olympics - life

in an article in today's paper on the stabbing to death of the father-in-law of US olympic volleyball coach Hugh McCutcheon in China yesterday:

"No, it's not easy to make sense of things. i remember being in Atlanta in 1996--there in the madness near Centennial Park after a bomb exploded and killed two, injuring more than 100. There was this terrible feeling that it was all so pointless--all these sports, all these games--so pointless when you thought about how much pain there is in the world. But then you remember that if you stop the games, you are only left with pain."
--Joe Posnanski

i was in minnesota this weekend. this morning in st. paul visiting a covenant church where a friend of mine is the youth pastor. and i saw something that struck me terribly deeply.

a man in the church, perhaps in his 30s or 40s walked up onto the stage with the help of a cane and a couple people. he sat down next to his wife to talk about faithfulness amidst the discovery of several large tumors in his brain just a few months ago. he talked about being led to seek prayer just before the tumors were found, when he didn't know why he needed prayer--he just felt it. his wife, through her tears, talked about the developments on treatment and a little about their two children.

i don't know what it is like to read that hearing it from me second-hand. perhaps it doesn't particularly strike you, the tragedy of it. there is too much tragedy in the world, so when we encounter it, we shut ourselves off from it. we almost have to in order to make it through. i do it all the time. and i started to do that this morning--i didn't know the guy at all.

but then i looked at him. i pictured what he might look like with hair, dressed up nice like any other middle-aged man sitting in the pews around me (or even as a younger person, like the friend at k-state who had a brain tumor earlier this year). i saw the lines on his face, the eyes that were almost lost amongst all the skin with no hair to offset it. he was holding it all in behind there, back with the tumors.

at the end of the service we gathered around them in prayer. i saw people who had shaved their heads in support. i saw older women weeping and squeezing his hand. i saw people cry out to God with various degrees of boldness in prayer. i saw the church.

i wanted to shout out and pray for this man Rick, whom i'd never met before. i wanted to declare in boldness that through the power of Christ he would be healed that very instant. but what power did i have that many hadn't already prayed with at a healing service held for him recently? and that aside, i completely lacked the faith. what if i said such a thing and i was wrong and he wasn't healed? where i am now, is the holy spirit with me much? i couldn't do it. could you?

a story came to me yesterday. well, to be more honest a title did. we'll see if i write the story, but i'll copyright the title anyway: and the children will play. watching a video showing kids jumping on car sculptures half buried in the concrete parking lot and covered in blacktop, i thought that this is what happens. in any tragedy, in any wreckage, the children will play. they will make it their playground and find a game. they have to, probably because they just cannot process the depth of it all. or to what extent they can, they must play to cope.

maybe posnanski's right, without the games you just have the pain. maybe we need to play. maybe we need to watch the olympics and cheer in the spirit of nationalism--keeping a close eye on that countries medal watch. you know, bragging rights and all. but maybe we really do. maybe we need to play.

i've heard it said that the US, as a country and culturally is like an adolescent. we try to prove ourselves, we are obsessed with sex and cars and the like, etc. and maybe we still want to play like kids (very competitive kids maybe). but sooner or later the games will stop (espn360 aside), and we will know our playgrounds as the wreckage they are. we will be a little older and wiser maybe. and will we be left only with the pain?

when rick and his wife got done sharing in church this morning, a man called out from the congregation, "we love you." and everyone rose to their feet clapping. and rick started crying. he started crying like i've never seen anyone cry before. this wasn't the weeping of heartbreak or mourning. this was something else. it was hard crying, but with no shame. it was filled with fear. yet it was also filled with so much love. he didn't cover his face or wipe his tears. his mouth was open as his chin held up his whole face. i don't know how else to describe it. but it is an image i won't forget.

he was face-to-face with eternity, and he bawled as any of us would. no need for our polished exteriors anymore. it was very human. so many people came around him though. he would not be left alone with his pain. and somewhere in it all, God was there. God the eternal.

most of us don't really give much of a look towards eternity. maybe a sideways glance or lip service. i'm not talking about heaven. the eternal is now, right before us. and we play. or more accurately we watch. and we pay a lot for our coping support, cash and more.

maybe we could take in a little more. maybe we should see what's happening in the new war in georgia, the friend struggling to suffer the aftermath of all the chemo, the family who lost someone recently--or not so recently (it still is hard).

or then again, phelps could get 8 golds and wouldn't that be something to see? it's just 17 days, our problems will be there still in 17 days. so will are friends. and hopefully rick. do we need these games? is it unhealthy nationalism? or is it truly world-uniting? what do you think?

1 comment:

  1. We need the games. We need not the distraction, but the joy, the pride, the chance at perfection. As children we play games where we are immortal. In war, a shootout, or simply a match-up of made up superheroes, one kid "dies" only to announce that he had an invincibilty cloak on. And the other kid's body suddenly absorbs bullets, and then the other's can't catch fire because he is made out of water, and then the other has built a force-field...and it continues.

    We get older, and suddenly the games require rules, require winners and losers. We read the news, lose friends to car accidents, become oriented with the side of life that does not only teach mortality, it screams it.

    And so we play more structured games, but we still play them. We get sidetracked by Phelps, because for 17 days there is a chance that we could still find a Superman who does have a force-field...against Frencmen. And when the young gymnast falls off her balance beam, and her hopes are dashed but she still smiles at her landing, or the 100 yard dasher's knee pops and his career is over but his teamates and family half carry half help him walk to the finish line, we are reminded that even when we are not Superman , we can finish with grace and love.

    The Olympics, NFL Football, K-State sports, even the late night curling on ESPN all hold something greater than a simple game, they hold a moment of glory for those involved, and a chance for those watching to believe in greatness, if only for a moment.

    Life is always going to hold death, pain, failure, destruction. And we should never grow cold to it. We should never ignore the pain of starving and deathly ill children in Darfur. We should never tune out the pain of a cancer patient.

    But we can, and should, seek out greatness in the world. And the Olypic games have always been one of our greatest displays of worldwide greatness.

    So watch, enjoy, don't escape, but do embrace the games.

    And ALWAYS cheer against the French.