That’s My Flavor…

Phish-FoodAs many of you know, I have been trying to live and embrace a healthier lifestyle for almost the whole time that I have been here at Asbury Church.    I am in the gym five or six days per week, I run twenty or thirty miles a week, and although I struggle during fellowship hour, I try to eat more healthy than not. 

Some of you might remember the first three to six months of that journey.   I could barely walk, and every muscle in my body hurt.   I remember one Sunday morning when I approached the altar rail to pray as service was beginning, I stayed there for an extra few seconds because I was positive I wasn’t going to be able to rise again.

Those first few months became some of the best sermon material ever.    I spent endless hours mapping out my run through the back roads of Keene, all with the hope that no one would see the chubby, middle age man, vomiting on someone’s beautiful curb flowers.   I remember runs where I would start just trying to run between mailboxes, then began targeting two minute intervals, then three, then ten, and on and on and on.

I became obsessed with the distance and the time.    I was sure I was never going to get fast.   I was sure I was never going to be true runner. 

Something clicked though.   Soon I was running a mile, then two, and the extra weight was coming off.   I remember signing up for my first race and not sleeping the night before because I was sure I wasn’t going to complete it.    I also remember the next day crossing that finish line and being thankful that I was sweating like mad, because it hid the unexpected tears of joy streaming from my face.     

Today, I run a lot.  I have run 18 miles in a morning.   Sometimes I go on three runs a day.

I also spend way too much time in the gym in a crazy strength conditioning regime.    I still am a bit obsessed and I pride myself that on a good day, I can do a 100 push ups straight, and then end up crushed when the number is only 80.   Before I started this great experiment I was tired, and my body always hurt.    I would wake up, swing my legs out of bed, and take those first few steps hoping that my knees would remember how to work.   I would huff and puff if I climbed stairs too quickly, and I almost always just wanted to nap.

Today, I am a different man.    I smoked when I was 18, so I can honestly say that today I am healthier and feel better than I did when I was that age.   My driver’s license may say 42, but I feel like I have a body of a 25 year old.    I feel better and I feel whole.  Now as long as I don’t trip in a pot hole, or run through the woods never to return, I should be okay for a while.

In the spirit of full disclosure, there are things that I miss.  Chinese food is perhaps one of the most unhealthy of foods to eat if not ordered right, so our family switched to the slightly more healthy Thai dinner.    Although I love Thai food, I do miss a heaping plate of Sesame Chicken, Boneless Spareribs, Pork Fried Rice and Crab Rangoon.   I miss Cool Ranch Doritos and Mountain Dew.  Finally, there is nothing – absolutely nothing – I miss more than what I called my visits to Ben…and Jerry.

This wasn’t normal indulgence; this was gluttony at its finest.    I would grab an ice cold coke, and a large tub of Ben and Jerry’s and just lounge on the couch and indulge.  

Sometimes I would eat just a small single scoop…. Okay, that’s a lie…. 

I would engorge on my personal pint, then hope that there was more left in the fringe left over from one of the kids.     My favorite?  Phish Food.    Listen to how wonderfully its described on line:  “Chocolatey, Chocolate Ice Cream with Gooey Marshmallow Swirls, heavenly Caramel Swirls & thick Fudge Fish”   

There are some foods where the calories just sneak in without you knowing.   Almonds are one of those types…  They are chock full of calories, but they are tiny so you don’t realize how many calories you are consuming when you eat them.  But Phish Food,…you feel each and every one of the 1,400 that is a tub.

I soon discovered the incredibly painful reality that running hurt bad enough, but when you added a tub of that ice cream it hurt bad.   I also realized that to burn off that visit to Ben, I would have to run for three hours.    One tub of ice cream was 15 miles of running.    That’s what is so key about counting and recording calories, is because you realize what can be burned off sitting at your desk, and what will need to be burned off in a run that is longer than a Half Marathon.    Soon, I started choosing the carrots rather than the tub of Phish Food.   

In the end, I miss it terribly.   I want to visit again, but I know if I do it once, I will do it twice.   I list ice cream up there on the list of controlled substances that one has no business putting in your body, but low, do I miss it.

