The story rage in NFL football over the past several weeks has not been brutal defeats of reigning teams or even scandalous reports of inappropriate behavior by coaches. To the contrary, the media has been focused on one man, Tim Tebow, the quarterback for the Denver Broncos. And it’s not even his playing that has attracted so much attention, although he is an incredible quarterback most of the time. The subject of the media reports and fan spin has been the spirituality of Tim Tebow.
Tim is not shy in talking about his deep personal spiritual life. He attributes his success as a football player to the Grace given to him by “his lord and savior, Jesus Christ.” And when he does perform well, or when he seeks strength to perform, he drops on one knee, places his fingers on the bridge of his nose, closes his eyes, and prays. Right there in front of everyone … he prays.
It has been amazing to hear the responses of all kinds of people, from those who are outraged at public displays of spirituality to those who have decided that he is a saint, or an angel sent to remind us of who is really in charge. We were in a very fancy restaurant the other evening when the maitre ‘d began talking with us about how wonderful it was to have such a role model as Tim Tebow. Not knowing a lot about Tebow or the Broncos (or much else about the NFL) I just listen.
I’ve never been a real fan of public displays of faith, even in the confines of the church. Raising one’s hands in prayer (although it is clearly an ancient Christian prayer form) doesn’t really turn me on.
I remember being an American Baptist kid in a primarily Roman Catholic community in what seems like a hundred years ago. One day we were in gym class where the p.e. instructor (our High School basketball coach) was teaching us about foul shooting. I could barely get the ball to the rim, to say nothing about sinking it. I noticed that all my friends were making the sign of the cross on their forehead, lips, and chest before shooting. They told me that it was because of their sign of the cross that they were getting the ball in the hoop. I decided to try it, sending the coach into gales of laughter. He knew my family and knew that this was an uncommon practice for me. It didn’t help either. I was the king of airballs.
My concern with the Tebow thing is the theology of it all. If Tim’s prayer to Jesus is for success in his passes and victory for the team what about the other guys? Does the other team suffer from lack of support from God because they don’t pray before a play? And if Tim throws an interception, is Jesus telling him that he shouldn’t have sworn or sipped a beer? (I suspect he doesn’t do either, incidentally.)
This form of spirituality that Tebow demonstrates is very individualistic and personalized, as if he has the ear of God all to himself … and as if Jesus would really care about who wins an NFL game. Maybe that’s not the prayer he’s offering, but it sure looks that way to us in the ignorant masses. I don’t subscribe to that kind of spirituality or faith stance, and I suspect I’m not alone in that. I’d like to think that God is more concerned with people dying from disease, hunger, and war than the Denver Broncos.
There is no question that Tim Tebow is a good role model for fans. He is everything that many other sports stars are not. I’m glad kids are drawn to him and his personality. But I’m still very confused by the public prayer concept. Maybe I need to pray about it.