Danny Boyle, The Olympic Opening Ceremony and Jerusalem

original photo from flickr

Like Billions of people around the world I sat watching the Olympic Opening ceremony loving the spectacle, the vision and the ambition of its director Danny Boyle. I loved the celebration of the NHS definitely one of the UK’s finest inventions – a medical system that seeks to give free health care to all in need. I enjoyed the celebration of the industrial revolution and the visibility of the cost that our natural world paid in order to bring it.

As I watched I pondered to what extent Britain’s Christian heritage would play a part. There was even a little twitter debate about the degree to which Danny Boyle was alluding to God.

The prominent inclusion of the hymns Jerusalem and Abide with me can be interpreted as a clear acknowledgement of Christianity’s influence in our nation. I rejoiced to see that hymns were a key part of the celebrations. I was nervous they were just background music – as the images on the stage did not seem to connect with the words. But then these notes from the Opening programme were made available:

But we hope, too, that through all the noise and excitement you’ll glimpse a single golden thread of purpose – the idea of Jerusalem – of the better world, the world of real freedom and true equality, a world that can be built through the prosperity of industry, through the caring notion that built the welfare state, through the joyous energy of popular culture, through the dream of universal communication. A belief that we can build Jerusalem. And that it will be for everyone.

(original image of programme available here)

This made me look again at the lyrics to Jerusalem, which were a patriotic poem written by Williman Blake in 1804. I have never been a fan of this song – as the answer to all the questions is of course literally “No.”

Blake’s poem

And did those feet in ancient time.
Walk upon Englands mountains green:
And was the holy Lamb of God,
On Englands pleasant pastures seen!

And did the Countenance Divine,
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here,
Among these dark Satanic Mills?

Bring me my Bow of burning gold;
Bring me my Arrows of desire:
Bring me my Spear: O clouds unfold!
Bring me my Chariot of fire!

I will not cease from Mental Fight,
Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand:
Till we have built Jerusalem,
In Englands green & pleasant Land

But to see Jerusalem as an organising principle for the ceremony… thus the golden thread. Jesus walking in England – not as a historical event ofcourse – but as a metaphor. (Jesus lived and died in Israel and made no such journey overseas). Amidst the destruction and dehumanisation of the industrial revolution with its “satanic mills.” Could there be a taste of the heavenly Jerusalem the Bible talks about in revelation 21 – when God renews the whole creation.

That is the task of the church – to be christ’s body on the earth. To let the feet of Jesus walk on England’s soil and give people a taste of what only God can fulfill – equality, justice, peace and hope.

Danny Boyle’s vision may be a humanistic version of this – we can build Jerusalem not with God’s help but through our own hard work, creativity. A welfare state for everyone, a musical library for everyone Elgar to the Arctic Monkeys, Royal Philarmonic Orchestra to Mr Bean. A Queen who’s up for a joke… But on the other hand he may have grasped something important about art, culture, welfare, politics and sport. That all of these human endeavours if humbly offered to God can be a way we can worship him – a way in which we can give people a taste of the future . Like a movie trailer for what is to come – when Jesus the one who lived, died and rose again to make a way for us and our world to be redeemed, rescues and reconciled to God is finally seen for all he’s worth.

What do you think?

PS original photo from Flickr

About the author: Krish Kandiah

Founding Director: Home for Good Executive Producer: Books for Life Vice President: Tearfund Tutor: Regents Park College, Oxford University

12 comments to “Danny Boyle, The Olympic Opening Ceremony and Jerusalem”

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  1. Subin - July 29, 2012 at 9:43 pm Reply

    I too did wonder if there was another meaning in the chaos, now that it is sorted out, I can sleep in peace. Boyle did show the hard work of the British to make up this land so rich, and like you said it and lost the original message yet the brilliant truth, the deep longing for the REAL Jerusalem, a home for nations, truly pierces the fabric of human , like CS Lewis said, we are longing for heaven ……..

    • Anthony Smith - July 30, 2012 at 10:31 am Reply

      … longing for heaven, but not longing to go to heaven, so much as longing for heaven to come down to earth. “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

  2. Mark Meynell - July 30, 2012 at 7:59 am Reply

    you may well be right in saying that his vision is just humanistic – however, given his strong Catholic upbringing and his early years driven by the expectation of becoming a priest, it wouldn’t be surprising if there was more to it than that…

  3. John Wilkes - July 30, 2012 at 8:11 am Reply

    Krish, some very helpful reflections, thank you. My purist side was a bit sceptical about the inclusion of those two hymns, but they were THERE! Who knows how God might use those anthems to plant seeds of hope and searching. You’ve helped me rethink my own aversion to Jerusalem: yes, yes yes, we want the church to be the hands and feet of Jesus across the UK!
    And surely ‘Abide with me’ is a beautiful masterpiece from the Vicar of Brixham! Sing on! Pray on!

