sparring partner

21 04 2016

you are my rock
my fortress, we sing
my sparring partner more like
the opposing team defender
I tussle with
and wrestle to the ground
when the ref isn’t looking


you are my invisible friend
the madness in my otherwise sane world
you are not my all
not always
but you are in all I  do
stirring up
bringing the fairy at the bottom of the garden
into my otherwise rational world

I do not love you as I know love to be
Yet I know you
I endure you
I revere you
I resist you
I rest in you
I serve you
I fight against you
sometimes I even trust you
sometimes I suppose I even love you

but I am tired
tired of defending you
when you don’t defend yourself
tired of hoping for the storm to still
yet finding you asleep
so be my rock if you will
be my fortress if you can
until then we will spar and tussle
and wrestle
and hope

© 2016 Kevin Lewis

Poetry can go to places normal prose simply cannot. Or does not. This poem is how I feel sometimes. Not all the time. But sometimes. The metaphors in our songs tend to be unfalteringly positive, robust, sometimes almost sycophantic. The Psalms can be much more earthy. I like earthy. There is a strength in not being strong, a faith in challenging faith, an honesty in being honest. You’re right, it’s not comfortable.  

gerrard stamps, but still sets an example

23 03 2015

If you saw Steven Gerrard’s red card on Sunday, and if you know anything about football, you’ll know how out of character it was. But that 38 second substitution appearance wasn’t the only remarkable thing to happen involving the Liverpool captain.

Courtesy of BBC sport

After the game, he gave an interview during which he did something so rare for public figures, from politicians to sports stars. He apologised. But that happens all the time doesn’t it? Yes, but he apologised for what he did, not just for the consequences; and he took responsibility for his actions, instead of blaming someone else.

Top-level football is in desperate need of role models, and although I do declare an interest as a Liverpool fan, his loss at the end of this season will be remarkable. For his passion without petulance; for his loyalty to local club over big-money moves; for his quietly powerful leadership skills; yes, but for me, it moments like that apology that mean just as much.

As someone who has led youth football up until recently, and still play, I see the corrosive influence of top-level bad behaviour replicated in the park. It is hard to stay calm, but it’s possible; it’s hard not to lash out, but it’s possible not to; and it’s hard to take responsibility, maybe that’s the hardest of all, but it’s possible.

We’ve all seen red when playing sport. But having the humility and grace to admit it, apologise and take responsibility? Among the many lessons Steven Gerrard teaches, this is one of the greatest.  Read the rest of this entry »

FIFA Banned for Biting Brazil

27 06 2014

FIFA HAVE BEEN BANNED FROM FOOTBALL FOR BITING. In a shocking turn of events in the Luis Suarez saga, FIFA have been banned for allegedly biting developing economy Brazil on the shoulder, a bite deep enough to leave a clear teethmarks. Brazil claim that this was an unprovoked attack that took place whilst everyone else was simply trying to enjoy the game of football.

In a statement following the bite, Brazil said:

All we wanted to do was host the World Cup in our wonderful country. Instead, FIFA forced us to build stadiums in cities without football clubs, to change the law regarding alcohol in stadiums in order to keep their sponsors happy, to bulldoze the homes of the poorest people, and forced labourers to work in unacceptable conditions to build to their excessive requirements.

Worst of all, they made it a condition of hosting the World Cup that they pay no income tax on their immense profits, so that Brazil suffers only costs, not benefit. FIFA have taken a massive bite out of the economy of this country, and we think they should be severely punished for this unprovoked attack.

People hold placards with the names of victims of violence during a protest against the World Cup and military police at the Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro, June 23, 2014. CREDIT: REUTERS/PILAR OLIVARES

In response to these allegations, FIFA at first tried to cover the Brazilian shoulder bearing the teethmarks of their economic and commercial dictatorship. However, TV cameras from around the world could see the effects, despite FIFA’s best efforts to keep the protest marches and demonstrations secret. This attack repeats that seen in 2010 when FIFA took a bite out of South Africa, which means this cannot be seen as an isolated incident. As a result of this, FIFA have been banned from football, and are not even allowed in stadiums. 

