Cheat Days?

Pile of Junk FoodI weigh in on Fridays, so, after tipping the scale and recording my weight, I often look at Friday as a day on which not to get too worked up about my food intake. This can range from a day on which I simply don’t record all of my food to a full-blown cheat day.

A few years ago, I planned a Friday cheat day into my schedule. Called “Lousy Eating Day,” those Fridays often saw me at the school’s food court sliding a tray with both a double cheeseburger and cheese fries toward the cash register.

These days, I usually reserve my “lousy eating” until I’m home from work. Then I can take Penny out somewhere indulgent. Last night, after eating a very sensible dinner at home, we splurged on Sheridan’s Frozen Custard, me opting for my favorite, E.T.’s Charming Cheesecake Concrete (with Heath bar chunks). The only thing bad about that confection is when you eat the last bite.

If that concrete had been my own dietary transgression, then I wouldn’t feel any qualms this morning, but I also snacked a bit too much as I watched the Royals win a ballgame that evening.

The idea of cheat days is well established in at least popular diet and weight loss writing. Google the term and you’ll find all sorts of opinions ranging from the psychological to the physiological. I’d like to take up the question of cheat days from a theological perspective. As a Christian, is it acceptable for me to cheat on my diet now and again?

I used the word “transgression” earlier on purpose. Sin is a serious thing in our worldview, so we wouldn’t entertain the notion of a cheat day for adultery or murder or idolatry or stealing. “I just punched out my spouse, but that’s okay. After all, it’s Tuesday!” No, that would be ridiculous.

We have been forgiven all of our sins, past, present, and future, yet Paul makes it clear that this does not mean we should take a casual view of sin. In Romans 6:1-2, he quickly shoots down the notion of sinning more so that grace can abound. This would seem to suggest that cheat days are as inimical to the Christian life as “Buddha Days.”

But is “cheating” on your diet really the same as cheating on your marriage vows or bowing down to an idol? I’m going to argue that the answer to that is “no” for a trio of reasons.

First, your diet need not be a day-by-day thing or a meal-by-meal thing. I frequently keep my food intake low at breakfast and lunch so that I can indulge a bit more at dinner. Similarly, if I balance things out so that one cheat day is offset by six “faithful” days, am I really cheating at all?

Second, didn’t Jesus condone, or at least enable, a cheat day? The only miracle to appear in all four gospels is the feeding of the 5,000. In Matthew 14:20 we learn that the people there that day all “ate and were satisfied.” I take that to mean that they ate as much as they wanted to. I can’t really see these Galilean peasants pushing aside plentiful, free food and saying, “Oh no, I really shouldn’t. I’m trying to cut down.”

Finally, the particulars of your diet are not points of obedience to God. We are called to be a stewards over our bodies, but God leaves the details up to us. I believe that the putting aside of the Jewish dietary laws illustrate this aspect of Christian liberty. If I “cheat” today by eating a cheesecake concrete without putting my body back on the course to obesity, then I am still being true to my obligations.

Cheating on a diet is not the same as cheating in a relationship. In fact, “cheat day” is probably an unfortunate term for a Christian. That’s why I intend to reintroduce the much more acceptable name, “Lousy Eating Day.”

Enjoy your indulgences so long as they do not prevent you from maintaining what God has provided you.

Not Knowing Enough: Amy DeRogatis’ Saving Sex

9780199942251(An entry coincidentally published on Mark and Penny’s 33rd wedding anniversary)

As a professor of religion and American culture at Michigan State, Amy DeRogatis does not immediately rise to the level of expert on the evangelical world’s view of sex, although she has clearly studied more evangelical sex manuals and advice books than anyone I know. Should you want a long–and I mean long, as in nine pages–bibliography of primary sources on the topic, DeRogatis’ book, Saving Sex is your source, and her mind is clearly powerful as it scans over and analyzes these sources. Unfortunately, as an outsider to the people she is studying, DeRogatis commits the all-too-common interpretive fallacy, allowing her comments to reflect more her own predispositions than the actual content studied.

