Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Karen Carpenter

Which sentence is correct, and what does Karen Carpenter have to do with it?

A. If I were thinner, I would be happy.
B.  If I was thinner, I would  be happy.

All you grammar nerds know that the correct answer is A. It's called the subjunctive voice. If you want to express something that isn't actually true, you say, "If I were . . . ."

Of course, neither statement is factually true. A smaller waistline does not buy lasting happiness. Neither does a bigger bust or straighter teeth or higher cheekbones.

But a lot of people buy the lie. Some people don't stop at dieting or exercise or push-up bras. Their struggle with body image is a disease such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia or obsessive-compulsive disorder. This time of the year, Karen Carpenter comes to mind. Her voice is on all the Christmas radio stations, but we lost her in 1983 when she was 32. She died of heart failure as the result of anorexia. It was early in our public
education about eating disorders although there are medical records of women with these disorders as early as the nineteenth century.

Today treatment is more advanced. Thanks be to God for physicians and therapists who know how to treat these disorders. Our God is a God of healing, and God has put the power to help and heal in the hands of friends and professionals. Jesus said, "The Spirit of the Lord has sent me to release the oppressed." (Luke 4) This includes the oppression of eating disorders and mental illness.

You'll hear Karen Carpenter sing, "Merry Christmas, Darling," this month. At the end of the song she sings, "I wish I were with you." That's the correct use of the subjunctive voice because Karen's not with us. I'm a grammar nerd, but I would gladly give up correcting my kids' syntax if I could have Karen's voice back -- live and in person.

We wish you were with us, too, Karen. Here's to hope for healing for all the oppressed. That's what Christmas is about.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Girls or Women?

I was watching an episode of Big Bang Theory, a great sitcom with hilarious writing if you can ignore the premarital sex. Leonard, Raj, and Howard (three of the main characters) were at a party along with a lot of young females who looked to be in their early twenties and whom Leonard and his friends consistently call “girls.” Not women – girls.  No big deal, right?

What if the situation had been reversed? If the room had been full of males in their early twenties, would the writers of the show have called them boys? Probably not. When males reach adolescence we often shift to calling them guys. We don’t consider them children anymore, but we’re not ready to call them men yet. We have this term somewhere in the middle – guys. It works nicely.

Granted, males at middle age may say they are “going out with the boys,” and we understand that they are going out with other adult males. But generally, we stop calling males “boys” sometime in the teen years. By the time males are in their mid-twenties, we usually refer to them as guys or men. 

When it comes to females, we don’t make the same change. A seven-year-old female is a girl, and a twenty-five year old female is a girl.  Why?

I suggest it’s because we don’t feel the need to treat females with the same respect.

Try this diagnostic test. Imagine you are addressing a small group of college-aged males whom you have known for years. Do you say, “I’m glad you boys could come tonight”? Or would that sound a bit disrespectful? If the group were female, would you feel comfortable saying, “I’m glad you girls could come tonight”? Is there a difference? Give it some thought and listen to yourself. I’ve caught myself calling young adult females “girls” when I would not call young adult males “boys.”

Do words matter?

The words are a symptom. The root of the problem is a lower view of women than men. Should we care? Does God care?

Does God frown on treating grown women made in God’s image as children? Does God disapprove when we don’t offer women the same respect we offer men?

Hmm . . . yeah, maybe.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Inner Beauty?

It could very well be that you are not beautiful.

In the time and place where I live, large eyes + high cheekbones + small nose + full lips = beauty. More or less. If you don't have this equation, it's possible that you are not beautiful. At least by the prevailing American definition.

Well, let's talk about your inner beauty. Eye roll. Some of you are thinking, Inner Beauty is what people gush about to make you feel better if you are not outwardly beautiful.

But what is inner beauty anyway? How is it defined? If a person is kind, loyal, funny, and trustworthy, does that make her beautiful? I don't think so. That makes her behavior beautiful. What if she's mean, bitter and unfaithful? That's ugly behavior, but it does not make her spirit -- her self -- ugly.

Bad behavior has no effect on your worth. A person has value because she or he is made in God's image. That's it. What you do matters, but behavior has no effect on the worth of your soul.

It's safe to say that anything created by God is beautiful. So welcome to the Beautiful People Club. Where high cheekbones are welcome and kindness is encouraged, but neither is a requirement for membership.

Thursday, June 4, 2015


"I have five. Do I hear six hundred? Seven hundred dollars? Do I hear eight?"
The auctioneer asked for higher and higher bids, and my hopes of buying the mirrors slipped away.

At an art auction I had found a set of old mirrors. That's a photo of them. That's the shiny, reflective side you're looking at. Not too clear? That's what happens to mirrors that are 2,000 years old. They were fashioned in China and Korea, and some of them were made as early as 200 B.C. What did they look like when they were brand new? Even the shiniest metal gives a poor reflection compared to today's mirrors. 

My bathroom mirror gives a crystal-clear image, but it's reversed. If I touch my right ear, my reflection touches her left ear. The image is perfectly accurate but completely backward. When I look at my reflection through the lens of over forty years of cultural messages and propaganda, my thinking is often backward because I believe that parts of my body are ugly.

