The Only Perfection We Need

Farai ChidyeaFarai Chideya was born on July 27, 1969, in Baltimore, Maryland of an African-American mother  and a Zimbabwean father. In 1990 she graduated Magna Cum Laude from Harvard College with a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature. Her accomplishments since include writing several novels and nonfiction books, becoming an award winning  multimedia journalist, including hosting her own radio show on NPR.  For 15 years she produced and hosted Pop and Politics with Farai Chideya, a series of radio specials on politics. She currently produces and hosts One with Farai, a podcast for Public Radio International, in which she interviews distinguished individuals with a range of stories and opinions. 

To all outward appearances Farai is a total success but the truth is for years her self worth was tied to looking like the glossy images  of women she saw in the make – believe world of television. She became so obsessed with having the perfect female body that she became a bulimic, binging and purging consumed her life and distorted her self image. 

Commenting on her battle with bulimia’s destructive grip, she says,  

  “Losing weight didn’t change my personality and it didn’t lighten the emotional baggage I carried from my childhood.  I thought I wanted to be thin.  What I really wanted was to be happy; neither my looks nor my achievements could do that.  Because I couldn’t love or accept myself, the acceptance of others was never enough.  When I tried to be perfect, I came across as remote and unapproachable, yet the exact opposite was what I wanted.”

Perfection. We all want it. It is an American obsession.

In addition to disorders like bulimia and anorexia, perfection obsession also wraps you in loneliness because you can never let anyone see your imperfections which means never fully revealing yourself to anyone. Vulnerabilty, honesty and openness are the building blocks of lasting, intimate relationships.  

Perfection obsession causes us to see our shortcomings as something to hide, rather than seeing them as opportunities for growth.  It keeps us focused on who we are going to be and what we are going to do in the future, and prevents us from focusing on enjoying who we are and what we are doing in the here and  now.  Perfection obsession robs us of our chance to make our life count because we are putting so much effort into fixing ourself that we have no focus or energy left to help others.

Bulimia and anorexia are terrible disorders that can consume your life, but they are symptoms of a deeper issue – getting our self worth from the wrong source – of trying to find love in all the wrong places – of perfection obsession. Stories like Farai’s  give us great insight into what happens when we get our self worth from the wrong source! Whether that source is the perfect body, the perfect mind, the perfect relationship, the perfect career, the perfect academic career, or any other perfect accomplishment you care to add – they all have this is common: they are defined by others (society, media, peers, expectations, academia, romanticism, etc.). We each must choose whether to let others determine our self worth or to let God determine our self worth. 

Scripture teaches and experience validates that God loves us with an everlasting love that we do not and can not earn. His love for us is intrinsic to who He is, not who we are, and therefore we are in no danger of losing it. Choose to let others determine your self worth and you will constantly be in danger of losing it. Choose to let God determine your self worth and not only are you in no danger of losing it but it requires no effort beyond  accepting the unwavering, unending love freely given to us by our Heavenly Father. This choice should be a no-brainer!

God’s love is the only perfection we need – and we do not have to obsess over attaining it – it quite simply is ours for the taking!

You have worth because God loves you – his perfect love is the only perfection  you will ever need.

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Trump, Moral Relativism, and the American Church

Last night I was talking to a grad student here at UGA that I had just met.  He told me he was very concerned about the possibility of a nuclear attack on North Korea by the United States.  Without thinking I blurted out that having Donald Trump as the decision maker as to how to use our nuclear arsenal scared me to death.  His response surprised me.  He said, “I voted for Trump but I didn’t think it through.  I hate Hillary Clinton so I voted against her but I didn’t really visualize Trump as POTUS.” I did, which is why he didn’t get my vote.

7de7c0aa10e9f514e1a15dc44c5d0144I have opposed Donald Trump since he announced he was running in June of 2015. My take on policy and priorities leans center left, which should make me lean toward Democrats.  While I have considerable policy disagreements with Trump, that it is not what drives my opposition. My conviction stems from being a disciple of Jesus.

There is, however, a former Republican  and now Independent that has piqued my interest. Ewan McMullin wants to regain control of “the heart and soul of conservatism”. I believe the 2020 Presidential election will be a battle for the center-right and center-left of America. McMullin, although more conservative than me, could be  a serious threat to the incumbent if he decides to run. Oh, by the way, McMullin is a former CIA operative and a practicing Mormon.

