God, Telstra, and the iPhone: What’s going to make your life magic again?

kim-dong-kyu-phone

Illustration by Kim Dong-kyu Based on: Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog, by Caspar David Friedrich (1818). From: Technology Nearly Killed Me, Andrew Sullivan, New York Mag, Sep 2016

 

 

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic” — Arthur C. Clarke

There’s a new Telstra ad that I love because it is beautiful, but that I feel overpromises on what technology can (and does) deliver; in fact, I think it misleads, and invites us to put our hope in the wrong places. But it is a beautiful ad that taps into some deep human desires.

“See? We live in a magical world. We never have to wake up from our dreams. Our restless minds now free to wonder at the wonder of technology; at the magic we’ve created. Possibilities are like stars now infinite constellations fuelled by pure imagination; leading to one destination – to you, to thrive.” — Telstra

The world doesn’t feel as magical as it used to. That’s part of the central thesis of award winning philosopher Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age. Telstra’s marketing gurus seem to have tapped into the haunting sense of loss we have because of the evacuation of magic, or something ‘transcendent’ from our view of the world by suggesting technology itself is the way back; like somehow the answer to our longing for something more than the material is more material, just cleverer, just with the illusion of magic (because part of the evacuation of magic from the world is the belief that anything that looks magical is actually an illusion, which is why we call magicians illusionists now).

It used to be that life was magical; that every thing had some sort of spiritual significance, whether there were gods everywhere behind every event, like a poor harvest or a pregnancy, or in monotheistic cultures everything existed in some way within the life and will of the infinite God; Christians in particular believe that the material world, what Taylor calls the ‘immanent’ world, is somehow given life and significance (or more ultimate meaning) by its connection to the creator, and by Jesus, the creator’s creating and sustaining ‘word’ (transcendent) made flesh (immanent). Colossians 1 has a good example of this view of the world:

For in [Jesus] all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” — Colossians 1:16-17

C.S Lewis didn’t just write fairy tales for kids and a bunch of Christian reflections on life; he also published academic work on literature, including a book called The Discarded Image which looked at how older generations viewed the world this way; as enchanted, and how that fuelled their creativity, their art, their literature, and so better answered the longings of the human heart for some sort of enchantment, he argued (in 1964) that we’ve lost something as moderns who have kicked the sense of the transcendent out of our world and settled just for the stuff we can see and taste and touch as ‘reality’ and our source of meaning; C.S Lewis would be a little suspicious of Telstra’s advertising I suspect. Even the best technology — the most luxurious things we can fill our house with — he said were a certain sort of ugly, precisely because of this lack of symbolism, or significance, pointing to anything beyond itself (and so we have modern, and post-modern, art, often wallowing in this milieu, and so soulless and empty).

“Luxury and material splendour in the modern world need be connected with nothing but money and are also, more often than not, very ugly. But what a medieval man saw in royal or feudal courts and imagined as being outstripped in ‘ faerie’ and far outstripped in Heaven, was not so. The architecture, arms, crowns, clothes, horses, and music were nearly all beautiful. They were all symbolical or significant-of sanctity, authority, valour, noble lineage or, at the very worst, of power. They were associated, as modern luxury is not, with graciousness and courtesy. They could therefore be ingenuously admired without degradation for the admirer.” — C.S Lewis, The Discarded Image

 

James K.A. Smith wrote an accessible commentary on Taylor’s massive tome called How (Not) To Be Secular, here are two key ideas from his work:

“It is a mainstay of secularization theory that modernity “disenchants” the world — evacuates it of spirits and various ghosts in the machine. Diseases are not demonic, mental illness is no longer possession, the body is no longer ensouled. Generally disenchantment is taken to simply be a matter of naturalization: the magical “spiritual” world is dissolved and we are left with the machinations of matter…There is a kind of blurring of boundaries so that it is not only personal agents that have causal power. Things can do stuff.”

 

“Taylor names and identifies what some of our best novelists, poets, and artists attest to: that our age is haunted. On the one hand, we live under a brass heaven, ensconced in immanence. We live in the twilight of both gods and idols. But their ghosts have refused to depart, and every once in a while we might be surprised to find ourselves tempted by belief, by intimations of transcendence. Even what Taylor calls the “immanent frame” is haunted.” — James K.A Smith, How (Not) to be Secular

The implications of these quotes are interesting when read against Telstra’s ad; a campaign designed to reconnect us with the magic we long for, via machines.

