The Four-Hour Fanatic

By Lois Shaw, Executive Director

A few days ago I was on a typical hurried run into Karen Town, just a couple of miles down the road from the university, for some errand or other, bumping along over and into pot holes. And, as always, the BBC was bringing me up to date on world affairs. “The Beeb” keeps me from being too myopic about all things local.

Halfway into Karen the sports announcer came on with breathless enthusiasm (yes, and he was British) about the Grand National Horse Race that was to happen within hours. He talked about the grand, 167-year-history, the fact that it was the most rigorous of all international horseraces and some horses even die during the race.

Okay, I think horses are beautiful. When I was a little girl I prayed for a horse almost every night after I said my “regular” prayers. Horses are all over the place on our Karen roads. But somehow in my sheltered life I had not heard about the Grand National. I sat forward in my seat, careful not to bump my head on the visor as I bounced along, and got myself more and more invested and excited about the race coming up in “less than four hours!” I sat in the parking lot of the grocery store for about half an hour listening to the descriptions and stories of the main contenders. I ran in, did my errands and ran back out to catch the updates as jockeys and owners were interviewed.

With three hours to go I was a full-on, motivated fan and could hardly wait to listen to the race. I’d picked my horse “Double Seven” and was jazzed. The radio was already set on the BBC when I got home, so no time was wasted when I came in to the house, put the groceries away and started making dinner.

Coverage continued. I got more fanatical as I buzzed around the kitchen. Often only half the horses finish the race; it is so grueling. Finally, after one false start, they were off. I was yelling and waving my cheese grater at the radio! The announcer was wildly calling out the race, and I was with him all the way.

And then minutes later, it was all over. Pineau de Re was the winner. Double Seven was third—I think. I stood still in the middle of the kitchen with my bowl of grated cheese and felt rather sheepish.

What in the world had come over me? For four hours, I was the Grand National’s number one fan. An hour before that I didn’t even know what the Grand National was. Was that a four hour reckless lapse in my sanity?

Thomas Merton once reflected on our human frailty and said, “We are all more or less wrong, we are all at fault, all limitedand obstructed by our mixed motives, our self-deception, our greed, our self-righteousness and our tendency to aggression and hypocrisy.” And fanaticism. No question, we all have a fanatic gene. I live with a Red Sox fan. That’s inexplicable all on its own. But March Madness, FIFA, giving billions to a political campaign, sit-ins, baby whales,  martyrdom and even genocide remind us that we’re all pretty close to the edge.

The great fanatic of the first century, the Apostle Paul, who went from the genocide of Christians on the one side, to saying, “For me: it’s Christ, and I’ll die for Him” (Philippians 1:21) is a good reminder to me that we all are genetically fanatics.

Conclusion to this four hour episode? I’d better consider just what I want to be a fanatic about, since I am one. Here’s my “I’m a fanatic” list. And PLEASE send me yours.

  1. Hopelessly devoted to being a Jesus-follower. Amazed that He knows my name, has me on His dance card and is crazy about me.
  2. Mark Shaw.
  3. My kids and anything that matters to them, be it Eastern Congo, a hundred-year-old wooden canoe, massage therapy or early childhood education. If it matters to them—I’m a fanatic.
  4. Four grandsons on the brink of greatness
  5. Words, words, words. Books, books, books.
  6.  A calling to invest my life in whatever it takes to empower, encourage, network, love and befriend African women, in every strata of life, who are making a difference on this most fascinating continent of Africa.
  7. YOU! I’m a fanatic about anyone who reads anything I write.


For the love of Africa,