Archive for June, 2012

“There’ll be time enough for counting when the dealing’s done”

June 18, 2012

This American Life came through last week with another winning episode, this one entitled “Blackjack”—about the casino game that seems easiest to win. Of course, like all casino games, players won’t win—at least not in the long run.

Unless…

Unless they master a technique known as “counting cards.” If you saw the movie Rain Main, you’ll recall that Tom Cruise takes Dustin Hoffman, his autistic brother who’s a whiz at math and memorization, to a casino to a win a lot of money counting cards. As the show host, Ira Glass, explains, you don’t actually have to be a math whiz or have a photographic memory to master the technique—all it takes is practice and a great deal of concentration.

Contrary to popular belief, counting cards isn’t even illegal or against casino rules. Casino officials will ask you to leave or find another game if they suspect that you’re doing it—but you have to win a lot before you attract anyone’s attention.

I was most intrigued by the story in Act One: “Render Unto Caesar’s Palace What Is Due to Caesar’s Palace.” It tells the story of a young man named Ben, a waiter who scraped by on minimum wage and tips before learning how to count cards. The narrator, Jack Hitt, continues:

Ben formed a small crew of card-counters to hit the casinos together. And they did O.K. for a while. But after three years, that team fell apart. Ben said they just had different values. So Ben and another player, his good friend Colin, decided that if they were going to create a great team, then they had to find a group of players they could trust completely. And that’s when it hit them: the perfect source of blackjack players. It was right in front of them—at least on Sundays. Church.

Ben and Colin, it turns out, are Christians. They formed a team of Christian card-counters, who convinced their fellow churchgoers to cash out their retirement savings and “invest” with them. In return for paying each card-counter a modest annual salary of $40,000 a year for about 20 hours of work per week, the investors received a substantial return on their investment.

I know, I know… It sounds bad. Christians aren’t supposed to gamble. And I agree. I’m the biggest fuddy-duddy on the topic. I’m opposed to state-sponsored lotteries—much less pari-mutuel betting, horse-racing, or casinos. My answer is no. And many of the Christians who participated in the card-counting system, either as players or investors, shared my sentiment. Ben and Colin’s sales pitch, however—delivered via PowerPoint at well-organized meetings—was that card-counting wasn’t gambling. It was simple math. If the players counted cards properly, everyone would win in the long run.

If their investment scheme was going to work, however, the card-counters had to be honest and trustworthy. Stealing, after all, was enticingly easy: No one other than the player could account for his winnings or losings on a particular day. It was a pure honor system. A team member could easily lie about what they won or lost and then skim the difference off the top. Who would know?

This was why, according to the story, Ben and Colin’s fellow Christians made the best card-counters. They were honest!

Isn’t that remarkable? This isn’t Focus on the Family, after all. This is a secular public radio show whose host, Ira Glass, is a congenial atheist!

Not that the show’s producers intended to paint these Christians in such a flattering light. But that was the effect. After all, from the perspective of the casinos, these Christians were Vegas high-rollers, with access to all the sordid perks that came with that status. To their credit, they seemed oblivious. One player, a woman, described being put up for free in a casino hotel’s best suite—complete with a stripper’s pole in the bathroom! What was she going to do with that?

Of course, it’s not completely positive. The players lost trust in each other at times. They experienced loneliness and isolation. And I don’t think they ever quite convinced themselves that playing blackjack for a living was the Lord’s work. But when the team finally broke up, they did so for reasons the listener hardly expects. As the narrator says:

In the end, the church team split up—in 2011. And not because any of them succumbed to gambling or any other temptation. They believed in God and his glorious gift of math. But apparently God gave none of them the patience of Job needed to endure the mind-numbing work of card-counting. So they all went their separate ways…

God works in mysterious ways. Sometimes he enlightens you, like Paul on the road to Damascus—a blinding epiphany convincing you to quit your old ways. Other times God gets you to virtue by boring you to death.

The full story of this Christian card-counting team is told in a documentary called Holy Rollers.

