Go back to normal view
The FIFA (football) World Cup is upon us; and, love it or loathe it, it will take up a great number of column inches and broadcast hours. By the time you might be reading this piece, we could be some way on, with England contemplating an early return home/dreaming of ultimate success*
I was briefly amused by an article on the BBC Sports Website, claiming that scientific method would logically reveal for us .. (fanfare) … the winners of this 2018 tournament. Apparently there are seven key pointers to solve the predictive conundrum; seven things that must be in a team’s favour for them to triumph.
(1) Be seeded: that is have the organisers deem you to be one of the eight most credible teams, so that you thereby receive the gift of a favourable draw; (2) don’t be the host nation (out goes Russia); (3) don’t have a recent record of conceding too many goals (bye, bye, Poland); (4) be from Europe, (adios, Argentina . tchau, Brazil); (5) have a good goalkeeper (oops, just dropped Portugal); (6) have an experienced squad of players (sorry, France); and finally (7) don’t be the defending champions (Germany). Which leaves the certain winners as … Belgium.
It’s a load of tosh, of course (unless you’re from Belgium); but isn’t it interesting, and perhaps a little old-fashioned, to imagine any aspect of life is so pre-determined.
You might not expect this of a clergyperson, but I want to make a case for the arbitrariness of life. It doesn’t necessarily deliver what you want, or when you want it. The blooms of good fortune spring up where they will, and quite unevenly; but the seeds of ill-deserved disappointment can also alight without warning, fairness or mercy. Life is full of surprises. Sometimes these are welcome, and bring a smile to our lips; but most of us are more aware, for ourselves or others, that sometimes dreadful, cruel, outcomes arise, that makes any talk of providence sound like a sick, sick joke.
There is an arbitrariness about us, and it is not irreligious to recognise this. We have moved far beyond the trivial concerns of who wins a World Cup when we look on the various lots that people enjoy or endure. On the sadder side, there is a pithy saying that recognises that bad things will happen.
Far from irreligious, I think the acknowledgement of the randomness of what may befall us is the gateway to a genuine compassion. I wrote in comparable terms in these pages last October. We each need the capacity to be affronted and deeply moved when another experiences the cruelty of crushing misfortune. Indeed we need the confidence, albeit gently, to name it as such and to enter into quiet companionship with that person in their suffering.
Liturgically, within the church’s worship, the response is to find room for lament. This has been known throughout the history of Judaeo-Christian prayer, and no doubt in other traditions, too. I include within this both scripted responses that articulate a shared grief and pain, and also more impromptu opportunities, which allow people to make their own statement or offer their own words. An example of this latter scheme is the place afforded the sufferers of the Grenfell Tower fire in having a voice during the proceedings of the inquiry. There is also opportunity increasingly in legal settings for those who have suffered to have what may be a cathartic and certainly dignified opportunity to speak to the assembly. It is important that we find the chance to express feelings of wrongedness, pain, anger and regret; and in the church we want very much to be creative in imagining and allowing the chance for this voice of discord to be heard.
It is also important in our dealings with one another that we invite healthy opportunity for sadness to play its part in our conversation, without feeling it can only comfortably be banished to the margins: that it is ‘too hot to handle’.
Well, I have moved a very long way indeed from the World Cup. Maybe, still, it allows us a little window upon the arbitrariness of triumph and disaster, exhilaration and misery, and could even make us a bit more thoughtful as to how indiscriminately, and cruelly, happiness and grief are apportioned.
* delete as applicable.