Morality vs Immortality: a sporting tale

Let me start – on this occasion – with one of the key take-homers: the insistence of certain international-class (and now I think particularly of British) athletes that there should be zero tolerance for athletes who have failed drugs tests is nothing more than an EPIC fail re: ethics/values/morality. Amongst many other things, it completely over-values professional sporting activity, taking it for granted that this is an area with such integrity it is actually worth protecting in that kind of way.

Yeah, right.

Do not get this twisted. I’m a bloke who loves sport as much as lots of others. My life schedules mean that sadly I play very little nowadays, but I follow all sorts of sport on one way or another from tennis to F1 via golf and rugby union. And in the last six years, I’ve invested more time watching our British Cycling athletes climb to the top of the world than at any point in my previous decades of life.

This is the much-trumpeted argument from Britain’s sporting infrastructures: if you are an athlete who cheats to win and gets caught, you have no business ever putting on the red, white and blue of Great Britain ever again. Because this is worse than cheating on your spouse and partner or fiddling your taxes or being a spectacularly bad parent who ruins your children’s lives and much more. There is NO redemption – because professional sport is sacred and no drug cheat can ever be rehabilitated to represent their country ever again.

When I saw how Mark Cavendish tried to bring David Millar back into the fold and Bradley Wiggins refused to accept that this could ever be a good thing, the lustre began to fade and I began to look very hard at what was going on (as best I could from a remote distance). I wrote a blog post about my feelings towards Wiggins on this subject and made the point that my stance towards the sheer lack of grace and humanity displayed by him was moderated when I learned his story – his own father was a drug-taking cyclist and Bradley would not even attend his funeral. We all carry baggage.

But Wiggins alienated a number of people in 2012 – the year in which he was knighted and won what is now his only Tour de France at the expense of both Mark Cavendish and Chris Froome. And in accusing Cavendish of backing Millar for ‘selfish’ reasons he espoused the same gracelessness that Jessica Ennis-Hill and Andy Murray have espoused regarding the sacred-cow ideology of sport being so sacred there should be lifetime bans for drugs cheats (and I have huge respect for both athletes).

Is sport actually that important? I am not beginning to suggest that drug cheating (or any other kind) is something to be soft on in principle. But people do get things wrong. Very badly wrong at times! And now, as we watch the scandal of sexual abuse in football still playing out and we see how Mo Farah had to pull out of a Birmingham track meet because of the adverse publicity over Alberto Salazar and how Rio Ferdinand was supported by Manchester United for missing three drugs tests and being banned for only one month less than Eric Cantona who had the nerve to not stand by meekly while being abused by a fan  (I personally think the fan got off lightly because I might have broken all the bones in his face had that been me) – but the nature of that punishment tells us that you are supposed to let people talk to you however they like and if you assault someone, then no matter what they did, you’re in trouble with the law and ‘mitigating circumstances’ only go so far. Given Cantona’s status as a foreigner, I just wonder if Jess Ennis-Hill would have gotten the same amount of understanding if someone abused her for being of mixed-race and she snapped and hit them with sharp slap…or what about someone abusing Andy Murray for being Scottish? Cantona would – ideally – have managed to control himself to not behave like that, but it was so easy to hammer him because he reacted.

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So, in the aftermath of Usain Bolt losing one of his gold medals because Nesta Carter cheated, did he hang his friend and teammate out to dry? He did not. Nesta was his childhood friend and would remain his friend.

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Wiggins and Sir Dave Brailsford have spouted all sorts of holier-than-thou madness in the  seven-odd years that Team Sky has been in existence, which makes the current unedifying saga regarding these TUEs and the notorious jiffy-bag of 2011 all the more devastating for the sheer hypocrisy on display.But this is my point: rather than get our knickers in a twist about Team Sky – or the allegations of sexism and bullying at British Cycling – we need to accept that in the same way that Kate Moss ended up with more covers after being caught on film sniffing a white powdery substance, the public might not actually share the self-aggrandised and hypocritical media-driven angst towards these sorts of ‘crimes’ (anyone ever hear the stories of drug abuse on the part of journalists?) – and so what seems to be an important public ethical stance – once a drug cheat, always a drug cheat – is yet another example of the complete failure of secular morality. Not every drug cheat is a Lance Armstrong or Justin Gatlin – just ask David Millar and Dwain Chambers, who by ‘manning up’ and talking about what they did showed much more character than the likes of Cesc Fabregas (who, it seems, took another man’s woman from under his nose) or Ryan Giggs (who is the antithesis of a role model in terms of sexual ethics).