A song for Father’s Day

June 17, 2012

Not to be a downer on Father’s Day, but some fathers today are grieving the loss of a child through miscarriage. Here’s a bittersweet song by a Christian singer-songwriter about the miscarriage of his and his wife’s first child. I’m going to refer to it in today’s sermon. In the song, Taylor is coming to grips with the loss and finding hope in the midst of his pain.

The hardest part for me occurs near the end, in the song’s breakdown. Taylor sings, “A father gives/ The Father takes/ A father gives/ The Father takes her on up to heaven.”

The song was released in 1986. It has a nice Modern English/Psychedelic Furs vibe to it.

An op-ed about Christianity and Mormonism in the New York Times

June 16, 2012

The Mormons are raising their profile through advertising. (Image from the New York Times.)

In an op-ed in Tuesday’s New York Times, a theater professor from Rhodes College named David Mason, who is Mormon, wrote what I hoped would be a thoughtful reflection on the differences between his religion and orthodox Christianity. The piece was entitled “I’m a Mormon, Not a Christian.”

Sounds promising, right?

I’ve argued with friends who are touchy on the subject of Mormonism’s relationship to Christianity—either because, like many of us, they’re friends with Mormons whose virtues outshine many Christians they know, or because they want to be assured that the man who could very well be the next president really is “one of us.”

As for me, I’m not touchy. It’s clear to me that Mormonism isn’t Christianity. (Not that Mitt Romney’s success or failure as a president would depend on the question.) But if we were to characterize Mormonism as a version of Christianity, we should all be able to agree that it’s a deeply heterodox one. To say that Mormons are heterodox simply means that they depart from the historic Christian faith in significant ways. If Mormons believe that historic Christianity got it wrong on all these different doctrines, then they should want to be heterodox by comparison, right?

I’m sure from an outsider’s perspective this is all just “inside baseball” stuff. There is a popular myth among many skeptics that we Christians just sort of make it up as we go along anyway; that it’s all subjective; that we create a religion out of thin air to suit our temperaments and label it “Christianity.”

Needless to say, I don’t agree. There are discernible boundaries. As a Protestant, even I concede that they get a little blurry at times. But I think we should be impressed with the level of doctrinal harmony that exists between different Christian churches, traditions, or—thank you, Rome—”ecclesial communions.”

If the best theologians from the freewheeling Pentecostal tradition sat in a room with the best theologians from the Eastern Orthodox tradition and talked about their faith, I bet even they would reach consensus on an impressive number of doctrines. And, contrary to Mason’s point of view, they might not even want to kill one another.

But Mason is exactly right to imply that one key doctrine that separates traditional Christianity from Mormonism relates to the Trinity. Having said that, however, I had to read the highlighted sentence in the following paragraph three times to make sure I was reading it right:

For the curious, the dispute can be reduced to Jesus. Mormons assert that because they believe Jesus is divine, they are Christians by default. Christians respond that because Mormons don’t believe — in accordance with the Nicene Creed promulgated in the fourth century — that Jesus is also the Father and the Holy Spirit, the Jesus that Mormons have in mind is someone else altogether. The Mormon reaction is incredulity. The Christian retort is exasperation. Rinse and repeat.

Can you spot the straw man here? Mormons “don’t believe… that Jesus is also the Father and the Holy Spirit.” That’s good! Neither do Christians!

Mason should feel free to disagree with the orthodox Christian doctrine of the Trinity—which, I hasten to add, emerges from scripture, not merely the Council of Nicaea. But before he does, he ought to at least have some idea what the Trinity is! When orthodox Christians speak of the Trinity, we mean, among other things, that Jesus is precisely not the Father or the Holy Spirit.

I guess because this is an op-ed—and worse, an op-ed about religion—no one at the Times bothered to fact-check this statement. (You may as well fact-check flying spaghetti monsters, right?) The editors at the Times, however, don’t have to assent to the doctrine to appreciate how badly the author misunderstands it. They should have told Mason, “This is not what Christians believe when they refer to the Trinity. We can’t print this.” I also give them a demerit for not capitalizing Trinity.

