Football, Faith and Scotland…

Who was it that said something like ‘Football is not life and death- it is more important than that’?

World cup mania is upon us. All over the world ordinary people are seized by a kind of quasi-religious madness. National flags are being festooned on cars and out of a million bedroom windows.

Apart from Scotland it seems. Here the national tone is driven by the fact that our national team did not qualify for the competition- through perennial inconsistency and an ability to snatch defeat from the brink of victory.

But the other overwhelming feature that dominates Scottish football is sectarianism. It is only possible to worship our team if we hate our main rival. And hate has a full spectrum- from a kind of fixed sneering prejudice right through to outright nasty violence and murder.

At club level, this has become mingled in with religion in an overt way- the Rangers/Celtic Protestant/Catholic stuff, which is a shameful stain on both football and faith.

At national level, this same process can be seen in the vitriol reserved for that old enemy- England. It is an instinctive, self perpetuating and self sustaining reaction- constantly re-enforced by repetition and peer pressure and sanctioned by school teachers, politicians and ministers of religion.

Of course, this is not just a Scottish phenomenon. After all, most great religious movements require the dual polarity of good and evil to drive passion and zeal. However, there is something particular Scottish about its application. It has becomes mixed with a thousand years conflict, of wounds both felt and dealt and of a kind of selective history that nurtures old enmity and perpetuates the possibility of more blood being spilt in the future. Is it possible that football has allowed us to ritualise these divisions in our national make up? Has it become a vehicle for the passing down of prejudice to the next generations?

Does this matter? Well I think it does. I believe that we Christians are called to bring blessing and healing to our communities- to be the embodiment, the  demonstration and the very channels of peace.

Because we believe in the power of forgiveness.

And the call to love our enemies.

To be in this world, but not of it- which means that we are prepared to go against the cultural flow.

And the challenge to confront our own motives and motivations honestly before the God who knows all.

So here is a provocative challenge to those of us in Scotland who ascribe to this way of being. (I hope it does not get me into too much trouble!)

I want to invite you to participate in the spiritual discipline/practice of…

Supporting the English football team during the next world cup.

(If you are English- substitute ‘German’ for the word ‘England’.)

And if you think I am just being provocative and English- know this. I am simply not that much into football. My first allegiance is not to a flag, a country or a democracy, or clan. It is to a King and Kingdom.

favourite words 1- ‘liminal’

I like words. Some words I like a lot.

I love the way that some words draw you into themselves. They give a little, but suggest so much more.

Some words contain whole sermons. One of them is this one;

lim·i·nal adjective
Etymology: Latin limin- limen threshold.

1 : of or relating to a sensory threshold
2 : barely perceptible
3 : of, relating to, or being an intermediate state, phase, or condition : in-between: Transitional.

As Christians, we come into an understanding of our position caught between this temporal world and the next. We are people whose allegiance is to a New Kingdom- the one Jesus spoke about again and again. A Kingdom that is both here and now, but also promised and yet to come.

We are called to be ‘in’ this world, but not ‘of’ it.

It is this present-future tension that we Christians live in. We exist in a space that is pregnant with the presence of Christ, and filled with hope for what is to come.

You could say that we Christians occupy a time and place that is liminal.

We live in the presence of the imminence…

Liminal spaces are always interesting. They are places of transition and change. They are characterised by possibilities of other realities, as yet unknown. In such places, we may be aware of the certainty of change, and to remain there requires a surrender to mystery.

They are also places that demand the exercise of faith. Without this decision to step out of the known, into the unknown, then we confine our experience to one dimension, whilst existing in the felt presence of the other. Perhaps this is sufficient for some, because liminal places also may be places of danger.

Borders, airports, stations – human constructs of transition – are all too familiar to us. We seem to linger at these places often in a state of heightened unconsciousness. We close down our senses, isolate them from reality in the air conditioned, plate-glass processing space of the terminal buildings. Distracted by duty free shopping, we step off into the unknown…

Is it possible that we begin to live our lives like this? Distracted and deadened, blindly following others down corridors, weighed down by baggage and cheap perfume…

The New Kingdom Jesus calls us to participate within stands before us, mysterious and largely unknown. But we have some clues about what might be useful there- what might be considered of value.

But ultimately this place of imminence that calls us demands a step into wonderful, but scary mystery.


Thanks to the heads up from Craig in Australia, I have been doing some research and thinking about the concept of Kanyini. Craig was kind enough to send this to me in connection to some ‘wilderness meditations’ we are working on- finding locations to provide cues and context for drawing close to God (some of this stuff can be found here;

The concept of kanyini has been brought to us by a beautiful man called Bob Randall who grew up as an aboriginal boy on the outskirts of a cattle station in central Australia. His father was a farmer of Scottish extraction, but appears to have had no concern for him at all. Like 50,000 other black kids of mixed race (between 1910 and 1970) he was forcibly removed from his family, and sent to school hundreds of miles from home. He was forced to learn the rules of white culture- the clothes, the way of life, the religion. He learnt to appreciate the contradictions between the words of Jesus, and the actions of these, his followers. Since then, he has been a welfare worker, a songwriter, and author, and now, works with Australia’s black community.

To be a native Australian in these times is to be part of a community with huge problems- health, crime, substance misuse, soaring suicide rates. It is a community living in the shadows of the sky scrapers of new Australia, but also in the shadow of what amount to a genocide, in which everything about what has been described as the oldest culture in the world has been all but destroyed.

But it is also the story of a Diaspora of westerners (particularly Celts from Ireland and Scotland) often still under the shadow of their own experience of oppression and injustice, who become in turn the oppressors, murderers and rapists of a whole culture.

It is their story, but it is also ours. It is the story of what happens when we become disconnected from who we are.

Because to hear Bob Randall speak(check out the links below) is to feel the pull of something wonderful. He describes a culture where people are connected to land. Birds, trees, all living things- they are family. The proof of this connection is that we are… alive! And because everything is connected, everything is OURS, not MINE. Everything is already created in a perfect state and our job is to become part of it.

Bob describes his memory of life as a kid like this;

These were beautiful people, because they lived in a beautiful way.

Bob’s concept of Kanyini feels right. It has simple truth- and seems to encapsulate the idea of community as I understand it should be. It has 4 components

  • belief system
  • spirituality
  • land
  • family

I very much recommend checking out the film about Bob from the schools site below, or there are other links to the Kanyini film on the second link.