The success of U.S. professional basketball star Jeremy Lin, an outspoken Christian of Taiwanese descent, has captured the imagination of sports fans around the world and has drawn attention to his religious faith.
Lin first gained notice because he is among the few Asian Americans to ever play in the National Basketball Association. In fact, he is the first American player in the league to be of Chinese or Taiwanese descent.
His rise to fame did not come overnight. Lin's first two years as a pro player were spent on the bench. But this year, when injuries to his New York Knicks teammates put him in the starting lineup, he took advantage of the opportunity to lead his team to a string of victories.
The winning streak rocketed the 6 foot-3 inch (1.90 meters) Lin to fame and made him a hero for many Asia-Americans amazed at seeing one of their own starring in professional basketball.
Lin and Religion
Lin’s new-won fame has given him a platform for proclaiming his Christian faith, and he rarely misses an opportunity to credit God with his unexpected success.
Some in the press have begun to call Lin "The Asian Tebow,” a reference to professional football player Tim Tebow, whose sideline prayer posture became a fad and internet meme.
But Lin’s expression of faith hasn’t prompted similar mocking.
“We need to remember that he was nurtured, his faith was nurtured, his character was nurtured in a Chinese-American church,” said Carolyn Chen, author of Getting Saved in America: Taiwanese Immigration and Religious Experience.
CAROLYN CHEN TALKS ABOUT THE TAIWANESE-AMERICAN RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE
Chen says it is difficult to separate Lin’s faith from his Taiwanese-American background. “The melding of both his faith and his culture--they came into one and…I think it is really difficult to separate the two,” she said.
Chen says there is a significant number of Taiwanese who convert to Christianity after coming to the United States. The church in America, she says, often provides an “extended family” for immigrants feeling displaced in their new country.
“I think his faith-- the faith of his family is—I wouldn’t say typical, but it is not an anomaly in any way,” Chen said. Lin’s parents were already Christians before they came to America.
In an interview with the religious website Patheos, Lin said he tries to trust in God and not "focus on whether I win or lose, but to have faith that God has a perfect plan.”
For Lin, that plan apparently includes unexpected popularity. A combination of idol worship and fanaticism - something called “Linsanity” is sweeping the country—and not just with his fellow Taiwanese- Americans.
Linsanity is new, but an interest in Lin’s sports career is not new to the Taiwanese-American culture. “A lot of people have really been rooting for him since ‘day one’ as someone who really is breaking barriers,” says Erica Ling, Public Relations Director for the website, TaiwaneseAmerican.org.
TAIWANESE-AMERICAN ERICA LING TALKS ABOUT LIN'S SUCCESS
“I think his story has mass appeal as a true ‘underdog-with-an-American-Dream’ type story,” she said.“ For Taiwanese and Asian Americans of my generation, who grew up watching basketball, Jeremy is really doing something that none of us thought was realistic…or even possible,” Ling added.
Lin’s religious background is not unusual among Taiwanese-Americans. Ling says the community is home to many religions. “People come from all walks of life and religion is very diverse as well,” she said.
Lin is reportedly thinking about becoming a pastor once his days in professional basketball are over. His career path from Harvard economics major, to professional basketball to possibly a position in the Christian clergy is certainly unique. But whatever his future, fans all over the world are likely to hear a good bit more from Jeremy Lin.