So tonight was my debut for the Highland Church of Christ softball team. To be candid, this was probably one of the main reasons Highland brought me here in the first place. Sure…I went 0-for-2 on pop-ups and we lost. But I’m more of a franchise player, you can’t judge my contribution to the team based on one outing. It should take weeks before they catch on that I stink.
But along with being a part of a new team, came another perk…The Jersey. I’ve had several through the years. Some of them meant more to me than others, My Benton Boys Club Soccer Jersey, My Homeschool Basketball jersey (that my mom turned pink when washing it…an absolute disaster for any junior in High School). And now my Highland Softball jersey.
But this got me thinking…
Jerseys are everywhere aren’t they? I heard a sociologist say recently that in order for a group of people to feel truly unified, they most often need to find a group of people who do not, and cannot belong to their group. The term for this is scapegoating, and it’s everywhere. Think about it, in order for a group of people to feel in, the most helpful thing for them is to define who is out.
Rick Reilly, the best sportswriter in the world, talked about the phenomenon of Jeresy-wearing a few months ago:
“In covering this league for over 32 years, I’ve learned one hard and fast formula: more jerseys = more mayhem. Sit at YouTube for two hours and watch all the NFL stadium fights. Every single one will involve morons wearing jerseys. For some reason, fans think that once they put on that stupid $175 jersey, they are now part of some army that must defend its colors at all cost.”
Think about that for a second. Normal, rational people get off work, pick up there kids and go to a game…and then they get in a fist fight with another normal person, who just happens to not be wearing their jersey. And it would seem bizarre, if most of us didn’t know exactly what it felt like to wear a jersey. Because there is a sense of pride isn’t there? We belong to them. The identity markers and boundaries are clear. We are in, and they are out.
This is what happens when our powerful impulse to belong somewhere begins to turn toxic.
There is this one time in the Gospel of Mark, where Jesus is interrupted by His disciples. They have a problem, because there is someone who is going around casting out demons in Jesus’ name, but in their words, “We told him to stop, because he isn’t one of us.”
Now most people think that less demons inhabiting people at the end of the day is a good thing. But the problem was that this guy wasn’t wearing the right jersey. He wasn’t on the super elite squad that the disciples were, and so they told him to stop. And what Jesus says in reply is fascinating: “Do not stop him…whoever is not against us is for us.”
For Jesus those old categories were just too rigid, too black and white, and so he opens up the disciples concept of who “us” is.
A few years ago, I met a guy in jail ministry. He became one of my really good friends, and we still talk a few times a month. He was a leader of one of the largest gangs in America. It was a specific area of Bloods that is notorious all over the nation. And my friend was the leader. Not that might not mean much to you. But it meant that his ticket was set for life. He was the leader of men who would go to the mat for him without explanation. When he walked into a room people stopped talking. But in jail, my friend started following Jesus.
And he dropped out of the Bloods.
Maybe you’ve heard of the term blood in/blood Out. It basically means that if you leave a gang it’s going to cost a bit more than some late due’s. It means that you will suffer violence to leave the gang. But my friend told the people that he was willing to pay whatever price he had too (including the loss of influence and notoriety). But what is interesting to me, is that no one ever talked to him about leaving his gang. I never mentioned it when I would talk about what it meant to be a follower of Jesus. My friend just pieced it together on his own.
Maybe it was because he had started rubbing shoulders with people from different ethnic groups in that little jail church, maybe it was because he had seen people there from rival gangs and had seen their shared humanity. Or maybe it was because he had just been immersing himself in the Gospels for 18 months and found Jesus fundamentally at odds with that way of thinking of the world.
Because here is the problem with Jerseys.
God has started something new and fresh in the world. Something has broken out in the life and ministry of Jesus that is incompatible with our petty tribal way of thinking. Tax Collectors and Zealots are spending 3 years together? Sinners and Pharisees are sitting down for the same party? Samaritans and Jews are rubbing shoulders?
Because God is doing something in Jesus that will culminate in people getting together from every tribe in the world. There’s not a single group that will be left out. The language Scripture uses is a New Humanity. That one day “they” will be “us.” Because the resurrection of Jesus means the healing of the nations…which just might mean that we find the earth is big enough for all of us.
Find a Jersey big enough for that.