Category Archives: Sports
Frank Cottrell Boyce, who worked on Friday night’s Opening Ceremony of the Olympics, said this about the volunteers who took part:
The fact that almost 10,000 people kept the secret didn’t surprise Cottrell Boyce. “Those volunteers redefined the nation for me,” he said. “We’re told people need to be paid great sums to get results, but those who are motivated by money cock up. Because they’re crap. People who are motivated by things like love, family, friendship and humanity are the ones who have something to offer.”
(From the Guardian.)
Lately, my American friends on Facebook have been rather exercised by the adventures of one Tim Tebow. “Who he?” thought I, but quickly realised he plays that staged impersonation of rugby that our friends west of the Pond call football. (No ‘American’ to prefix it for the same reason that their baseball has a World Series.)
Furthermore, young Mr Tebow is rather good at the sport, having engineered some remarkable comebacks for his team the Denver Broncos – although they came unstuck against the New England Patriots 45-10 and won’t make the Super Bowl as a result.
Not only that, my American friends are excited because he is a Christian. Born to Baptist missionaries in the Philippines, he has appeared in an advertisement for Focus on the Family, and is overt in owning his faith.
Given some of the hysteria generated by Tebow Time, perhaps it’s actually time to nail some of the Christian myths about famous believing sporting heroes.
If football players on opposing teams each pray to win does God choose who wins or does he just watch the game?
Prayer doesn’t make a Christian win, or even a better athlete. There is no spiritual gift of sporting ability, and Christians have the same mix of natural talents that the rest of the population has. The place of prayer for the sporting Christian is in the request to glorify God in the way they participate. Winning isn’t guaranteed, nor is performance.
Number two, and very dangerous, is the whole notion of celebrity. Tebow is in the public eye, and I hope his Christian supporters are praying for him. But there is nothing of intrinsically greater worth about the testimony of a famous Christian than that of you or me. It plays into the hands of all the unhealthy contemporary obsession with celebrity. And isn’t that a matter of idolatry, and broken idols at that? We build up these people in some kind of false worship, then watch their images smash.
What’s more, your non-Christian friends who like American Football may well watch Tim Tebow with interest. But they will be watching your life more closely and more regularly. Rather than trumpeting a famous Christian, we should be considering our own witness, however quiet and humble it is.
Some people believe football is a matter of life and death, I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.
In a way, this ties into the idolatry issue. Were Shankly being serious, his words would be appalling. I like to think they were satirical. I love it when my team wins. I hate it when they lose. My son is worse. But what matters in the end?
Thankfully, Tebow has a sense of real priorities, and what his fame can and cannot achieve. The Boston Globe reported his reaction to yesterday’s defeat:
“It still wasn’t a bad day,” Tebow said after the game. “It still was a good day, because I got to spend some time before the game with Zack McLeod [a 20-year-old Cambridge native who suffered a traumatic brain injury playing football] and make him smile, and overall when you get to do that, it’s still a positive day. Sometimes that’s hard to see, but it depends what lens you’re looking through. I choose to look through those lenses, and I got to make a kid’s day, that’s more important than winning the game. So, I am proud of that.”
Tebow was asked if the glare of the spotlight this season ever became too much.
“There are pros and cons with everything,” Tebow said. “Sometimes, you don’t want it all. You just like to be able to go to dinner, hang out with friends, be a normal 24-year-old. So that makes it sometimes hard. But I wouldn’t change it for the world, because by having that, I have the platform to walk into a hospital to walk into the hospital and share with kids, I have the opportunity to hang out with Zack before a game, I have the opportunity to go build a hospital in the Philippines or to do a lot more important things than football.”
That sounds like a guy who has got his head screwed on. The rest of us need to do the same.
Yesterday, I took Mark on a belated treat for his seventh birthday – a tour of Wembley Stadium. We had a wonderful time, with a knowledgeable and witty tour guide called Dominic.
