|Christ the Redeemer statue overlooking Rio, where a particularly blessed Olympics as far as Team GB went, has just taken place.|
The 2016 Olympics will soon be drawing to a close and I'm thinking of ditching the telly now. After such an uplifting two weeks of sport, not my normal hobby by any stretch of the imagination, with nearly everything I watched turning out pretty amazingly for Great Britain I can't imagine going back to a diet of depressing global news, wall to wall men's football and repeats of Midsomer Murders.
It was London 2012 that first alerted me to an entirely different discourse around British sport and our potential for national success at 'the greatest show on earth'. Up till then we were plucky losers with a modest number of famous medal winners - in Atlanta we were 36th in the medal table, in Sydney and Athens, 10th.
During the 1970s a minuscule number of Olympic names filtered down into consciousness due to their outstanding performances rising above the level of the physical, to something almost mythical - chiefly the diminutive gymnasts Olga Korbut, the 'darling of Munich' (1972) and Nadia Comaneci, who scored a perfect 10 in Montreal (1976). These two, rather than any others, stood out for me no doubt because in the 70s I did gymnastics at school. It was a bit like dance, and the only sport at which I gave even a vaguely passable performance.
But as for the rest of the Olympics of, say, the last quarter of a century, I'd be hard pressed to recall much. Here goes a random attempt, just using my very poor, very non-sporting memory, without the help of Google:
Seoul (1988) - Absolutely zero, though I did know one of the Chaplains.
Barcelona (1992) - I remember the song - Freddie Mercury and Montserrat Caballe.
Atlanta (1996) coincided with the early rising of our then 6 month old baby daughter, so a lot of swimming on at 5.30 a.m, and one very tired husband who got up every morning with the baby so I could lie in.
Sydney (2000) Splendid fireworks and Cathy Freeman's 400m gold.
Athens (2004) They couldn't really afford it. Paula Radcliffe's tragically incomplete Marathon.
Beijing (2008) I Started noticing that Track and Field have really exciting events, especially when Usain Bolt is winning stuff.
London (2012) Got very caught up in it this year, it being home territory; even went to two events, one with now 16 year old daughter; completely amazed that GB could actually win stuff, but assumed that was because it was on British soil and everyone was completely buzzed.
Rio (2016) Realised something amazing is going on, in this our most successful Olympics ever. Like London, people I've never heard of are getting so many medals for Great Britain that sometimes you miss one because you can only watch one chanel at a time. Come down every morning for breakfast and discover we've won more golds. Our medal total is 66 to date*, more than in London, across more disciplines, some for the first time ever, with actually fewer GB athletes than in London. Golds in swimming, diving, rowing, sailing, cycling, kayaking, canoeing, tennis, golf, taekwondo, dressage, gymnastics, show jumping, boxing, 5000m, 10000m, hockey, triathlon (may have missed a couple...)
Begin to scratch my head in wonder...
It's got me pondering about how success builds more success and what this means in terms of the spiritual, and that intriguing little verse in Matthew 13:12 - 'For those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance, but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.'
Seems a bit unfair of Jesus really. It's in the context of the parables and the one about the sower in particular. He seems to be saying that for those who 'get' him (who follow his teaching?) more understanding will follow upon what is already understood. Enlightenment will lead to more enlightenment. But for those who don't get it (don't get him?) the law of exponential growth will work backwards, and even the small something they did have will reduce exponentially to nothing.
I might have got this wrong, but blessing appears to work like compound interest. Or Olympic success (even if that success is directly linked to funding. Of course it is - that's obvious). The more you have, the more you get, but exponentially. Blessing doesn't run along in a straight line, but goes up an increasingly steep graph. Maybe that's also what Jesus had in mind when he said 'I have come that they might have life, and have it in abundance' (John 10:10). I guess in sport it stands to reason that if you start from a successful beginning, with success to look up to, you can build even more success. If you come into a sport on the back foot, it'll take longer to build up to even modest success.
It reminds me of CS Lewis's concept of heaven and hell (purgatory?) in The Great Divorce (1945). Heaven and hell are not equal and opposite, though they appear like this to people at first. In the end of the book, those who have chosen the harder reality of 'heaven' over the grey laziness of 'hell', look down from their vantage point in a green grassy heaven, through a little hole in the heavenly ground, and see the whole of hell beneath them. What appeared, when they were there previously, to be a vast and sprawling grey town, is nothing more than a small reduced spot easy enough to fit into a puddle under their feet. Hell has exponentially reduced, while heaven is a place of endless and growing reality as people continue to travel onwards and upwards.
The 'law' of exponential blessing and growth may well apply to church life too. Churches where evangelistic courses have run, often report that the impact of running the course repeatedly is exponential. You can see this in the growth of the Alpha course across the UK and worldwide. Whether our Olympic success will continue to follow an upwards curve will be interesting to observe. There's nothing particularly 'fair' about exponential blessing - it just appears to be a fact. Whether after a certain point is reached, success begins to breed complacency might be an interesting tangent to explore, along the lines of Malcolm Gladwell's thesis in David and Goliath (2013), where disadvantage actually leads to a special motivation and hidden advantages.
But for now, I'm basking in the feel good factor, watching repeats of Mo Farrar's races and the women's hockey team's winning goal, and sadly gearing up for next week's Midsomer Murders repeats.
* we ended with 67.