Cheers and chants—I hear a burst of joyous commotion during a summer sports event on the grounds of the Unification Theological Seminary in Barrytown, New York. Needing to feed my curiosity and find the source of all this merriment, I follow the sound of cheers along the hallway and press through a crowd of people congregating toward the vast field behind the main seminary building. As I exit, my sight adjusts to the intense brightness of the outdoors, only to see a clearer view of a much more intense game of soccer.
I remember being awestruck in that particular moment. Both the opposing teams are playing their best, yet there doesn’t seem to be any signs of antagonism between them. It almost seems as though they are supporting each other. The cheers from the crowd apparently confirm that. Despite the adrenaline and pressure the players must be feeling, there is a sense of a healthy rivalry between the two teams, and the way they play almost suggests that winning isn’t the main goal of this competition. What kind of spectacle is occurring here? Again, my curiosity rises, and I need to find out what has led this culture to develop.
Unity Through Sports
That was the first time I’d ever been to the Blessed Culture Sports Festival (BCSF). BCSF is a highly anticipated annual event where Unificationists from all around the United States and Canada gather to take part in an eventful week of sports and cultural activities, such as ultimate Frisbee, soccer, volleyball, dance nights, open mic, and more. Participants showcase their talents and contribute to a long-standing culture of respectful sportsmanship and passionate artistry.
BCSF didn’t make a big impression on me at first. I thought it was a nice get-together and there was nothing more to it. But as I looked around, I realized how much eagerness and willingness it took for these people to gather in one place, connect, and affirm each other with the idea that we are all one unified family.
If you think about it, sports really do bring people together. The modern Olympics games, for example, have contributed significantly to an increase in peace and unity throughout the world. I was too young to recall, but I’ve read many stories about the 1992 Olympic games in Barcelona, when Elana Meyer of South Africa and Derartu Tulu of Ethiopia, each representing her own country, ran a victory lap together hand-in-hand after winning their respective medals. Their gesture became a symbol of unity and hope for their represented countries.
In the 2016 Olympic games in Rio, two female gymnasts from the divided countries of North and South Korea received praise for a similar and highly unexpected encounter as they met on the sidelines during the competition. The 17-year-old Lee Eun-Ju from South Korea (who happens to be a Unificationist, too!) and 27-year-old Hong Un-Jong of North Korea posed for a smiling selfie together, and the iconic, friendly interaction immediately attracted the attention of the media due to its significance to their countries’ long history of animosity and conflict. This simple interaction represents the Olympic spirit that gives us hope for a harmonious world.
A Blessed Culture
Events such as BCSF and the Olympics has taught me that culture is about how you bring people together–what you do, how you do it, and where you plan to go with it. Jin Kwon Kim, founder and director of the event, hopes that one day soon BCSF can reach out beyond the Unificationist community and share its culture with the world. At the BCSF 2016 closing ceremonies, Jin Kwon commented, “Imagine that what you experience here as a community—the trust, the friendships, the sportsmanship, the culture, the talent, the skills—imagine having that with all your friends, and that all being part of what you call ‘normal’.”
It is within our power to build a culture that encourages and empowers each and every person in it to be the best they can be and to create a unified family; and it all starts with the simple things: asking friends to play a game of ultimate Frisbee, starting a book club, treating a stranger with kindness and respect.
What are you building, and where can you take it?