MONEY MONSTER, starring George Clooney and Julia Roberts

money monster

Money Monster is directed by the great Jodie Foster with the exact amount of finesse necessary to let you know that everything is totally screwed up, but no one really cares, and we can all get back to our ordinary lives, you know, the ones in which you have this supposed money in your supposed accounts, but it’s all just zeroes and ones in a program somewhere that someone could take and fritter away at a moment and not have to explain why.

Yeah, it’s that movie. A public service announcement for Bernie Sanders and against fiscal corruption in the corner offices where it’s all about their CEO’s zillions and no one cares about the poor slob who is investing his pathetic little fifty-grand inheritance in some loser scheme. The poor slob loses his money. Nothing happens to the corrupt CEO, and all is back to America As We Knew It.

The beautiful people are all beautiful here. Jodie Foster, as mentioned above, balances the emotions and drama and underlying tension perfectly, leaving you with this empty, frightened, “oh no, everything we’ve worked for is going to be flushed in one glitchy second by someone who won’t have to pay for it” thought. And then, as you walk to the car afterwards, you sort of giggle and chuckle and fling about full-denial statements about how it couldn’t happen again, and there are safeguards in place now, and yada yada yada.

I was all in from the get-go. It’s very well done, and you should see it.

Thoughts tangentially related to LONDON HAS FALLEN


Here is a movie where everything goes all explody and bad guys are rushing out of hidey holes like mice before an earthquake and everyone is shooting everyone, and you can’t tell the good guys from the bad guys, so you just open fire on everyone.

Sometimes life is like that. Sometimes it seems as though everything is on fire. Your world has exploded and continues to explode and you can’t trust anyone, and the people you think you can trust turn on you. When this happens, if you are a Secret Service Agent, you do your one job, and that is to protect the President. If you are you, you identify your one job and you do it.

You feed your child without regard to how you get the food. You walk away from your abusive marriage and worry about where you’ll lay your head later. You jump out of a window and pray there is somewhere to land that won’t cost you more than a broken leg. You do the One Thing you need to do and you do it right now and damn the consequences, because not to do those things is worse than doing them.

That was one of the thoughts I had while seeing this movie. The other was this:

Set up–a character mentions “in a thousand years” and follows with a description of how great America will still be.

Thought–America is that longlasting. Not in a Thousand Year Reich sense, but in the sense that Liberty thrives and grows. Liberty as we have it today–vast and expansive–would not have been understood by most of the world when we started working on it 240 years ago. When people say, “Your liberties are under attack,” they actually mean, “Your liberty to tell people to live as you live is under attack.” Liberty itself has metastasized. Globally.

When I was a child–as I’ve mentioned many times on this blog, so forgive me if you’re bored of hearing Cold War references–we were endlessly taught that the Russians were coming and that even if they didn’t, the USA was on the exact precipice of moral catastrophe, teetering toward the outward edge. The cliffs of our moral high ground were eroding at such a rate that national collapse was inevitable and imminent. Rome, we were constantly told, was destroyed from within, because of moral decay. Never mind the Visigoths. Two hundred years was foretold as the outside limit of how long a free people could exist without having ridden the slippery slope to destruction.

But no. People see Liberty and they want some of that. Marginalized people the world over see America, and if they can’t get here, they want to build it where they are. Within their culture and with what they have on hand. This love of Liberty and desire to get some is our greatest gift to the world. America has been the cultural equivalent of taking a kid to a candy store and saying, “Look there. If you work hard, you can earn up and have some.” The candies, of course, are the zillions of freedoms we enjoy daily. Blessings on all who are working toward having some of that, wherever they are and whoever they may be.

And oh yes, the move also had a plot:

There has been a death at 10 Downing Street, so all the important people have to go pay their respects. Someone wants all these important people to die, so there’s a lot of guns and bombs and grenades and exciting car chases and things blowing up. Our Secret Service Agent knows he has one job to do, as mentioned above, and his doing of that job is what the story is about. Protect POTUS, never mind anything else, or die trying.

So I leave you with this thought. If all around you is exploding and imploding and fireballing and catastrophizing and you have no idea who is your friend or whether there is anyone you can trust, feed your baby. Protect your children. Safeguard yourself. Do the job you were given to do. That is all.

