I have to wonder how many millions of words have been written and will be written about the London Olympics. The occasion has been used to sell everything you can think of, and a few things I certainly wouldn’t have thought of! There’s been controversy about the tax breaks for companies involved in providing goods and services. There have been moans about the Games Lanes on motorways and the tailbacks and confusion they have caused. And of course, there was worry about not enough security staff at the venues and strikes affecting visitors to the country.
Much has been made of the positive side of the Olympics. Sport is a way to bring countries together, even those countries which have enmity between them politically. It’s in meeting together to share something important to all that disagreements can be put aside and emphasis placed on what is held in common.
It was unfortunate that the North Korean women’s football team was shown with the South Korean flag before the kick-off. The two countries are still technically at war since the 1950-53 conflict between them. In any other sphere this error might have led to a major diplomatic row. In the realm of sport, after an hour’s walk off, the game continued once the error had been corrected. The two countries will meet in the first round of the men’s table tennis which will no doubt be a hard fought match but I’m sure it will be sport not conflict which will be uppermost in the athletes’ minds.
Digidisciples have the opportunity to experience meeting those from other countries in much the same way as the Olympic athletes do, but with less time and expense for travel. I’m not sure I will ever reach the point where I can be in a group from around the world, assisted by technology, and not be amazed. After seven years of involvement with online church the buzz hasn’t gone. Our meetings for prayer are a daily reminder of the ‘great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language’ (Revelation 7:9) whom John saw in his vision.
The community of Anglicans of Second Life includes representatives from all over the world and from many denominations. We have a significant minority of German speakers and have responded to this by starting a German language version of Common Worship Evening Prayer once a week. This week the group gathered for the German service came from the USA, Sweden, Germany, Belgium and England and represented at least Anglican, Lutheran and Roman Catholic churches (possibly more). Obviously, though all ‘westerners’ we are still different from one another culturally and linguistically (even the Americans and English have a problem with the latter!).
The conversation after the service (fortunately in English as my German is not brilliant, though I’m working on it) turned to what we have in common. We all relate to Jesus as Lord and Saviour and seek to follow him. We share a common citizenship which is in heaven (Philippians 3:20). Together we had listened to scripture being read and had prayed together. Like the Olympic athletes we focused on a shared passion rather than on our differences and found a large degree of agreement between us and a sense of belonging together.
Several commentators on the Olympic Games have mentioned the ancient tradition that hostilities were suspended for the duration of the Games to allow competitors to take part. This reminds me of the Christmas Truce of 1914 when soldiers from opposing sides in the First World War exchanged songs, held joint burial parties, gave gifts and even played football together. The hope has been expressed that hostilities across the world might cease during the Olympic Games of 2012 but a cursory glance at the news shows that sadly that is not so.
The Olympic Games, now and in the past; the Christmas Truce; our joint services on Epiphany Island in Second Life, show that we can choose peace rather than war, mutual respect rather than hostility. Peace is of course a gift of the Spirit. Christians experiencing peace are likely to acknowledge its source. Olympic athletes may not, depending on their background and worldview.
I’m glad that the ministry of Anglicans of Second Life and other digital ministries can play a small part in building bridges of understanding between very different people. I know I have been enriched by the wide variety of people I have had the opportunity to meet online. I pray that those involved in the Olympic Games, as athletes, organisers or spectators, may also experience the peace which used to be part of the Games. I hope they can carry it with them to their homes and make a difference, however small, in this troubled and divided world.
Ailsa Wright – Lay Pastor Anglicans of SL