Like most Americans, but few Hoosiers, I am thrilled the New Orleans Saints beat the Indianapolis Colts tonight in the Super Bowl, 31-17, behind the brilliant Purdue quarterback Drew Brees — and a turning-point interception and touchdown return by Tracy Porter of That Other School.
I thought of titling this post “Super Bowl Theology.” Maybe a better headline would be “God Loves New Orleans.” But I’m walking on a theological minefield here, hoping to come out on top.
Most of the time (99%) I think God couldn’t care less who wins the Super Bowl, the World Series, the FIFA World Cup, the NCAA Championship or your 8-year-old niece’s gymnastics meet. The more hype there is, the more God’s bored, just like us mortals. God’s got better things to worry about than who gets a five-yard penalty for encroachment. Sports are trivial; they’re games.
But tonight I wonder if God did not choose his Saints to bless his city.
Divine intervention? Not in the least. God can’t be bothered with such things. (I do think God intervenes frequently in human affairs, but not over a stupid ballgame.) Instead God created a system that allows humans great freedom, so that we are mostly responsible for what happens to us. The same system that created life, on this earth and maybe elsewhere, out of hydrogen, carbon and eventually oxygen, has to allow for earthquakes, cancer, human stupidity, global warming and human mortality.
Which brings us to New Orleans and Vera.
The fact that God allows evil, including natural disasters and Federal floods, does not mean we can blame him for them. God had nothing to do with Hurricane Katrina. It wasn’t because of Gay people, or Bourbon Street, or Jack Daniels, or jazz. It was because of weather. (Federal floods are the Army Corps of Engineers’ responsibility.)
God also had nothing to do with the earthquake in Haiti, despite the pronouncements of jackasses like Pat Robertson. God is as bored by fundamentalist hypesters looking for ratings as she is by football.
(I’d like to think she’s slightly more interested in Gay Spirit Diaries, but who can say.)
The fact is, everyone in New Orleans, in Louisiana, in Cajun country and upstate, most of the American nation, knows that tonight’s football game was a storybook ending to four and a half years of misery, suffering and death—the kind of ending that happens only in nursery rhymes and vintage Hollywood movies directed by Frank Capra.
God blessed New Orleans tonight, for a reason; God has hurt terribly these past four years over what happened to New Orleans and south Louziana, and the abysmal response by the world’s (self-proclaimed) Most Enlightened Government.
Did God tip the ball so Tracy Porter could catch it? No. Mr. Porter deserves the credit for a play he made all by himself.
Did God hire Drew Brees as a free agent four years ago? Did God decide who won the coin toss? Did God tell New Orleans Coach Sean Payton to start the second half with an onside kick?
No, no, no. God has to stand a certain ways off from us to allow us our freedom. We have, compared to most animals, highly developed brains. Puny compared to God’s, but nevertheless, we have brains. (It’s kind of like the relationship between me and my dog Luke. Most of the time he’s real dumb. But oh, do I love him; does he add so much to my life.) Since God is about relationships, he has to/wants to allow us freedom as independent actors. Otherwise God would simply be an imperialist oppressor, which is the opposite of God.
God is not a dictator.
This requires that God lets certain things happen that we’d much rather never occurred. Fires, floods, mudlsides in Southern California; an earthquake in Haiti, even that Katrina person. Create a world, then set it free; that’s God’s modus operandi. It’s the most loving choice he could make, so naturally it’s the one he did.
But God got highly upset with “Here Lies Vera,” and all the other suffering that occurred on the Gulf Coast (Texas to Florida) in 2005. The humans were responsible, not God; the humans deserve the recriminations.
New Orleans needed a group of saints; not any one strongman, but a whole group of hope-givers. No man or woman knows how to fix that place, it’s too overwhelming. All those parishes and jurisdictions, the river, the Feds, the racial politics, the history, the neighborhoods, the corporations, the restaurants: who could sort all that out? Not Ray Nagin. Maybe not Moon Landrieu’s son either. God has to let all that go—which doesn’t mean he isn’t intimately involved in whether a Black nurse and single mother finds a place to live with her kids. God’s passionate about that, just as she is in restoring former Sen. Trent Lott of Mississippi, whose house was destroyed.