  4. Elizabeth Sadler - July 30, 2012 at 8:26 am Reply

    William Blake is coming from “British Israelite” roots.This stand is regarded as rather ‘old fashioned now”,but was quite a strong movement of it’s day.The “movement aspired to GB being the “New Israel” of God,with all the NT promises of God being linked to that premise.

  5. Gary Smith - July 30, 2012 at 11:37 am Reply

    Thanks for this Krish. I too enjoyed the spectacle of the opening ceremony. I certainly saw the finger prints of the divine in the production. Sometimes despite the misguided desires of us humans God displays true hope. Danny Boyle may think that Jerusalem can be created by human endevour but we would beg to differ. I really enjoy it when we as Christians do not need to state the obvious because God takes on the task himself. Such was the case, I felt in the section anchored by “Abide with me” .

    With regards to Jerusalem, there seems to be some evidence that William Blake wrote the poem as satire. When colonial Britain was at its most unattractive in terms of pride and swagger he asks the question “and did those feet…?” to which his clear answer was no! With the addition of the music by Parry the poem changes from satire to pomp. Just as “Born in the USA” by Springsteen becomes a rallying cry for aggressive US foreign policy which it totally counter to the composers intent so we might appreciate the symbolism of the romantic Blake being over shadowed by the stridency of the motifs of Parry.

    In the hymn Jerusalem evidence is provided that what one person intended for one purpose can be usurped by another. This was wonderfully displayed on the ceremony when the when Boyle’s humnan vision of a new Jerusalem was transcended by the divine revelation of God.

    Well at least that is the meaning I attached to it 🙂

  6. Jennie Pollock - July 30, 2012 at 1:36 pm Reply

    Good thoughts, Krish. I found the use of ‘Abide with Me’ and the remembrance of the dead to be really significant, too.

    I blogged about it on Saturday and said that despite Boyle’s programme notes “his own ceremony showed that despite all the progress we have made, we are still dogged by decay at every turn. Everything continues to change. We’re no longer world leaders in industry. Mohammed Ali can no longer float like a butterfly. Paul McCartney can no longer sing. The things and the people we love pass away and we are powerless to prevent it.”

    Many people are commenting that their countries would never have aired the singing of a hymn like ‘Abide with me’ on national television (or in the ceremony at all). It is encouraging in these days when Christianity can often feel under attack in the UK, that we are still willing to publicly cry “O Thou who changest not, abide with me”

  7. Michael - July 30, 2012 at 6:10 pm Reply

    In the Times on Saturday Danny Boyle was reported to have said ( I didn’t see or hear all of the ceremony)

    “I don’t believe in God but I believe in the people who do – this is for them”

    (might be a parphrase)

    Big Ceremony – Big crowd – BIG worldwide audience and the BIG God we worship at work – Lets hope we can keep up with what He asks of us all

  8. Phil Harman - July 31, 2012 at 2:46 pm Reply

    Olympics Opening Ceremony, Danny Boyle, Jerusalem and the Tower of Babel?

    I was interested to read http://newsong40.wordpress.com/2012/07/28/o-thou-who-changest-not/ and http://krishk.com/2012/07/danny-boyle-olympic-opening-ceremony-jerusalem/ because they express a lot of the turmoil (great excitement and extreme sadness) that I was in as I watched the opening ceremony.

    I was also struck by how much Boyle’s “Glastonbury Tor” bears more than a passing resemblance to those quaint old imaginings of the Tower of Babel from the middle ages onwards (i.e. a conical construction, with tracks winding up to the top). It then seemed even more ironic to me that Boyle used the tor to unite the flags of the nations.

    My reading of the Bible is that Babel (Genesis 11) will finally be fully reversed in the age to come (Revelation 21), but that this process started on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2).

    What do you think?

  9. Claire Alcock - August 2, 2012 at 10:36 am Reply

    I couldn’t think how to respond to something as amazing as Danny Boyle’s Opening Ceremony vision, except poetically…which I attempted to do in my blog post on it…I thought the whole thing was awesome.

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