January 10

The Tim Tebow Cult

Help! I’m being attacked by Christians in Denver Broncos jerseys!

Okay, maybe I should start at the beginning. In the beginning, there was a kid in Florida who was really good at football. So good, in fact, that he got a scholarship to play at the University of Florida. He was also raised as a good Christian boy; he was actually born in the Philippines while his parents were serving as missionaries there. While he played for the Florida Gators, he liked to write the words “John 3:16″ on his eye-black. He also liked to kneel in prayer after big plays. Although he lost the SEC Championship game in 2009, he led his team to a Sugar Bowl victory in 2010. And it was good.

Then, Tim Tebow graduated from college. He entered the NFL draft and was picked up by the Denver Broncos. Much to his fans’ dismay, however, he wasn’t the starter. The Broncos stuck with Kyle Orton, with Tebow coming off the bench. In his rookie year, he played 6 games as a back-up before starting the last 3 of the season. Orton was still the starter for the first few games of the 2011 season. In the sixth week of the season, though, Tebow got the starting job. He went 5-0 before losing to the New England Patriots.

Tebow’s fans were ecstatic.

But on January 8, 2012, in the first-round playoff game against the dreaded Pittsburgh Steelers, Tim Tebow threw for 316 yards, leading his team to a come-from-behind victory.

And that’s where my story actually begins.

Because that’s when the fans lost their minds, especially the Christian fans.

If you’ve read my blog before, you know I’m a Christian. You may also know that I’m a football fan. I guess I’ve never had much call to say it before, but I’ll say it now: my faith and my football don’t really mix. Oh sure, I make jokes about Bill Belichick being the anti-Christ. I may laughingly beg God to give my poor Colts a victory, but I think He has much more important things to do than watch football.

Sunday night, though, my Facebook page was lit up with posts about the miraculous Tim Tebow and his 316 yards, his 31.6 yards per completion.  Surely, God was showing His favor. Surely, it was a sign from Heaven, a reminder of the John 3:16 verse that the NFL won’t allow Tebow to paint on his eye-black!

Oh my.

I’ve followed Tebow’s career since his first Sports Illustrated cover in 2008, which I discovered in a bachelor friend’s house one day. The story was sweet. The kid seemed like a positive role model, which Lord knows we sorely need, especially in sports. I do not like the Florida Gators, but I liked him.

His public displays of affection for God bothered me a little. They reminded me of Matthew, chapter 6: “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.”

My Christian friends, however, kept coming back to that old standby argument: He’s a good role model. He’s bringing people to Christ by testifying.

Yes. That’s very nice. If Tim Tebow’s Biblical eye-black and public kneeling can convince a few people that Christianity is the way to go, great.

For me, it is far too simple. The people who might be persuaded by Tebow’s actions must be blank slates, perhaps young people, who simply haven’t heard the word of God. Tebow’s testifying may be all they need. Wonderful.

Those people are pretty rare these days, though, especially in the U.S., where Christian teachings and scriptural references are everywhere already. An American who is watching football is highly unlikely to hear the word of God for the first time from Tim Tebow.

So that leaves us with two other groups: the Christians and the more mature non-Christians. Most Christians LOVE Tim Tebow, almost to the point of idolatry, as evidenced by the posts on my Facebook wall.

And the more mature non-Christians? The people who have been hardened against Christianity by what they see as proof of God’s non-existence because their lives have been brutal? The people who have been hardened against Christianity by Christians who professed one thing but did something completely different, completely awful? How do they feel about Tebow and his rabid followers?

I can tell you they are not impressed. I know this because I do not live in a Christian vacuum as many of my friends do. I’m married to an agnostic. I have many atheist, Jewish, Muslim friends. And they are completely indifferent to Tim Tebow. What’s worse – the crazy hero-worship and superstitious numerology currently swirling around Tebow right now is actually driving some of these souls further away from Christ. Like the sad, misguided folks who see Jesus in a piece of toast, the Tebow maniacs are leaving non-believers shaking their heads.

Christianity is supposed to be about bringing others to Jesus, but Christians are so excited about what they perceive as God’s chosen team winning against the Steelers, they are blind to the damage they are inflicting. God is not a football fan. Statistics do not prove the existence of His hand.

