Reflecting on Passion After the World Cup

By Scott Armstrong

Many readers of this site know that my family and I were able to attend the World Cup in Russia this past month.  It was a remarkable time and a once-in-a-lifetime experience.  Perhaps the thing I remember most is the passion that so many people had for their countries and for football/soccer.

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I saw it in the literally tens of thousands of Mexicans and Colombians that traveled, dressed up, and chanted for their teams at all times of the day or night. I saw it when the host team, Russia, unexpectedly beat Spain in the Round of 16, and the Moscow streets erupted in joy.

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But perhaps I did not personally experience the many levels of passion at the World Cup more so than in the two games we were able to go to.  Before the first game, June 26, we were caught up in the fervor of the Danish fans who filled the Metro stations and the streets chanting and singing for their team and country.  Sadly, the passion they and their French counterparts showed before and during the game was not shared by their national teams.  France v. Denmark has been widely recognized as the worst game of the tournament.

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We knew something was wrong when the lineups came out and hardly any of the stars were starting.  No Pogba or Mbappe?!  Not even Lloris or Umtiti?! Well, at least the subs will play their hearts out, right? Nope.  Both teams knew that they just needed a tie to go through to the next round.  So, they played like it was a scrimmage.  No urgency.  No one trying too much.  All of the neutral fans grew restless and even angry throughout the two hours.  We paid money for this? We came all this way to watch this charade?!

Did you know that the word “passion” originates from the Latin word “passio” which is closely related to the Greek root “path” meaning “to suffer”? By the time the game ended 0-0, the entire stadium was raining down boos on the teams for such a disgraceful performance. It is truly hard to explain how disappointed we all were.  I actually started to cry because I was so sad our family had chosen to go to THAT of all games.  Bleck.

But all was not lost.  The final game we attended was July 3 in Moscow.  Round of 16 – Colombia v. England.  I kid you not: I gathered my family together before we headed to the stadium and prayed that God would give us a great game.  I did not care what the outcome was: I just wanted it to be memorable.

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And boy was it!   Controversy was constant with a penalty being awarded and both teams pushing and jockeying for position at every free kick.  Yerri Mina, a Colombian defender, tied the game up 1-1 in stoppage time at the end of the second half while the stadium full of mostly Colombian supporters went wild.  Then, it went to penalties, where England has a history of crashing and burning.  But not today, folks! Nearly three hours after the first kick, England buried their final penalty and proceeded to the next round while both fans and the team exuberantly rejoiced.  It was a phenomenal game and the most energy I have ever experienced at a soccer game by far (and I’ve been to dozens in many different countries!).

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I should add that, as we got ready for penalties and the supporters of each team were cheering and hugging and even praying, I started to cry again.  But this time it was out of unbridled happiness that we had gotten to be a part of an event like that.

What was the difference between the two games? Essentially one thing: passion.

I know the circumstances dictate that there is less to play for at certain times in the tournament.  But this is the World Cup.  If you are going to step on the field, you should give it your all.

This is a belief that propels me in my daily life and guides me in my spiritual walk. If it is worth doing, it’s worth doing well.  Live passionately, and especially let the source of that passion be more than football or food or movies or your job or even your family.

The only wellspring of passion that will never run dry or disappoint is Jesus Christ. He offers abundant life (Jn. 10:10) and glorious salvation (Jn. 3:16).  In my case, he has put a calling on my life to preach – and do so cross-culturally – so that I cannot hold it in; like Jeremiah, it is a fire in my bones (Jer. 20:9).

Anyone who has met me knows that I am passionate about futbol.  But I pray that everyone knows I am even more passionate about Christ and his mission.  He, after all, gave himself for us on the cross in what has become known as – you guessed it – the Passion.

If you have not yet experienced that compelling, driving force in your life, allow the one, true Source of passion to instill his fire in you. You – and all those around you – will truly never be the same!

2018 World Cup

Hello, readers, and greetings from the 2018 World Cup!  Our family has been saving and planning this vacation for five years now and we are ecstatic.  We have tickets to two games and are hoping to obtain tickets to a third while we are in Russia.  We arrived yesterday (June 25) in Moscow, and we are recovering from some jetlag before we attend our first game today (France v. Denmark)! 

