crouching tiger, hidden passion

30 06 2010


The Wor ld Cup is passion. Passion drives teams, passion drives fans. We must win, we must get through. From New Zealand to Brazil, Switzerland to Spain, what we are looking for is passion. Passion! We can forgive teams if they lose, but show passion. We forgive teams for a lack of skill, if they show passion. Passion shows us that our faith is justified; passion shows us it was worth the money for the travel or the TV package or the one warm beer you’ve made last the whole game at your local. Passion generates energy that generates more passion that makes the little teams know that in a knock-out it is maybe, just maybe. Passion makes us love you, little 3-inch footballer on my screen who I will never meet and who earns more in a week than I ever will.


Show a lack of passion, and everything changes. Show a lack of passion and we will show you a lack of compassion. Show no passion and we will not forgive your lack of skill, the money we’ve paid, the flags we’ve been made to put up, the money you earn. Little 3-inch footballer if you show no passion I will not trust you that you believe, and if you do not believe, why should any of us believe?

Passion comes from the Greek verb ‘pascho’, meaning ‘to suffer’. Passion is more than enthusiasm and wild celebrations and a bit of naughty loving… passion, real passion, involves sacrifice and pain and suffering as well. Showing me passion shows me that you care enough to put yourself out, to run harder, faster, longer; to chase and press and push for the ball; to take a risk, to change formation, to try something new. It might not work but you will have shown me passion and I will love you for that.

England showed a distinct lack of passion. The drone of the vuvuzela was more interesting than their passion, their creativity, their skill. So we pillory them and show them no compassion, the over-paid illiterate superstars.


Speck. Plank.

Uh oh. Who said that?

Imagine the TV cameras being trained on our church, our faith, our life… will they see passion? Or will they see going through the motions, rigid formations, creativity shelved for the old ideas and something that looks as interesting as England vs Algeria?  Would they see us masking our failures by celebrating hollow victories like England vs Slovenia? Would they see us ripped apart by the realities of real life outside the holy huddle of our training ground like England vs Germany?

Would they see us as we show the passion to suffer and struggle for our faith, for our God, to walk the extra mile carrying the soldiers tunic? Or would they see something that looks simply pedestrian, dull, lifeless, tired and about to be knocked out? As we (rightly) criticise our team for a lack of passion, it might just be worth remembering that we are out there on the pitch every minute of every day and we (surely) want to be known as passionate, not pedestrian.

And by the way, you take Crouch, use Crouch! He scores goals. Apparently, they help. I mean that, passionately.

un-used passion

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a kiss from judas on the terry-go-round

8 02 2010

There’s a bandwagon of faux-outrage, moral superiority and media hypocrisy about John Terry. The same papers that delight in telling sordid tales of bedtime shenanigans with some pretend to be outraged when it is others. What is it that makes John Terry different from Rebecca Loos? What is it that means the captain of the England football team should have higher moral standards than, say, previous manager Sven Goran Eriksonn (who had affairs with Ulrika Johnson and his secretary at the FA, Fariah Alam, who herself also had an affair with FA chief executive Mark Palios… just imagine the office party).

betrayed by a kiss...

In some senses, it really doesn’t matter. It is just football. It is just a horny overpaid sports star having an affair with a French underwear model (for rude picture see here). Another day in the life of the rich, privileged, and slightly bored. On another level, it does matter. It matters because all the characters are human (even the ones that play for Chelsea); because the lady in question is the mother of his friend’s child; because so many people will be hurt and upset at the various betrayals; oh yes, and because Bridge and Terry were friends, and may end up as team mates in South Africa.

And it matters because people like John Terry are role models. Not just for the men who wear the no.26 shirt as a tribal statement because they crave a sense of belonging in a world devoid of heterosexual male community (ok, and they support Chelsea…), but to all the young footie fans who look up to these players as role models. Anyone who has played football with teenagers sees how they copy their idols – from attempting the Ronaldo step-over to the Beckham free-kick, the Gerrard 30-yarder to the Scholes ‘remonstrating-with-the-ref’ special. I was particularly good at the Crouch tumble (it would have been the robot except I never scored).

So, when a player plays fast and loose with their marriage, what message does that send? Does that cross the players mind? Does it make infidelity ok? Exploring the complexity of this is important for our kids, as they grow up with the temptation to idolise or demonise, depending on the colour of their shirt. Here are some thoughts of things to explore, though I am sure you have many to add…

1. We are all human; that is, we are all flawed – from the good guys (Giggs, Gerrard, Beckham…?) to the bad guys (Terry, Bellamy, Bowyer…?), no-one is either all good or all bad. Ferdinand is a mixture. Terry is a mixture. I am a mixture. John Terry has a reputation as a bad boy – tough on the pitch, parking his Bentley in a disabled bay off it. Rio Ferdinand has had his fair share of indiscretions and is currently serving a 4 match ban; but spends a lot of time and effort on his charitable foundation Live the Dream, based in his native Peckham. Why? Because he knows that as a working-class black man from Peckham, who has officially ‘made it’ by breaking the transfer record for a defender twice, playing for Man U and now captain of England, he is a role model. His actions are influential. He can make a difference.