But don’t tell them that.

They will attack you. They will surround their precious Tebow idol and swipe at you angrily. The numbers don’t lie! The numbers tell the truth! John 3:16! John 3:16!

Okay, so I’ve got questions then.

  • The Bible warns us against superstition. Is Tebow numerology an exemption from this restriction?
  • If I see the number 15 (Tebow’s jersey number) on a potato, am I allowed to eat it?
  • What if my team is playing the Broncos? Am I still allowed to root for my team or is that now against my religion?
  • What if Tebow loses? Does that mean he has lost favor with God? Does it mean the opposing team is evil? Or does it mean there is a better Christian on the opposing team?
  • What if the next big football star is a Muslim? What if his stats correspond to some important verse in the Koran? Will all the folks who started following Christianity through Tebow now start following Islam?
  • What happens if Tim Tebow messes up in his personal life? If he gets a girl pregnant out of wedlock? If he is arrested for domestic abuse? If he becomes an alcoholic? What then?

I’m reminded of Jeremiah 17:5: “A curse on the man who puts his trust in man, a blessing on the man who puts his trust in the Lord.” This empty, pop-culture version of Christianity is dangerous stuff. The numerology being tossed around by my fellow Christians is even scarier. Tim Tebow is just a nice kid, doing what he was raised to do. I hope he doesn’t fall. I hope he lives a long, wholesome life. But I’m not going to follow him as a spiritual leader, ordained by God through invisible eye-black as evidenced by his passing percentage.

Several years B.T. (before Tebow), there was another NFL quarterback. Another good Christian soul who played football – Kurt Warner. He too prayed and professed his faith publicly. But he grew up and matured and realized that he might be alienating some fans through his less-than-subtle approach. In November, Warner had some advice for Tebow:

“There’s almost a faith cliche, where (athletes) come out and say, ‘I want to thank my Lord and savior.’ As soon as you say that, the guard goes up, the walls go up, and I came to realize you have to be more strategic.

The greatest impact you can have on people is never what you say, but how you live. When you speak and represent the person of Jesus Christ in all actions of your life, people are drawn to that. You set the standard with your actions. The words can come after.”

My hope is that Tim Tebow will learn the lesson Kurt Warner learned before him. But even more, I hope my fellow Christians will learn it too.
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November 27

The Merry Christmas Kool-Aid

It’s that time of year again.

Time for viral Facebook statuses repeating the Fox News talking point that the liberals have declared “war on Christmas.” Time for angry letters to the editor claiming that the writer’s right to freedom of religion or freedom of speech has been infringed upon, and they have somehow been stopped from wishing everyone they encounter a “Merry Christmas.” Oy vay.

I’m only going to say this once: There is no war on Christmas.

To claim such a war exists is to betray such an ethnocentric blindness as a sane person would be ashamed to admit. If you could convert to Judaism, Islam or Buddhism for the month, you’d see just how ridiculous this claim actually is. For example, off the top of your head, do you know when Hannukah is this year? I bet your Jewish friends know when Christmas is.

So the “victims” of this “war” seem to suffer from an inability to keep government, business, and religion separate.  Not a surprise, since they usually want to combine the three when it’s convenient to them. But government really has little to do with their complaints. Sure, every year a few local governments run into opposition to a Nativity on the town square. Overall, though, governments have traditionally said and done little to address, let alone limit, expressions of Christmas spirit.  The federal government, to its credit, has kept its nose out of the debates as best it can. I’ve yet to see a law anywhere to prohibit anyone from saying “Merry Christmas.”

The Fox News crowd’s real anger should be directed at corporations.  Every year, the issues that honk off the Religious Right arise in big companies, those darlings of American conservatives. I always get a kick out of the righteous anger Wal-Mart, Best Buy and Target can drum up when they ask their employees to say “Happy Holidays” (or when they publish ads in Spanish!) from the very same folks who claim to want nothing but free rein for these job-creators!  But big companies know their customers. They know not all their customers are Christian, and no good capitalist venture wants to offend any of the people who spend American dollars in their stores! “Happy holidays” is not meant to limit employees’ right to free expression or religion; it’s just smart business (much like these companies’ decisions to open at midnight on Thanksgiving, despite the inconvenience to their employees). Hey, folks, if you want your big companies to make lots of money and be unregulated, they’re going to do whatever it takes to keep their customers content.

