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Being a Fan

(First, a disclaimer: The photos in this post are atrocious. But no one’s allowed to make fun of them. It was the combination of bad lighting, a camera phone, and a pretty clueless photographer. Oh well.)

When I was in middle school, I acquired the late 80s equivalent of Bieber Fever: I was obsessed with New Kids on the Block. I caught this malady from someone else, a friend who had been obsessed with them first, and soon I was swooning over Jordan Knight and devouring minute details of important information such as what foods he liked and what time he went to bed. I made myself sick with longing for him. Really. I was simply completely taken over, but it all started with me following the lead of friends around me, at first just going through the motions to fit in until I started to believe it too. I was, really, fairly pathetic. But I remember that time in life well enough to know what it’s like when group hysteria takes over in a kid’s life.

And it scares me.

It scares me, because when anyone - but especially children - starts to allow their opinions and thoughts to get swept away in group think, it’s dangerous. We forget who we are. I also don’t want my kids to be the slave of popular opinion, thinking that they need to think what everyone else thinks for people to like them. All kids think this way naturally - heck, adults think this way! - unless we make conscious decisions to really think for ourselves, and not apologize for it. This has been one of the major themes of parenting for me. I can’t count the number of conversations that have come up on this topic. Whenever “everyone” thinks something - whether it’s in a Christian context, or a school context, or a marketing campaign, or whatever - we encourage them to think it through. The more “everyone” thinks something, the more we need to consciously stop and make ourselves think it through for ourselves, or we get swept along without even knowing it. In the end we might decide that we agree, but then at least we’ve decided. It hasn’t been decided for us. (And just because it’s in a generally trustworthy place like church doesn’t mean we’re safe from this. Actually, the more our defenses are down in places like that, the more in danger we are of groupthink. And even if the groupthink is about something good, it’s still groupthink, and that’s still dangerous because it sets us up for going along with groupthink about things that aren’t good.)

Can you tell this is something I’m a wee bit passionate about? I’m probably raising my kids to be social outcasts, but at least they’ll be social outcasts who know what they believe. :)

So, back on topic, when Emily came home in first grade saying that she “loved” Hannah Montanna, even though she’d never ever seen one of her shows, we had the talk. (Why do you love her? What specifically? What do you know about her? So we sat down and watched a few shows together and she decided that it was a show about teenagers being crazy about boys and being kind of rude to each other, and that was that.) And every time since then, when all her peers like something, I’ve encouraged her to really think if she likes it too, and why, and not just be following along to fit in. Because of this, she really hasn’t been a huge fan of anyone. She’ll like certain songs, which is fine, but she’s decided that things like being a swooning fan of Justin Bieber is kind of stupid, because it’s not like she’s ever going to meet him, so it’s a waste of time. Smart girl.

But it appears as though she has latched on to someone to be a fan of, and it kind of took us by surprise. She’s become a rabid Rebecca St. James fan.

It started mildly, with her just enjoying her songs. We have a couple of her albums that we occasionally play, but not very often, so it’s not like she learned it from us. But Emily became obsessed with her Christmas album about two years ago, and ever since then she asks to listen to her songs whenever she gets the chance. RSJ has a very unique voice and way of singing, and something about it just appeals massively to Emily. So when we heard that she was going to be performing at PBU on Saturday night, we asked the kids if they wanted to go, and they gave an ecstatic “YES!!!!!!” with much jumping up and down and general hysterics. I took that as an affirmative.

The concert was held in the chapel at PBU, which is rather small, so it was a very intimate sort of concert. She was there with For King and Country, a fairly new band that two of her brothers have formed. They sing a song that’s being played a lot on the radio now called Busted Heart, which is a great song and totally catchy and stays in your head for days and days. Believe me on this one. We’re all walking around singing it all the time now. We were surprised at how small and intimate the location was, because even though she’s been off the radar for a while, she’s an artist who could command a much bigger location, especially with For King and Country. But when Rebecca came on stage, she said that they intended the evening to be personal and intimate, like friends sitting down to coffee, with discussion and Q&A and things. With my personality - and my aversion to large, showy, loud things - this was definitely the concert for me!