The first is interesting because it explains why we look to technology — machines — to enchant our lives; if matter is all that matters, if everything (the universe) is basically one big machine of cause and effect, filled with little machines (us), who make machines (technology) then we’re now likely to rely on technology to give us any sense of what we’ve lost because they’re the closest we get to matter with a soul; other than us, and we get to program the soul into them so they serve us. The second point explains why we want them to serve us by delivering the experience of ‘magic’; because that’s precisely what we’ve lost, and what we long for, and what we’re haunted by. We want matter to matter more than it does; we want a transcendent reality that stretches beyond us; this might be, as the writer of Ecclesiastes puts it, because God has set eternity on the hearts of humanity, but it might just be that we wish magic was real.

If Taylor is right then I don’t think machines; perhaps especially smartphones and screens; will deliver the answer our haunted selves are looking for, they might actually make the haunting worse; especially if all the science looking at what technology use does to our brains and relationships is true; and on this you should definitely read the Andrew Sullivan piece, Technology Almost Killed Me where that picture at the top of this post comes from; Sullivan is one of the world’s most famous bloggers, he went a year without tech, precisely because he felt he was losing himself into a totally ‘immanent’ way of life, and he wanted some transcendence; he found that silence, not distracting technological bombardment, was where something ‘magical’ could truly be found… he looks at how our western world has progressively killed the silence which used to enchant us, and in doing so have ensure our haunted longings for something more, for the infinite reality that silence throws us towards, are not truly satiated.

“The smartphone revolution of the past decade can be seen in some ways simply as the final twist of this ratchet, in which those few remaining redoubts of quiet — the tiny cracks of inactivity in our lives — are being methodically filled with more stimulus and noise.

And yet our need for quiet has never fully gone away, because our practical achievements, however spectacular, never quite fulfill us. They are always giving way to new wants and needs, always requiring updating or repairing, always falling short. The mania of our online lives reveals this: We keep swiping and swiping because we are never fully satisfied. The late British philosopher Michael Oakeshott starkly called this truth “the deadliness of doing.” There seems no end to this paradox of practical life, and no way out, just an infinite succession of efforts, all doomed ultimately to fail.

Except, of course, there is the option of a spiritual reconciliation to this futility, an attempt to transcend the unending cycle of impermanent human achievement. There is a recognition that beyond mere doing, there is also being; that at the end of life, there is also the great silence of death with which we must eventually make our peace. From the moment I entered a church in my childhood, I understood that this place was different becauseit was so quiet. The Mass itself was full of silences — those liturgical pauses that would never do in a theater, those minutes of quiet after communion when we were encouraged to get lost in prayer, those liturgical spaces that seemed to insist that we are in no hurry here. And this silence demarcated what we once understood as the sacred, marking a space beyond the secular world of noise and business and shopping.”

The inability for technology to really scratch the haunting itch of the loss of the transcendent, that it doesn’t truly ‘enchant’ our world or make our lives feel magical, has fuelled technologist David Rose, who’s committed to creating enchanting technology because he thinks most technology doesn’t live up to the Arthur C. Clarke quote, he wrote a book called Enchanted Objects trying to articulate a vision for the sort of technology that might do this, it’s a compelling read, particularly (I think) for this analysis on the problem with the ideas that screens can deliver the enchantment Telstra promises.

“I HAVE A recurring nightmare. It is years into the future. All the wonderful everyday objects we once treasured have disappeared, gobbled up by an unstoppable interface: a slim slab of black glass. Books, calculators, clocks, compasses, maps, musical instruments, pencils, and paintbrushes, all are gone. The artifacts, tools, toys, and appliances we love and rely on today have converged into this slice of shiny glass, its face filled with tiny, inscrutable icons that now define and control our lives. In my nightmare the landscape beyond the slab is barren. Desks are decluttered and paperless. Pens are nowhere to be found. We no longer carry wallets or keys or wear watches. Heirloom objects have been digitized and then atomized. Framed photos, sports trophies, lovely cameras with leather straps, creased maps, spinning globes and compasses, even binoculars and books—the signifiers of our past and triggers of our memory—have been consumed by the cold glass interface and blinking search field. Future life looks like a Dwell magazine photo shoot. Rectilinear spaces, devoid of people. No furniture. No objects. Just hard, intersecting planes—Corbusier’s Utopia. The lack of objects has had an icy effect on us. Human relationships, too, have become more transactional, sharply punctuated, thin and curt. Less nostalgic. Fewer objects exist to trigger storytelling—no old photo albums or clumsy watercolors made while traveling someplace in the Caribbean. Marc Andreessen, the inventor of the Netscape browser, said, “Software is eating the world.” Smartphones are the pixelated plates where software dines. Often when I awake from this nightmare, I think of my grandfather Otto and know the future doesn’t have to be dominated by the slab. Grandfather was a meticulous architect and woodworker. His basement workshop had many more tools than a typical iPad has apps…”