One of the things that really disturbs me about these “war-on-christmas” claims is the ignorance it reveals about Christians’ own religious history. Christmas is, and always has been, the greatest outreach program ever devised by the Catholic Church. True Christian conservatives, however, did not like the idea originally. When Christmas was initially established by church leaders under Emperor Constantine in 336 AD, conservative church leaders such as Origen, cried foul. To celebrate the birth of a deity smacked of Egyptian polytheism, conservatives claimed. Christmas was derided by conservative leaders as a contrived holiday, a cheap means of pandering to pagans so they would convert more docilely. More liberal Christian heads prevailed, arguing that, by celebrating Christ’s birth around the same time as the pagans already celebrated the solstice, the Church could make Christianity more appealing. It worked beautifully, and it will continue to work if we don’t try to shove it down everyone’s throat.

So my fellow Christians, here’s a radical idea: Think before you speak.

Say what’s appropriate for your situation and audience. If you’re talking to me on Christmas Day, say “Merry Christmas!” Please do. I’ll return the sentiment whole-heartedly. But if you’re a Wal-Mart greeter working on December 21st, saying “Happy Hannukah” to everyone isn’t going to go over well. Neither should “Merry Christmas” simply because you don’t know what every person walking through that door celebrates on that day. I’ll be saying, “Happy Holidays” to my students when they leave campus on December 12. Not just because I know some of them are Jewish and Muslim, but also because I’d like to include Christmas Eve and New Year’s in the equation. And if I see you and know you share my faith on December 24th or 25th, I will greet you with a very hearty “Merry Christmas.”

[Need more info? See Christianity Today,The Catholic Encyclopedia, The God Article, The Fat Pastor, or my previous entry on the topic.]

July 1

The Stay-Cation

My husband was informed last month that he had to use his week of vacation time by September 1 or he would lose it.

Thus, we embarked on our family’s first-ever “stay-cation.”

Yep, first ever. We’re spoiled, I guess. My family had always traveled a lot, and when Sean and I met, I infected him with the travel bug. He had traveled far less than I had, so he felt compelled to catch up to me. Since we met, he’s been to over 20 new states and Mexico. He may love traveling even more than I do at this point. So a stay-cation was anathema to him.

It didn’t start right away. I think. It’s hard to tell when a stay-cation starts. I suppose it began the moment my husband arrived home from work on Friday. In which case, I need to apologize to him. We had a house-full of children (our own+neighbor kids), and I was knee-deep in cake batter. It was a frantic beginning to his week away from work.

My parents’ 40th wedding anniversary was Sunday, and I was making the cakes: 3 big sheet cakes. Only one of them was decorated, but I was still a nervous wreck. I had spent all week making sure I had everything ready for the big bake-off. The result was that my house looked like a bomb went off, and the kids were running amok, enjoying the unusual lack of mommy oversight.

Okay, so that was the weekend. And Sunday was great. My parents’ 40th was a big party at a winery here in Indiana. We saw so many beloved friends and family, and though we didn’t get to spend as much time as we’d have liked with any of them, it was a wonderful party just the same. And my crazy parents, after playing host all day to 120 guests, insisted on taking the grandkids for the evening. My hubby and I had a relaxing dinner and movie, kid-free.

Monday, hubby had an optometrist appointment, and the kids had swimming lessons. Very exciting.

Tuesday, we all had dental cleanings, then we went to the zoo. If you’ve never been, the Indianapolis Zoo is lovely. It’s got an amazing Oceans pavilion where you can “pet” sharks, a cool snakes pavilion, bats, cheetahs, lions, tigers and bears. Very nice. It’s so nice, in fact, that our family has had an annual pass for a couple years now. The kids, therefore, were not all that fussed. Familiarity breeds contempt, and all that. The hubby was pretty excited to see the new exhibits, but the kids and I have been so many times, it wasn’t a big deal. So it was fine, but not great.

