There's been a lot of talk about Tim Tebow, the quarterback for the Denver Broncos, because of two simple facts: A) Since making him the team's quarterback, the Broncos have reversed a trend by actually winning a few football games, and B) he is very public and demonstrative about his Christian faith. Most of the talk about Tebow has centered around the possibility of a relationship between A and B.
When faith is a regular part of people's lives, their awareness tends to expand beyond their personal desires to include a broader sense of what is best for their community, for their coreligionists, or for the world and all humanity. People who practice faith are in the habit of approaching life with an ideal of service to others, and, like a muscle, that potential strengthens with use. People who practice faith are practiced in seeing the universe as a place of order and seeing themselves as having a place within that order. As a result, they tend to approach life with greater acceptance of "what is" and tend to have a greater sense of equanimity and inner strength.
How could these qualities not be an asset to a quarterback, whose job requires awareness of the needs of his team, dedication to serving those needs, and the confidence and inner stillness required to throw a perfect spiral with a 250-pound defensive end approaching?
Before folks get huffy with what I just wrote, let me be clear on two points about what I am not saying. I am not saying that people who do not practice a faith do not have these qualities. I, and you, know lots of people who are generous in spirit, devoted to service, who have great inner strength, and who have never once prayed, studied a sacred text, meditated, or practiced downward facing dog. I am just saying that engaging in these practices, on the whole, can help a person achieve those qualities. I am not saying that a quarterback can be successful only by being a person of faith. I submit Ben Roethlisberger as exhibit for the defense. I am just saying that the practice of faith can help—or, as the Jewish saying goes, "It couldn't hurt." (To make it Jewish, pronounce the last word as if spelled "hoyt.")
So, yes, I do believe that there is a connection between Tim Tebow's devotional life and his success on the field. That makes sense to me and, I think, it makes sense to most people who have a significant faith practice.
The place where the conversation about Tebow and religion gets silly for me, though, is when people ask if Tebow's success is due to divine intervention. Is Tim Tebow "God's Quarterback"?
The fact that people even ask the question is due to a phenomenon that I will call "The Tebow Effect." The Tebow Effect has gone by other names, such as "The Reggie White Effect" and "The Michael Chang Effect," named for earlier athletes who stirred controversy by professing their faith in the same manner as others might endorse a product. In each case, the controversy was magnified by the suggestion (sometimes by the athlete, sometimes by others) that God favors the faithful on the playing field. That, of course, raises hackles on all sides.
Secularists respond by scoffing and saying that such beliefs show how mindless and absurd religion is. Religious fundamentalists then react with equally passionate statements about how they are persecuted and derided in mainstream culture. Religious liberals, like me, write essays (peppered with self-effacing humor) about how both sides are wrong. The athlete gets to be the center of media attention for a little while, making his publicist very happy. Voila, there you have it—The Tebow Effect.
Being a creature of the fickle media, The Tebow Effect can never last very long. It will soon be displaced by the next cultural phenomenon to divert our attention. So, let's just enjoy The Tebow Effect while it lasts and use it as an opportunity to reflect. It can remind us what religious faith is really about—deepening our connection to life's meaning, honing our appreciation of the miracles that surround us, acting to make the world a better place, and finding peace within ourselves and with the world around us.
And if winning the odd football game should enter the process at the same time, bravo to that.
Other posts on this theme:
Why Torah is Like Baseball