The Year of the Underdog

For the fan of the underdog, this Wimbledon has been a veritable feast. Top seeds have been tumbling – both literally and at the hands of other players – on a daily basis. We’ve seen Nadal knocked out by Steve Darcis, Hewitt defeated by Dustin Brown, Maria Sharapova falling to world number 131 Michelle Larcher de Brito, and then to cap it all on Wednesday night the reigning champion, Roger Federer was stunned by the world 116 Sergiy Stakhovsjy. There’s also been an unusually long list of top players injured and having to pull out. What a crazy opening few days it has been. The biggest surprise is that Djokovic and Murray have made it through the first week (at least I hope they have, this is a statement of faith made on Thursday morning, but to be honest by the time you read this all could have changed!…)

The English love underdogs, and so it seems fitting that this should happen on our soil. Why do we? Perhaps because so often in sport we are the underdogs as a nation. As someone who grew up in the 70s and 80s when English cricket was simply a pseudonym for a batting collapse and too many occasions snatching defeat out of the hands of victory, having a national side who are in the top ranking in the world just feels wrong!

There is something of God in this love of the underdog. The Bible frequently describes him as being on the side of the poor and oppressed, and acting to turn the tables on those who stand over them. The phrase ‘The first shall be last and the last shall be first’ is a particularly provocative and memorable soundbite uttered by Jesus, the master wordsmith. What does this mean? Does this mean that God prefers the poor to the rich, the oppressed to the powerful, or the slaves to the free? Surely not! God loves all equally, that’s the scandalous message of the Gospel. Why is that scandalous? Think about how that differs from how as a culture we tend to treat and see people. What it does mean, though, is that God uses different standards to measure us by than we do. So often it is the rich, powerful and beautiful who get to define what success and importance is – it is no surprise then that those unlike them don’t get a look in. God however, looks to the heart and acts to give everybody fair opportunity. How about us? We might love an underdog, but do we see and more importantly treat people in the same way that God does?

Church Newsletter – Sunday 30th June 2013

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Sugar, Darwin & Murray

Church Newsletter Article for 3rd July 2011

As a family, we’ve slipped into watching The Apprentice this year. We were watching an old episode this afternoon, trying to catch up. As usual we quickly found ourselves sitting in Alan Sugar’s aides’ seats, and analysing the contestants and trying to work out where it was going to go wrong and suss out who should be fired,

‘That’s never going to work!’
‘Who in their right mind would buy that!’
‘There they go again, making sure they’ve got an escape route prepared in case it all goes pear shaped!’

It’s a clever programme with the dual elements of can the teams rise to the challenge they’ve been set, and the gladiatorial aspect of the boardroom where they’re called upon to justify their efforts. Of course what this quickly degenerates into is a variety of efforts, some subtle and some not to stab each other in the back.

The other thing we’ve been watching this week has been the tennis. At the time of writing Andy Murray is still in the competition – here’s hoping he still is when this newsletter is handed out as then he’ll be in the final! Its been an exciting competition so far with all sorts of surprises and gargantuan struggles. I read an article on the BBC Tennis website by Andy Murray. After reflecting for a while on the David Haye and Wladimir Klitschko boxing match, he said the following:

‘Tennis is certainly a lot more gentlemanly than boxing, but in any individual sport the psychology plays a big part, especially right at the top level. You need to make sure you’re strong in the mind. In tennis, the guys are mostly very sporting and get on well, but when you’re out there you need to put that to one side. I think you need to treat your opponent like they’re your worst enemy on the court.’ http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/tennis/13933589.stm

You’ve probably cottoned on to the fact that there’s a common thread here. We live in a world where it’s dog eat dog, or as Darwin put it ‘survival of the fittest’. Before you think you’re any different, stop and ask yourself if you like me, watch The Apprentice and join in the national pastime of ripping the contestants to shreds. Is this that much different to being a contestant and seeking to oust a competitor.

Of course, competition has its place, as does ambition. I’m sure that Andy Murray doesn’t really see his opponents as his enemies in the strongest sense of the word, and at the end of the day The Apprentice is only a game (although heavily edited to bring out the worst of its participants – see, even the Beeb are at it!) It makes me realise, however, how radical Jesus call to ‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you’ Matthew 5:44 really is, how deeply this goes against the grain of ‘normal’ life here in the West.