Wednesday, July 4, 2012

American Ambivalence

on pop theology, philosophy, theology, culture, pop culture, christianity
by Ben Howard

I remember Michael Johnson.  Not from 1992 in Barcelona, but from 1996 in Atlanta.  I remember his gold shoes and I remember my 9 year old mind confusing him a few times with Michael Jordan.  I remember getting chills when he won gold in the 200 and 400.  The names Shannon Miller, Dominique Dawes, Dominique Moceanu, and Kerri Strug are engrained in my mind even though I'd never watched gymnastics before the Atlanta Olympics.  I know Strug did something amazing on the vault, though I didn’t understand it when it happened, and I remember having a crush on Moceanu.  9 year old me had a thing for ponytails and bangs apparently.

I’ve always loved the Olympics.  I probably will always love the Olympics and I’m incredibly excited about the Olympics in London (starting July 27th at 7:30 central time, it’s been in my phone for a few months now).  My affinity is based in the camaraderie, the passion, the spectacle, the dreams, and the destiny of it all.  Everything about it feels so epic, so earned.

In 2008, I had a mini-crisis regarding my enjoyment of the Olympics.  As I’ve matured and learned, I’ve become far more uncomfortable with the feeling of national superiority that is so prevalent in the United States.  I feel a great sense of unease when we celebrate national holidays centered around our national ideas of greatness, independence and military strength.  These ideas entirely contradict the Christian narrative that says we are all exiles in a foreign land, awaiting the Kingdom of God.  This deep sense of ambivalence has led to certain changes in my life.  I do not say the Pledge of Allegiance.  I do not sing or put my hand on my heart during the National Anthem.  I do not vote.  I respect those who do, but deep in my heart this is not my country.

So when the Olympics come around I may seem like a bit of a hypocrite because I will definitely be rooting for the American athletes.  Here’s what I’ve decided, and if you disagree, that’s fine.  I’m comfortable rooting for American athletes because I think the idea of the Olympics and athletics in general can overcome national barriers.  A great story is a great story.  A great achievement is a great achievement.  We can all appreciate athletic genius and dedication and while this may not be my country, they are my neighbors and I want them to succeed.  Maybe that’s why the Olympics are so great.  You can root for success without implicitly having to root for someone's failure.  I can’t wait to feel the chills, I can’t wait to be a fan.


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