jasonbwatson

March 21, 2017

March Movie Madness

There has been plenty of attention paid to Disney’s release of a live-action version of Beauty and the Beast, the well-known “tale as old as time” in which peasant girl Belle falls in love with a beast that was in fact a man, transformed to a beast as a result of a spell cast on him due to his own unkindness. The movie is the latest in Disney’s recent line of live adaptations of its classic animated films, this one the update to 1991’s smash version of the same name.

Much of the attention this movie has been receiving, however, is due to the inclusion of a gay character in the live-action version, Gaston’s doltish sidekick LeFou. Social media has been abuzz with articles calling out Disney for its decision to include what TIME repeatedly reported as Disney’s first gay character. As a result of this inclusion many Christians and social conservatives have both criticized Disney and vowed not to see the film. Others have cautioned parents to use discernment in taking their children to see it. I have been engaged in some of these online discussions and my position has been—and is—that I will not go see the movie in the theater because I do not want to use my dollars to express support or approval for this kind of character inclusion. I likely will see the film eventually though and, depending on the scene, may or may not let my children watch it. From what I have been reading lately I suspect I may let them see it. Why? Because, according to those who have seen it and have shared their thoughts on it, the character is little different from the same character in the animated version and the “exclusively gay moment” is rather quick and insignificant and, unless you are looking for it or expecting it, not likely to be seen as a specifically gay scene at all. This is confirmed by a story in the March 20 USA TODAY story headlined “Beauty and the Beast’s ‘gay moment’ may have been much ado about nothing.” According to that story, the scene in question is “a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it shot in the film’s final seconds.”

So how did this scene become such a big deal? The film’s director, Bill Condon, chose to make it one. In an interview he did with Attitude magazine Condon said,

LeFou is somebody who on one day wants to be Gaston and on another day wants to kiss Gaston. He’s confused about what he wants. It’s somebody who’s just realizing that he has these feelings. And Josh makes something really subtle and delicious out of it. And that’s what has its payoff at the end, which I don’t want to give away. But it is a nice, exclusively gay moment in a Disney movie.

Others involved in the film confirmed this statement. Ewan McGregor said, on The Late Show, that LeFou is a “gay character.” He even emphasized the fact that opposition to the inclusion of such a character is ridiculous in the day and age in which we live, saying, that people need to get over their objections because “It’s 2017. For f**k’s sake.” So the point is that the director of the movie, if not Disney itself, intentionally set out to make a point of the character’s sexuality. If he would not have said anything then some people may have picked up on it or wondered about it when they saw the film, but he/they chose to make it an issue. In other words, they have only themselves to blame that some people are now making an issue of it. Of course once a theater in the south announced it would not show the movie because of the gay character, Russia changed the film’s rating and Malaysia said the film would not be shown there at all, the director and others tried to backpedal.

Incidentally, Condon’s remark really served more than anything to create for him, Disney and the film itself a lose/lose situation. Some, as already described, are unhappy about the announced gay character. Others, on the LGBT side of the debate, took the opposite approach, saying, according to the same USA TODAY article, “the representation of a gay character did not go far enough.” Yet again, had Condon never said anything about the character being gay this likely would never have been an issue.

A few people in discussions I have been part of suggested that the LeFou in the live-action version is no different at all than the LeFou in the 1991 animated version. If so that serves only to reinforce my point that Condon created this storm with his comments. Absolutely no one would have thought in 1991 that Disney would include a homosexual character in an animated film marketed primarily to children. That was six years before Ellen DeGeneres came out as a lesbian (April 1997). Not only did she come out personally, but her character on her television show Ellen came out as well. Biographer Lisa Iannucci told Biography.com, “[T]here was concern over not only how the audience would react, but how the advertisers would react.” So it is absurd to think that it would have seriously crossed anyone’s mind six years before that that Disney, the company that was built completely around wholesome children’s entertainment, would include a homosexual character.

I have had people challenge me on why the gay character is an issue but the inclusion of bestiality and magic/witchcraft is not. The bestiality question is an absurd one. Belle falls in love with the beast, yes, but he is not a true animal–he speaks, walks on two legs, has emotions, etc.–and they never consummate their relationship while he is in beast form. Bestiality refers to sexual intercourse between a human and an animal. Accordingly, I do not think this even warrants further comment.

The magic/witchcraft issue is a legitimate one. Just about all of Disney’s fairy tale films include magic/witchcraft/sorcery of some kind and there certainly are some Christians who do not watch or approve of any of the classic Disney movies for that very reason. There are some personal convictions involved here for sure. My position is that the magic is defeated in the end and it is not glorified or taken to an extreme of serving Satan. I have not ever let my children watch The Princess and the Frog though because I think the magic in that movie is too dark and Satanic. Some Christians have no problem with Harry Potter either; I do. The other thing to keep in mind with Beauty and the Beast is the reason behind the beast’s curse. Take this synopsis from IMDb.com:

An old beggar woman arrives at the castle of a French prince. The woman asks for shelter from the cold, and in return, offers the young prince a rose. Repulsed by her appearance, the prince turns her away. The beggar warns him not to judge by appearances, but the Prince ignores her and shuts the door on her. The woman then throws off her disguise, revealing that she is a beautiful enchantress. The Prince tries to apologize, but she has already seen the lack of kindness in his heart. She conjures a powerful curse, transforming him into a hideous beast, his servants into anthropomorphic household items, and the entire castle and all its surroundings into a dark, forbidding place, so that he will learn not to judge by appearances. The curse can only be broken if the Beast learns to love another and receives the other’s love in return before the last petal of the enchantress’s rose withers and falls; if not, he will be doomed to remain a beast forever.

