11 July 2012

What is a Fan?

"Fan" is short for "fanatic." A fan is a person with a passion. In fact, to be a true fan of something is to place it above all things. To be a fan is to have commitment and zeal - and maybe even in quantities that some might find excessive. A fan doesn't care about that. A fan pursues his passion with gusto. 

Many people claim to be football fans.  What does a football fan look like?  What demographic characteristics define a fan, say, of the local NFL team, or of NFL football in general?  It certainly isn’t related to factors like age, sex, or race.  Football fans come in every shape and size.  There is a universality among football fans that transcends such cultural and physical markers.  Football is transcultural.  It brings people together – even across boundaries of generation, education, socio-economic status, political affiliation, and physical appearance.  There is a mutual love of team and sport that binds this “otherness” into “community.”

Local communities of fans rally around the local team, gathering at specific times and at specific places, e.g. the local stadium or sports bar.  Fans gather to discuss, to sing the praises of the team, and at times even argue about what is best for the local franchise and for the sport in general.  Fans listen to talk radio, and maybe weigh in sometimes.  Fans watch the NFL Network and local sportcasts, and they likely read articles in sports newspapers, magazines, or the Internet.

Fans share their passion with those around them, perhaps wearing an identifying mark of the team or of the sport, or perhaps decorating their homes and property with such symbols.  There may be ritual words and gestures known to other fans when they greet one another, when they cheer something positive, when they lament something negative, or when they participate on game day.

Fans observe a cycle, a season.  There is the ever-new excitement of the draft, of contract negotiations, of new players coming on and old players departing, of the pre-season games.  There is opening Sunday.  There is a regular season.  There are the playoffs, leading to the culmination of the football year: the Super Bowl.  In addition, there are special occasions, such as all-star games and other events during the course of the year.  A true fan participates with, and joins in, the cycle of the season.  Even during the off season, there are things fans can do to hold onto their zeal.  The season provides a personal and community framework that is both excitingly fresh and comfortably familiar.

Fans have a reverence for the past.  There is a Hall of Fame, there are trophies and rings and sculptures.  There are statistics.  There are cards honoring iconic heroes.  There are tributes and feasts and opportunities to call to mind times of glory, as well as to commiserate times of trial.  Fans watch videos, read books, and talk with one another about what came before.

Fans are ever hopeful for the future.  No matter how terrible last season was, true fans come back with the faith and hope to look forward.  For they know that anything is possible “on any given Sunday.”  They stand by their team, win or lose - even when their heroes throw interceptions or fumble the ball.  They are always there to cheer their kicker through the taunts of the opposition.  They will greet the team at the airport in victory and in defeat.

Being a fan is a family affair.  Children are brought in at an early age – often as babies, being initiated and photographed with a ball or a team logo well before reaching an age old enough to decide for himself which team to follow – or even to be a fan at all.  In fact, a true fan feels more that the team and sport have chosen him, grabbed hold of him, and shaped him - and not vice versa.  There is a trans-generational character of family fan life as older fans pass on not only knowledge and factual  information, but also customs and traditions, to the younger fans.  These in turn will pass the heritage on to posterity.  Season tickets are sometimes put in wills.

Family life of a football fan family revolves around the game and the team.  The family is eager for Sunday to come.  And when it does, young and old gather in stadiums or around televisions.  There is often tailgating and grilling of food and the serving of drinks.  There is special food and ritual that goes with game day – both regular Sunday games and those outside the Sunday cycle.  Birthdays and holidays are specially blessed for fans and their families, as gifts often bear the images of their favorite teams and players.  Fan families may toss around a ball or participate more fully in the sport – in both organized and spontaneous ways.  Their homes and offices bear reminders of their passion, love, and devotion for the game.

There is often great social pressure to be a fan – particularly at certain times of the season.  Many people are quick to describe themselves as fans, but do not bear the fruit of fanhood.  They may think that a fan is someone who simply says that he is a fan.  Such people may wear a jersey on occasion, or even watch a game once in a while.  There are people who claim fanship only when the weather is nice, when the team is winning, or only on Super Bowl Sunday.  But one wonders if such people are just going through the motions, seeking the benefits of being a fan without bearing the cost of fanship.  There are indeed those who will abandon the team when it is losing, when the coach or owner makes an unpopular decision, when the ball bounces the wrong way, or when another distraction comes along competing for attention.  On any given Sunday, one can observe the motion of crowds to determine where people’s passions are to be found.

