Renounce Your Fandom

I love sports (just ask my wife). But over the past year, I have grown increasingly frustrated with fandom. So frustrated in fact, I am about do something about it. I, Justin Camblin, hereby renounce my fandom. What do I mean by fandom? Fandom is the realm within sports were ordinary, seemingly respectable people wear the colors of their favorite team and root them onto victory. At least, that’s what fandom used to be about. Now those ordinary, seemingly respectable people have turned in to pugnacious pooh-bahs pontificating on things they know relatively nothing about. I can take no more of it.

The epicenter of my disgust is found in the Pharisaical moralism that has been revealed in the fan psyche. It is no longer possible to simply follow a certain team. You must also assail the moral integrity of all those associated with the rivals of your team. You are not a real fan of Team X unless you hate Team Y with every fiber of your being and point out how they are all moral reprobates. A majority of the time the hate directed at your team’s rival is based on factors that have absolutely nothing to do with the play on the field or court. They are moral factors or ethical factors. Allow me to expand upon what I mean with a few anecdotal tails from the Land of Fandom.

Here in the Bluegrass State, the University of Kentucky Basketball team is king. Fandom here is intense. And if you’re going to be properly initiated into the Fandom of UK basketball, here are two rivals you must hate: the University of Louisville and the University of Tennessee. Benign indifference will not cut it. You must hate these two teams. Yet, your hate and bile will always come from the moral and ethical failings of those rivals. This past summer, fan websites here in Kentucky reported, with glee, the sordid details of a tryst between University of Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino and some woman (not his wife) he met in a bar. This woman had attempted to extort Coach Pitino and in the course of the trial, the details of that unfortunate night were made public. This was fodder for weeks on the blogs and fan sites. It had absolutely nothing to do with the game played on the court. It had everything to do with trumpeting the moral failings of our rival in order that we might look better. It doesn’t end there. This past year has also seen several players from both the football and basketball teams of the University of Tennessee get into legal trouble for a sundry of reasons. In the build up to this past week’s UK/UT football game, those legal troubles were again trumpeted on the blogs and fan sites, complete with mug shots. You see, UT is nothing but morally deficient thugs. And don’t get them started on their fans. Rednecks and mullets…and you’d never see that in Kentucky. Us Kentucky fans are morally and culturally superior. Ethically superior as well; at least we think so.

Outside the UK realm of Fandom, we are not viewed as pure as we see ourselves. Exhibit A is John Calipari, our beloved basketball coach. Ever since Coach Cal (as he is affectionately known in the UK realm) came to Kentucky, a lot of hate and vitriol has been directed towards UK fans (some reporter said that UK fans would accept Hitler as coach, as long as he was winning, thus implying UK fans would trade the slaughter of 6 million Jews for a winning program). You see, apparently Coach Cal is a cheater. He is the only coach to have the distinction of having two Final Four appearances vacated from the NCAA record books. The first happened while he was at the University of Massachusetts. One of his players accepted money from an agent, which made him a professional and thus ineligible. The second happened at the University of Memphis. Apparently, one of his star players cheated on his SAT back while he was in high school, so he too, was ineligible. There it is folks, proof positive that Coach Cal is a dirty, rotten scoundrel and enough of a reason to shower the UK program and it’s fans with hate. If Coach Cal wasn’t reason enough, Kentucky’s basketball program does have a checkered past. They have cheated in the past and been caught (In fact, it was Rick Pitino, the man UK fans love to hate, that saved the program and brought it back to national prominence, but that isn’t mentioned too much anymore…softens the hate too much). So we’re not as pure as we’d like to think…bummer.

Perhaps this moralistic fandom is localized in collegiate athletics. Surely professional sport fandom would be far more civilized. Unfortunately, this realm of fandom is also polluted. For example, my favorite baseball team is the Boston Red Sox (followed closely by the Atlanta Braves). If you know anything about baseball, you know exactly who I am supposed to hate. The Yankees. Ever since the Red Sox sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees in 1919 and the Yankees became one of the greatest franchises in professional sports, Red Sox fans have hated the Yankees and their fans with an everlasting hate. While this rivalry is rooted a little more in the play on the field, the moralistic hearts have been revealed again; especially in the modern era. One such example of that moralism is Alex Rodriguez. Initially, he was hated because of his greed. Rodriguez currently has the richest contract in all of Major League Baseball. And Red Sox fans loved to point out his greed. They loved to point out how he wasn’t worth the money, that he couldn’t deliver when it counted. Not only did we hate Rodriguez for his greed, but the Yankee’s owner who gave it to him. George Steinbrenner was ruining baseball. He bought his championships, we said. He didn’t develop talent like the rest of the teams. Not only that, but he was a jerk. Tails of his rants and tirades can be quickly found. In fact, he was so dictatorial in his control over the Yankees, he once paid a man to dig up some dirt on one of his own players that he could use as leverage in negotiating a new contract. That got him suspended from baseball. Ole George was a real winner and Red Sox fans love to hate him for it. Back to Alex…he’s also hated because he is an admitted cheater. Ignore the fact that his talent is matchless in this generation, Red Sox fans (and others) love to talk about how Rodriguez used steroids. How anyone with any moral scruples could root for the Yankees is beyond comprehension for the average Red Sox fan.

