Listening when it has sunk in

Olympic fever may be taking a well-earned rest before the Paralympics start up in a few weeks, but before we forget this great summer of sport it is worth thinking about what we can learn from the Games.

The digital Olympics

There were plenty of ‘digital’ stories arising from the Olympics, both good and bad. Twitter made a big impact by itself – we had Usain Bolt’s record-breaking 80,000 tweets-per-minute and Tom Daley’s vicious Twitter troll making headlines.

We all expected this, of course. The opening ceremony celebrated the age of information in a fantastic sequence which culminated in an ovation for Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the man who invented the Internet and gave it to the world. This, more than Beijing, was an Olympics of extreme connectedness and immediacy.

Through Twitter, supporters could get closer than ever before to the athletes they were cheering on. Over the past many months, we have been able to look in on strict regimes of training and warm-up championships from the athletes’ own perspectives, something just not possible with the traditional media.

‘It hasn’t sunk in yet’

Sadly, though, our heavyweight appetite for immediate information is offset by our lightweight attention span.

Often less than a minute after crossing the line, athletes faced a barrage of microphones and demands to explain how it felt to win/come second/fail to qualify. ‘It hasn’t sunk in yet’ became the catchphrase of the Games (usually joined by a stammering voice and moist eyes).

‘It hasn’t sunk in yet’ – of course it wouldn’t. Mere moments after four long years’ worth of hard work have culminated in dashed dreams or goals achieved is no time to assess your own performance. In the weeks and months to come, when perhaps the athletes are ready to explain how it has begun to sink in, how many of us will be listening?

Listening when there’s something worth hearing

As Christians engaged in the digital space, we ought to celebrate the immediacy of the web. But we ought also to look for something deeper from it. We ought to enjoy the ‘it hasn’t sunk in yet’ moments of excitement but also appreciate the value of considered response when things have sunk in. Let me explain what I mean by way of some more tangible examples:

  • When someone posts something controversial or unpopular online, we might rightly react with shock or anger or disappointment. But let’s not be hasty to respond instantly without being prepared to consider the issue more carefully. Speak the truth, sure, but do so in love.
  • When bandwagons roll through our social networks, consider them on merit rather than popularity. The latest celebrity or sportsperson or social campaign might pique our interest and draw us into wholehearted support and adulation – but are they always an appropriate object of our enthusiasm? Let’s take time to think about the consequences of the people or things we are advocating online.
  • When only the latest or newest thing can capture our imagination, look back to the wonders of the past. If things that we have heard before fail to move us, we are at risk of seeking novelty for its own sake rather than for its merit. How often do we sing with the hymn-writer, ‘Tell me the old, old story’? If we only value novelty, we will lose our trust in the gospel and God’s work in history, however keen we are to stress his work in the present.

The more we train ourselves to process information instantaneously and move on immediately, the less we truly learn of the world and its maker. That’s why the hymn-writer continues with an impassioned desire to hear God’s word slowly and often; a desire many of us would do well to share:

Tell me the story slowly, that I may take it in,
That wonderful redemption, God’s remedy for sin.
Tell me the story often, for I forget so soon;
The early dew of morning has passed away at noon.

This article was originally written for the Big Bible Project.


London, N19
Posted on 20/08/2012  •  688 words