But our bodies are amazing. Especially in youth, they function beautifully. Blood is oxygenated and cleaned. Nerve cells send signals to the brain that are interpreted and acted upon at lightning speed. The brain stem tells my heart to beat so that my frontal cortex is free to think about theology or how to get out of cooking supper tonight.  But the culture says that this amazing body that runs and sings and eats is not good enough.

The culture is like a corroded, two thousand year old mirror. It shows you a distorted image. It's not the real you. An ancient mirror may go for over $1,000 at auction. But the real you is priceless.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Dad Bod

Have you heard about the Dad Bod? Apparently it's what women really want.

The Dad Bod is not chiseled. No six-pack abs or bulging biceps. It's the body of the man who can afford a mortgage. He's not so self-absorbed that he spends every moment at the gym. He's too busy caring for kids and cooking meals to pump iron. Or if he's single, he doesn't have all day to work out because he's busy helping underprivileged kids.

Women say they don't care if you put on some weight and lose some hair. But as Canadian singer Terri Clark sang in her 2004 song of the same title, "Girls Lie, Too." Lies like . . . it doesn't matter how big your paycheck is . . . we don't mind if you're not handsome . . . we don't care what you weigh or what you drive. Right. On our better days maybe.

On a deeper level that we don't talk about with anyone, a lot of us want more than a Dad Bod. We want the responsible husband, but we also want the bare-chested, chiseled man on the cover of the trashy novel. Why? Because the most handsome men get the most beautiful women. If my husband/boyfriend is not a 10, then I must not be either. And if I'm not beautiful, then I'm of no value.

But it's a lie. My value lies in being made by God in the image of God. I have value because Jesus didn't die for nobodies. If you're well-versed in Christian theology, you may think, "Oh, but I am a nobody. That's why it's so amazing that Jesus died for me." I beg to differ. What do you bring to the redemption equation? Nothing in your hand. But if you had no intrinsic value, Jesus would not have bothered to die for you. Who pays a ransom to get something back that has no value? The ransom was paid outside Jerusalem on a Friday. That's the body I need to focus on -- the one that hung on a cross. The dead and resurrected one -- the God Bod.

Thursday, March 19, 2015


In honor of breast cancer awareness month (which is October) and because I had a mammogram today, let's talk about boobs. That's a silly, disrespectful thing to call them, these amazing nourishment-producing parts of a woman's body. But, oh, how often breasts are treated with levity. Not that breasts must always be serious, but when talk arises of Hooters restaurant and wet t-shirt contests, many women -- be they large or small busted -- are uncomfortable.

Advertisers tell us that only large breasts are attractive to a man. It makes sense. Females who are not sexually mature have no breasts, and women who are sexually mature have breasts. So it follows that the bigger they are, the more mature and attractive the woman is to a sexually mature male who wishes to procreate. This, of course, is a lie, but it sells more push-up bras than the truth.

But what about Hooters and wet t-shirt contests? Don't they prove that men prefer big ones? No. If your breasts are large and you're wearing a tank top or wet t-shirt, then they're hard to miss. But get a man one-on-one and small breasts are just as arousing as large. Or so I'm told by friends who are male.

The media is also limited by obscenity laws. In most advertising, nipples and frontal nudity below the waist are verboten. So what choice do they have? Advertisers have a fraction of a second to get your attention, and bigger things catch the eye faster.

Ah, if only the media were like the mammogram machine. It's looking for small things, namely tumors, to identify a big thing, namely cancer. So look to the media for lies and to your mammogram machine for facts. It'll squeeze the truth right out of you.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

God's help

I struggle with the magazine ads and Internet photos of "perfect" bodies. I tell myself to believe God's truth, not the culture's lies, about a woman's worth. I proclaim that we are made in God's image. But in my struggle, it never occurs to me to ask for God's help.

Do I think God is unconcerned when God's daughters (and sons) believe their worth is tied up in appearance? Is it possible that God cringes when commercials tell us we will not be beautiful until we buy their product? Well, if you overheard an adult tell a child, "You are worthless because your body doesn't measure up," would you be angry? Our anger is a reflection of God's anger. God cares about this. Ask for God's help.

So how should I pray?

God, help me stop comparing myself to other women. I don't know how to stop believing the lie that a beautiful woman must look like this or that. Show me how. Remind me not to click on the sites that extol or criticize a celebrity's body. Tell me if I'm demanding too much of myself when I think, "I must change my thinking on this NOW." I've been thoroughly brainwashed on this by our culture. It may take time to learn new thought habits. Help me to be patient with my brain.

How should YOU pray? I don't know because I don't know your struggle. Honesty is a good place to start. God's chosen people are called Israel. The name means "wrestles with God."  Wrestling with God is not always a bad thing. Better to wrestle with God than ignore God. We need God's help if we're going to wrestle with the culture. So climb into the ring, ask hard questions, and ask for healing and help.

There's the bell.