Discussion point: Can flawed people be leaders? Why? Who did Jesus choose to be his apprentices? And then his leaders? Did they all turn out  to be ok? Were they always friends? Which ones wanted to be Captain (can we sit at your right hand…)? What would he have done if Peter had had a bounce with the ex of one of the sons of Zebedee…?

2. The second key point is that betrayal hurts, who ever you are. Why do people betray others?  Why do they betray their friends? And why does it matter? (I explored some of these theme in a previous post).

Discussion point: How was Jesus betrayed, and how did Jesus respond to that  betrayal – by his family, by his home-town, his fellow Rabbis, by his disciples, by a kiss in the park, by Pilate…? How do adults respond to betrayal? How do young people respond to betrayal? How many families have been split apart by betrayal? How have we responded to betrayal, major or minor?


3. The third key point is the reality (and unpopularity) of consequences and punishments. For certain people personal indiscretions mean a job loss, or job change. Church leaders rarely survive an exposed affair with their job intact; neither do politicians. Footballers do, after some press attention and some terrace chanting (Ashley Cole springs to mind….). Do you mind if your delivery driver is having an affair? So does it matter if your football captain is? It does – because consciously or not, public figures are role models. Capello had to show that his regime is one of integrity and strength of character, and not just on the pitch. Didn’t he?

Discussion point: For us that can be translated as whole-life discipleship. We cannot separate what we do at school or work from what we do at home; what we do in public from what goes on in private. God sees it all. Everything. What difference would it make for all of us if our private indiscretions meant a demotion at work? Or if cheating on our girlfriend got us taken out of the school football team?

We cannot breach trust in one part of our life, and be considered trustworthy in another. Can we?

We want our football players to be perfect – scoring for the team and only playing at home, if you see what I mean. They will not be. What we should expect is honesty – not telling-tales-to-the-tabloids kind of honesty, but holding your hands up and saying sorry, admitting mistakes, on and off the pitch. Showing a bit of humanity never hurt anyone.

Showing a bit of grace gives them a chance to.

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eduardo and the dive to meet granny

9 09 2009
Eduardo auditions for Strictly

Eduardo auditions for Strictly

Eduardo dived. We all know that. Drogba dives all the time. We all know that. Owen dives. But not very often (he’s usually injured). Rooney dives. But we may choose to overlook that. Torres never dives. Torres is lighter, he  simply falls more easily.  He may tumble in challenges, but merely to avoid damaging his beautiful legs.

Anyway, diving is only cheating when the other team do it. When our team does it, it is merely cheeky, a fair attempt to win a free kick, or even a penalty. A lucky break, we may say, like Rooney’s against Slovenia on Saturday, when even Clive Tyldesley couldn’t make it fair.

Some play more cynically. As long as it gets you the result you need, and you don’t get caught, it is ok. As long as it looks like you were ‘going for the ball, ref’, then it’s ok. As long as the blood looks like blood and the ref thinks its blood, it’s ok. Because it is the end result that matters, not how you get there.

Who stole my PE shorts?

Who stole my PE shorts?

If England win tonight, then they are guaranteed qualification to the World Cup. Hooray! After the debacle of qualifying for the Euros, anything goes. Even playing Heskey. And being run by an Italian. And wearing school PE kits.

How many of us, without realising it, think that following Jesus is about guaranteeing qualification. It is about doing enough to get to the top of the group and scrape through into heaven. By any means, really. Getting the baby baptised is one. Tick. Regularly going to church at Christmas is one. Tick. Being a good person is one. Tick. Maybe convincing the vicar we mean the promises at baptism when we don’t really is a bit like a dive in the penalty area – we want guaranteed qualification, without the hard graft; we want the 3 points, and its looking a bit tricky; so bend the rules a bit and it’ll be fine, convince the vicar, and they’ll go with it. After all, everyone else does it.

Jesus told a story about the sheep and the goats, in which the sheep, who had fed the poor and visited the sick and criminals, were guaranteed qualification into ‘the kingdom’, whereas those who had not, were not passed fit to enter. This is a complex story, but one of the points here is that Jesus isn’t simply interested in the final qualification tables showing how many points we have earned. He is interested in how we got there. So the dive does matter. It is not irrelevant. We cannot con our way to qualification. Questions will be asked. There is a video review panel. The end result isn’t the most important thing; it really is about the journey. And, thankfully of course, grace.

Because, contrary to what many of us think, ‘the kingdom’ is not ‘heaven‘, as popular culture thinks of it, i.e. life after death, spirits floating in a happy place where we are with granny again. It is far deeper than that, far more profound. ‘Eternal life’, or ‘life of the ages‘ as it is better translated, begins now. So tonight hopefully England will play the 90 minutes like they are in the World Cup already, playing in the final; because every game is important, not just the ones after the final whistle. And hopefully, we will engage with Jesus now, fully and wholeheartedly, and not just do our best to get through the 90 minutes of life unscathed, because the kingdom is here now, and we are living it, not just aiming towards it as a future hope, but living it as a present reality.

And as for qualification? Take up your cross and follow me. Live in my grace. And that’s way more than just ticking the right  box. Or even diving in it.

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