And I got annoyed. Later with myself when I realised I’d been careless with the focussing of some shots, but earlier I seethed inwardly when going through the security check at the stadium. As the officer checking my bags noticed I had a LowePro camera bag and that I had a DSLR camera with interchangeable lenses, he gave me a friendly warning.
“Don’t change your lenses on the tour, or the guide will think you’re a professional photographer, and they’re banned from the tours. Choose one lens and stick to it.”
So now you know. Amateur photographers don’t use SLRs. Clearly we only use our phones, or at best a compact. Is that the level we’ve sunk to?
There is no new sermon for tomorrow. Having to give up time yesterday to help nurse a son who had to come home from school mid-morning, I never got the new sermon finished. I ended up abandoning ship and lightly revising last year’s Pentecost message. After all, I’m in a new location, and furthermore not even at one of my two churches in the morning.
However, I did find a wonderful video for Pentecost on the web, which I’ll be using in the morning. My Facebook friends have already seen this, but here it is (again):
You can download it free in HD format here.
Meanwhile, in other news, headlines have been made here in the UK today by the publication of the annual Queen’s Birthday Honours List. Topping the news has been the knighthood for beloved entertainer Bruce Forsyth. Seventy-three MPs had signed an Early Day Motion in the House of Commons, calling for him to be knighted. (He was appointed CBE in 2005.) This honour is for ‘services to entertainment and to charity’.
Now, I have nothing against dear old Brucie, and indeed I have a tenuous claim-to-fame link with him: we grew up along the same road. Not at the same time: he is about the same age as my father. He was a local hero due to that fact, even if a little scathing in his autobiography about the way the town declined in latter years, in contrast to how nice it apparently was when he lived there. In his light entertainment career, he has put smiles on the faces of millions. And never more for me than the classic time he first hosted Have I Got News For You in 2008:
However, contrast this with the announcement that founder of The Message Trust Andy Hawthorne has also been awarded an honour, the OBE. He can’t beat Brucie’s sixty years in show business, but he has put nearly twenty years into work in some of the most deprived estates, with difficult young people and prisoners.
The question I ask is, who has given more to society? Because for me it’s Hawthorne. I have no problem with a nation having an honours system, even if ours contains some anachronisms mostly associated with the monarchy and some remembered feudalism. If a society wants to honour those who have made a positive difference to them, fine. And perhaps that will include entertainment, and even sport, given the gongs also awarded for our cricketers thrashing a poor Australian team last winter.
But make a difference? I’m sure Bruce has raised a lot of money for charity, but Andy Hawthorne has got his hands dirty. To me, in kingdom terms, Hawthorne deserves the higher honour, hands down. At least he awaits a reward in glory. In the meantime, this is an area of British life that only reflects God’s kingdom extremely imperfectly.
What do you think? What would you do with the Honours system?
So, England were deservedly thrashed by Germany in the World Cup today. If I have any hope as an England fan, it’s that this humbling will wake up a sport drenched in greed, with players who earn five times in a week what I earn in a year and who still lust for further dosh with Hello magazine spreads, and start coming back to some healthier values. I’m not optimistic, though. Not while the Premier League has its stranglehold on the ‘national game’.
But there is another dark side. The English propensity to football hooliganism is infamous. Though far less evident than it used to be, the real issue seems not its near-eradication at the top level, but that it has moved to other arenas. There is still football-related violence in this country, but much of it now happens away from the stadia. Last week, I had an email from TEAR Fund which included this sobering statistic:
on England match days during the last world cup violence in the home went up by 25% in British homes, it is utterly unacceptable and totally preventable.
How sick is that? And tonight, after England’s defeat, the violence has come near to us on our estate here. Only yesterday, some lay leaders at the local parish church said they had already sustained £3000 of damage to the premises after earlier England games in the tournament, and they were talking of mounting a guard near the building after today’s match.
I don’t yet know whether anything has happened there this evening, but for approximately two hours from 7 pm, we have been serenaded by hovering police helicopters. Checking friends’ status updates on Facebook, we discover that a number of incidents have occurred. There has been a glassing at a local branch of Tesco (I’m not sure which one). Trouble also broke out at a pub we know that shows football on large screens inside while children play outside on a bouncy castle. And there has been an incident with baseball bats and a gun at the pub-restaurant on our quiet, middle class estate. That establishment is right opposite our children’s school. People are staying inside their houses, with windows closed on the hottest day of the year so far.