I’m not saying God involves himself in draft picks. But when Drew Brees, a free agent, came available in 2006, nursing an injury, wondering whether he was washed up, I wouldn’t be surprised if God said, “New Orleans might be a good place. He could help them.” So maybe there was a little nudge, or maybe not; I don’t know.
But I wouldn’t be surprised if God put it in mind of Saints executives that Brees might be a good fit; that’s how God works, just putting something in mind. The response of the mortals is not God’s job description; but every now and then he gets a hit.
Someone in New Orleans (I don’t know who) recognized that Brees is not only an extremely talented quarterback, but he has the character (personality, values) that would perfectly suit a devastated city. That he would plunge into rebuilding; that he’d be tireless in helping his city, and lead his team and his whole organization—thrown out of New Orleans by Katrina, forced to play games in San Antonio and Baton Rouge—to reinvest in the idea of New Orleans.
Did God win the Super Bowl for Drew Brees? No. Drew Brees and his Saints did that. God stayed above the fray. But this year, I think, unlike most years, God tuned in (at 6:30, not the pregame show) to see what would happen, to see what his kid could do.
The irony, the amazing thing, is that God supplied Indianapolis with a quarterback every bit as good as Brees is; a New Orleans kid, Archie Manning’s son, who has been as heroic (with less acclaim) in his adopted city as Brees has been in his.
These two guys are as old-school as they come in their community behavior, yet as high-tech and turned on as an athlete can be in 2010. Manning is sometimes called a robot; no one outprepares him. He recognizes the defense he’s facing better than anyone else in history. And oh, what a champion he’s been for good causes in the Circle City; the list is as long as Brees’s, multiplied by nine years, not four.
Tonight we saw a Clash of the Titans. Manning, the best QB ever, deserved the win; but prosperous Indy doesn’t compare to hurting New Orlins. Did God decide who won? No. But I do think he was pulling for Hurting Town, like most Americans. That’s what God’s like; down in the trenches with the people who hurt.
So if he kind of nudged the Saints management to look at this Brees kid and pick him up—implanting an idea, which the individuals were free to reject—you can’t blame God for the final score. New Orleans won, 31-17, and that devastated city, which has lost one-fourth of its population, tens of thousands of homes, billions of business, staged a blowout party tonight on Bourbon Street, and will keep on dancing all the way to Ash Wednesday.
One might imagine that God isn’t entirely pleased that Drew Orleans got drunk, smoked weed and fucked; but considering that the main street is named for bourbon, God cannot be terribly surprised. What else would humans do when they finally, finally win a world championship after 40-some years? Mortals don’t surprise God anymore.
God surprises mortals instead, with a storybook ending even Capra couldn’t have imagined. NEW ORLEANS MATTERS.
It’s called justice. Read Amos, Hosea and Isaiah if you’re not sure what justice is. Widows and orphans; strangers; the poor. Maybe even the queers.
Peyton Manning is not only the best quarterback in history, he’s one of the best citizens of the United States.
But then there’s this little Drewboy, 5’11”, with a mole on his face and a passion for children, the poor and oppressed. God blessed him with New Orleans, and New Orleans with him.
Purdue fans knew how good he was when he beat Wisconsin in the last minute in 2002. Don’t ever bet against Drew Brees. He’s gifted (by whom?).
God bestows gifts widely. But the honorees are seldom that good at living up to the charge. (I should know.)
I hope that in time my readers of fiction will come to understand Kent and Jamie, my Gay heroes. The great rap on them is that they’re “idealized,” but the criticism itself is false and cynical, from people who think “the dark side” is somehow attractive. It isn’t. It’s ugly, it’s violent, it’s murderous. Most commonly among Gay men, it’s dehumanizing. Invariably it’s selfish, and it’s time that Gay selfishness became as repulsive as a little limp dick.
Heroes do exist; ask Indianapolis, ask New Orleans. Peyton Manning is the best there ever was, and Drew Brees just whupped his ass. But these two men are among the greatest philanthropists—human-lovers—in their cities.
The game of football itself amounts to nothing; but a great American city now survives, thanks to an entire team made up of Saints. Laissez les bon temps rouler!
Angels are dancing on Bourbon Street tonight, right next to the queers and the Saints fans.++