Tim Tebow’s gospel of optimism

It’s not everybody’s favorite gospel, particularly in the world of professional sports, but it’s got a lot of people talking and thinking — including Frank Bruni in the New York Times:

He genuflects so publicly and frequently that to drop to one knee in the precise way he does has been given its own word, along with its own Web site, where you can see photographs of people Tebowing inside St. Peter’s, in front of the Taj Mahal, on sand, on ice and even underwater.

That zeal doesn’t go over so well with many football enthusiasts, me included. Tebow performs a sort of self-righteous bait-and-switch — you come for scrimmages and he subjects you to scriptures — and the displeasure with that is also writ colorfully on the Web, in Tebow-ridiculing Twitter feeds and Facebook pages, one devoted entirely to snapshots through time of Tebow in tears. An emotional man, he has traveled a weepy path to this point.

But the intensity of the derision strikes me as unwarranted, in that it outdoes anything directed at, say, the Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, accused repeatedly of sexual assault, or other players actually convicted of burglary, gun possession and other crimes. In a league full of blithe felons, Tebow and his oppressive piety don’t seem like such horrendous affronts at all.

Besides which, to get lost in the nature of his Christianity is to miss the ecumenical, secular epiphanies in his — and the Broncos’ — extraordinary season. Their sudden turnaround isn’t just thrilling. It illustrates the limits of logic and the shortcomings of the most quickly made measurements and widely cited metrics.

In sports as in politics, business and so much else, we like to think that we’ve broken down the components of achievement and that, looking at those components, we can predict who (and what) will prevail. But if any football analyst at the start of this season had said that a quarterback averaging under 140 yards of passing a game — that’s Tebow’s sorry statistic — would have a 6-1 record as a starter and be considered the linchpin of his team, few people would have bought it.

BUT Tebow tends to have his worst 45 minutes of play when it matters least and his best 15 when it matters most. And while he makes many mistakes, their cost is seldom exorbitant. These aren’t so much skills as tendencies — inclinations — that prove to be every bit as consequential as the stuff of rankings and record books. He reminds us that strength comes in many forms and some people have what can be described only as a gift for winning, which isn’t synonymous with any spreadsheet inventory of what it supposedly takes to win.

This gift usually involves hope, confidence and a special composure, all of which keep a person in the game long enough, with enough energy and stability, so that a fickle entity known as luck might break his or her way. For Tebow that state of mind comes from his particular relationship with his chosen God and is a matter of religion. For someone else it might be understood and experienced as the power of positive thinking, and is a matter of psychology. Either way it boils down to stubborn optimism and bequeaths a spark. A swagger. An edge.

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29 responses to “Tim Tebow’s gospel of optimism”

  1. Frank Bruni is halfway there. He should contemplate the psalms.

    From Psalm 16:

    5 LORD, you alone are my portion and my cup;
    you make my lot secure.
    6 The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
    surely I have a delightful inheritance.
    7 I will praise the LORD, who counsels me;
    even at night my heart instructs me.
    8 I keep my eyes always on the LORD.
    With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.

  2. The phenomenon of a World Boxer Manny Pacquiao from the Philippines who kneels at his corner before and after a fight, and making the sign of the cross right at the beginning of every round certainly manifests his deep religious relationship with God. He may not have the same swagger and edge of Tebow being that he is non-American, but Manny Pacquiao’s faith is real in his concern for the poor, the underprivileged and the forgotten back home. However, being that he is not American, the chance of The New York Times’ coverage of him is nil. And significantly probable is the anti Catholic environment of the press might have regarded his practice not worthy of spilling ink.

    And by the way, Tim Tebow’s missionary activity in a remote and Muslim infested barrio in the island of Mindanao in the Philippines might have affirmed his courage and tenacity to kneel on the football field for the world to see, acclaiming and beseeching a much greater reality named God. Such a circle of life!

  3. I give a little prayer to him before each game, not for victory, but for his health and his faith to sustain him and that it might reach out to those who need to hear. I remember the flack he took over his pro life ad for the super bowl. We live in a world that is distorted by the culture of death.

  4. Even when the NY Times are sympathetic to religion, they have to provide a backhanded slap.

    “For Tebow that state of mind comes from his particular relationship with his chosen God and is a matter of religion.”

    “His chosen God”? As if there are Gods to chose from. Wouldn’t the typical phrasing be “his particular relationship with God”? At least someone who believes in God would say it that way. It would have been said that way thirty years ago. That Bruni phrasing reflects a relativist world view.

    I stopped reading the NY Times over ten years ago now.

  5. Well, chock another one up for Mr. Tebow, his latest vicitims being da’ Bears.

    Next up, the Pats and their jet setting glamour boy QB, Tom Brady, who plays the Q position precisely as the book instructs; he is the anti-Tebow.

