the fergascension

9 05 2013

The Fergascension. To retire and ascend to the realms of football gods. I’ve just invented  a new word and equated Sir Alex Ferguson with Jesus. Oops. Not good for a Liverpool fan. 

They’ve often wondered what would happen when he would go. Now he is gone. But… not gone. Forever he will glare down in the words emblazoned on the stands; forever he will be present loitering in corridors as Director and Ambassador (ok not forever, unless he really is Jesus). Retired and ascended to the realms of football gods. The Fergascension (there it is again). I can feel a BBC montage coming on. 

Image from BBC News

So the succession narrative begins. How do you find a new ‘you’, when nobody else can be ‘you’? If you think that’s a problem for Alex Ferguson, imagine being Jesus. Sir Alex has started a momentum – a football team is never finished, completed, unless you can control time, tackles, temperament and the temptation of mercenaries. Jesus had started a momentum, a movement – not yet a church – and he was about to hand this momentum over.

Handing over momentum is a tough call. Much easier to hand over a completion than a momentum. Momentums can easily be changed, the identity of the founder can be lost; completions are, well, completed. As a twitchy and control-freaky minister, perhaps I speak for myself. And football managers. 

Jesus had to sit down. He had to sit down at the right-hand of God, in the place of power. So he slipped away, in contrast to football managers, leaving the completion of his work in the untrained and untested fragile hands of men and women whose food he had shared, feet he had washed, who’s tears he had wiped and by whom he had been betrayed, shunned, misunderstood and reunited. And who had never led a momentum. Not a good succession policy. 

But in contrast to Sir Alex, Jesus is still in charge. He has not retired only to stalk the corridors of power with a hairdryer and a trophy cabinet. He has not retired at all (you cannot retire from being God); he has not even handed power over to us (with that power we would die) (or something); but greater and more mysteriously he has allowed us to share in being him.

To share in being him?

This means that we share in his power, but we also share in his suffering. As we become his body, we are that body broken as well as that body resurrected. That’s some succession narrative. Do we really want that job?  Without going all Dan Brown, is it a poisoned chalice? Not as much as being Chelsea manager, I guess.

Jesus handed his momentum over to us, and still we carry it, sometimes bouncing it wildly or losing it in the wind, sometimes dragging it to a stuttering halt and declaring it a completion; but always Jesus manages to wrestle it from our tight grip or place it back in our outstretched hands, never stalking us and regaling us with tales of his successes because he does not have a cabinet of trophies but a story of death and of resurrection.

He doesn’t have a stand with his name emblazoned on it but a body of followers who are his body and who bear his name.

May we be people who carry Jesus’ momentum with care and with abandon; as the disciples left their hopes for completion in the locked room and followed the momentum of the Spirit into the wild unknown, may we do the same. 

Look not to the clouds, for his feet are here. 


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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