This post appeared in the San Diego Union-Tribune op-ed page, Sunday Jan. 1, 2012.
A man on his knees in prayer is a powerful image
SO WHEN FOUR STUDENTS at Riverhead High School in Long Island, N.Y. were suspended after Tebowing in the hallway — striking a pose for which Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow is known — their suspension gained national attention.
What are we to make of Tim Tebow and the young men who are emulating him?
If you were a friend or parent of one of the four suspended students, what would you say to him?
Photos of Tim Tebow bowing in the end zone have sparked a nationwide debate. Let’s put it in perspective. Reporters, analysts, commentators, sports figures, educators, and apparently young men in high school, are not talking about last Sunday’s sermon. They’re talking about what Tebow did in the end zone. It’s the picture is worth a thousand words proverb come to life.
Personally, I don’t care much for end zone celebrations. I like what former Notre Dame football coach Lou Holtz used to tell his boys about end zone behavior — act like you’ve been there before.
But Tebow has chosen the end zone as a place to project an image of his faith and I respect his choice. It’s a powerful image.
Images shape our identity
When I was growing up, Norman Rockwell’s paintings graced the covers of the Saturday Evening Post. Month after month his paintings stamped on my mind images of everyday public displays of personal courage and acts of piety. Norman Rockwell’s America became my America.
At Mt. Vernon, the home of George Washington, there hangs an iconic image that is sacred to many Americans. The Prayer At Valley Forge by Arnold Frieberg is viewed by millions of Americans every year. It was recently appraised for $12 million.
In the painting, General Washington is down on one knee, similar to the pose Tebow assumes in the end zone. There is one striking difference between them. Washington is alone. Tebow is in a stadium surrounded by thousands of people. Which begs the question—
Should a person’s personal beliefs be kept private?
Washington didn’t think so. His presidential speeches make unapologetic references to our nation’s dependence on God for our existence. And when he took the oath of office, he struck a pose with his hand on the Bible, a pose emulated by most presidents after him.
What Washington did after he took the oath is not as well known.
He kissed the Bible.
Now there’s an image that would make the front pages today.
While I’m not suggesting that we equate the accomplishments of a rookie NFL quarterback with those of a founding father, Washington and Tebow have this in common — they are both men with deep personal convictions.
And I would add this: Tim Tebow’s actions off the field have demonstrated that his end zone behavior means more to him than six points in a game.
What would I say to the four suspended high school students?
I would impress upon them that assuming a public posture of prayer is a powerful statement of faith, and that what they do after they get up is equally important. People will be watching to see if the man matches the image.
According to the Old Testament, while living in exile Daniel was widely known as a man who bowed his knees in prayer three times a day. The biblical account also states, “Then this Daniel was preferred above the presidents and princes, because an excellent spirit was in him; and the king thought to set him over the whole realm.” (Daniel 6:3, KJV)
What would I tell the suspended students and others who would follow their example? I’d tell them when it comes to bowing in prayer, “If you’re not doing it in private, don’t do it in public.”