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O me of little faith (updated)

Tebow JesusAre you a believer yet? asked several emails and text messages I received this morning. Its hard to resist this particular evangelical movement, especially because all of my friends and relatives have joined it. Having grown up in Colorado, not far from Colorado Springs, source and summit of my generations evangelicalism, I am familiar with the culture. But Ive never been the lone skeptic amid a sea of faith. The evidence of this mans miracles seems at first glance reason enough to follow him. And to reject the so-called Mile High Messiah, especially in the weeks leading up to Christmas with the family, will be an affront to my own mother and father, zealous new converts. To believe, at this point, would be easier than to remain agnostic.But despite all this -- and despite football jersey sales to the contrary -- Tim Tebow is not Jesus, and Im not yet a believer.Its true that he has presided over a highly improbable string of victories in the past 8 weeks (7-1 as a starter, with 3 overtime victories). His public Christian faith has spawned a trend in prayer postures and evoked analysis from excellent commentators. Beyond that he has exorcised the demons of a sullied franchise, brought hope to millions of viewers, literally healed sick children around the world through his charitable foundation, converted souls to Christianity as a missionary, and achieved what many thought was truly impossible causing regular-season NFL games from the West to be broadcast on the East Coast. For all these things, he deserves our thanks and praise.But messianic claims have been overblown. The Denver Broncos already had their messiah, thank you very much: John Elway. He brought the countrys largest football fan base (when measured in terms of contiguous land area, not population) from the depths of 4 Super Bowl losses to the pinnacle of greatness. And he is still reigningnot only as the car dealership king of Denver, but also as the Executive Vice President of Football Operations for the Broncos. The anointed one is still alive and in charge of Denvers earthly kingdom. Why look for another?Nonetheless the record of improbable victories must be accounted for. For weeks I have been trying to explain it away. Just believe, my friends and family have told me. No, I need reasons. If you believe, Tebow said in last nights interview, then unbelievable things can sometimes be possible. Is it time for me to believe the impossible? Can there be any other reasonable explanation?

After yesterdays game, which was another improbable comeback (actually called impossible by the announcerssomething they never do because their job is to keep viewers on the channel), I realized there is a better explanation for his miraculous powers. Its so obvious, I cant believe Im the first to figure it out. He is not JesusTim Tebow is a sorcerer. (Or if you prefer, a wizard, a witch, a caster of spells.)Most of his victories have been made possible only by some bizarre event that befalls the other team. But in each previous case, the other teams foibles were not totally unprecedentedan interception here, a missed field goal there. Yesterdays game, however, is definitive proof that Tim Tebow has control of superhuman spiritual forces that cause harm. What happened? Both the star quarterback and star running back of the Chicago Bears got injured in the week prior to facing Tebow. Clearly the work of a powerful sorcerer, and it should have been enough. But Tebows team still struggled to do anything against the Bears for most of the game, even though the Bears were led by a quarterback so green that the announcers couldnt agree how to pronounce his name. My suspicions of Tebow sorcery were finally confirmed, though, near the end of the fourth quarter. With the Bears protecting a 3-point lead and possessing the ball with 2 minutes left, it was clear to everyone watching what would happen. The Bears would run the clock down through 3 running plays and punt it back to Denver. They had been running the clock down the previous 2 series, and to do so now was 100% predictable. The Broncos would then get the ball back with around 15 seconds, enough time for a Hail Mary pass (which wouldnt have worked for the evangelical quarterback, for obvious reasons).So what happened next? Bears running back Marion Barber a 7-year NFL veteran and Big Ten star before that took one of the handoffs in that series and ran out of bounds. This stopped the clock and meant that the Broncos got the ball back with time to drive down the field. (Then in overtime, Barber fumbled the ball during what appeared to be another game-winning drive for the Bears. The Sun-Times makes clear that it wasnt the Hand of God that caused the fumble. Chicago sportswriters are no foolsthey know more about curses and hexes than the Vaticans chief exorcist.)Lets be clear about this: Marion Barber's running out of bounds is not explicable by any natural causes. He himself has no idea why he did it. He has played football at the highest level for over a decade. If this had happened in a playoff game, it would rank on the curse meter just below Bill Buckners ground ball through the legs, which gets back to my point. Yesterdays gamewith injuries to both of the opposing teams stars, and then a truly inexplicable play by a veteranis definitive proof that Tim Tebow is not Jesus, but a sorcerer in touch with Beelzebub. (Mark 3:22) He may cast out demons, but I ask, with the scribes and Pharisees, does he do so by the prince of demons?In this bind, what is a Christian from Colorado to do? O me of little faith!UPDATE: I was wrong. Jesus confirms that he was the reason for the victories. He also explained that he would be busy during the Patriots game.

About the Author

Michael Peppard is associate professor of theology at Fordham University, author of The World's Oldest Church and The Son of God in the Roman World, and on Twitter @MichaelPeppard.



