I am a keen devotee of Desert Island Disks. The BBC Sounds app is amazing for downloading radio shows and podcasts – I listen to these on dog walks! Billie Jean-King was the latest celebrity to be stranded on the desert island and I was impressed by her story and her values. After winning the Wimbledon title in 1967, Billie Jean-King was awarded a £45 gift voucher. The prize money today for winning the Women’s Singles is £2.35 million! The monetary difference only refers to half of the story. Billie Jean-King has been exposed to – and has been at the heart of – a gender and race revolution. Billie Jean-King is not only one of the world’s greatest tennis players but she is a campaigner, a seeker for justice.
Early on in her career, Billie Jean-King understood how she would become the best in the world. She knew that “everything is relationship.” She set about campaigning for parity within the men’s and women’s games. She fought for the rights of black and ethnic minority athletes. She also held the torch for gay rights, not only in sport but across all social and commercial platforms.
Billie Jean-King talks candidly about her passion to fight for equality and end prejudice and discrimination in sport and society. Her premise is that all people deserve respect, that we should never assume who people are through categorising or stereotyping. My own Christian creed shares the same value system which is passionate about loving difference in neighbours and strangers. I believe that there is a creative force which is present in the differences that exist between human beings. I was struck by a recent testimony given by a group who had volunteered to sponsor a refugee family, how the care of this family had brought the community closer together.
Political persecution has seemingly driven a Kurdish-Iranian family to their death this week as the boat they were travelling in sank in the Channel. They were caught up in the hands of smugglers and fled to Europe looking for better conditions and a hopeful future. I want to name this family here: the father – Rasoul; the mother – Shiva, and the children – Anita, Armin, and baby Artin, yet to be found. Relationships are everything but we did not get a chance to get to know this family, to care for it, to give it a sense of love, life and hope. I mourn the loss of that opportunity. There is great injustice in our world which leads to such crimes against humanity.
This Sunday (All Saints’) we celebrate the fellowship of the mystical communion which is Christ’s body. Everything is relationship – strangers and pilgrims together – tennis stars and umpires, politicians and aid workers, north Oxford residents and refugees – everything is relationship.