… Today’s gadgets are the antithesis of Grandfather Otto’s sharp chisel or Frodo’s knowing sword. The smartphone is a confusing and feature-crammed techno-version of the Swiss Army knife, impressive only because it is so compact. It is awkward to use, impolite, interruptive, and doesn’t offer a good interface for much of anything. The smartphone is a jealous companion, turning us into blue-faced zombies, as we incessantly stare into its screen every waking minute of the day. It took some time for me to understand why the smartphone, while convenient and useful for some tasks, is a dead end as the human-computer interface. The reason, once I saw it, is blindingly obvious: it has little respect for humanity. What enchants the objects of fantasy and folklore, by contrast, is their ability to fulfill human drives with emotional engagement and élan. Frodo does not value Sting simply because it has a good grip and a sharp edge; he values it for safety and protection, perhaps the most primal drive. Dick Tracy was not a guy prone to wasting time and money on expensive personal accessories such as wristwatches, but he valued his two-way wrist communicator because it granted him a degree of telepathy—with it, he could instantly connect with others and do his work better. Stopping crime. Saving lives.

— David Rose, Enchanted Objects

He looked to our ‘enchanted’ stories; stories that have the sort of view of the world that Lewis (and his friend Tolkien) looked back to from the past and created in the more recent past… but it’s possible he missed the heart of what these writers (and J.K Rowling) were doing.

What’s the secret to creating technology that is attuned to the needs and wants of humans? The answer can be found in the popular stories and characters we absorb in childhood and that run through our cultural bloodstream: Greek myths, romantic folktales, comic book heroes, Tolkien’s wizards and elves, Harry Potter’s entourage, Disney’s sorcerers, James Bond, and Dr. Evil. They all employ enchanted tools and objects that help them fulfill fundamental human drives.

He does understand that technology will only work if it speaks to fundamental human desires; he’s not going to these stories as books containing “fanciful, ephemeral wishes, but rather persistent, essential human ones,” which he lists as omniscience, telepathy, safekeeping, immortality, teleportation, and expression. Basically, to use Taylor’s terminology, we’re in want of something that will pull us from the immanent into transcendence. Rose does just enough to kill Telstra’s claims that connectivity via a piece of glass can give us what our haunted hearts desire, and the technology he writes about as alternatives, like a magic cabinet that has a built in screen with a skype connection to a matching cabinet, which glows when the person at the other end of the line is nearby and allows instant and convenient conversation; well, that’s pretty great and does fan some of the flames of my heart (and could one day make my wallet lighter). The problem will always be that immanent objects — the product of coding and engineering — will only ever leave us trapped in the immanent world, the ‘brass heaven,’ haunted by a sense that there might be something more to life and relationships than that which can be encoded in bits and bytes made up of 1s and 0s. The problem will always be that eternity is written on our hearts; if only, like the writer of Ecclesiastes, we knew where to look to scratch that itch. This writer, who after his journey through life trying to sort the immanent out from the transcendent, concluded:

So I reflected on all this and concluded that the righteous and the wise and what they do are in God’s hands, but no one knows whether love or hate awaits them. All share a common destiny—the righteous and the wicked, the good and the bad, the clean and the unclean, those who offer sacrifices and those who do not.” — Ecclesiastes 9:1-2

He doesn’t take this to the negative sort of place you might expect…

You who are young, be happy while you are young,
    and let your heart give you joy in the days of your youth.
Follow the ways of your heart
    and whatever your eyes see,
but know that for all these things
    God will bring you into judgment.
 So then, banish anxiety from your heart
    and cast off the troubles of your body,
    for youth and vigor are meaningless.

Remember your Creator
    in the days of your youth,

— Ecclesiastes 11:9-12:1

Then he says:

Remember him—before the silver cord is severed,
    and the golden bowl is broken;
before the pitcher is shattered at the spring,
    and the wheel broken at the well,
and the dust returns to the ground it came from,
    and the spirit returns to God who gave it.”