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First, Michael, thank you for bringing sports discussion to DotCommonweal. Second, do you think that the Broncos' performance over several games now (the game against Chicago, as you rightly point out, could be considered a fluke when seen in isolation from the rest), could mean that there is something necessary for agnostics to explain that is going on here? Bob Costas had some interesting commentary about it here: Some kind of faith or belief unlike anything we have ever seen in the NFL (at least in my three decades or so of watching it) appears to be causing the Broncos to play the fourth quarter as if they will win the game...and (perhaps helped by the media) other teams are now starting to believe they will too. Thus, perhaps indirectly, Tebow's faith (or strength of will, or confidence, or whatever) is causing some of the inexplicable mistakes?It's not just all smoke and mirrors either...there are numbers to back this up. Tebow's rating in the first and second quarters this year is poor: 64 and 50, respectfully. In the fourth quarter it jumps up to a pro-bowl level: 111. is happening here.

Of course there are football miracles. The Saints finally won the Superbowl, didn't they?

Tim Tebow has nothing on Franco Harris: immaculate reception!

@Jean Raber (12/12, 12:36 pm) Thanks for the link. It reminds me of the story (possibly apocryphal) that Pres. McKinley, faced with the conquest of the Philippines during the Spanish-American War, one morning announced that God had come to him in a dream and told him that it was America's responsibility to "uplift and civilize and Christianize" the Filipinos---90% of whom were Catholic.

If God exists, Tim Tebow will walk into an open manhole, and Marion Barber will be cut by tomorrow morning.

Football players have been pointing heavenward after scoring -- or, heck, even after tackling someone, although that's what they are paid for -- since the advent of paying fans. Tebow does that. But that has nothing to do with what is going on in Denver. The NFL is full of praying people; players from both teams regularly kneel down together after a game and make prayerful noises. No, what we are seeing here stops somewhere short of faith and has to do with statistics. If I may borrow from another art form, remember Tiny Tim -- the guy with the long hair and the ukelele? The guy who dominated show biz in the USA for maybe three astonishing months? The guy who had no more talent -- yea, verily, measurably less talent -- than thousands of waiters and waitresses in New York? Well, statistically something like that had to happen sometime if enough variety shows were staged on television. It's like the monkeys at the typewriter.The NFL has, up to now, played a lot of games. Long before the Broncos have to face the Packers, the air will go out of the Tebow balloon. You can print that.

Speaking of sorcery and curses --I've heard stories about Mario Praz, a scholar living in Rome who was widely reputed to have the "Evil Eye." Bad things inevitably happened when he was around. At the end of one conference when everyone was rushing to catch the last train out of town he alone could not be prevailed upon to rush. When the rest of the group arrived at the station they discovered that Praz was right not to rush -- the train would be delayed because engineer had died suddenly and somehow, they surmised, Praz had been involved.Muriel Spark tells the story of another night at the Roman opera with our hero:"On one special evening when Montserrat Caballe was singing in a Bellini opera, the rain started coming through the roof. Now, a well-known Roman of that time was the late Mario Praz, a critic and scholar of English literature (he wrote ''The Romantic Agony''). He was said to have the Evil Eye and was known as the Malocchio. This nickname wasn't attributed with any repugnance, but rather as an affectionately recorded and realistic fact (for such people are regarded as carriers rather than operators of the Evil Eye). Naturally, everyone noticed when Mario Praz was present at a party, and waited for the disaster. There was usually a stolen car at the end of the evening, or someone called away because his uncle had died. Well, when I saw the rain coming in the roof at the Opera, and heard the commotion behind me, I looked round instinctively for Mario Praz. Sure enough, there was our dear Malocchio sitting under the afflicted spot. He died recently and was mourned on a national scale. (The Italians put their artists and people of letters on a higher level than anywhere else I have known.) Before his house could be unsealed for his heirs, robbers got in and looted his lifetime collection of museum pieces and memorabilia."

But, does he use "Hail Mary" passes?Therein lies the secret to any anti-Catholicism that Tebow might possess.

Aaron Rodgers is having a better year than Tim Tebow ever will -- and he takes the advice (perhaps apocryphal) or St. Francis:

I feel like my stance and my desire has always been to follow a quote from St. Francis of Assisi, who said, Preach the gospel at all times. If necessary, use words. So basically, Im not an over-the-top, or an in-your-face kind of guy with my faith. I would rather people have questions about why I act the way I act, whether they view it as positive or not, and ask questions, and then given an opportunity at some point, then you can talk about your faith a little bit. I firmly believe, just personally, what works for me, and what I enjoy doing is letting my actions speak about the kind of character that I want to have, and following that quote from St. Francis.

And by the way, Eli Manning lead a truly amazing comeback. Needed no help from the Devil or Marion Barber.

Ahem...True Giants fans know Elijah (Manning) when we see him, David. :)

Eli's father was, of course, a Saint.

And we wonder about myths. Reagan, who helped the 1% more than anyone, was proposed for Mt. Rushmore. JFK was a huge Catholic myth which powerful Catholics like Spellman resented. All of this supports the first principle of marketing:" It is what people think they are buying that is more important than what they are buying."