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People judge others on their actions, but themselves by their intentions. As C.S. Lewis pointed out, a Christian knows he [sic] is a fallen person in a fallen world, so before we castigate and punish others, we look to ourselves. While it is sadly true that many Christians are more judgmental than not, the faith itself offers an opportunity to be more than that and I recently addressed the fact that ‘grace’ now has ‘purchase power’ far beyond Christian religious understanding in a broadcast for BBC Radio 4. Cheating in sport is really, really, not on – but when we’re more outraged about that than about the fact that 15% of the world’s population is starving while 20% is overweight and obese, we really have lost the plot.

But let’s end on a sporting note: rugby union has its own skeletons and dark corners but at least Matt Stevens was able to play for England after serving his own two-year ban from the game and Joe Marler (white guy, England) was banned for using racist language towards Samson Lee (‘white’ guy, Wales). Nothing is perfect – no-one is perfect – therefore sport cannot be either – and   much as even I shed a tear or two as Jessica Ennis-Hill climbed onto the top of the medal podium in 2012 to receive rightly-deserved adulation as the face of London 2012 who kept  her nerve to bring home the gold medal – in the way she kicked poor Ched Evans to the kerb completely – whose (rape) conviction has now been quashed completely – and she has offered no apology to him – she has lost much of her shine too. I still respect her as a now-retired athlete, but as a person? Less than before. I don’t ever want to be that limited as a human being.

Immortality or morality? Perhaps it’s time to shut down the sporting events (and other stuff) on TV and find other ways to spend our time – including with people more deserving of it. And yes, I’m speaking to me as well as you…

Rage and Race; Church and Culture

I’m fed up.

I’ve absolutely had it.

And no, despite being both black and Christian (but not American – although of course I can identify somewhat), I’m not talking about what happened in Charleston. That’s serious, but enough rage has been evinced.

And obviously I’m not talking about the fact that the family members of the victims (themselves victims, of course) chose to speak words of forgiveness in court when they faced the murderer himself (Dylann Roof). That was almost a relief in the sense (and I am fully aware of how cynical this may sound) that all parties kept to the New Testament ‘party line’ in keeping with their declared status as Christians. [Can you imagine what would have happened if any of them had said words along the lines of “I’ll never forgive you as long as I live?!?”]

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Over 15 years ago, I had begun a journey of thought in which I had begun to seriously question the bourgeois values that I had inherited as part of my own neo-colonial heritage. That in turn forced me to examine certain aspects of that same (neo-colonial) heritage, and hit the ‘reject’ button (relations in my family have never been the same since, I’ll add that for free). I began to dream of doing a PhD in sociology, becoming a major voice in race relations work and destabilising the (white) establishment from the inside by hitting the entire Anglo-Euro world over the head for its multiple failures towards my race. Problem: I was a baptised Christian and as such I had a duty to the Kingdom of God first, and the black community second (at least, that was what I’d understood from my own Bible studies).

But this view was clearly not standard. Years later I would learn about people like James Cone and about things like ‘black theology’ and I would learn far more about the darkness of racism that has permeated the entire Christian world without exceptions – a circumstance that partially contributed to the eventual existence of black theology and also things such as ‘liberation theology.’

But before all those things came into my life, I knew that Christians – and church members (sadly not synonyms) were just as capable of racism as secular people. And on ALL sides of the race/culture divide. It was all very well aspiring to be a ‘black public intellectual’ like Anthony Giddens or Henry Louis Gates, Jr – but was that really what I wanted?

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That particular process of self-examination ended with my sure-fire recognition that this sort of vocational existence could never truly bring fulfilment. To be associated with ‘race’ in that way would be to box myself off from being able to truly contribute to other issues that by necessity require one to operate right across racial and cultural boundaries (this statement needs a caveat and this is it). And as I now look at the way/s in which the generation after mine is responding to these issues, I am glad I walked away from that.