The future is not bleak for FIFA though. Because of FIFA’s immense skill, and the commercial benefits of being associated with them, they will not be out of the game for long. There are rumours that FIFA are being courted overseas, by people willing to pay huge sums to have them in their team. In a bizarre turn of events, it is alleged that Qatar, a strict Islamic state with no footballing infrastructure, no alcohol, and religious rules that requires shoulders to be covered, have already bared their naked shoulder towards FIFA and invited a bite. The saga will no doubt continue.  

Anti-Fifa protesters in the Copacabana at start of the World Cup. Photograph: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Yes, this article is a spoof. But I hope it makes the point. 


and many of them left

30 08 2012

“And many of them left.”

Perhaps that will be a common sentence in Modern Pentathlon clubs up and down the country in September. Caught by the buzz of a brilliant Olympics how many of us have been tempted to shoot a gun from an unfamiliar horse whilst wearing a fencing hat. How hard can it be? Who hasn’t googled ‘where’s my local club…”?

Or maybe you’ve just extended the kids sandpit a bit, or attempted a Fosbury Flip onto the trampoline? They make it look so easy. 

I’m up for it. It’s so modern, just like me.

“And many of them left.”

Perhaps it was one of the saddest days of Jesus’ ministry amongst his friends. Pulled along by the buzz were many to whom all this was new. Like seeing Greco-Roman wrestling for the first time many had their eyes opened to a new possibility. Jesus talked about the bread of life and they remembered the stories of the manna from heaven whilst at daily risk of desert-starvation and they thought yes! we can do this!

And then the reality set in. Wearing those leotards? In public? In that position? That’s not the bread of life, it’s more like stale 4 day old baguette  that sticks in the throat no matter how much honey you put on it. 

This liturgical dance went a bit far.

 Why? Because it was hard. I also love the fact that next he challenges his inner circle, the 12. “Are you going to leave as well?” I wonder what the tone is. Is he worried? Does he wonder if he’s gone too far, pushed too early, because he doesn’t want to cross the finish line alone like David Rudisha. This is a team event and the only way Cav can win is if we stick together. 

And Simon Peter says No, we are staying! All the others are wimps! Look at them complaining it’s too hard, when they’ve barely joined the club!

Actually he doesn’t. He says they will stay, but not because it’s easy. But because they are convinced Jesus is right. Jesus makes demands of our lives, and he doesn’t do the hard work for us. And he didn’t for them. Are we convinced Jesus is right? And if so, are we going to stay? Not because it’s easy, but because it’s true? 

In the words of Somali-born Muslim Londoner and Olympic Champion Mo Farah, “It’s all hard work and grafting.” No shortcuts, no cheats, no easy way out. Many will leave. But many will stay.

Which one am I?

Now, I’m off to ride an unfamiliar horse. Which is all horses, actually.  

You may notice a slight revamp of my pictures! They are courtesy of the excellent Miriam Kendrick, do visit her website and sign up for her cartoon Miriam’s Daily Adventures, always brings a chuckle to my day. 

danny boyle, new lord of the rings

29 07 2012

Every now and then an event comes along that is such a surprise, so counter-cultural and so unusually risk-taking that you are left almost speechless. One by one the surprises came. Frank Turner? He of the ranty acoustic-punk with a song in his repertoire called Thatcher F-—d the Kids? Dizzee Rascal? The Arctic Monkeys? Underworld? And that’s just the music.

The Opening Ceremony was a triumph. For so many reasons.

In an era of corporate anti-risk taking, everyone else would have plumped for Gary Barlow coordinating a medley of cheap easy-pop: you know, Jessie J, JLS, with Katherine Jenkins definitely singing Abide With Me. Instead Danny Boyle took popular but raw acts, singing songs that would be unknown to many but are an important part of contemporary pop culture. Many would have hated it. I thought it was genius. That’s called taking a risk.

In an era of feel-good fizz & bubble celebrations in which the audience are not expected to think, a trip through British history would have included the Royal Family, a bit of Shakespeare, some Commonwealth and lots of jingoistic Rule Britannia-type flag-waving. And maybe a Mini. Instead Danny Boyle included the trauma of the Industrial Revolution, the Jarrow March, the Suffragettes, the Windrush, and a celebration of the NHS… amazing. That is called taking a risk. Is he friends with Christopher Nolan?