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In the last month, some friends and acquaintances have asked why we would dedicate the time and money to go to Russia and attend the World Cup, especially if the United States did not qualify this time (I am still embarrassed about that to be honest!).  Others have wondered why I occasionally write about sports in this blog that normally is dedicated to missions, leadership, etc.  The futbol (soccer) fans who read this understand completely, so I do not need to persuade you all.  But to the others, here are the reasons the World Cup is so important to me, and why we have written about it in this blog for three straight cycles (2010, 2014, and 2018): 

  1. Culture – and cultures – fascinate me. While in the London airport we were with people from seven different countries all going to the World Cup.  We all look different, speak different languages, and have different customs for sure.  But there is a respect – and even appreciation – for differences here that can prove instructive in a world of so much ethnocentrism.  How can we learn from each other? How do these other people enrich my life and understanding?
  2. Passion, passion, passion. A life without passion is a sad existence!  I confess that I have a hard time comprehending how people can float through life without urgency or excitement.  And admit it: the World Cup is THE place to find fans and players and coaches that are crazy about futbol and their country! Did you see the Brazilian coach who celebrated so hard that he tripped all over himself after a late goal against Costa Rica? Or what about the Panamanians celebrating their first-ever goal in the World Cup, even when they lost the game 6-1? Did you know that Mexico’s goal against Germany arguably caused an earthquake in Mexico City due to the euphoria in that mega-city? Yeah, passion.
  3. Sports can be a microcosm of life. Sports are results-based.  If you succeed, you are rewarded; if you underachieve, there are consequences. This is not to say that the most talented team always wins; sometimes the most well-prepared underdogs can pull off some stunners (See: Iceland v. Argentina). But even that gives us a lesson. There are so many things I have learned from sports about teamwork, perseverance, leadership, and integrity.  The World Cup will bring out the best and the worst in many players and fans and coaches.  It puts a magnifying glass on our character.

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Those are just three of the many reasons that I write about sports and the World Cup in a blog that hopes to help Transform the Globe.  I could go on and on, but it is now time for me to head to the stadium – who knows what cool things we will experience there and in the next week!

Anna Akhmatova

“The word landed with a stony thud

Onto my still-beating breast.

Nevermind, I was prepared,
I will manage with the rest.


I have a lot of work to do today;

I need to slaughter memory,

Turn my living soul to stone

Then teach myself to live again.”

Anna Akhmatova

 

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By Scott Armstrong

June 23 is the birthday of the Russian poet Anna Akhmatova, born in a suburb of Odessa in 1889. In 1912, when she 22 years old, she took a pen name and published her first book of poetry. It was a volume of love poems, and it made her a celebrity. But life in Russia was changing. Before a decade had passed, the country had lived through World War I and the Bolshevik Revolution, and Akhmatova’s poetry changed as well. She lost her husband in 1921 when he was executed for allegedly taking part in an anti-Bolshevik plot, and the next year, she was told she would no longer be allowed to publish her poetry. She set it aside and worked mainly on criticism and translations.

But when her son was repeatedly imprisoned in Leningrad, she found she couldn’t remain silent any longer. She stood among the women outside the prison, all of them trying to send in packages of food and hoping for word of their loved ones inside. One woman recognized her. “A woman with bluish lips standing behind me … woke up from the stupor to which everyone had succumbed and whispered in my ear, ‘Can you describe this?'” Akhmatova later wrote. In 1935, she began what would become a 10-poem cycle for Stalin’s victims, called Requiem (1935-40). She couldn’t publish it, and didn’t even dare keep a written copy, so she and her friends memorized the poems and then burned them. She finally published it in 1963, 10 years after Stalin’s death. She died in 1966, and a complete collection of her poetry wasn’t published in the Soviet Union until the late 1980s.

Talking Points:

  1. Even though we read the stories and hear the news about suffering around the world, what can be done? How can we involve ourselves in helping refugees, those persecuted and tortured?
  2. What does the memorization of poetry by Akhmatova and her friends teach us about Scripture and “hiding the Word in our hearts”? Does the spoken and written and living Word hold more meaning and influence when we memorize it?
  3. What is courage? Oftentimes we think of bravery as a lone soldier taking a stand against an entire army in an action movie.  Yet, could it be that sometimes the most courageous thing we can do is write and describe the world around us, where evil is present and where God is present also? 

