What do Pearl Jam, NBC’s “Community” and Jesus Christ have in common, besides the fact that I am obsessed with them? They each have loyal followings, and people willing to go to the ends of the earth (sort of…) to be part of their movements.
Pearl Jam fans travel around the world to hear their favorite band with the hope that maybe, just maybe, they will play a rare song.
Community fans bog down Twitter every Thursday night -Friday night for half a season- with quotes like #sixseasonsandamovie, and pleas for their family and friends to tune in. Many also travel to Comic-Con every year with the hope that “Troy” and “Abed” will do their secret handshake.
For 2,000 years, Christians have traveled thousands of miles to share the good news of the Gospel to anyone willing (or not willing) to listen. Now we have hundreds of millions of Christians spanning every continent.
These followers are devoted. But what is it about Pearl Jam, Community and Jesus Christ, that make myself, my husband, and countless others take time out of their schedule and money out of their pockets to follow them, and are continually trying to “convert” people to join in? (I can’t even tell you how many Pearl Jam mixes I’ve made for people with the hope they would feel what I feel when I hear those songs.)
Yes, I just compared the loyalty and devotion of more than a billion Christians to fans obsessed with a rock band and a sitcom. Please hear me out…
I’m unashamedly obsessed with Community. I have watched the show since it premiered three years ago, not knowing what to expect. I mean, what can you expect when Chevy Chase is the biggest name in the show – decades after National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation! But we tuned in and were immediately hooked. This show about seven community college students from seemingly different walks of life (ages, races, religions, family situations) has done more to help me figure out what a family looks like than possibly even my own family.
Despite their dysfunction, idiosyncrasies, and often-misguided attempts to fix one another, these characters love each other and work together to get things accomplished. A perfect example was when fraudulent lawyer-turned student, Jeff Winger, found himself being bullied by a meathead and his crew (played by Anthony Michael Hall, with a call back to the original National Lampoon's Vacation). Having never fought anyone before (he wouldn’t want to ruin his $300 shirt), Jeff needed help from most of the study group to learn how to act tough. Troy, former quarterback, told Jeff about fighting with “Forest Whitaker eye.”
Shirley, the Christian mother archetype, however, played her typical guilt trip and was ready to disown Jeff and any of the others in the study group who were willing to leave her Christmas party and watch Jeff fight. But in the end, Shirley followed the group to the fight and protected her “family” like any self-respecting mother bear would, right alongside them.
They were finally able to enjoy their “Holiday party” together, amidst some nosebleeds and bruises, but none-the-less together and with love. It truly was a bonding moment in the course of the characters’ relationships. Makes you want to watch the show now, right? Check out a clip on Hulu.
Turn to Pearl Jam, which has become the soundtrack of my life. What is it about this band that has created a following of “Jamheads” or the “Jamily,” who travel far and wide to see them perform? Over the course of 16 years, I have seen them 31 times in concert. Why do I keep coming back? (Next up, Wrigley Field in July, one could only hope!) I think I could write a whole book on why I love Pearl Jam, but one of their main attributes is how they bring people from all walks of life together to listen to the same songs, lyrics and riffs, and engage together in rock 'n' roll. In fact, Labor Day weekend 2011 they had a 20th Anniversary festival in Alpine Valley, WI, which served almost as a sort of Pearl Jam family reunion.
Pearl Jam has also connected many of their fans through non-profit organizations. A team of fans even created their own non-profit, the Wishlist Foundation, to raise money for many of the causes Pearl Jam itself has been fighting for over the last two decades. Pearl Jam has always used its public voice to educate people on issues important to the members of the group, including the Crohns & Colitis Foundation, after guitarist Mike McCready was diagnosed with the condition.
Pearl Jam fans have a secret language. Whether it’s sign language during a live performance of “Do The Evolution” with the entire crowd raising their hands in fake praise when they sing “Hallelujah,” or creating a butterfly with hands during “Even Flow” when Ed sings “thoughts arrive like butterflies.” Ask any die-hard Pearl Jam fan about “the shoe incident,” and they will tell you how in response to hundreds of fans tossing shoes at his head during a performance in Indio, CA in November 1993, Eddie said he would give all their shoes away and “shoe the shoeless.” These may seem superficial to some, but for many these songs and live shows were all fans could count on during rough times in their life. For me, specifically it was the first time as a teenager that I felt connected to something bigger than myself.
Christians also feel connected to something bigger than themselves. As a major world religion, Christianity provides a foundation for meaning and purpose in the lives of over a billion people.
Christians also have a secret language. Some call it church language, or Christianese, and some writers like Jon Acuff, with his blog “Stuff Christians Like,” have created a following because of their ability to lovingly make fun of their own subculture. Those who follow Christ can easily fall into the mode of connecting with one another through language. Some common church words/phrases include grace, saved, believer, evangelize, missional, mercy, fruits, "love on you," etc.
However, despite what appears to be a one-sided ideology, the truth is Christianity within America alone has over 300 denominations, and within the world some studies say it’s in the thousands. Christianity is a very diverse religion with people from all ages, races, ethnicities, political ideologies, and even theologies rallying around one person: Jesus Christ. It’s because of Jesus Christ that whites and blacks were able to come together in the 1960s to realize Martin Luther King, Jr's dream of equality.
I know for me personally, to be able to walk into a church and know that I can talk to anyone there about the divinity and personhood of Jesus Christ, yet have nothing else in common with them, is a humbling thing. And in some more traditional churches, you can walk into any church within your denomination and hear the same liturgy and scripture as you would if you were half way across the world. Christians are not only connected through Jesus, but often through the form of worship itself.
So… not only is there a common interest in each of these examples, there is a specific language, a specific calendar of events the followers are in tune to, but most importantly, these connections are beautiful because it doesn’t matter who you are, what you look like, what phase of life you are in, or what you do for a living, you can come together with these people who have this one thing in common. And if even for a brief while, it brings people together in love and commonality so that our differences no longer seem that important.
It’s all about connections.
Connections through music.
Connections through God.
Connections through stories.
We can connect because of our common love but still learn from each other because of our diverse experiences and perceptions.
In the end, I think I would rather connect with a diverse group of individuals over one beautiful thing, whether it is a lyric, a scripture, or a funny quote from a TV show, which we all get something from but may interpret differently, than look at these people as “other.” Another political ideology, another age, another race, another gender, another family situation, another ethnicity.
Instead I would rather see these people as “my people”… as party of a family.
All I know is that being a part of these families, which on the surface may seem closed off and exclusive, has actually made me appreciate diversity and inclusiveness that much more.
Thank you for indulging me with one of my first posts for my new blog. I hope it lays the groundwork for the things I will be discussing, particularly thoughts of faith, society and culture. I’ll be talking a lot about people’s connection to God, the Church, political and social ideology, as well as culture (music, movies, TV) that make us think about things like faith and society, as well as relationships, because in the end, life is all about connecting with one another.