Of course, none of this has to do with the author’s main point, which is, “Christians are mean, so why would we want to be like them, anyway?” Which raises the question: Is it really so easy to get an op-ed in the Times these days? Didn’t that section used to be considered the Park Place and Boardwalk of newspaper real estate?

Sermon for 06-10-12: “Sunday School Heroes, Part 2: David and Goliath”

June 15, 2012

When ancient Israel was threatened by Goliath and the Philistines, it took a teenage shepherd boy to put things into proper perspective: “Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?” David had the insight to see beyond appearances and understand that God was far more powerful than any human adversary—that God would be responsible for saving Israel.

We need to share David’s insight as we confront the Goliaths in our lives. We may seem overwhelmed, but remember: we have a mighty God on our side!

Sermon Text: 1 Samuel 17:32-51

The following is my original manuscript.

When I was a child, we had a neighborhood bully named Ricky. He was three or four years older than me. And every morning, waiting at the bus stop on my way to school, I lived in fear of crossing Ricky in some way. My strategy was, “Keep your head down. Don’t make eye contact. Don’t do anything that would cause Ricky to notice you in any way.” I didn’t want to give Ricky any incentive to beat me up. One time I watched him, with very little provocation, walk up to my friend Wes and punch him in the nose. Wes cried. And I felt badly for him, but, to be honest, I was mostly thankful that Ricky hadn’t decided to punch me!

One morning, though, I messed up. Badly. Ricky, you see, came to the bus stop with a “Weeble” in his hand, and he was playing with it. Do you remember Weebles? “Weebles wobble, but they don’t fall down.” Those egg-shaped toy figures? Ricky told the group of us at the bus stop that he found it on the side of the road. Naturally, I found it funny that a kid in fifth or sixth grade would be playing with a Weeble. And I merely relayed this information in a neutral, non-judgmental manner to my classmate Scott on the bus ride to school. But before the end of that very ride, it got back to Ricky that I was making fun of him for playing with a Weeble. Read the rest of this entry »

Dear future Brent: in case you forget, God is in charge

June 15, 2012

The iconic Methodist circuit rider. It was safer to read on horseback than in a car! (This statue is from the Oregon state capitol in Salem.)

Last week, when a parishioner found out that Annual Conference was this week, he asked me if there would be any surprises. “What do you mean?” I asked. “Don’t you find out whether you’ll be moving at Annual Conference?”

In case you’re not Methodist, you may not know that we ordained elders are itinerant. This means that we serve our churches or other ministries on a year-by-year basis. Each year, we are appointed (or reappointed) to a church or other ministry. That appointment or reappointment officially takes place at Annual Conference. In the early days of Methodism in America, circuit-riding preachers would often find out at Annual Conference where they would be serving in the upcoming year and ride off to their new appointment.

Things have changed since then. We pastors usually know weeks in advance of Annual Conference where we’ll be serving. We may be surprised, but the surprise occurs long before Conference. As I told my parishioner, there would be no surprises this year. I have been reappointed as an associate pastor at Alpharetta First—and happily so.

I love this church. I love my ministry with the Vinebranch community. I love the people I work with. And I have a lot of work that I still want to accomplish here.

That being said, I’m well aware that itinerating can be painful for my colleagues in Methodist ministry—as it will be for me some day. So consider this post a letter to my future self—when it’s my time for me to move to a place I don’t want to go to.

God is in charge, not me. Did you hear that, Brent? God is in charge—of my life, my family, my marriage, my home, and, of course, my pastoral ministry. God is in charge of the place I’ll be sent to next, and the place after that, and the place after that. In fact, even though the bishop is the one who calls my name and tells me where I’m going, God is the one who does the sending, not him or her. I don’t even have to like it. But God is still in charge.