While magic and sorcery are used, the reason for their use is the prince’s selfish, judgmental, arrogant attitude. Once he sees that he could have played host to a beautiful princess he wants a second chance. Too late! To emerge from the curse he must learn both to love and to receive love. Powerful, poignant lessons can be taught from this. Biblical lessons even. So the magic in the film is not much different from the magic in Narnia.

The bottom-line issue for me when it comes to this movie is simply this: Whether through the character himself or simply through the comments of Bill Condon, Ewan McGregor and others, Disney is slowly, perhaps even subtly, pushing the acceptance of homosexuality into the realm of childhood. As an article on the Answers in Genesis web site accurately argues, “Sadly, Disney clearly wants to normalize what God has called sin. …[W]e must strongly caution against Christians exposing children to one more example of society’s acceptance of homosexual behavior, even if it’s just a small part of the film.” I agree with that statement.

The reality is that, for Christians, The Shack should be of greater concern than Beauty and the Beast. The biggest reason for that is simple: Disney is a secular company providing secular entertainment and thus marketed primarily to a secular audience. The Shack, however, is a film based on a book written by a man, William Paul Young, who professes to be a Christian. In his own words (in a recent blog post on his web site) the book “offered alternative ways of thinking about God and humanity that resonated intensely with many, it also challenged deeply held assumptions and embedded paradigms.” In and of itself that may not be a bad thing. All of us can be guilty of getting caught up in tradition or habitual ways of thinking about something and those can actually detract from an accurate or vibrant understanding of the truth. I am sure I am not the only one who has had moments of hearing a Bible passage exposited, or reading the thoughts of a theologian or author and realizing both that I had never thought of it that way before and that this new perspective provided a much-needed clarification or addition to what I had previously been content to think.

Much of the error (which sounds much nicer than saying heresy, doesn’t it?) will be recognizable to those with a solid understanding of Scripture. In the words of Randy Alcorn, “I believe that those who are well grounded in the Word won’t be harmed by the weaknesses and deficiencies of the book.” I agree with that, and I do not feel that my faith was challenged, undermined or weakened by reading the book. If anything, it may have stirred me to firm up some of my beliefs. And the book does contain some merit and value—and surely some elements from which I derived benefit.

Young, however, brings “new” perspectives that are not accurate at all. They serve not to clarify or correct possibly vague or inaccurate understandings of God and Scripture but to corrupt and pervert the truth that Scripture reveals. If nothing else, the fact that Young chose to portray God appearing in the physical form of a woman in the book is cause for concern. When I read the book I almost stopped reading right there. God, of course, has not physical form. He could choose to appear in some physical manner I suppose but He is not a woman, that much is certain. Young explains this in the book by stating that Mack, the book’s main character and the human who interacts with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in their physical forms in the literal shack from which the book and film take their title, cannot accept God as a Father because of his own damaged relationship with his physical father. That may be a legitimate obstacle for many people because many people have strained or even dangerously unhealthy relationships with their earthly fathers. That does not, however, allow any of us to change who God is. Our own difficulty or discomfort with God as He has revealed Himself can never be used to justify or excuse our alteration or manipulation of God in order to make Him more palatable or acceptable or comfortable. (This is the same reason why it is not okay for those in some cultures that struggle with the idea of Jesus being God’s Son to change that wording in order to make the Bible more easily accepted in those cultures).

One of the biggest issues for the book and movie is that Young’s main character is God—and God speaks at length. Young is, therefore, literally putting words in God’s mouth through his story. This is a dangerous act, one that the Scripture warns about strictly. This also lends greater weight to the content of the story even if Young insists—as he does—that he was writing a novel not a theology book. Why? Because, in Alcorn’s words, “It’s hard to fall back on ‘Yeah, but it was just one of the characters saying that’ when the character happens to be God. You can’t really say ‘he was having a bad day,’ or ‘he wasn’t familiar with that Scripture.’”

In her review of the film, Sophia Lee writes that “Papa” in the film (which is a term Mack’s wife uses for God and the manner in which Mack addresses God throughout the book—which is only one more reason why depicting God as a woman is problematic) is “a god who is far removed from the God of the Bible.” Why? One example she notes is Mack asking Papa about his wrath, to which Papa responds, “My what? You lost me there.” That is a real problem. An incredibly significant problem. Indeed there could be no greater problem. Why? Simply this: if we deny or ignore the wrath of God then we are necessarily denying or ignoring the holiness and justice of God, which requires denying or ignoring both that humans fall short of that holiness in and of themselves and are therefore deserving of punishment and separation from God. If we ignore or deny that then we are ignoring or denying the fundamental truth of the Bible, the very heart of the gospel message, the very reason why Jesus Christ came to earth, lived a perfect life and died to pay the penalty owed by humans so that those who accept His sacrifice on their behalf might receive the forgiveness of God.

Let me be clear here: I am not asserting something that Young himself does not make clear. Young has said that he does not believe in penal substitution. He said he believes in the wrath of God and he believes there is no hope for human beings apart from the cross but he says Christ became sin for humans, not that human sin was punished through the death of Christ. In fact, he said, “I don’t see that it is necessary to have the Father punish the Son.” (To hear this for yourself you can listen to a lengthy 2009 interview with Young here; this specific conversation takes place over six or seven minutes starting around minute 16 of the recording).

Young’s most recent book is titled Lies We Believe About God. One of the “lies” Young addresses in the book is “The Cross was God’s idea,” the book’s seventeenth chapter. There he writes,

Who originated the Cross?

If God did, then we worship a cosmic abuser, who in Divine Wisdom created a means to torture human beings in the most painful and abhorrent manner. Frankly, it is often this very cruel and monstrous god that the atheist refuses to acknowledge or grant credibility in any sense. And rightly so. Better no god at all, than this one.

