New Orleans gears up for Super Bowl, but we still have lots of work to do

Editor’s Note: Surprise, surprise. After a long hiatus, Geaux Therefore is back – just in
time for the Super Bowl!

By GaNewOrleansSignry D. Myers

It’s game time.

In the days leading up to the Super Bowl in the Mercedes-Benz Super Dome Feb. 3, New Orleans may be the world’s largest construction zone. Construction is nothing new for the Crescent City. This place has been under construction constantly since Hurricane Katrina left her battered and wounded, down but not out.

Aided by the massive reshaping and rebuilding, the city came back with passion and spice. And when New Orleans was announced as the host city for the 2013 Super Bowl, NOLA ordered up yet another round of updates and improvements. The Super Bowl is a chance for the city shine and I believe she will look good for her close-up.

For over a year the touristy sections of town have been reduced to a maze of traffic cones, barriers and orange construction netting. Street and sidewalk work in the French Quarter, a new streetcar line on Loyola Avenue, and a $300 million airport makeover. And the work continues. On Jan. 23, Mayor Mitch Landrieu declared the city Super Bowl ready. Mission accomplished … almost. I suspect the work will continue right up until people begin to arrive for the big game. Maybe we should change the welcome signs to read, “Welcome to New Orleans: Careful, The Paint is Still Wet.”

This Super Bowl is important for our city. We’ve survived Katrina, the BP oil spill, a cantankerous little storm named Isaac and the corruption trials of countless civil “servants.” The game brings an influx of cash. It means major exposure. People will visit and want to come back. You just can’t help falling in love with New Orleans.

New Orleans has already hosted nine Super Bowls. But this tenth one, though very important, isn’t our most important Super Bowl. That came in 2010. We didn’t host it, but the Saints won it. Rarely has sport been so transcendent. The win was so much more that a reason to brag about a game. Players and coaches alike wanted to win it for the city. They wanted to make a statement. The win said our city was back from the brink. It gave a measure of hope just when we needed it.

I will always treasure my memories of the victory parade that follow that Super Bowl win. We saw Drew, Reggie, Pierre, Sean and the team. That was cool. But the best part was sharing the night with 800,000 other Saints fans – people of all walks of life.  We shared something special together as a city and a region. We experienced community. My love for the city and its people grew that evening.

But a championship can only do so much. It provided some hope, but it didn’t solve all our problems. Our educational system is improving, but it is what it should be. We still have a ridiculous murder rate holding us back. Still we have a lot going for us – food, history, music, art, architecture, passion, etc. All this good needs to be matched with good schools, safe streets and opportunity – in a word, hope – real and lasting hope.

This Super Bowl won’t solve our lingering problems either. We will look good for the camera. I won’t discount the importance of that, but we need to be good. We need to be good for the children of this city. We need to foster their potential to rise above the status quo.

It is game time, but the paint is still wet. Solutions to our problems still can be found. The solution rests with you and me – everyday New Orleanians. It won’t be easy … in fact it often seems like fourth and long. It’s game time. Will you get in the game?

From City of NO to City of Yes

By Gary D. Myers

The City of No – that sure doesn’t sound like a happening place. It doesn’t sound like a city on the move . Sounds more like a place with very little opportunity.  Sounds like a place where needs go unmet and dreams go unfulfilled.

Until 2010, http://www.cityofno.com was the official web address for the New Orleans city government. Mayor Mitch Landrieu quickly changed the web address to http://www.nola.gov soon after he was elected to office. He referenced this fact in his recent State of the City speech.

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Pregnant and Camping: A Winning Combination

A tent and a lantern overlooking the Gulf of Mexico at Buccaneer State Park in Waveland, Miss.

By Frank Michael McCormack

Jennifer and I went camping last weekend at Buccaneer State Park in Waveland, Miss. That means we were pitching our tent on the shore of the Gulf of Mexico about 7 weeks away from Jennifer’s due date.

We’re expecting our first baby sometime around December 5.

Camping at Buccaneer State Park has a special place in the story of our pregnancy. Little did we know at the time, but when we camped there in March, Jennifer was newly pregnant. And as we approach time for her to give birth, we wanted to “bookend” the pregnancy with a second trip.

I mentioned the potential trip to a few friends, all of whom gave me looks of disbelief or words of caution. Sleeping in a tent isn’t what you do when you’re pregnant, they said. No one believed me when I said Jennifer wanted to go just as much (or more) than me.

Really, I’m telling the truth. I don’t think anyone believes me even now.