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The darkness of the circumstances in which these nine church members lost their lives is breath-taking in the extreme. It would be one thing if the shooter had entered a black church as a white person and been routinely ignored and then opened fire (in some big churches on a worshipping day, the fuller the church, the greater the risk of a stranger being ignored). Certain secular media outlets would have had a field day with that narrative. But as it was, it was a ‘small group meeting’ and the evidence suggests that the shooter was made welcome by those guys. I defy some of the church members I know who constantly bleat and moan about aspects of the faith being made unnecessarily complicated to offer a ‘simple’ answer for this tragedy that actually brings comfort to the bereaved. Imagine if one of those black people had suffered racial abuse and had not yet worked through the angry feelings, but when Dylann showed up and asked to join their prayer meeting, they realised that they could not possibly tar all white people with the same brush and went through several gears to be able to smile at him and mean it – only to then be gunned down in cold blood?!

Whatever your racial/cultural identity and religious (or otherwise) identity, just think about that for a second.

Think about what it would mean to open your heart to a stranger who then pulls a gun on you. Can you imagine the sheer, blind, unverbalised terror that the fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth victims must have felt? What would their last words – and thoughts –  have been? Would anyone have had time to pray?! Stands to reason that the last victims would have had more time than the others…

…so you are running for your life inside your own church building, praying to God to protect you from an evil gunman who you welcomed just as you were told you should – and He (God) lets you die like a stuck pig. HOW is that evidence for any kind of God, much less a ‘good’ God?!?

I do not care what religious platitudes a Christian spouts in the aftermath of such a tragedy. I don’t care how sincere those platitudes are (Christians have over-valued sincerity in the church and under-valued it in the world from time immemorial). My sister died, and because my family and I refused to talk about the details of her death in a public way, we had to endure all sorts of terrible, salacious speculations from people who were supposed to be our fellow church members and brethren.That was extremely hard to forgive. But my sister was not murdered. And I remember thanking God for that, because I realised that I wasn’t sure if I would ever have been able to forgive her murderer. But I have seen how, in public, church people are desperate to say the right thing. This is the ‘making-God-look-good’ syndrome, and it is an absolute cancer.

True forgiveness is not possible until one has adequately processed the real extent of one’s emotions. The bereaved know that God is calling them to forgive and their language and psyches are set up for that. And it is certainly to be hoped that those who have declared that they have forgiven Dylann Roof do actually mean what they have said (if so, this is nothing but wonderful). But certain dimensions of this tragedy are in the gravest danger of being trivialised (and in all directions). Why anyone has any time to argue about whether this should be called an act of terrorism is both fully comprehended and yet totally beyond me – simultaneously.

[Do NOT misunderstand me: I have long argued that no matter where a white person finds themselves, the consequences of ‘hegemony’ mean that such a person may never really understand what it means to be in an ‘ethnic minority’ as constructed by the West – and so I agree that somehow ‘terrorism’ only seems to apply to non-white people killing white people – but that is so far away from being an important matter in this situation it is ludicrous.]

Have the bereaved really forgiven? Or is this forgiveness itself a public ritual which creates space for certain apposite narratives that can be penned by whosoever wills, while they now retreat behind closed doors and begin to work through the shocking implications of this whole debacle, with whatever ‘back-stories’ that are not ours to know? They may also have to search within themselves to see if they can truly forgive God for allowing this to happen to them. [For those who think I’m being unhelpfully cynical – especially my fellow Christians – if you are an adult believer and you have not yet experienced major hypocrisy in both others and yourself, you may not have advanced sufficiently in your faith journey to understand why only the truly naive would easily accept such statements at face value without the possibility for questioning their verity. And you are of course entitled to your opinion.]

But in this moment, the philosophers are the first to argue that cold, dry, technical narratives of the identity of God and His goodness can never do the trick. We need poesis – we need metaphor, allegory, and (as Aquinas said) analogy. And perhaps the best way in which this next point can be made is to quote a line from a very misunderstood book in some circles – The Shack by W. Paul Young:

Mackenzie was not loved because she was protected. She was protected because she was loved.

Yes, Jesus was cruelly killed and without doing anything wrong – and in order to complete the task of our redemption, He had to remember rationally-cognitively who His Father was, and who He Himself was. And despite the strongest possible emotive reasons to give up, His love for us as human beings (including those not yet born) and for His Father and the Holy Spirit meant that He was willing to do whatever it took to not only redeem us (a cheap word in the mouths of far too many Christians who give the faith a bad name) but also to ensure that sin itself could be terminally destroyed one day.

