Tag Archives: Olympics

Olympians shine through — God is good, there is hope.

I was so happy when NBC allowed Jesus to have the last frame of their broadcast of the Rio Olympics Opening Ceremony. The enormous statue of Christ the Redeemer is unmistakable on the Rio de Janeiro skyline and they did not ignore it, as I somehow expected them to do.

I don’t know if Jesus blesses the Olympics. Surely he is grateful for them if only because he would like to bless Americans with a breather from their soul-numbing politics. But I can’t help but think the Lord must be pleased with the games, whether people receive his blessing or not, because they show that humans are a splendid creation.

The Olympic Games are a great place to see our splendor in many ways. For one thing, the modern Olympics are such a great piece of idealism. The Olympic Hymn so beautifully sung by children from the favela during the opening is full of hope:

Let fraternity and fellowship
Surround the soul of every nation.
Oh flame, eternal in your firmament so bright
Illuminate us with your everlasting light.
That grace and beauty and magnificence
Shine like the sun
Blazing above.
Bestow on us your honor, truth and love.

What’s more, if you watched the opening ceremonies (between the ads) like I did (well most of it), then you saw the most beautiful people on the planet in their top form ready to do spectacular things for which they sacrificed hours of training. They are humanity in our most presentable shape. Inspiring.

Even the commercials were better and kinder, filled with a sense of camaraderie.

Of course, the Olympics movement is a shadow of the fullness presented in Jesus, arms outstretched over Rio in hope and welcome. We followers also have a hymn or two (or thousands) that highlight the beauty of humanity. Try on Psalm 8 as a good song to add to the chorus from Rio and help focus those splendid creatures on the Creator smiling on their accomplishment.

[The opening ceremonies seem like a long time ago! This was first published in Circle of Hope’s blog]

O Lord, our Sovereign,
    how majestic is your name in all the earth!

You have set your glory above the heavens.
     Out of the mouths of babes and infants
you have founded a bulwark because of your foes,
    to silence the enemy and the avenger.

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
    the moon and the stars that you have established;
what are human beings that you are mindful of them,
    mortals that you care for them?

Yet you have made them a little lower than God,
    and crowned them with glory and honor.
You have given them dominion over the works of your hands;
    you have put all things under their feet,
all sheep and oxen,
    and also the beasts of the field,
the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea,
    whatever passes along the paths of the seas.

O Lord, our Sovereign,
    how majestic is your name in all the earth! 

While you are at it, look around Circle of Hope. We may not be Olympians (most of us) but we are certainly a splendor to behold as we run all our races!

There is a lie in the middle of Olympics

So let me be clear. I think the Olympians in Rio are spectacular and I thank God for them. They shine brightly and inspire us in many ways. Frank Bruni in the NY Times did not want that glory to be supplanted by complaint. And I don’t want to write this post and supplant it either.

But I do want to complain.

I am not complaining about all those nice kids being nice, being healthy, being dedicated and having a great time with their families all lined up in the stadium to watch them be the best. Just look at Simone. Thank you Jesus!

I am complaining because I think Christians should always be testing the spirits to see if they are true. And the Olympic Games tell a lot of lies, in case you are not noticing.

The Olympics imply, if not say, that the games are about bringing together athletes and supporters from around the world in a peaceful “fraternity.” But it is hard not to think that the games are mainly for profit, not love. Certainly NBC wants profit; Brazil expected some; the athletes hope to get endorsements and sponsors so they can spend their whole lives training. What’s more, the games are about the games, not community: the tradition, the health of the movement, the sports industry that needs to find a way to be fed.

The Olympic rings are supposed to represent peace and fraternity among nations, combining, as they do, all the colors of the flags. When Michael Phelps finally hugs Chad le Clos instead of trying to burn a hole in him with his laser vision, maybe that’s working out on an individual level. But when Russia is banned and booed, you got to wonder what is really going on.

