Mascot

Posted on October 9, 2010

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There are lots of reasons not to envy the guy in the mascot suit when you go to a sporting event.  For one, “the guy” is, more often than not, a college sophomore working his way towards a degree in Advanced Wii Bowling.  He’s as interested in entertaining your family as you are in pouring that hot nacho cheese on your crotch.  This is due to the self-esteem destroying costumes that mascots are forced to wear, usually of mutant animals with names like Barry the Bat-Frog, or Darren the Sabre-Toothed Dental Hygienist.

For another, if the mascot is working minor league baseball, he has the hardest job in all sports, which is not beating the little kid in that “You start at home, I’ll start at second base and we’ll race!” game.   I keep waiting for the day when a mascot, knowing it’s his last day on the job, takes off in a dead sprint for home, then doubles back to tell the poor child that there’s no Santa Claus and, as he’s led away in handcuffs, explain the Facts Of Life.  I only hope that I’m there to see it live when it happens.

But my point is that being a mascot is difficult work.  I know this because I also have paid my dues inside a mascot costume:  I once dressed up like the Genie from Disney’s ‘Aladdin’ for a parade.  I wish I had a better reason, such as my appearance was required at a U.N. peacekeeping summit.  “Andrew, put on the costume- the Israelis refuse to sign the treaty unless they see a Robin Williams impression!”  “Please hurry!  The PLO is outraged that they cannot sing “A Whole New World’ with the Genie and are threatening to riot!”   But mostly, it was because I had the least amount of work in the office that day, and I would require the least amount of alcohol to get in character.

I’m glad I did it too, because I now know that the mascot outfit is the kind of interrogation tactic we truly need to win the War on Terror. 

Terrorist: I’ll never tell you anything!

Marine: Perhaps your mind will change after ten minutes IN THE SQUIRREL COSTUME!

That parade was a life-changing event in the sense that I almost asphyxiated inside the rubber Genie face I was wearing.  I challenge anyone living one of those so-called “Best Lives Now” to consider it so without the experience I had in the parade:  of running the equivalent of several dozen wind sprints while wearing a mask with eyeholes the size of raisins, delighting children as you mime, cartwheel, and crash full speed into a stationary golf cart.  Joel Osteen can’t give you that. 

Yet mascots are a necessary evil.  They serve as a physical representation of the team, an extension of the kind of attitude or spirit the team should evidence.  Mascots give the fans something more concrete than just “the team” to identify with- a mascot is something to look at, something to touch, something to take souvenir photos with.  A mascot is a external representation of the much larger idea of that team.  And so when a fan sees a mascot-like Chief Osceola, the Stanford Tree or the Mary Kay car- they’re reminded, more strongly than without the mascot, of the team that they support.

On the night he was betrayed Jesus and his disciples shared a meal together.  Before they ate, Jesus took a loaf of bread and a cup of wine.  As he broke the bread and poured the wine he told his disciples, “This is my body, broken for you…..this cup is my blood, poured out for you….whenever you eat this, remember me.”  This is the moment of institution for one of the sacraments of the church: the Eucharist, the Lord’s Table, or as it’s most commonly known, communion- the mascot of Christianity.

When several of the apostles reported Jesus’ resurrection back to the group, Thomas famously exclaimed that he would not believe it unless he touched the nail marks in Jesus’ hands and the spear wound in his side.  This episode prompted Thomas to be nicknamed ‘Doubting Thomas’.  I like a better, nickname for him, however:  Thomas the Toucher.

Jesus gave the church the sacrament of Communion for many reasons.  But one of the simplest reasons comes in the final words of institution: “…whenever you do this, remember me.”  Jesus knows that we as fallen humans are forgetful people.  We forget, sometimes with alarming quickness (as much of the stories of the Israelites in the Old Testament show), what God has done for us in the past and the ways we have seen Him work.  We lose sight of him, and we doubt.

When we doubt, our natural touch-iness takes over our spiritual lives.  Like Thomas, we want to lay hands on something.  And so, in the perceived absence of God, we grab onto anything else we can  to stabilize our spiritual selves.  Those things can be a charismatic spiritual leader, a large, exciting church, a successful job or ministry, or even a spiritual feeling.  Whatever “it” is, our fingers twitch for it as Thomas’ in the wounds.  We want to roll it around in our hands and feel the weight, because for us touching and remembering are connected.   

Jesus knows this about us, and provides communion to be that thing we touch- “…do this in remembrance of me”.  The bread and wine become the joining point of our forgetfulness and God’s faithfulness.  Communion proclaims the external reality, regardless of our inward feeling, that Christ’s sacrifice accomplishes our salvation.  It pulls us up from the stormy waters of our soul where we sank, doubting, in the waves as we searched for a sign of Him.  Eat this, feel the bread on your tongue.  Drink this, feel the wine in your throat.  In each, come remember that I am real.  Taste and see.

Communion is a sacrament, and Augustine defined a sacrament as “a visible sign of an invisible reality.”  What else is a mascot besides that?  That very impulse that informs our need to have a 9 foot tall animal represent our team also guided the apostle Thomas- touching something with our senses makes that thing more real.  And in that way, communion is the mascot of Christianity.  In taking hold of the elements we testify, not only to our need to touch Jesus or His command that we always remember Him, but also to God’s grace in knowing that we would need the former to help do the latter.

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