I thoroughly and very thoroughly enjoy the Olympics and all its glorious, feel-good pageantry.
I love the inspiring stories about determined athletes from great nations and obscure corners of the world.
I take to the agony that moves me to feel someone’s pain and disappointment, and the ecstasy that makes me want to leap out of my chair with joy.
This year’s Olympics inspires us all, all the more, with the inclusion of The Refugee Team! (Link down below.)
It’s all a powerful and wonderful spectacle.
And yet . . . . .
I hate to be the spoil-sport by calling your attention to how the poor and powerless people in the Olympiad’s host cities get trampled on by the rich and powerful.
Dave Zirrin, a sports writer for The Nation magazine and author of Brazil’s Dance with the Devil: The World Cup, The Olympics, and the Fight for Democracy, summed up the dark side of the Olympics when he wrote this recently:
“It’s easy to rattle off bullet points about the problems besetting Rio: the 77,000 people displaced and counting; the 85,000 members of the security forces patrolling the streets (double the number for the 2012 London Olympics); the estimated $11.9 billion being spent while the Brazilian economy is in a state of violent contraction, which has led to crippling budget cuts in education, health care, and community services. . . .
“We need to understand that Rio’s ‘state of public calamity’ is an extreme version of what happens when the International Olympic Committee (IOC) comes a-calling. We have seen this corruption in city after city that has hosted the games, particularly since 9/11, as spiraling security costs and out-of-control budgets have become central to the games themselves.
“The names of recent Olympic host cities–Athens, Beijing, London, Sochi–are more likely to conjure images of heavily armed troops; abandoned, rotted-out Olympic stadiums; and multibillion-dollar price tags than anything that happened on the field of play.”
(See links at bottom.)
Ouch. Reality bites.
Meanwhile, back in the U.S.A., Christian leaders are straining at gnats trying to defend and justify political candidates and leaders who can’t be defended.
I wonder what a Christian response to greed, corruption and injustice would look like if Christians responded like Christians to greed, corruption and injustice in the world.
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Imagine the sea change if the world’s massive Christian community came up with an Olympian plan for lifting up the poor and powerless rather than being complicit in running over them. (Complicit, that is, by so many Christians and their leaders and their churches being either too scared or too timid to speak up for social justice; or complicit by being stuck in theology that’s all about personal salvation that’s all about me rather than the both-and theology of personal and social salvation.)
Imagine if the powerless victims of crushing poverty and social injustice in places like Rio received a fraction of the news attention year-round that the Olympics in all its feel-good glory will get for a mere two weeks.
The Olympics will get enormous TV ratings and news coverage for two weeks before billion-dollar buildings that enriched the rich are abandoned and masses of poor people are left to struggle and pay the price for their protests after the cameras have moved back to America’s utterly corrupt political landscape.
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If Christians in America alone were as vocal in being prophetic fighters for justice and fair play for the poor in America and God’s world as they are in squabbling over some nonexistent “war on Christianity” or “war on Christmas,” the kingdom of God would take a giant leap for the advancement of God and humankind.
The war waged against the poor and powerless in the world never ceases, and how much outrage do you hear about that war from TV pundits or, for that matter, from pulpits?
The poor, oppressed and powerless always and inevitably pay the price for corruption.
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Mind you, I don’t say all this for the sake of laying a hard-biting guilt trip on anybody. Wallowing in guilt is not conducive to “the life more abundant” of which Jesus spoke.
By all means let’s enjoy the Olympics and Brazil’s Big Party and celebrate the hard work and spirit of athletes who wow us with their gifts and graces.
But by all means let’s not let grass and weeds grow on the Christlike path to justice. Let’s pray for the poor and oppressed and pray for courage to speak truth to power.
In working out our salvation “with fear and loathing” let’s remember “the the invisible people” who are always paying the price for greed and corruption in a broken world forever in need of the fulfillment of God’s will for mercy, justice and reconciliation.
Here’s a link to his new book about Olympic corruption in Brazil and elsewhere.