In the summer of 1991 my brother Graeme and I spent a week at our aunt and uncle’s house in the Annapolis Valley. While we were there I made repeated trips down the road to the Greenwood Mall, where a sports card store had recently been opened. I had been a baseball card collector for years, but that week, as I entered the world of football cards, I also got my first taste of a new kind of enjoyment: daily access to a card shop.
By the end of the week, when Mom and Dad came to collect us, Graeme and I had begun to hatch a plan: maybe we could open a card shop of our own. We knew the popularity of this booming hobby, which was hitting its peak years, and we had plenty of friends we could adopt as customers. I was thirteen and he was twelve, and we were certainly naïve about what it would take to keep a business alive. Nevertheless, in our innocent optimism, we sprung the idea on Dad.
To our shock, he agreed. Within a month, he had invested about $700 in our venture, setting us up as a real business with a tax number of our own so that we could buy from wholesalers. He bought us a glass showcase to display our more valuable cards and we lined the shelf in our former garage with boxes of “wax packs”: Topps, Fleer, Score, Upper Deck. Football, baseball, basketball, and hockey—we may even have bought a box of golf cards. And every schoolday afternoon, from 4:00 to 5:30, we would open our back door to the twelve or fifteen elementary and junior high school kids who were impatient to come inside, to buy, trade, and hang out together, celebrating the joys of our hobby.
Our business survived for two years, until we were undone by a decline of interest in cards and our neighbours’ increasing appetite for five-cent candy. With candy, we could move a lot of units, but there wasn’t much money in sour peaches and ju jubes. When Kohlers’ Kards closed in May 1993 we could look back on a couple of school years’ worth of highs and lows. Highs like my grade nine teachers’ willingness to let me sell my cards in the classroom at the beginning and end of the school day—I came home one day with $100. Lows like the day a former friend reached into my bag under my seat on the bus and emptied me of over $50 worth of stock. Looking back I wouldn’t trade the highs or lows for anything.
I would like to think that the reality Graeme and I were learning about was not capitalism but participation. Dad trusted us to participate in the use of his resources and his (however small) risk. More importantly, we were becoming participants, on a deeper level than we had previously thought possible, in a hobby that had already given us many years of enjoyment. Now we got to see it from the inside, from so many different angles than we had seen it before. The most interesting angle was probably that now we were able to see the hobby in the enjoyment it brought not to us but to others—whether the 35 year old man up the street whose love of cards (and whose distinctive body odour) we would never otherwise have known, or my friend Andrew, who was lucky enough to find in a package of 1992 Score hockey cards one of only 500 specially placed autographed Bobby Orrs. Again, I wouldn’t trade these insights for anything.
As Christians, God has invited us into a double participation: participation in God’s own life of love and community in Christ and the Spirit, and participation in God’s work in the world, the mission of his kingdom toward his troubled creatures.
Participation doesn’t mean we run things: we can no more initiate our own relationship with God than my brother and I could have come up with the start-up money or know-how to get our business going. But participation means we’ve been welcomed in and given the invitation to get involved. In Christ’s redeeming work, we have been set free to be God’s agents in this life, which means we’ve been called to get to work.
“So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest-time, if we do not give up. So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all…” (Galatians 6:9-10). Or, as it says in another place: “I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice…” (Romans 12:1). God has made us new in Christ, so let’s give ourselves to him with a brand new energy and joy.
Participation itself is joy. To be involved with God, in both his life and his work, is a great privilege. The more we give ourselves to the Lord and his work, the greater we appreciate the privilege. From inside that participation, we see every part of life and every person we met from a new perspective. I would never have been able to share Andrew’s joy at finding the Bobby Orr autograph if I hadn’t been involved in his hobby on the ground level with him. Similarly, we can’t know the full joy of Christian life by observation alone; we have to get in on it.
A few months after we closed our card shop, my grandmother came to live with us for what turned out to be the last few months of her life. One Sunday night we decided to order a pizza. To our surprise, she had never had pizza before—at least not one that came from a pizza place. As Dad left to go pick the pizza up, she reached into her wallet to get some money out. Dad said, “Mom, you don’t have to pay for it!” But with the deepest yet most casual of insights, she responded with a smile, “It isn’t any fun unless you’re in on it!”