Leap! An Unhyped but Delightful Film in Theaters Now

There was little hype for Leap!, a French film redubbed in English, but it’s definitely worth seeing with your kids.

We just took my 4 year old to it, and we all enjoyed it. It’s not terribly original, but it’s got charm and heart to spare.

Visually, Leap’s nothing short of beautiful, and you really believe Paris is a city where anything can happen.

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Meat-Free Monday: A Big Shout Out to My Family, Friends, and Co-Workers


You have been unfailingly supportive of my transitioning to a plant based diet. 

You have asked questions that were designed to help understand.

You have been patient, even when I get a little flustered. 

You have made this much easier than our otherwise could have been. 

And Katherine,  this goes triple for you!  I  couldn’t have done it without you. I love you! 

And as a reward for those of you who made it past the annoyingly catchy intro video and read the whole thing, here’s a Beatles song, sung by Joe Cocker because the original is apparently not on Youtube:

Meat-Free Monday: The Best Reason

There’s another reason that I’m going vegan, and it’s both a moral and a health reason: I want to be there for my daughter for as long as I can.

She’s 3. I’m 41. She should not have to bury her father anytime soon. Assuming she has kids, they deserve to get to know their grandfather.

Now, I’m not ticking off the time. Most of my recent male ancestors made it to 80 and beyond. One great-grandfather died young, at 59, from a heart attack.

But none of them (not even the one who died young) was fat. And, in case my profile picture and last Monday’s weigh-in haven’t tipped you off, I am.

Now, I’m all about body positivity, so when I say “fat,” I mean it descriptively, not pejoratively. I’m definitely a big deal.

And while the actual evidence about BMI and morbidity is a lot more complex than the diet pill pushers want you to believe: BMI is a terrible measure of health, to the point of “lying by scientific authority,” and the topic of weight and weight loss are so emotionally and financially fraught that they’ve developed their own mythology.

Read Rethinking Thin by Gina Kolata and Health at Every Size by Linda Bacon to see how some of that mythology developed, and to see through some of it.
BMI balderdash aside, even at 6’7″ tall, it can’t be healthy to weigh 375 pounds.

And while diets have been repeatedly proven to not work in the long term, I promise I’m not dieting (I lost another 2-3 pounds this week, depending on how I stand on the scale, but I promise I’ve been sucking down food like a vegan vacuum cleaner), so I hope I can escape the almost certain re-gaining plus interest that comes after five years.

In all the health and weight talk, people often forget to mention one thing:mobility. I was slowing down. I was getting hurt more easily. It was getting harder and harder to keep up with my little girl.

And while I’m still not ready for the Olympics, I’m doing a lot better. It’s easier to get down to the floor and back up again, I move more quickly, I feel better, and I’m even healing a little faster. Swimming has helped, to be sure, and so has the lost weight, but I feel like my eating has really “fueled” the improvements.
Eat better, feel better. There you go!

Toxic Worship (The Imposters of God, Chapter 1: The Mystery of Idolatry, Part 2)

Sculpture of a Family

Photo by J. Lord, Creative Commons

This is part three of my series on William Stringfellow’s The Imposters of God. You can read my first post on Chapter One and my introduction to the series.

As you recall, Stringfellow pointed out that an idol is anything we use to define ourselves, to give significance to our lives, other than God (of course). All such things – money, family, church, reputation, country – are doomed to fail us, of course.

But did you know that so long as we put them in the place of worship, that we are doomed to fail them?

As Stringfellow put it, “Where idolatrous patriotism is practiced, the vocation of the nation so idolized is destroyed.”

How far from the lofty ideals of civil rights and democracy have the super-patriots (with their super PATRIOT Acts) taken us?

I’m old enough to remember when torture and indefinite detention were things the bad guys did, not things two successive openly Christian Presidents would undertake, to the applause of their mostly openly Christian supporters.

“When the family is idolized, the members of the family are enslaved.” (Stringfellow). How many times have we seen parents living vicariously through their children? Whether Tiger Moms pushing their kids into depression  or washed-up high school quarterbacks and homecoming queens reliving their youth, it never ends well.

I’m reminded of the controlling mother from C.S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce, who’d rather have her son with her in hell than leave him in heaven.

Even within our churches, the extreme focus on the family has left the unmarried feeling unwanted. It’s made us political animals, white-flighting our way into the “best” schools.

It’s led us to forget that the Apostles who spread the Gospel to the known world were themselves single, and that they focused not on their families, but on the Gospel.

