Olympics

Going for the Gold (and the Pepto-Bismol)

Callahan / Shutterstock
Callahan / Shutterstock

THAT STATUE of Jesus standing with outstretched arms over Rio de Janeiro has always made a powerful impression on me; namely, how tired I would get if I did that for very long. These days, I don’t even greet family members with outstretched arms without written permission from my orthopedist, much less stand on a hillside piously overlooking a large population. (Not that anyone would ask me to. I’m very busy.)

It’s an awesome Jesus, although it has no moving parts and doesn’t light up at Christmas. It’s shorter than our own Statue of Liberty, and less green, and you can’t walk up a stairway inside it to peer out the top of his head which, in my opinion, is the creepiest thing you can do inside an American shrine. Unless it’s watching a baby spit up at the top of the Washington Monument, which I did years ago, after walking up the 897 steps to prove the stamina and grit of youth. (Come to think of it, maybe it was me that spit up.)

Nonetheless, that Jesus statue stands over Rio, night and day, making the people below extremely uncomfortable because they’re being constantly monitored by the Risen Lord. One can only hope that Rio’s famous nude beaches are outside his peripheral vision. (No peeking, sir.)

Living in Rio is hard enough, what with speaking a language that’s not quite Spanish. Portuguese is to Spanish as apples are to oranges, if the oranges tasted like bananas. Unlike the rest of South America, Brazil got stuck with Almost Spanish because in the late 1400s colonial powers Spain and Portugal divided up the continent using the negotiating technique of the day: rock, paper, scissors. Portugal chose rock. It was a different time then, with a different mentality. Five centuries later, we now know you should always choose paper.

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If Rome Wins 2024 Summer Olympics, Vatican Could Host Competitions

Photo via Francis X. Rocca / RNS
The Clericus Cup, a competition between Roman Colleges, took place at the Vatican in 2007. Photo via Francis X. Rocca / RNS

Major sporting events could be held at the Vatican if Rome wins its bid to host the Summer Olympics in 2024.

Pope Francis, a keen soccer fan, is reported to be enthusiastic about the idea. He is expected to meet the head of Italy’s National Olympic Committee, Giovanni Malago, and other officials at the Vatican on Dec. 19 after a Mass to commemorate the committee’s 100th anniversary

Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins, former head of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, said he believed Francis would back plans to hold events such as archery in the Vatican gardens.

He told the Florence daily La Nazione that events could also be staged at the pope’s summer palace at Castel Gandolfo outside Rome.

“It seems like a good idea, I think the pope will approve,” Saraiva Martins said.

Let's Not Laugh (Too Much) At #SochiProblems: Just Say 'No' To Poverty Porn

As Stephen Mattson wrote in a post for Sojourners’ God’s Politics blog, reveling in #SochiProblems really feels like “Hey, let’s laugh about how other people actually live.” Or — more accurately — how many (probably most) people in the would be lucky and grateful to live.

How to Be Perfect

Spectator medal at Sochi 2014 Olympic games, Iurii Osadchi / Shutterstock.com
Spectator medal at Sochi 2014 Olympic games, Iurii Osadchi / Shutterstock.com

“Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). Seriously, Jesus? Have you even met some of us? Have you seen the depths of our jealousies, the breadth of our greed? Have you noticed how insatiable our egos are? How deeply insecure we all are?

Perfect?

You cannot mean what you seem to mean.

What then do we do with this seemingly impossible call? For many of us, this is one of those passages in the Bible we seek to explain away. Jesus can’t possibly mean what he says here. We reckon that he must be calling us merely to aspire to perfection. Or we conclude that in calling us to perfection, we realize how very far we are from it and thus lean on God’s grace. But certainly, absolutely, without a doubt, Jesus cannot be calling us to be perfect like God is perfect.

Right?

#SochiProblems: Hey, Let's Laugh About How Other People Actually Live

#sochifails Tweet
#sochifails Tweet

Like everyone else, I’m addicted to the Twitter photos, Facebook posts, and litany of other social media feeds that are exposing Sochi’s unappealing shortcomings — but am I being fair?

It’s easy for me to forget that I live in one of the richest and privileged countries in the world, and although I consider myself a blue-collar employee working hard to make a living — I’m a citizen of one of the wealthiest and exclusive populations in existence.

I own a car (and a minivan), I have a house (with heating and central air), I buy a cup of coffee every morning, and spend lots of free time watching Netflix on my TV (a modest flat screen). These are just a few of the “normal” things that are luxuries I continually take for granted.

While much of humanity is engulfed in poverty, famine, war, and struggling to develop their society and better themselves — or just simply trying to survive — I’m complaining about the connection speed on my laptop (I may have to use my tablet instead).