I said that I was fed up. I’ve already touched on several things, but I’m going to identify two that have gotten me madder than the proverbial hornet:

a) For the longest while, Christians have undertaken ‘evangelism’ in ways that basically present the gospel as effectively nothing more than a lifestyle choice. Are you sick? Depressed? Divorced? Unemployed? Single? [okay, ignore that one as I’m being facetious…] If so, you need JESUS! And…they’re off. A person comes into a Christian lifestyle and becomes better off. But some new converts eventually they stop praying, and then stop reading the Bible, and then stop church, and then renege on their entire Christian lifestyle. And the church members wring their hands – actually, no, I lie. They sigh resignedly and deny that they are at fault in any way (again, an over-generalisation to make the point). They rarely stop to consider the fact that their rampant materialism masquerading as spirituality is as great an embodiment of the emperor’s new clothes as you might expect to see.

In short, they negotiate their understanding of God’s blessings by the material, the physical, and the extrinsic.

This is Biblically and theologically corrupt and now we are paying the price for what I have long called ‘a transmogrified version of the prosperity gospel’ in which we still believe that doing the right thing in Jesus’ Name brings the right result. Here’s the darkness of this point: didn’t Jesus die so that these bad things don’t have to happen? No?! So what was the point of His death in the first place if the world is STILL a place of rampant dissolution and at-times-unspeakable evil? A world where babies are raped and corrupt politicians steal foreign aid while their own people starve… …and where gun laws are such that if you want to get hold of a machine with the power to take life, you can – and then, you can – just like Dylann Roof and a host of others?

Secular people have a right to question the verity and efficacy of the Christian message in light of our capacity to ask these questions because of the reality of history. What the church tends to offer through its members has no teeth to persuade anyone to take God seriously. And that’s a problem.

b) Barack Obama – as a mixed-race American who is only ‘African-American’ as opposed to a ‘mixed-race’ American because of an arcane Supreme Court judgement of 1898 – has now made my next point by failing to offer a response to this situation that actually speaks to the heart of why race relations have collapsed to historic depths of a type not ever expected since the USA actually instituted Martin Luther King Day and in the aftermath of Brown vs. Board established ‘affirmative action.’ In the name of progress he has espoused a liberal theological standpoint that has expressly been designed to ramp up his credentials with ‘theistic America’ but keep him on-side with the agnostics and atheists as well. His response features the need to re-think the USA’s gun laws, but not on the need to interrogate the circumstances that have led to the sad demise of Dr. King’s dream. Dr. King said that he could see the promised land, and that he might not get there himself.

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I once began to read a book of Dr. King’s most important sermons, arranged chronologically. I was very interested to see what he had been preaching in the early days of his ministry. Guess what I found?

I once toyed with the idea of buying another book on black preaching. The author had a list of criteria, the first being that it had to be Biblical. That’s hysterically amusing to me for all sorts of reasons, but now the point: Dr King’s sermons were oustanding motivational material. To a certain extent they could also be described as homiletic material. But the biggest shock for me was that (with some exceptions) they certainly were not Biblical in any rigorous sense! They evoked (and invoked) Scriptural references in all sorts of ways, but they were not models of ‘expository preaching,’ and I was not sure how useful they would be in pointing a listener to the person and work of Jesus Christ as the alpha solution for all human problems (although in ‘general’ gospel terms, some of them had plenty to offer).

So exactly what DID Dr. King have in mind as the ‘promised land?’ Fine, rhetorical question…but then again, a non-rhetorical question: does this promised land exist? Is there the potential for it to come into existence?

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I’m not sure that it does. I’m not sure that Dr. King’s dream will ever be realised this side of heaven. If I were to put my theologian’s hat on, I would say that it is in part based on a type of (mis)reading of both major and minor prophets of the Hebrew Scriptures (especially minor prophets such as Joel and Habbakuk). Gettysburg and the Emancipation Proclamation cost Lincoln his life. Dr. King’s spiritual life was in even greater danger than his physical life due to his desperately unfortunate infidelity. And the twist? His philosophy of peacful resistance came from the exact same plane of secular spirituality as Gandhi and Mandela – neither of whom you could ever call a Christian in any true sense of the word (despite their appropriation of essential Christian moral paradigms). America is a society that exists on a history of violence and conquest and exploitation of the native AmerIndians whilst bespeaking religious freedom.

This is not a valid foundation for a society that will get to the place where all men are understood as equal – and the USA has grotesquely abused its own constitution more than once to its own detriment.

