I know why England lost the world cup and set the sellers of St George flags into despair. It wasn't because of Roy Hodgson, or Wayne Rooney or Mario Balotelli. It wasn't because of the weather, the English media or the Premier League. It was my fault. Please allow me to explain.
I have a confession to make. Despite the fact that I was born in England (or at least the disputed territory of Berwick-upon-Tweed) and my father is English I am a sadly all too typical Scot. I support two international football teams – Scotland and anyone who is playing England. There are many reasons why so many Scots have this attitude. Sheer nationalistic rivalry, jealousy of the larger partner, the continual crowing of the English media about '1966' and 'the best league in the world', 'friendly' banter and basic immaturity. In my head I could not justify this attitude but in my heart I rejoiced/laughed or quietly chuckled as the world beaters were beaten by a 'lesser' team. Until Brazil 2014.
I found that my heart had changed. I did not rejoice when England lost to Italy and was even disappointed when they lost to Uruguay. I could still smile at the lone red-headed Scot waving the saltire amongst the Uruguyan supporters, but I genuinely felt sorry for the English players and manager. I wondered what was happening to me?! Was I ill? What had caused this change of heart? To some extent it was the far more realistic attitude of the English media and fans. We used to take bets how long it would be into a game before 1966 was mentioned, or the speculation about which Premier League Club the latest African/Asian/South American sensation was being connected with. Perhaps it was also the fact that in the first game England played really well and, for the first team in years, they provided entertaining attractive football. The prima donnas of the Premier League were giving way to some younger and more spirited players. I also loved the dignified way that Roy Hodgson spoke. But I think there is another and more serious reason – it all has to do with the Scottish independence referendum.
Alex Salmond must have been hoping that England would win the World Cup. The thought of another 50 years of boasting would surely have pushed the 'undecideds' onto the 'yes' side! But my change of heart is slightly more serious. I think that that the possibility (even if slight) of Scotland becoming an independent nation has enabled some of us to stop thinking in terms of cultural nationalism and instead to start thinking of what I call civic nationalism. Cultural nationalism is where people like to feel that their culture is inherently superior. It's fish 'n' chips, cricket and the Queen, or kilts, bagpipes and haggis! It enables us to develop cultural sterotypes of others which in turn enables us to make ourselves feel better by denigrating others. Civic nationalism is more concerned with how a country is run and the values which are its foundation. Its about law, education, economics, politics and religious and civic values. Which brings us on to the whole question of 'British' values , or for that matter 'Scottish' values. What are they? How does this work from a Christian perspective?
If, as a Brit, my identity is tied up with cultural nationalism, that will make me more inclined to be negative about other cultures that I perceive to be a threat. I will joke about the Germans, laugh at the Belgians and ridicule the French. If however I have a different basis for my identity then that will change my heart and practice. And this brings us on to the key question of identity. Is my identity in my nationality? Or is it in Christ? For Christians the answer should be obvious. There will be people from every tribe, language and nation in heaven and we will not be divided into sections. There is no British, Chinese or Jewish quarter in heaven. We will of course not have such 'one world' unity on this earth – but the church should at least exemplify that in Christ all the 'dividing walls of partition' have been broken down. Therefore for me as someone whose identity is in Christ I want to look for the best civic arrangement for our society, whilst not excluding others, not having a cultural superiority nor a racist heart.
That's why I repent of my somewhat immature 'anyone but England' attitude. That's why I am disappointed that England have just gone out of the World Cup. That's why I can genuinely watch the World Cup, enjoy the football as a gift of God's common grace, and in the best of British values hope that 'the best team' wins. Let's not invest too much of our hopes, emotions and lives in eleven men kicking a ball around. Or indeed any other sport. Let's not turn sport into a religion and sportsmen/women into idols. I remember the joy I felt when I could declare "Andy Murray is Wimbledon champion" – that should be nothing compared with the joy of declaring "Jesus is risen! Jesus is Lord!" Let's not shed tears over England losing the world cup; let's instead weep over the lost souls in our confused land. "Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy" Psalm 126:5.