I cannot prove that any of these incidents are football-related, but the timing is suspicious, especially for an area that is largely unfamiliar with this kind of trouble. Of one thing I am sure, though: our society that trundles along without God should not be so complacent. It reminds me of two powerful quotes from Eunice Attwood’s wonderful Vice-Presidential address to the Methodist Conference yesterday. Firstly, speaking of when she began to get involved with Healing On The Streets:
One of the Big Issue sellers who I know well, called me over and with a very serious look on his face said, ‘At last you’re here, we need you Christians here, Eunice. Why doesn’t the church come here every day? It’s no good staying in your lovely buildings’.
Secondly, in talking about her work with Street Pastors:
When John Wesley came to Newcastle in 1742 he spoke these now famous words, ‘I was surprised so much drunkenness, cursing and swearing even from the mouths of little children) do I never remember to have seen and heard before in so small a compass of time. Surely this place is ripe for him who came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.’
I didn’t get out on the streets tonight. Was I wrong? I don’t know. With police cars, a riot van, paramedics and other supporting people, part of me says I shouldn’t have meddled. But I didn’t know about those details until the helicopters started to disappear, and it’s surprising how alluring putting the rubbish out, emptying the dishwasher and making the children’s sandwiches become. But whether I succeeded or failed as a Christian tonight, Debbie and I shall have a rôle as representatives of the Prince of Peace tomorrow morning at the school gate, when we discover whether and how much people have been troubled by today’s goings on.
I didn’t think I’d keep up my record of daily sabbatical blogs today. By tea-time, I was in bed, exhausted and with a dreadful headache. Several bad nights’ sleep had taken their toll, and adrenaline had kept me going until finally I kept dropping off on the sofa to the embarrassment of the family.
Tomorrow is Rebekah’s sixth birthday, and today was her party. She had chosen a pottery party with ten friends at local studion The Glazed Look. That was going to make for a quiet celebration, rather than exuberant running around and noisy games. When Debbie booked his for her at her request, we didn’t know how significant that was going to be.
Because, just after 6 am, Debbie woke me to say Rebekah had been awake three times in the night with ear pain. (I may be having trouble getting to sleep at present, but once I do, there’s little that would wake me.) She also had a discharge from her right ear. By 6:30, I was on the phone to the out of hours doctors’ service, getting an appointment at their clinic for 8:10 am. Just as I had taken Mark there a couple of weeks ag on a Saturday night, now I was taxi for my daughter.
With nobody in the queue, she was seen on time by a lovely, gentle Indian doctor, and out came the usual prescription for amoxicillin – just what we expected. The nearest pharmacy open at that time on a Saturday was at Tesco, so we drove there. Knowing Rebekah doesn’t like the usual banana flavour of amoxicillin, he prepared an orange version. However, that didn’t make any difference to her dislike. But with alternating doses of calpol and calprofen, at least she got through her party and crashed out a little bit this afternoon. How devastated she and we would have been, had she not been able to. So it’s a big thank you today to the NHS staff who coped so kindly and efficiently with a little girl’s distress.
Harking back to yesterday’s Chitty Chitty Bang Bang reference, there’s a scene where Baron Bomburst comes into a room singing ‘Happy Birthday to me’. Yet he’s a married man with a fawning wife and an obsequious entourage.
There would have been the odd time in my past when I would have croaked ‘Happy Birthday’ to myself when I was single and fairly isolated. No longer.
In case you haven’t guessed, it’s my birthday today, and it has been a great joy to share simple pleasures with Debbie and the children. Nothing fancy or expensive, just the joy of family love. And Mastercard can’t buy that.