Most significantly of all, in the middle of all that I have hated about the build-up to these Games, this Opening Ceremony felt like 2 fingers up to the IOC. Why? Because the IOC are all about elitistism in its worse sense. What we have seen with their blackmailed demands to London has been despicable: tax-free profits for massive corporations, traffic-free lanes for IOC members (they are NOT for athletes – no athlete has to get across London in 20 minutes), and the Brand Protection Police ensuring that no-one can benefit from the Games except the IOC and their ‘partners’. God forbid a local shopkeeper should make an extra few quid. 

a new ring is forged

Danny Boyle’s Opening Ceremony was about people who live in the real world. It was an epic social history about change and development and its impact on people. It put on centre-stage those the IOC would ignore: miners, immigrants, protestors for the rights of the marginalised. The NHS. 

As a story, the Opening Ceremony had echoes of Lord of the Rings. The destruction of the countryside for factories and mines was part of Tolkien’s message with Saruman’s mines and the revenge of the Ents, and the forging of the (Olympic) Rings of Power. But those with the power and the money don’t always win. Beware the little people. The Hobbits are coming.

The Ceremony felt like a social history including the little people. From the grand vision of the set to the quirky humour, this wasn’t highbrow culture but captured what the Olympic Spirit should be. Which is so far from where the IOC is. Yes it was somewhat chaotic. Yes some of it went over most of the world’s heads. And a lot may have felt like an in-joke. But it celebrated those under the radar, which is surely what the Olympics is all about.

Jacques Rogge take note. There is a new lord of the rings. The real Olympics have begun.

This is Aiden Reynolds. He lit the torch.

I know I said I wasn’t blogging. I couldn’t help it – the ceremony blew me away!

metatarsals and muambas

20 03 2012

Picture from BBC News

God watches football and weeps. All that energy in the stands as men set an example to the church in the way they passionately lament and rage and love and endure and enjoy and get their feelings out there in words that might not perhaps make it in the Psalms… 

Football is generally determined by the direction the stands face. Inwards. The care and the passion and the prayers are all focused inwards. Except sometimes. Sometimes something happens that draws some of that passion and energy and turns it outwards. Suddenly the yelling and the rage and the lament is not directed at the sponsored pigs bladder or the teenage superhero who will always disappoint but at the nameless, faceless entity called… God.

Remember the metatarsals? I think it was the 2006 World Cup when The Sun urged us to pray for Beckham’s foot. A frivolous prayer. And now we are urged to pray for Fabrice Muamba. Suddenly people who never give a thought to praying anything beyond wining the FA Cup are not frightened to pray. Out loud. To wear t-shirts and leave flowers.

What does God do with these prayers?  I think he welcomes them. He’s not like some tardy old wealthy uncle who gets upset when people only talk to him because they want to borrow money. Or a miracle. He welcomes them. 

Does that mean he answers them? Erm… if you mean does he say Yes and make Fabrice Muamba better? Erm… if only prayer was like a magical incantation, a formula. Maybe God asks a question back. That’s the thing with prayer, it’s a conversation not a monologue. It’s Facebook Chat not a status update. Maybe God says, thank you for your prayer; now tell me about yourself and how you are going respond whether or not your prayer is ‘answered’. If you want me to intervene in his life, can I intervene in yours?  

Image from BBC Sport

Maybe God hears these prayers and weeps. Not because he doesn’t want to hear them – he does – but because he wishes he heard more. And maybe because he wishes the energy that is devoted to praying for single, well-known individuals could be devoted to praying for communities or even countries. Like the Democratic Republic of Congo, for example, from where Fabrice Muamba fled as a refugee aged 11. Or maybe these prayers acted as a catalyst for action against heart disease and the millions of football fans with terrible diets saw a glimpse of what can happen to even healthy people and changed their ways. 

Prayer has strings attached. Prayer comes with our own responsibilities. May we be people who begin to help the football stands face outwards, to be people who pray and act for individuals and communities and countries. And may we be people who welcome the fact that our God is suddenly hearing a whole load more prayers than he used and that he does not turn them away.