— Ecclesiastes 12:6-7

This is what we’re to do in our ‘immanent’ existence; the fleeting ‘breath’ that this writer reflects on time and time again that is unfortunately often translated as ‘meaningless’… we’re meant to reach out towards the God who gave us breath, knowing that as he puts it at the start of his summing up in Ecclesiastes 9: “the righteous and the wise and what they do are in God’s hands“… now… If only we knew where to look to see God’s hands. If only there were some way to scratch where we itch… if only there were some way to bridge between the immanent and the transcendent; to satisfy those deep desires that the writer of Ecclesiastes, Telstra and David Rose are searching for — the ability to see the world as meaningful beyond the material, to give us existence beyond ‘breathiness’ so that we become immortal.

Oh that’s right. According to two thousand years of Christians, and the book we live by… We do.

Paul says some more good stuff about Jesus in Colossians 1; about the implications of that time we see the hands of God; hands nailed to ugly planks of wood by barbaric spikes, these hands Paul says hold the cosmos together became very ‘immanent’ and are the ultimate enchanted objects that deliver on our wildest imaginings. Paul says:

And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” — Colossians 1:18-20

That’s more magical than an iThing (as nice as they are) don’t let Telstra, or anyone, sell you short. You can enjoy the sort of life you so deeply desire and are haunted by. You can enjoy life that is more than just immanent, more than just heading towards the dust of the grave, you can enjoy life that’s more than a little bit magical.

 

How a weight loss diet has taught me about worship, idolatry, and the Gospel

I’m fat.

I’m not saying this so you’ll say ‘no you’re not’ or whatever. It’s a statement of fact; backed up when I step on the scales.

I’m fat; I don’t really have a body image problem that is driving me to this pronouncement, it’s more a body problem.

I almost always have been. I’ve certainly always felt fat; even when I was a kid and involved in swimming training almost daily and swimming club on Friday nights, I was pudgy. Big. Overweight. Being overweight isn’t much fun; eating is though. I love food. Bad food. KFC. Chocolate. Ice cream. If there was one sin I’d scratch it’d be gluttony. I’d have all of the foods. I comfort eat and I holiday eat. I just like to eat.

The scales tell me I’ve almost always been overweight; I hit the 100kg mark in grade 12 and have only dipped back under it once since. I’m tall so I’m always going to be heavy; but there’s a difference between heavy and fat. I get that. I’m not just heavy though.

I’ve had some sense that fatness is a problem internally for almost the whole time I’ve been fat; I resented it when my weight became an issue in my family, which probably drove me to rebellious comfort eating. Who knows? I’ve also had some sense that my being fat is caused by a lack of self-control; which the Bible says is a ‘fruit of the Spirit’ and the result of gluttony and greed. I also know that being fat stops me doing some of the things I would like to do; it makes sport hard, it makes parenting and chasing small children more taxing than it could be, and it does, despite my best efforts to live in denial about this, make me self-conscious about what I wear and do.

The good thing about being fat is that unlike other problems, I can do something about it. At least that’s what I said to a bloke who sledged me on the soccer field once. I’m in total control of my destiny.

The first time I seriously ‘did something about it’ was a couple of years ago. I was tipping the scales at 113kg. I signed up for the Michelle Bridges 12 Week Body Transformation Challenge, and 12 weeks later I’d hit 97kg. I felt more confident, skinnier, healthier, but still fat. I also felt the urge to enjoy some of the food I’d had to give up to get under the 1,800 calorie a day mark. Those 12 weeks were interesting though. I had more energy; more pep, and I had a more disciplined approach to all the other aspects of my life, it seemed. Saying no to McDonalds drive-thru on the way home, where once that’d been a detour I’d take on auto-pilot, made it easier to say no to a bunch of other auto-pilot decisions I was making that didn’t fit with who I wanted to be.

One other thing I noticed while in the midst of this 12 weeks of becoming ‘the new me’ was that I became very judgmental of people who were like ‘the old me’… unenlightened me. Unlightened me. People making terrible decisions about what they were eating. I’d walk through the grocery store judging people by what they put in their baskets, their size, or their stop at Donut King on the way to the carpark; when I’d been doing the same thing just weeks before.

I felt proud of the discipline I’d adopted of only buying fresh food, cooking healthy meals with small portions, and religiously counting and recording every calorie. I’d attend to my mass every week at weigh in. And I was thrilled to see steady signs of progress; of me becoming my more ideal self. When I could stomach it, I’d watch Michelle’s videos and read her emails and hear her lay out the core tenets of my new regime. I was irregular in doing that though (perhaps a bit like the Christian who is happy to miss a few weeks of church when they get the gist of what gets said).