You can read that for yourself on page 149 of the book if you want to ensure that I am quoting Young accurately. He goes on to write that the Cross (he capitalizes it) was the idea of humans, that the cross is a “deviant device” that is “the iconic manifestation of our blind commitment to darkness. … It is the ultimate fist raised against God.” There is some truth there, but Young goes own, saying that God responded to this “profound brokenness” by submitting to it. But Young does not mean that Jesus submitted to the will of the Father by giving up His life to pay the penalty of sin that is justly demanded by a holy and righteous God. Rather, Young says, “God climbed willingly onto our torture device and met us at the deepest and darkest place of our diabolical imprisonment to our own lies, and by submitting once and for all, God destroyed its power” (p 150). At first that sounds good but consider carefully what Young is asserting here: he is saying that God submitted Himself willingly to man—and man’s lies, darkness and brokenness specifically. He is saying that God freed humankind from our own darkness and lies by submitting to that same darkness and allowing man to execute Christ on the cross and thereby free humanity from its own “blind commitment to darkness.”

The reality, however, is that man’s “commitment to darkness” and “profound brokenness” is a result of the fall. Sin entered the world through Adam and Eve but it is has infected every human being since. As a result, “we all fall short of God’s glorious standard” (Romans 3:23, NLT). God did not submit Himself to our darkness to free us from it. That would ultimately mean that God submitted Himself to sin—to Satan. Far from it! God did not submit to Satan at all—ever. God the Son (Jesus) yielded Himself to God the Father, willingly putting Himself in the position to take the place of every human being who has ever lived by paying the rightful penalty of sin on their behalf. All who accept that Christ did that, and accept that He is their Savior and the only way to heaven, will have their sins forgiven and will spend eternity in the presence of God rather than eternity separated from God in hell. That, by the way, is another of the “lies” that Young addresses in his recent book. He says hell is neither separation from God nor conscious torment, but Scripture makes clear that it is indeed both.

In the book’s introduction, quoted on its back cover, Young writes,

This book is not a presentation of certainty. … You may identify with some topics and not with others. You might agree or disagree with my conclusions. Some of these ideas may be deeply challenging, while others may seem naïve and thoughtless. That is the wonder and uniqueness of our journeys and the beauty of dialogue and relationship.

Actually, Mr. Young, that is a bunch of fluff and stuff. It is utter nonsense. It is relativism at its core, postmodernism at its finest. Allaboutphilosophy.org states, “Postmodernism is difficult to define, because to define it would violate the postmodernist’s premise that no definite terms, boundaries, or absolute truths exist.” That is what Young is celebrating! He is openly declaring that he is unsure of what he writes in his book—but one cannot be unsure of that which is absolute truth. In other words, Young can only be uncertain of God’s wrath, man’s sinfulness, the existence of eternal suffering in hell and the atonement for sin on the cross through the death of Christ because he is uncertain of the Truth of the Bible. That we can be uncertain of these things, and disagree on them, is neither wonderful nor unique. It is the gateway to straying from the Bible and from God. He has communicated these things clearly in His Word; uncertainty can only come from an unwillingness to accept and believe it.

Owen Strachan wrote recently wrote the following on The Gospel Coalition web site:

What truly horrifies sinful humanity is not, in the end, Scripture’s stubborn reliance upon blood atonement. The problem is much deeper. What truly offends human nature about the atonement is the greatness of the God who forgives through it, the lavish nature of the mercy that flows from it, the salvation for the wicked accomplished by it. It is precisely this salvation our fallen hearts reject. It is exactly this forgiving God we defy, and even dare to correct. We must take care here: to promote the cross without the atonement means we do not promote the cross at all.

I could not agree more with Strachan—and when we allow anyone, including William Paul Young, to suggest that the cross was anything other than the act of a great, loving, merciful, just, holy, righteous God simultaneously demanding and accepting the perfect sacrifice on behalf of fallen man as “the wages of sin” we serve only to repudiate the wonderful truth of the gospel and the indescribable love of God.

I realize that much of what I am criticizing here comes from Lies We Believe About God rather than from The Shack, but one will open the door to the other. The movie will no doubt be seen by people who did not read the book and will prompt many of them to want to explore Young’s ideas further. That will lead them to Lies We Believe About God. In fact, that Lies was released to coincide with the release of the movie is not at all coincidental. Young, and his publisher, are literally banking on the fact that the movie will drive sales of the book. Indeed, one reviewer on Amazon.com, identified only as Lisa, hits the nail on the head when she writes,

This book’s release at the same time as the movie’s release clears up any question out there as to whether the author desires to shape Christian thought and doctrine. Many have questioned over the years whether The Shack should be viewed as only a fiction work – not a doctrinal statement. I bought the Kindle copy yesterday to let the author clear that question up for me himself. Now I know what he believes. His departure from Orthodox theology is quite apparent. If you are a young Christian or non-Christian I encourage you to seek mature godly counsel before you take the ideas of this book as a fact!

So it is entirely fitting to be addressing the false teachings contained in that book while discussing the release of the theatrical version of The Shack. If anything it is even more important, because Young likes insisting that The Shack is a novel. He makes no such disclaimer with Lies We Believe About God, which he does present, as we have seen, as containing uncertainty but definitely not as fiction.

