Posts Tagged ‘Ron Swanson’

Sermon 05-21-17: “Craving the Pure Milk of God’s Word”

June 20, 2017

In today’s scripture, the apostle Peter quotes from Isaiah 40: “All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass…” We Christians are often distracted by things in our lives that don’t last. Yet Peter is calling us to build our lives on a foundation that which lasts for eternity: the gospel of Jesus Christ and God’s Word. How do we do this? That’s what this sermon is about.

Sermon Text: 1 Peter 1:22-2:3

One of my all-time favorite TV shows is Parks & Recreation, which features a character named Ron Swanson. In one episode, Ron gets taken to court. A couple of his friends who are called to testify on his behalf lie under oath—in order to protect their friend. Ron says, “Tom and April were excellent witnesses in my defense. Unfortunately every single word out of their mouths was a lie. There is only one thing I hate more than lying—skim milk, which is water that’s lying about being milk.”

My favorite character on my favorite TV show, Parks & Recreation: Ron Swanson. He’s famous for knowing how to be a man.

When did we all switch to skim milk? For my family, it was back in the early-’80s, when I was a kid. And I distinctly remember how, when I poured it over my Rice Krispies, it looked blue. Do you know what I’m talking about. I did not want to drink blue milk. Well, eventually I got used to it; and I bet many of you did, too. We got used to it because skim milk was supposed to be good for us.

Well, I read an article not long ago that said that we were sold a bill of goods. That long-term studies show that whole milk—milk that stays white when you pour it over cereal—might actually be better for you than skim milk, and help you lose weight more effectively than skim milk. For one thing, the article said, it helps you feel full, so you eat less.

I don’t know if that’s true or not, and I’m not recommending that you make the switch without consulting with your doctor, but that was just the excuse that I needed. So I switched back to whole milk. And I’m much happier. And my cat, too. He’s always at my feet at the breakfast table when I eat cereal. Because he loves whole milk and expects me to put the bowl on the floor when I finish up.

So, accept no substitutes: I don’t want water that’s lying about being milk; I won’t settle for watered-down milk; I want milk. Pure whole milk.

And in today’s scripture, Peter makes a similar point: Accept no substitutes, he says. “Long for,” or crave, “pure spiritual milk.” Don’t settle for anything less than that. Read the rest of this entry »

A great series on breaking the porn habit

October 9, 2014
My favorite character on my favorite TV show, Parks & Recreation: Ron Swanson. He's famous for knowing how to be a man.

My favorite character on my favorite TV show, Parks & Recreation: Ron Swanson. He’s famous for knowing how to be a man.

Brett McKay’s Art of Manliness website is a treasure trove of helpful advice on how to be a better person man, from the practical (for instance, how to tie a bow-tie), to the not-so-practical but still cool to know (how to escape from zip ties), to the idealistic.

I’ve blogged about the crisis facing manhood in our culture, one symptom of which is that we men are discouraged from thinking that “manhood” is a meaningful idea. Boys and girls, we’re told, are blank tablets on which insidious cultural forces write a patriarchal script that we need to un-learn. Without these forces, there would be no meaningful differences between men and women, aside from brute anatomy.

Anyone who’s taken a graduate-level sociology course knows I’m not exaggerating.


Regardless, McKay has turned his attention this week to what I believe is the biggest spiritual threat facing men today: internet pornography. I encourage all my male readers to check it out.

If, like me, you’re plugged in to popular culture, you can identify with these words from his introduction:

Viewing porn, once considered a shameful pursuit to be carried on in society’s shadows, has become more than mainstream; today it’s considered a nearly universal part of every man’s life. Watch any modern television show (particularly sitcoms), and it is nearly assumed that the main male characters watch porn, and in many cases it’s practically celebrated (see Barney in How I Met Your Mother). In modern novels about American life, the same is true; and even in men’s magazines you’ll find a variety of quips about the normalness of porn. It’s become embedded into our pop culture and therefore our entertainment and our conversations.

While I’m aware that there are Christian resources to help men kick the porn habit, McKay’s approach is ostensibly secular (although he concedes up front that he also has religious objections to it) and, therefore, less judgmental and more sympathetic. If you’re a man who struggles with porn, you won’t hate yourself when you read these articles. But you’ll be armed, I hope, with information to help you regain self-control over this part of your life.

McKay’s main point is that even apart from traditional religious objections to porn—namely, sins of lust and masturbation—men have good reasons to avoid pornography, the most important of which is that it impedes our ability or desire to have sex with—you know—an actual, real-life woman. 

He talks at length about what happens to us, physiologically, when we view pornography. He argues that the relationship between a healthy sex drive and porn consumption is the same as the relationship between a healthy appetite and junk food. Read this article. It all comes down to dopamine production. McKay writes;

I think the very best way to frame porn is as “sexual junk food.” The all-powerful drive for both food and sex have been around since the dawn of man. We’re evolved to eat natural food, intermittently, but now find ourselves with crap-tastic offerings available on every street corner, at every hour of the day. This never-ending glut of junk food can be difficult to resist, but if we don’t, we end up obese, anxious, and depressed. In exactly the same way, we’re evolved for sex…with flesh and blood humans. But in our modern world, we’ve got virtual sex on tap 24/7. Gorging ourselves on it diminishes our spirit, enervates our virility, and harms our relationships – all the very best things in life. Porn is sexual junk food that promises nourishment, but leaves us feeling sicker and emptier than before.