Yes, the Olympics spent A LOT of money to create a party-like atmosphere filled with the comforts of Westernized society, but in many ways I’ve become a victim of my own comfort — accustomed to my ethnocentric American lifestyle.

I’m used to clean bathrooms, functional sewer systems, spectacular hotels, and glitzy restaurants — but much of the world isn’t. Whether we want to admit it or not, we live in a bubble detached from the reality of the rest of the world.

It’s easy to laugh at how others live, especially when we don’t have to face the same struggles. We assume our wealth and standard of living actually make us better — we become elitist and exhibit a superior sense of self-righteousness.

Thousands of Athletes to Compete in “Jewish Olympics”

Photo courtesy Arkady Mazor/Shutterstock.com.
An envelope and postage stamp in honor of the 4th Maccabiah Games in Israel. Photo courtesy Arkady Mazor/Shutterstock.com.

More than 1,100 American Jewish athletes will be competing in the Maccabiah Games, known as the “Jewish Olympics” and held in Israel once every four years.

This year’s event, which begins July 18, brings together more than 9,000 athletes from 77 countries to compete in 38 sporting events. The American contingent is the largest visiting delegation.

The Maccabiah attracts well-known and lesser-known athletes. This year’s participants include swimmers Garrett Weber-Gale, who won gold medals in the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, and Mirjam de Koning-Peper, one of three medal winners in the London 2012 Paralympics.

Olympian Gabby Douglas Talks Faith, Forgiveness, and Matzo Ball Soup

RNS photo courtesy Rogers & Cowan
RNS photo courtesy Rogers & Cowan

Gabrielle Douglas, who walked away with the gymnastic gold at the London Olympics, is out with her first book: Grace, Gold & Glory: My Leap of Faith. Douglas, who turns 17 on New Year’s Eve, talked with Religion News Service about her prayer life, her love of matzo ball soup and overcoming homesickness to make it to the Olympics.

The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: Everyone knows you as a gold medal Olympic gymnast, but how do you define yourself as a young woman of faith?

A: Faith plays a very big role in my life. I don’t know where I would be without it today. I’ve always been praying for everything. And my mom always exposed me and my siblings to being a Christian and the Bible. I was watching back and looking at the Olympics and my mouth is moving — and that’s me praying.

New and Noteworthy

OUTRUNNING DESPAIR
In the novel Running the Rift, by Naomi Benaron, a young Tutsi runner in Rwanda dreams of competing in the Olympics even as political tensions erupt into unfathomable violence. A story that gives both horror and hope their due. Winner of the 2011 Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction. Algonquin

FINALLY, A “CHRISTMAS UNICORN”
Perpetually quirky indie artist Sufjan Stevens’ new 58-track, 5-EP Christmas collection Silver and Gold promises to offer “holly-jolly songs of hope and redemption.” Not your typical Christmas music, but who needs more of that anyway? Liner notes include essays by Stevens and Vito Aiuto of The Welcome Wagon. Asthmatic Kitty

ROYAL BEAUTY BRIGHT
The picture book Star of Wonder, written by Mary Lee Wile and illustrated by Sage Stossel, offers a charming retelling of the Nativity story. A companion website, www.starofwonderepiphany.com, includes crafts, activities, and music to include in family observations of Epiphany. Forward Movement

TASTE AND SEE
The Food and Feasts of Jesus: Inside the World of First-Century Fare, with Menus and Recipes, by Douglas E. Neel and Joel A. Pugh, tastily delivers on its title. Includes historical and cultural essays to entertain foodies and Bible buffs alike, plus more than 50 recipes. Rowman & Littlefield

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Jesus Phelps: Why Miracles Aren’t Enough

Michael Phelps photo: Randy Miramontez / Shutterstock.com
Michael Phelps photo: Randy Miramontez / Shutterstock.com

Michael Phelps was accomplishing things no one in recorded history has ever done before. I can’t explain or really comprehend how he can do it. And although he did them, I attribute his physiology and gifts to God. So is what he does in the Olympics a miracle?

It almost seems that we worship him as if they were miraculous acts. We literally put him up on a pedestal and adore him, much like how people adored Jesus. And just like with Jesus, these amazing feats, whether or not they are literally miraculous acts, are simply not enough. The fall will inevitably come.

If they were, Jesus wouldn’t have been abandoned at his most vulnerable moment. Some will argue that he saved the biggest and best for last, raising from the dead, which finally put all of his doubters in their place. Really?  Then why are our numbers, at least in the Western World, in such precipitous decline?

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