To be a fan is indeed to be a “fanatic.”  It is to love one’s passion above all things – to the point even of irrationality.  A fan’s life is governed - in time and space, in family life and social fabric, in good times and bad - by that which makes him what he is.

04 July 2012

Abraham and Lot, the 4th, and the Future

I thought about trying to be highly witty and begin this post with the words "When in the course of human events..." but no, I'm not quite that witty this morning.  Besides, what I am now going to suggest is not a violent dissolution, nor anything that needs be done.  Rather, I will suggest a course of action that I think would be a wise use of our freedom.

I write as a Lutheran who happens to be in the Oklahoma District of the LCMS.  Oklahoma is an interesting district.  We have all stripes - some of the most liberal folks in the Synod, some of the most conservative - we have some of the highest, most ornate worship, and we have some of the most contemporary, the most baptist styles.  And yet, we are at peace: I hear of terrible fighting and discord from other districts -- or if there is civility they speak of it as though it is a great surprise. 

At first my hope had been that every district would be as mine is -- small, only 80 or so congregations, where all the pastors know each other by name -- and without property to speak of, where all district positions are part-time and volunteer -- acts of love to the brother pastors and sister congregations.  Without the property, without the large purse to control, without the institutional belly to fill, we live in peace.  There is no haranguing, there is no bitter fight for control because we do not have anything of note to control. 

But I fear that this will not come to pass in the LCMS as a whole.  There is too much wealth invested to be disbanded and given away.  The Oklahoma model will not work, will not bring peace.  The powers that be in our institution would not give up their status - not enough, not gladly.

Thus, I have a new proposal.  Consider Genesis 13.  When there is strife between Abram and Lot, when they are fighting over the land, the resources, what do they do?  The separate in peace.  Lot goes one way, Abram the other.  And they part not in bitterness, not in contention - but in peace.  Indeed, Abram still rescues Lot when he is attacked, still prays for him when his Sodom is destroyed.

What I propose is this.  As there are two general wings in the LCMS - one which wishes to maintain a liturgical focus (be it high, low, fancy or bronze) and one which wishes to be more flexible and dynamic in worship style so as to appeal to as many as possible - let us split.

And let us do so blindly -- let us find two men, two committees to craft a description of the style, the order that would be self maintained.  And then let every congregation choose one of these ways and go.  And then let the Synod and her districts be divided proportionately...  Seminaries and Universities and District headquarters all divided and redistricted to fit as the two new bodies will need.  Let the name "Missouri" go with the majority - let the minority take a new label as they will deem proper.

And then, let us maintain fellowship.  Let us maintain a joint health and retirement plan.  Let this be a matter of institutional sundering -- and if down the line 10, 20 years theologies have completely diverged, so be it.  If then it means that one would rather seek greener pastures with the ELCA or NALC, so be it.  If it means one would rather seek the pastures of the old Synodical conference to be re-established, fine.  By that time institutional drift would let either or neither of these happen as an obvious matter of course - a gentle separation instead of a violent (and wantonly glorious) break.

And why do I think my idea is good?  Because no one would be happy.  Those who love to tout numbers and earthly glory -- well, the numbers would look bad either way.  Those who want the glorious ousting of the louts -- well, we would still maintain fellowship with them for a time, even as the institution divides and stabilizes on it's own.

Let there be a peaceful split.  Let each side think they are Abram looking on foolish Lot... but letting Lot be Lot with a shrug and in goodwill letting him go his own way, praying that it will not be too hard on him when he falls and struggles.

This is indeed a no win solution -- but the purpose is not to win, but rather to allow peace... peaceful growth, or perhaps the peaceful road to folly and ruin... but peace, peace without a Synod divided, with people demanding that others walk with them down a road the one believes best, the other believes ruinous.