One of Rio’s murals
  • Rio sold itself to the world at the expense of their poor. The Olympics seems to have been the political straw that broke the corrupt camel’s back. The games don’t always bring peace and fraternity. The 1996 Atlanta Games displaced homeless people, the Sydney Games foisted a huge debt on Australia, the 2004 Athens Games played a role in the Greek financial crisis, and the 2008 Beijing Olympics highlighted a repressive military state. Now, in Rio de Janeiro, private developers are reaping profits and exploiting workers, while anti-Olympic protesters are treated like terrorists.
  • NBC bought the rights to distribute the footage of the “fraternity’s” activities. They cut it up according to whatever algorithm they thought would supply the most return and sold the bits to whoever would buy them. The powers assess if we are watching enough to justify their investment (they love watching us watch and watching themselves watching us). Am I the only one still complaining that giant corporations (Comcast owns NBC) can buy the airwaves? I am not sure it is right to commodify communication.
  • Are there regulations for how small your bikini must be because beach volleyball players want to wear them, or because for years they pimped themselves out to get some viewers?
  • Is the crush of media outlets looking for stories to harvest from among the brilliant youth of the world really a good thing for them? Aren’t they exploited for a hot minute and then discarded when the machine moves on to unharvested people?

We could go on with a lot more questions, couldn’t we? (And act like we did not already know the answers). It is tempting to hear people say, “Don’t be so negative” and shut up, just stop testing spirits altogether, just let Comcast create the world and be the ruler of the air. At the same time it is tempting to not shut up, go ahead and damn  it all and miss all the beauty in the middle of the dump, like missing all those beautiful children in the favela. Maybe most of all, it is tempting just to shut down and just buy it all, as every product vies to make some connection between itself and the shiny Olympians, as if Coke really were some universal drink of love.

I am not cynical, which Merriam Webster says is a “sneering disbelief in sincerity or integrity.” I am not sneering at the Olympics. Much the contrary, I fully believe that humankind if destined to be sincere and integrous. I fully believe in sincerity and integrity. I want to have them as part of my character. And it is not hard to see how sincere one must be to train for the Olympics!

Jesus followers are set free to shine, not just complain that people are shedding false light. It’s just that when we shine, the light falls on NBC and I realize that I sincerely disbelieve that they had the world’s interests in mind when they delivered the opening ceremony in tiny bits between commercials. They pre-sold $1.2 billion in ads, showed a half hour of them during the ceremony  and had five breaks in the first half hour. That could make someone cynical, not shiny. As a Jesus follower I’ll try not to go there. I’m trying to note the deadly lie in the middle of Olympics at the same time I am straining out the goodness and love all around us.

Exile or Pioneer — we don't really know what you are going to do with this blog post

I really have no idea what is going to happen — most of the time, I like it that way. I don’t really know if Circle of Hope can sustain itself, since it runs on conviction and covenant. I don’t know whether the stock market will dive and take us with it, whether aggrieved people will unite and upend the social order, whether my friends will move away, or whether my pipes will freeze in the endless winter. Most of the time, all that uncertainty seems like a good excuse to have faith. It is a great grace that living by faith is more fulfilling than knowing whether I should have bought salt before it was all sold out.

mr. batesBut people have a lot of guilt and anxiety about not knowing. They are ashamed they made what look like mistakes and they did not know what was going to happen before it happened. Mr. Bates may do something terrible because of his guilt and shame about not knowing what was happening to Mrs. Bates!

The other day I was at a baby shower and people were quite satisfied that they did not have to buy yellow baby clothes because they knew the baby’s gender already — I am sure science developed in utero photography to ease the anxiety about how to decorate the nursery!  Maybe you laugh, but people are still angry that the government did not predict and prevent 9/11!  Many people defend the government’s right to collect our phone records because they think every measure must be taken so “nothing like that ever happens to anyone ever again!” — we even see our personal experiences as contributions to anxiety relief, guilt reduction and the hope of controlling the future. Don’t we insist that the future must be “better” than the past? And aren’t we taught that good people band together to make sure it will be?

Continue reading Exile or Pioneer — we don't really know what you are going to do with this blog post