Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Faith, football, the Media, and Tim Tebow

"The message of the Cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God; for it is written, 'I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.'  ... For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe."  1 Corinthians 1:18-19, 21

As a church pastor and lifelong Christian (and, sad to say, part-time disciple), I must freely admit that Tim Tebow's public displays of his affection for our Lord both inspire me and make me a little uncomfortable.  Tebow inspires me to be more vocal and more intentional about the faith that informs my actions and guides my thoughts.  At the same time, my cynical heart is waiting for the other shoe to drop.  You see, I grew up Roman Catholic.  Mine was a very small parish that shared a priest with two other area parishes, and one of the other parishes provided the housing for the pastor.  Needless to say, we did not see him quite as often as that one parish did.  One priest did try to generate interest in a youth group in my home parish, but I do not recall that it lasted long or even went beyond boxing.  And I never - NEVER - was made to feel uncomfortable in any way nor did our parish priests ever try to be alone with any of us kids.  They all did their priestly duties openly and faithfully.

Imagine, then, my utter disappointment when the scandals hit the media so many years later.  Imagine my extreme distress when these scandals were made public at about the time I was trying to reconcile myself with the Church after a long absence.  Imagine my broken heart and utter disgust when while attending Mass at a parish in New Mexico, the parish priest had announced to the congregation that their "portion" of a settlement made in one of the abuse cases came to $$$$ (I don't recall the exact amount - in fact, I think I had an out-of-body experience while this was being announced).  Though I have attended Mass here and there since that time, I had long ago aligned myself with another denomination and eventually became a pastor.

It is not for me to question Mr. Tebow's faith, and it is certainly not for me to decide whether his public displays are appropriate or genuine.  In fact, a recent response Mr. Tebow made to yet another critic drove home his very point: public people don't hesitate to pay homage to spouses, parents, or other men and women who have influenced them and continue to do so.  Why is it so strange to us for Tebow to devote such attention to his relationship with Lord of the Sabbath, the Savior of the world, the "Word made flesh"? Why do even church folk (or maybe it's just me) squirm a little when he makes such a public show of his faith?

Clearly the secular media do not get it.  Tebow gets headlines because he is also a talented athlete in addition to being a faithful Christian.  Listening to some "talking head" news show this morning, they were actually debating about whether Tebow needs to tone down his "religious rhetoric".  What they obviously cannot see - or will not see, according to St. Paul's words to the Corinthians - is that there is nothing rhetorical about what Tebow does and what he believes.  Thus is it not for us, the media, the NFL, or anyone else to decide whether he should "tone it down" anymore than it is anyone's business whether or not the Duggars should maybe tie some tubes and stop making babies.  Isn't it funny that such matters of faith are debated by persons who do not have such a dog in the fight?  Indeed are these really "issues" at all worthy of public debate?

We have to remember this is the same secular media which celebrates its freedom to slander public figures by quoting "unnamed" sources, thus avoiding the scrutiny that may likely bring them very close to charges of libel.  This is the same secular media that will violate your freedoms and mine in pursuit of their freedom of press by camping out on your front lawns and harassing you and your family for a headline or a sound bite, driving you to the point of insanity (ask any celebrity).  This is the same secular media which wants the world to know that a US senator might have been acting inappropriately in a men's room in an airport, but they want to make light of a professional athlete giving glory to the Lord for the success in his life.   

We should expect no less from the secular world.  The Cross is "foolishness", the birth of Jesus is a mythical "fairy tale", and the Day of the Lord when Christ will return is a means by which to keep the "sheeple" in line.  So says a world which lives in utter darkness and celebrates chaos as order.  The people of the Church, however, may look to Tebow not as a point of curiosity but as a man of faith who is excited about his love for our Lord!  The faith of the contemporary Church is tepid and lukewarm at best because church membership (in very general terms, of course) has more to do with hanging out with like-minded people in a common setting.  Genuine, heart-felt worship of the Lord is merely incidental to the gathering. 

This is why so many Christians feel free NOT to attend worship.  There is no spiritually compelling reason to be there.  It is socially respectable to be a member of a local church, but it is a social curiosity to actually put all else aside in favor of every opportunity to worship in community formally and with other believers.  Society would better understand our desire to fish, hunt, play golf, or watch a ball game rather than attend Sabbath worship.  Society, for too many of us, makes the rules and sets the standards; and people of faith fall within those standards and willingly abides by those rules, ironically, in the name of the very grace by which they claim to have been "saved".

The other shoe may well drop on Tebow sooner or later (he is still human, after all), and the "dark world" will only celebrate the hypocrisy of faith.  The people of the Church, however, would do well to remind one another that there is only One who is "good" (Matthew 19:17); and Goodness will always prevail for those who strive for it, embrace it, and actively engage in the relationship to which we are all called.  We are not perfect by any means and we should not try to convince the world of darkness that we are somehow better than they who play in their own waste; we need only remind them of where our hope comes from and why we continue to look heavenward.

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