Those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit..
During this time of stress upon stress, there has been much concern about the delayed 2020 Summer Olympics. (It’s just another sign of these strange times we are living in, that this event being held in July- August 2021 will always be referred to as the 2020 Olympic Games!) Japan’s investment of over $20 billion, during a time of prolonged economic recession and multiple catastrophic disasters, trapped the government in a quandary: in a nation with very low vaccination rates, during a time of a surging variant of COVID-19 that is many, many times more transmissible, what is the prudent thing to do regarding over 11,000 athletes coming in from 205 nations (and one group who has no nation)? How can this possibly be safe?
And in a world that has seen over 4 million people die from COVID-19, and economies all around the world have been thrown into chaos, how is it even appropriate to hold a sports event in the midst of all this trial? And Japan has suffered from multiple catastrophes they haven’t even recovered from yet. Frankly, it started to seem foolhardy, stubborn—even dangerous to hold these Olympic Games. Personally, knowing how stubborn and goal-directed we Japanese are, I wonder whether pursuing this course—to hold the games somehow—could be Japan’s downfall.
But, in spite of it all, the Olympic Games have begun. And we all pray that we get through the next two weeks with minimal casualties.
This has been hard for me, because I’m an Olympics junkie, especially for the Summer games. There have been summers when my life gets pretty much taken over by my devotion to following and celebrating even events I know nothing about. But what with this impending sense of doom, I was aware that they started this weekend, but it wasn’t until someone else mentioned it that I thought I’d tune in and see what it’s like.
Well, I have to say, I have been a little amazed. For one thing, in talking with the athletes, they don’t seem tentative or frustrated or scared at all—they’re just so full of their spirit and their dreams that it doesn’t seem to matter that the stands are not filled with spectators. Though they do seem a little sad that their families are gathered in watch parties on the other side of the globe, they can hear their teammates cheering them on. And if you saw the opening ceremony, with the parade of nations, you’d find hundreds of nations (and one group without a nation), some with nation-killing crises, who yet gathered up the resources and the will to send athletes to these “games.”
Consider: Syria and Yemen, still in danger of violence and starvation in their own homelands—they sent teams. Haiti and Pakistan, with their internal unrest, and Afghanistan, on the brink of political collapse— they sent teams. Nations that are watching the coronavirus kill their citizens for lack of vaccines that wealthy nations are allowing to spoil because they have way more doses than people who want them—they sent teams. And 29 athletes who have fled 11 different nations—in the midst of their tragedy, they came as one team of refugees, a team without a nation.
Over 11,000 athletes from 205 nations (plus the refugees team) decided not to let violence, or poverty, or political turmoil, or a global pandemic get in the way of their dreams. And so some of these athletes marched into an almost-empty stadium in Tokyo, some in fabulous uniforms—Mauritania looked especially luxurious. In the silence, you could hear some of the teams sing or chant. Without the roar of adoring fans, teams from Argentina, Italy, Cameroon and others made their own fun. And I thought about all the worries, and all the fears, and all the loss, and I thought, yes, there is ample reason to worry—yet God has supplied us with so much more than what we are missing.
I’m not looking for something to distract me from the reality of the pandemic, or the violence or hatred in the world. But what the Olympics is reminding me most of all, is the abundance, even the overflow, of spirit implanted in each of us, spirit that cannot be quenched by fear or distress. I like to think that for Christians, this spirit is the spark of God’s light that lies in each of us—a gift of God that can be ignored, or restrained, or abused, or—with the knowledge of the righteousness of God and the life-giving love of Christ—that spark can be nurtured and joined with others, to offer the light of hope for a hurting world.
So when faced with a crisis situation on an epic scale, may we remember that we do hold the light of Christ in us. And we can balance our instinctual tendency to focus on the risky and negative, and consciously remind ourselves of God who created all that we see around us, all the beauty of the earth, and who enabled our churches to flex and change to continue to do God’s work in the face of the pandemic.
According to Oscar Wilde, we all live in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars. May we recognize the stars that God has put in the sky—and the stars that God has put in each of us. And in all