There are several things that we must keep in mind when it comes to The Shack and other erroneous writings and teachings of its ilk. First, popularity does not equal truth. The Shack has sold more than twenty million copies but that does not mean that the ideas it presents are true or even deserving of serious contemplation. It means only that Young tapped into the interests of millions of people. (It is not coincidental either than he did so by presenting a picture of God that is much softer, kinder and gentler than the true God of the Bible). Second, quality production does not equal quality time. Someone said to me the other day of The Shack, “One of my friends saw it and said it was really good.” It might be; the production quality is probably very high. The budget was no doubt healthy and the acting may be very good. None of that means it is a good idea for anyone to spend their time watching it. Playboy is probably a quality product purely from the standpoint of design, printing, photography, writing, etc. and Hugh Hefner is certainly a successful businessman. None of that means it is a good idea to read the magazine. Third, sentiment is no substitute for veracity. We know this in our human relationships. After all, no one would want their spouse to tell them something they want to hear because it will make them feel good rather than tell them truth. No one wants a doctor to tell them they are in perfect health, even though that would be encouraging and result in happiness, if the truth is that they are riddled with deadly cancer. Why not? Simply this—because we have to know the truth in order to effectively and appropriately respond to it. William Paul Young is saying a lot of things that a lot of people want to hear. It makes them feel good—about themselves and about God. Why? Because it lets them shape God in their own image. In the end, that will do them far more harm than good. When they die—and they will—and stand before God—which they will—He will not say, if they died without accepting Christ, that He loved them so much and He is happy to welcome them into heaven. Instead, He will say, “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.” To where will they depart? To hell—to be separated eternally from God and to suffer unending torment.

And that’s no work of fiction; it comes straight from the mouth of Jesus Christ (Matthew 7:23).

July 26, 2016

Defining Modesty

In the June 28, 2016 issue of USA Today Maria Puente had a lead story in the Life section entitled “‘Modest Fashion’ Has You Covered.” There were three large photos above the fold, including Melanie Elturk, who founded Haute Hijab, Duchess Kate, whom the caption said “has long been a model of modesty,” and a bridesmaids dress from Dainty Jewells. I do not think I have ever devoted a post to women’s fashion, and I have no reason to think it will become a regular addition to my topics of comment, but several things about this article struck me. Perhaps it is because I am an administrator of a Christian school and dress code is always topic of discussion and debate. Perhaps it is because my own daughter is on the verge of entering her teenage years and is more attentive to her own clothing choices now. Primarily I think it was a third reason, which I will elaborate on shortly.

Puente’s article begins like this: “Sooner or later, every American woman with an eye on fashion has to make a conscious decision, based on factors such as religion, personal preference, work rules, age or shape: Who do I want to dress like–Bella Hadid or Kate Middleton?” I think that is an interesting lead for a couple of reasons. First, because Puente listed religion as the first factor that women have to take into consideration. As much as I would like to think that is because “religion” is a significant factor in the decision making of most Americans on whatever the subject of consideration may be, I think it speaks more to the increasing number of Americans who are part of religions with strict dress codes–specifically Muslims. The second reason Puente’s intro is interesting is that she presents Middleton and Hadid as if they are the only choices. In reality, they are more like two points on a spectrum, with Hadid firmly on the one end and Middleton to the modest side of center but certainly not at the extreme.

Puente states that “more women are choosing to wear ‘modest fashion'” these days, and that Middleton is one of their icons. She goes on to say that that is not a “slam against the young-and-lithe Hadid, 19, who last month at Cannes grabbed eyeballs and camera flashes ‘dressed’ in an Alexandre Vauthier silk gown that amounted to a large red scarf artfully draped around her underwear-less frame.” Next to this statement is a picture of Hadid at Cannes. Now, I was not familiar with Hadid before reading this article so I did not want to make a broad stroke assumption based on this one example. A quick Google images search , however, revealed a plethora of images, precious few of which could even come close to being described as modest. That is part of the reason why I think Puente’s intro creates a false dichotomy; a woman could dress with far more threads on her body than Hadid usually sports and still not be modest. By the way, some of those image results reveal–literally–that it is possible to be “covered” with material while still leaving absolutely nothing to the imagination. This is part of why defining dress code is such a joy *sarcasm* for those of us who have to do it regularly. The sheer, lace and burnt out fashions of today mean a girl or woman can leave very little skin uncovered yet still leave very little hidden. Similarly, Middleton is a great example of a woman who dresses tastefully and fashionably yet still does not go so far as some would require in order to accomplish modesty. The photo accompanying the Puente story, for example, shows Middleton in a dress that stops just above her knee. It is a dress I would be more than happy for my wife or daughter to wear but that many would say is too short. And while I was familiar with Middleton and her well-known modest fashion before reading Puente’s article, I wanted to be fair. A Google image search for Kate Middleton revealed plenty of images, and none of the initial results I viewed were what I would call immodest, but above-the-knee dresses and skirts are common and a few necklines are plunging.

Peunte’s article states that among the reasons women are choosing modesty these days, “often it’s to comply with religious traditions and laws for women to dress modestly, as among Muslims, Orthodox Jews, Mormons and conservative Protestants and Catholics.” That statement by itself, of course, reveals the vast range of what may be considered modest. After all, using only the images accompanying the story, Elturk is revealing nothing but her face and hands, while Middleton’s face, neck, arms from above the elbows and legs from just above the knees are visible. Many Muslims would consider Middelton’s attire quite immodest. Even Orthodox Jewish dress, with ankle-length skirts, neck-high tops and a head covering would be considered immodest by strict Muslims. Yet, many conservative Protestants and Mormons would consider Orthodox Jewish dress more conservative than necessary and the Muslim hijab and accompanying dress to be so far beyond what is appropriate as to be almost ridiculous.

