Vail Daily columnist Jack Van Ens: What does Jesus think of Tebowing?
Vail, CO, Colorado
“First and foremost, I thank my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, my teammates and the Bronco fans,” exclaims quarterback Tim Tebow in post-game interviews.
He puts faith in Christ before winning football games. Always polite and upbeat, Tebow addresses his interviewers as “Mr.” and “Ms.” He leads a squeaky-clean life, works on a mission building hospitals in the Philippines, and doesn’t sound sanctimonious.
Tebow defends publicly confessing his faith in Jesus, “But say I’m getting married. Is it enough for me to tell my wife on the day of our wedding that I love her? Or do I tell her at every opportunity?”
Running onto a football field, Tebow’s raised hands show index fingers pointed heavenward. He crouches on a knee, thrusts a fist to his forehead and holds his pose as he prays to Jesus.
Tim’s pose has taken on a life of its own. “Tebowing” is part of our lexicon. Grammarians chafe at turning the noun “Tebow” into a verb, but fans effortlessly use it. “Genuflecting” sounds overly literate. “Public praying” smacks of a wooden ritual. “Tebowing” sounds right because it salutes a very famous football player and doesn’t sound excessively religious.
“Tebowing” stirs controversy. Brent Hall, associate director for spiritual formation at Libscomb University, hosted Tebow, who spoke to a packed house. “If you are a Christian,” observes Hall, “he is your absolute flag-bearer in the sports world. You cheer for him and you’re hurt for him when he takes the beating he does.”
When the New England Patriots routed the Broncos in a playoff game, their 350-pound linemen sacked Tebow in the third quarter. Later, fans learned that their hero had suffered bruised ribs with a collapsed lung. Fluids built up in the chest cavity to cause sharp pain.
Such an injury serves as a symbol for those turned off by Tebowing. Says Brett High, “If I am putting myself in the shoes of someone who is offended … and Tebow is getting on one knee with all cameras trained on him, that’s in my face. … So I can see why it’s like the fingernails on the chalkboard to those people.”
Such controversy over appropriate public expressions of Christian piety erupted in colonial Virginia. Anglicans, now known as Episcopalians, were offended by Baptists, who thrust Jesus in their faces. Baptists regarded as natural as breathing showing the face of Jesus to whomever they met. When a Baptist encountered an Anglican on the road, he’d ask, “Brother, are you saved?” Falling on his knees, the Baptist offered a prayer. Anglicans considered such Tebowing out of order and showy.
Both sides quoted Jesus to buttress their arguments. Didn’t Jesus instruct, asked ardent Baptists, to “let your light so shine before others, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven?” (Matthew 5:16).
Anglicans countered with Jesus’ caution to tone down effusive witness. “When you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites, for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at street corners, that they may be seen by others” (Matthew 6:5).
Today, as in the colonial era, lines are drawn over Tebowing. Some applaud Tebow’s witnessing character nurtured by parents who are Baptist evangelists. Others see such spectacles of prayer on football fields as charades of piety.
“What would Jesus do?” is a popular question some Christians pose. Though overused, this query has become a slogan so famous that the initials “WWJD” are stamped on bracelets.
Charles Sheldon, a late 19th century Congregational minister in Topeka, Kan., invented the acronym “WWJD.” He started a “Tebowing” craze with the publication of the best-seller, “In His Steps” (1896). Sheldon described how a town got transformed when members of a church simply asked, “What would Jesus do?” Like Tim Tebow, evangelical Christians sincerely pose this question. Tebowing functions as the outward sign of an inward loyalty to Jesus.
Even detractors who ape Tebowing don’t upset Tim. He good-naturedly laughs off their buffoonery. His response to those who mock Tebowing? “You don’t know the heart of people. But I tend to think the best of people and believe they are doing it for the best of reasons.”
When the Detroit Lions drubbed the Broncos, 45-10, Tebow connected on a mere 46 percent of his passes, and Stephen Tulloch, of the Lions, sacked him. Ridiculing Tebow, who was humped over on the ground, Tulloch took a knee and shoved “Tebowing” in Tim’s face as he tried to stand.
Tebow’s reaction? “He (Tulloch) was probably just having fun and was excited he a made a good play and had a sack. And good for him.” Who in America doesn’t adore such an upbeat response?
What’s Jesus’ take on Tebowing? Was his voice heard in an unlikely place? Last Dec. 18, “Saturday Night Live” spoofed Tebowing. Jesus, played by comic Jason Sudeikis, urged Tebow to “take it down a notch.”
Temper the testimony without sacking it. Isn’t this wise counsel?
The Rev. Jack R. Van Ens is a Presbyterian minister who heads the nonprofit, tax-exempt Creative Growth (www.thelivinghistory.com), which enhances Christian worship through storytelling and dramatic presentations aimed to make God’s history come alive. Van Ens’ book, “How Jefferson Made the Best of Bad Messes,” is available in local bookstores for $7.95.
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