Now is the time that those who know me are asking, “Why would anyone vote for a Mormon candidate while citing the immaturity of Trump’s Christian faith as a reason for not supporting his Presidency?”  Good question!  Here is my response.

My primary concern is not about what nation Trump attacks next or who he appoints to the Supreme Court, or even the alt right executive orders he seems to issue daily. My concern is the witness of the Church. We are called to be ambassadors for Jesus, to exhibit love and compassion, to speak up about injustice. We are resident-aliens in this world, not citizens comfortable with the status quo. The intensity of that commitment is that the Kingdom of God even takes precedence over family ties (Luke 14:26). Anything that takes precedence over our commitment to Jesus and His agenda is idolatry.

Until Jesus is on the ballot, every candidate will have shortcomings. Forget about looking for perfection.  A candidate can be a very crooked stick and still exhibit the general moral character of love and compassion and an unwillingness to ignore injustice. The President’s lifestyle not his specific religious doctrinal beliefs is what determines the witness of the Church during his or her presidency.  The Church itself, of course, is not dependent on whomever is elected to lift up that which is good and oppose that which is not.  First and foremost the Church should be a community that exhibits the marks of the Kingdom of God.

The issue is not that Trump is “Not My President”.  He is my president and I pray for him daily. The issue is the attempt by right wing Christians to characterize Trump as basically a good guy, a baby Christian, who is just a little rough around the edges. Really?

Have you read The Art of the Deal? Have you paid attention to his professional and personal lifestyle?  Trump’s lifestyle is the very antithesis of the Sermon on the Mount. During his campaign when asked by Jimmy Fallon if he ever apologized for anything Trump replied “I will absolutely apologize some time in the hopefully distant future if I’m ever wrong.” He is the apostle for the gospel of “win at all costs”.  Opponents are not to be just defeated but destroyed and humiliated. He advocates seducing the wives of rivals to humiliate them and, during his campaign, bragged about having done so himself.  To Trump there are only two types of people: those who are unflinchingly loyal to him or those who are absolute losers. Everything about him exudes an unstable vindictive predatory character. His “unfortunate” tweets are not the product of an unpolished public figure. They are the product of a calculating, manipulative, pathological personality.

Democracy runs on the basis that there are competing views in society. When someone wins an election, the loser concedes and the winner leaves the loser standing, ready to fight another day.  It is this understanding that no victory or loss is ever final, that keeps American society moving along. Disagreement is the norm, not the exception, of a free, democratic society.

Trump, however, routinely demonstrates he cannot tolerate the presence of opposition! Not even from beauty queens. From the beginning of the campaign to his present Presidency, his emphasis has been on what HE is going to do. By sheer force of his personality and will, without regard for the basics of governance, HE is going to fix everything. This is hubris, not leadership. Hubris plus a vindictive predatory temperament equals authoritarianism.

I believe there were many Christians, like me, who cast their vote, not because they were enthusiastically behind the conservative or progressive candidate, but simply for the lesser of two evils. But then there are those Christians who now are Trump apologists, determined to legitimize his profound evils. Considering all the criticism leveled at the moral failings of candidates in the past it is difficult to see this as anything other than  hypocrisy. When their political agenda is at stake, all concern about character seems to fly out the window.  If you think Trump is the best President in our lifetime, fine. But do not act as if his Presidency minimizes what kind of man he is.

The Church’s mission is not to help candidates win elections but to give witness to the agenda of Jesus. That witness is seen through martyrdom rather than hateful authoritarian demagoguery.

I am not that familiar with McMullin.  But he seems to be a principled man with admirable ethical standards, who aspires to build a more civil society. If that perception is true, he is a welcome change to the political stage, regardless of what his specific doctrinal beliefs are.