There is a theological word that describes God’s being in charge. And it’s a word to which some of my colleagues in Methodist ministry are allergic: sovereignty. God is sovereign. We Methodists don’t like to use this word because we fear that it means we’re only a few inches away from believing that God predestines some people to hell—or whatever. It’s ridiculous. Or maybe we think that believing that God calls the shots in our ministry means that we forfeit the right to complain about it.

No. Complain all you want, I say. Complaining to God is downright biblical. But God is still in charge.

Wesley believed in God’s sovereignty in a way that might shock our modern Methodist sensibilities. He even adapted and prayed the following words for our covenant prayer:

I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed for thee or laid aside for thee,
exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.

So, Brent, when you are tempted to complain about a future appointment; when you feel entitled to a more prestigious, more lucrative, more geographically attractive appointment; when you feel like you’re being treated unfairly by the system; when you feel like less-deserving colleagues are being appointed ahead of you, please ask yourself: what part of “let me be… laid aside for thee…” and “let me be empty” do you not understand?

Who knows? By kicking against the goads of an itinerant system that you signed up for when you chose to become a Methodist pastor, you risk missing out on the blessing that God has for you in your new appointment. Maybe, to paraphrase C.S. Lewis, it will be a severe blessing, but a blessing nonetheless. God has his reasons for sending you there. Trust in him—not in the United Methodist Church or the bishop or the itinerant system. Trust in God. God is in charge.

“Christian conferencing” in Athens

June 13, 2012

We United Methodists can’t get enough of “Christian conferencing.” Wesley believed in it so much that he called it a means of grace—the Holy Spirit himself pours out his grace in a special way when a group of us Methodists gather together in the name of Christ.

And you know what? I mostly love it, too.

I bring it up because I’m in Athens, Georgia, this week for our North Georgia Annual Conference. One highlight is worship—more specifically, the opportunity to worship and not be in charge. I remember how much I miss that when I come to Annual Conference.

I think I’m a pretty good preacher, but what a joy to hear great preaching! Yesterday, we heard great preaching from Dr. Eddie Fox, an evangelist with the World Methodist Council who has probably traveled more miles preaching the gospel than any other living United Methodist. He preached at last night’s ordination service, reminding the newly ordained, commissioned, and licensed clergy—and the rest of us—to fight the good fight and not lose heart as we go about the ministry of sharing the gospel with the world.

He reminded me that the gospel is good enough. Ugh… That’s a terrible understatement. Far from merely being good enough, the gospel is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who has faith. When I preach, I worry so much about being clever, funny, and insightful. I want to entertain. I want to make people laugh (or even cry). I want to inspire.

And all that’s well and good. But you know what? I’m not going to say or do anything that improves upon the gospel. If I faithfully preach the gospel, I’ll do just fine. Not that I haven’t had this insight before, but it’s good to be reminded of it from time to time.

As I do every year, I ran the United Methodist 5K. I wasn’t quite as fast as last year—I was within 10 seconds of last year’s time. But not bad. This is me at the finish line, gasping for breath.

About that violence in David and Goliath

June 11, 2012

Lithograph of David hoisting Goliath’s severed head, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

At the risk of sounding conceited, I loved my sermon yesterday on David and Goliath. Don’t get me wrong: I usually really like my sermons. If I draft a sermon that I don’t like (as is often the case), I keep working on it until I do. At the very least, you can be sure that I get something out of my sermon each week, even if no one else does!

But I thought yesterday’s was extra special, in part because I’ve never preached the text before—it was an unplowed field. One problem with preaching the text is that it’s long. The story takes up all of 1 Samuel 17, without an obvious way to shorten it. I suppose some talented preacher could spend weeks on it, going through it verse by verse, but I’m not one of those preachers. I would use up all my good ideas in the first sermon and have nothing left to say.

