Jesus, Unity and Fenway Park

Post-game stroll with my friend Stella Note: In honor of MLB Opening Day, I'm taking a short break from my series on Listening Well as a Person of Privilege. I'll continue it next week :)

About halfway through my grad school program, I decided that I wanted a career in Major League Baseball.  As a lifelong baseball fan  - it’s such a cerebral sport. What’s not to love? - and a budding social psychologist who studied group motivation, this wasn’t an entirely ridiculous idea. At any rate, a few months later, I said goodbye to my research lab in California and moved to Boston to intern in the Boston Red Sox organization for a summer. During those marvelous months, I became close friends with another intern named Sam. During our lunch breaks, we often sat in the empty grandstands at Fenway Park and talked about life, faith, good books, and friends.  Even though we often specifically talked about my relationship with Jesus, the summer was halfway over before Sam realized that I was an actual Christian.  And let me tell you, he was not a fan of this idea.

He punched the seat in front of him.

(In all honesty, I was primarily concerned about the seat. Citizens of Red Sox Nation think that Fenway is, like, a national treasure. Somehow, Fenway is heaven and that other little ballpark in the Bronx is hell. Damaged seats are a big deal in Fenway heaven.)

“You’re not a Christian,” he insisted, vigorously shaking his head for extra effect and bringing my attention back to the conversation.

“How’s that?” I asked. I was confused.

“You’re not like other Christians, Christena,” he told me. “You’re not judgmental and ignorant and dogmatic and anti-intellectual. Don’t call yourself a Christian.”

Sam was fired up.

“Well, I’m a follower of Christ, so by definition I’m a Christian.” It was that simple to me.

“But you shouldn’t associate with all of those ridiculous people who call themselves Christians. It makes you look bad.” Sam responded.

(I thought it was sweet of him to care about my reputation. I also thought it was sweet of him to think that I wasn’t judgmental and ignorant and dogmatic and anti-intellectual.)

This is when it occurred to me that Sam hadn’t been introduced to the beauty and strength of Jesus’ heart. If he had, he would have understood why I venture outside of my ideologically-homogenous world and risk my credibility by associating with “other” Christians. He, like many other people, had no idea that Jesus pursues us in spite of the fact that we are all judgmental, ignorant, dogmatic and anti-intellectual at times. It also occurred to me that perhaps these sorts of conversations are why Jesus invites us to imitate him in pursuing each other. This is how we show people Jesus’ heart. And this is how we invite them to join us in following him.  It seems that we represent Jesus well when we draw near to other believers, regardless of differences.

And so I looked Sam in the eye and grinned, “Jesus doesn’t distance himself from me even though, let’s face it, I’m not always good for PR. I can do the same for other Christians.”

He was shocked and suspicious. The idea was intriguing, but not at all logical. In Sam’s world, you don’t pal around with people who could ruin your reputation. But that sunny Boston day, right in the middle of the aging grandstands at Fenway Park, he saw a tiny bit of Jesus’ heart. It’s not logical to humans, but it’s definitely relational. And he, like just about everyone else who gets to know Jesus, responded by leaning forward with a listening ear.

By walking in friendship with Sam (and many others like him), I have learned that the more we follow Christ’s example by embracing the "others" in the body of Christ and crossing the boundaries of our homogenous church groups, the better we represent his vision to the world.

Happy Opening Day, y'all! Go A's.