Although he believes that compulsive porn-viewing can mirror addiction to alcohol and drugs, he believes that addiction language is unhelpful. It’s better to think of compulsive porn-viewing as a habit. We can break habits; whereas we often feel powerless over addictions. One important theme of his website, after all, is that we men need to take more responsibility for their lives, not less. Addiction language tends to minimize personal responsibility.

Labeling impulsive behaviors as addictions may hinder an individual from feeling capable of conquering an undesirable behavior. “Addiction” is a very loaded – even scary — word. When we tell ourselves we have an addiction, we’re implying that we’ve lost control of ourselves, that our ability to make our own choices is impaired, and that it may even be impossible to change course. Something else is in the driver’s seat, so to speak.

Thus, calling an undesirable behavior an addiction has the tendency to shift us from an internal locus of control to an external one. Research has shown that those with an internal locus exhibit greater control over their behavior and deal with challenges and stress better. Those with an external locus of control, on the other hand, feel like they’re a victim of powers outside themselves, which leads to stress, anxiety, and depression. The desire to soothe these hopeless feelings will then often lead right back to porn. And on the cycle will go.

Unfortunately, according to one study, we religious men are more likely to label porn use as an addiction, even when, by any secular definition, it’s not. McKay explains why this is the case:

For these religious men, to view porn is a spiritual transgression and complete abstinence from porn is the ideal. Thus if they find themselves surfing to a porn site once or twice a week to masturbate, there’s a dissonance between their behavior and the standard their faith has established. To ease that dissonance, instead of taking responsibility for the spiritual lapse, they pathologize it by calling it an addiction. By so doing they shift their locus of control to an external one and decide that they aren’t themselves doing it – instead, porn is doing something to them…

Moreover, I’d argue that by calling themselves addicts – even though from a clinical sense they obviously aren’t — these men are just making it more difficult to stop looking at porn because the addiction label puts them in a position of helplessness or, worse, they may be creating a self-fulfilling prophecy in which they do become full-blown porn addicts.

So if you’re a religious man who happens to use porn a few times a week, don’t be so quick to call it an addiction. Sure, it feels that way, but calling it such is more likely to hurt than help.

In tomorrow’s article, McKay promises to offer tips for those who want to kick the habit completely (which ought to include all of us Christian men). Here is part 1, part 2, and part 3.

Two kinds of freedom

August 29, 2011

Ron Swanson, the funniest character on TV.

In yesterday’s sermon on Romans 9:14-24, which often raises difficult questions of human freedom versus God’s sovereignty (not that it should if we understand Paul’s argument), I was tempted to quote my favorite character from my favorite TV show, Ron Swanson of Parks & Recreation.

Swanson is manager of the parks department in a smallish Indiana city, who is also an outspoken libertarian. He once said that his dream is to privatize the parks department and let Chuck E. Cheese’s manage it. “You want want to swing on the swing set? Drop in a quarter.” One time Ron was arguing with someone about diet and fitness. He said, “The whole point of this country is if you want to eat garbage, balloon up to 600 lbs, and die of a heart attack at 43, you can! You are free to do so. To me that’s beautiful.”

This kind of freedom may be beautiful from a political point of view, but it’s deadly from a Christian point of view. Left to our own devices, this is clearly the kind of freedom that we have. As Paul argues elsewhere in Romans (for instance, chapter 7) this kind of freedom enslaves us. So maybe our hyper-Calvinist friends bent on saying that human beings aren’t really free are not entirely wrong. Because libertarian freedom—freedom of choice—is not true freedom.

True freedom, Christianly understood, is freedom to be what God created us to be. At times, however, this freedom may look a lot like slavery: a voluntary kind of slavery in which we submit our free wills to God, to be re-shaped and redirected. True freedom means choosing to be constrained. Think of how St. Paul himself can joyously proclaim our freedom in Christ and say, at the same time, that he is Christ’s slave.

A couple of years ago, I went to a musical that the students at my wife’s school were putting on. One of the students, a 16 year old girl, played a violin solo—and it was quite good. I complimented her after the show. I said, “You didn’t sound screechy at all.” I didn’t mean to damn her with faint praise, but, let’s face it, 16 year-old violinists sometimes sound screechy.

She told me that she aspires to be a professional violinist. She practices four hours a day, every day—and that she’s has been doing so for years! No wonder she didn’t sound screechy! In a way, this young woman has voluntarily made herself a slave to the violin—through time, discipline, hard work. She’s had to forego most activities and interests that her fellow teenagers enjoy.

But consider what this voluntary slavery means: It means that she is free to do the thing she loves most—to play the most beautiful music in the world. Would even the most challenging piece of music stand in the way of her doing the thing that she most enjoys? Imagine the joy that this kind of freedom brings her.

On a larger scale, this is the kind of freedom that God offers us through Christ. I want to know and experience this kind of freedom in all its fullness.