“Every idol, therefore, represents a thing or being existing in a state of profound disorientation” (Stringfellow).

Idolatry ultimately brings death.

Sometimes literally, as in our persistent worship of war.

Sometimes figuratively, in the dehumanization of a culture that views everything and everyone as a commodity.

And sometimes both, as in the dysfunctional relationships and vicious social structures that drive the young to depression and sometimes suicide.

Perhaps Idolatry is at the heart of the decline of America’s churches. We’ve grown so entangled with the idols of respectability, growth, and politics that we find ourselves reduced to merely a social function. A social function that offers precious little to the constantly-connected Facebook generation.

What is the answer? I’m not certain. But I know this. We fail, again and again, to keep the very first commandment: “You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:3).

And to even detect our idols means turning the rusty knife of self-examination on the things we hold dearest. The pain may be akin to amputating a gangrenous limb without anesthetic, but it must be done if we are serious about serving Christ.

 

 

 

 

 

American Gods (Imposters of God, Chapter 1: The Mystery of Idolatry, Part One)

Photo by Stefan Frerichs, Creative Commons

Photo by Stefan Frerichs, Creative Commons

[This is my second post on William Stringfellow’s 1965 book, Imposters of God. For my first post, click here.]

When most people think of idolatry, they think of ancient Rome or today’s hunter-gatherers. But this is a mistake, according to William Stringfellow. “After all, is there any essential difference between middle-class people idolizing their children, as they do in America, an heathen venerating their ancestors?”

Today, as in 1965, idolatry is alive and well in America. We have made our new gods, but even the old gods find adherents. “Recalling Hiroshima, or beholding the war in Vietnam, can any of us really believe that Mars has abdicated his throne, or that the cult in which war is the deity, is any less militant here and now than in former times?”

In 48 years, what has changed? Recalling Baghdad  or beholding the war in Afghanistan and the constant drone strikes in Yemen and Pakistan, is Ares not still worshiped? Do we not pour out blood offerings to him every day?

America has always been polytheistic. We’ve always worshiped liberty, war, money, independence, family, rugged individualism, tradition, and religion.

In the Evangelical Churches especially, we’ve made an idol of marriage and family. What are singles Sunday School classes? Meat markets. What message do students get at Christian colleges? Get a ring by spring.

What do we teach about the call to celibacy, which the apostle Paul holds up as being more useful for the kingdom than marriage? Nothing, or perhaps, that it’s a Catholic thing that turns their priests into perverts.

What are the names of our great political organizations? American Family, Family Research Council, Focus on the Family … think about it, and think about what Jesus said about family (Luke 14:26).

Back to Stringfellow. What is an idol? It is anything, no matter how inherently noble, that a person uses to justify his or her own existence. An idol is “…that which renders the existence of the idolater morally significant, ultimately worthwhile.”

The Christian is justified by God’s faithfulness, especially as show by his incarnation, death, and resurrection. If we lose sight of that and base our worth on anything else:

  • Family
  • Accomplishments
  • Children
  • Physical fitness
  • Political party
  • Reputation
  • Our own moral strength
  • Wealth
  • Patriotism,
  • Our Church and place in it

…. then we have fallen into idolatry.

When we use these idols to justify our existence, we become invested in them, even evangelize them. Stringfellow summed up the generational conflict of the 1960’s in one sentence:

“Americans who have devoutly served the idols of respectability and status all their lives feel threatened in their very being when their children refuse to offer these idols the same worship.”

Next time, I’ll talk about how letting something become an idol damages not only the inadvertent idolater, but also the idol.

But for now, let me offer up this prayer. Father in Heaven, give me eyes to see the idols that I have hidden in my life. Show me all those things I worship that are not you. Give me the wisdom to understand them. Give me the strength to cast them down, like Gideon.

Amen.

In Praise of Southern Baptists, Part One (Bet Some of You Never Thought I’d Use THAT Headline)

Cemetery and Church

Photo by Keichwa, Creative Commons

I grew up Southern Baptist, and am currently an active member in good standing of a Southern Baptist Church. And I criticize the denomination from time to time. But today I want to praise them for something they do well:

Funerals

I bet I know what you’re thinking:

  1. This is a morbid topic for the day after Christmas
  2. Aren’t Baptists the ones who always feel the need to have an invitation and altar call at funerals?
  3. Don’t liturgical denominations have more meaningful, beautiful rituals?

