Schadenfreude is a terrible thing. But it is a little hard to resist when the mighty are brought low and the powerful lose their strength. Those of us who deplored the way Roman Abramovich was able to use his dodgy billions to buy Chelsea, price everyone else out of the market, win the Premiership and crow over the clubs lower down the table, have at least been able to watch the whole show begin to fall apart. Or, at least. to weaken.
Today saw the dismissal of Chelsea’s third manager in two years. It was ‘the Special One’, Jose Mourinho, who produced the champions who gloated about their money and strength and success. Avram Grant passed the time reasonably well. Then the Portuguese saviour arrived, Luiz Felipe Scolari. Seven months later and he’s gone. Chelsea are fourth and losing their gloss. Well, I am a Liverpool man and have had to endure a couple of decades of gloating from Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea fans after we graciously stood down from three decades of football dominance in England and Europe and let the little clubs have their chance.
I know I keep coming back to this, but it seems really important to have a proper perspective on ‘time’. As Mary’s Song, Magnificat, makes clear with uncompromising and worldly candour, the mighty will fall and what looks solid and permanent will one day collapse. Whether it be political and military empires, the global banking system or football clubs, the louder they shout and the harder it is to catch the sound of crumbling underneath the noise. Empires come and go, hubris leads to nemesis and the world can change in previously inconceivable ways.
Scolari might not be encouraged by this, but he is an actor in a play that provides a metaphor for the way the world is: the victim of people who have believed a myth and cannot bear to see the end of the fantasy they thought would be permanent. But life moves on and the mighty fall and the meek get raised up. The weak appear to be the strong ones and the fools turn out to be the wise ones.
I realise this is a bit of a leap, but this makes me reflect on the Church. It is always great to see ‘success’, but the edifice of ‘success’ (numbers, wealth, resources or noisiness) can seduce us into thinking that God must be on our side and approving/blessing all we think and believe and do. Yet history is littered with those who claim numbers and strength to validate their views over against those who differ – and, as time rolls on, are shown to have been wrong, unbiblical or to have found the right answer to the wrong question.
Surely the proper response to ‘success’ is that humility – rooted in the conviction that time will eat away at the powerful edifice – that knows its place and recognises that it might be wrong. One day I am going to write a book called ‘Towards a Confident Humility’ and work this one out in more detail. But, in the meantime, I’ll just wonder how many more managers Chelsea will go through in the next two or three years. And, of course, I’ll continue to hope that Liverpool doesn’t go the same way.
Incidentally, I know I should be writing something sensible about the opening of the General Synod this afternoon and the speech by the soon-to-retire Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor, but I am not on the Synod, was busy in London and have only read George Pitcher’s intelligent and concise reading of the speech. So, I’m left with Chelsea. And my schadenfreude. And, of course, the guilt this induces in me.