If you watched the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony on the BBC then you’ll have benefited from a running commentary about what was happening, particularly the symbolism of the giant raging bull. Live in the stadium (certainly for the dress rehearsals), you would not have had that benefit. Instead, you would have simply seen the amazing visual spectacle in all its glory, chaos and quirky bizarreness.
However, when we first saw it, we had a slight advantage as locals. We knew what the symbolism was all about. The bull is an iconic Birmingham symbol due to the Bullring market which stood in the city centre from the 12th Century. Today the main shopping centre is on the same site and there has long been a smaller sculpture version of the raging bull.
The bull was brought in, pulled by women with chains, the women were being driven by a slave master. They represented the women who worked in the Black Country during the Industrial Revolution (not as one YouTube commentator thought, to look like witches). The chain makers were poorly treated and exploited. Their uprising and strike was a significant moment in the birth of the trade union movement.
The scene moved on so that we witnessed different types of dance from around the world but the dancers seemed to be in conflict. Birmingham has welcomed immigrants from all around the Commonwealth but at times there have been racial tensions. As I note here, there seemed to be a warm fuzzy, secular theme of light bringing hope and peace without sadly pointing to the one who is the light of the world and prince of peace.
However, if you didn’t have local knowledge and didn’t get the BBC commentary you might not have got any of that. I assumed that the same script had been given to national broadcasters around the world but perhaps not, or perhaps some chose to ignore it. So, I’ve just found out that if you were tuning in from Canada, and no doubt some other places, you basically were introduced to the sight of a huge pagan temple with people dancing before some kind of demonic being in the form of a giant bull. Not at all, I’m sure, what the organisers and choreographers intended.
My dad used to preach from time to time on the occasion when the tribes on the East of the Jordan built a monument intended to show their unity with those on the west side but those on the west thought this was intended for their worship -that they were going UDI. Dad’s summing up was that
“sometimes what I thought I heard you say, isn’t what you meant to tell me.”
Paul in 1 Corinthians 14 talks about the importance of interpretation when the gift of tongues is used. Otherwise people will just hear babbling and think you’re crazy.
It’s important that we take time to think carefully about what we do and say as Christians, in our gathered worship and as we seek to live for Christ and speak for him day to day. It is possible that we can end up communicating something far different from what we’ve intended.