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29 March 2013

For the win

For the win

It's been a good week to be a Scottish sports fan.

I realise this opinion may seem slightly eccentric. The football World Cup qualifiers did not quite go to plan; our golfers were once again eclipsed by Tiger Woods; and we had no interest in the dramatic events of the Malaysian Grand Prix. All of this is true, and makes a fairly standard week for Scottish sports.

On the upside, we're world champions! Our female curling team fought a thrilling series of grudge matches with Sweden over the course of the world championship. They lost, narrowly, twice, in the early stages, but got through to set up a third meeting in the final. The match was tense and close, but, a magnificent, nerveless, last stone by skip Eve Muirhead scored the point needed for a nail-biting 6-5 victory. Scotland - champions of the world!

Curling is an odd sport; it is kind of like bowls on ice, but the spectator cannot help but be struck by the addition of the sweepers, people, sometimes from both sides, frantically brushing away at the ice to make the stone slide just a bit further into, or out of, a scoring position. Because of the way stones slide on ice, there is something curiously slow-motion about the whole affair, which renders the frantic brushing all the more comical for the casual watcher. Scotland are world champions, however, so I can confidently announce that curling is the greatest test of all-round sporting prowess known to humanity - Lionel Messi is fairly clever, and Usain Bolt is quite rapid, but the epitome of sporting greatness in our generation is clearly a Scottish curler!

Curling is rendered strange by the conditions - it is played on ice - and by the rules. Slow motion sliding and frantic brushing are what it takes to curl well.

What does it take to live well?

The answer will come from understanding the conditions and the rules. And the casual observer, who doesn't know what is going on or why, might find the well-lived life comical or incomprehensible.

On Good Friday, we see the perfect end to the perfectly-lived life, Jesus's final, decisive act of obedience to the Father. What has come before - foot-washing; temple-clearing; perfume-anointing - has looked odd, confusing, comical or offensive to many; now comes the last act, and it looks like brutal and tragic failure, if you don't know the rules of the game.

The truth, of course, is that the cross is where God's greatest victory is won, victory over all the powers of sin and death and hell. And so life lived well, life lived on the basis of a deep understanding of reality, will be cruciform, cross-patterned. Humble. Self-sacrificial. Careless of personal safety or cultural conformity. Utterly single-minded in pursuit of God's coming kingdom of justice and joy.

Lives lived like that might pass unnoticed by the world around; if noticed, they might attract curiosity or inspire revulsion or mockery. But sweeping the ice is the right thing to do in curling, and living under the cross is the right thing to do in life.

Steve Holmes, Baptist minister and senior lecturer in systematic theology at the University of St Andrews. Steve is also a member of the Evangelical Alliance Board and Council.