On my way to pick up some roofing material this past Saturday evening, I alternated, as usual between sports talk and NPR. This time I’m glad I tuned into the latter more than the former.
I caught the tail end of an interview with former Denver Broncos Tight End Nate Jackson. Not knowing remembering him during his playing days did nothing to diminish the impact of the interview. Jackson had recently written an open letter to Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III (the 1st and 2nd overall picks from the recent NFL draft).
The letter eloquently warns these two superstars of what they can soon expect. But I think it can also be read, in some ways, as an open letter to the Church. My favorite snipped, shared during the interview is below:
After negotiating your contracts, you both will surely buy a house in an affluent suburb where no 22-year-old would be happy living. Your new neighbors will be rich as well, facelifted, lipo-sucked, Xanaxed and dripping in diamonds, simply delighted to welcome you to the neighborhood. You will commission an interior decorator, recommended by a neighbor, to furnish your home. This will guarantee it feels nothing like Home. And someday, when all of this is over, you’ll walk through and gaze upon the marble columns and the embroidered drapes like artifacts in a museum, wondering why you ever listened to that woman.
Probably some sage advice. Don’t pick the most expensive neighborhoods because you won’t be friends with your neighbors! But part of it actually reminded me a little bit of John Piper’s Don’t Waste Your Life. I believe it was in this book that I came across the “novel” idea that just because one makes 100,000 dollars a year, one doesn’t have to live off 100,000 dollars a year. Or whatever number you make. Yet that attitude is so foreign to not only NFL players-where it clearly makes sense NOT to live among folks in the same income bracket-but to suburbanites like myself. If you can afford a bigger house, you get a bigger house. You deserve it.
Now again, there is nothing inherently wrong with a bigger house. Some Christians graciously use every square foot to bless others. But I fear many affluent Christians opt for such a house without thinking one second why or to what end would God have me use this house? Is it to bless others, offer hospitality, host small group bible studies, youth events, etc..? Or is it because we simply can buy this house? And because we simply can, we must. That’s more like slavery. I love Nate Jackson and John Piper’s advice. Don’t just spend money because you can; a good reminder to all of us.
My 2nd favorite snippet is below:
With all of this pushing against you, the role of friends and family becomes very important. There are people in this world to whom you’re just Andrew and Robert. Son, brother, lover, friend. You need to lean on these people when the Weirdos start to make sense. You need to run to the familiarity of genuine friendship. But even in this, there will be a loneliness, because, as a defense mechanism, you will have assumed a piece of your new identity, and your loved ones won’t understand it. Caught in between these two worlds you’ll drift. You’ll feast on the fruits of excess, and will only grow hungrier. You’ll dine with familiar faces, and find you’ve lost the taste. And so you’ll get in your Mercedes on your days off and drive to the facility and watch film. Ah yes. Football. That’s what this is all about.
There’s much to commend in this, but I’d like to just mention a few. Jackson wisely explains to these two lads that they will “feast on the fruits of excess, and will only grow hungrier.” What a prayer this would be for the Church! That we would lose our materialist appetites and hunger and thirst for that which satisfies: thirsting for righteousness (Matthew 5:6). That our clamoring for more stuff because we think we’ll be satisfied when we have it would leave us only more hungry and thirsty. Great reminder Nate. I need it.
Andrew Luck and RG III will find themselves torn between two worlds, distasting the extravagances and yet also forsaking the familiar faces of friends. Because of football, they will find themselves pulled back and forth. And it will be lonely.
But even in this, there will be a loneliness, because, as a defense mechanism, you will have assumed a piece of your new identity, and your loved ones won’t understand it. Caught in between these two worlds you’ll drift.
There is a loneliness that comes from being a Christian on a pilgrimage to our New Heaven and New Earth (Rev 21), or as Jackson puts it “assuming a piece of your new identity and your loved ones won’t understand it.” A non-Christian will find solace and comfort-though temporary or illusory-in all this world has to offer. But just like T.S. Eliot’ Magi who found Jesus, and life immediately became harder, we fill find ourselves feeling uneasy in this present age when we return to our former “kingdoms.” There is a joy in following Jesus now, yet there is also a precarious uncomfortability which befits the Christian pilgrim. At times it will come to surface in an a subtle uneasiness. That’s good. At other times, it will be a dissatisfaction with arriving at an end you thought would make you happy and it didn’t; and you feel let down (as all idols do eventually). That’s good. Still other times it will lead to a deeper longing in a minor depression or homesickness for a place devoid of tears and physical presence of Jesus. That’s growth.
But it’s in these times when you know you’re walking with Jesus. Just remember to look at him and hear him say, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Let him have the final say in your journey. Amidst the sadness of the journey there is great joy and comfort to be found. We’ll forever be in this tension until the world we were made for comes down from heaven. Caught between these two worlds we’ll drift.
You can read the whole letter here. I really do think it gives the Christian as well as the NFL athlete something to ponder.