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Agnosticism is theoretically viable, but useless as a rule for life. We didn’t need Pascal to tell us that we either live as if God is, or we live as if He is not. America is the land of the free – where you are free to do this young man did. It is a land where the citizens are spectacularly duped by the inane conception that the ‘rugged individualism’ of Calvin Coolidge that encapsulates the so-called American dream like nothing else can be ruthlessly pursued because the society will naturally come together to protect anyone and everyone against negativity and exploitation. The social constructions promote an ideological agenda that puts ‘me first’ but somehow then protects us from people’s selfishness if that should ever become violent towards us…

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What Christians call ‘sin’ is the result of ‘rugged individualism’ writ large. America wanted to exploit Native Americans but not be subjected to terrorism. Recently it has meddled with Afghanistan and Iraq. As a country, it comes first. It’s people come first. It has facilitated a terribly easy alliance with Christianity and capitalism. It has supported a system with ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots.’ Secular morality is a busted flush. Obama’s liberal theology is toothless. All political ideology is powerless to handle the types of cognitive, emotive and spiritual breakdown that took place when Dylann Roof took that gun out of his pocket and started shooting.

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And still the church members spout cheap, trite clichés or dubious theodicy arguments when asked to account for a good God in a world where evil exists. At some point, theists and non-theists will need to accept their conceptual (and linguistic) limitations and point to a reality beyond language.

A reality that is the opposite of rage.

A reality that is of vital significance beyond constructions of race.

A reality that transcends the church…

…and the limitations of culture, which bedevil both Christians and non-Christians.

Martin Luther King’s dream is dead. Perhaps it never was. But the dream of Jesus of Nazareth? He is alive, so maybe we need to take His dream more seriously. Jesus’ death does not impugn our capacity for volition. Bad things happen sometimes to good people. But we are not loved BECAUSE we are protected. We are protected because we are loved.

What happened to those poor church members in Charleston now means that black Christians may become more afraid of white strangers. However, the phenomenal miracle of God’s grace alone will enable them – and all of us – to move beyond rage, race, church and culture – and find the reality of God for ourselves.

Rethinking my support for Bradley Wiggins: how important is sport?

If we are talking about sporting achievement, then it is difficult to ignore Sir Bradley Wiggins. After a quite phenomenal year in his sport of cycling in what has been a quite phenomenal year for cycling itself – and British sport in and of itself – the 2012 BBC Sports Personality of the Year is riding the crest of a wave of public adulation.

What follows, however, is not the post that I had originally planned – “Why I no longer support Bradley Wiggins” – based on an analysis you will see below. But in the actual act of writing this, I continued to read and think, and I uncovered various things that really have served as a powerful reminder that what we know is always less than what we don’t know.

I have not used a word like ‘hermeneutics’ in the name of this blog just to be a pretentious buffoon. Today, I am the one who has changed in the process of thinking about my interpretation of certain people’s actions. And that’s precisely why this blog exists! I’m a Christian who is engaged in constant critical reflection on his life and times and trying to be a standard-bearer for what I believe without negatively imposing this on others. And while my essential opinion about certain things remains unchanged, I can see that I may have judged him more harshly than the Bible gives me permission to do. And THAT’s a problem!

Let’s get to it. Here’s where I began. Cyclist David Millar was banned in 2004 for two years after being caught taking performance-enhancing drugs. Millar served his time like a man and was able to make a professional return to the sport he loved. He has become the most prominent anti-doping activist in cycling.

The 2011 BBC Sports Personality of the Year – cyclist Mark Cavendish – said that Millar had redeemed himself. Cavendish did not gloss over the issues, but he spoke from the heart about why he felt Millar deserved a second chance:

BBC Sport Video: Cavendish on Millar

Is there anyone in the world who at some point has not been grateful for a second chance?

Hmm.

Bradley Wiggins then came out with this:

BBC Sport Video: Wiggins on Cavendish and Millar

It has taken me some months to get my head around this fully, but I can now look back and see that this video was in fact the beginning of the end for me as a Bradley Wiggins fan. To describe Cavendish as selfish and to argue that ‘legitimate morality’ demanded that Millar, having made a drugs-related mistake, should never be allowed to compete in the Olympics was – and is – boorish, graceless, spiritually bankrupt and completely hypocritical to boot.

This is not the time for a proper philosophical discourse on how morality and ethics are understood and constructed by human beings. But it is a time to point out that secular morality is inconsistent by definition. Bradley Wiggins certainly made mistakes as a kid. Some of the things he has done as an adult can also be criticised. He has criticised celebrity culture, but his post-Olympic antics were not those of an anti-celebrity person: pulling down Mo Farah’s trousers, jumping on the car in Paris, publically getting wasted and advertising the fact on Twitter….