Originally, I selected for my text verses 32-49, which I listed in the bulletin. These verses, in my opinion, get to the theological heart of the story, which includes the two speeches David gives, first to Saul and then to Goliath. As I was glancing at the passage before the sermon yesterday, I noticed that I omitted the gruesome detail that follows in verse 51—the beheading of Goliath. If I were a child listening to the story, having already fallen in love with The Savage Sword of Conan, that would probably have been my favorite part!

I imagine, in fact, that for ancient Israel, the beheading of Goliath was also a favorite part. I love the irony of David’s having to use Goliath’s sword to finish the job, since, as we know, David didn’t have one. The new Common English Bible translation of verses 50-51 nicely captures the enthusiasm of David’s (and God’s) victory:

And that’s how David triumphed over the Philistine with just a sling and a stone, striking the Philistine down and killing him—and David didn’t even have a sword! Then David ran and stood over the Philistine. He grabbed the Philistine’s sword, drew it from its sheath, and finished him off. Then David cut off the Philistine’s head with the sword.

When the Philistines saw that their hero was dead, they fled.

The Bible isn’t squeamish about violence the way we moderns or post-moderns want it to be. Is that a problem for us when we hear stories like this one?

If so, I wonder if we’re victims of our time and place. For example, when we read stories like David and Goliath, don’t we Americans too easily make the leap from ancient Israel to present-day U.S.—so that we’re no longer reading about ancient Israel fighting the Philistines, but the U.S. fighting Iraq or the Taliban or the Viet Cong?

These parallels from recent history are unhelpful, to say the least. The U.S. is not a theocracy or theocratic monarchy, whose government is intended, however imperfectly, to act on God’s behalf. The U.S. can be more or less righteous in the world, but our goals will never align perfectly with those of God’s kingdom (to say the least). Bitter experience teaches us that the most well-intentioned military action can often have disastrous consequences. Even when we “win,” the victory is rarely as sweet as promised.

So we project our contemporary experience of war back on ancient Israel: Why should war would work out any better for them? Surely, we imagine, God could find another way to get things done in the ancient world.

One important difference, however, is that, unlike the U.S., the battles that ancient Israel fought were Yahweh’s battles. David understood this when he said, in verse 47, “The Lord owns this war, and he will hand all of you over to us.” Goliath and the Philistines understood this. They all understood that this battle was a contest, not merely between human warriors, but also between Israel’s God, Yahweh, on the one hand, and the Philistines’ gods on the other. Whose god would prevail?

Besides, we have the luxury of reading about this violence from a safe distance. Unlike ancient Israel, our lives and the lives of our children aren’t being threatened. Our livelihoods aren’t being threatened. Our existence as a nation isn’t being threatened. The closest most of us have come to feeling so threatened was on the morning of 9/11. I’m about as chicken as they come, but if my country had called on me to fight, I would have fought. “Just give me a gun, Mr. President, and show me where to point it.” Didn’t you feel that way?

And I certainly didn’t shed a tear when I got word that Bin Laden was dead. Who am I to judge the Israelites for celebrating the death of the Philistines’ champion?

Finally, I wonder if our discomfort with violence in stories like David and Goliath isn’t related to our discomfort with God’s judgment of sin? Just as the story demonstrates that the Philistines’ sin deserved to be judged and punished by God, so our sin deserves to be judged and punished. That deadly stone hurled squarely at Goliath’s forehead would be headed toward ours, if not for God’s atoning work on the cross.

Do we look at Goliath and think, “There but for the grace of God go I”? Maybe we should.

With God and good strategy on our side

June 10, 2012

Michelangelo’s David. (Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.)

While researching for today’s David and Goliath sermon, I came across this Malcolm Gladwell article from the New Yorker, published a few years ago. I don’t have time to work this information into the sermon, but I recommend the article. It’s not a theological analysis of the story—that’s what us preachers are for, after all. But it is a fascinating strategic analysis of the story.

It turns out, according to research, that in the world outside of the Bible, the “Davids” often beat the “Goliaths,” especially when they pursue David’s unconventional strategy of refusing to play to an opponent’s strength.