When I brought the assorted teas (Rebekah and me), coffee (Debbie) and warm milk (Mark) up first thing this morning, the children were on the starting line, desperate to open my presents – gifts they had only wrapped yesterday with Debbie’s help. What fun it was to see them rip the paper with almost as much abandon as if the presents were for them and they didn’t know what was inside.
Much as I love them, I was pleased they were both fit for school today. So after a mundane trip to B&Q for a carbon monoxide detector, Debs and I had coffee in a Wyevale garden centre and then headed for a pub she had seen advertised in the Essex Chronicle. She thought a print-out from their website would be enough to find them, but it was in the middle of nowhere and we soon ended up in the middle of a different nowhere. Oh well, resort to the Essex Street Atlas.
It was worth it. The Duck Inn was fabulous. They were advertising a ‘three courses for ten pounds’ offer. The menu was strictly limited, but the quality certainly wasn’t. For me, chicken pâté followed by fillet of salmon and finished with bread and butter pudding in vanilla cream. For Debbie, deep fried Brie, then roast chicken and finally assorted ice creams. The main courses had some beautifully cooked seasonal vegetables.
They also do a jazz night menu every few Friday evenings – three courses for fifteen pounds with live music. The normal á la carte menu is quite expensive, with main courses around fifteen to twenty pounds, but if you live anywhere near here, then it’s in the tiny hamlet of Newney Green and comes more thumbs aloft than even Paul McCartney can muster.
Back home and a surprise visit from a local friend before the school run. Debbie took Rebekah for her weekly swimming lesson but I stayed home with Mark in view of his ear infection. Then we finally had our Shrove Tuesday pancakes! Plus the children had insisted on a birthday cake. An extremely sickly chocolate one. I managed three mouthfuls. They enjoyed it, along with lighting the candles. Little Becky managed a picture or two on her camera.
Sabbatical work? Today? What do you think?
I’m going to be nice about Iona today. Specifically about one of their confession prayers.
Yes, you read both of those sentences correctly. The confession in chapel this morning was more refreshing – and challenging – to my mind. It was modelled on the verse in Isaiah 55 where God says ‘My ways are not your ways’. It thus consisted of a series of stark contrasts between the ways of God and of humans. So we got a clearer focus on God in the confession as a result, in my opinion.
Wednesday is not a normal lecture day here. After morning chapel, students keep silence until 10 am when they meet in their pastoral groups, then at 11 they all meet together with the Principal for Community Coffee. I’m not sure what happens in the afternoons – I think it must be free for study. I decided I would observe silence with the students before taking another walk into town to buy presents for Debbie and the children.
Trinity was the first place I ever observed any extended silence, on college Quiet Days. At first it frightened me. There is something terrifyingly loud about the way one’s own thoughts invade and clamour for attention. Yet silence, with the accompanying discipline of solitude, is a sign of health and vitality in the life of the Spirit. On one of those Quiet Days, I remember deciding I would read Dietrich Bonhoeffer‘s ‘Life Together‘. Figuring it was only ninety or a hundred pages, I was sure I could get through it easily in one day. I couldn’t. Bonhoeffer packed such a punch with every sentence, the book kept stopping me like brakes on a car. What I most remember is him saying that no-one is fit for community life who cannot also embrace solitude. This morning, the silence was not a ringing in my ears but a recharging of my batteries.
Then I went off present-hunting. I found an art shop and bought some little models for the children to paint. I won’t say what I bought Debbie, because she occasionally reads this blog. I just hope she likes my purchase.
Lunch was suitably spartan for Ash Wednesday: soup and bread. But it wasn’t gruel. There was a choice between carrot and coriander soup (which I normally consume by the gallon) and a fish and cream soup. Both were accompanied by two types of bread: one was a tomato bread, the other I’m not sure, but it was good. I got through two bowlfuls of the fish and cream soup. Debbie dislikes both fish and mushrooms, and they are two things I love, so if I’m not at home to eat and I get the chance, I take advantage. This one had vague similiarities with the most wonderful soup I have ever tasted: cullen skink at Sheena’s Backpackers’ Lodge cafe in Mallaig, the fishing port at the northern end of the Road to the Isles in Scotland.