For many the fact that Donald Trump is the POTUS is visceral. Social psychologists call it “motivated perception,” a condition where what we see is shaped by what we feel is at stake. Thus the motivation to justify and rationalize Trump’s Presidency is powerful. In 2011 the Public Religion Research Institute at Brookings asked people whether someone who had committed immoral acts in their private life could still be effective in their political or professional life. Nationwide, 44% said Yes. The same question was asked in 2016 nationwide the  Yes vote had risen to 61%. But the move to compartmentalize sin was most pronounced among those who were most conservative. In 2011 only 30% White Evangelicals given the same question said yes. But in 2016  71% of White Evangelicals answered the same question yes becoming the religious segment most likely to believe that someone who commits immoral acts in private life can govern ethically..

When holding a moral standard meant substantial loss, they embraced moral relativity, the cardinal sin of “secular-progressives” they so despise. Again, my point is that Christians who are Trump backers should not minimize nor trivialize the kind of man he has shown himself to be.

Right leaning Christians are not purely to blame for the moral relativity in the American Church. Its roots span the political spectrum and reveal a much deeper problem, much of American Church is not formed by the gospel of Jesus. A great many progressive Christians have concluded that the answer to conservative Christians is to move to the far left Social gospel. Even though they are doing the same “othering” as they criticize the Right for doing, they justify it as “prophetic” and “social justice advocacy.”  But the solution is not a more progressive church. The solution is a more loving church, a loving community of resident-aliens, seeking the welfare of their host culture, seeking truth no matter the implications for our host culture’s political agendas. Right, left, or whatever, doesn’t really matter. What matters is that the church abandon moral relativity and once again take up the agenda of Jesus and His Kingdom.

Rogue One:  Star Wars Episode 3.75

“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” is every bit as good as the 7th installment of the Star Wars saga “The Force Awakens”. This is the first film set in the Star Wars universe that offers a deeper look at the story behind the story of the main saga. 

Specifically, we are given a rousing prequel to George Lucas’ 1977 original film “Episode IV – A New Hope.” (Which should be watched as soon as you get home from the theatre!)

The plot of “Rogue One” is driven by the fact that the evil Empire — served, most prominently, by Grand Moff Tarkin (a CGI of the late Peter Cushing) and Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) — is on the verge of deploying the ultimate weapon of mass destruction, the Death Star.

The Death Star has the potential to wipe out entire planets and thus doom the efforts of the Rebel Alliance to resist subjugation by the Empire. 

The movie’s main character, Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) is drawn to the center stage because she is the daughter of Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen), the brilliant scientist who developed the technology behind the Death Star.  What we know that the Star Wars universe does  not is that he designed it under duress while being held captive. Jyn has reason to believe that the armament has been sabotaged by her father. 

To prove this, she enlists the help of Rebel Alliance officer Capt. Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and his mechanical sidekick, K-2SO (Alan Tidy). Kato is an amusingly straight-talking android, who provides most of the movie’s comic relief.

Director Gareth Edwards has crafted an exciting epic while keeping the violence inherent in his story of armed conflict virtually bloodless. Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy have written a script that  celebrates altruism in the midst of the Rebellion. They also briefly tackle the morality of mindlessly obeying military orders.

“Rogue One” is old-fashioned entertainment in the best sense! We are treated to a showdown between spunky goodness and hisssble villainy with a bit of innocent romance thrown in to boot!  

This is a film for the whole family. Don’t miss it.

Addendum: The Force Of Star Wars

George Lucas is a fan of the writings of mythology scholar Joseph Campbell so not surprisingly ideas from world mythology are woven through the series. Episode IV itself is basically a reproduction of the archtypal story in Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Most of the mythic symbols Lucas weaves into the films may pass completely unnoticed except one: The Force.

According to the films, “the Force” is an energy field generated by all living beings that “binds the galaxy together.” For some gifted individuals, the Force provides both power and guidance.
The Force apparently is morally polarized, with a “light side” and a “dark side.” The light side (associated with good, peace, and self-defense) is the power of the Jedi, and the dark side (associated with evil, anger, and aggression) is the power of their enemies, the Sith.

What does George Lucas mean by The Force?   In interviews he has explained that the Force is a symbol for all that is unseen in the universe. The light side is essentially a symbol for God — the unseen Power of good — while the dark side is a symbol for the forces of evil.

According to Lucas, the Jedi exhortation to “Use the Force” essentially means “Make a leap of faith” (or “Trust God”). The phrase “May the Force be with you,” of course, is clearly evocative of “May God be with you.”

