Two Movies, An Album, and One Man: The Top Cultural Events of 2011

All he does is win.

And win or lose, he publicly gives thanks and glory to God.

Former pro QB Kurt Warner (and professing Christian) recently said on Colin Cowherd's ESPN show that the furor over "Tebowing" (the practice of dropping to one knee in a public setting and offering a prayer), Mr. Tebow's customary "God bless" at press conferences, and all the public statements about his faith are important because they open dialogue about religion and its place in public life. Whether you approve or disapprove of how Tebow acts, you're talking about prayer, God, and what faith ought to look like.

Kurt Raab over at Esquire doesn't necessarily like evangelical Christianity, but he writes that Tebow "is tough. He is fearless. And he is an inspired and inspiring leader of men." And although it surprises him, he compares the negativity aimed at Tebow to Muhammad Ali's religiously-informed choice not to fight in Vietnam.

Raab also suggests another reason Mr. Tebow may be important; in a time of reduced optimism and advancing cynicism about our public life, he offers a vision of what principled leadership looks like. Matthew Dowd blogged for ABC News a few weeks back that unlike our political leaders, Tebow makes the most of his gifts and gets things accomplished:

Sunday night, watching Denver quarterback Tim Tebow's post-game press appearance and President Obama's interview on CBS's 60 Minutes, I was struck by the fact that one man is offering his team (and the country actually) the leadership they need while the other is trapped in traditional discourse and scoring political points.

Tebow is not even close to the most physically talented quarterback in the NFL (and he probably isn't even the most physically talented quarterback on his own team), but he has taken a team sitting in the cellar and lifted it up to playoff contention.

The Tebow phenomenon is not really about whether God likes the Denver Broncos best because Tebow prays hard and publicly. (God clearly favors the New England Patriots, given that team's recent pasting of the Broncos). But Tim Tebow proclaims the power of hope, demonstrates leadership, and puts God and others before himself.

And whether or not you give a damn about football, that's a life lesson we all could use.

The Ides of March (dir. and co-written by George Clooney)
There's nothing so dangerous as a disillusioned idealist. When we find out that people are—gasp-- people, fallen, imperfect, we sometimes lose essential faith in them, in ourselves, and in the things we believe. Some of Martin Luther King's followers couldn't stomach Dr. King's infidelity and left the movement; if Tim Tebow turns out to be a bad and faithless guy (and I fervently hope he's exactly who he appears to be), it'll drive another nail into the coffin of American faith. When, in The Ides of March, the idealistic media director Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling) discovers that his principled (and married) presidential candidate, Governor Mike Morris (George Clooney), has gotten a young staffer (Evan Rachel Wood) pregnant and won't make things right, he goes over to the Dark Side.

Like those supporters of President Obama who thought he could wave a magic Change Wand and pop progressive policies into existence, like those supporters of George W. Bush who thought they voted for a compassionate conservative, like those supporters of Bill Clinton who found it impossible to reconcile public policy and private intemperance, Stephen can't reconcile his disappointment in the man and in the system with his projections of them. So his solution is to abandon his hopeful ideals, buy into the system, and go to work for The Other Guy.

This political thriller, written and co-written by Mr. Clooney, is smart and powerful. I don't claim this was the best or even the most entertaining movie Gosling or Clooney made in 2011 (I preferred Drive, for Gosling, and The Descendants for Clooney), but it was the one that perhaps most dialed into our current bipartisan discontent with a system that seems to care more about election and preserving power than about making real principled change. Stephen's transformation from light to dark is reflected by the cinematography, and when we get to the end of the film, we are right to feel despair. In this film—as in the world—people lose hope, they make bad choices, they disappoint us.

1/6/2012 5:00:00 AM
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  • Greg Garrett
    About Greg Garrett
    Greg Garrett is (according to BBC Radio) one of America's leading voices on religion and culture. He is the author or co-author of over twenty books of fiction, theology, cultural criticism, and spiritual autobiography. His most recent books are The Prodigal, written with the legendary Brennan Manning, Entertaining Judgment: The Afterlife in Popular Imagination, and My Church Is Not Dying: Episcopalians in the 21st Century. A contributor to Patheos since 2010, Greg also writes for the Huffington Post,, OnFaith, The Tablet, Reform, and other web and print publications in the US and UK.
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