At the end of lunchtime, I had the joy of spending twenty minutes or so catching up with my old tutor John Bimson.
What to do this afternoon? Still feeling very disciplined after the morning silence, I read more of Goldsmith and Wharton’s book ‘Knowing Me, Knowing You‘, especially the chapters on personality type in the church. I concentrated on those sections specific to my own personality type of INTP. Time and again, I read paragraphs and thought the authors had met me. Yes, I am someone who likes to bring new vision to a church, because I’m more about the future than the present, more big picture than fine detail.
And – apparently, my personality type often gets frustrated with regular local church ministry and ends up in sector ministry. In particular, my type often likes to engage in research. I felt another underlining of the sense I’d had at Cliff College a fortnight ago about doing a PhD. Well, no, more than that: I felt like the research idea came up and mugged me again.
So to the weekly college communion service at 5 pm. Trinity is an evangelical college, but very much what is called an ‘open evangelical‘ college. It is not hardline Calvinist/fundamentalist. Secure in a commitment to biblical authority, it believes there is value to be found in other Christian traditions, too. Today that meant the Lord’s Supper conducted in a more Anglo-Catholic style, complete with incense, processing and the like, and of course an ashing ceremony. I don’t think a real Anglo-Catholic would have recognised it as a complete facsimile, not least because the music was mainly from evangelical and charismatic sources. But it was a genuine attempt to be sympathetic. And I find the imposition of ashes to be a powerful symbolic act. It sends a tremor through me every time. I’m glad we have it in the Methodist Worship Book, too. I haven’t washed mine off yet. The only pity was that just the first half of the words were used with the imposition of the ashes: ‘Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return’, but they forgot to say, ‘Turn from your sin and follow Christ.’
On to dinner and another great conversation with the other former lecturer of mine who is still on the staff here, John Nolland, along with his wife Lisa. John has ‘a brain the size of a planet’ and authored the three volumes on Luke’s Gospel in the Word Biblical Commentary. More recently, he has written a highly acclaimed commentary on Matthew for the New International Greek Text Commentary on the New Testament. We learned from some top-class scholars here, and so do the current students, with staff such as Gordon and David Wenham here, to name but two of many.
During the Peace in the communion service, the Principal, George Kovoor, shared the Peace with me and then continued the conversation. He invited me to book an appointment with him to chat over coffee for half an hour. The only problem is, I shall only be able to offer tomorrow afternoon, and I’ll be pleasantly surprised if he has space in his diary for then at such short notice. I’ll let you know tomorrow whether it comes off. I hope it will. He is a genial man, and if you click the link I gave to him above you’ll be exhausted just reading about him. I spoke to him on Monday, explained who I was and he told me he was a Methodist minister, too. It’s true. He is Indian, and was ordained in the Church of North India, which is a united denomination. Yesterday, he gave a notice to the community, saying that he was going to play a student at table tennis. He wouldn’t ask for prayer, because last time he played someone and asked for prayer he won, and he didn’t want an unfair advantage this time. Turns out he won anyway.
See you tomorrow.
Two days, two sad deaths. Yesterday, John Martyn. Today, Bill Frindall. The man who combined two of my favourite things in life: cricket and Maths.The only sport I was ever any good at, plus my best subject at school. Today, Frindall has succumbed to Legionnaire’s Disease at the age of sixty-nine.
Cricket is a statistician’s dream, and Bearders elevated it to new heights. Test Match commentaries on the radio punctuated every few minutes by an announcement that this was a record sixth wicket partnership for India against England at Trent Bridge, superseding the previous record, which was held by X and Y in the year whenever.
Frindall’s death made me particularly remember a church member in my last circuit. I always knew she was a mad-keen cricket scorer. Occasionally she let slip about trips around the world following the World Cup and having conversations with the likes of Benaud and others. But then in 2003, Cathy Rawson made history: she was the first woman to score a top international cricket match in this country. A bit different from her day job as a practice nurse. I wonder how Cathy feels about Bearders. He was the man who made scoring exciting, not tedious.