It’s been said by some that Ben and Jerry are this equivalent of crack dealers.  I won’t go that far – because we go way back – but there are similarities. They peddle addiction, and the peddle death in a pretty little tub.    It might not kill you to OD on Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough, or at least it won’t do it quickly.   Instead, for those of us who are challenged by having anything in moderation, it comes slower, in the form of heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes.   

I read another’s blog posting, that said there was a three pronged recipe for their company’s success;   1.) Sell indulgence 2.) Sell an Experience and 3.) Keep them Guessing on what they want.*     The article went on to talk about how unique its customers are.   

They polled a group of what was considered loyal customers and some staggering percentage of them, despite being heavy purchasers and considering themselves incredibly brand loyal, had no favorite flavor.    In the article, an analyst commented on how beautiful that comment was.  He insinuated that it was the secret to the company’s success.  He talked about how the average consumer was just confused.

He argued that the Ben and Jerry’s eater did indeed have a favorite, but were unwilling to commit to it – out loud – because of that entirety of what Ben and Jerry’s had to offer.  In the end, the company exploits this indecisive reality too.   The company pushes new flavors out all the time.  

According to the analyst, they push all these new flavors out to convince you that you haven’t found your flavor yet, and keep you buying new and fresh and cheaper tubs.  The more you buy, the more you experiment, and the more you waffle back and forth, the more statistically likely you are to move to those regular, over indulgers; their key money maker.

At the same time that I am reading this blog posting, I am reminded of another article from a more journalistic and reliable source.   It is from the Pew Research Center, which is a non partisan think tank out of Washington DC which tries to capture public opinion on interests, fads, communal behavior and so forth.   In October they released a study entitled “Nones on the Rise”.

 (Check  here to listen to a discussion on NPR with the author/designer of this study) 

According to this organization, one fifth of American adults have no religious affiliation, and that is a trend that keeps rising year after year. In a nutshell, the “nones” are people who when asked what their religious preference or affiliation is would answer “none”.    Studying this group you will see that they are rather unique.  

A large percentage of that group includes many who say they are spiritual or religious in some way and pray every day.   Overwhelmingly they say that they have no affiliation and they are NOT looking for one.   Saddest is that for those under thirty, one third considers themselves a “none”

 When asked by NPR, the study’s designer commented on the results saying that “Young people today are not only more religiously unaffiliated than their elders; they are also more religiously unaffiliated than previous generations of young people ever have been as far back as we can tell. “  He says this really is something new, without a full grasp of what that means for their future.  

I can tell you what it means for the church.  We need to start thinking differently.

The study goes on to report that there is a great unease with choosing a faith, because of the demands of the faithful.   The report goes on to state that Christianity, in particular, has been more closely linked to politics, power, and money, than a real, life changing faith.   The report tells us they don’t like what most of the loudest among us point to as fundamental and essential.   They tend to see the church as being backwards when it comes to inclusion, gender, institution and administration, and a slew of other issues.   They are listening, and they are saying that they don’t like we are selling and can go it better on their own.

I think that as I hear the results of this study, I think about that Ben and Jerry’s article.   I don’t think that it’s as much about a changing world, culture, and focus… as it is about a generation that has yet to find its flavor.  They are turning away from faith, because they believe the faith they see on television is representative of the entire Church.

For any of us who have invested their heart into the church this should break it.  It breaks mine for a multitude of reasons. My week is not complete, nor will it begin until I walk into this place on Sunday.   The ship that is my life, which gets battered by every passing wave, is made steady by this place.   

I know that each and every Sunday, I can come to a place where parents have struggled and have both failed and succeeded.    Each and every Sunday, I can come to a place where husbands and wives get it wrong more times than they get it right.    Each and every Sunday, I can come to a place where people recognize that they are not always at their best, even when they want to be.   

Each and every Sunday, I can come to a place where people – despite their flaws – are trying their best to be their best, to slow down long enough to listen to the still small voice, and trying to be there for the person who sits in the other pew.     For me the church is a place where people are trying, and it breaks my heart to think that there will be those that miss out.  That is what I see the world missing.

The charts call this a growing trend, and many of the voice boxes of the church see this as a non reversing trend.   I don’t want to admit that.    We are not surrounded by a decaying generation that has walked away from Jesus.   We are not bound to stay in this place where 70% of our community drives by us each Sunday.   We are not required to settle and accept that people are going to write “none”.   Instead, we can choose to be different.