As we pray that, we also pray for Fabrice Muamba, his family, friends and colleagues. And for the victims of the shootings in France… the bus crash in Belgium… the street homeless in London…  the lonely old lady next door…

May our actions be prayers that rise like incense. 

olympic baptism bingo

5 07 2011

There’s a new Olympic sport. Not as much of a guilty pleasure as beach volleyball, but good nonetheless. It’s called Olympic News Bingo, and involves watching BBC London (my local news) and seeing how many tenuous links to the Olympics they can make with an ordinary news story.

A bus has crashed – OLYMPIC TRAVEL CHAOS.
Famous person visits London – OLYMPIC HOTEL CHAOS.


You get the picture. 

Without wishing to cash in on such cheap journalistic techniques, I was thinking about how much the Olympic ticket lottery was a bit like many people’s attitudes to child baptism.

To get an Olympic ticket, you don’t have to be into sport, you just need to want to be there; you don’t have to know what it will be there – you may end up watching cycling or wrestling or hammer-throwing – but at least you will be there; you don’t have to make any long-term commitment, just give your credit card details, sit back and wait. It may work out, it may not. At least you’ve done your bit to try. 

Many people approach having their children baptised in a similar way. You don’t have to be into Jesus (or even religion), you just need to want them want them to get into heaven, though you don’t really know what that means and actually aren’t very interested in finding out. Like handing over your credit card details to Olympic organisers, you make the “renouncing evil” promises through gritted teeth. You don’t really know what you are promising, or where you will end up, but at least you are in shout for a ticket.


And the best thing? No long-term commitment.  Ok, the vicar goes on about the ‘baptism legacy’ being you and your child involved in your local church developing healthy spiritual lives… but you know as well as he does that you have no interest in a long-term legacy, just like getting an Olympic ticket isn’t going to make you join a gym. You just want a ticket and then to go home.

I know not everyone thinks like this. We are about to do our first baptisms at our church for years and our prayer is that in the same way buying an Olympic ticket might get more people involved in the wonderfully life-giving life-changing thing that is participation in sport, so our baptisms might get more people involved in the wonderfully life-giving life-changing thing that it participation in Jesus’ kingdom, in bringing heaven to earth now, not just for the future.

Only time will tell. I know I am convinced that no ticket will give me a better view of the Olympics then from my armchair. So there I will stay.

unnecessary beach volleyball picture


waking up koscielny

1 03 2011

Koscielny Calamity

So here’s the thing. You have worked all your life towards this point. You have trained hard, you have made great personal sacrifices – a travelling life, far from friends and family, an uncertain future in which things could go wrong at any point. You have your critics, but those around you support you. In fact, only a couple of weeks ago thousands were shouting your name and waving flags for you.

And this was your moment. This was your time. Your time to win, your time to gain the prize. Your moment.

Yet it went wrong. Very wrong. No-one can understand why you did what you did. Your decision surely unfathomably wrong. The Palm Sunday moment of being a hero against Barcelona turned into the Good Friday moment of causing the bungled Birmingham City goal with 2 minutes to go ensuring Carling Cup Final defeat.

Imagine what it was like to wake up on Sunday as Laurent Koscielny. Sunday was very much his Easter Saturday. Rejected by those he would count as supporters, those who questioned  all he had lived for, ruing decisions made under pressure.  Was there not a different way? Why did you not play it differently? We thought we were going to light up the world together. And now, nothing.

I’m not saying Koscielny is Jesus. I don’t even support Arsenal. I just thought it was an interesting parallel.

The question is, will there be a Resurrection Sunday?

better the (red) devils you know

19 02 2011

on the ball

When I was an apprentice vicar in Crawley, Crawley Town’s Broadfield Stadium was in our parish. Going there every week as a committed supporter was a great way to embed myself in the local community, to participate in the life of a well-supported (and struggling) non-league club, to find out what local people are thinking and doing and what they care about.

Except I didn’t.

It was always there on my mind. I always meant to go. I just never quite got around to it. I was, you know, busy.  Now they are playing Man U (both teams nicknamed the Red Devils) in the FA Cup of course I wish I had, I wish I could claim to be a true fan. Apparently season ticket sales have gone through the roof, as that is a way to get an Old Trafford ticket. Fair-weather fans crawling on the bandwagon?