Maybe it is a little morbid, but it’s what I’m writing about today. 🙂

As for the altar calls, as crass as it seems sometimes, it makes sense given the strong belief in the need for a conversion experience. On the one hand, it can be offensive, but on the other hand many people grieve without hope, and may find hope and life transformation in an encounter with God.

It’s hard to fault a preacher for trying to provide an avenue to such an encounter. The methods are sometimes heavy-handed, and that’s worthy of criticism, but the motive and the action itself is good.

As for the service itself, I’m not sure. I haven’t been to that many liturgical funerals. But I’m really not talking about the “official funeral” where the preacher or other officiant says a few words and someone sings a song or two. I’m talking about the time before and after.

Baptists live by one maxim, if no other: nobody should have to cook and grieve at the same time.

Food pours in: casseroles, chicken, roasts, salads, vegetables, desserts, enough to last at least a week. And it keeps coming, so that when the first batch is eaten or gone stale, a second wave arrives.

The entire extended family is brought into the church and fed by the church members either before or after the funeral.  This gives them a collective time to grieve and visit.

Too often in our globalized, far-flung society, funerals are the only times we get the whole family together. That time needs to be spent together, not making arrangements for food.

This sounds trivial. But as someone who’s been on both sides of it, I can tell you it is not. It is a powerful part of the healing process, and one that I’ve taken for granted for a long time.

I used to think it was universal, but it has recently come to my attention that it is not. And that blew my mind. You mean other groups, other churches don’t do this? It seems so basic.

Don’t get me wrong: we’re certainly not the only ones that do this. The Jewish tradition of Shiva is similar, though perhaps less informal. Lots of other churches and groups do the same, with varying degrees of formality.

But not everyone. Not every church member in every church in the world or even America gets this kind of treatment. Not every church community pulls together and spends not only its money but its time to aid the grieving process.

And so I want to praise the denomination that takes care of its grieving so well and so consistently that I assumed everyone did it.

Does Welcoming Homosexuals Mean Accepting Homosexuality?

Shaking hands

As Christians, we like to think that we’re unpopular because we take a principled, Biblical stand against homosexual sexual relations.  But the things that stain our reputation most are not at all theological.  They’re not about the belief that same-sex sexual contact is sinful.  They’re about the way we so often treat homosexual people.

There are plenty of churches that actively seek to welcome lesbians and homosexuals into to their midst, while still holding to the theology that homosexual sexual relations are sinful in god’s eyes.

They believe that those who are completely homosexual (and not at all bisexual or attracted to the opposite sex at all) should be celibate, and those who are bisexual should focus their romantic and sexual attention on members of the opposite sex, effectively living as if heterosexual.

These churches are occasionally called intolerant or anti-homosexual, but they actually have homosexual people in their congregations.  They love and worship with and share communion with people who are sexually attracted to the same sex.  They do not hold themselves sinless or blameless or better than their homosexual neighbors.  And so they are able to witness and minister to people who are so often excluded from the Church.

People act like the alternatives are the Family Research Council (which spreads horrible, often false, ‘information’ about homosexuals and works against all their civil rights) or the Episcopal Church (which ordained its first homosexual priest in the seventies, and has created an official blessing for same-sex marriages).

That is a false dichotomy.  You do not need to change your theology to change the way you treat your least popular neighbors (Don’t get me wrong: I believe you can be a faithful, prayerful Christian and not believe homosexual sexual relations are sinful.  But those Christians aren’t the ones I’m writing this post to).

In other words, the evangelical churches of the United States do not have to start blessing same-sex marriages and ordaining homosexual ministers.  But we do need to stop actively working to use the government to attack homosexuals.

In many states, homosexuals can be fired because of their sexual orientation for no reason.  In many states, they cannot adopt.  In many states, they are excluded from hospital visitation for their partners.  Until 2003, having homosexual relations was felony on par with forcible rape in many states.  That’s oppression: “if you’re gay, we treat you like a rapist.”

In other words, homosexual people are treated like second-class citizens, and it’s mostly because of political pressure from conservative Christians.

As Christians, we are called to love all sinners, not just sinners who sin like we do.  As Christians, we are not called to use the empire’s hammer to beat down people we don’t like.  That is antithetical to Christ’s behavior when He was on earth, and I believe antithetical to Christ’s message.

Jesus ate with the outcasts of Jewish society – Samaritans, tax collectors, and more – and He loved them.  He loves them still, just like he loves the outcasts of our American society.  If we love Him, we need to suck it up, step up, and start feeding His sheep.