Wednesday, October 26, 2011

dear brian phillips.

Yesterday, I shared a link to an article by one, Mr. Brian Phillips. The article, "Tim Tebow, Converter of the Passes," was published on and captured my attention for various reasons, but has now kept my attention because of the gravity of Brian's claims/accusations/questions. My heart sank when I read his tweet advertising his new article, "On @Grantland33, my new piece on whether Tim Tebow's W-L record actually *is* a referendum on the existence of God."

So, this is a letter to Mr. Phillips.

Dear Brian,

I hope I can call you Brian. You can call me Lauren, even though most people don't. I read your article on Tim Tebow yesterday and felt compelled to write. If I were a betting woman (which, if I'm anywhere near a casino, I would classify myself as one), I'd guess that this is somewhere around the thousandth e-mail you've gotten on your article. I want you to know first and foremost, I'm not going to tell you that you are stupid or going to Hell (though you might be). I don't want to throw anything at you and I don't want you to think that I am a member of the Tea Party or a Michele Bachmann supporter. I am neither. I am a "churchgoer" for whatever that's worth and will readily admit that the Lord took hold of my heart long ago, which is why I'm bothering to write this in the first place (go back to my first point, I'm writing to tell you about Jesus, NOT to tell you that you're stupid).

Let’s dive in. I pray (yes, I said it) that this all makes sense.

To begin, I’ll address your tweet. Tim Tebow’s win-loss record is absolutely not a referendum on the existence of God. It’s not a referendum of any kind, actually. To suggest that Tebow’s success has something to do with his beliefs is to suggest that God cares about football and specifically cares about Tebow’s passing percentage and I want to assure you that He does not. If God cared about such things, I would have to assume that my high school basketball team would have been much more successful.

“What can a sloppily thrown 15-yard out pattern tell us about God and country?” Brian, I’m not sure it can tell us anything. I think, more than anything, a sloppily thrown 15-yard out pattern can only tell us just that— it was a sloppily thrown pass. I mean, I really thought about that question and I could not see the correlation to God, country and being a successful football player. And I really love God and America.

“As a result, it's basically impossible not to see Tebow's ability or inability to complete a 15-yard out pattern to Matt Willis as a referendum on the Book of Deuteronomy.” Now, I have to ask you, Brian, how much time have you spent studying the book of Deuteronomy? I have been a part of the Church since birth and I have spent very little time in it. I’m assuming you chose this book because it’s kind of a funny word? But, let me again take the stance that Tebow’s ability or inability to complete a pass is NOT a referendum on anything, including: God and the book of Deuteronomy. And again, to imply that this is a referendum at all seems a bit much. Are you really planning on putting this issue to a popular vote?

I hope I haven’t lost my audience yet (I’m talking to you, Brian).

“For about three quarters, Tebow floundered, and it looked like the Living Water Bible Church out on Route 17 was wrong about pretty much everything.” Is Living Water Bible Church a real church? I don’t know what they preach there, but again— I can’t see how Tebow’s abilities on the football field have anything to do with what they say between the opening and closing hymns. It’s never good to judge a church’s doctrine/theology on how one believer acts (or plays in a football game). You should compare a church’s doctrine to the Gospel.

Brian, you kind of made me chuckle when you poked fun at the believers who always seem to interject the Lord into post-game interviews. I don’t like it either most of the time. Because most of the time, these people are only thanking the Lord for good things. Or they are proclaiming His name after a victory, but never again in any sort of context. It’s very frustrating.

“The evangelical movement spends a lot of money and time coaching its kids on how to confront secular culture, but the kids don't usually reach a position at which they can confront it on a national-media scale — not as kids, anyway.” I guess I’m a part of the “evangelical movement” you’re speaking of, but I don’t like the connotation that comes with that phrase. I grew up in church, youth group, FCA, all of that and I’m not sure I was ever “coached on how to confront secular culture.” It was more like I was encouraged to get to know the Lord and then that relationship would help propel me through the waters of life. You know what I’m saying? To suggest that churches spend a lot of money on this is just silly. Most churches don’t have a lot of money and if they are a church that practices their beliefs they are probably not spending their money burning secular books or music or “confronting” secular movements. For me, it’s not about confronting secular culture; it’s about the value I place on secular things versus the value I place on my relationship with Jesus Christ.

Let’s put it out there—Tim Tebow is kind of a polarizing guy. Personally, I don’t think any of it has to do with his belief in the Lord, either. I mean, look at him— he over celebrates, screams, makes ridiculous speeches and in college, beat everybody, all the time. That’s why he annoys me. I don’t think it’s fair for you to suggest that people root for or against him based on his beliefs. If you really broke it down most people root for or against him based on whether or not they think he’s annoying.

I went to the University of Arkansas and don’t care for any other team in the SEC. It’s the burden I bear. When Tebow was in college I didn’t like him. I liked that he wasn’t shy about his faith, but severely disliked him on the football field (and off it, too). I hate that he beat Darren McFadden out for the Heisman and hate that he would celebrate like he just won the World Series after a three-yard-run deep into the first quarter. You’ll note that I think he’s annoying because of his personality and not that he loves the Lord. I’m a Christian and I think other Christians (and people, in general) can be and sometimes are annoying. It’s my burden to bear. It’s also an issue with MY heart and not the other person, usually.