Puente quotes Zahra Aljabri, a former attorney and the co-founder of Mode-sty, an online shopping site providing modest clothing choices for women, as saying, “It takes intestinal fortitude to go against the culture. Consciously dressing modestly every day means you really have to believe in it. And before, you weren’t always happy getting dressed.” The tag line on the Mode-sty site is “style + modesty. no compromise.” A quick peek at some of the sites offerings reveals clothes I would happily purchase for my wife or daughter as well as options I would consider more “modest” than I would prefer or find necessary. The site does include a link entitled “How do you define modesty? Read our definition.” Following that link takes you to a 2013 blog post with this excellent question and answer:

So what does it mean to be a modest dresser? That answer depends on who you ask. What you may consider a modest outfit may not be to others. While everyone may agree that a strapless cutout mini dress doesn’t qualify as modest, defining what does isn’t as clear cut.

We’ve found that modest dressing is really a continuum comprised of many factors, and we’ve identified ten. Your view on each of the following factors determines your personal definition of what is a modest look.

The ten factors fit, shoulders and arms, upper chest, hem length, pants, style, color/print, shoes, hair and make-up. The commentary on the subject of pants provides an insightful look into the range of what can be considered modest:

When it comes to pants or jeans some women do not consider them modest and will not wear them in public. Other women will wear pants or jeans as long as they are loose so as not to show the shape of the leg. For other women as long as your legs are covered it doesn’t matter how tight the pants are. Still other women will wear tight pants as long as they are wearing a long top that hits at least mid-thigh.

This fits with my statement above about the ability to be covered with material and still not be hiding much. It also acknowledges that there can be significant differences about what is modest. For example, loose-fitting pants will reveal very little and most people would not consider them inappropriate at all. Yet, still others find them immodest by default; it would not matter who loose they are, because they are pants, and pants are unacceptable. Period. It does not take walking around in a crowded public area for very long to realize that it is true the some women do not care how tight their “pants” are–and I put that in quotation marks because I am not certain that what some women wear as pants are really pants at all. This is an appropriate moment to point out, as well, that it is entirely possible to wear something that is simultaneously modest and immodest. Maxi skirts are quite popular these days. Length-wise, they are certainly modest, as they come just about to the floor. I have seen more than a few of them, however, that are not modest in the seat area. The fit and fabric are loose down the leg but very, shall we say “snug” around the seat. Likewise, some of the geometric or “Aztec” pattered pants that many women are wearing these days are loose and modest everywhere but the seat, which is quite form-fitting.

Puente’s article describes a number of women who are creating web sites to explore modest fashion, pointing others to sites or stores that provide tastefully, fashionably modest choices or actually creating their own clothing lines to provide the same. Mimi Hecht and Mushky Notik are Orthodox Jewish sisters-in-law who created Mimu Maxi. Of the growing number of women who dress modestly Hecht says, “People are seeing that covering up can be super-fashionable. It doesn’t mean dowdy or your fifth-grade teacher or dressing biblically.”

That leads to my third reason, that I said I would elaborate on later. Hecht’s statement goes far beyond fashion and reinforces a truth that I always am struck by and find fascinating, and that is that the world is continually “discovering” ideas and beliefs and facts that the Bible has said all along and acts like it is a fantastic new notion. Is it possible for women to dress modestly without having a biblical motive? Certainly. Does that mean modest dressing is not biblical? No it doesn’t. What, by the way, would dressing “biblically” mean? Is Hecht referring to the dress styles of the ancient Israelites? I do not know. I would call that ancient rather than biblical. Dressing biblically would mean, to me, dressing in a manner consistent with the teachings and principles of the Bible. That leaves, by the way, plenty of room for personal discretion and style. It also leaves plenty of room for disagreement. I am an Evangelical Protestant, and there are plenty of varying opinions within that group of people on what modest dress means, from the fit and length of shorts to whether or not bikinis are acceptable; from whether or not women can ever wear pants to whether or not bare legs are acceptable with skirts and dresses. What the Bible definitely makes clear, however, is that women are not to dress in a manner that is immodest (1 Timothy 2:9). There is plenty of room for discussion about what immodest looks like exactly, and there will never be uniformity of opinion or conviction. It is usually much easier to agree on what is definitely immodest, though–something like “a large red scarf artfully draped around her underwear-less frame.”

If you’re a school administrator like me, there will always be the necessity of creating a definition of acceptable attire in order to minimize conflict and daily headache. But if you are a parent, a Sunday school teacher, a pastor, recognize that modesty does not have a nice neat definition. Recognize that there is room for disagreement and difference of opinion and that someone can be dressed in a way you would not approve of or prefer if it were up to you and still be modest. At the same time, do not be afraid to have conversations about dress. It is an extremely important part of self-expression and it is something that does impact attitudes, thoughts and actions–among the wearer and the viewer. It is irresponsible for parents and church leaders to ignore the topic of fashion and modesty but it is equally irresponsible to just create black and white rules and say “that’s just the way it is.” That means these will be hard conversations, because there are no easy answers. If we allow that to keep us from ever having them, though, we will be letting the world have great influence. And while Kate Middelton or–Ivanka Trump, since we was in the news so much last week–will influence some women, Bella Hadid and others will no doubt continue to go more attention from the major media and will surely influence more women to dress immodestly.

October 14, 2014

Just a few more minutes!

The September 26 issue of USA Today included an opinion piece by Vicki Abeles entitled “Students Without a Childhood.” Abeles leads her piece by sharing that her middle-school-aged son Zak has trouble sleeping, often waking up in the middle of the night wondering whether or not he has finished everything on his to-do list. Interestingly, she then goes on to explain that Zak is, by design, “not the classically overscheduled child.” Zak’s only activities, Abeles says, are school, jazz band and homework. That would indicate that there may well be more to Zak’s troubles than the level of his activity, but I’ll return to that shortly.

Abeles uses Zak’s situation to segue into her assertion that the collective “we”–by which I assume she means parents, teachers, coaches and American culture in general–are causing harm to our children “by overpacking their schedules in the name of productivity, achievement and competition.” Let’s ignore for the moment that her son is not one of those children, because that is not the point I want to get at. Let’s instead examine some of the claims that Abeles makes about this “overpacking.”

