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The One About Little John

Little John is not. Like his namesake he is big – big for his age, big for any age – the kind of man who looks too big in a suit that’s the right size for him. He’s 19 and he’s just gone up to Uni to study geography. He’s also gone up to play rugby. He’s keen. At the Freshers’ Fair he makes for the Rugby Club stand like a flanker makes for a fl y-half with the ball. They’re keen too. John is rather good, good enough, it soon transpires, to play for the University. Still, he discovers, there is rather more to becoming part of the team than signing up, training at fullthrottle, and practising hard.

There’s the initiation ceremony.

And the Rugby Club initiation ceremony takes the Freshers’ Week tradition of the gargantuan consumption of alcohol to oceanic levels. It’s the culture, despite the irony that no professional coach in any sport regards high alcohol intake as a helpful ingredient in developing elite athletic performance. John, for his part, had long before made his own determination before God that alcohol would not form any part of his fitness regime. He knows that being a Christian isn’t exactly a fashion statement in contemporary university life and he certainly doesn’t want Jesus to be seen as a judgemental killjoy. He also knows that initiation ceremonies are important in building team spirit. And he wants to show that he wants to be part of the team. And it’s only one evening. But is this a price he is prepared to pay? Or is there another way?

Little John prays. Which tells you that he’s confident that God will give him wisdom for the situation he’s in. It also tells you that he’s confident that the King of the Universe is not uninterested in something as mundane as running around a field in pursuit of a ball that doesn’t bounce right.

John decides to offer to drink milk instead of alcohol – a pint for every shot of vodka or glass of wine. This is not as wimpy as it sounds. The human body finds it hard to process large amounts of lactose, so drinking large quantities of milk is not only unpleasant but tends to have a similar effect on the contents of one’s stomach as large quantities of alcohol.

And this was deemed as sufficiently sacrificial and physically unpleasant to meet the initiation criteria for a sport that requires its participants to undergo a significant amount of physical discomfort.

John’s decision is reminiscent of Daniel’s as a young Israelite student at Imperial College, Babylon (Daniel 1). Daniel embraced his educational opportunity. He let himself be renamed after a Babylonian god, he studied and mastered their idolatrous literature and he was ready to work for a pagan King.

However, for reasons that scholars have never fully fathomed, he drew the line at the requirement to eat the rich food from the King’s table. At the same time, Daniel understood what his immediate supervisor’s issue was – it wasn’t whether he ate the King’s food, it was whether he stays healthy.

So, Daniel suggested a different diet that he thought would still meet his boss’ objective, just as Little John suggested a different drink that had the potential to meet the Rugby Club’s nausea-inducing objective.

As it turns out, John became one of the team’s most exuberant socialites, effervescently sober, confidently Christian, non-judgementally finding ways to help others drink less and offering a way forward to Christians in other sports teams.

John found a way to be in the world, but not of it, to contribute wholeheartedly, without compromise.

 

***

I wonder what you might do. What biblical connections might you draw on?

Is there a situation in your life where you need God’s help to find a creative solution to a seemingly impossible problem?

‘But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself in this way. Now God had caused the official to show favour and compassion to Daniel, but the official told Daniel, “I am afraid of my lord the king, who has assigned your food and drink. Why should he see you looking worse than the other young men of your age? The king would then have my head because of you.’”

DANIEL 1:8–10

 


 

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Each of us will have moments or stories like these, but we easily forget or don’t see them. Yet they can be such a source of encouragement to us, and to others.

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