    This next game has all the trappings of a Hollywood storyline. Me living in the very heart of Patriots Nation will need to remain subdued in rooting for TT if I am to avoid trouble for myself, but cheering for him is exactly what I’ll be doing.

  6. I’ve watched a couple of NFL games since reading this post earlier today, and I’ve seen players exhibiting behaviour ranging from pantomimed gunshots to flurries of punches like a boxer to overtly sexual crotch thrusts. Not a word from any of the pricey talent commenting on the games. Sex and violence seem to be fine fare for the viewing public. But faith? Horrors!

    Then, browsing through the website linked in Greg’s post, I came across this:

    “Nathan has mitochondrial disease. His stuffed puppy, “Tebow”, has been through thick and thin right along beside Nathan through his entire life. He takes his “Tebow” as comfort to help through all the hardships he endures.”

    I think I’ll reserve judgement on his theology, and displays of faith are not uncommon in sports, from baseball to Nascar, but I’d be willing to bet Nathan thinks what he’s doing is a good thing.

    God bless.

  7. I’m a Cowboys fan. I went to bed witht he Cowboys up by 12 with under seven minutes to go in the game. I awoke to find they lost. I wish they would start praying during every game.

  8. I wonder how many people praising Tim are of the same opinion that says “What do celebrities think we should care what they think?” I am of the opinion that sports has become idolatry — and the idolization of sports stars (such as Tebow) is dangerous to say the least. I also think a quiet faith instead of trumpeting it before the people would lead to a better witness –grandstanding with faith seems often just another gimmick to get attention to the self (I can’t read the heart, but talk about appearances). It is for good reason Jesus said not to trumpet one’s faith in this kind of way…

  9. You are right about sports becoming idolotry but that’s the very reason why Tebow is such a refreshing change. His reverence is anti idolotry! He stands out because he does what all sports figures should do but no one does any more. When I was young, many players steping up to the plate in baseball would make the sign of the cross. What’s happened to that?

  10. He seems to be putting the spotlight on himself — which is exactly what Jesus warned us when we get showy about our religious practices. Sports figures didn’t make shirts like he does, for example. He knows he creates controversy — and it is a way to put more of the spotlight on himself. If he didn’t do this, would we be talking about him as much? No. Again — remember Jesus and what he said about making a show of religion — you got your reward! He hasn’t changed the idolatry — he is firmly putting himself front and center just as much as… say… Dennis Rodman did… imo.

  11. We are all called to evangelize. Each of us does it in different ways, but IMO, there is room for those who use whatever celebrity status they have to draw attention to faith in God.

  12. And there is often the pretense of drawing people to God to actually draw people to oneself. Again, the way he handles himself shows it is all about him. I get a very bad taste with showmanship as evangalism. It just doesn’t work. We have seen it many times in the Catholic Church (like Corapi). People confuse spectacle for substance and in the end, everyone suffers.

    Again, I think Jesus’ caveat about making attention for oneself needs to be remembered.

  13. Tebow: ” he is not a very talented quarterback, all he does is win”

    When this guy is the quarterback, somehow all of his teammates believe they are going to win. That leadership is something that they can not measure with arm speed or throwing at mechanical dummies down field at the NFL scouting combine. ( Doug Flutie was that way also)

  14. You have succomb to the secular culture. Would a knight before a jousting tournament kneeling to pray be an ostentatious show of religion? Tebow is the correct person to emulate. The lack of religious demeanor by the rest of the population at large shows what a society we’ve become. Not only does it lead to secularism but it justifies atheism. Three cheers for Tebow.

  15. So Jesus also succumbed to secular culture by telling people not to put on a show in front of people? You know, the early Church even said if you act in a way to incite, you are not a martyr — again, we must be careful in how we act, and what I see is all a way to direct attention to Tim not Christ. I see nothing Christ-centered in this, especially when it brings Christ into the silliness of sports… seriously, sport?!

  16. It’s obvious that his critics just hate Tebow’s in-your-face witness for values they have rejected–not so much religious faith in and of itself as sexual restraint, respect for unborn life, and the traditional family. If he were championing gay marriage with similar zeal, I’m quite sure he’d get their enthusiastic backing.

  17. For a people that have been trying to set themselves apart from the culture and consider themselves living in an enemy culture, there is something wrong with the constant whining about the culture picking on them. If people of faith are going to give it, they should learn how to take it. Or perhaps better yet, they should simply end the charade of conflict.
    As far as Tebow goes, it is like a group of high school girls. “I’m doing this, because they did that.” “Well I’m doing that, because they did this.” Quite frankly there is enough grievances on both sides to let it play out forever. As to the substantial argument of whether Tebow is an NFL caliber quarterback, neither side is really all that interested in the question.

  18. Oh please Henry. So I assume that when you’re out to dinner and you say grace before meals, that’s showing your faith on your sleeve. Christ prayed in public often. He prayed in from of thousands. He had a moving ministry as a hjourney from the north to the south. He rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. Tebow deserves praise.