If you can do your job in a nice, neat, corners-tucked-in manner, that is better. But if not, not. Sometimes life is messy. Sometimes you have to look around at the end of the day and say, “This day sucked, but my child is fed and safely in bed.” And then you do it again tomorrow. Because you have a job to do. And when people tell you, “You should have done it in this neater, nicer way that doesn’t offend me so much,” well, you know what to say.

And also, use your liberty. Because if you don’t, what is the use of having it?


People who have not warred against obesity will not understand this post any more than a woman who popped out babies without effort or thought would understand the agony of infertility, any more than a woman who married her high school sweetheart at eighteen would understand the desperation of the forty-something who always longed for the husband who never appeared.

This is for those who understand.

The ones who go to bed each night thinking tomorrow they’ll do better, not overeat, not choose the fries with that. The ones who make notations in their calendars marking how much they weigh today and if they lose two pounds a week they can fit in the size fourteen for the event happening in six months. The ones who look in the mirror at their naked bodies and think how did this happen, how could this have happened. The ones who have resigned themselves to dying fat. The ones who are ashamed, who hide behind others in family photos, who cringe internally when they order something sweet because they know they’re being judged by the waitstaff, the barista, the checker at the grocery store, who really is thinking, “Seriously, lady, a hot fudge brownie? Are you freaking kidding me?”

Fat women suffer. They know that in every social setting they are The Fat One. They are visible, obvious, conspicuous. Vertical stripes don’t help, and yes, that dress does make them look fat. Because they are.

When I first was told I was fat, it was a lie. I wasn’t. I was eight years old and 75 pounds. Little bit chubby, sure. Fat, no. By junior high, I was mired in full-time and full-blown body hate. I weighed 110 pounds in 7th grade, but there were girls in my class who weighed 95, so I felt fat. There were girls in my class who weighed more than I did, but I didn’t compare myself to them. I compared myself with the little tiny girls who probably hadn’t begun menstruating or wearing bras and whose families hadn’t seen womanly hips in generations.

At home, I was told I was fat. Every day. Every meal. “You’re really going to eat that?” I started to starve myself. In 8th grade, I went on my first fast. Two days. Forty-eight hours without food. At 12. TWELVE. That seems like a good time of life to deny your body nutrition, amirite?

I was the Fat Sister. I have only one sister, and since she’s always been small, I was never going to “win” the title of Thin Sister. Bizarrely, in our late teens we could share some clothes (not all, as I had bigger hips and boobs), and it never ever occurred to me (I am only realizing it this moment as I write this!) that if we could wear the same clothes, we were basically the same size. This “Fat Sister” identity was consistently pointed out to me (but not by her), and I wore it like shame for decades, even when my sister and I lived thousands of miles apart. Bizarre, yes. Pointless, yes. Irrational, yes. (I was the Smart Sister, also ridiculous, since my sister is no dummy and never has been. How stupid comparisons are, how unhealthy, how crippling.)

Here is where the Not-Fat Reader will say, “Oh, you shouldn’t have listened to them!” or “You should have realized.” Yeah, yeah, whatever, Skinny Minnie. I’m talking about How It Is, not how you think it ought to have been.

Moving along.

I felt fat through college and my first marriage. I believed I was huge. My highest non-pregnant weight during these years was 150. Enormous, I know. If only someone–anyone!–had said to me, “You are perfect. You are beautiful. Don’t ever diet again,” but alas, the message I heard continually was, “You can do better, you should do better, not to do better is sin for you.” And so the nightly “tomorrow I won’t” routine ground on, solidified, became unbreakable.

Throughout my 20s, I routinely starved myself, engaged in every self-destructive diet known to womankind. Repeatedly. There’s no need to list these. If you’ve read this far it’s because you get it and you’ve been on them all too. The foolishness of Atkins–meat only and fruit is bad. Fruit! That God made and said “it is good” and packaged in “serving size: one.” The foolishness of liquid diets and hunger suppressants and one-cheese-sandwich-per-day and the insane idea that you can stuff yourself on sugar-free non-caloric foods and be satisfied. You can’t be. Your body will eat. It will get the nutrition it needs. And you will gain every pound back you starved off. Plus more. Starve-binge-repeat. You know the drill.