No fandom is exempt, sadly. Lebron James is hated for stabbing an entire city in the heart on national television. Tiger Woods is hated for destroying his family with multiple adulteries. Michael Vick is hated for running a dog fighting ring. What is really interesting is, this moralistic fandom doesn’t end at the borders of sports. Politics, religion, fraternities, sororities, clubs and cliques all suffer from the malady of moralism. It effects every institution known to man because man is a moralist. We desperately need and want to earn our own salvation. We desperately want to be apart of something bigger than ourselves. So we give ourselves to all this things, all these functional saviors. Is it any wonder that we must assail the other functional saviors that are competing with the one we’ve chosen for ourselves? Should I be surprised that sports have been overrun by these incessant, bloviating, empty-headed blowhards that fill the internet?

What should we do? Renounce your fandom! Lay down these functional saviors. We are not citizens of the Big Blue Nation or Red Sox Nation, but “our citizenship is in heaven and from it, we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20). You see, I need to have my mind reoriented. My world does not rise and fall on the latest sporting event. I have a feeling that many of my friends could use that same reorientation. It’s easy to lose our minds (and our souls) when it comes to sports. It’s easy because we are so prone to love ourselves. What we need to remember is the gospel. We need to remember that we are no better than anyone. In fact, we are wicked. And no association can make us better than anyone. Apart from the grace of God, there is no salvation, no matter how high we build that tower. And that’s all sports can ultimately become. Another attempt at the Tower of Babel. So, renounce that fandom, and let’s spend our time reflecting on the only citizenship that will matter in the end. It sure will make watching sports enjoyable again.


Found at Apple Store: Metanarrative

Yesterday I did something most of you will probably consider insane (I know my wife did). A brand new Apple Store was opening up in Fayette Mall here in my home town of Lexington, KY. Since I have been waiting to purchase a new iPhone for myself and my wife, I decided to get up extra early and get in line to ensure that I could pick up a couple of phones (the free commemorative t-shirt was a nice incentive as well). But I have to be honest, there was something in me that also wanted to experience the grand opening of the store. As a borderline Apple fanboy, I follow the going ons of Apple and have read about the exciting and energetic openings at other locations. So even though the main purpose was to get iPhones, I was excited to just go and experience the atmosphere.

I arrived at the mall at 6:00am and found myself number 16 in line. The first person in line had showed up at 6:30pm the evening before (now that’s crazy dedicated). I quickly made some friends with the people in front of me and we chatted off an on while we sat in chairs the mall had put out for the first 20 people in line. We were able to leave the line as we wished and people respected your spot. The time actually passed by fairly quickly. I brought a book to read. UK Basketball was discussed. It was fun. As time neared the store opening, more and more Apple employees began arriving and mingling along the line, talking to people about why there were there or what product they hoped to buy. As the time for opening came, all the employees began chanting inside the store and they suddenly streamed out of the store and high-fived everyone in line. They were excited. Once they were all back inside the store, the store manager came out and gave a little speech. He asked if Lexington was ready for the Apple Store. We all shouted loudly that we were ready. He then asked the Apple Store employees if they were ready for Lexington and they enthusiastically shouted that they were likewise ready. And after that, they let the line start streaming into the store. We were greeted with high-fives and raucous applause and shouting by all the Apple Store employees. After making my way through all the employees, I headed towards the iPhones, were I was promptly greeted by Kyle who helped me secure two new iPhone 4s, along with some other accessories. I was out the door in 15 minutes, a satisfied Apple customer.

So why did I just share this little story with you? Because our culture would have us believe that there is no over-arching grand story of which we all share in. And because Apple proves to us that even though our culture says it believes the metanarrative is dead, it cannot help but seek out a part within one.

Jean-François Lyotard, a 20th century french philosopher, coined the term “metanarrative”. It refers to a system of thought that seeks to give a comprehensive meaning to history, society, and culture by appealing to universal truths. The Bible is a metanarrative. It provides a way of thinking about the world that is rooted in truths that are absolute for every single person who has ever lived or will ever live. Lyotard saw metanarratives as part and parcel of the modernist movement. He went on to also introduced the term “postmodernism” to the realm of philosophy, which was a way of thinking that rejected metanarratives (hence, it is post-modern). There are no absolute or universal truths. Truth is whatever you desire. Truth is relative and malleable and flexible. But postmodernism has a problem. No one lives this way and no one wants their neighbor to live this way either.