A few years ago I realised that I felt about the Crawley Town red devils the way lots of people feel about church. The club went into administration and there was a serious possibility it would cease to exist. And this made me sad. Because I thought it was great that a town like Crawley had a football team. It was wrong it was going to close. I liked driving past the stadium and feeling part of them. I mean, I even used to park for free in their car park.

a great carpark

But I had no intention of going along, of parting with my hard-earned money to keep them afloat, of screaming from the touchlines in all weathers. I wanted them to exist, but it was up to others to ensure they did. I wasn’t going to put my presence – or my money – where my mouth was.

Isn’t this how lots of people feel about the church? It is good it exists, and people often make a fuss when churches close. But they have no intention of joining in. When there is celebration to be had, like a baptism or a wedding, or a community funeral, or a summer fair or Christmas carol service the church’s long-running presence is gratefully accepted, maybe even taken for granted. A bit like a decent cup-run, people are suddenly interested, involved. Then they go.

To draw people into our churches maybe we need to tell a better story, give a warmer welcome, and – more importantly – be supporters of Jesus outside the building (stadium) as well as in it. Wear the kit, talk about what Jesus has done, invite people to be a part of it. That’s how football clubs grow. Word of mouth.

Success helps, of course; Man U didn’t get their home counties (and global) following by being a bit rubbish. When good things happen, people talk. Jesus does good things. We the church do good things. So let’s talk about them! How many of us talk about everything BUT the service we have just been at after church?! And how many football fans talk about NOTHING but the match they’ve just been in!?

I wish Crawley all the best today, they hold an affection in my heart because despite never going to a match, I loved living in Crawley, I am glad the club still exists – and I love the success of the underdog. As for my friends who did actually go and still go and did invite me and I never went with you, some of whom are lucky enough to have made the trip to the North-east – I won’t pretend to be a proper fan, I but I will crawl on the bandwagon with you, and I’ll be shouting with you!

If only I’d joined in earlier.

suffering fouls gladly

1 10 2010

When the most interesting statistic in a football match  is “fouls suffered” you know things are bad. That was my experience watching Valencia vs Man U on Wednesday. And Utrecht vs Liverpool on Thursday come to think of it. A waste of 90 minutes? Arguable! Intending to switch my brain off, I was bored so I began to think. Isn’t that an interesting thing to count. And interesting language. Are fouls suffered? Or received, experienced, taken?

there he goes again

Players have different attitudes to suffering fouls. For some, the slightest touch is enough to bring them diving majestically to the floor sporting toddler-style tantrums. Think Drogba. Or it brings an angry retaliation. Think Rooney.  Other players are built of stronger stuff and suffer fouls more gladly. You get knocked down, and you get up again. You are, after all, playing a contact sport. Think John Terry (on a good day!). How they respond to those fouls will often define them as players.

Following Jesus brings up some similar issues, for leaders yes, but for everyone else too. We know we will be fouled, sometimes badly, sometimes innocuously. It is how we respond to those fouls that define us as followers of Jesus.

There’s much biblical precedent for expecting to be fouled, on purpose or not. Prophets, preachers and ordinary people are repeatedly ignored, mocked, confused, disheartened; and more seriously beaten, imprisoned, executed. So the odd (or frequent) argument, hurtful comment, draining conversation, thoughtless remark, conflicting vision, broken window, verbal abuse or black dog of lingering depression are to be expected. Anticipated. But, I hasten to add, not yearned for to earn “bruise badges” to show how tough or effective we are, nor milked to gain attention or sympathy we feel we deserve.

Sometimes we will need to take time out and rest. Sometimes get straight back up and run it off. Sometimes we will have the wind knocked out of us. Sometimes we will be tempted to make more of it than we need to – for a rest, for some attention, because we’re irritable, or because there’s been so many small fouls we’ve ignored that we’re darn well gonna milk this one.

Maybe we could follow the lead of the Psalmists, whose God led them through the valley of the shadow of death towards green pastures. Fouls come, knocks come, bruises come. But by the grace of God we can carry on, learning, parrying, sometimes weeping and sometimes not seeing a way through but always hoping there is one. Because how we suffer the fouls will define us.

And if we really need to be things put in perspective, watch this:

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