One thing the 12WBT did well, that I ignored, was it built an online community of fellow travellers who’d encourage each other in the pursuit of ‘body transformation’ — fashioning ourselves into some ideal image, but doing it together.

I didn’t really let the habits sink in though; I got what I wanted from the program. And moved on. If my ideal self really is the 90kg non-fat self then I didn’t get there and the 12WBT liturgy failed because it did not establish new habits in me, or ultimately transform me.

But it was powerful. The training. The narrative. The new habits. The equipping. Michelle sends you encouragement and gives you the meal plans and recipes you need to succeed. If I’d kept it up; who knows, I probably wouldn’t be fat now.

2 years (and one slightly less-successful return to Michelle Bridges) later, I was tipping the scales at 108kg, and I decided to arrest my return to the old me. But this time I needed a new image of success; a new personal trainer, a new ‘priest’, who’d lead me to a better image of myself.

When you sign up, he sends you this picture to share on social media. This is the image I’m cultivating by my new habits. This is the picture of the ‘flourishing human life’…

nathan-gets-commando-fit
What I’m realising is that it’s very hard to separate the pursuit of this image from idolatry; and that really getting there and keeping there doesn’t simply require discipline but liturgy, or worship. I need to replace my desire to eat delicious comfort food; my love for that food; with the expulsive power of a new affection; I need to not only learn that those foods are toxic and bad for me, but adopt habits that are good for me. I need to take control of my life. I need to change the script I’m living, and adopt a new vision of what my life could be.

One of the reasons idolatry is so powerful is that it has the capacity to deliver results (or we wouldn’t bother), it just can’t deliver real meaning or satisfaction. This is because idolatry doesn’t just work at the heart and our desires and the ‘story’ or vision of life that tugs us through the world and guides our decisions, or in the mind our knowledge and imagination, but in our habits; our actions; and the repetition of actions shapes us. That’s why piano players practice the piano, athletes train, why Gladwell’s 10,000 rule largely holds true, and why diets work when they change your habits. Idolatry isn’t always as destructive as pornography, in the temporal sense, but even good and wise habits; morality, study, budgeting, self-discipline, and dieting can pull you away from Jesus while they shape you into a better version of you. Idolatry of this kind doesn’t just pull you from Jesus though, it also distances you from people who don’t have the same vision of the good life; both as you are transformed, and as they are not. It has the potential to make you as judgmental and insular as any traditionally religious person. It brings a whole new vocabulary and culture, puts you in a new ‘in group’ community… it’s powerful stuff. I went to the mechanic last week, and my mechanic is clearly a man who takes cars very seriously, one might say he lives for them; I felt judged because I don’t look after my car right, he spoke to me in a language and terms I didn’t understand, about new things I would need to do if I wanted my car to give me pleasure rather than pain; and I gained some small insight into my judginess of the other shoppers at the supermarket, and perhaps also how people feel when they join us in Christian community…

I don’t have to go far to find an example of this from the program. I hadn’t read today’s email until I started typing this paragraph and thought I’d check what Commando Steve says… and here are some highlights. He starts with a pitch to encourage us to push beyond the temporary gains; to avoid fad diets and myths; to really buy in to his story of the flourishing human life… not just the “superficial, fast, measurable results” but the fruit that comes from adopting “this new routine, way of life as part of your everyday for the long term.” What he really wants for us; and he repeats this at the end of the email, so it’s important, is for us “to start living a flourishing, meaningful life.”

Sounds like the sort of thing you might hear in church, right? That’s cause it is. He says some of the key ‘dot points’ we need to sort out to make this lasting change include:

  • Identity – Who do I want to be? Where am I going? What do I want to do? These are all questions you must answer. But to do this you must live your answers in the quest to shape your identity and the person you want to become.
  • Education (Knowledge) – Is the means by which we have greater understanding and the ability to make more informed, conscious choices. Are you willing to learn?
  • Our actions are what define and shape the person we want to become (identity). By taking what we learn and experience along our journey, we then implement it into our actions. Through repeated consistency, we begin to forge and reinforce the identity and person we want to become.
  • By taking time to reflect on where it is we have come from, and where it is we are headed, do we then begin to gain insight and understanding about how we have shaped the person we are becoming

And then he says if I’m going to embed the right sort of change, and avoid the fads, I need to ask: “What is my real purpose in life? Why am I doing this? Am I willing to fundamentally change how I think, move and eat for the long term or am I just looking for a quick fix?” And then says: “When you begin to answers to these questions that’s when you will begin to live a meaningful, flourishing life.”

