At the risk of giving folks a hint at just how old I’m getting, I recall that as a boy one highlight of my week was Saturday morning when I would watch the cowboy shows. There included Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, the Lone Ranger, Wild Bill Hickok, Hopalong Cassidy, Annie Oakley, and the Cisco Kid. Do you recall any of those?
Then after school and on the weekends when we had run out of TV shows to watch, we’d often engage in games of “cowboys and Indians.” There were no video apps or cable in those days, and the only tablets were what the doctor instructed us to take two of, then call him in the morning. So we actually had to go outside and play. However, growing up in suburban New Jersey, we really knew little about what cowboy life was really like.
So I was intrigued when I happened across a promo video produced by the University of Wyoming, whose mascot is the Cowboy. The video, part of a broader promotional campaign, is called “The World Needs More Cowboys,” and it’s been seen by at least half a million viewers. Actually, it created a bit of a stir because a couple of professors denounced it as being “racist” and “sexist.” Isn’t everything racist and sexist these days?
The university’s female president strongly disagreed. She wrote, “The campaign takes [our] strongest asset – our iconic bucking-horse-and-rider mark and the Cowboys mascot – and modernizes it to reflect today’s challenges. It redefines what it means to be a Cowboy in this day and age…the inner spirit of curiosity and boldness that all who call themselves Cowboys and Cowgirls can identify with – no matter their race or gender….”
I’m not advocating for the university; I’ve never even been to Wyoming. And if you’ve read my blog long enough, you know I’m a Buckeye that bleeds Scarlet and Gray. But I enjoyed the metaphor.
In the video important questions are raised: “Restless curiosity. Whatever happened to that? When did we stop thinking up new questions and daring to chase down their answers? Should we blindly follow predetermined paths when they never take us anywhere new?...when there’s still so much to explore off the beaten trail? The world needs more wonder, more outside thinkers hungry for a challenge. The world needs more cowboys…. It’s a shared spirit…the spirit of the underdog, the trailblazer, the kind of spirit that longs for something to prove. The kind that emboldens those who possess it to stand on the perimeter and howl on the unknown with unbendable optimism.”
There wasn’t a Christian undercurrent to this message. But what it proclaims could easily apply for those of us who follow Jesus. Because today, the culture seeks to dictate for us what we should think, what we should say, how we should act. The one-time Judeo-Christian consensus that served to undergird our nation is evaporating before our eyes. As a result, every day we’re becoming more like cowboys than entrenched “settlers.”
When we read the Scriptures, we see this trait in Christ’s disciples. Yes, they were fishermen, tradesmen and even a tax collector. But I doubt any of their mothers ever heard the musical refrain, “Don’t let your babies grow up to be cowboys.”
At a time when society and culture are insisting on conformity in the name of “tolerance,” we read the admonition from Romans 12:2, which tells us “do not be conformed to the pattern of this world,” or as a popular paraphrase expressed it, “don’t let the world squeeze you into its mold.” The passage doesn’t say, “be more like cowboys,” but it could have.
Speaking to a multitude that had gathered to hear His teaching, Jesus warned, “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it” (Matthew 7:14).
Being a follower of Christ doesn’t mean we can’t ask questions or even wrestle with doubts about our faith at times. Rather, we should strive to be more like the noble Bereans who, “examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” (Acts 17:11). At the same time, we should be conducting our lives in such a way that we raise questions – among those we encounter: “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15).
Another trait cowboys possess, even with their curiosity, boldness and willingness to blaze new trails, is unwavering commitment to the task, to what they’ve been called to do. Similarly, in a world described as post-Christian, post-modern and increasingly secular, it seems our responsibility before God involves becoming more the exception and less the rule.
This doesn’t mean we must forsake our beliefs, or the principles and truths by which we live and formulate our faith. To the contrary, we should remember what Joshua told the Israelites as they were preparing to venture into the Promised Land for the first time. There they would encounter a variety of false gods, pagan gods formed of wood and stone. So Joshua exhorted them, “choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve…. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15).