I lost large amounts of weight quite a few times. Once I even taught a class called “Fifty Pounds. I lost it, so can you!” which brought in a little bit a money and quite a few hopeful (and probably disappointed) fat women longing to find the magic cure. These particular 50 pounds were lost because the infertility doc I was seeing told me that losing 50 pounds would be the trick to get my hormones in balance and start me ovulating. Liar, liar, pants on fire. Point being, we’ve all lost weight many times. But it’s hard. It’s harder than anyone can imagine. It requires ongoing physical hunger, 24/7 deprivation. It’s not something that can be done casually. It requires intense effort and concentrated, unwavering focus, and the whole time there’s piles of food sitting there being all in your face appetizing and your body is screaming for it and inevitably, your body will eat it. Anyone who says, “Just eat right and exercise” has not the tiniest clue what we are dealing with here.

What we are dealing with here is a society that says you have to be feminine, but not too womanly. Boobs are good, but really big boobs are disgusting. Hips are okay–if you must have hips–but if they’re over 40 inches, you are disgusting. Toss in some strict Christianity, and not only are you disgusting, but you’re also sinful. You are basically living in sin, dontchaknow, because gluttony and fatness and disrespecting your husband, no wonder he looks around, can you blame him, you fatso? This is all very destructive to the pious Christian woman who IS TRYING. She is trying her heart out. She cries and stresses over this without let-up, without reprieve. She knows. She doesn’t need your judgement, your advice, doesn’t need you to send her stories about how your friend did it. Heck, she doesn’t need to read this blog about my weight loss. She’s sick of hearing it. Maybe she’s resigned to it. But I promise you, she wants to lose weight. She would give anything to lose weight. She can’t. Leave her alone. Tell her she’s beautiful. Tell her you love her.

Don’t say, “I love you even though you’re fat.” Just say, “I love you.” Just “You’re beautiful,” not “You have such a pretty face.” Whatever you do, don’t say jolly. Don’t use faux words like chubby. Don’t comment on what she’s eating. She knows what she’s eating. Leave her alone. Or join her and talk about how amazing the food is and how great it tastes. Validate her eating and enjoyment of food. Allow her the liberty of eating without feeling guilty and horrible and fat.

But I digress. Back to it:

Over time I did get actually fat. By 31, I weighed 200 pounds. I lost 50 pounds at 34 (the attempt to achieve ovulation), but over a couple of years, gained it back. There’s this thing called hunger and it demands feeding. After Tommy was born (I was 43, and miracle of miracles, no fertility doc was involved.), I settled in at about 230, finally edging almost to 250. On 5 feet 2, this is a lot of weight to carry. I wore size 24 jeans and size 2X ugly Wal-Mart t-shirts and sweat pants.

Finally, I said, Eff This. No more trying and praying and anguishing and dieting and starving and hoping and planning. No more. It was time to realize there was No Way for me to do this on my own. I needed help. The kind where they cut you open and fix it.

They took out 90% of my stomach and gave me a nice little banana-shaped one. It’s called a “vertical sleeve gastrectomy.”

They say it’s nothing more than enforced portion control, but for me, it’s far more than that. Portion control is nothing if you’re hungry all the time. If you’re experiencing deprivation and restriction. If, when you eat to satisfaction you hate yourself because you know you’re going to weigh more tomorrow. The sleeve allows me to eat to satisfaction, because it takes so little to fill me up. I’m not hungry. I’m not deprived. I’m full. And frankly, full Sharon is happy Sharon.

Of course, there’s a cost. No more caffeine. No more sugar. No more french fries. On the other hand, no more Lane Bryant.

I went into Lane Bryant the other day, stood in the middle of the store, looked around and said, “Awesome.” When the saleswoman asked me if I needed help, I said, “No thanks, I’m just looking.” Just looking. I didn’t say the obvious, “You don’t carry my size.” If I had been less concerned about alarming anyone, I would have stood there and cried. Cried in Lane Bryant for the decades of sneaking in there all fat, having to shop there. (By the way, if you don’t know what Lane Bryan is, please go away. This blog is for fatties who know.)

Weight-loss surgery isn’t for everyone. Not everyone can afford it (mine was free through Kaiser, our HMO). Not everyone’s family is supportive. Not everyone will be successful even with the surgery. Some people still overeat. Some people take up alcoholism when they find they can’t eat enough to quiet their emotional pain. Some people go off plan and eat all day long in small quantities, thereby consuming too much. Some people’s families (usually husbands) sabotage them: expect them to keep making “regular” meals for them, which puts them in too much temptation. Or expect them to keep going out to dinner. Or keep asking (evilly), “Are you sure you don’t want some? Surely one bite won’t hurt you.” (Think one cigarette, one drink, one toke, one line.) I knew my family wouldn’t do any of that. I knew Brian would be 100% in my corner, not because he hated my being fat (in fact, he never mentioned my weight ever), but because he’s supportive of all my efforts, whatever I’m working on at the moment. He’s a sweetheart like that.