In the Biblical story of David and Goliath, David initially put on a coat of mail and a brass helmet and girded himself with a sword: he prepared to wage a conventional battle of swords against Goliath. But then he stopped. “I cannot walk in these, for I am unused to it,” he said (in Robert Alter’s translation), and picked up those five smooth stones. What happened, Arreguín-Toft wondered, when the underdogs likewise acknowledged their weakness and chose an unconventional strategy? He went back and re-analyzed his data. In those cases, David’s winning percentage went from 28.5 to 63.6. When underdogs choose not to play by Goliath’s rules, they win, Arreguín-Toft concluded, “even when everything we think we know about power says they shouldn’t.”…

Gladwell illustrates the success of this approach with examples from warfare to business to basketball.

And it happened as the Philistine arose and was drawing near David that David hastened and ran out from the lines toward the Philistine,” the Bible says. “And he reached his hand into the pouch and took from there a stone and slung it and struck the Philistine in his forehead.” The second sentence—the slingshot part—is what made David famous. But the first sentence matters just as much. David broke the rhythm of the encounter. He speeded it up. “The sudden astonishment when David sprints forward must have frozen Goliath, making him a better target,” the poet and critic Robert Pinsky writes in “The Life of David.” Pinsky calls David a “point guard ready to flick the basketball here or there.” David pressed. That’s what Davids do when they want to beat Goliaths.

This discussion of strategy, I believe, is completely compatible with the theology of the biblical story. When Saul asks David why he should send this inexperienced, undersized, under-equipped teenager to fight a man too fearsome for Israel’s bravest warrior, David describes his experience as a shepherd, defending his sheep from bears and lions—even killing the predators with his bare hands if necessary. Nevertheless, David says, “The Lord who rescued me from the power of both lions and bears, will rescue me from the power of this Philistine.”

Does a good strategy give David the victory over Goliath? Yes. Does God give David a victory over Goliath? Yes. It’s not either God does or we do. It’s both/and at the same time. God’s actions are not in competition with human action. This grace-filled cooperation between God and human beings is an example, I would argue, of a doctrine that is close to the hearts of us Wesleyan Christians—”synergism.” David seems to instinctively get this, and he didn’t even go to seminary!

Sermon for 06-03-12: “Sunday School Heroes, Part 1: Zacchaeus”

June 7, 2012

A sycamore tree in Jericho. I took this picture on my trip to the Holy Land last year.

Sermon Text: Luke 19:1-10

In Luke 18, Jesus warns his disciples that whoever doesn’t welcome God’s kingdom like a child will never enter it. What does it mean to welcome God’s kingdom like a child? In the story of this wee little tax collector named Zacchaeus, we find out. Let’s let Zacchaeus show us how to be a kid again.

Can you believe this good news? Salvation is here. Forgiveness of sins is here. The power to change your lives is here. Eternal life is here. Love beyond your wildest imagination is here. Jesus is offering all of this to you as a free gift here and now. If you’ve never received this gift for yourself, may Jesus say of you what he said of Zacchaeus so long ago, “Today, salvation has come to this household.”

The following is my original sermon manuscript.

Some of you, I hope, will go with our church to the Holy Land next February. If so, one of the places you’ll go to is Jericho, the setting for today’s scripture. It’s 20 miles or so northwest of Jerusalem, and, according to the mosaic in this photo, it’s the lowest place on earth, at 1300 feet below sea level, which means, I imagine, you can do your best thinking because you have so much oxygen going to your brain. Jericho also claims to be the world’s oldest city having been in continuous existence since 8000 B.C.