What he could say is I need to ask: “Who do I want to worship my way into being? So what do I need to worship?” These are ultimately questions and observations about the way we’re wired as people; about the way real change happens. We’re mostly profoundly changed by what we worship.

If I really want to buy in to the Commando’s vision of fitness, I need to buy in heart, mind, and body. And I’m sure he’ll deliver. I mean look at him.

And for a fat guy who has pretty much always been fat, that’s tempting. Whether it’s as tempting as a Zinger Stacker Ultimate Burger meal from KFC is an interesting question; but I’m three weeks in and no drive-thru… Temptation doesn’t always come in neon lights and cheap hits to your senses; sometimes it is in the perversion of wisdom where something other than God is organising your life and setting your vision for what humanity should look like.

But dieting works; training works; we become what we behold, and that happens via our habits. This shaping isn’t a good thing if it pulls us from loving God and from loving others. So this time around I’ve been more conscious of not buying into this alternative vision of flourishing; of keeping my eyes fixed on where real purpose is found and why I’m doing this. I don’t want a quick fix; sure, but nor do I want to be so transformed that I lose sight of Jesus and stop seeing God’s image in the people walking next to me in the Supermarket simply because their ‘god,’ or the image their god fashions them into, doesn’t look like the Commando or Michelle. This means I’m working hard not to be judgmental of others; but also cutting myself some slack. I hate dieting, and my approach has been to channel the Commando and be hyper-disciplined and a bit unpleasant. I need to let that go, or I’m cultivating the wrong habits; and I’d be better off fat for my family’s sake.

The Bible doesn’t say heaps about fitness; though greed and gluttony are problems… Paul uses racing and fighting analogies in his letters, and it seems he has some familiarity with the training regimes required for both; then, in his first letter to Timothy, he says:

“For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer. If you point these things out to the brothers and sisters, you will be a good minister of Christ Jesus, nourished on the truths of the faith and of the good teaching that you have followed. Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.” — 1 Timothy 4:4-8

This should be what shapes my diet and my training regime. Knowing the goodness of God from creation (including food, and wisdom regarding how our bodies process it); thanking him for it and seeing him and his goodness through his creation of good food and intricately woven bodies that need work. Like the Commando, Paul suggests avoiding myths and focusing on training; but his main concern is not healthy habits but godliness. It’s godliness that will flow through to how we approach food and dieting.

Fitness isn’t a bad thing; it’s a natural product of discipline and self control, and probably an inevitable outcome of making decisions to wisely steward what God has given us; and a thing that enables us to love others better (it’s also part of that ‘love your neighbour as you love yourself’ thing). But it’s not an ultimate thing, and there are much more important measures of true meaning and flourishing than your weight or waistline.

Fitness isn’t a bad thing, but it can be, like other good created things, or other fruits of wise living, if it becomes an ultimate thing, or caught up with an ultimate version of myself that does not look like Jesus. If I look at Commando and I look at Jesus I know whose arms I think are more admirable; those hands that were nailed to a cross are more worthy of my admiration and pursuit than any CrossFit trainer, and his image is a more worthwhile template for my transformation than some bloke with big guns and a diet plan who is helping me shed some weight. As Paul puts it in Colossians:

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” — Colossians 1:15-20

The Commando is kinda right in his approach and the questions he asks; his vision of flourishing is a knock-off though; while Jesus offers the Rolex; an alternative vision of flourishing. His image; his habits; his life and death and resurrection as an invitation to flourish. This is where a real and satisfying body image should come from — the ‘physical body’ and life of Jesus an image that might then flow through to how you treat your body and pursue your health. In whatever weight loss program I get caught up in, I need to remember that it’s more important to practice looking like, and being like, Jesus because I want to find my identity in him; not my biceps or waistline. This image is enough for Paul to adopt some new habits. Physical habits, ‘filling up his flesh,’ embodying the Gospel… I do like how this passage emphasises the bodily reality of Paul’s ministry. This; the Gospel; is where the real flourishing life is found. Resurrected and eternal life; we start cultivating that lifestyle and the habits of eternity now.

“Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behaviour. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation — if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant. Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.” — Colossians 1:21-24