First, she states that studies indicate that children in America “spend half as much time playing outdoors as they did in the 1980s.” I do not doubt that that is true, though Abeles does not cite any specific studies and I have not researched that myself. I do doubt, though, her implication that the decline in outdoor recreation is due to overpacking children’s schedules. In the 1980s very few children had access to a home computer and VCRs were just becoming common. Atari was the only gaming system for much of the decade, with Nintendo bursting onto the scene mid-decade along with the far-less-popular Sega. Extremely few people had cellular phones in the 1980s and those that did had to be strong enough to haul around the brick-like devices (that could do nothing but make and receive calls, of course). None of those cell phone users were children. So yes, children in the 1980s probably did spend twice as much time outside as they do now, but that’s because many of them are now spending their time inside, fastened to their cornucopia of digital entertainment devices.

Abeles then suggests that the “frantic pace of modern life has even trickled down to kindergarten, where students are already bringing home piles of homework.” According to on article in US News in February 2014, kindergarten through fifth grade teachers assign about 2.9 hours of homework per week. Given the range in grades included in that figure, though, it is impossible to say that kindergarten students are getting too much work. After all, the oft-cited rule of thumb that a reasonable among of homework for students is ten minutes per night per grade level would mean fifty minutes per week for 5-day kindergarteners and five hours per week for fifth graders. A January 2010 article from the Stanford Graduate School of Education, fifteen to twenty minutes per day for four days is appropriate for kindergarten students. That would mean up to an hour and twenty minutes per week. So I am not sure “piles of homework” are the norm for most American kindergarten students. There is also evidence that the amount of homework is not, on average, out of line for older students, either. According to “Changing Times of American Youth, 1981-2003,” by F. Thomas Juster, Hiromi Ono and Frank P. Stafford at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research, the average American child between ages 6 and 8 spent 2 hours and 33 minutes per week “studying” in 2002-03, while students ages 9-11 spent 3 hours 36 minutes. Assuming “studying” and “homework” are synonymous, the US News report would indicate that the amount of time spent on homework by elementary students is holding, if not declining, over the past ten years.

Immediately after her suggestion that the “frantic pace of modern life” has led to kindergarten students being inundated with “piles of homework” Abeles suggests that it is no wonder that “young people nationwide suffer from alarming rates of anxiety, sleep loss and depression.” No wonder, indeed…but not because their homework loads.

A 2010 study by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that teenagers spend an average of 7.5 hours per day consuming media which, according to the Washington Post, includes “watching TV, listening to music, surfing the Web, social networking, and playing video games.” I would suggest that that figure has only gone up since 2010. Way back in 1999 the American Academy of Pediatrics published a three-page handout for parents entitled “Understanding the Impact of Media on Children and Teens.” Some of the side-effects of excessive media use that were warned about included poor school performance, frequent nightmares and increased eating of unhealthy foods. PEDIATRICS, a publican of the American Academy of Pediatrics, published online on March 28, 2011 a study under the title “The Impact of Social Media on Children, Adolescents and Families.” The study reported that “a large part of this generation’s social and emotional development is occurring while on the Internet and on cell phones.” And while the study touted some benefits of this expanded digital familiarity, it also warned of dangers, including cyber bullying, sexting and “Facebook depression.” This is “defined as depression that develops when preteens and teens spend a great deal of time on social media sites, such as Facebook, and then begin to exhibit classic symptoms of depression” and adolescents suffering from it “are at risk for social isolation.”

In November 2013 the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Adolescent Health warned, “Studies find that high levels of media use are associated with academic problems, problems with sleep, unhealthy eating, and more.” It also reported that the American Academy of Pediatrics “recommends that adolescents have less than two hours of screen time per day.” in November 2013, Rachel Ehmke, a senior writer for the Child Mind Institute, wrote “Teens and Social Media” in which she reported, “…experts worry that the social media and floods of text messages that have become so integral to teenage life are promoting anxiety and lowering self-esteem in the young people who use them the most.” Ehmke also wrote, “When they’re not doing their homework (and when they are) they’re online and on their phones, texting, sharing, trolling, scrolling, you name it.” Maybe, just maybe, the fact that so many teens are “multitasking” while doing their homework has something to do with the amount of time it takes them to get their work done?

Abeles ends her column with a plea: “These many concerns drive me to ask my fellow parents, teachers and administrators to help me give Zak back the time he needs to learn, grow and interact. The crazy demands schools place on our children’s time need to be scaled back–for their long-term health and emotional balance as much as for the optimum development of our children’s minds and the meaning they find in life.” The problem, again, is that Abeles never really connects Zak’s struggles with anything that schools are doing. I do not know how much time Zak spends on digital media and I do not know if he has learning challenges that make school work difficult for him. What I do know is that Abeles’ headline asserts clearly that schools are at fault for the overscheduling and “crazy demands” that are stressing out “our kids.” Her column fails to prove her assertion, though–citing some studies as well as anecdotal evidence, but failing to demonstrate that schools are demanding anything that is harming students. Maybe there are some other culprits Abeles should consider, as well. In fact, maybe she should have done her homework, because I suspect she would find that, more often than not, students are giving their childhood away for “just a few more minutes” of digital connectivity.

September 16, 2014

Better or Worse?

Filed under: Biblical Worldview — jbwatson @ 3:42 pm
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USA Today periodically has a “Your Say” feature in the Opinion section of its web site. The idea is simple–a topic is posted and readers can share their thoughts–have their say–through Facebook and Twitter. Yesterday’s topic was whether churches are changing for better or for worse. The question was posed with this background: “Congregations are becoming more open to gays and lesbians in membership and leadership, according to the National Congregations Study.” As of this morning there were nine comments on the site, though I have no idea how many were submitted. Still, the thoughts contained in these nine are an interesting look at the varying opinions that exist today.

