Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Struggling with struggling

Homily preached on 21st September 2010 at Eltham College based on Genesis xxxii.19-30


Nick, Martyn, Jo and Gabby
are dancing around,
clapping and cheering,
the like of which has not been seen
since the invention of the McFlurry.

Gerrard, of course,
is sitting grumbling into his coffee,
whilst trying to handle the disappointment
and the ribbing from the others.

Jon watches on,
completely bemused by this behaviour.

Of course,
it helps to know that the date
is 12th September 2005
and Gerrard is an Australian.

How many of you can explain this?


Jon turns to Nick.

“So what’s happened, then?”

Silence falls suddenly,
like a dropped bowl of porridge.

A cold breeze whirls around the office;
a tumbleweed rolls abjectly by.

In the distance, a bell tolls sullenly.

“Where have you been
for the last 3 months?

England have just won the Ashes!”

“Ah,” says Jon,
“is that better than or worse
than the wooden spoon?”


“Well, we obviously didn’t get
gold, silver or bronze.

So we were in the bottom two, yes?”

“What are you talking about?

Do you even know what sport this is?”

“I assume Rugby since Gerrard isn’t looking too happy.”

There follow some interesting words and phrases
designed to demonstrate to Jon that
perhaps he ought to pay a little more attention
to the folk chasing
a hard, leather object
around a field in front of
two little wooden edifices
resembling structures
one would usually find in a prehistoric henge.


It’s a strange life when you simply
don’t understand the fuss about sport.

Why is it that people get cross
when you don’t know
how many runs there are in a wicket;
or why baseball is not the same as rounders;
or why the referee in a football match
never gets snogged after a goal is scored?

For the non-sportsman,
the exultation and elation of a win
and the misery
and almost physical pain of a defeat
can seem as relevant as
an acute accent in physics.

If Manchester United lose
to Bishop Stortford at bowls,
it’s just hard to care.

Heresy, you may say!

Is there any common ground
for the Athlete and the non-Athlete?


Of course there’s plenty of common ground:
the fear that you’ll end up
like one of the contestants
in “Young, Dumb and Living off Mum”

However there is a common ground
that runs deeper than that.

Indeed it is common
not just to humanity
but to all forms of life.

For every form of life,
there are three certainties:
Life, Death and Competition.

All life is in competition with itself
for some resource:
usually dinner,
trying not to be dinner
and sex.

The vast majority of animals
die in their virginity
usually by suffocation
complicated by digestion
–they get eaten when they’re young.

There is not a day in the life of any organism
without some titanic battle just to stay alive.

All this seems a far cry from the hockey court,
doesn’t it?

Does this really apply to human beings?


Well, of course and you know that.

But how aware are you
of the struggles that you are facing each day?

We’re not talking about
realising that you have the ball
and the larger lads in the rugby squad
are thundering towards you
like belligerent wasps
to a discarded Curly-Wurly.

If you think about it,
we’re engaged in a struggle
with every other human being we meet
– not all the time –
but at some point.

If we’re all different people - individuals,
then at some point
we’re going to disagree somewhere.

The struggle then is
how do we live peaceably alongside people
who differ from us in many ways?

If we take a purely sporting view,
then we can attribute
win, lose or draw to every struggle.

Trouble is,
in so doing, we miss vital information
about ourselves and whom we are opposing.

Rudyard Kipling reminds us
that “winning” and “losing”
are imposters,
merely superficial labels
that we stick on the outcomes
of our struggles.

In the grand scheme of things
there are no such things
as win, lose or draw.


Christians believe that a careful review of
what it means “to win”
is of paramount importance.

If we win,
we need to interpret that win
in the light of what we have struggled to do,
and consider its impact
on the people around us.

A win that does not
take the wellbeing of others into account
is selfish and,
in the long-run,
likely to prove to be a loss.

If we lose,
then we need only
to regard it as a true defeat
if our struggle has given us
something of less worth
than what we have struggled for.

what we gain from “losing” is bigger
and better than what we are trying to win.

The cross of Christ may be seen as a defeat
in the eyes of the world.

To the Christian, it is more than a victory.

It is how we struggle
and compete that makes us truly human beings,
not what we achieve
or fail to achieve.

To the Christian,
“winning” is about finding the meaning
of our lives in the context of living with God.

The non-Christians too must reflect on
what goals they have set for their lives.

These are struggles which
we meet day to day,
and we deal with them
according to our religion.


All of you will see struggles this year.

You all have public exams to take
which will make big influences
in your lives to come.

You may see this as a worry;
you may not even know
which goals you are aiming for;
but, your experiences in sport
have taught you that
there is a bigger picture.

You have a team to support you,
coaches to guide you
and the lessons in life
that you have already learned.

Your struggles are not worth nothing,
indeed, whatever difficulties you face in life,
it is how you approach them
which will show who you really are.

You have already achieved much of worth,
and you have many more brilliant achievements
ahead of you,
but what system of scoring are you using?

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