The good folks here at WORLDmag.com have asked me to contribute some weekly thoughts on the daunting topic of "following Jesus in the real world." You probably have a couple of initial responses. The first might be "what in the wide, wide world of sports does following Jesus in the real world" actually mean? The second response might be "I don't know this Dave Burchett guy from Adam's housecat."
Fair enough on both points. Allow me to address the "who is this guy" issue first. I am a writer with two published books. My first book, When Bad Christians Happen to Good People, made Marvin Olasky's coveted Top 100 treadmill books list. Take that New York Times! My second book, Bring 'Em Back Alive, has apparently entered the witness protection program. If you see this title please call your local authorities. I have garnered enough sales to keep writing but not enough to quit the day job. And that brings us back around to the first question.
What does it mean to follow Jesus in the real world?
My day job is television sports directing for Fox Sports Network and others. It is a very secular job where I am surrounded by cynical media types. To be fair, a television production truck is not a nurturing spiritual environment. I am sure that some lifelong Christians would leave the TV truck with hair looking like Don King after they've witnessed the shock and awe of F-bombs flying freely through the air. I have worked with producers and others who could match the accomplishment of Ralphie's dad in the classic movie, A Christmas Story. ("In the heat of battle my father wove a tapestry of obscenities that as far as we know is still hanging in space over Lake Michigan.")
I have to figure out how to follow Paul's admonishment to "not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind" while working in this environment. That is the experience of many who try to live a life that represents the precious Gospel of Jesus Christ in an often-toxic spiritual work environment.
Another spiritual challenge is the occasional habit of camera operators checking their "focus" on beautiful women. As the director I can control inappropriate shots of women. I have an absolute rule that all bodies have heads. I can control my language, and I do, but I walk a difficult line in trying to demonstrate the grace of Jesus to my co-workers while living my values. It ain't easy.
Years ago I was a part of a college football TV crew where many of them visited the local strip club every Friday night. I find "gentlemen's clubs" to be one of the great oxymorons in our lexicon, but I digress. Every week I declined. I never made a big deal of why I would not attend. If asked I would explain. At the end of the year I received an award from the crew. It was a female cheerleader statue with an engraved plaque. It was called the "Sally Award," and it was given to me for not joining the boys. I loved it. It sits on my shelf today as a reminder that you can gain respect by not caving in. Because of it, I can show my sons that you can decide to live your faith even when peer pressure is high. My colleagues know where I stand. They have been watching. Slowly they are deciding that I am real or at least trying to be real in my relationship with Jesus. And each year my ministry opportunities grow.
John Wesley once walked through the London market with a young man who desired to join the ministry. The coarse language offended the young man and he clearly wanted to leave. But Wesley told him, "Stay, and learn to preach."
I am grateful (for the most part) that God has not allowed my books to be best sellers and that He has kept me in this place. I know too many Christians who have become the spiritual version of Seinfeld's bubble boy. They live in a sterile environment that is inhabited only by other Christians and they restrict their extracurricular activities to church outings only. Sometimes I long for a little more of that in my world, but I am grateful that God has told me to stay. And learn to love these sometimes difficult people. Love them because of grace. The real world is hard, but His grace is sufficient. I hope you will join me on this honest journey to find ways to get out of the bubble, get a little dirty, and love some people that need real hope and change.