By HOWARD BERGER
TORONTO (Dec. 21) – In this week of Christmas, expressions of faith transcend denominational boundaries. Rational, caring people of any religious or spiritual persuasion share common threads of peace and goodwill. As a member of the Jewish faith, I can say, without reservation, that you don’t have to be Christian to embrace this time of year and its inherent message. Why, then, does the peaceful expression of faith by a noted individual cause such an uproar?
The phenomenon south of the border involving Denver Broncos’ quarterback Tim Tebow is an intriguing study, and one that raises many questions.
Were Tebow not a Heisman Trophy winner (2007 University of Florida) and had he not authored an incomparable string of late comebacks in the NFL this season, few of us would likely notice his custom of paying spiritual homage. That Tebow is currently the most renowned professional athlete in North America has elevated religion to a place that oddly engenders discomfort. By all appearances, it has unfairly cast a pleasant, down-to-earth young man as a polarizing figure; there are people that actually hate Tim Tebow because he is openly devout.
No athlete in our city would likely understand the Tebow phenomenon better than Toronto Maple Leafs’ goalie James Reimer – a proud man who will not hesitate to inform that Jesus Christ is his lord and saviour. In that regard, Reimer and Tebow are kindred spirits. Where the two men differ is in their manner of displaying such devotion. While Tebow points heavenward; descends to one knee in prayer and almost always thanks his lord and saviour when speaking publicly, Reimer chooses a less-demonstrative approach. Faith is exhibited as art-work on the head-plate of his goalie mask – a sketch he’ll delightfully show to anyone that is interested, but prefers not to flaunt.
AN EXPRESSION OF FAITH ON THE BACK-PLATE OF JAMES REIMER’S GOAL-MASK (PHOTO COURTESY OF INGOALMAG.COM)
“It’s hard to figure why people react the way they do,” said Reimer when we met for 15 minutes after practice on Wednesday at the MasterCard Centre. “I guess some are offended by the way [Tebow] speaks about religion so frequently; they think he goes overboard with it. Some people just don’t agree with a show of faith… it’s kind of like politics: mention it and you’ve got yourself an argument. But, I think [Mike] Pinball Clemons touched on it most accurately when he said that people often lash out against things they don’t understand. And that’s what I feel is happening to Tebow.”
What Reimer is describing through the Toronto Argonauts’ legend is ignorance – not always of the malicious sort, but overriding nonetheless. “Faith is an extremely personal matter,” Reimer said. “When you’re a devout Christian, it becomes a very big part of life and there’s an inherent wish that everyone would believe in what you do. Some choose to openly express that feeling because it gives them extreme joy to show how thankful they are for the blessings they receive. People shouldn’t be blaming Tim Tebow for their discomfort or anger over his way of doing that. It isn’t a fault.”
Neither is Tebow in the habit of preaching, which should doubly cast shame on those that belittle him. His message – like Reimer’s – is simple: “This is my way of showing love and appreciation. All I ask for – if not understanding – is tolerance and respect.”
“I don’t think Tebow is cramming religion down people’s throats,” said Reimer. “Maybe some feel that way because he mentions it all the time. But, it’s not as if he’s going around saying ‘you need to do this or you’re a terrible person’. He’s into his thing and I don’t believe it’s encroaching on anyone’s personal space. If they don’t want to hear it, they don’t have to listen to his interviews.”
JAMES REIMER TALKS WITH LEAFS GOALTENDING COACH FRANCOIS ALLAIRE TOWARD THE END OF PRACTICE WEDNESDAY AT MASTERCARD CENTRE.
Some will argue that religion – given how intensely personal it is – should be kept behind closed doors. But, why? If the message being imparted is one that embraces common values that sensible people share, where’s the harm?
Heaven knows how tragically familiar we are with the radical misinterpretation of Islamic law; why should there be an uproar when religion is conveyed peacefully, ala Tebow? Perhaps the answer lies in the act of interpretation, itself. But, even that must share a common thread. I’ll be the first to acknowledge I don’t know much about the Qur’an, but it would shock me if any passage in the central religious text of Islam encourages followers to hijack commercial aircraft and fly them into office towers. Where rational people exist, basic values transcend religion.
Those that are best-able to communicate such goodwill occasionally develop a huge following. American televangelist Joel Osteen – senior pastor of the Lakewood Church in Houston – is currently the most recognizable of this ilk; in my view, not solely because of his devotion to Jesus Christ but rather his unique ability to impart wisdom that all denominations share: forgiveness; not harbouring a grudge; remaining optimistic when life invariably presents a challenge; helping others in need, etc. Why people choose not to recognize; perhaps even assume this quality in such an openly-devout person as Tim Tebow, when there is no evidence of misdeed, confuses the mind.
Many a paradox is found in society. It is not uncommon to notice, for example, how venerated a person can become for his ability to consume alcohol. There are more than a few “drinking legends” in the media business (current company excluded), even though the debilitating effects of alcoholism are well-known and understood. Boasting, however, of such capacity in oneself – or in others – is considered a badge of honour.
Conversely, a respectful display of religious attachment is somehow worthy of hatred.
TIM TEBOW IN PRAYER: PUZZLING WHY SUCH A SIMPLE, PEACEFUL EXPRESSION IS WORTHY OF RIDICULE.
James Reimer presents himself differently than Tebow. He doesn’t mention his lord and saviour when being interviewed by hockey reporters, but not because he’s wary of reaction. “No, if I was afraid to thank Jesus Christ for my blessings I wouldn’t have my goal-mask painted the way it is,” Reimer insisted. “[Being devout] is completely who I am. Someone once said, ‘you tell people about Christ and use words if you have to.’ That’s my approach. I want people to see – based on my actions – what being a Christian is and the joy it can bring to others.
“When people talk to me about life, religion is always part of the conversation; I’m more than happy to discuss what I believe in. [Christ] is clearly the reason I’m here. The fact I choose to go about it in more of a low-key way than Tim Tebow doesn’t make me any better than him. It’s just a different approach [among] people that believe in the same thing.”
One that justifies tolerance, not scorn… in this week, or any other.