02.06.2012 _____________________

On my cluttered bookshelves rests a small, eclectic pantheon of Bobble-Head dolls. Beat writer Jack Kerouac at UMass Lowell. Novelist Stephen King holding a bat, wearing a Boston Red Sox shirt and Lowell Spinners cap. Journalist Tim Russert in a Buffalo Bisons cap. The Maloof Brothers, of Lebanese origin, owners of the Sacramento Kings, holding a basketball. Khalil Greene, late of the San Diego Padres, perhaps the first Bahai major league baseball player, stretched out horizontally in a very dramatic pose.

They remind me that there are many ways to be a fanatic in America.

Tomorrow is Super Bowl Sunday. For two weeks, commercial drumbeats have been increasing in volume, inspiring us to embrace this event as another American celebration of sports and materialism. Unlike the commercialism that surrounds Christmas, for example, I love this vulgarity and over-the-topness. It’s like the whole country becomes an end zone for celebrants where they can spike their hopes and fears on the artificial turf of our dreams and desires.

I know where I’ll be sitting at kickoff. At the coin toss, with a very cold non-alcoholic Kaliber in hand, I’ll be in front of a friend’s over-sized Plasma; if the Patriots win the toss will they defer to receive till the second half, or not? Will Gronkowski’s ankle be OK? Will #12 get into a winning rhythm earlier than he has in some recent games?

Yes, he will! I’m a believer.

It’s a day for fanatics. Like the World Cup and the Tour de France, the Super Bowl is a global phenomenon. Friends in Istanbul, a family in Isphahan, relatives in Beirut and a photographer friend in Bangkok are all adjusting their schedules so they can watch the game in the middle of the night.

I’ll forgo the traditional nachos, guacamole, ribs and Bud Light in favor of the dinner I’ll prepare in my slow cooker: Lamb shanks and lentils, carrots, cumin, coriander.

“Partake of the good things which We have provided for you as sustenance, but do not transgress therein the bounds of equity…” Qur’an, 20:81

I’m grateful that Tim Tebow won’t be on the gridiron today, not just because the Patriots needed to beat Denver to get to Super Bowl XLVI. I can’t judge yet if mixing sports and religion is such a bad thing. A little humility on the Astroturf might be a good thing. Now that Indiana just became a Right-to-Work state some one might want to say a prayer for the union laborers who, after generations of striving for worker rights, are being disenfranchised by plantation owners sitting in luxury boxes all over America.

“Let us run with patience the race that is set before us.” Hebrews 12:1-2.

For years athletes having been pointing to the sky to thank God, or bowing their heads and knees in prayer. After the singing of the Star-Spangled Banner and the over-flight of USAF jets, perhaps we should all bend a knee and pray for the unemployed, the homeless, the dispossessed, the disenfranchised workers and the returning Afghan and Iraq War Veterans.

What bothers me is not Tebow’s assumption that he has a right to be in our faces. When he’s not on the field as quarterback he is often seen pacing the sidelines yelling, exhorting his teammates with all the right football cheers, which appear almost always preceded by, “It’s God’s Will,” “God is Great,” “God is Good.” It’s great, if it works.

I believe. Allahu Akbar! God is Great!

What makes me uncomfortable is that Tebow occupies a place that appears reserved for American evangelical exceptionalists: for those who embrace John 3:16. Not everyone, I believe, would have Tebow’s freedom and access, and that concerns me.

Imagine if there was an athlete of Tebow’s stature who was Muslim, who worshipped God with the same love and passion that Tebow shares and embraces. Imagine if he also paced the sidelines shouting “Allahu Akbar” (God is Great) or “Alhumdillah” (All thanks to God). That would be a good thing, but could it happen? Sadly, not yet.

Yet, imagine the beauty of the promise of the nation that could embrace such an athlete.

“He who loveth God love his brother also.” 1 John 4:21

I think it’s amazing that over a hundred million viewers will watch this spectacle at precisely the same moment. All will admire the courage and talent of these athletes. They know that the gifts these athletes display are not limited by borders, ethnicities or religions, and they will celebrate, from London to Lahore, alongside us.

I’m a believer.

Tonight, God is not going to pick a winner between the Giants and the Patriots, but together we can bow our heads, pray, and be thankful that one war has ended, another will end soon, and that wisdom will prevail to keep our leaders from supporting a new conflict in Iran. Let the warriors on the playing fields be the ones we celebrate in the coming years. Let the Pat Tilmans of the future sacrifice their bodies on the playing fields of America rather than on the killing fields of Asia. Afterwards there will be:

“… a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance…” Ecclesiastes 3:1–4

I’m a believer.