I love to watch people. I like to sit back and just enjoy the hum and flow of several conversations going on simultaneously and watch people and their reactions to what is being said. I know. It makes me a bit of a voyeur, but it still amuses me…and since it is a relatively benign form of entertainment, I’ll probably continue doing it…although I may have to be a bit more surreptitious after this posting.
This past weekend, I had the ultimate opportunity to people watch: a tailgate party at a college football game. (For those of you who are unfamiliar with this term—and even those of you who are!—check out the official Wikipedia definition here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tailgate_party )
Now that you have that definition in your mind, let me tell you about tailgating here in the South. A tailgate party is the ultimate people-watching extravaganza! There are rarely actual tailgates involved. There are often entire parking lots filled with huge campers and trailers—some painted in school colors or at least sporting multiple team logos. At least some of these come complete with their own matching decked-out golf carts to go from place to place. Then there are those who bring multiple tents which spring up like small tent-cities. There are tables with color-coordinated cloths/napkins/plates & cutlery, elaborate lighting and team memorabilia. There are tables loaded down with exotic Southern foods like boudin sausage & hogshead cheese…and more humble fare, as well—I brought chicken salad, fruit & veggies. There is a dessert table…a very full dessert table. There are fans (of the cheering variety) and fans (of the wind-moving variety). There are often TVs—large and small–complete with satellite hookups and fancy remotes so that the group can watch other sporting events as they wait for theirs to begin. There are large grills—really large grills–filled with delicious burgers, BBQ and veggies. Our group had shrimp…imported from Louisiana…and fresh banana pudding.
There was no alcohol involved. There were, however, well over 40 people in attendance—just in our group!–and others who strolled by and stopped in to chat for a bit, have a small plate and then move on through. It was pretty amazing. Our own three-tent event was surrounded by ones both smaller and larger with simpler and fancier set-ups. This isn’t the main competition of the day, but it is an event all on its own.
Friends invited friends who brought relatives. It was an ever-evolving pageant and a whole lot of fun. Pockets of conversations filled the air and people moved from group to group bringing laughter and chiding, serious and silly all out into the open. Friends caught up on one another’s lives, were introduced to strangers and cheered loudly together with adjoining tailgaters while watching other teams play. There were card games and cornhole games, pompoms and…in this instance, lots and lots of cowbells.
There is a camaraderie about these events that defies our societal norms. For instance, our group came without the TV hook-ups, but had groups on either side with elaborate big-screen set-ups. When it was time for the game at our location to start, some of us remained behind to chat and enjoy each other during game time. As the group on our right had some of the same intentions, they weren’t surprised or concerned to see some of our people turn their chairs to see their TV and join in the game that way. As the entire group on our left headed toward the stadium, they left behind the remote and a casual, “Turn it off when you’re done” instruction to those of us who were still trying to catch the ending of a different game.
People don’t usually walk off and leave their valuables in the control of strangers…anywhere but here. These people also left an entire birthday cake. Intact. They weren’t worried that it would be cut or defaced in any way upon their return. They just entrusted us with it all…and they didn’t know a single one of us prior to setting up earlier in the day.
I watched all of this and I loved that race and creed didn’t matter. I loved that pure fun was the goal and that people were smiling and talking with those they didn’t know. I loved that there was a common bond—even with people who cheered for opposing teams. I loved that—in our group, at least—conversations were caring and blessing and as much about God as they were about ourselves. There were hugs and handshakes and smiles. Welcomes that extended past our regular comfort levels and lots and lots of laughter. In the midst of all the chaos of thousands of people doing it “their way” was the acceptance of others who did it differently in an effort to advance the same cause. Call me crazy, but it seemed like a little bit of heaven…Southern-style, of course.
Now, if we could only do those same things during the week! What could we accompllish for the cause of Christ if our worship was as loud and enthusiastic as our cheering for our sports teams? How many could we reach for Christ if we recognized that our way isn’t always the only way to tell them about a Savior who loves them enough to give up His life for them? What if we looked past color and social rules and just saw people who need God to show up…and realize that WE are there to represent Him to them? What if we could harness the work ethic that goes into making everything “just so” for a tailgate event and turn that into provision for those who are less fortunate? What if watching people led to helping them?