Followers, Fans and Flings

Dearest Rachel –

The message at church this weekend centered around the sixth chapter of John. The basic gist of it was about how Jesus was showing the crowds just how narrow the path toward salvation could be, and questioning whether they were willing to take it.

Most weren’t.

In fact, the mass departure got to be so much of a stampede, that He even turned to the twelve disciples, and asked if they wanted to leave as well. And in one of the great professions of faith, Peter responded with “Lord, where would we go? Only You have the words of eternal life.”

Long before Pascal codified the great wager, Peter was putting his chips on the table, and going all in. Of course, like all of us, he had times when he would hedge his bets, but ultimately, he put his money where his mouth was, which is something few of us can bring ourselves to do.

It’s a puzzle that is bothered Christian theologians for ages; why would God create humanity, given that such a large majority would reject Him and therefore be consigned to an eternity in Hell (which, to be fair, I postulate to simply be a place where God is deliberately not, and since He isn’t there, He isn’t holding anything together, everything – down to the atoms and even the quarks, the bosons and the mesons are flying apart. It’s like being in the middle of a nuclear bomb mid-detonation forever. But that’s what existence without God truly is, which we as humans tend to ignore – or at best, forget)? He could’ve simply created Eden without the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, after all, and mankind would never have fallen. Indeed, mankind would never have even been able to fall.

And that tends to suggest an answer as to why; the inability to choose. If we could not choose to fall, if we had no choice but to love God… would it even be love? It might not be a case of coercion, necessarily – we wouldn’t exactly be forced to obey Him. It simply wouldn’t occur to us that there was any other option, and we might well be happy enough with that. Certainly, it would be a better ending for the, I would guess, 70-80 percent of us who walk the earth now either unaware of, ignoring or outright rejecting Him at present (or worse, following what they think is Him but is no more than a clever counterfeit).

Junior’s point, that we are to be more than fans of Jesus, but rather followers, is well taken. But I wonder if he doesn’t undersell how fans can be. I mean, he comes from Wisconsin, where on a given Sunday, you can find men stripped to the waist in sub-zero weather at Lambeau Field, painted in gold and green, cheering on their beloved Packers. That takes a (literally?) insane amount of dedication.

Bear in mind (see what I did there? Eh? Eh? All right, I’ll stop; it’s not worth it, anyway), the word ‘fan’ (at least in this usage of the term) is a back formation of the word ‘fanatic’. Granted, the term has taken on a decidedly negative connotation over the past half century, conjuring up images of people willing to strap explosives to themselves and destroy other people, presumably in the name of the deity that said ‘Thou shall not kill’ (Exodus 20:13) and ‘I take no delight in anyone’s death’ (Ezekiel 18:32a). My point is that ‘fans’ have a stronger loyalty to their object of faith than I think they’re being given credit for. More on that later.

At the same time, I will admit that those we consider ‘fans’ (at least, our Western understanding of the concept) aren’t nearly as fanatical as all that. For all the rhetoric that has been spoken about the importance of sport (such as Vince Lombardi himself claiming that “winning isn’t everything – it’s the only thing,” and a Scottish footballer who was quoted as saying “Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I assure you, it’s much more serious than that”), there’s never been a case where some Yankees fan has ever tried to drive a truck laden with explosives into Fenway park, or vice versa with a Bostonian at Yankee Stadium. At the end of the day, while it may be a way of life, it’s not going to save your eternal soul what sports team you rooted for, and I think most fans are cognizant of that.

But fans don’t fall away as quickly as all that. Consider my grandmother, and her beloved Cubs, who last won the world title when she was two, and then didn’t until 25 years after her passing. You were even the one to suggest planting a ‘W’ flag at her grave after the win, despite barely having met her, and being no great fan of baseball yourself. You knew what it meant to her and our family.

No, I expect that Jesus was winnowing out those who were simply having a ‘fling’ with him. He described them Himself as being the rocky soil, where the seeds sprouted quickly and joyfully, only to run out of steam just as quickly as it had emerged, and wither away. If they couldn’t get anything out of Him, He wasn’t worth their time.

Believe it or not, this whole thought stemmed from last nights conversation during game night. I don’t know if you were around when she first started getting into them (you might recall her enthusiasm for the acapella group Home Free, before they became, in her words “too country,” but I don’t know about this group), but she’s really into a group called The Longest Johns. Apparently she’s going to a concert of theirs, next month I think, and she’s listening to the music, so as to have it memorized by the time she goes. I told her I wished I could be as enthusiastic about something – anything – the way she is about this group.

She countered with, “You and Rachel were like that,” or some such; I don’t remember exactly how she put it.

Was I really like that, honey? It feels like, if we were like that, I shouldn’t be able to get along without you. And yet, here I am. Moreover, after decades of being ‘home free,’ if you will, I’m looking for my ‘longest Jane,’ I suppose. Am I being fickle, or is it just a case of realism on my part?

And if what I’m doing is okay, will I ever be able to be as enthusiastic about the two of ‘us’ (whoever ‘we’ happen to be) as I was about you and I?

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I am Rachel's husband. Was. I'm still trying to deal with it. I probably always will be.

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