I was feeling a certain amount of pressure to write something noteworthy about the Olympics’ closing ceremony, after my opening ceremony post went viral a couple of weeks ago. I sat down to watch with friends, a notebook and my twitter feed and soon realised: the less said, the better.
Let’s reflect, instead, on the Games themselves. They have been a fantastic display of hard work leading to outstanding results from athletes around the world. We Brits, who are more used to being cynical than optimistic about our sporting prowess have been given plenty to cheer for and have found it within ourselves to cheer for at least some from other nations, too. We went wild for Usain Bolt, cheered for Oscar Pistorius and gave a standing ovation to Sarah Attar, Saudi Arabia’s first female Olympian. The Games made us proud (not least in their outstanding organisation which, as a sometime administrator and event organiser I simply can’t praise highly enough), the athletes made us proud and the UK in all its glory made us proud.
It strikes me as odd, though, that we should feel such a sense of personal and corporate pride in the success of a few hundred total strangers. We – I – did nothing to assist Bradley Wiggins in his training. I wasn’t on the track early every morning helping Jessica Ennis run faster, jump higher and throw further. I’ve yelled advice and encouragement to Andy Murray for years, but only from the comfort of my living room, and I doubt he heard me. I have played no part in any of their success, and in fact hadn’t heard of most of them until a couple of weeks ago.
Yet I’m proud of them and, I think, rightly so. Last weekend, someone I follow on twitter commented, “We boast not because we had anything to do with what they’ve done, but because we have something to do with who they are.”
Like it or loathe it, if you’re British or living in Britain you play a part in making it what it is. You contribute to the economy, to the political landscape (even if that is by not voting!), to our sense of who we are educationally, of what kinds of activities we enjoy. Royalist or republican, rioter or recluse, who you are is a part of who we are and thus a part of who they, our elite athletes, are. And the same is true whatever nation you are from, ‘nature’* gave your athletes their speed, strength and skill, but nurture – the world they grew up in – gave them the tools they needed to work their way to the top and compete in the world’s most prestigious sporting event.
Part of being human is being relational, and that doesn’t just mean ‘needing relationships’ but ‘being relationally connected to those around you’.
During the Olympics, people have lost their homes, livelihoods and relatives in earthquakes in northern Iran, wars and military activities have continued around the world, and a twelve year old has been murdered in south London.
While we have rejoiced with those who rejoice at their sporting success, it is incumbent upon us to also mourn with those who mourn and cry out for the brokenhearted, not just because we are nice people who do sympathetic things, but because their pain is our pain. Your story is not your own; it’s ours. The great Western dream of individualism is a myth; there is nothing you do that doesn’t affect the rest of us. That’s why we all feel the shame when our nation commits war crimes, or participates in the slave trade, or turns a blind eye to injustice. And that’s why each of us, doing the thing God has given us to do in our small corner of the world can feel we’re making a difference to the world.
You may not get a medal, or the recognition of a nation, but never believe the lie that it is pointless or overlooked. It isn’t. Well done, good and faithful servant.
* Of course, by ‘nature’ I mean God, but I wanted to reference the common debate over ‘nature or nurture’.