Jerseys And Who “Us” Is (Feb 2012)

By Matt Dabbs

By Jonathan Storment

Growing up in homeschool high-school, I was the starting point guard of the Saline County Homeschooled Warriors. Not to brag, but I was obviously kind of a big deal. Our jerseys were reversible red and white, you know the standard professional type. And since they were different colors the rules of laundry applied. Only cold wash. Unfortunately, my mother didn’t get that memo. And one day I noticed that the freshly washed jersey hanging in my closet was pink. (And this was before pink was cool for men to wear.) I was the only guy trotting around the court wearing pink. It was an absolute disaster for any junior in High School.

Throughout the years, I’ve had several jerseys. Some of them meant more to me than others, My Benton Boys Club Soccer Jersey, My Homeschool Basketball And recently my Highland Church of Christ Softball jersey. I know, I know; you are probably thinking what an athlete this preacher must be.

And 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 jersey-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 their 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 impulses to belong somewhere begin to turn toxic.

There is this one time in the Gospel of Mark, when 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 their reaction was — 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 dues. 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 to (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 about the world.

Here is His 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 three years together? Sinners and Pharisees are sitting down for the same party? Samaritans and Jews are rubbing shoulders?

Why?

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.

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Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1577 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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