Olympics hate to love or hate to hate?

This blog is a slightly edited version of one I wrote just prior to the beginning of the Olympics on my old site.  I thought I should gradually move my old posts over here.  My opinions have developed since this was written since my perspective is now from “within” rather than looking forward to.  I am planning on posting another Olympic blog in the near future that will reflect some of this change:

In case anyone is concerned, there is no need to worry because yours truly has not caught Olympic fever. That’s right despite residing near the epicentre of the worst epidemic Vancouver has seen since the H1N1 outbreak of last fall I have manged to avoid the bug–perhaps Cold Fx does work after all…

Irreverent imagery aside it has become impossible to ignore the increased enthusiasm directed towards the Olympics in Greater Vancouver over the last few days. However as the games have drawn closer I have found myself growing increasingly frustrated with the glossy-eyed, waive-your-flag supporters and the balaclava wearing protesters.

The title of this blog really sums up my feelings on this event. I find myself feeling guilty for either being unable to ignore the darkside of the games or for recognizing the good. As I listen to news reports on CKNW, read the paper, or chat with friends about the games I constantly find myself saying “That’s why I hate the games…” or conversely “That’s what’s good about the games”.

Several days ago I thought it may be an interesting exercise to record my ever-growing list into the categories of pro and con. Of course some of my cons may be your pro and my pro your con…For your amusement here are a few examples from each side…

Pro:
family events, good role-models for kids, free things to do, Blue Rodeo, Burton Cummings, Canada Line, nostalgia, multitude of cultures coming to Vancouver, amateur sport, people having a good time, celebration of heroes from the past and present

Con:
Volunteers wearing their goofy passes all over town (we get it you’re proud), insane ticket prices, paranoia of terrorism, $900 Million in security, crowds, stupid mascots (are they Wii characters?–I swear I saw something that looked just like them on my friend Nick’s favourite animé show), “Corporate Canada” buying gold metal men’s hockey tickets and giving them away to people who could probably afford them anyway (I know that one hurts…), VANOC, the mistreatment of the poor, IOC, Corporate Sponsorship (and not just because I prefer Pepsi, don’t have a Visa, and bank somewhere other than RBC), the Olympic torch, rites being threatened/ignored, “Big Brother” trying to sue any small business that has “Olympics” or something similar in its name (see “Olympic Pizza” in Vancouver), the fact that people can’t use the word “Olympics” unless they are a sponsor, ugly torch-carrying track suits, and Paying God-only-knows how much to truck and helicopter snow to Cyprus…

In terms of quantity I recognize the modesty of the former and the fact that the latter could rival one of Dr. Cox’s best rants from SCRUBS. However it is also important to recognize the variability in regards to quality.  The former list is short but each of the items are quite substantial.  The latter is a mix of pet peeve and serious concern.  Nevertheless I find the negative attributes of the Olympics continually waring me down—however no need to fear as I shall keep my balaclava in the closet and you’ll find me doing what any good student of John Stackhouse would…Making the Best of it

That ol’ time religion its good enough for me…

My vision of the gospel has always been one that emphasizes care for the “other”, the “outsider” or the “strangers”.  I have always believed that since Jesus came to bring shalom (for a definition of shalom see the first paragraphy: http:/.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shalom) to everyone, I should take this to heart and care for those who normally go unnoticed and uncared for.

I credit this conviction largely to my grandparents.  Last weekend my wife and I went to visit them and my extended family in my town of origin Powell River.  For as long as I can remember my grandparents have lived out a dynamic faith that is active in caring for the marginalized.

Two examples can be seen from my experience this past weekend.  On Saturday morning my grandmother (who I have affectionately called “Mam” since I learned how to talk) and I made a trip to the extended care wing of the Powell River hospital.  There we visited with the “shut-ins” who live their final days in what is a mostly depressing place.  Many of them suffer from neurological diseases like Alzheimer’s, many are heavily medicated and so are at the best of times only quasi-conscious.  However there “mam” and I went to serve them their breakfast and visit with them—in the process I hope and believe we were able to restore to them a little of their dignity as human beings and provide a little bit of shalom in their life.

Later that day my wife and I helped “Mam” in her other main ministry—collecting returnable bottles to raise money for orphanages in the developing world.  To an outsider this ministry may appear as nothing more than a creative way to keep a close-to-eighty-year-old occupied mentally and physically and to provide her with a sense of purpose—however this ministry has clearly been blessed by the hand of God.  In less than two months in 2010 “Mam” has already raised $1,100.  That is equivalent to 11,000 empty beer cans or 22,000 pop cans.  Since 2007 “Mam” has raised $15,800–not bad for an old lady!

The point in sharing this is to say that making a difference is rarely glamorous.  Bringing a little piece of shalom to shut-ins in a small, isolated community is draining and at times uncomfortable.  Raising well-needed funds for orphanages in Sudan or elsewhere is often done one sticky, five cent pop can at a time.  Nevertheless “Mam” soldiers on in her vocation that I believe God has called her to—it may not have the prestige but it’s good enough for her and it’s good enough for me…

“Under Construction”

This afternoon I finished reading Gareth Brandt’s book Under Construction:  Reframing Men’s Spirituality.  Gareth is a former professor of mine at Columbia Bible College where he teaches spirituality and theology. 

It is fitting that I review this particular book on male spirituality since the mere mention of a book like Wild at Heart often induces a state of nausea in yours truly.  Indeed Gareth’s journey to publication of this book occurred through similar dissatisfaction with books on male spirituality–it was his craving for another voice that led him to write: 

I did not set out to write a book on men’s spirituality.  I set out on a personal quest.  After reading more than a dozen books on the subject, I was left with the craving for another voice.  And a voice inside said, ‘Then speak up!’ (14).

As the subtitle suggests, Under Construction attempts to provide a fresh framework through which to view male spirituality.  Gareth begins by debunking the popular belief that the ideal man is contained in the typical masculine images of king, warrior, lover, and magician/sage.  For males who feel like less of a man because they don’t necessarily fantasize about going to war or rescuing a princess–this is a welcoming and needed reminder.

After clearing the ground Gareth searches for an appropriate Biblical character or narrative to serve as a helpful structure for examining male spirituality.  Eventually Gareth settles on the Joseph story since the narrative provides substantial depth and since many of the themes of his life can be identified with by average men. 

Each subsequent chapter examines a metaphor that emerges from this story.   Some notable examples include:  beloved, journey, sexuality, builder, and legacy.  Gareth begins each exploration with a paraphrased section of the Joseph story followed by insights from his own personal experience, theological and/or psychological research, and even some of his poetry.  Gareth’s thoughts are not intended to be exhaustive but rather provide food for thought and provoke further reflection on the part of the reader.

Despite some minor theological and terminological quibbles I have with the book I would still recommend Under Construction to anyone interested in male spirituality.  Gareth’s book doesn’t shy away from issues that men today need to face such as being the “beloved” and not just the “lover”, coming to terms with the inevitability of death, and recognizing the importance of both leading and following.  Throughout the book Gareth demonstrates a candid, humble, and wise approach that is backed by a solid intellectual grasp of the various disciplines he works with that make his book appealing to both young and old, academic or layperson, and to the macho-man or romantic.  True to Gareth’s personality and theological convictions the book also lends itself well to be read in community.  His supply of questions at the end of his work make the book a great spring-board for a book study or discussion group.

For those interested in picking up a copy of Gareth’s (highly affordable) book you can find it here:

http://store.mpn.net/productdetails.cfm?PC=1385