Forgetting my Christian morality and fundamentalist teetotalism, none of that would have mattered if he’d not been so emphatic about not being a celebrity. And sure, the evidence appears to suggest that he really is genuine and down-to-earth – but he’s not consistent, and that’s my point. Missing your children’s birthdays just to maintain a training programme to win a piece of metal and a place in history… some fathers would do anything but not be there for their kid’s birthdays. Who is talking morality here? Who is the judge? Bradley Wiggins??

I could write 1500 words on the subject of Wiggins’ relationship with Mark Cavendish – the ups and downs, the roller-coasters, the inconsistencies, the lack of transparency, the hypocrisy of allowing Team Sky to renege on its commitment to helping both Cavendish and Wiggins get something massive out of the 2012 Tour. Cavendish literally dropped weight to be able to be a team player and sidekick to Wiggins. Sky then, realising that Wiggins really might just win, then dropped Cavendish, seduced by the chance to re-write the record books.

This may well explain why Chris Froome took a couple of opportunities to flex his own muscles to Bradley Wiggins before obeying team orders and letting Wiggins catch him up. Here’s the bottom line: the success that Bradley Wiggins has had this year has come at a high price – not least for Cavendish – and the inherent morality of that is absolutely open to scrutiny.

So now – Wiggins wants to argue that David Millar, having made a mistake, admitted it, come back and been nothing but an asset to his colleagues – is not good enough to compete at the Olympic Games? There is no grace, no mercy, no nothing for him? Just because he was banned once?

Is the Olympics big enough and important enough to merit that type of shut-down, binary, dogmatic position? Really? Why? Because the legacy of the Olympics and what it stands for cannot be ‘tainted?’

I’m sorry, but that is as wrong-headed as can be. There are stronger words I could use.

Morality? Let’s talk morality. If David Millar had committed sexual infidelity, would that have disqualified him from the Olympics? What’s the difference? Bradley Wiggins had to quickly get out of a controversial tax-avoidance scheme when a PR firestorm broke. Would he have done that if there had been no media shindig?

No sporting competition is important enough for that sort of ban, and the legal experts working in international sporting arbitration have realised this, which is why the BOA have been forced to get rid of lifetime bans for drug-convicted athletes.

So, I was all set to batter Wiggins here on this blog for being an inconsistent, self-important, hypocritical prig with an over-weening sense of his own importance.  But then I began to learn more about who he was and where he has come from.

It cannot be easy having a drug-and-alcohol addicted father – also a professional cyclist – who has hurt you as badly as Bradley was hurt by his own father. And to have a father who was a drug cheat as a professional cyclist has to hurt like few things can hurt. To not attend your own father’s funeral is also incredibly harsh, and I’m not sure that Sir Bradley may not look back in years to come and wonder if that was the right decision.

Wiggins has also acknowledged his own battles with drinking. Not easy, having the details of your life all over the media. Hard on your wife and kids!

So, I can sit here at my desk or in my armchair and pass judgement on Bradley Wiggins and his lack of grace, but if I had his background, would I be any more balanced? It was easy enough for me to be riled at him, but could I live his life? Has God called me to be judge, jury and executioner on him or anyone else?

If I’m honest, I began writing this post with an unacknowledged sense of my own superiority over Bradley Wiggins. I close this post with the realisation that all these realities are precisely why the gospel message is so important. An atheist perspective has to make a number of arbitrary constructions to facilitate grace and forgiveness – because only Christianity makes a necessity out of treating others “better than they deserve.” I am a product of my life and upbringing. So is he. I may not agree with his thinking and reasoning and choices, but I am not better than he is. His life is consistent with secular morality. And if I have rejected that, then I need to ensure that I don’t become the pot who called the kettle “black…”

It would not be right to say that so-called ‘radical Islamists’ are ‘true Muslims.’

It would not be right to say that ultra-right-wing evangelical fundamentalists are true Christians.

It would not be right to say that all atheists believe the same way that Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens do.

How much time have you taken to really understand the perspectives of those who think and believe the opposite of what you do?

Murder, race, religion and politics in Toulouse

IMPORTANT: 22nd March 2012 – 1519 GMT – update – the gunman in question, Mohammed Merah, is no longer alive.

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There is a ferocious cocktail that has found itself being brewed in Southwest France right now.