Lucas sees the Force (or the light side of the Force) then as only symbolic of God, not a direct allegory. Personally I see too many non-theistic elements to make the connection between God and the Force. 

I think the force bears a closer resemblance to a New-Age mystical energy field balanced between good and evil, similar to the yin-yang balance of Taoism than to God. (I do know The Force is fictional, but our fictional constructs are rooted in our perception of reality.) 

I love the Star Wars universe and when I see any of the movies I view “the Force” in essentially the same way I do the fantasy magic in The Wizard of Oz and similar stories. Let your children enjoy this fantasy universe and if they ask you if The Force is another name for God be prepared to give a reasonable “no” answer. 

The Plane Has Crashed

For months I have been playing the game of  “What if?” Not “What if I left the burner on, forgot to pay that bill, screwed up the tip?” Not even “What if that’s not a mole, or what if the brakes fail?” But what if he wins?

On Nov 8, He won.

No amount of pre-emptive fretting, phone banking, marching, petitioning, or magical thinking on any one person’s part would have prevented this. Even if I’d stayed up later on election night, or posted one more Facebook status, the outcome would have been the same. It’s not magic; it’s math. Electoral math to boot — antiquated, convoluted but the math that is the law.

I know my anxiety is unhealthy but I
can’t stop feeling like I have been in a plane crash. All I can do is stumble around in the wreckage looking for survivors. I know they’re out there, bruised and bleeding worse than me. One survivor is in his neighborhood bar, being told to go back to his own country although he was born here. Another survivor is smacked with an ethnic slur as he’s helping a man cross the street near Trump Tower, near where he works. One survivor fled Somalia at age 7, and 23 years later is afraid she will be forced to return there because she’s trying to cobble together money for her legal paperwork.  The worst that happens to me is that a former student called me a leftist and questioned my Faith on G+. But even though I have no personal threat I know that none of us are going to be OK until all of us are — but won’t someone please tell my body that?

So this is where I’m at, screaming at my heart, lungs, brain, stomach, and skin to calm down.  Eating sweets and hiding under the covers until the bad man goes away doesn’t help.  What helps me (a little, but better than anything else) is breathing.

It’s so easy to forget to breathe. Not in the autonomic sense — we’d all just be passing out in heaps on the street and behind the wheel if that weren’t the case — but in a deliberate way. Standing up, inhaling deeply through my nose, holding it in, releasing it. It’s such a simple thing, and it’s free of charge, and I have my lungs with me all day, but I forget to do it.

I have to remind myself to stop reading my Twitter feed. I have to remind myself to stand up, breathe, reclaim my body from my mind as best I can. It works — some of the time, but way better than nothing.
There’s so, SO much work ahead and so many people whose need for safety is greater than mine. So much has changed, that it can feel overwhelming.  STOP. Breathe. Focus. I can’t do it all, no one can — and that’s OK — but I have to start with something.

I will take a breath. I will pick my battle. I will not consider this election results as normal. It signaled that fear is now the main motivator in my country. The wings of freedom and equality have come off the plane

The plane has crashed. We survivors need to stick together.

Suicide Squad – a review

suicide-squadI am a comic book movie fan so I looked forward to DC’s Super Villain comic book movie “Suicide Squad”. It is made up mostly of second-tier bad guys from the DC Universe who are drawn together because of the fear that a future “metahuman” like Superman (now supposedly dead) could choose to use his or her powers for evil instead of good. The driving force is government clandestine operations organizer Amanda Waller (Viola Davis). She proposes to put together a team of Super Villains to fight evil metahumans. The squad she assembles features sharpshooter Deadshot (Will Smith), psychotic Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), fire starter Diablo (Jay Hernandez), and Aussie thief Boomerang (Jai Courtney). The Joker (Jared Leto) is committed to helping his girlfriend Harley Quinn break free, first from prison then from the Suicide Squad.

Their main threat, however, is a demon named Enchantress (Cara Delevingne) and her demonic brother Incubus (Alain Chanoine) who plan to kill all humanity and take over the world.

Deadshot, Diablo, Waller, and the soldier that Waller tasks to lead the Suicide Squad Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) are well-written emotionally layered characters, with credible backstories. The other characters not so much. Humor and jokes work mostly thanks to Smith’s Deadshot who brings a fun swagger to the squad.

