The Denver Broncos are 7-5-0, having consecutively swept their last five opponents. Commensurate with this attention over the past several weeks, Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow has come to the fore of the conversation, and, of course, has famously brought his unshakable faith in Christ along with him – for example, having long noted Ephesians 2:8-10 in his eye black.
Enter Tebowing, a planking-like meme defined by its Twitter component thusly:
(vb) to get down on a knee and start praying, even if everyone else around you is doing something completely different
Tebowing as a concept is not merely a Twitter account. It’s a photo blog, and an entry in the Urban Dictionary – all signs these days of its having been temporarily enshrined in the ranks of our short-term memory. (Tebow even got “Tebowed” a few weeks ago – an act he later laughed off.) But what I’d like for us to remember is that it started by someone trying to show respect to God.
What’s underneath the hype and the question is the wonderment over whether Tebow is throwing his faith in our faces: you know – showboating in some religious way, thanking God in an overly public manner for all that talent. That may well be how it’s perceived, but I don’t think that’s what’s in Tebow’s heart. Is that an affectation? I don’t think it is when you’re talking about this particular person.
After all, this is a someone born into a family of Baptist missionaries – people for whom Jesus (not necessarily to say Christianity) is very much a religion of the heart and of the blood. Emotions play a role; hearts are often worn on sleeves. And, importantly, this is someone whose hallowing of Sundays as the observed day of resurrection has not been learned so much as it has always just been assumed within his family of origin.
As a homeschooled high-schooler who had to creatively pick his way through football programming, Tebow played on Fridays. In college, Saturdays. But Sunday was always Sunday – a day to recover from the previous day’s shocks to the body, and to recuperate in church. (I am making assumptions but feel certain about them; I’m always happy to be proven wrong.) Now that his Sundays are owned by the NFL (their day off is Tuesday), it must be one gigantic recalibration of the brain and body.
Look, I don’t claim to understand his religious politics or his just-plain religiosity, but I can understand why someone with his background would want to say some things about Jesus and would feel obligated and desirous of doing just that given his new platform. Perhaps in some fundamental way, he just wants to keep continuity with Sundays, and to preach without being – well, preachy.
Let’s not kid ourselves. That particular drama on the field is only a microcosm of the larger drama being played out in stadiums and on television sets and in homes all across America. Sunday is Sunday, after all; and when Tebow bends to pray, whether or not he knows it, he’s saying that the religion of sports in America is not the one true God. He’s somehow accumulated this notion around him that real faith does not genuflect before another institution, even the one pumping millions of dollars into his wallet. (And doing so happily once you count up the TV ad rates, ticket charges, and merchandise fees that more than recoup his salary.)
Am I on the guy’s bandwagon? I don’t know. I’ve spent Sundays doing other things lately.
But I do encourage you to see his actions as something more than smug, something much closer to sincere, and therefore something more than the usual athletic lip-service to God. Something oddly countercultural in the immediate environment of the field of athletic contest.