When three schoolchildren and one teacher are gunned down in cold blood by a moped-riding gunman, it is a bad day on every level.

That all four of these victims were Jewish adds some serious spice to the mix.

We have a word – pogrom – to denote the persecution of Jews. It’s an old word these days.

Was this gunman from the far right? That would be a serious problem for Marine Le Pen. This woman went as far as comparing Muslims praying in French streets to the Nazi occupation in France – so an ultranationalist killer on the rampage would hurt her campaign like nothing else. And with two Muslims and one West Indian among the suspected victims of the same gunman, the bookies were effectively paying out already.

But no… the evidence suggests that the man in question is an Algerian-born French national with serious links to and professed support for Al-Quaeda. From the far right to so-called religious fundamentalism in one easy step.

To read what one senior BBC journalist makes of it, click here. We’ll be coming back to race, religion and politics pretty soon here on this blog. But in closing, just one question: is an ‘Islamic fundamentalist’ actually a Muslim? Or has he/she appropriated the guise of Islam as a cover for their murderous intentions?

“I love the concept that feedback is about the past and counsel is about the future. My friend Marshall Goldsmith, who is a great author, says that even when some people aren’t too excited about feedback, they are excited about what he calls “feedforward.” He has a great exercise where he has people get up and walk around the room and think about something they would like to accomplish this year. He has them go one on one with each other and ask, “Do you have any advice for me?” They move around and meet ten or twelve people and get advice and counsel from everyone.

Receiving counsel from others is about what lies ahead and is a tremendous opportunity to benefit from someone else’s wisdom. We can gain the most if we are open minded and guard our heart against pride and arrogance. Over time, what we learn from the counsel of others will add to our own store of wisdom.

Work with a mentor or mentors—particularly those who are further down the road than you are. Borrow from their wisdom and experience. A mentor is someone who has “been there and done that.” One of the best ways to learn from a mentor’s experience and wisdom is to ask profound questions. You’ll be surprised what you’ll learn. For instance, ask an open-ended question such as, “What decisions in your life have made the greatest contribution to your success?” “What books have had the greatest impact in your life?” “What are the biggest lessons you’ve learned so far in your career?” Start making a list of profound questions such as these, and then look for opportunities to ask those questions. When you ask a profound question and listen—really listen—to the answer, that’s when the learning really soaks in. In my seminars I try to encourage more interaction by asking participants questions and then having them interact with others around them. That’s when learning really seems to come alive for everyone involved.”

Ken Blanchard – click here for the original post.

I love the concept that f…

It’s good to think!

IMPORTANT NOTICE:

Unfortunately, the post that appeared under this title has been accidentally deleted – and now I am totally unable to retrieve it. This is a most unfortunate clerical error and having fumed and fretted, I must now acknowledge the humorous side to this madcap foolishness. As my father has always said, “these things happen!”

~

But of course I remember the general ethos of the post. I spoke about the fact that this is (was) a brand-new blog, and in this first post I wanted to identify that fact that so much of of the mental activity (flutterings at best sometimes) that many people take for being thought really does not constitute active, conscious thought. Although I didn’t make this point in the original, it is not necessarily ‘cool’ to ‘think’ too much these days..

We live in a world where there is so much distraction that people do everything BUT reflect on the biggest questions of life. Again, I didn’t ask this question in the original post – but: how can we even know who we really are if we refuse to mentally engage with our own minds?

This curtailment of serious thought for short-scale entertainment  is a sad loss, because much of the negativity in our world could be somewhat avoided if we were just a little more consciously aware of realities, worldviews and perspectives that are outside of our own framework – and committed to the honest enterprise of genuine problem-solving as opposed to emotionally-driven decision-making.

Somewhere along the line I quoted a text from the book of Proverbs (yes, in the Bible): “as a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.” And this led to my next quotation, attributed to James Allen, which reads thus: “You are what you think. Where you are today is were your thoughts have brought you.

I made the point that when things are good, that idea is much easier to accept than when they are not good – when some people will do anything to blame others for their misfortune/s rather than take responsibility for their own actions of thought!

In a funny way, the demise of the original is good – because I actually want to do a blog post on this James Allen quote, so I will take the opportunity from this reconstructed post to do an expansion that is greater than the one I did originally.

Given that, in closing, I made the point that each and every one of us is ultimately the sole caretaker of our own minds – and that we ignore this reality at our own peril.

How thinkest thou?