Btw, I'd like to call attention to this blog post on the First Things site, which wrestles with the question, Why do so many of us feel uncomfortable when Tebow is so overt in his faith witness?

What happens when the Broncos' or Tebow's luck runs out and no amount of on-field praying stops a future loosing streak? What happens when the rest of the NFL learns the best way to defense Tebow and shut him down - the probable likelihood to come the playoffs? Are we then to conclude that God has abandoned football-crazed Christians? Has God turned his back on humanity and intends a sports deluge to purify the earth, a la Noah?Tim Tebow plays great football. He is fun to watch. I wish him well. Tebow has undeniable athletic skills in abundance. He is a very fast and quick runner for a quarterback. [Although he looks like he has a strong and sturdy body, he really isn't that tall for a pro quarterback - something that is helpful in seeing down-field.] But every eagle no matter how fast, or how strong, or how high they soar, has to come back to earth sometime.I'm enough of a "Golden Domer" to have made obeisance to "Touchdown Jesus" on occasion, but I actually prefer the constitutional separation of church and sports.

@ Jim Pauwels:I'm not uncomfortable with Tebow's public, overt faith witness. I just find it spiritually immature.When I hear an athlete after a winning performance say, "I want to give all the thanks and praise to my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ," I usually cringe because God rarely, if ever, takes sides in human affairs, especially a violent sport like football. Same thing when basketball players cross themselves at the foul line.It's just that God has better things to be concerned about than sports. Does that mean that God doesn't have a special love for the Tim Tebow's of the world? Certainly not.While Christians are encouraged in the NT to "pray always" (Luke 21; Ephesians 6; 1 Thessalonians 5), I believe that Matthew 6 is the definitive directive: "But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. "

Jim J - it may sound strange, but I've never thought of those public utterances as *prayer* - I think of them as *public witness*. But you may be right - he may just be offering a very public prayer of thanksgiving. (Or, I suppose, a bit of both). That does help explain why it leaves us so uncomfortable. In the US, we typically pray publicly within our own churches. Btw, I don't claim to know whether or not God cares whether the Broncos or the Bears won. I can't think of any scripture passages or revelation that suggest an answer one way or the other. I would note that, while the outcomes are (or should be) trivial to the great majority of us, they are the bread-and-butter jobs for those employed in the industry. If I believe that there is a spirituality of how I conduct myself in my work (which I do believe), then it seems logical that professional athletes and other employees of professional sports franchises could have the same spirituality.

Jimmy Mac beat me to it with the Hail Mary reference, my first thought while reading the article. Tebow has gotten perhaps too much credit. It's a team effort with a great defense and an error-free if mostly dull offensive scheme. Coach Fox is making the most of his players, creating a winning team. He is giving Tebow the chance to do it his way, and TT is making the most of it. Also the Broncos have had a relatively easy stretch in their schedule. But it looks like their D can hold most teams down, so that a drive or two at the end can win it. Tough, boring defensive football can wear down and frustrate opponents, especially those wanting to score 40 points. Those willing to win with 13 points have an advantage.

I doubt many are still checking in, but a question comes to mind: How is Tebow's public piety any more, or less, grating to non-evangelical ears than Notre Dame's ahem, preening (mainly in the past glory days), is to non-Catholic ears (and eyes)?

David Gibson is absolutely correct.It seems to me that ND tries too hard with their "preening" as an over-compensation for their guilt regarding their dubious involvement and investment in basically the corrupt system of college athletics (the exploitation of student athletes for the big bucks).It makes some sense that if you have a national stage you should at least try to get your "message" out there, no matter how compromised from getting in bed with corporate interests. I always enjoy the irony of the time-out commercials of the ND football telecasts fading to scenes of the lighted candles at the grotto, or fall colors framing the famous Jesus mosaic on the front of the library or the golden dome with the Virgin atop. Great staging! Good visuals! "The BVM would drive a Dodge truck!"ND sports is not a bad recruiting tool for the rest of the student body. And, intercollegiate sports like football does fund the rest of the ND robust sports program including the intramural sports.Isn't it about time that ND reduce its sports "footprint" to that of say the Ivy League? Especially as research evidence mounts that violent sports like football leads to chronic traumatic encephalopathy? [As a ND sports fan, I am consigned to the reality that ND will remain mediocre as long as they try to keep up appearances and compete with minor league professional teams at Ohio State, Michigan, Miami, Penn State, USC, Florida, etc. I wish that colleges would just adopt the "club football" model - no lies about student athletes - where universities are the sponsors of the team instead of the local brewery.]College sports lost their way a long time ago. There is just too much money in college sports that contributes to the decay and corruption as seen recently at Penn State and Syracuse. Until the culture acknowledges the social ritual that sports have become with all their spectacle and packaged violence, it will remain less and less about sport and more and more about "bread and circuses."Wait till a sex/money scandal hits ND. Now that will "shake down the thunder from the sky!"

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