After a little deliberating Saturday morning, we decided to go for it. Zero chance for rain, blue skies, moderate temperature, cool evenings = camping goodness.

(And to be honest, we try to make a habit of disregarding “no, you can’t” comments.)

We arrived at the park around 4 p.m. Saturday and pitched the tent in no time. This time around, we made a few key camping innovations, like securing the tent with heavy duty stakes for stability. The wind blows on the shore, and our lil tent needs all the help it can get to avoid blowing away.

With the tent in place and secured, we picked up a few supplies and headed to the seedy seafood restaurant we discovered last time. I guess it was seedier than we thought, because it had gone out of business. We opted for Mexican.

We returned to camp for dessert. Last time we made smores, but this time we popped popcorn over the camp stove. We’ll go with smores next time.

We crawled into the tent for the night pretty early. Then around 11, I was roused by a feeling no camper wants to experience. Icy darts of rain were hitting me in the face.

I scrambled out of the tent and put the rain cover on just in time for the rain to stop. The wind was still blowing as it always does there, and the rain flap wasn’t helping the tent’s aerodynamics, so I decided to stuff it back in the car.

I dozed for awhile, then the wind picked up and the rain returned. And this time, it was heavier. I consulted Weather.com while Jennifer and I threw our weight against the sea-side of the tent as we struggled to prevent the tent from collapsing. On the radar, I saw a rain squall coming off the Gulf, moving to the northwest right over us. Fortunately, the rain was coming in more-or-less sideways, so we were able to zip up the sea-side window and block most of the rain.

In about 20 minutes, the storm passed, the rain stopped, and the wind kept blowing. I guess you can’t have everything. We settled back down for sleep.

In no time, Jennifer was asleep again, but I laid there wide awake. I was really worried that our tent wouldn’t be able to withstand the wind the whole night. So there I was wide awake, whispering to myself “peace, be still” and praying that God would calm the winds much like Jesus did on the Sea of Galilee.

If you’re not familiar with the story, Mark 4:35-41 tells of when Jesus and his disciples were in a boat crossing the Sea of Galilee. As they crossed, Jesus slept soundly in the stern while the disciples captained the boat. During the night, a storm blew in and brought with it some rough seas. Mark 4 says, “the waves were breaking over the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped.” The disciples woke Jesus, saying, “Don’t you care that we’re going to die?” Jesus got up, rebuked the storm, and said, “Silence! Be still!” The wind died down and the lake returned to calm. He asked the disciples, “Why are you fearful? Do you still have no faith?”

Most times when I think of this story, I focus on the “peace, be still” part where Jesus speaks and the wind calms. It’s a demonstration of Jesus power and authority over the elements and a testament to his divinity.

But like all good stories, the story of Jesus calming the storm has another side, and that other side of the story is captured in his question, “Do you still have no faith?” In a very real sense, the storm was a test of the disciples’ faith. I wonder what would have happened if they would have had faith and not cried out to Jesus for help. Would the boat have held up through the storm, with Jesus commending them for their faith? There’s no way to know. As it is, the disciples actually kind of blame Jesus for the tense situation (“Don’t you care…?”).

That got me to thinking of the times I’ve responded to adversity in my life with that same kind of blaming, faithless outburst directed toward Jesus. “Don’t you care?” or “Can’t you see?” or “Why this and why now?” And if I’m honest, more often than not Jesus puts out the fire or calms the winds, spares me from serious consequences, then turns and asks “Do you still have no faith?”

And yes, I was thinking over this as I laid there on an air mattress on the shore of the Gulf of Mexico in a tent shuddering in the wind last Saturday night.

After thinking through that, falling asleep in the wind-blown tent wasn’t so hard after all. Oh, and it took the edge off having a baby too.

That is, until we went to that birthing class the following Monday.

More than a game

By Gary D. Myers

Baseball is a lot like life. At times it is slow and boring. Other times all the pressure seems to fall on you. There’s nothing like the excitement you feel when you are batting or when a hard-hit ball is coming your way. Like life, baseball requires knowledge, individual skill and the ability to work with others. It’s complex and unpredictable. It requires quick thinking in difficult situations. Sometimes baseball hurts.

This summer I had the privilege of serving as an assistant coach for the Bunny Friend Eagles baseball team, a 9- and 10-year-old New Orleans Recreation Department (NORD) team based at the Bunny Friend Playground in the Upper Ninth Ward.