An example of this thinking is found toward the end of the volume, when she asks, “If sex within a sanctified marriage is fabulous, why do evangelicals continue to buy books about sexual technique and practices?” I might flippantly turn that same question around on the author and ask, “If casual sex in a hookup culture is so fabulous, why does Cosmo need to put several advice articles into every issue?” She might have asked the simpler question: “If evangelical marriage is so great, why do they have so many marriage workshops and retreats?” The answer, which any honest questioner could provide for him or herself, is that even great evangelical marriage can be better. In fact, returning to her rather catty sex question, the proliferation of books can be easily taken to indicate that “sex within a sanctified marriage” is fabulous enough to be worth making even better.

Not surprisingly, this book focuses on aspects that the author finds particularly peculiar or (my word, not hers) creepy. Honestly, I can see how an outsider might find purity balls, where young Christian girls pledge their fidelity before marriage to their fathers, to be questionable.

Another topic DeRogatis takes up, one much farther afield from the evangelical mainstream, is found in a book called Holy Sex by Terry Wier and Mark Carruth. This 1999 publication espouses a belief that you might have never heard before. It seems, according to these authors, that demons are transmitted by bodily fluids.

I don’t fault DeRogatis for including this bizarre teaching in her survey of the topic, but she dedicates roughly 20 pages of the 155-page total in Saving Sex to this one source. This is not a book published by a prominent evangelical house, by a household-name author, or by an organization like Focus on the Family. The book is, apparently, out of print and does not seem to have left much of a footprint on the discipline. Why then, does this author give it so much attention?

An explanation for this, I believe, is that DeRogatis has her beliefs and evangelical beliefs aren’t them. Early in the book, she says, apparently innocently, “Scholar Breanne Fahs explains ‘purity balls enter women into a system of commerce in which their sexuality becomes an object to be traded between men.'” Fahs explains? Is that the right word? Fahs might be said to “opine” or “suggest” or “theorize,” but she’s hardly explaining in this quotation. By the same token, she might have suggested that Wier and Carruth explained in their book, but she does not give them that sort of cachet.

As a married Christian, I am enthusiastically in favor of sex. What I favor less is allowing the secular world to define the vocabulary and the values that surround our sexual practices. In this case, the author admits that she did not really know much about the topic before her research began. In the end, I have to argue that while she knows a great deal about it, she doesn’t really demonstrate the sort of understanding that one might gather from within.

Keep Your Eyes Where They Belong

2015 Rock the ParkwayTwice on Wednesday, I was told, “You’re looking really great” by two widely separated women. One of them has been a friend for many years. The is someone from my church whose husband I know much better. In neither case did I think they were suggesting anything beyond a simple and sincere compliment, but these comments got me thinking.

Perhaps you were not aware of this, but taking care of your body will typically make it look better. It’s true. And whether you like it or not, somebody who sees you working out might just see something in you that you’d not intended. It’s pretty hard to be around a bunch of fit people and not notice their bodies, right?

An article by Jonathan Angelilli takes on this problem in a big way. He points to what he calls the “pornification” of fitness, in which the fitness instructor becomes less an instructor and more an object of desire.

Your fitness can never be outsourced to a hot trainer, doctor, or pill. It’s you that must do it, from the inside out. It’s the very nature of the beast. That is why “the source of all power comes from within” is one of the core principles of TrainDeep. Saying “you do it for me, I’ll pay extra” just doesn’t work when it comes to organic systems and nature. Here we can experience the definitive limits of trying to monetize the natural and spiritual realms.

Certainly not everything in Angelilli’s article is something I can support, but he raises a great point. My work at improving or maintaining my body should be about making myself more fit for service and, as an added bonus, making me more appealing to my spouse. That’s really it.

So if you run into me at the gym or out on the street, just keep your eyes to yourself. I can’t help it if I’m looking really good.