 

To read the complete Requiem, clic here: Anna Akhmatova Poem

The Army And The King

By Rev. Carla Sunberg

Several years ago I heard a sermon by the President of Nazarene Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Missouri, USA — Carla Sunberg.  Rev. Sunberg opened the work of the Church of the Nazarene in Russia and served for 13 years before becoming a pastor and District Superintendent in the United States.  She spoke the following words to 2,000 university students at Olivet Nazarene University and I hope they inspire you as much as they did us that day.  Although many would say that this generation of youth is lazy or apathetic, Dr. Sunberg’s vision is quite different.

The vision? The vision is Jesus.  Obsessively, dangerously, undeniably it is Jesus.  And the vision is an army of young people.  You see bones?  I see an army.  And they are free from materialism.  They laugh at 9 to 5 little prisons.  They could eat caviar on Monday and crusts on Tuesday and they wouldn’t even notice.  They know the meaning of The Matrix and How the West was Won.  They’re mobile like the wind.  They belong to the nations.  They need no passport.  People write their addresses in pencil and wonder at their strange existence.  They are free, yet they are slaves of the hurting and dirty and dying.

And what is the vision?  The vision is holiness.  It’s a holiness that hurts the eyes.  It makes children laugh and it makes adults angry.  It gave up the game of minimum integrity long ago to reach for the stars.  It scorns the good and strains for the best and it is dangerously pure.  Light flickers from every secret motive, every private conversation.  It loves people away from their suicide leaps, their Satan games.  This is an army that will lay down its life for the cause.  A million times a day, its soldiers choose to lose, that they might one day win the great “Well done” of the faithful sons and daughters.  Such heroes are as radical on Monday morning as Sunday night.  And they don’t need fame from names.  Instead they grin quietly upwards and they hear the crowds chanting again and again: “Come on!”  And this is the sound of the underground: the whisper of history in the making, foundations shaking, revolutionaries dreaming.  Once again mystery is scheming in whispers, conspiracy is breathing – this is the sound of the underground.

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And the army is disciplined, and also discipled: young people who beat their bodies into submission.  Every soldier would take a bullet for his comrade in arms.  And the tattoo on their back boasts: “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”  Sacrifice fuels the fire of victory in their upward eyes.  Winners, martyrs – who can stop them? Can hormones hold them back? Can failure succeed? Can fear scare them or death kill them?

And the generation prays, like a dying man with groans beyond talking, with warrior cries, sulphuric tears, and with great barrel-loads of laughter.  They are waiting and watching 24-7-365.

And whatever it takes they’re going to give.  They are breaking the rules, they are shaking mediocrity from its cozy little hide, they are laying down their rights and their precious little wrongs, laughing at labels, fasting essentials.  The advertisers cannot mold them.  Hollywood cannot hold them.  Peer pressure is powerless to shake their resolve.  At late night parties before the cockcrow cries, they are incredibly cool, but dangerously attractive inside.

On the outside they really hardly care.  They wear clothes like costumes to communicate and celebrate, but never to hide.  Would they surrender their image or their popularity? They would lay down their very lives!  They’re going to swap seats with the man on death row who’s guilty as hell, a throne for an electric chair.  With blood and sweat and many tears.  With sleepless nights and fruitless days.  They pray as if it all depends on God, and they live as if it all depends on them.

Their DNA chooses Jesus.  He breathes out, they breathe in.  Their subconscious sings.  They had a blood transfusion with Jesus.  Their words make demons scream in shopping centers.  Don’t you hear them? Herald the weirdoes; summon the losers and the freaks.  Here come the frightened and forgotten with fire in their eyes.  They walk tall and trees applaud.  Skyscrapers bow.  Mountains are dwarfed by these children of another dimension.  Their prayers summon the hounds of heaven and invoke the ancient dream of Eden.

And this vision will be.  It will come to pass, it will come easily, it will come soon.  And how do I know? Because this is the longing of creation itself, the groaning of the Spirit, the very dream of God.  My tomorrow is his today.  My distant hope is his 3D.  And my feeble, whispered, faithless prayer invokes a thunderous, resounding, and bone shaking: Amen!  From countless angels.  From heroes of the faith.  From Christ himself.  And he is the original dreamer.  He is the ultimate winner.  It’s guaranteed.  That’s my King.