Can I Get An Amen
April 28th, 2011
Regardless of how the playoffs turn out, Memphis has won.
As published in The Daily News, April 29, 2011, and in The Memphis News, April 30-May 6, 2011
As the Duke divinity graduate rises and throws up a prayer, an entire city rises with him. All know his name, as he was chosen by them in the beginning and then banished to the wilderness. Well, to Houston anyway. Now he returns. Now he holds their hope. A moment later and ten years coming, we are delivered of our distress in high-def, screaming for joy in front of our TVs. Heaven help us, Shane Battier has ripped a three pointer and the Memphis Grizzlies have won their very first playoff game. Bless their hearts, the San Antonio Spurs have just heard the first lesson in their own house.
The sinner stands at the center of attention – his only option is himself – and releases it. As it rises, all in the building rise with it. His bruised and purple past are in it, all the ugliness and thuginess in its arc, but when it comes down it is the act of a changed man who pays other people’s utility bills, whose talent has electrified us and whose heart has captured ours. All in this congregation are on their feet, joy has erupted, people are dancing in the aisles and, I’m pretty sure, speaking in tongues. All hell has broken loose, Zach Randolph has ripped a three pointer and the Memphis Grizzlies have won their very first playoff game at home. Bless their hearts, but here endeth the second lesson for the West’s number one seed.
God isn’t on the Grizzlies bench any more than on the Spurs. Despite all the thanks that come his way in post game interviews, Jesus has never worn one team’s sweatshirt or the other, and has caused no blown layups or bricked free throws. Muhammad has never screamed at or questioned the parentage of any referees. Hinduism would not support my belief that Manu Ginobili will come back as a flopping carp. Buddha would not find anything said by either analysts or fans – or Phil Jackson for that matter – to be particularly enlightening.
However, for me anyway, the presence of something larger than our understanding, deeper than our knowing, beyond our explanation can be felt just as much or more in big water, big skies and big weather – and in moments great and small with each other – than in spaces prescribed for it.
Comfort, structure and form can be found in liturgy, and in a jump shot. Joy can be found in a favorite hymn, in a smile or touch, and in the crazed grins of 19,000 people waving towels.
If churches are the most exclusive and segregated places in Memphis on a Sunday morning, FedExForum is the most inclusive and integrated place in Memphis on a Saturday night. Every income, political stripe, racial profile, religious belief, class distinction, address and opinion stand side-by-side united in a celebration of renewed faith in and of a city.
Rejoice and be glad in it.
I’m a Memphian, and I believe.