Eng-er-land and the stickiness of community

                                                 Eng-ger-land and the stickiness of community 

There’s a knot in my stomach, my palms are slightly sweaty and my heart pumping.  I pace the rooms of my house like a caged tiger. It’s the 9th of June, a full 5 days before the world cup starts and 9 days before England play Tunisia.

Yes it’s the World Cup time again.

What is it about 22 men running around kicking a ball that makes me want to put on a shirt with 3 lions on it and shout ‘Come on Eng-er-land’?  What, also, is it about the memory of ignominious disasters at previous competitions and the very unlikeliness of us getting past the quarter finals that am I willing to ignore in that vain hope of re-creating past glories?

It’s something about community.  

If I didn’t care about England winning or losing my reactions would be much more muted.  But I do care, I’m English and I want us to win.  Being part of a community means I want that community to do well.  When they are on top I’m buoyed by it, when they are down in the dumps I feel the loss. Community is a wonderful thing, and in the past couple of months we’ve had 2 events – the Tour de Yorkshire and the Royal wedding – that have given us the opportunity to come together as community.

Community is sticky.  That can be both a good thing and a bad thing.

As you probably know, the world cup is being held in Russia, which is an interesting example of community.  Vladimir Putin may be seen as a tyrant and head of a pariah state by the West but he’s hailed as a hero in Russia because he is a strong leader who works tirelessly to make Russia great again.  So long as you’re not gay, black or a critic of Putin you’ll be fine.  And there’s the rub.  Community can be so often based on finding a common enemy to persecute.  

I once had a Scottish colleague who so hated the English that he would talk to anyone and support their team rather than side with the dreaded folks South of the border.  Or just take a look at the history of warfare; Bosnia, Northern Ireland, South Sudan to name 3 recent examples of where one community takes up arms against another community.

For Dietrich Bonhoeffer community was very much a Christian concept.  For him Christian community is ‘a gift of God’ which must not be taken for granted or examined overly, but lived and rejoiced in.  Yet also, we must pray for those outside the community, as he says in ‘Life Together’; “I can no longer condemn or hate a brother for whom I pray, no matter how much trouble he causes me. His face, … is transformed in intercession into the countenance of a brother for whom Christ died, the face of a forgiven sinner.” 

By the time you read this article the group stages will have finished.  Hopefully England will still be in the running, but if they’re not, I hope you enjoyed the sense of community while it lasted.  May we now use that sense of community to make something beautiful.