One of the attractive aspects of sport is that it offers a raw and open test and display of talent in competition – for all to see. There’s no hiding and faking fitness or skill. One can’t claim to be good without being tested and witnessed in action. We love to watch people compete and endure the test that competition offers because it sometimes amazes us as to what is possible. For instance, last weekend I watched some top-level squash. The athleticism, the speed and finesse of the players was jaw-dropping. Even though I still play and can never achieve that level it was nevertheless fun and inspiring.
The same is taking place at the Australian Open right now. Once again, the men who’ve dominated that sport for many years have risen to show that they’re not washed up quite yet: Djokovic, Federer and Nadal.
The coach of Novak Djokovic, Goran Ivanisevic, explained in a recent interview how they’re able to stay ahead of the rest of the field.
“Novak’s not afraid of improvements. He’s not afraid to ask. He wants to be better.
That’s why these three guys are still the best, because they’re not afraid of changing, they’re not afraid of learning, they’re not afraid to – look at Nadal changing his serve, now finally after six years he’s serving good. Roger changed the racket.
Novak also wants to improve his serving much better, especially second serve. Now 185, 180, 190. He’s doing it constantly, not just one or two times. He believes in that.”
Isn’t such an approach of constant questioning, learning, and applying refreshing to hear? These three get very intense while playing and competing. However, when they inevitably lose matches they are gracious and philosophical even in the disappointment. They embrace and accept that winning and losing are two indispensable sides of the competitive coin. They often complement each other about how ‘the other’ has helped them raise their level and become better.
I think it’s worth considering the model we have in sport in these days when the political climate has become so divisive, rude, dishonest, and riddled with cowardice, compromise, cover up, innuendo, and little integrity. I recently read an article by John Pavlovitz (an edgy and controversial Pastor who challenges the status quo and with whom I don’t always agree). A friend said he looked tired and he pondered the question before writing:
What am I tired of?
That’s it. I’m tired of hatred—like, really tired.
I’m tired of waking every morning and seeing that we’re in another unnecessary and preventable Constitutional crisis.
I’m tired of having to once again channel the adrenaline to confront a new onslaught of real and manufactured emergencies.
I’m tired of having to desperately appeal to public servants to do the decent and humane thing and seeing them again flatly refuse.
I’m tired of trying to convince professed followers of Jesus that they’re supposed to care about other people.
You can read the full blog here: https://johnpavlovitz.com/2020/01/16/im-tired-of-hatred/
I guess many of us echo those sentiments in some form and then wait for others to change; before we do.
Perhaps a more constructive response is for us to be unafraid to ask, unafraid to listen, unafraid to question, unafraid to change, and even unafraid to have differences and disagree with grace and kindness.
The by-product of intolerance and bullying is what we are witnessing in the USA and in many places around the world. It’s a sad time in leadership on every side. I don’t care who an individual supports, but I do care how matters are conducted. In every aspect of politics, as in sport, we win some and lose some. When we win we don’t have to be puffed up, and when we lose we don’t have to blame everyone else. What’s happening now is astounding. People who should know better are afraid to speak, afraid to ask, afraid to consider and debate with grace, and afraid to be wrong in the pursuit of truth – from every side.
As for Christians, they are so camouflaged in the culture, there’s no real difference between followers of Jesus and those who say there is no God. I remember once wrestling in our local church with some ugly lobbying over leadership and how fickle we become when things don’t go ‘our way’. I was reminded of how political and spiritual leaders lobbied around the question of Jesus’ identity and whether Barabbas (a known criminal) should be set free and Jesus crucified. We know the choice that was made.
It may be wise to never be too sure. And even when we are convicted, we can still declare that this is what we think and conclude, for now. And then continue to listen, learn, ask, and ponder with grace and kindness. Realizing that with the challenge from others we are being moulded to potentially be stronger, more effective; humanely flawed works in progress alongside everyone else.
It’s time to dismount from the high horses and set free the herds of elephants trapped under ‘the rugs’ within ecologically unfriendly rooms. God’s never held a vote to determine anything in His eternal life and He surely isn’t relying on our political systems to bring about His Kingdom. God knows, history is riddled with ruins from our attempts in that department. As has been stated before, God has no favorites, His ways are not our ways, His thoughts are not our thoughts. Which merely underscores the fact that our speaking on His behalf is likely to be ‘not all true’. No harm in seeking after His truth with that proviso to keep us humble and perhaps better able to get along with one another.
Whatever happened to the exhortation to love your enemies, forgive seventy times seven, serve one another, lay down your life, take the plank out of your own eye, do not judge, and…..? It’s easier to be full of hatred than it is to be someone who manifests these qualities because the Spirit of Jesus abides in them.
We need more prayers like that of Isaiah after he had a vision of the majesty of the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne, and the train of His robe filled the temple… “Lord I am a man of unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” (Isaiah 6). A renewed encounter with God and a humble revelation of ourselves, beloved sons and daughters, recipients of grace.
I remember watching a game of squash, waiting for my turn to play. “If Jesus could play squash he would be the greatest player ever.”
“No,” was the gentle response. “He came to the earth in the capacity of a human being. He’d be good at some things and not at others. But, one thing He’d model is how to lose well, and how to be weak without lashing out at others.”
Which is exactly what He did on the Cross. Speaking to the Pharisees, to Pilate, to His disciples, and even to Barabbas, “Father forgive them, they know not what they do.”
And when He rose in all the splendour and unexpected power of the resurrection He didn’t seek vengeance. He didn’t hunt down Pilate and break into the Temple to flaunt His incomparable power to religious leaders who’d been so wrong.
The disciples kept asking, questioning, learning and slowly changing. And from them transformational change rippled into a fractured, divided and very broken world.
We will never be of one mind about politics, gender issues, social justice, economics, matters of faith and religion, marriage and divorce, abortion, and a million other things. To find agreement at ground level is impossible with differing worldviews, cultural and familial paradigms, and a host of factors that influence our perceptions. But we can get along with one another if we give each other space and safety to question and learn, and continue to grow. And we can also seek to grow, understand and learn (in the spirit of Novak, Rafa, and Roger) more about the Kingdom of God. The Spirit of Jesus lifts us higher than our respective ground zeros. In His Kingdom we are united as one family. In Him relationships are the starting point, not agreement over dogma.
God is still calling, equipping and empowering those who are willing to be different kinds of leaders who serve with courage and humility. For in their grace, kindness, and apparent weakness the Kingdom of God is released with power. Not the political power seeking control and personal agendas, but the all embracing power of His love – for all.