It was great to reconnect with the game that I loved so much as a child and a teenager. All the fond memories of my playing days in grade school and high school flooded my mind. I thought about the first team I played on as an 8-year-old. We went undefeated (10-0) and won the league championship. I won’t revise history and claim that I played a huge role in that team’s success, but I did play a little.

I already knew that while learning the game of baseball is hard, playing it well is even harder. This summer I learned something new. Teaching little boys this complex game is even harder than playing the game well. During the Bunny Friend season, our team amassed an 0-8 record. Winless.

Our team was part Bad News Bears and part Fat Albert’s gang (with a mean streak). The Eagles never gained the focus needed to succeed at baseball. Moreover, they never mastered the mechanics of throwing and catching … especially during a game. As far as the situational aspects of the game, they never learned exactly when and where to throw the ball (or when not to throw the ball). If our only goal was to create a well-oiled baseball machine, we failed.

But that’s only half of the story. I joined the coaching staff to be an influence on these boys from a rough neighborhood. I had worked with most of them before in our church’s tutoring ministry, but there is something about hanging out on the playground. I really got to know them well and I got a glimpse into what life is like for these young men. Several of them have very sad histories.

Practice was difficult. Lot’s of curse words. Lot’s of fights and name calling. Lot’s of distraction and general bad behavior. Very little baseball. Most days I was at the point of utter frustration by the time practice ended. But it is the hope of the gospel that kept me coming. Jesus didn’t say go where it’s easy and go where the children are well behaved (are all the kids in our churches well-behaved?). Jesus went all the way to the cross and He sends us to the ends of the earth. The least I can do is go to the Upper Ninth Ward to invest in these boys.

I was able to connect with the boys in different ways. One conversation stands out. A little boy was talking about playing Wii, so I asked what was his favorite game. He said that he liked to play a Michael Jackson dancing game and started talking about dancing to the song “Billie Jean.” I told him I remembered when the song came out (I was in seventh grade). I asked him if he could do the moon walk. His eyes lit up and he tried it right there on the practice field.

Another neat experience came after one of our games. I had been gone for a while on my various trips (Alaska, Israel, Phoenix) and a new boy had joined the team while I was gone. When I told him to sit down in the dugout at the game he said, “You’re not my coach!” and refused to mind. He did apologize later at the prompting of another coach. I was not happy and that night I wondered if I was wasting my time with the team. At the next practice I made an extra effort to encourage this child. Not only did my attitude change, his did too. I didn’t have any more problems with him. I counted that a major victory.

Something else beautiful happened this summer — my 10-year-old son decided to play with the Eagles. That’s really how I got involved in the first place. He wanted to play with the Eagles because of our church’s connection with the team. I jumped at the opportunity and volunteered to help coach. Despite all their differences – racial, economic, social – Jonathan and his fellow team members got along well. Children have many things to teach us about the value of every person.

This summer was an investment — an investment in the future of New Orleans. It is rooted in the hope that these boys won’t end up as a crime stat in 10 years if they turn to Jesus. It was also an investment in my son’s spiritual development. He already has a missional bent. I hope that was strengthened this summer.

Some investments offer quick returns; others take a steady, long-term approach. The Bunny Friend Eagles are of the long-term variety. But the investment continues. At least six of the Eagles are attending Vacation Bible School at our church this week. And I will begin tutoring again now that the baseball season is over. I guess you could say this one is going into extra innings … and we still have a chance to win this one.

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Lent: Spiritual Spring Cleaning

By Byron Townsend

Byron Townsend

Editor’s Note: Byron Townsend, pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Baton Rouge, is leading his church family through a series of Lenten devotions. Lent runs this year from March 9 through April 24, Easter Sunday. This installment of Geaux Therefore has been adapted from Grace Church’s first Lenten devotional.

Spring Cleaning for the Church

Lent season is a built-in “spring cleaning” season of the Church. The word Lent comes from the Middle English word lente, meaning “spring.” Also, the word lenten means “lengthening,” a term used to describe the days becoming longer. As the trees and plants use springtime to recover from wintry death, so Christians use Lent season to recover from being in a spiritual rut. We examine, fertilize and prune the “fruit” of our heart. Of course, the Holy Spirit does the examining and pruning. Our part is found in “work our your salvation with fear and trembling.” The increasing awareness of our selfishness (sin) is painful, but as Hebrews 12:11 says, “No discipline seems enjoyable at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it yields the fruit of peace and righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”

‘Tis the Season

The Church calendar is divided into different seasons. The most common are Advent, Christmas, Lenten and Easter. The Church calendar is a great educational and devotional tool that provides a balanced spiritual diet for Christ-followers. For instance, during the year we:

