The Magnificent Defeat

It wasn’t supposed to end this way.butler-lined-up-seahawks

Seahawks at the New England 1 yard line.   A Seahawks Super Bowl Victory seconds away.  All it took was a simple toss.

Interceptions?  At the one yard line?  Are you kidding?  They simply don’t happen.  There’d been 61 one yard touchdown passes this season – and no interceptions.

But then here comes Patriots defensive back Malcolm Butler.   Seconds before he’d just given up a 33-yard pass that deflected off of him into the hands of Seahawks receiver Jermaine Kearse.

seahawks-interception-patriots-super-bowlBut now Butler does what isn’t supposed to happen – he catches the ball. What!  Intercepts Wilson’s end-zone pass! Are you kidding!  Seals the win for the Patriots over the Seahawks 28-24.

The cries from Seattle resound to that other coast.

And they haven’t stopped.  Sports columnists lambast Seahawk’s coach Pete Carroll’s “inexplicable decision” for an end-zone pass “one of the worst Super Bowl decisions of all time.”


We all want someone to blame when defeat is in the air.   And Carroll takes the blame. He has his reasons.  Statistics in his favor.  But despite all the odds against it happening, it happened.

Despite all the odds that it won’t happen to us, it does. We throw when we should have run it in. Run it in when we should have thrown. And somehow the ball ends up in the other team’s hands. And we are left trying to find our way through the great defeat.

I can do victory quite well.  Imagine myself lifting the Vince Lombardi thTrophy high overhead.  Waving to cheering crowds. Full of bravado and saying whatever might have led to the scrapping after the game was decided.

But defeat?  Not so well.

I responded to the Seahawks defeat by getting sick this past week.  A really nasty stomach bug.  I haven’t been so sick in years.

33362393I’m a terrible sick person.  I moan and complain.  Diagnose myself with Ebola just because the doctor asks if I have been to West Africa recently.   The only good thing I did last week was call in sick most of the week so as not to spread my bad germs and worse mood on the poor people who would have had to be with me.

Today, I’m feeling somewhat better and am planning on feeling even better tomorrow.  But all set-backs and defeats in life are not so easy to recover from.

I know how to let past mistakes or regrets from years ago, childhood even, sit on top of my joy, my potential, my living fully today.

I know to be spiteful. A poor loser. To say whatever snide remark might have led to the brawl after the game was decided.

I don’t know how to even imagine being Pete Carroll. I mean, I’ve made pete carrollmy bad decisions and decisions that whether “good” or “bad” just didn’t turn out as I intended, but I’ve never had 114.4 million people now associating my name with a bad call.

What still draws me to the ancient story of a people who spoke a language I don’t speak, lived in a place I’ve never lived, believed things about the world I no longer do and didn’t know about so many things that I know about today, is that they knew about defeat.

And yes, though Christians are particularly adept at turning this thousands year old story into another triumphal march across the pages of history and other peoples and cultures rights and religions, it is the defeat at the heart of the story that we can’t run away from or cover up.  The main characters (including God) mess up. One lead character dies before he gets to the Promised Land (Moses) and another is killed far before his time (Jesus).   Things don’t turn out as they were supposed to again and again.

ball on fieldAnd yes, although I hate to admit it, the story reminds me that despite all my attempts to not have it so, my life full of small and not so small defeats and bad decisions. Passing when I should have run. Running when I should have passed.

But defeat is not the end of the story!”, the noisy pontificator in me wants to proclaim!  …But well, like in the world of sports, sometimes it is.  The Seahawks might come back next year and go up against the Jaguars.  But in 2015?  They lost.  That’s it.  The Seahawks can’t ask for a do-over and try running the ball in.  That’s it.  It’s the year of Belichick and Brady.

Sports is about the victors.

Faith is about what we do with our defeats.

Novelist Frederick Buechner ends his sermon, “The Magnificent Defeat” Jacob Limpingwith the image of Jacob picking himself up off of the ground and limping home in early dawn.  Jesus, “staggering on broken feet out of the tomb.”

The story, just starting to get interesting. Something more, waiting to be revealed.

It’s Pete Carroll talking about how accepting the truth of the situation – “getting in there, talking about it, facing it up” – is the first step toward moving forward….and that it might not happen overnight.

It’s not getting defensive.

And it is taking responsibility.

“I feel responsible for a lot of people right now, certainly from the family to the organization, our players and coaches and all that. But it extends well beyond that as you go out into our community and the area that follows us. There’s a lot of people that really care a lot about what we’re doing, and our game hit them really hard. I thought they might need me some.” (Pete Carroll interview with Matt Lauer)

“I thought they might need me some.” Hmmm….

Yes, Pete, maybe we do. And others like you. Heck, maybe like me – or you. Showing how to be after defeat has knocked us hard and down.

Revealing something more.

Something even greater than victory.  Humility.  Honesty.  Grace.  Courage.  Humanity.  images

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