Monday, November 9, 2009

Saints & Saints Fans

Who could have guessed it?

The New Orleans Saints are 8 - 0, one of only two undefeated teams remaining in the NFL halfway through the season.

Honestly, it's not a huge deal to me, other than the novelty of a historically woeful team having an outstanding season, coupled with curiosity about the Saints' chances of carrying this momentum deep into the playoffs.

We'll see how it plays out in the coming weeks.

Flashback to 1989:

I was a sophomore in high school in Oregon, when my dad had to travel to New Orleans for business. This was an exciting trip, as no one in my family had ever been to that part of the country before. My dad asked us boys what we might like him to bring us back from The Big Easy, and it occurred to me that a Saints T-Shirt might be a cool item to have, despite the absence of any allegiance on my part to that team. So, that's what I asked for, and Dad came through with a cool Saints shirt that I wore for no real reason for a few years thereafter.

Fast-Forward to 2009:

Just imagine it: Had I only begun rooting for the Saints way back then, and had I followed their fortunes faithfully for the next twenty years, I would be riding high right now. I would be an original. A die-hard loyal, undeterred by years of futility, enjoying the fruit of years of faithful devotion.

But I didn't do that.

So, if I were to try to claim the Saints now, I would be a fairweather fan, a front-runner, a Johnny-Come-Lately, the total opposite of an original, and not likely to be fully embraced in the ranks of the New Orleans faithful.

I can imagine the sideways glances of the originals, viewing my brand new Reggie Bush jersey with suspicion, especially in the light of my near-total ignorance of Saints history & tradition, my absence of emotional investment in previous wins and losses, and the fact that Archie Manning is just Peyton and Eli's dad to me.

And, I don't think many of us would blame original Saints fans for being hesitant to welcome aboard every Johnny-Come-Lately who will just as likely become a "fan" of some other team later on when it's popular to do so.

How interesting, in the light of our feelings about the late comer, that Jesus would make a point of telling a story that overturns our instincts on this subject.

The workers hired on at the eleventh hour in Jesus' parable in Matthew 20:1-16 were just the kind of late arrivals we so often tend to categorize as lesser members of the group, lacking the full legitimacy of those who have "borne the burden and the heat of the day".

But Jesus, even at the expense of displeasing the "originals", makes the late comer their equal in every way. Worthy of the same reward. Free of any stigma or additional obligation. Not subject to any probationary period. Defended by the Master against any aspersions cast by brothers or sisters.

Do saints truly understand and accept Jesus' stance on the soul who arrives at the eleventh hour?

Even if we understand that Jesus accepts this new saint, do we comprehend what his stance means for us?

Do we get the fact that it is up to us to demonstrate that acceptance? That it's not enough to believe in the abstract that the late arrival is equal to the "original"?

If an eleventh-hour saint is made to feel like a Johnny-Come-Lately, then the body is not following the direction of the head, and the newcomer will not be likely to remain.

Picture yourself in the line receiving wages in Jesus' parable.

To be Christ-like in that scenario would mean celebrating the fact that the eleventh-hour hire received the same pay as you did, after you worked all day and the newcomer worked an hour. Not just celebrating it after the fact, but anticipating it beforehand, welcoming the new worker at the eleventh hour, knowing full well that his reward would equal yours, being glad about it, and expecting nothing different.

Are we there yet?

Sunday, November 8, 2009

2 Moments, Frozen in Time

Kristi and the boys and I recently enjoyed dinner on the Riverwalk in San Antonio.

As you can imagine, getting a 5 year-old and a 2 year-old to dinner and back in this setting is kind of an adventure. We parked on Travis Street, took a flight of stairs down to the Riverwalk, and followed the water for what seemed like a pretty good distance.

The boys were well-behaved, but it's still a little nerve-wracking making sure no one gets too close to the water or gets lost in the crowd. On the way back to our car after dinner, we were the classic picture of a family with small children: Daddy holding the hand of the 2 year-old who's had a noticeable accident, Mommy holding the hand of the 5 year-old who would just as soon follow the ducks off the path, both boys clutching their flashing, souvenir cups from the restaurant. Throw in a backpack of "kid stuff" and the picture is complete.

As our rag-tag caravan made its way through a quiet area of the Riverwalk, we came across an unexpected scene: A bride with her father and bridesmaids, gathered together by the water, waiting out the last few moments before her big moment, ready to take a stairway up to an open area where wedding music was playing.

In order to proceed, we had to squeeze right by this group, within inches of them, apologizing and trying not to impose in any way.

It was a chance encounter, but an interesting pair of snapshots to look at side-by-side. This new bride provided us with a visual reminder of where we were seven years ago next month, and, if by any chance she noticed and thought about it, we might have given her a picture of what could be in store for her and her new husband in the coming years.

A preacher I know often points out that a wedding and a marriage have frighteningly little in common, and our two snapshots provide evidence of his claim: The formality, pomp, and idealism of the wedding day, giving way to the all too "down-to-earth" reality of making it all work in a marriage with children.

So, which picture is right?

The perfect wedding dress? Or, a child's wet pants? The strings that serenade the bride coming down the aisle on the day she's dreamt of her entire life? Or, the clatter of cookpots on the kitchen floor, serenading mom on a random Tuesday afternoon? The carefully chosen words of devotion spoken earnestly by bride and groom? Or, the sometimes careless words of hurriedness, spoken over the shoulder or around the corner, by harried husband and wife?

Well, if you've been there awhile, you know they're all right; they're all true. You're not going to have one without the other. It's a mistake to overlook or to exaggerate the importance of either at the expense of the other.

Which picture is more true:

The new creation emerging from the water?

Peace in the face of imminent death?

Moments of intimacy with God that put a lump in your throat and bring a tear to your eye?

Times of everyday ordinariness that leave you wondering if you're missing something?

The clutch of temptation and sin?

The embrace of a forgiving God?

The approval of the like-minded?

The scorn of some who think it's so foolish?

Once again, they're all true. Each one is a part of the deal. None can be ignored or forgotten. Each will have its place in the life of a Christian.

Where is wisdom?

Wisdom lies in seeing one of those pictures while experiencing its opposite.