    And let me tell you, that verse about not praying in public is a lot more complicated than you state. I’m not qualified as a theologian to explain the complexity, but protestants use that verse against Catholics.

  19. Based on what I’ve seen of this phenomenon, it seems to me the only person not too terribly interested in talking about Tim Tebow is … Tim Tebow. When he gives interviews, he talks about the team, then he mentions the team, afterwhich he talks about the team. I don’t think he’s rubbing our faces in his faith, or calling attention to himself at all. I think he’s being himself, and the “Tebowing” phenom is largely a creation of the media who are following and reporting on this unlikely and delightful story of a down and out team making a comeback. Is Tebow pointing the cameras at himself? Is Tebow shoving the microphones in his face? No. That’s the work of the media, who know a good story when they see one, and are only to happy to create a story where none exists if it’ll help sell papers and air time. The Broncos unlikely success is the real story. “Tebow Time” is a creation of the media.

    People accuse Tebow of praying for victory because he prays before, during and after games. How does anyone know what he’s praying for? Protestants looked at Catholics kneeling before statues of the Blessed Virgin and accused us of worshipping idols. Some still do. Those who mock Tebow’s devotion are acting like middle school losers. Shame on them, and shame on us if we’re so jaded and cynical that we fail or refuse to recognize the good example of a fine young man.

  20. The issue isn’t praying — it is making a spectacle of oneself for the sake of attention. And he is doing it. Look to his Jesus jersey as an example.

    And I quite well know the verse. Clearly it doesn’t mean don’t pray in public. Who said it was? However, it makes it clear that there should be humility, we shouldn’t be seeking to bring attention to ourselves. It is very quick to become a show – and that is what he is.

    Haven’t we had enough of this show in the past? Think of Jimmy Swaggart or Jim and Tammy Faye Baker or Corapi or a host of many others who use the pretense of piety for the self. I don’t think this is glorifying God, making him a football spectacle — however, it is clearly drawing the attention and to whom? To God? No!

  21. Just caught a glimpse of the Tebowing website. Hilarous! Strikes me as more of a tribute than a mockery. Given Tebow’s own smiles at his fans “Tebowing,” it seems he has a sense of humor.

  22. “So every one who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven; but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 10:32-33)

    In a world where so many have lost faith and many more have become cowards about their belief in Jesus, it is fantastic to see a young man with such courage, that he acknowledges his faith in Jesus in front of the entire country. God bless Tim Tebow.

  23. I see what you mean but I think Tebow is simply wanting to give praise to Jesus for his Victories and for his ability to play for him! If He was just doing these things for fame and the spotlight I think God wouldn’t be blessing him for it! God says in his word many times that he “Humbles the proud and raises up the humble!” I think what Tebow is doing is fantastic! Being in that environment he’s stunned people and made them question on why he’s been winning games. When clearly his statistics say that he should be one of the worst Quarterbacks in the NFL! The matter of idolizing him I think is a matter of the person idolizing him! In the interviews that he has about why he prays to God during games and what he thinks about certain reactions to it, he always directs people to God! Which I think is fine and not bad! Plus I think for people who are Christians it’s nice to have someone in the game they love following Jesus and winning for his Glory! Instead of watching people winning for there own Glory! When Jesus was talking about making a show of your faith it was a matter of pride. Which is why Tebow wouldn’t be winning games if he was doing it to get peoples attention. So I think this issue you bring up about showing off his faith is strictly between him and Jesus!

  24. Not everyone worships the same God, Manny. I expect everyone has a different idea of what God is like…including Tebow.

  25. So Tebow has to make a big deal about the fact he prays? We have to observe this? To me it is—look, I’m religious—. Not appealing to me. I don’t have a problem with his faith, but is it necessary to show off to the world about the fact he IS very religious. What is he trying to prove? Many folks in the athletic world are sincere in their beliefs/religion. Don’t see them making a big deal of it everytime they do something that wins the game or whatever. They pray but they do it privately or in their heads.

  26. “We have to observe this?”
    You can always avert your eyes when you think Tebow is about to pray.

    “Many folks in the athletic world are sincere in their beliefs/religion. Don’t see them making a big deal of it everytime they do something that wins the game or whatever. They pray but they do it privately or in their heads.”
    Apparently you don’t watch the Red Sox, or you’d be familiar with the way David Ortiz points to heaven when he scores a run (and the former Manny Ramirez used to do it too, and it has spread to other players as well). One of the pitchers, Alfredo Aceves, I think would clearly pray on the mound before beginning to pitch. And numerous batters make the Sign of the Cross.

  27. Yes, naturgesetz, I have watched players (and soemtimes the Red Sox) do the sign of the cross, or point to heaven and simular actions. (however I’m not a big sports fan). That is a bit more subtle, IMO, than plopping down on 1 knee. And yes, I could avert my eyes. :0) .

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