And what I see in Apple in this little experience I had, is that the idea of a metanarrative is still very much alive and well. As I listened to the people in line talk with the different Apple employees, I got a sense that many of them were simply there for the experience. A few people were there to get an iPhone or iPad (which have been in short supply since their launch earlier this summer), but the majority of the people in line around me just wanted to be apart of the grand opening. I myself thought this would be a cool experience (and it was), but if I already had what I needed, I certainly would not of waited in line for 4 hours just get high-fives and black Apple t-shirt. Yet, there were several there for what seemed like solely that purpose. But I would propose to you that one of the reasons several hundred people came that morning to the opening of the new Apple store was because it was an opportunity to be apart of something bigger than themselves. Apple provides that opportunity. Buy their products and you’re apart of this global family of Mac users. Speak the language of Macs and iPhones and you can make instant friends. Being apart of the Apple community means something. Just ask the guy at the front of the line wearing his “I left my heart in Cupertino” t-shirt.

But why do we seek this? What draws us to reject the Me of postmodernism for a smaller role in larger story than we could never create by ourselves? Why do we go to the Grand Canyon or Niagara Falls to feel small? Why do we stare at the stars in silence? Why do we passionately defend our chosen story in the comment section of blogs? I would suggest that something ancient within us compels us to seek a larger story. Even when we consciously state that “I am the captain of my soul”, we blindly act in ways that give ourselves away to another captain. We are simply acting out the etching of our heart. You see, we were created for this. That great Preacher from the past stated that God “has put eternity into man’s heart…” Postmodernism cannot account for this inner-drive toward community. But the Bible can. The real question is not “Is there a metanarrative that rules the world?”, but “Which metanarrative is the right one?” I believe it is only the Bible that can account for the totality of man. Only the Bible can account for what we find in our world. It is the only metanarrative that can account for it all.

I think the one thing that really struck me from my whole experience at the Apple store was before we entered the store, the employees began chanting “We are Apple”. We. Are. Apple. The metanarrative lives on indeed.


Just Desserts

Typically, each Sunday evening, you’ll find me watching “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition”. I really enjoy this show. Families with difficulties are chosen to receive a brand new home. While not very manly to admit, the show often reduces me tears as you hear about the struggles and tragedies that have befallen these families. While I appreciate the show and rarely miss an episode, there is a theme running through it that I believe to be a horrible lie. This lie is perpetrated not only in this show, but also through out all of culture. Without fail, the “designers” will say something to this effect, “this family deserves this…” That is what I believe to be the lie. This is the lie that haunts America. This is the lie that has made the American church weak and pedantic in it’s thinking and theology. 
Perhaps I’m coming across to harsh. Or am I? When we look at our lives through the lens of Scripture, does that statement pass the litmus test of Biblical truth? It is my assertion that no, it passes no test of truth and is therefore a lie. Today at church, I met a guy in my Sunday school class I had not met yet. He and I and Nick engaged in a great conversation about the church not truly understanding what forgiveness really means in regards to christian leaders who’s sin causes their fall from leadership. My new friend made the statement that we don’t understand the depths of our own sinfulness. Because, if we did, we would live differently. I couldn’t agree with him more. It is the great truth that can set us free. When we believe we deserve certain things because of this or that, we become prisoners of our own expectations. If what we think we deserve is not granted, we believe we’ve been jilted. Our arrogance in assuming we deserve good has brought us to a place of resentment and bitterness directed at whoever we find responsible for our lack of fulfillment. Perhaps it’s God. Perhaps it’s Republicans. Perhaps it’s white people. Perhaps it’s your parents. Perhaps it’s your boss. Whoever it’s culturally acceptable to blame, we blame and eventually the blame turns into hate and hate imprisons us. 
The truth is that we deserve nothing good. We deserve destruction. Our sin is grotesque before the Lord and His anger burns hot against it. His justice and wrath are soothed only through the slaughter of the guilty. Friends, this is our just desserts. This is what we deserve. Yet God is gracious, slow to anger. His mercies are new every morning. He has not dealt with us according to our sins. He laid them on Jesus. He made Jesus cursed. He made Jesus sin. He made us righteous…not  through works, but bestowed through grace. When we properly understand what we truly deserve as sinfully wretched people, we can properly understand exactly what Jesus accomplished on the cross for us and that understanding should bring us low and humble as we approach the throne of grace. To often, we presume upon God’s kindness and make demands we ought not make. We try to bargain with God. If he does this or that, we’ll do this or that. That’s not how it works. God does not negotiate. God tells us how it’s going to go down. We can either rejoice or rebel.
I pray that each one of us come to a greater understanding of our sinfulness, not so that we become tortured souls, loathing the very day of our birth. Instead, I seek for us to be humble and appreciative of even the small good things that God sees fit to give us. Despite all the hard times and sins committed against us, we deserve a lot worse. I pray the Spirit uses these thoughts to spur you on to truly cherishing your election to God’s family. He is so good. We are so undeserving. Praise be to God, our Father! May He complete the good work started in you!