Friday Deep- Jersey

Posted on April 12, 2010


I have 3 jerseys in my closet.  The first is a Chicago Cubs baseball jersey with a no. 21 on the back of it, a number familiar to most Cubs fans as belonging to the exuberant Dominican man who wore it for many years in right field- Sammy Sosa.  It’s been worn only a couple of times, most of them after it arrived as a birthday present from my dad some years back.  Now, with Sosa’s almost certain steroid use, it has been relegated to the furthest reaches of my closet, almost certainly never to be worn again.

The second is a Chicago Bears jersey of Brian Urlacher, the linebacker whose combination of speed and tackling earned him the title of Best Linebacker Alive for several years.  This particular jersey is enormous, like it was peeled off the body of Andre the Giant, and when I wear it I’m engulfed in it, and I look and feel like a toddler walking around in his father’s shoes.  More accurately, I look like a man wrapped in an orange and navy-blue parachute, like if Gandhi had been given a garish and poorly sized tunic instead of the one he always wore in pictures.  Needless to say, this jersey also does not get a lot of use.

The third is not a jersey, per se.  It is the intramural championship T-shirt I won in college for flag football.  It has neither the shameful connection that the Sosa jersey has, nor the emasculating size issue of  the Urlacher jersey; it is just right.  I am almost embarrassed, but also defiantly proud, to say that it is one of my prized possessions.  Unlike the other two, I wear it- a lot.

But I think the reasons why I don’t wear the other two jerseys run deeper than just indignation or sizing.  On some level, I wonder what I’m actually saying when I pull on a shirt that has another, more prominent man’s name on it.  Some people would say that I just want to feel like more of a part of the team I support.  They would say that a team is bigger than just the players, coaches, management, owners- that it also encompasses supporters, fans, the city, and that by putting on the jersey when I watch the team play or when I’m walking around, I’m just entering into that community of fans in a more direct way.  That sounds like it’s right on some level- I can buy that.

Yet, I also don’t buy that.  See, Sammy Sosa would never wear an Andrew Larson jersey around his yacht.  Brian Urlacher would never be spotted in Andrew Larson gear as he lounged around the house.  Why not?  Yes, I know that they don’t own those jerseys, don’t know me, and that I’m not the same worldwide symbol that the Cubs or Bears are, though not for lack of trying.   But still, if they did have them, and did know me, I doubt those two would get as much mileage out of wearing a ‘me’ jersey as I would out of one of theirs.  Why?

It’s probably as simple as this:  they don’t want to be me.  Those guys would not get nearly as much joy out of associating themselves with my life as I probably do when I associate mine with theirs.  When I pull on an Urlacher or Sosa jersey, what I’m really doing is trading.  I’m dis-engaging from my life and engaging in theirs.  On a different level, the same thing is happening when I wear the intramural championship t-shirt.  I’m dissociating from the regular, day-to-day person I am now, and I’m associating with the exciting, cornerback-on-a-championship-flag-football-team-at-a-small-Christian-college-in-Indiana life I was in earlier.  I’m even living vicariously through myself.

There’s no shame in admitting that we’re periodically bored, restless, uneasy with the places we occupy in life right now.  That’s a pretty universal human feeling.  In those moments, we don’t have to travel very far to find another person, another movement, another fad to associate ourselves with so that feeling will go away.  It’s an easy bit of spiritual arithmetic- I feel like a loser, you look like a winner.  A+B= now I’m not a loser anymore, because I’m with you.

So now the question is, how can we move past this inferiority while also being honest about the reality we see?  Because, if we’re honest, even if we really lather on the self-esteem hokum and affirming language, deep down we still know the truth- those guys ARE leading better lives, at least from the outside looking in.  Their genetics are better, their jobs are cooler, they will never lack money or respect or notoriety or companionship, unless they choose to forgo them.  We can’t pretend we don’t want that, or we’re liars, and we know it.

The honesty comes when I admit to myself that I’m a jersey wearer of the highest order- always have been, and probably always will be.  For me it’s athletes; for you it may be a celebrity, or a band, a political party, a product, or a lifestyle.  It can be anything.

In Romans Paul talks about this.  The technical term for it is ‘imputed righteousness’, but you might as well call it the Doctrine of Jersey-Wearing.  When we profess faith in Christ, God immediately declares us ‘not guilty’ for our sins and credits (imputes) Jesus’ perfection to us.  Galatians says that we “put on Christ”, as in, we wear His righteousness, like a cloak- or a jersey.  Or as Isaiah says, “(God) has clothed me with the garments of salvation, He has covered me with the robes of righteousness.”  That sounds like a heck of a uniform.

God knows about the jerseys we wear.  He sees us trying to associate ourselves with anybody or anything that will allow us to feel like winners.  And his plan for salvation takes that into account.  He asks us not to give up our jersey-wearing tendencies, but to wear the only one that will actually do what we want.  Athletes grow old, celebrities come and go, causes disappoint us, and all the while we spend our whole lives trading team shirt after team shirt into our wardrobe, dressing ourselves up in the lives we secretly wish we had, dying a little inside each time as we wonder why them and not us.  Jesus rescues us from that cycle and gives us the thing we really want- real love from God, a real life to live, and honesty about ourselves and who we actually are inside.

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