I have no interest in watching the Chicago Bulls play. I could not care less if the Blackhawks bring home another Stanley Cup. I can enjoy football, and I root for the Bears, but I wouldn’t stay up past midnight after a 10-hour flight for which I awoke twenty-three hours before to watch the Bears play in the Super Bowl. I just wouldn’t.
That is exactly what I did when the Chicago Cubs won the World Series.
Because the Cubs are my team. They were my childhood summers, my father-daughter bonding experience, and my inspiration to be an over-the-plate-strike-em-out fourth grade pitcher. (A career that lasted only until someone hit a line drive to my throat. I love my Cubs, but I loved breathing, too.) I bleed Cubbie blue, as they say, and I knew their lineup order and batting averages when I was ten.
I was a Cubs fan long before it was cool.
Now, the boys from Chicago have a long list of fans. Everyone (who doesn’t live in Ohio) seems to be happy for their victory. People who weren’t alive for Banks, Williams, Cardenal, Santo, Jenkins, Buckner, Sutter or even Sandberg tell me they are hardcore fans. They have the hats. The T-shirts. The cable channel access.
I am skeptical.
All Cubs fans are welcome to join the celebration party. I don’t care how long you’ve been in the club. But the fact is, the win is immeasurably sweeter to those who have sat with them and waited decades for this taste of joy. We were the ones who sat and cried at midnight, rather than screaming. We know the tears of the patient loyalists who see their reward.
What, you ask, does this homage have to do with faith?
I don’t expect anyone to get excited about the Bulls or Blackhawks because of my example. There isn’t anything there for them to follow. I have no stake, no loyalty, no adoration. No one should follow the Bulls because they got so enthused watching me. Guaranteed, no one ever will.
But one of my daughters, at least, has picked out her championship shirt to go with mine. She is hooked on the Wrigley Field nine. And that has a lot to do with me, as my fanaticism has much to do with my father’s.
As the Next Generation looks at the church, I believe they are looking for Cubs fans. I think they are seeking something to live and die for, not somewhere to spend an hour or two of enjoyment on a Sunday morning.
Kenda Creasy Dean, professor of youth, culture, and church, has a good idea of why young people are not interested in the church. Her research finds that the next generation wants to see and know sacrificial love the way they see it in Jesus—and their radar knows when that love is authentic.
“They want a love worth dying for,” she writes, and instead “we confuse Christianity with self-preservation, which is the very opposite of Jesus’ witness, and the antithesis of his call to his disciples to take up their crosses and follow him. If this is the God we offer young people, there may be very little in Christianity to which they object, but there is even less to which they will be devoted.” Their real desire — “a creed to believe, a community to belong to, a call to live out, and a hope to hold on to” sometimes seems closer aligned to a baseball fandom than a church.
A couple tickets to an emotion-heavy show some sports arena pizza, and a chance to maybe clean up the popcorn or wait in line for an autograph if they really want to get into it is not an offering our next generation wants to pick up on.
They don’t want a game; they want a lifestyle.
They want to see and know that there are people of God who weep for their team. They want to know we have prayed and waited and kneeled for decades because we believe he changes things. They want to experience a people so in love with their Jesus that a 108-year courtship seems but a moment and the joy of the fans for the victories of the One they follow shake the rafters. They want to see people who pursue the goals of the kingdom of God like I pursued box scores while in Spain during the World Series—every morning, before my eyes were completely open.
They don’t want to our scorekeeping—they want to know we believe in love’s win.
My middle child threatened to cut off my credit cards if I bought any more World Series shirts. But when you’ve waited so long, a lot of excitement follows the tears. Excess happens.
Fair-weather fans don’t know the meaning of the tears. But we do. Fair weather churches don’t attract the next generation. But the tears and cheers of those who keep up the good fight — all the way through the extra-innings — they do.