Wednesday, after the kids’ swimming lessons, we did something new. We headed to the north side of Indy to a hotel/indoor water park. Caribbean Cove was once owned by Holiday Inn, but it’s in the process of being purchased. Still, it’s very nice. They had a good deal: two nights for the price of one, plus unlimited admission to the waterpark and free breakfast bar. The kids loved it. I don’t think my fingers will ever un-wrinkle. But Thursday afternoon, I saw a change come over the hubs.

He was depressed.

Seriously.

I kept asking him what was wrong, and he kept saying “nothing.”

But we’ve been married almost 13 years now. I knew he was lying. What’s more, I knew what was wrong. When he finally spilled the beans today, I was not at all surprised.

His vacation had been wasted.

He doesn’t make enough money.

He spent a bunch of money to go nowhere.

He was disappointed, and I understood. I wasn’t as upset about our “stay-cation” as he is, though. I knew this year was coming. We’d been successfully avoiding the recession for several years. When my husband’s company was purchased by United Health Group (hereafter known as “the Evil Empire”), he was saved from unemployment by being hired by the company that took over the IT department. With a pay cut, of course. But we cashed in his retirement plan, paid off ALL our debt (except the house), and kept the remainder in savings to defer the cut in income. Eventually, though, the recession caught up with us. I’ve been under-employed for five years; he makes less than he did five years ago. The retirement savings is all dried up.

The stay-cation was inevitable.

This weekend is Independence Day weekend, and we have plans with family and friends to keep our minds off the fact that we’re stuck in boring, hot, humid, flat-as-a-pancake Indiana. And we do get to go to Tennessee next month, courtesy of hubby’s mom, who has a time-share in the Smoky Mountains. It’s not all bad. I even read an article today that stay-cations or scaling back on vacations is good for the American economy. We’re planning to return to Disney World next year by saving and scraping and maybe getting a new job or two.

In the meantime, I’ll have to work on getting the hubby to perk up a bit. Fireworks might help. And whiskey.

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April 28

These are a Few of My Favorite Words

People make fun of me for the way I talk. Sometimes they are even offended by my use of big or unusual words. They think I’m trying to show off or, even worse, make them feel stupid. But the truth is much simpler (and kinder!) than that.

I’m a word nerd.

I’m a complete language freak. I love words! It’s why I learned French and Russian. It’s why I majored in English and became a language teacher. As my Writing Center colleagues and students can attest, I become positively giddy when I encounter a clever turn of phrase or a brand new word. A new word is like a newly unearthed treasure I want to pull from the ground and share with the whole world! Look at this! Isn’t it shiny and beautiful!

English is such a rich language, full of these treasures, and I don’t see why any word should be buried, relegated to the darkness. If I discover a new one, especially one that sounds funny, trips neatly off the tongue and has a perfectly specific meaning, I will incorporate it into my own vocabulary and use it as often as possible.

And I’m fortunate because I’ve been blessed with the auditory equivalent of a photographic memory. I take no credit for the ability; I didn’t earn it. It’s genetic. My sister and my kids have it too. We can just hear something and forever remember it exactly. That gift makes it pretty easy for me to absorb new words.

So when people accuse me of showing off or belittling them, I’m hurt and a little confused. In general, I don’t “dumb down” my language for anyone. To me, doing so would mean I am assuming the listener is not smart. The only creatures I “dumb down” for are animals and small children, and even then, I don’t speak differently unless I am explaining a difficult concept that a child truly needs to understand.  I talk the same way to pretty much everyone and assume that anyone I speak to is just as smart as I am or smarter. If they don’t understand a word I use, I’m delighted to explain it, and I imagine they feel the way I do when someone shares a new word with me – excited!

Now that I’m older and also since I started teaching at the university, people seem more tolerant of the way I speak. It’s so liberating!

So in the spirit of sharing and educating and getting giddy, may I present some of my favorite words?

It is a diverse list. Some of the words I love for their sound. Some of them for their surgically precise meaning. Others have happy associations with people or places. This list could be 10 or 20 times as long. Believe it or not, I whittled it down!

Entropy  - Learned during an undergrad biology class at IU. It summarizes what I see as the greatest struggle in my life: maintaining order in the face of invading chaos!