The first comment on the site was this: “This report shows how liberal churches have fallen away from the Scriptures and are accepting the views of the ‘world’ and society rather than the word of God. You cannot bless sin and be blameless.” I would agree with this individual. The increasing acceptance of homosexuals in church membership and leadership is not a movement that has any support in Scripture, meaning it has to be coming from the world. One could debate whether or not the churches are “blessing sin” but the implication is certainly clear, and certainly true–if churches are allowing individuals who are openly embracing a life that is contrary to God’s Word to be members of the church, and even to hold positions of leadership within the church, it is hard to take any position other than endorsement, or at the very least, acceptance.

The second comment came from an individual who had this to say:

Actually, these churches are following what Jesus taught: acceptance, humility and understanding. Perhaps it might behoove the self-righteous, holier-than-thou “Christians” to reflect on their hypocrisy.

One must remember that the Bible, while a good guidebook of moral tales and ethics, was written by many fallible men thousands of years ago, when mores and traditions were much different.

Traditions that were acceptable then are no longer acceptable or relevant because of intelligence and technological advancements.

It is readily evident that the individual who shared this thought is not a Christian–certainly not in any definition of the term that I would accept–because she has an entirely false understanding of what the Bible is. The Bible is not simply a “good guidebook” and it does not contain “moral tales and ethics.” Rather, it contains true accounts of events and teachings. It was written by fallible men, but only insofar as they were the instruments responsible for putting the ink on the paper, so to speak; the words themselves were inspired by the Holy Spirit.

Sure, mores and traditions during Bible times are different than mores and traditions now, and there have been technological advancements and perhaps even advances in intelligence (though depending on how one defines this it may be questionable). But homosexuality is neither a more nor a tradition. It is a behavior that is chosen by those who practice it. Whether society deems it more acceptable or not makes no difference at all when examining how the church is changing. Society’s acceptance of, or rejection of, what the Bible teaches must never be the impetus for change within the church, must never be permitted to influence what the church believes, teaches or accepts. (And frankly, technological advancement has absolutely nothing to do with homosexuality, so that part of the comment is irrelevant).

The third comment echoes what I have said above. Here it is: “Either the Bible is, or it isn’t, the divinely inspired word of God. If it is, then read it and let it change your opinions that don’t match with God’s truth. If you think it isn’t, then find another book to admire, read or pick and choose from.” Bottom line, you either accept the Bible or you reject it; what society thinks, or what mores or traditions have changed, have nothing to do with what the Bible teaches.

The next comment: “Christianity is not about a building; it’s about those who follow Christ and his teaching. Although Christ loves everyone, he hates all sin, including homosexuality. There is no gray area.” This is exactly on point, and there is more contained herein that first meets the eye. The initial tendency is to see that this individual holds to the fact that the Bible is true and that the Bible teaches that homosexuality is a sin, and that has not changed. That’s true. But the comment goes deeper; it implies more so than states that those “churches” that are changing to allow homosexuals to be members or leaders are not really churches in the biblical sense. If these groups of people are not following Christ and His teaching contained in the Bible then they are not really churches in the context the question assumes, or many of these bodies assume for themselves.

Here’s the simple truth: if entities calling themselves churches are changing in any way that is causing them to stray from the Bible, they are changing for the worse. When churches fail to change with the mores and traditions of the culture and choose instead to remain steadfast on the Truth of Scripture, regardless of how popular such a stand is not, that is not only for the better, it is the best. “Truth” and “change” are incompatible notions. If God’s Word is Truth, and God’s Word never changes, there is no room for change regarding the Truth within the church.

February 25, 2014

What Really Matters

Today on USAToday.com Ann Oldenburg has a story entitled “Jane Fonda: I have ‘so little time left.'” Oldenburg’s post, in USA Today‘s Life section, is not really much of a story. Rather it is a overview of a recent Fonda blog post, with extensive quotes from the post. The gist of it is that Fonda, who is 76, has recently been “contemplating her age, her mortality, her emotions.” Nothing wrong with that, of course, and I suppose rather fitting for anyone who is 76 years old. In reality, though, I think such reflection is appropriate for any person of any age. My hope and prayer, though, would be that such reflection has a completely different result than what Fonda shared.

“How come,” Fonda wrote, “pretty things, kind deeds, sad stories, acts of courage, good news, someone’s flax [sic] of insight, all get me crying or, at least, tearing up?” We’ve probably all been around people like that at one time or another, and I suppose we’ve all even been that person at one time or another–seemingly over-emotional and “touched” by even the littlest things. Fonda’s conclusion is that her emotions are “way more accessible” than they were when she was younger and they are so because she has come to the realization that her remaining time is precious. “I have become so wonderfully, terribly aware of time, of how little of it I have left; how much of it is behind me, and everything becomes so precious,” she wrote.

Such a perspective is, of course, biblical. James 4:14 says, “[Y]et you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes” (ESV). I like how The Living Bible words that verse: “How do you know what is going to happen tomorrow? For the length of your lives is as uncertain as the morning fog—now you see it; soon it is gone.” In other words, whether we are 76 or 36 or 16, we have no idea how many more days we have ahead of us. Fonda has been blessed to live to 76. She seems to be in good health and, who knows, she may live another couple of decades. She doesn’t know, and neither do I (I’m at the 36 mark myself).