That said, what would I say to them?

If I had anything to say to those who have even chosen to say no, who were considering saying no, or walking away from faith in its entirety, it would likely be a question;  “Why?”.    In the end, I am positive in whatever way they answer the question, I too have either been there or had the same doubts.  

The answers are likely familiar.

I don’t want to or can’t believe in a God who can give little kids Leukemia, or send earthquakes.

I don’t want to or can’t believe in a God who lets bad things happen to good people.

I don’t want to or can’t believe in a God who says it’s okay to pollute because he is coming back to fix things.

I don’t want to or can’t believe in a God who tells us that there will be some moment in the future when all the believers – of my brand of faith – will magically disappear, and the rest of the world will suffer a misery unimaginable.

I don’t want to or can’t believe in a God who requires me to remain silent in the face of violence, oppression, politics, or wrong.

I don’t want to or can’t believe in a God who requires a theological exam for the afterlife.

I don’t want to or can’t believe in a God who demands women wear skirts, or that makes me throw out my jazz records.

I don’t want to or can’t believe in a God who demeans women, immigrants, children, or people who look, love, or act differently than I do.

To each of those statements, my answer would be the same;  

I will not… 

I won’t… and I do not believe in that God either.  

That’s not my flavor.  That’s not my God.

That stuff is all extra, and its broken.   It’s too often the church’s way of making something easier to stomach and understand.   As we do, it reveals just how screwed up we all are when it comes to faith.   If there is anything that can be said about faith, is that it’s simpler than we often try to make it seem.   You don’t need long theological words to package your faith.   You need to approach it simply.

Why is faith important?

I think of Dallas Willard’s famous story about a fighter pilot in an F14 doing night maneuvers.    Something happens and he gets caught in the back draft of another jet, similar – I assume – to what happened to Goose Gossage in Tom Cruise’s 1980’s blockbuster “TOP GUN”.  

He momentarily loses control of his jet, but recovers it.

As he does, he realizes that he is too low, and pulls the throttle back to retain altitude.   As he does he drives the Jet into the ground.   He doesn’t realize that during the loss of control, his jet turned upside down.   When he expects to go up, he fires straight down.

We are all like that.   Life has a way of twisting and turning us all about.   In the end, its faith that rights the ship, flips the plane over, or allows us to get our bearings straight.   Faith doesn’t always take away the doubt, or give you all the answers, or even make things all gumdrops and lollipops; instead it repositions us.    

I have faith that God is working on me, all the time, to persuade this ship I am flying to flip over.  God’s not working on me to get me to sign off on proposition a, b, or c,…or even dogma or creed x, y, or z…  He’s working on me to pull the throttle the right way.

So, if it’s not about embracing the right answers what is it about?

Embracing the call to faith – is different from being full of or having faith – and it is about bringing yourself to that place, over and over and over again, where you are reminded that it is simple.  You come and hear the message again and again and again and again, so that eventually on the 4 million and tenth time, you’ll start listening to it…and as you start listening your start believing it.  

If you are one of those “nones” or the “soon to be none”, all I can do is beg you to keep listening.

That 4 million and tenth time will come. You’ll start to believe that you can change everything.   You’ll start to believe that those things that you keep chasing after may not prove worthwhile after all.   You’ll start to believe that you are not alone no matter how dark or how scary things appear.  You’ll start to believe that you are greater, braver, more beautiful, smarter, and more powerful than the world has convinced you are. 

You’ll start to believe that you are part of a family and a community that loves, includes, welcomes, and fights for you.  You’ll start to believe that you are loved and in a way that makes all other love seem empty.   In the end, when you start believing that, you are reborn.  You are a new person.   You are in a new place.

For those nones out there, I pray – with my whole heart – that they realize what they reject, I have rejected too.  

I pray that they realize that the wonderful gift that I received is packaged and waiting for them.   I pray that they realize that before they shut the door on that still small voice, they try my flavor.

I pray that they realize that all of this is about together figuring out together as a family, how we Love God with all our hearts, and all our souls,  and all our minds… How we love our neighbor…  and how we love ourselves…either for the first time,…or again.

Its my prayer for the “nones” as much as it is for us. 


(* Please note, the article was from a blog posting, and I have yet to find the actual reference article at the magazine site)

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