Stygian – Learned from a Pakistani chemistry student who was writing a lab report on a dark coagulate. He got tired of the word “dark,” so he pulled “Stygian” out of the thesaurus. It does mean dark, but it’s poetic, so it was completely out of context in a chemistry report. Ah, the thesaurus.

Efficient (usually used with “effective”) – I just love the meaning of these words. They got tossed around so much at the insurance company where I was a tech writer, for a while I hated them. But efficiency is vital in my struggle against entropy, so they’re back in my good graces.

Patois – Learned from one of my fellow grad students at Butler. She kept talking about the “patois” of the aristocratic Indians in Salman Rushdie’s novels. I had to look it up. You should too.

Going concern – Okay, so this one’s a phrase. And it’s kind of jargon-y. But we used it a lot at the insurance company and at Disney, and no other word or phrase in English has this meaning. I just find it an interesting concept.

Delegate – As a verb. It’s something I must do more of, but I’m a control freak.

Hermeneutics – I run across this one often when I tutor rhetoric students. I like the sound of it and the way it looks on paper.

Epistemology – Another one I see in graduate-level papers, especially social work students. I don’t really understand it well, but it’s fun to say.

Ecumenical – Learned this one from the Merriam-Webster “word of the day” app. I like the way my mouth moves when I say it.

Self-deprecating – Learned this one from my mother who used it all the time when my sister and I were adolescents.

Aplomb – The newest word on the list! I heard one of Jon Stewart’s guests use it on The Daily Show a couple weeks ago, ran to look it up, and just like everything about it.

Synergize – Disney-ese. I heard or used this word almost every day during the decade I worked for The Company.

Permutation – First encountered this as a math concept in Mrs. Hender-Bob’s advanced algebra class. I use its non-algebraic definition every chance I get.

Logistics – Another word, like entropy and efficient, that signifies my highest priorities in life.

Contrived – Learned from Simon LeBon of Duran Duran who was arguing with a reporter about whether or not the band was “contrived.” It’s just the perfect opposite of “organic” and so much more specific than “artificial” or “unnatural.”

Shiksa – Learned from my Jewish sorority sisters at IU. Yiddish has fabulous sounds. Even the rude words sound funny. (See “shmuck!”)

Bougie – French word for a fat candle. We don’t have a good word for that object in English. It’s not a taper, a pillar, a votive or a tealight. It’s fatter and squatter.

Ciao – Like “aloha” which I also love, it can mean either “hello” or “goodbye.” That appeals to me. Plus it sounds cool in every way.

Nimble – Learned from “Ghostbusters.” Enough said.

Kaibab – Learned in the Grand Canyon. I love the way it sounds and feels. Plus, it reminds me of our hike.

Cooperate – I use this word a lot when I tickle my children, so it reminds me of them. I tell them, “If you’ll cooperate, this’ll just take a second.” When I get to “cooperate,” they start giggling because they know what’s coming. So the word makes me smile now.

Walrus – Another word that reminds me of my kids. Also, Ferris Bueller (“I could be the walrus. I’d still have to bum rides off people.”), the Beatles and “Alice in Wonderland.” Whenever we have to end an activity or go somewhere, I say, “The time has come, the walrus said, and I am the walrus. Coo coo cachoo,” synthesizing John Lennon and Lewis Carroll. The kids understand. See? Told ya I was a word nerd!

March 30

Uprisings, Earthquakes, Homophobes, Weddings and DAWGS!

Seems like so much has been going on lately, I could do several blog entries a day. From natural disasters in Japan and Myanmar to rebellions in the Middle East to royal weddings in Britain and political antics here at home, the news is chock full of violence, grief, disaster and nonsense.

It’s all too much to try to tackle every topic individually; to be honest, I’ve been so overwhelmed by the volume of news, I haven’t been able to think through any one topic completely. For instance, I’m still not sure how I feel about U.S. military action in Libya. For now, I think I’ll toss everything out there at once. Maybe I’ll come back to one or two of them individually later, but I don’t know. The world seems even messier than usual.