It is because we do not know how many days we have on earth that we must use what days we do have wisely. Paul wrote, in Ephesians 5:16, “[make] the best use of the time, because the days are evil.” The ERV presents the verse this way: “I mean that you should use every opportunity you have for doing good, because these are evil times.” The Amplified Bible says “buy up every opportunity,” and the Contemporary English Version says “make every minute count.” This is not a message that is unique to the Bible; you hear it often at events like high school commencements and you hear it from plenty of motivational speakers. The reminder to use our time wisely is one we all need.

Sadly, Fonda does not seem to have grasped the “using time wisely” concept. The things that she has determined are important and that move her during these limited days she suggests she has left are things that may have merit but they are not things or eternal significance. Fonda says she now sees the beauty in the small things, and wonders if maybe part of the reason is not that she will soon be on the other side of the dirt. “Maybe, without my being conscious of it, there’s the reality that in a few decades (if I’m lucky) I will be in the earth, fertilizing some of the very things I look at now and tear up over,” she wrote. I don’t know about you, but thinking about the possibility of becoming plant food is not something that would cause me to tear up in any good way. When her time is up, and she does die, Fonda’s wishes are quite simple: “I’m not going to be cremated, uses up too much energy and gives off too many toxins, nor do I want to be in a coffin. Just dump me in a hole and let me morph into whatever as quickly as possible.”

Fonda’s worldview is evident in her interpretation of what happens after death. “Morphing into whatever” is not what happens, of course. (I have to reiterate, though, that if that is what I believed I really cannot imagine being so sanguine about it). Those who hold a biblical worldview believe that they must “redeem the time” because we are stewards of our time, we are to make the most of the minutes, days and years we have on earth, drawing closer to the Lord ourselves and pointing others to Him by the way in which we lead our lives. That can be done in many ways, in many places and in any occupation or activity. Those who believe the Bible seek to make the most of their days because they know that death is not the end.

Fonda evidently believes that death is the end. What that has motivated her to care about seems odd to me, though. She writes, “I ache for unwanted children in the world,” and I can understand that one. Children who have no one to love them, who face each day struggling one their own for survival, are a legitimate cause of emotion, of caring, of tearing up. That kind of care and compassion motivates people to action–people like Katie Davis, who founded Amazima Ministries and has adopted many little girls in Uganda while working to improve life for hundreds more.

But what else does Fonda care about besides unwanted children? Here is the complete thought from her blog: “I ache for unwanted children in the world, for polar bears, and elephants, whales and Monarch butterflies, and dolphins, gorillas and chimpanzees.” Though I suspect she did not intend it to, the rest of Fonda’s statement completely nullifies her concern for unwanted children. Taken as a whole, Fonda’s “aches” for various wildlife minimizes her ache for unwanted children. When one sees unwanted children on the same plane as polar bears and butterflies one has a tremendously warped sense of God’s creation. Polar bears and butterflies and dolphins and maybe even gorillas are beautiful and wonderful and part of God’s creation, but they are nowhere near as important as children. Only human beings are created in God’s image. Only human beings have a soul. Only human beings will live for eternity. Yes, we must be good stewards of the earth and demonstrate proper care for creation, but we must never allow children and critters to be considered equals.

Towards the end of her blog Fonda wrote, “Maybe because I’m older my heart is wider open, like a net that wants to catch all the things that matter.” Let us not forget, however, that when everything matters equally, nothing matters.

June 11, 2012

Portion Control

New York City has been in the news again lately, this time for Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s proposal to restrict restaurant soda sales to 16 ounces. His reasoning? He told MSNBC, “The percentage of the population that is obese is skyrocketing. We’ve got to do something.”

In an editorial on USAToday.com, Dr. Deborah Cohen, of the non-profit, non-partisan RAND Corporation said Bloomberg is right in advocating portion control as a way to combat the obesity epidemic in the U.S. Bloomberg has been quoted as saying, “You tend to eat all of the food in the container. If it’s bigger, you eat more. If somebody put a smaller glass or plate or bowl in front of you, you would eat less.” Cohen agrees, writing that the mayor’s proposal “opens the door to one of the most important solutions to address obesity: portion control.”

According to both Bloomberg and Cohen the average person is apparently too stupid to regulate consumption on his or her own, and therefore needs to government to do it. Cohen points out that, “The Agriculture Department has established serving sizes for every type of food available — although there are no regulations applying portion sizes to restaurants.” That’s because the Agriculture Department has developed what are known as “recommended daily allowances.” The key phrase there is “recommended.” If the government wants to conduct the research necessary to determine what a healthy quantity of foods, or food categories, would be for a person, then it can do so, I suppose (though even the necessity of that is dubious at best). However, for the government to get into the business of determining how much of a food can be served to any person is a serious violation of a free market society, not to mention the “inalienable right” to the pursuit of happiness referenced in our Constitution.

Bloomberg pointed out that is someone really wants more than 16 ounces of soda there will be no restriction on that person buying another one. I have not seen what impact the restriction will have on free refills offered at some restaurants; perhaps as long as no more than 16 ounces is served at one time that will be okay, I don’t know. And frankly, I don’t care.

See, Cohen’s editorial is headlined, “Bloomberg right that portion control works.” And with that statement I agree. Unfortunately, that’s about the end of my agreement with Dr. Cohen. See, she thinks, as does His Honor Mayor Bloomberg, that the government needs to control the portions for me (or anyone else). I counter that with the argument that portion control does indeed work–but if someone does not care enough about his or her health to restrict their own portions, the government has no business doing it on their behalf.

I have no problem leaving some of the food on my plate if I get full, or leaving some of the drink in my glass if I do not need any more. If someone cannot do that–if someone is so lacking in self control that he simply must eat and drink everything that is set before him–he has problems that go way beyond the sugar content of a 16 ounce soda. It’s still his problem, though; not mine, not yours, and certainly not the government’s (at any level).

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to get back to my 20 ounce soda….

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