Invictus – are you a winner?

Recently, I was lucky enough to go to the Invictus Games in Sydney, Australia.  One of the events that I saw was a men’s 1500 metres race, featuring six veterans with a range of disabilities – some had two legs, some had one leg and a blade, and one guy had two blades.  Later that day, we saw the TV coverage of the race, and it showed the few seconds when the Australian ran across the finish line to win.

The Athletics Track.

But that wasn’t the real story

On the first lap, the competitors were bunched together, with an American guy at the back.  He had lost both legs above the knee, and he had to move his blades with a side-to-side gait that looked like really hard work.  But this guy was big and strong, and he never looked like someone struggling to keep up, he looked like someone who was biding his time, waiting to make his move.  On the second lap he did so, and on the straight, right in front of the crowd, we went wide and overtook the pack to take the lead.

He didn’t just get in front but got 10 metres clear of the rest of them and stayed there for most of the race. He looked unstoppable and it was thrilling to see him go.  Unfortunately, he couldn’t quite keep it up.  As he tired, the Australian veteran, who had been in second or third place for the whole race, made his move on the final lap.  He crossed the line well in front of everyone else, and sadly the brave American guy, who made such a bold, gutsy run, didn’t finish in the medals.  I admired the Aussie for running such a clever race, and the American for his strength, guts and big heart.

That wasn’t the end of it.  After the guys who won medals crossed the line they went back to encourage and support the others across, including the guy in last place who been lapped by everybody else earlier on.  That story, that drama, never made it onto the TV screen.

Missing the Point

The next morning, we watched the news summary on ‘Sunrise’ an Australian TV program, which reported the results from the athletics event of the day before.  Some Australian athletes were named, for example, one guy who “won gold in the 100m, gold in the 200m, gold in the 400m, and gold in the 1500 metres”.  The only reporting was of those who were winners, who were champions.

This completely missed the point of Invictus.

The joy of the games was watching people compete.  Watching the teams go nuts as they cheered on their comrades (I never knew that Danes could get so excited).  Watching people come first or in the middle or last and being wildly cheered and celebrated no matter how well they did.

The point of the games was it that it took men and women who were broken, who lacked meaning in their post-military lives and gave them purpose.  It turned them into contenders, even though their bodies may never be whole again.  Invictus gave them something to focus on and a goal to aim for.  It restored a discipline, which had ordered their lives and given them direction in the past.  (These are their words, not mine.)  Hopefully, these men and women, whether they win a medal or not, will go on to apply this new sense of purpose in other aspects of their lives, after Invictus.  Many already have.

The exception to this reporting was the ABC evening coverage of the games, which did a great job of getting the ethos of Invictus across.  Thank goodness for public service broadcasting.

Lessons

There are probably two lessons here. The obvious one is that there is no substitute for being there; watching something vicariously, through a screen, or hearing someone else talk about it just isn’t the same.

The less obvious lesson is about the Australian tendency to celebrate winning and winners to the exclusion of all else.  This puts pressure on our sportsmen and women to win at all costs.

I suspect that it was this pressure that caused the Australian cricket team to indulge in ball tampering last season.  I can’t help feeling that the huge wave of anger directed at them had more to do with the fact that they were caught, not because they had done something wrong.  They had failed at what they were required to do, which was to make us all feel like winners.  They were supposed to maintain the illusion that one can win all the time, without cost, without compromising one’s principles.

Winning at All Costs

Malcolm Turnbull
Malcolm Turnbull

When the ball tampering scandal hit, Malcolm Turnbull, the then Prime Minister, said he was more concerned about sledging.  (For the uninitiated, “sledging” is where players verbally abuse the batsmen, to put them off.)  I think Malcolm had it right. If sledging is a legitimate part of the sport, then what age do we teach kids to say “I shagged your wife” to another sportsman?

