the big race and the races within the race.
When I watch the Tour de France I delight in the dozens of sermon illustrations it provides. It also get me thinking about who I am and the roles I’ve played and will be asked to play. Just like you I have gifts and talents. Sometimes I’m upfront and center stage. Sometimes I’m backstage. Sometimes I get the spotlight on me. And there are times when I get to shine the spot light on someone else.
Each role is good and necessary. Sometimes it’s important for me to be upfront and leading and sometimes I get to play the ‘domestique’ role. Both are satisfying in their own way.
The Tour de France reminds me so much of all the ‘body of Christ’, gifts and talents stuff in the New Testament. There’s ‘magic’ when we understand and operate with the understanding that no one person can do it all and that God doesn’t expect that from anyone. It’s a reminder that this life is far less about the ‘me’ than it is about the ‘us’.
Tomorrow is a crucial stage in the Tour de France. The leader of the race will have an opportunity to become a ‘domestique’ helping a teammate or two ascend to the platform in Paris. It will be interesting if he’ll be able to or want to do it. Sometimes when you’re out front you don’t want to give up the spotlight even for a minute. The sacred text talks about things like that. It says stuff about servanthood, humility, and the importance of the first being last. This is good stuff to remind ourselves of in a dog eat dog world with everyone racing to the finish line forgetting that the race is easier won when we work together, keeping our eyes on the One who's supposed to be the team leader.