We got there early enough to sit in the front row, which was good since the kids probably couldn’t have seen anything otherwise.
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And then the band started lining up at the side of the stage, and Emily’s eyes got all big and she squealed, “She’s right there!”
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It was a good concert. The music was amazing, because they’re all amazing musicians and songwriters. Rebecca performed in the beginning, with her brothers as part of the band, and then they switched up. When For King and Country were on stage, they had us clapping, and one of the brothers (Luke, the one with the long hair) looked right at Emily, leaned down with a smile, and said, “Thank you!” since she was clapping along too. That was fairly thrilling to her. Throughout the concert, Rebecca spoke of her life, and her thoughts on different things, taking breaks to sit on a stool and have little chats with the audience. There was also a Q&A session towards the end. It was very personal feeling, especially since we were sitting in the front row.

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And sometime in the course of the concert, between all the awesome music and the inspirational talks, Emily moved from “liking her music” to “being a FAN.” It was fascinating. Something about the things that RSJ was talking about - stories from her childhood, especially - resonated with her and built a kind of admiration in her. She listened to Rebecca talk about the way she personally felt the reality of God’s love for her when she was 8, and how when she was 12 she decided to devote her talents to serving Him. She listened to stories about her family moving from Australia to the US when she was 14, and how they struggled and miracles would happen - such as the time they needed a car, and prayed that somehow they’d be able to get one, and the next day a person they just met gave them a car out of the blue! She was very attentive, and I watched her, wondering what was going on in her head and what kind of impact this was making on her. During the intermission she said to me, “I want to have one of her books. Can I? Please?” So we went out and she very seriously looked over all the books before choosing a devotional she’d written that had personal anecdotes in it.

After the concert, we were one of the first in line for autographs, and Emily gave her the book to sign while Tim gave RSJ and FK&C the CD covers to sign. Rebecca and her brother Luke remembered us, and Rebecca said, “Were you in the front row? You were singing so nicely.” Luke added, with a smile “Yes, and clapping too! I think the little guy started to doze off at the end though!” (Daniel had laid down on Tim’s lap toward the end. It was late and he was exhausted!) They both seemed genuine in their comments to the kids, and Emily just grinned. I asked if we could get a picture, and Rebecca said yes. I took it and it was all blurry, but I felt self-conscious enough as it was, so didn’t want to push my luck by asking for another one!

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Emily was glowing all the next day and couldn’t stop talking about it. She took the devotional and picture to church, but none of her friends had ever heard of Rebecca St. James. And if her church friends don’t know her, certainly none of her friends at school know of her either. RSJ was very popular when Tim and I were in college, but she’s been off the radar for enough years that the younger generation isn’t really aware of her as much. But Emily doesn’t really care about that, because something resonated with her and this singer - a combination of loving her music, and connecting with her as a person at the concert - that has turned her into a fan. And, really, if the girl is going to choose a role model, she could certainly choose worse than a talented woman who speaks of making good choices and trusting God, and lives it out!

What strikes me, and makes me proud, is that this is all her choice. Based on loving the music, and admiring the person. Not the choice of friends around her - not even the choice of her family, although she’s admittedly been influenced by the culture in our home. Still, this particular thing of being such a big RSJ fan is something she’s decided for herself, regardless of how popular or unpopular it is and based solely on her own tastes and choices. Emily says that most of the girls at church have chosen the girl from the Soul Surfer story as a role model, and while that girl is certainly a worthwhile role model, the fact that so many of them chose her shows groupthink. With all the choices for role models, what are the odds that they all would individually choose the same one? Emily says that Rebecca St. James is a role model to her now, and I’m proud of her for not just going along with what’s popular - either in secular or church culture - and instead going with her true thoughts and feelings. And that, as her mother, makes me both very proud, and very relieved. As she enters 6th grade next year, it’s comforting to know that she’s learning to know who she is - what she likes, what she thinks - and how to be true to that. My prayer is that this will stick, and will carry her successfully through the teenage years, and life in general.

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