Monday, August 29, 2016

degrees of truth

As the Reformation was kicking off in Germany just shy of four hundred years ago, a series of debates was proposed. On one side, Luther & his supporters, Karlstadt and Melanchthon. On the other, Eck, who would humbly announce his arrival by walking through town surrounded by a bodyguard of seventy six men, fifes and drums playing.

As is the way of all debates, before the arguments over the core issues began, they argued over how they would argue. The format. Should there be books to refer to? Who should the judges be? And (early on) should there be stenographers present to record the debates verbatim?

Eck argued against. They might reduce the white hot passion of the verbal exchanges. Philipp Melanchthon wryly replied -

"The truth might fare better at a lower temperature."

I've been watching various conversations this weekend, in the church (locally and nationally), in the world (nationally and internationally), and been reminded of Melanchthon's dry wit and remarkable wisdom.

And hoped I might remember it myself when it matters.  

Sunday, August 21, 2016

the new normal

It was in the summer of 2016 that the new sporting normal finally asserted itself.

The old Soviet nations were struggling under the double whammy of large-scale drug suspicion and the collapse of any kind of state-sponsored support; China couldn't turn 1.4 billion citizens into more than a handful of medallists; and it was the supposedly traumatised British who came to the fore.

The reason? It was the brainchild of one of Britain's greatest Prime-Ministers, Sir John Major. History has been kinder to Sir John than his contemporaries often were. It was his introduction of a national lottery (with its emphasis on cultural and sporting projects as chief spending priorities) that in only twenty years transformed Team GB from failures at the bottom of the medal table in Atlanta to heroes in second place at Rio.

At a time when the nation was struggling with its identity, its place in Europe and the world, and indeed questions of whether it could even hold together, this global sporting success proved fundamental.

Nationalist politicians were ultimately powerless against the strength of repeated broadcasts of athletes wrapped in Union flags, tunelessly belting out God Save the Queen several times a day. And when Team GB finally beat Team USA to the head of the Olympic standings only eight years later, US Secretary of State Ryan Lochte described it 'like being held up and robbed at gun point'. President of the British Olympic Association, Lord Murray, replied with his characteristic dry wit, 'Well, he'd know'.

Of course, there were bumps on the road. There remain some faint memories of embarrassment that knighthoods used to be doled out to athletes who gained as few as four or five gold medals, and not necessarily at the same Olympiad. But those were different days, and we mustn't judge the past by the standards of today. After all, though it seems scarce possible now, at the time of the Sydney Millennium games even Australia was viewed as quite the sporting nation.

The most remarkable change took far longer. But eventually the old national football associations realised they were never going to win anything ever again and watched the Olympians with such envy that, five Olympiads after London 2012 the Great Britain Football Association was finally created.

And football (and with it the World Cup) duly came home.