When we first came to Australia, we were shocked at how the media tore into the cricket team if they didn’t win.  The TV news would talk about any old billy-bollocks first, and then mention in passing that Australia was losing, or “looking to come from behind for a win”, as they would say!

It’s not just in cricket.  When the Olympic team flew home from London 2012 the medal winners were separated from their teammates.  The winners flew home in business class, and the rest in economy.  It’s all part of our “winning at all costs” mentality.

Invictus – a Better Way

Well, I can say with confidence that, in Invictus, I saw a better way – a better definition of winning, and of what it means to be a winner.  I shall look forward to seeing the next Invictus games, which will be held in The Hague, the Netherlands, in 2020.  I might have to watch it on the TV in the middle of an Australian night, but it will be worth the wait.

Sharing the Faith, Refining our Faith

‘Sharing the Faith, Refining our Faith’ – a sermon on Psalm 22/Mark 8:31-38 (Lent 2, Year B)

Aim

To show that we need to share the Good News that Jesus is the Christ – with each other and with unbelievers

Introduction – Sharing

‘You don’t have to go to church to be a Christian’, ‘my faith is my business’, ‘you can’t share your faith in a secular society’.

Psalm 22 tells us that God intends everyone to hear the Good News. It cuts across all divisions: rich and poor; in the church and outside; Jews and non-Jews; those living, dead and yet to be born.

The Psalmist says that everyone will turn to God and be blessed. How will they know that they should do this? How will they know how to turn to God?

Message for the Time

Peter had already confessed that Jesus is the Christ, but he totally misunderstands Jesus’ mission.  No one knows this until Peter speaks out, then Jesus corrects Peter and asks people to gather round – then Jesus explains his mission and that of his disciples.

Notice that Peter was correct given the religious assumptions of the day – but still wrong. The other disciples probably thought the same thing – but no one knew they were wrong until Peter spoke up! We all make mistakes, but if we view our faith as our possession and never discuss it then we will never discover anything new – our faith is closed, dead. We must share our faith and our experiences, thoughts and doubts with each other.

Message for Today

Notice also that Jesus then told his followers that they must deny self, take up their cross and follow Jesus (to death).  He also says that if we are ashamed of Jesus message, he will be ashamed of us on judgment day.  Clearly, Jesus expects us to share our faith with the faithless, even if this is not easy and earns us hostility.

What odd ideas do people have about: God – superstition, “a deal with God”; Jesus – “a good man”, “a wise teacher”; and the Holy Spirit – something for weirdos only?

What odd ideas do people have about our faith?  Are they hostile to Jesus because they think we think ourselves superior and are judging them? We need to tell them the truth about how we don’t deserve salvation!

We need to share our faith with each other, and with non-Christians, in order to make it real, vital and alive. We need to share the Good News, that Jesus is the Christ, that he died for us and is alive today as if our lives and their lives depended on it. Because it’s true!

A God of Love Who Judges

A God of love who Judges – Sermon on John 15:1-8 (Easter 5, Year B)

John 15:1-8

I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.  He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.  You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.  Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.  If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.  If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.  This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.  John 15:1-8 [NIV]

A God of Love Who Judges

One of the other readings for today is 1John 4:7-21 on the theme ‘God is love’.  It’s a very popular reading with a nice cosy message.  The Gospel reading, quoting Jesus directly, is much more challenging.  Jesus says that we can be fruitful if we stay connected to Him, but he says that without Him we can do NOTHING, and will be fit only for burning.  Many struggle with this teaching.  How can a God of love reject, judge and punish people, they ask?

First…

…we must remember that such questions are self-centred.  God loves all people and wishes all to be saved, yet we know that many others are suffering because of our wealth.  Surely God will be angry with those who oppress and exploit the people He loves?  We can argue that it’s not our fault, but that doesn’t change the reality.

Second…

…I’m not sure that God does reject anyone.  Abraham said “Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” when God was considering destroying Sodom [Gen 18:25].  God has sent Jesus to enable all to be saved, but will all accept Jesus?

