Tuesday, November 8, 2011

God Is My Running Back

I was in southern Kansas Monday last, a scant fifteen miles north of the Oklahoma line, planted in front of a television screen as Oklahoma State University's football team narrowly defeated the Kansas State Wildcats in a 52-45 donnybrook that edged the Cowboys up into second place in NCAA rankings. I'm not a football fan, scarcely ever watch a game, but this was the game to see if you only ever see a game or two each season - a fast-forward sequence of kickoff returns, interceptions, breakaway downfield scampers, long arcing pass completions, quarterback sneaks - all the right ingredients for an adrenalin-draining heartbreaker. I'll say no more - this isn't really about football. 

I was in a southern Kansas farmhouse, as I think I said, and the Cowboys and the Wildcats had scarcely desisted from this near-equal exchange of ministrations, the field of endeavor still warm, the turf still scuffled, when I went upstairs to bed. I rested for a moment in precarious monopedalian equipoise, gingerly removing one leg from a trouserleg, when the lampshade began to rattle, then the blinds, then the whole upper story of the old manse, undulating slowly like a waterbed in a clapboard railway hotel.

So, Oklahoma State wins an absolute squeaker over Kansas State and Oklahoma has an earthquake plainly felt in Kansas. Coincidence? I thought not. Yes, God had spoken through the earthquake. God, as we know, speaks through earthquakes, although in fairly general terms so you're never quite sure in what you (or more likely, everyone) may have erred - like when your second grade teacher used to drag you along the playground by one ear muttering, "You know very well what you've just done, young man!"

I scampered back down the stairs to find that everyone in the house had congregated in the kitchen and dived into the popcorn and soda pops in a fizz of nervous, giggly eating, all oblivious of the internet admonitions of Pat Robertson. We all agreed that being spoken to in an earthquake was preferable to being spoken to in a tornado or in a house afire, we all agreed that we'd gotten off easily this time and vowed to be better persons in future.

But surely, I reasoned with myself, these events - an earthquake coming on the heels of an OSU victory - cannot be coincidence, particularly where fervent prayer is . . . well, does one deploy prayer, or merely employ it? In any case, football has become, more than ever, the arena within which good Americans show their worthiness of divine benefactions, where God in his turn reveals his will to those same good Americans and pronounces his judgments favorably upon them. Unless you're a Penn State fan.

Football, having supplanted baseball as the national waste of time, has become the latest and most visible devotional space. I can't imagine a professional cycling team on the godless socialistic European circuit kneeling in prayer before a stage or a meal or at bedtime. They know that God doesn't see them doping. Even Americans haven't always prayed over their sports; the practice seems to have started somewhere in Texas and spread like a gastrointestinal parasite into the more susceptible Southern states across the Hookworm Belt.

"Thank you, oh Lord,  for this oxycontin."

"Heave an egg out of a Pullman window," H. L. Mencken wrote back in the 1920s, "and you will hit a fundamentalist almost everywhere in the United States today." Heave a bottle onto the playing field at Sports Authority Stadium at Mile High and it's just as likely. The devout Tim Tebow, inventor of "tebowing," quarterbacks with mixed success there of a Sunday in autumn. For now, at any rate.

Tebow has either riled or inspired by example his colleagues in the National Football League. Except as a matter of mild curiosity, I don't understand why anyone cares one way or another about Tebow's mostly ostentatious devotionalism - his "oppressive piety," as Frank Bruni nicely puts it. He has replaced the celebratory endzone "spiking the baby" with this . . .

"Thank you, oh Lord, for my open receiver."

A New York Times article reports that, "Supporters have reacted to criticism of Tebow as an indictment on religion, while detractors seem to delight in every wayward pass." Both sides, of course, assume that God gives a shit about football. Or Tim Tebow. The French and Italians all realize that God can't ride a bike anyway.

 IF God rode a bike . . .

For my part, I'll take a good earthquake. Even if I can't quite understand the message, it makes me sit up and pay attention. The only thing that could make a football game more of a snooze is praying during a football game.

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