You may recall from the Bible that Joshua fought a battle there when Israel was coming into the Promised Land. “Joshua fit the battle of Jericho…” We’re going to look at that text later in this sermon series, and I promise I won’t sing! Jericho is also mentioned in 2 Kings chapter 2 as the place where the prophet Elisha miraculously purified the city’s drinking water. Here’s a picture of me drinking from Elisha’s spring in Jericho. As I was drinking from this, of course I was thinking, “I hope this doesn’t make me sick.”  Elisha purified it a long time ago, which is no guarantee that it’s still pure today! But it was fine, of course! Earlier in Luke’s gospel it was also on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho where Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan was set. The wounded victim was headed to Jericho when he was beaten and robbed and left for dead. Read the rest of this entry »

100 percent chance of dying

June 6, 2012

Did Andy Warhol know how much sodium was in a can of soup? (Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.)

I drive to work very early on Sunday morning. Since I have neither satellite radio nor an AUX port for my iPhone, my music-listening options at that time of day are limited: early Sunday morning is a no-man’s-land of “public affairs programming.” One of the more intriguing choices is a syndicated health program whose host is a chiropractor and nutritionist.

His main theme is that we often make ourselves sick by what we eat. Modern medicine, he believes, overemphasizes the treatment of symptoms versus underlying causes. It leans too heavily on prescription drugs, which themselves have undesirable side effects. Consequently, health-care costs are skyrocketing out of control. It’s time for us, he says, to take control of our own health. And one of the primary ways we do that is through our diets.

I don’t disagree with him on any of these points.

His specific prescriptions, however, would require radical changes to most of our diets. He believes that we all suffer, at least mildly, from gluten allergies, so he’s against eating grains (he makes an exception for oats). He’s against meat and dairy, but if we must consume these things, we should choose only organic. He’s against caffeine, alcohol, high-fructose corn syrup, and artificial sweeteners in any amounts (not that he’s a fan of cane sugar, either). He’s for drinking lots of water, but the fluoride in tap water, he says, causes neurological problems.

Moreover, really bad things like harmful pesticides, hormones, antibiotics, and genetically modified organisms lurk below the surface of nearly everything that we would normally purchase to eat from a supermarket. He attributes a litany of health problems, including cancer, infertility, and the rising rate of autism, to the food we eat—not to mention obesity.

Basically, we are poisoning ourselves to death.

If he’s right, it sounds like we’re in trouble. While I’m sure I’ve never eaten healthier in my life than I am right now, nearly everything I eat and drink, according to him, is wrong.

Now… let’s take a step back. A healthy dose of skepticism is in order. While he constantly cites medical studies of various kinds, I have no idea if they’re from reputable, peer-reviewed scientific journals. Also, when he talks about increased risks for various diseases, let’s put that in perspective.

For example, let’s say the odds of winning the lottery jackpot are one in a million (they’re actually much, much worse). If you told me that buying a ticket from a certain vendor would increase my odds of winning by 75 percent, that sounds promising. I should want to buy a ticket, right? Wrong. Because my new odds are still less than two out of a million. Similarly, increasing my risk of getting a deadly disease doesn’t necessarily significantly increase the likelihood of getting the disease.

Besides, I wonder how many other activities that we routinely engage in increase our risk of dying far more than the food we eat? I’m sure that driving a car significantly increases our risk of dying—not to mention activities like bicycling, hiking, swimming, skiing, surfing, skate-boarding, rock-climbing, even crossing a busy intersection on foot—you name it. We gladly assume these risks, often in the name of improving our health, even though these activities pose risks of their own.

At this moment in our culture, we are becoming hysterical about food. Why? Surely one root of this hysteria is the fear of dying. C.S. Lewis once said that it’s myth that war increases death; death, he says, is sum total. His point applies to other aspects of our lives, including the food we eat.

We’re all going to die, and if I implemented every possible healthful change to every aspect of my diet, I would still die. How much later I have no idea. On average, would it be years… or months? And would these changes make me a better, more joyful person? Would they help me love my neighbor more? Would they help me grow closer to God?

Besides, have you noticed that there’s always a new crisis, a new hysteria, a new thing to be afraid of looming on the horizon? If it weren’t food, it would be something else.

Regardless, we Christians have an answer to this fear. Even as we work for constructive change in the world, we can afford to be a non-anxious presence, bearing witness to our faith in the One who defeated death.