“I'm sure there are people who manage to escape the demographic rooting pattern this creates. But in broad strokes, it's fair to say that how you feel about Tebow depends on how you feel about youth groups and Elisabeth Hasselbeck and, I don't know, WWJD bracelets and raft retreats with a lot of bonfires and swaying.” This is such a loaded statement, Brian. Why in the world would someone who likes or dislikes Tebow also like or dislike Elisabeth Hasselbeck? Why, Brian? Tim Tebow was not in my youth group and was never involved any “raft retreats” I chose not to go on. Yes, that’s right. My youth group took float trips and I didn’t go on them. It’s not fair for you to say that Tim Tebow is a “whole culture.” What does that even mean? I'm not modeling my life after Tim Tebow.

Tebow completing a pass may well be a miracle (I’ve seen his throwing motion), but it’s not in any way comparable to Jesus turning water into wine.

Admittedly, I get kind of lost towards the end of your article. I know what you’re trying to say, but I don’t really follow.

I’ll just address a few things: there is a higher power involved in the universe. God created the universe and he’s still involved in it. Tebow’s successful two-point conversion does NOT prove that Jesus rose from the dead on the third day. Just like Josh Hamilton not hitting any home runs in the first five games of the World Series doesn’t prove anything about Jesus either.

What if the free-safety that picked Tebow off is a believer? Does that mean that God favors one believer over another? NO, Brian, it does not. You know why? Because God does not care about football. He just doesn’t. He cares about Tim Tebow’s heart and the way Tim Tebow lives his life, just like the way He cares about my heart and the way I live my life. He cares about your heart and the questions you have. He does not care about football. If God really cared about football, he’d put a little more oomph in the Arkansas Razorbacks’ offensive line.

Brian, you’ll notice I didn’t pound scripture down your throat (because to you scripture is not the living word of God, it’s just words) or tell you that you’re stupid, but I do want to tell you that you’ve got it all wrong. God is not a trivial God. God is a big God that can convert 15-yard out patterns in the same way that he can convert hearts. And Brian, I pray that some of your “religious” friends will start praying for your heart and that God will open up your eyes to the scoreboard more when watching football, because if you’re watching football to answer life’s big questions, well, like I said, you’ve got it all wrong.

God wants your heart. Not your touchdowns.

To further displace your beliefs I am going to forsake signing this e-mail with something like, “Captivated by HIS grace,” and opt for something simpler.

Peace be with you, Brian.



1 comment:

Brian Phillips said...

Hi Lauren,

Thanks for this thoughtful response to my piece. I'm not religious, but if I were, I would like to think that I'd see things pretty much as you do here. Yes, of course, if the Bible is true, God doesn't care about touchdowns, Tim Tebow is no more important in the divine plan than the safety who intercepted him, and believers have thousands of reasons to like or not like Tim Tebow that don't involve his faith. Actually, that last part is true regardless of the Bible.

Where we seem to be running into trouble is, I think, that you have taken my piece in a much more serious spirit than the one in which it was written. I don't usually like to explain stuff after I write it, because it feels like cheating --- the piece should explain itself. But I appreciate what you've written here, so for what it's worth, let me try to shed some light on where I was trying to go with this.

I was thinking about the way people talk about Tim Tebow and football and religion, and it seemed to me that a lot of the discourse, if I can use that word, was pretty funny once you started spelling out the unspoken assumptions behind it. That is, it's totally reasonable to say that Tim Tebow has cultural significance as a high-profile representative of evangelical Christianity. It's completely ridiculous (as you point out!) to say that Tim Tebow's football career is a referendum on Christianity. But that's how a lot of people, on both sides of the issue, seem to act. As I wrote in the piece, I noticed myself feeling that way without ever really thinking about it.

So I thought it would be useful --- and kind of fun --- to take off from the premise that Tebow's quarterback rating could settle the whole question of theism, and then just let the idea tie itself into knots. I wasn't thinking of the bulk of the piece as a sincere expression of my position, but as an example of how crazy this whole line of thinking can get once you actually start pursuing it. I might not have done this as well as I could have, but I was hoping that it would lead to the conclusion from the last line of the piece---that it's probably better if we don't pile religion and politics too heavily onto sports.

I hope that makes it clear that I don't in any way believe that Tim Tebow's football career is a referendum on the Book of Deuteronomy, or that a 15-yard out pattern can tell us anything about God, or that the first three quarters of the Dolphins-Broncos game should have been worrisome to the Living Water Bible Church (which I made up, although having grown up in small-town Oklahoma I might very well have seen the name someplace). On those points, we are in total agreement. I'm sorry that those lines didn't land better as jokes while you were reading them. As for whether my religious friends' prayers can make me a better sports fan...I'm probably a lost soul in that regard, but I'm sure they'll do their best.

In any case, thanks again for the reply, and all the best,


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