·         ***We can start in Libya since I already mentioned it, and since it seems the messiest of all the topics at hand. Personally, I keep bouncing back and forth in my thinking on it. Having lived through Reagan’s first attack on Libya back in the 1980’s, I hate Gadhafi out of habit. For many years, though, I had happily relegated him to my long-term memory. In the present, he was little more than a figure of ridicule, sporting laughable costumes and a seemingly melting face. When he reacted to his people’s peaceful protests with gunfire, though, he instantly resumed his position as the villain of my childhood. And when his people started asking for military help from the West, I thought, well, yeah! We should totally do that. But then, if we go into Libya, will be go into Syria? Yemen? Bahrain? There are protests all over the Middle East and North Africa right now being met with government violence. Where will we draw the line? And what’s more, how can we possibly afford it? We keep hearing that we have no money; our military is already overextended in Iraq and Afghanistan. I can’t see any logical arguments; even the ever-logical Obama couldn’t quite answer some of these questions in his speech the other night. Nothing would make me happier than to see Gadhafi go down in flames, but I just can’t fully support the U.S. going in there to ensure it.

***Egypt confuses me too. I was so excited for the Egyptian people at first. Then I started hearing from some of my Egyptian students that this whole revolution could actually make things worse, depending on who takes power next. If the military imposes martial law or if a radical Muslim party takes control, the country could turn into dangerous enemy for the U.S., and certain sectors of Egyptian society could be horrifically victimized (women, Coptic Christians, secular non-Muslims).

·         ***Japan. What a nightmare. I have three friends currently in Japan; one is Japanese, the other two are Americans. I am so grateful they are all safe, but the stories coming out of there still make me anxious for them. And some of the comments I’m hearing from my fellow Americans make me sick: “It’s their problem; we don’t have money to help them. We should take care of our own first.” The best use of money is to help people in need – ANY people in need. I can absolutely support using whatever funds we can spare to help the Japanese. Japan offered aid to the U.S. after both Katrina and 9/11. (The U.S. always turns down such offers, though.) They deserve our help. As human beings, we should sympathize and help all we can. I am flabbergasted by some of my fellow “Christians” claiming we shouldn’t bother. It looks to me like racism disguised as pennypinching. Both make me nauseous.

***If you don’t live in Indiana, you may not have heard that an anti-gay marriage/anti-civil union amendment to our state constitution just passed in our Senate. This move depresses me to my very core. Indiana is homophobic and backwards enough without writing it into our constitution. It’s embarrassing. One of my friends, a lawyer for the state, consoled me with the fact that the Senate’s passage is just step 2 of 5. “There’s still plenty of time to kill it,” he assured me. And one of my amazing gay friends had this remarkably optimistic perspective: “It’s a sign of how much progress we’ve made that the haters feel the need to legislate to protect their homophobia.”  I’m clinging to that upbeat viewpoint.

·        *** The prospective Republican presidential candidates are quite entertaining at the moment. From Newt Gingrich’s blaming his infidelity on his patriotism to Sarah Palin’s characterization of the Libyan action as a “squirmish,” I’m really enjoying the G.O.P.’s offerings so far. Donald Trump 2012? Bring it on! He’s a laugh riot!

·         ***If you live under a rock, you may not have heard that England is having a royal wedding soon. Personally, I’m kind of nostalgically excited about it. I have vague, but unique, childhood memories of waking up ridiculously early with my mother to watch Prince Charles and Lady Diana’s wedding. The monarchies are full of pomp and circumstances and centuries-old traditions that Americans just do not have. They have a continuity that is fascinating to me. Plus, I have a rather maternal feeling toward William. I remember the announcements of Diana’s pregnancy and his birth. Along with the rest of the world, I watched him grow up, watched him walking slowly behind his mother’s hearse at her funeral. I want him to be happy. He seems like a nice kid; he deserves that.

·        *** To end on an even lighter note, I’d like to address the NCAA Tournament. I got my Master’s Degree from Butler University. To say that I am proud of their basketball success would be an understatement. As a Hoosier and a rabid basketball fan, though, I love the VCU-Cinderella story too. The game on Saturday will be an emotional roller coaster, and if Butler loses, I will then have to root for VCU. For now, though, GO DAWGS!

As usual, the world presents us with all kinds of news – terrifying, tragic, bewildering, infuriating, amusing and fun. I’m actually going to take a few days off from the awful stuff to concentrate on the excitement of my Butler Bulldogs going to the Final Four. There will be plenty of time to wallow in sorrow later.

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