I entertained the other day a young New Zealander who had never heard of Dan Carter’s groin and had no interest in the Rugby World Cup. There are, of course, a few New Zealanders who will tell you they have no interest in the Rugby World Cup, but the fact that they need to tell you betrays their insincerity (and have you ever noticed how people who affect no interest in the things that others are excited by always do so with a nauseating air of moral superiority?) But this guy, quite genuinely and simply, was not interested.
I know this, not because he told me so in condescending tones, but because he is only four weeks old. He is very interested in his mother, who is my daughter-in-law, and in various other things that stop him from crying, but so far Dan Carter remains a non sequitur in his life.
It won’t always be so. On the same day that we shared the lunch, his father declared he was taking a media-free day because he feared the World Cup was dominating too much of his life and he needed to reduce his anxiety levels. I felt the same way. So young William is likely to catch some sort of interest in the days ahead but right now, his insouciance is something of a tonic to us all.
People’s, or certainly men’s, ability to follow sports teams is an intriguing thing. It doesn’t seem to matter whether you are Brazilian or Bulgarian or if you prefer darts or the discus: a couple of contestants will generate a following and then a wish, often passionate, that the blue guys should beat the red guys. It won’t affect my life if the All Blacks win the World Cup or if they don’t, but I want them to. I acknowledge the inherent uselessness of the fact that one team can kick a ball more accurately than another, but I still want it to be my team that kicks it better. I acknowledge that someone else’s team might be full of nicer guys than we have in my team, and I still want my team to beat them. Is any of this logical?
I think it must be. By its sheer universality, I think this drive to identify must meet some human need. Better then to acknowledge it, and try to manage it, than to deny it.
William’s father had taken a step towards managing, when he looked inside himself, acknowledged extremes he didn’t like and swore off newspapers and websites for the day. A former Northland All Black once, unusually, made a significant comment during one of those witless interviews they conduct with captains leaving the field. His team had just lost. “How do you feel?” they said. “You must be gutted.” He stood there, muddied and sweating and with a trace or two of blood, and he said, “Oh, yeah. But you know, there’s a hundred million Chinese who don’t give a damn what division Northland will be playing in next season.”
Well done, that man. The sun will rise tomorrow, and the world will go on, caring about things of greater moment. And yet … and yet … do you reckon the forwards have got it?
There is a Christian challenge in all of this, and it is not to give up any inherent interest in things that people are interested in the world over, and have been throughout history. Some Christians think it is: I once received a letter from a man who told me in tones of unbelievable righteousness that, although he had been brought up in the same Dunedin street as Carisbrook, he had only ever been inside the ground half a dozen times and never once when there was a game on. I did not feel challenged. Frankly, he sounded like a sad guy. But when all around me are making idols, I need to keep a clear perspective.
William’s attitude to it all is more than helpful. He will still be here, needing both his mother and his father and causing all of us to tremble long after New Zealand has won or lost not just this World Cup but many more ahead, that he will assuredly worry over too. And through it all, the followers of Jesus are called to live in the world, and to stay close to those we live among, and always keep our eyes on higher things.