(1) reflect upon and worship the God who delivers His people (Advent)

(2) celebrate that God has become human (Christmas)

(3) confess, repent and renew ourselves to God’s mission (Lent)

(4) celebrate the Resurrection and our role in God’s mission (Easter)

Fasting & Feasting

Beginning on Ash Wednesday and ending on the Saturday before Easter Sunday, Lent season is 40 days long. The 40 days correlate with the 40 days of temptation, prayer, fasting and preparation Jesus endured (as found in Matthew 4). Lent is commonly known as a time when – in remembering our Lord’s fast – we fast or “give-up” an activity, food or drink. The purpose is not just to abstain, but to direct the desire normally reserved for that activity, food or drink toward communion in Christ. Sitting quietly in His presence. Listening to His voice. Examining ourselves. Confessing sin. Repenting of sin. Renewing our lives to following Him. Worshiping Jesus.

The six Sundays are known as the Sundays in Lent. They do not count towards the 40 days. Sundays are a feast day, a day that Christians have been celebrating ever since the Sunday Resurrection of Jesus. If you are fasting from an activity, food or beverage during Lent, feel free to enjoy it on Sunday. You will find that as a result of your increased enjoyment of Jesus – the Eternal King – your delight in that temporary thing will be more meaningful.

Last year, I fasted from coffee. Because my body was accustomed to a daily (over)dose of caffeine, I endured an initial two or three days of painful headaches. I was able to use those headaches as a vehicle to contemplate the pain Jesus endured while on earth, ultimately being damned by God, bearing wrath for my sin – what a Savior! The six best cups of coffee I drank last year were on the Sundays in Lent. It wasn’t just a caffeine fix, it was an act that stirred my affections for Christ.

We Learn To Live When We Learn To Die

Traditionally, these 40 weekdays were used as a time of preparation for baptism candidates. The candidates would spend time in prayer and devotion, preparing to make their public confession of faith in Jesus. As the Scriptures teach, baptism symbolizes death – “Buried with Christ in baptism and raised to walk in newness of life.”

Eventually this time of preparation spread to those who had already made a public confession of faith in Christ. Hence it is also our 40 day journey into the wilderness, preparing ourselves for confession, repentance and renewal to God’s mission. We will end our journey at the bloody Cross upon which Jesus died. We will discover that life is found in death. Jesus said “you will not find your life until you lose your life for My sake.” Good Friday is a dark day. It is a difficult day. It is a day of death. It should have been my death. Instead, it was His death caused by my sin.

But through His death, Jesus lives. The Resurrection has occurred! The grave has been conquered! Sin had left a crimson stain, He washed it white as snow. With each passing day, the death of death becomes closer. In our earthly sojourn, we must die in Christ’s death in order to find life in Christ’s Resurrection. There is no Resurrection without a Cross.

It is impossible to fully celebrate the joy of Easter Sunday until we have fully embraced the reality of Good Friday.

The question to answer today is this: What thing (activity, attitude, food or drink) stirs my affections more deeply than my affections for Jesus?

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For a more detailed understanding of the Church year, check out http://www.crivoice.org/chyear.html. Grace Baptist Church is located at 630 Richland Avenue, Baton Rouge, Louisiana 70806. Follow Grace Church on Twitter @GraceBatonRouge.

No longer reigning, but still champions

By Frank Michael McCormack

Sunday night, a new Super Bowl champion was crowned – the Green Bay Packers beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 31-25 to win Super Bowl 45. And in doing so, the crown passed from the New Orleans Saints, champions of Super Bowl 44.

The Times-Picayune summed up the Saints 43 year road to a Super Bowl championship with an emphatic "AMEN!"

That’s right. For a year – that’s 12 months, or 52 weeks, or 365 days, or 8760 hours, or … well, you get the point – the Saints were “Defending Super Bowl Champs.” That had such a great ring to it. And beginning with training camp last summer, the Saints were in pursuit of the illusive “Two Dat” (a.k.a. back-to-back Super Bowl wins).

The quest for the Two Dat ended when the Saints lost to the Seahawks in the first round of the playoffs. And Sunday, when the game clock in Cowboys Stadium ticked down to zero and the Packers hoisted the Lombardi Trophy, the Saints were finally forced to give up the title “Defending Super Bowl Champs.”

New Orleans’ and the Gulf South’s yearlong “Party with the Lombardi,” at long last, has ended. Or has it?