The Joker and Harley Quinn, arguably the biggest draws to the movie – are laughable, overblown caricatures that work at first but get tiresome after a while. Harley’s psycho-sexpot act is sexy fun at first but finally is just obnoxious, and the Joker’s insanity is all style and no depth. Leto’s Joker portrayal lacks the ominous, formidable layers that Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger each brought to their portrayal of the iconic Joker). The evil Enchantress turns humans into grotesque zombie-like faceless creatures whom the Suicide Squad battles while destroying yet another major DC city.  The special effects save the day for this movie that is big on action and small on plot.

For me as a Christian, the demonic activity was the most problematic element of the movie. The Enchantress is a demonic sorceress, who emerges from captivity by means of demonic possession of an innocent woman. The Enchantress and Incubus, her evil demon brother, create a dark and spiritually oppressive atmosphere. Fortunately, the Suicide Squad super villains become “heroes” and their transformation brings a spiritual and idealistic light to shine in the darkness.

Overall the movie was entertaining and a change of pace for DC comic book movies.

X-Men Apocalypse

apocalypse-header

Call it an occupational hazard but when I watch a movie, I often try to connect the spiritual aspects and life messages advocated by the filmmakers.. The X-Men movies all are obvious allegories on the virtue of celebrating diversity.  The newest film in the franchise, X-Men Apocalypseexpands on that theme through multiple spiritual references throughout the film. The question is, “Is there an underlined meaning or connection to all of them?” Maybe, maybe not.. At the very least it is an allegory on the classic battle between good and evil. (Watch this very well produced film for its exceptional cinematography then watch it again for its theology).

Some of the spiritual references:

  • Apocalypse (the original mutant) states the names of many false gods that he has gone by.
  • Magneto yells at God about why his life is so full of tragedy.
  • Nightcrawler constantly prays and genuflects.
  • A military leader says on the phone, “Our prayers have been answered.”
  • Even the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse from Revelation 6 are referenced.

It is hard to miss the underlying theme that the “ruler of this world” (Apocalypse) and the Christian soldiers (X-Men)are at war. Satan wants to destroy the world and the good in it. He claims to be a god and even tried to get Jesus (God the Son) to bow down to him. In the movie, Apocalypse has one goal; to destroy the world in order to create a world he can rule. He can only do this by using others who have the power to tear the world apart. This is exactly the strategy Satan employs: he convinces people that following him will make them powerful and promises people whatever it takes without regard for telling the truth..

The counter to Apocalypse is Professor Xavier. He stands against Apocalypse by giving his followers a way out. He tells the Horsemen that there is a better way. However, Xavier, who has the power to control any and all people with his mind and to bend them to his will, chooses to allow free will. This is a picture of exactly the way Our Heavenly Father has chosen to deal with us – He grants us free will rather than imposing His will on us. God does not have to give us free will, He can force us to follow Him, but he does not want slaves but willing followers. So He sent His Son to provide a way out and then gives us the freedom to choose whether to follow Him or not.

Choosing to follow God makes us enlisted soldiers engaged in spiritual warfare against the god of this world.  Christians stand for truth, expose Satan’s lies and deception, and stand strong against the destroyer of lives.

Another spiritual aspect in the film, focuses on Magneto. He symbolizes the internal battle that wages within each of us; doing what is easy vs doing what is right. Magneto is living a good life, loving his family and choosing to do no harm. He is doing what is right: which is difficult, not easy.  Then tragedy strikes, he loses his family and this breaks him. He gives up and does what is easy – lash out with his power to destroy humans. The easy way often leads to our destruction: selfishness is easy, selflessness is hard.

No matter how bad things seem or how hopeless and trapped we feel there’s always an escape, always.  But we have to make the choice to allow God to forgive us. We have to choose to do what is right instead of what is easy.  Magneto brings this internal turmoil to the screen. I think it’s why so many of us connect to him as a character. He’s struggles with his choices of right and wrong just as many of us do.

X-Men Apocalypse is a great Bryan Singer film. I enjoyed it visually. I enjoyed the story line. I appreciated seeing the X-Men being portrayed as more grounded characters. The spiritual allegory and helpful life lessons were just icing on the cake!