Friday, October 18, 2013

What's Your Excuse?



There is a firestorm in Internet Land over this.

Maria Kang is a 32-year old mother of three young children who is obviously very physically fit.  Not only, but particularly to, women in their thirties who have had weight issues - especially after having children - she should be an example of encouragement, a role model of sorts concerning what can be done to achieve optimal health in spite of the challenges of age and station in life.  This is especially true given her history of eating disorders, genetic tendency toward obesity, and recent pregnancy.

She lays down a challenge, an encouragement to engage in some tough-self-love, an opportunity to look at oneself and resolve to eat and exercise in a more healthy manner, and to carry out one's plan because there is a payoff.  She is encouraging people to be honest with themselves, to engage in self-discipline, and to rise to self-improvement.  She also provides help for people interested in replicating her success.  She is, after all, only human, and if these methods work for her, there is a good chance that many people who currently suffer the effects of poor diet and exercise habits can be helped.  She might even save lives.  Maybe she can help you.  People ought to be grateful.

Instead, she is being attacked and maligned.

The responses are an interesting window into our culture - which has become whiny, narcissistic, excuse-ridden, envious, and enraged at anyone who succeeds.  We live in a culture of "victimolatry." Those who fail make excuses for themselves, and malign those who succeed - even to the point of trying to tear down the successful as a means to "even the playing field."  This is the very cultural phenomenon Ayn Rand saw coming down the pike half a century ago in her dystopic novel of politics and economics, Atlas Shrugged.

Maria Kang, who lost 40 pounds of post-pregnancy fat in eight months of eating right and exercising, was gobsmacked by the responses - all of whom came from people she had never met.
She was accused of "bullying" and "shaming" fat people.  She was accused of being insensitive to people suffering serious diseases, not to mention being a bad mother.  She is being abused by self-righteous people whom she has "stung" by her call to repentance of a sort.

She is sticking to her guns, and writes:

"The first step in owning your life, your body and your destiny is to OWN the thoughts that come out of your own head. I didn't create them. You created them. So if you want to continue 'hating' this image, get used to hating many other things for the rest of your life. You can either blame, complain or obtain a new level of thought by challenging the negative words that come out of your own brain.
"With that said, obesity and those who struggle with health-related diseases is literally a 'bigger' issue than this photo. Maybe it's time we stop tip-toeing around people's feelings and get to the point."

Good for her!  She is right.  We are a country that is way too fat.  We do not eat well as a nation.  We suffer from self-inflicted diseases.  We spend far too much time indoors.  We eat too much junk food.  We depend all too much on drugs and symptom management instead of holistic health.

We don't need to be lectured by privileged politicians or their pampered wives.  We don't need legislatures and councils to take away our liberties regarding what we can buy, eat, or drink.  What we need is voluntary self-discipline, role models, genuine encouragement, and a challenge to push ourselves.  But to change, we must admit that something is wrong.  We must look in the mirror and accept responsibility.  We can delude ourselves right into an early grave, or we can admit and confess our shortcomings, repent, and make changes that will allow our bodies to react the way God designed them to: with healing and strengthening.

In this fallen world, we are mortal beings, and we cannot defeat death with running or giving up cigarettes and Twinkies.  But we can maximize our effectiveness in God's kingdom and in the world in the time we have on this side of the grave by maximizing our bodies' effectiveness.  Our bodies are indeed temples.  The Lord Jesus Christ sanctified the bodies of all men by becoming Man Himself.  Maria Kang is an inspiration, and is living proof that amazing self-improvement can be done.  I would add that the mind can be made sharper and stronger as well as the physique.

A picture is worth a thousand words, as they say, as well as the true success stories of those who have achieved their goals.

And she is correct that the firestorm is not really about her, but is rather in the eye of the beholder.  The person looking at the picture can react in different ways.  One is to admire her accomplishment, and to ask: "How can I get into good shape too?"  Or, we can make excuses ("I could never do that!") or accuse her of either lying, doctoring pictures, getting liposuction, or just plain spitting sour grapes at her picture.  We could lash out at her for her alleged "crimes" against women, her "hypocrisy" or her inflated ego.

And the Christian Church serves her Lord and her neighbor in this very same self-centered, oversensitive culture.  This is indeed a difficult culture to minister in.

We pastors, we holders of the "Preaching Office" are called to proclaim the whole counsel of God.  While we are not called to preach a gospel of physical fitness, we pastors, when proclaiming Law and Gospel, routinely run up against the same self-defeating and lashing-out attitudes as has Maria Kang.

As Luther is reputed to have said, "When you throw a stick into a pack of dogs, the one that yelps is the one that got hit."  When a preacher proclaims the Law in its fullness, he often gets pushback from his hearers, sometimes to the point of antagonism and virulent hatred to the pastor and his family.  This is so common in my many conversations with brother clergy as to be cliche.  The ones who complain are inevitably the ones that the stick of the Law has hit.  A few years ago, I was actually confronted by a former parishioner who wagged a finger in my face and told me that in New Orleans, it is not acceptable to preach against gluttony.

Maria Kang is running up against this same attitude.  It is perilous to refuse to repent spiritually when called to repentance of ones sins, and it may well be physically dangerous not to heed Maria Kang's warning against making excuses not to be in good physical condition insofar as one is able.

There is another angle on this story that is a window into our culture: envy.  Envy is (along with gluttony) one of the seven deadly sins of medieval theology.  Envy is the root of the 9th and 10th commandments against covetousness - and thus impels our Old Adam to further sinful behavior.  Envy sees someone else succeed and responds with anger borne of an inflated sense of self.  Envy is grounded in self-pride and is the very opposite of the humility that produces repentance, that opens the door to faith, that pushes down the sinful flesh so that one may be built back up - whether in Holy Absolution, or in physical fitness.

Either way, a self-righteous, arrogant, and hostile attitude is a sure way to failure, sickness, death, or even hell itself.

But the good news is this: God continues to call us to confess and repent, to be forgiven and live in the mercy He has given us by the work of His Son on the cross.  And we have the power to resolve to eat and live our lives more responsibly in accordance with the bodies we have been given by our Maker - which is a blessing not only to us in the form of better health, but also a temporal benefit to our families, congregations, and nation.

I've had a lot of success by altering my own diet and habits.  But I do not have the muscle tone that I could, and should, have.  I'm grateful for people like Maria Kang, whose success is an inspiration and whose challenge is a breath of fresh air in this politically-correct culture that refuses to say that we can do better, that coddles the lazy, and rewards those who stubbornly make excuses for the fruits of their own actions.

My excuse?  I don't have one.  I need to push my body and mind harder.  How about you?




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