I am the world’s second least interested male when it comes to sports. The reader is asking himself who the first is. You don’t know him, but his name is Don. He’s a close family friend of the Lapsed Episcopalian, and, thus, a friend of mine. Don and I try very hard to make up for our un-American male-hood by appreciating Outsider music. We go way back.
I was also an English Language and American Literature major, which I taught for several years. I have a personal rule against things like favorites, but my favorite American short story writer is Raymond Carver. The tale-teller of “pared down urban dismay,” he has been dubbed the American Chekov and crowned the king of “dirty realism.” I am working my way currently through an anthology of American short stories edited by John Updike. I confess that I jumped hastily to Where I’m Calling From. I don’t know how many times I have read that piece, but every time I do I am inspired.
Well, I was conversing with a cultural redeemer recently. He said:
“I agree with what [so-and-so] says about football and I think it brings up what we ‘transformationalists’ (if that’s what you would like to call us) understand about the role we see Christianity playing in culture. There are aspects of culture which we don’t care about (i.e. football – OK, at least I don’t care much about this) and there are aspects we do care about. If we are going to talk about where we want to see culture transformed I think it’s a good idea to talk about what is important in culture first. So unlike football, literature really does transform people’s thinking and outlook on life.”
It always seems to me that there are two sorts of cultural redeemers. While both share the Kuyperian sloganeering about Jesus claiming “ever square inch,” they both take slightly different tacks. When asked if there is such a thing as Christian pottery, the one will try with all his might to bring redemptive principles to bear on this creational enterprise and he will answer in the affirmative. It never works out very well, unless there really is such a thing as a Christian ashtray. The other doesn’t see the antithesis being between things of this age and the age to come. Instead, he puts the antithesis back into this age and, predictably, sets up a ranking of things temporal from the trivial to the enduring. And, of course, it is the latter which gets Jesus up out of his seat, while the former lies outside his range of interests. Then out pops something about literature transforming people and football, well, not so much.
The irony is two-fold. First, those with a two-kingdom perspective are usually accused of neutrality. That is, evidently, in our haste to make the point that living with a proximate justice is superior to questing after an exact one, we think everything should be a free-for-all. This despite the repeated point that Jesus rules both the spheres but in different ways—the world by law and the church by grace. (I can’t speak for everyone, but this two-kingdomite doesn’t readily understand what is finally so laudable about victims seeking a suspension of justice and a display of forgiveness on their earthly enemies—if my daughter’s classroom gets mowed down by a gunman I want me a sheriff who’ll dole out some justice, not grace.)
Second, if there is no square inch of human existence ignored by Jesus then what gives on assigning a divine yawn toward football? In point of fact, it would seem that certain cultural redeemers flirt with neutrality. I’m not sure what else to make of the division between “things we care about” and “things we don’t.” After all, when you don’t care about something that is usually the very definition of apathy and neutrality.
As I by-pass ESPN and pick up Updike’s anthology, I’d love to believe Jesus doesn’t care about football nearly as much as he does the modern short story or Outsider music. But not only is my Calvinism intolerant of my snobbery, I actually believe what Kuyper said about the sovereignty of Jesus over every square inch. The beauty is that even if I don’t care much for certain quarters of creation, he does.