No doubt, many will insist that Saints fans cease to wear gear that bears the Super Bowl 44 logo. Outside the New Orleans area, “Who Dat” may no longer be gladly reciprocated, but instead answered with “That’s so last year.” In a world stuck on “what have you done for me lately,” victorious exclamation points from last year can quickly be twisted into doubtful question marks this year.

But this need not be the case.

After all, what husband, on his first wedding anniversary, turns to his wife and says “That’s so last year” and lives to tell of it? And what parent refuses to celebrate his or her child’s first birthday, calling it “yesterday’s news”?

There’s a reason why events like these are called life-changing events. Though many people get married or have children or realize a great personal achievement, that doesn’t minimize the wonderfulness of your marriage or your children or your crowning achievement.

So as the Who Dat Nation celebrates the first anniversary of the Saints’ first world championship, let this be a time to look back, look forward and look inward.

Looking back: ‘Just wait ‘til last year’

Celebrating anniversaries involves, first, a look back at life leading up to the event. And for Saints fans, that’s a lot of history.

Beginning with that first season in 1967 and for the next 43 years, Saints fans consoled each other annually with the phrase “Just wait ‘til next year.” “Next year” held endless possibilities and dreams of grandeur. But year after year, the possibilities of this year faded to hopes for next year. And some years were harder than others. But through all the losing seasons, big game meltdowns, and occasional bag heads, Saints fans never lost hope.

Then came the 2009 season. Win after win, as the Saints marched to a 13-3 regular season record, people around New Orleans began to wonder “Could this be the year?” And when Saints kicker Garrett Hartley kicked the game-winning field goal in the NFC Championship game, fans celebrated to the words of Jim Henderson, the voice of the Saints: “Pigs have flown! Hell has frozen over! The Saints are on their way to the Super Bowl!”

A sign at the Super Bowl said it well: “This is next year!”

But looking back reminds you that, for residents of the Gulf South, the Saints’ march to Super Bowl 44 really was, as another sign read, “about more than just football.” It was a bookend to 5 years of fighting back after Hurricane Katrina. The Super Bowl victory wasn’t just a victory for the players, the coaches or the organization. It was a victory for the whole community.

The Saints won it, but we did it together. That unity was seen in the thousands who met the team at the airport after each game and in the crime-less streets of New Orleans during each game. That unity culminated in the Super Bowl victory parade Feb. 9, 2010, when a million-plus from all walks of life stood side-by-side to celebrate together.

“Next year” had finally come. We, against all odds, were champions.

Looking forward: Building a dynasty

Anniversaries also point you toward the future.

Over the past year, Saints fans have, understandably, continued to revel in that Feb. 7, 2010, win against the Indianapolis Colts. But as the opportunity of a Two Dat slipped away, attention began to truly turn from the greatness of last year to the possibilities for the future. The pieces are in place for greatness, year in and year out. The only question is, Will the Saints achieve it?

But if the Saints can be champions, what does that mean for this community? What can the New Orleans community and the Gulf South accomplish over the next 5 or 10 years? Together, we’ve rebuilt after Katrina and survived the BP oil spill. Together, we won a Super Bowl. What else can we do together?

So as you look back at Super Bowl 44, let it inspire you to aspire to great things in the future.

Looking inward: Embracing your identity

But perhaps the most important part of an anniversary is looking inward. The life-changing events we commemorate redefine us and often accentuate what defines us. Remembering the events helps us reclaim and recommit to that identity.

After the Saints’ big Super Bowl win, it would have been easy for the team to take a break from their “For New Orleans” mantra. After carrying a region on their shoulders for four or five years, the team could’ve easily laid down that banner.

But instead, they ramped up their work in the community, motivating students, sponsoring events like Feed the Children and distributing meals in communities hard-hit by the BP oil spill.

Instead of basking in the glow of their victory, the team got back to work. It seems that, while the Katrina recovery is a motivator for the Saints – and understandably so! – it isn’t the only motivator. While this is a recovering community, it is, underneath all that, their community. And they have a role to play in it.

So the question is, what is your community? What is your identity in that community? And what role is yours to play in it?

On this, the first anniversary of the Saints Super Bowl victory, let no one rob you of the joy of celebrating it. Because, after all, it’s your victory as well. But let it not be an empty celebration.

Look back. Look forward. Look inward.

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Click on the links below to relive some of the high points from last year’s Super Bowl victory. If you have any favorite videos from last year’s Super Bowl run, feel free to share them as well.