Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Pull of Spectatorship

This is the last in a set of post reflecting on Mark 1:14-2:17.  If you haven't already, you may benefit from reading the previous two entries, Navigator In Focus and Entertaining a Contrast.

In my last two posts, I have laid out a contrast in Mark 1:14 – 2:17 between those who are called to follow and those who stand by as spectators.  The section begins and ends with individuals,  each named, who accept an invitation to follow Christ.  Despite the uncertainty of the path, they put their faith in the one who will lead them.  The landscape is blurry, but the navigator is in sharp focus - and that is enough.  Between these stories are episodes of spectatorship, crowds, all unnamed, amazed at Jesus teaching and actions.  They're rubbernecking for a look at the spectacle.  But only for a moment.

I’d like to think of myself as squarely planted in the company of those who follow but I see the influence of spectatorship on my life in a number of ways.  It’s a pull that I resist, but not perfectly.  I’ll mention three ways I feel it - not to be exhaustive, but as a starting point.  Maybe you can relate.  

1.  When I Compartmentalize My Life
One of the differences between these two group, followers and spectators, is that for the former this is a process and for the latter it’s an event.  Once these followers set off, it changes the course of their whole lives.  Every aspect is influenced by their decision to follow – family, friendships, ambitions, priorities, values, possessions, and goals are all redefined once they set out.  They are uprooting.

But for spectators it’s just a brief interruption. They will go back to their familiar routine once the stir is settled. They're not relocating; they're commuting. Punch in, get their dose of Jesus, and then punch out. 

If I am to be a follower of Christ, then this is something that can not be tacked onto the rest of life, compartmentalized into a tidy block, squeezed between career and recreation.  It cannot be confined.  It is a new direction - one that should influence my life Monday evening in the way I relate to my wife and children and Tuesday afternoon in dealing with customers, cashiers, and other managers at work.  These are not separate spheres; they are stations on the journey.  And while I think my faith does infuse my life, it is often subtle and less obvious than it ought be.

2. When I Critique the Church
Spectators can be critics.  They watch as outsiders, evaluating merit. They are consumer and can judge their satisfaction with the product.
So can I.   I evaluate the church like I’m reviewing a performance.  The music was too loud, the transitions were sloppy, the harmony was flat, the sermon was dull, the outline was forced, the intro was rambling, the greeter looked grumpy, the thermostat was too high,  the slide changes were too late, the prayer was clich√©, the crowd was quite small, the bathrooms were congested, and the tea was atrocious (N.B.  For the sake of all my fellow tea drinkers, never, ever, ever put hot water for tea in a carafe that was previously used for coffee.  No matter how many times you rinse it, it still smells of coffee, which makes for a really bad cup of tea). 

When I act as a critic I am treating the church as something outside of myself.   I'm going as a spectator, not as a teammate.  There is a place for evaluation, but more often than not, my criticism is not a stirring to be part of the solution;  it's a simmering discontent.

3.  When I Clench My Possessions
In each case those who follow Jesus leave something behind.  Simon and Andrew leave their nets (1:18); James and John leave their father (1:20); Levi (implicitly) leaves his tax collector’s booth.  They are leaving behind the familiar, the secure, the financially profitable, the status quo. 

Michael Card suggests that a possession is not so much something I own, as something that owns a little bit of me.  I own little of value.  I drive a used Chevy Lumina, I buy clothes on the clearance rack,  I have a "pay as you go" cell phone that functions admirably on the 1G network.  Until this year, we tuned our television with rabbit ears.  I live a simple life.  With one exception.  Five years ago we moved into a home that we absolutely adore.  It's in a wooded neighborhood on a picturesque pond.  It's decor is like an Adirondack cabin with wood stove, vaulted wood-paneled ceiling, loft space, and glorious views out our back windows and deck.  It's like a slice of wilderness plodded into a suburb just north of Syracuse, NY.  It fits us perfectly.  I love spring dinners on the deck, summer afternoons in the hammock, fall mornings as mist rises off the pond, and winter evening around the fire.  It's a gift from God.  One that I have a hard keeping a loose grip on.

I've share in an earlier post ("Welcome to My Blog") how I have a sense of God nudging me in a new direction as I pursue my calling.  So far he hasn't called me to uproot.  If he does, I hope I'll be willing to obey.  I suspect there will be resistance.  My fingers are squeezing tighter at the thought.

So there's my three to get you started.  Maybe that primes the pump as you think about the pull of spectatorship in your own life.  If you have any of your own to add, I'd be glad to hear them.  I am a pretty good critic, you know. 

If you've enjoyed this post, why not consider subscribing by e-mail.  If you think others would benefit from this post, why not share it with them.  Thanks to those who already have.  You are truly an encouragement to me. 



  1. Outstanding post Phil. I'd like to add one of my own "spectatorships". How about criticizing others walk with Christ? I think we all at one time or another look at someones behavior and critique their how real their relationship with the Lord is. We become self righteous and forget it is not our role to judge others.

  2. your reflections and commentaries invariably resonate so well with my hurts, hangups, hopes, and happinesses (yeah, i know, not a real word!). thanks, phil!

  3. Ed,great call. In fact, you could argue that it's in the text, too. In Mark 2:16 the teachers of the law criticize Jesus for eating with sinners. They are quick to point out how Jesus is doing it wrong. What irony!