Redemption: A Rebellious Spirit, a Praying Mother, and the Unlikely Path to Olympic Gold

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4- non-fiction, excellent moral compass, relatively dry prose, but great application potential.

Tis the season of grey rain and cozy indoor days here in Greenville.  That means we are devouring books in our family!  I get books to review from BookSneeze, which has led me to explore books I might not ordinarily read. This month, I read the autobiography of Bryan Clay, called Redemption: A Rebellious Spirit, a Praying Mother, and the Unlikely Path to Olympic Gold. Why were this book & I unlikely to meet?  For one, I'd never heard of the subject/author.  For another, I vaguely knew that a decathlon involved 10 events on a track... but I couldn't tell you what they were, nor who the top guys in the event are.  I definitely had no idea how the scoring system worked (it's really complicated)!  To top it off, sports memoirs generally aren't my go-to genre (Unbroken was an exception).  Nevertheless, I gave this book a try, and I'm quite glad I did.

Bryan Clay started off life as many children did- in a happy home.  And then the all-too-common-unthinkable happened:  his parents divorced.  His childish anger & rage, manifesting itself as frequent violence, is all too predictable, despite his Christian mother who constantly promises him that he will do great things as a leader.  A counselor saw Bryan's athletic potential and warned his mom that his only chance of avoiding jail was to get him into organized sports.  Throughout high school, Bryan did well in track, all the while barely passing his classes, partying, and having numerous religious experiences at summer camp.  His mother, however, was praying for him-- she seems to be a Pentecostal of some type-- completely confident that he would one day win the Olympics and do great things.  Against every fleshly influence, Bryan ended up at a Christian university under believing coaches.  He continues his lifestyle of partying, barely scraping by in classes, and saving just enough reserve to continue to improve athletically.  However, he meets a girl.  And falls for her, hard.  When God gets ahold of her, leading her to let go of him, Bryan comes unglued.  This is one of the main catalysts for his own conversion-- a complete surrender to Christ and a transformation of his approach to track.  No longer is it his one hope for popularity and a good time; now it's a way to discipline himself to be a man of God.  It becomes nothing short of worship.

I felt like the first few chapters could have done with some heavy-handed editing.  They drag on in relatively dry prose, and would have benefitted from consolidation.  We could easily have gotten the picture that he was a very angry kid in one chapter instead of 3, with his various mentors fleshed out through a few more interesting stories than in chronological introduction.  However, once he gets into the sections on his training, conversion, and subsequent competitions, the book becomes much more engaging.  Still a bit dry-- definitely has that biography feel instead of a narrative flow-- but more thematic elements.  He seems to have found quite a good balance between athletics and the rest of life, using what he learns on the field --discipline, focus, dependance on Christ, dedication, humility, perseverance - to shape his character & habits off the track.  Far from detracting from his family life, his athletics has made him a better husband, father and son.  That alone carries all sorts of implications for anyone in a demanding career.  There should be no dichotomy between work & worship for a Christian, no tidy compartments that separate our lives. What God is teaching us in one area absolutely should pervade our whole walk.  Mr. Clay does a good job helping his readers generalize the lessons & principles he's learned and apply them to our lives (though he does seem to be a bit OCD on his routines =D).

All in all, a great read, especially for an active "athletic" type person; I think it would particularly appeal to young men in high school or college (or younger). It has great lessons for anyone looking to better integrate their work & familial roles. The book is an easy read, not too long, but good.  My one other criticism is the lack of a glossary for all the acronyms used!

Bottom line?  It's not my general "cup of tea" but I appreciated and enjoyed it, and now have a much better understanding of the decathlon (and respect for decathletes)! Bryan Clay in particular seems a man of sterling character, a worthwhile role-model as he seeks to follow Christ.

Talking point:
- CS Lewis had his demonic character, Screwtape, describe God this way: "“He’s a hedonist at heart. All those fasts and vigils and stakes and crosses are only a facade. Or only like foam on the sea shore. Out at sea, out in His sea, there is pleasure, and more pleasure. He makes no secret of it; at His right hand are ‘pleasures for evermore.’

Ugh! I don’t think He has the least inkling of that high and austere mystery to which we rise in the Miserific Vision. He’s vulgar, Wormwood. He has a bourgeois mind. He has filled His world full of pleasures.

There are things for humans to do all day long without His minding in the least– sleeping, washing, eating, drinking, making love, playing, praying, working. Everything has to be twisted before it’s any use to us. We fight under cruel disadvantages. Nothing is naturally on our side.”

–C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters (New York: Macmillian, 1950), 112-113."

How does Bryan's experience of partying before his salvation, and then competing as a means of worship unto God's glory, interact with this idea?

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