Chaplain says Olympic tradition of competing to win honors all

| August 19, 2016 | 0 Comments

Footsteps in FaithChaplain (Maj.-P) John Grauer
Operations and Training Chaplain
Integrated Religious Support Team

The Olympic Games are now nearing completion.

I’m sure many of us watched the opening ceremonies with all grandeur displayed. And for all the talk and hype about all the things that could possibly go wrong with facilities not being ready, housing areas not being complete or athletes who have been banned at previous Olympics due to illegal drugs, my guess is that we have watched and are amazed with the athletic excellence.

Yes, all eyes have been on the nation of Brazil as they welcomed the world. Since the Modern Olympics began in 1896, these Olympic games have been held every four years in different cities throughout the world. The stadiums and venues used during the Olympics are often held in high esteem and become the focal point of the city.

It was in 2010, while stationed in South Korea, I had the opportunity to run a marathon where the finish line was located in Olympic Stadium. It was truly amazing to run a lap where some of the world’s greatest athletes participated.

According to historical records, the first ancient Olympic games can be traced back to 776 B.C. when they were dedicated to the ancient gods and were staged on the fields of Olympia. Temples, shrines and the modern day equivalent of sporting facilities were constructed.

For nearly 12 centuries, this sporting event honored the Greek gods. It became a herculean effort as organizers of the games navigated religious rituals, and many other cultural identities, as people travelled to compete in sporting events.

When Emperor Theodosius ordered in 393 A.D. that all such “pagan cults” be banned, the Olympics had come to an end, and yet, they came back from the dead centuries later. So why did the Olympic games prevail?

The thrill of competition was too strong and people were driven to compete! The sense of pride of being the very best in the world and having your representative win was pushing people and countries to continue. This push was strong enough to navigate the dozens of sacred customs, religious rituals and holy days in order to make it happen.

Those same tasks of navigating cultures is still as tough now as it was then. Today the 2016 Olympics will try to accommodate a variety of religious attitudes: Christian, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and other beliefs that athletes from around the world place their faith in on a daily basis.

Today, chaplains from the United States Army have taken that same mission to accommodate the religious faith, beliefs and customs of our Soldiers – Soldiers like you and I who have taken an allegiance to protect and defend our nation.

Many of our Soldiers, just like athletes at the Olympics games, believe their training honors God, though “today” most no longer hold the view that victory is a sign of favor from a deity, or that God blesses only those that “win.”
I do believe, however, that religion should inspire us to do the very best.
Athletes and Soldiers all over the world still relish the desire to rise to the top in their sport. As contests like wrestling, boxing, tae kwon do, track and field, and cycling bring about the desire to compete, we also should be challenged by our faith to be the very best.

Perhaps Paul, a character from the Bible, was right. We should all run a race.

“Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win!”
— 1 Corinthians 9:24

As athletes and Soldiers this should be our push: “Run to win!” Honor your nation, your family and God, and find support in your faith.

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Category: Standing Columns

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