Remember the ABC of becoming a Christian, a follower of Jesus?

  • Admit your sin – many say and will say “I don’t need forgiveness, I’ve done nothing wrong”.
  • Believe in Christ – many reject Jesus as not the only way to God, not the Christ; they see Jesus as just a good man or a prophet or they don’t think him important.
    • I have little fear for the devout of other faiths; I think that someone who has sincerely sought God will have no trouble recognising the Christ.
    • I do worry that those who have ignored God all their lives will not be able to change their habits, that they won’t be able to look past themselves.
  • Commit your life to Him – many refuse to commit or surrender to Christ.  In the West, people see their own individuality as paramount and they will not give up control to anyone, will not be in debt to anyone (except those we exploit, of course!) and want to stay in control of their ‘own’ lives.

Third…

…let us be reassured of God’s mercy to us.  None of us is in God’s presence because we deserve to be, or because of our own righteousness.  We are ‘clean’ because the word from Jesus has made us so, and that word is ‘forgiveness’.

Conclusion 

We can trust in Jesus our saviour and Lord.  I have no need to say more.  I have no time to say any more as we need to thank God and lift so many in need to him.  Amen

Life in Adelaide: a Source of Inspiration for Writing

How is life in Adelaide a source of inspiration for your writing?

My Take On it

Members of the Writers in Adelaide group have been asked to contribute to a ‘blog chain’ on the subject of Adelaide as an inspiring place to write or inspiring me as a writer. I’ve just come back from the UK where every day was hot and sunny, and I’ve returned to a cold wet and windy Adelaide.  There are British programs on the TV.  I’m confused!

A Good Place

Adelaide, Jacarandas, Rainbow, Spring
One of My First Photos of Adelaide

Putting that aside, the Adelaide that I’m used to is good for writing.  It seems an open place to me, as the streets are wide, the houses are spread out and there’s plenty of parklands.  There is room here, room to think – room for my mind to roam and seek big ideas. The climate also helps, because we can keep our houses open (okay, maybe not in winter), open into the garden and the wider outside; we can look around, relax, explore, see the sights, do stuff and meet people.

Connectivity

Adelaide is a close place, a connected place.  Surprisingly for a city of 1.5 million people, everyone seems to know everyone else, usually via two or three acquaintances. I’m constantly amazed at how someone I know is also known by somebody else that I know, with apparently no reason for them to be connected: yet they are.  This is also conducive to writing because it reminds me that good stories are about people, characters and their connections.  A compelling story gives the reader empathy with our characters and their relationships and how they are motivated – driven – to act accordingly.  How we love to discover these connections, especially when the characters would rather they remained a secret.

When I was in the UK writing was a solitary existence, which was fine as I’m comfortable with my own company.  However, when I came here I joined Writers SA and found the Adelaide Writers Group, one of many here, and I haven’t looked back since.  I found a friendly group of people who give me positive criticism and support me, and in return I critique their pieces, learning about writing and growing my skills as a result.  Now, I know that there are writers’ groups all around the world, but I associate Adelaide with this sociability, meeting people down the pub who are also interested (okay, obsessed, let’s be honest) with writing.  Mixed together are earning writers willing to share their knowledge and my fellow amateurs.  Some of them are on this blog chain, and it’s my pleasure to be part of it.

Summing Up

So Adelaide is a good place to write, but it’s also inspiring in itself.  At the start of this post, I mentioned some similarities and differences between Adelaide and the UK, where I’ve spent most of my life, and about half of my writing life.  Adelaide feels like a cross between the UK and USA to me, familiar enough for me to feel at home and different enough to appreciate.  This mix is stimulating, and it’s led me to question a lot of things about life that, I guess, I had just taken for granted.  Coming here has changed who I am and challenged what I identify with.

Let’s hope it improves my writing!

What Others in the Blog chain Said…