Note: This week's already-not yet was delayed in posting due to the author's travels. For an explanation of the theology behind the Friday already-not yet, please see the original post.
Jerusalem on the Mississippi
My weeklong tour of the mid-south finds me in Memphis this Friday, and one thing you quickly notice as you drive through the Bluff City on a fall weekend: Memphis is the most pluralistic city in the South. Pluralism refers to the phenomenon of many different religions, philosophies, or world-views living together in the same place, often competing for public affection. Memphis fits the definition perfectly, as the city is a battleground for no-less than six SEC football teams. Alabama, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Tennessee, Vanderbilt, and Arkansas all have huge fan bases in Memphis. Unlike neighboring Birmingham, Little Rock, Nashville, or Jackson where one team is clearly dominant, Memphis is a melting-pot of collegiate loyalties, paralleled only by its BBQ rivalries (Rendezvous, Corky's, Interstate, or Neely's?). In many ways, Memphis resembles the first-century Jerusalem that Jesus visited. It too was a factional patchwork including:
The Pharisees, holier-than-thou Law-keepers. In Memphis (anywhere, for that matter), this would be the Alabama fans. They subscribe to the Laws-of-Bear, measuring all coaches against the houndstooth standard of Paul Bryant. Bama fans pretend to practice the most highly-evolved form of southern football, but in reality their program is a crimson-washed tomb, glitzy and glittery on the outside, but rotten to the core on the inside. Visit Tuscaloosa on a Saturday these days, and you'll see a postcard perfect Bryant-Denny Stadium inhabited by a team that can't beat Mississippi State.
The Sadducees, monied, aristocratic, priestly-types who have made peace with the Romans and are content to preserve the status quo. In Memphis, this would be the Vanderbilt fans. True, the status-quo means few gridiron wins for the 'Dores, but these are the only fans in the SEC who can chant with integrity, "That's alright! That's OK! You'll go to work for us someday!" Vandy fans are running the law firms that make life miserable for the Pharisees, and their membership in the SEC is a strictly-business decision, taking their cut of the conference booty brought home by the high-revenue programs and using it to build the med school instead of a 90,000 seat stadium.
The Hebraic Jews, cultural and ethnic Jews who were born and raised in Jerusalem (as opposed to the more suspect Hellenistic Jews, who were ethnically Jewish but culturally Greek). In Memphis, this would be the Ole Miss fans. The closest SEC campus to Memphis, Dixie doesn't get any deeper than Oxford, Mississippi on gameday. The frat boys still wear navy blazers and ties while their Chi-O dates don cocktail dresses. Rebel flags flap in the breeze, controversy be damned. And in The Grove, pregame BBQ, potato salad and Crown-and-Coke are served with fine china and real silver.
The Hellenistic Jews, ethnic Jews who have lived most of their lives outside Jerusalem and as a result are not as culturally-pure as the Hebrew Jews. In Memphis, this would be the Arkansas fans. Located in geographic no-man's-land, Arkansas is not really deep south, but not really west. For most of their storied history, these fans lived in the old Southwest Conference, which didn't practice pigskin at the same level as the SEC. Ten of the other SEC schools have been members since the conference was founded in 1932, but these little piggies didn't came all-the-way-home until 1991. Thus, they are eager to prove their Southerness and are hyper-sensitive to being treated as second class citizens by other SEC fans. "Can't they just hate us like they all hate Bama," Hog fans plead.
The Gentile Dawgs, poorer, rough-neck people who can crash an otherwise sophisticated cocktail party (editorial confession: I was flipped-off four times Saturday by an old-man Dawg-fan). In Memphis, this is the Mississippi State fans. Starkville, aka Starkganistan, is not on anyone's short-list of most-charming southern towns. As a result, Dawg Fans can be treated like second-class citizens in the Memphis pecking order. The football team's weekly-changing uniforms testify to a program that is still trying to find its identity in the tradition-rich SEC, but the leghumpers can bite when not taken seriously (ask the Pharisees).
The Romans, citizens of a distant empire trying to keep control of a wily outlying city. In Memphis, this would be the Tennessee fans. Though technically the university of the state that Memphis inhabits, Knoxville is farther away than all of the other five schools, a 360-mile camping trip east on I-40. Yes, they have a huge coliseum and a fat, cheatin', bloodthirsty emperor, but the Vols are hardly feared or revered in Memphis. Blue chip Memphis recruits are just as likely to play somewhere else (especially if a Pharisee can come up with $200,000) and the Great Pumpkin is not worshiped here like he is in other parts of Tennessee.
Now, what does all of this have to do with the already-not yet? Well in the Bible, we are told that factionalism and division and tribal warfare are actually a result of "the fall," the rebellion of the creatures against their creator that threw the whole world into a civil-war. In many ways, 1st century Jerusalem and 21st century Memphis reflect this state of affairs; the world is "not yet" God's kingdom. But one man promises to unite them all. "Whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities, all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things and in him all things hold together" (Colossians 1:16-17).
In other words, Jesus is Lord, which means that Bear Bryant is not Lord. Archie Manning is not Lord. Jackie Sherrill is not Lord. Frank Broyles is not Lord. General Neyland is not Lord. They cannot unite all kinds of people under one roof, but Jesus can. One day, he will bring together all kinds of seemingly-opposed people in one New Memphis. The Roll Tide Twins will lie down with the Vandy Lawyer who will lie down with Colonel Reb who will lie down with Big Red who will lie down with the State fan who flipped me off Saturday who will lie down with Smokey the blue tick coonhound. Jesus will unite them all. But today is not yet that day. Until then, Go Hogs!