Again, it’s not for everyone, but for me, surgery was absolutely essential. Because I was not going to starve myself anymore. Not going to live in the land of plenty and be hungry all the time in one more failed attempt to restrict myself into thinness. I got to a place where I knew I had had enough french fries for a lifetime, enough movie popcorn, enough blue cheese dressing, enough already. It was time to take control, take my body and make it over so that it would work for me. My body and I needed to work together. Some people need their arteries cleaned out. Some people need knee replacements. Some people need donor corneas. I needed a smaller stomach, end of story.

My surgery was December 4, 2014. It’s been 13 months since then. I’m up to eating about 1,000 calories a day, which completely satisfies me. I don’t go to bed hungry. I no longer wear large voluminous clothing. I no longer think about “someday” being thin. I weigh 134 pounds (down from 242), wear size 8 jeans, and just tonight was at Wal-Mart saying far too loudly, “Do they not have any size small sweat pants in this entire store? What is wrong with these people!” I am full three times a day and never get really hungry.

A lot of people in my support group say they wish they had had the surgery years ago, but I don’t. Years ago I wouldn’t have been ready. I needed to be all the way to the place where I knew for darn-tootin’ I couldn’t succeed any other way. But at 53, I’d tried everything so many times and failed consistently and inevitably that I knew the situation wasn’t going to change. No amount of sheer effort was going to be effective. I needed someone to come along and remake me.

To those who say, “You took the easy way out,” so what? Is it a contest to see who can overcome the greatest odds? Does it not count that I’ve lost the weight because I didn’t do it by main force? Are my size 8 jeans somehow invalidated because I didn’t suffer in agonizing hunger pangs for a couple of years to fit in them? Is there some nobility in staying fat rather than getting thin with the help of a surgeon? Remember, I’m not just losing weight; I’m adding years to my life, adding activity to my day, adding health, adding self-confidence, adding social acceptance. If I “cheated” to achieve these things by having surgery, who cares?

Easy way out or not (some people argue it isn’t easy, though for me it’s been uncomplicated and simple), it’s been the successful way out. It’s easier to grab the life preserver and float ashore than to say, “Nah, I can get there on my own,” and try to battle the ocean. Or, to go back to the infertility analogy (since I’m an expert in that too), it’s easier to get embryos implanted than it is to try month after month after devastating year and heart-breaking decade with inevitable failure. Sometimes you need help. Sometimes that help is surgical in nature. It doesn’t always work. There aren’t any guarantees. But it might work, and sometimes it’s worth a shot.

For people struggling with being fat, I have no advice. Surgery was helpful for me. That is all I can add to the conversation. God be with you and give you the answers you need, but whatever you do, don’t hate yourself. You are beautiful and wise and good and no amount of extra weight impinges on that.

Thoughts on Turning 55

I’m about to collide into a milestone. There’s no point pretending it isn’t there or that it isn’t important. It is and it is. I’ll be fifty-five next week.

When I turned 30, I wasn’t shaken. Thirty was the age I finally felt grown-up. But 31 was hard. It meant I was “in my thirties,” and that was difficult. Fifty-five is like that. It’s in-your-face almost actually old. I have to face this.

But first, some memories:

When I was a little girl, I had a blue and white checkered elephant. And a green and orange teddy bear who came in a cardboard box that looked like a washing machine, to emphasize that he was washable. I still have Teddy. He sits on the shelf in my closet near my old violin, the one I played for years and was never very good at. My bow arm always shook during performances, so I couldn’t control the sound or play confidently. Still, I have a few good performance memories. Here’s one: as a junior higher, I played in the fourth violins in the West Coast Premiere of the cantata “Jesus is Coming,” conducted by the composer John W. Peterson. Here’s another: I won a blue ribbon for my performance at a CACS (now ACSI) festival in high school. Other performances were not so successful per the shaky bow arm. It doesn’t matter how perfectly you play it at home if, during the performance, one of your arms refuses to cooperate. Hence my Scott-Moore-in-sixth-grade aha moment written of elsewhere on this blog.

I also had untamed red hair, glasses, braces, freckles, chubbiness, and lefthandedness. Yeah. All that. Still, I labored hard to be a success in school. To be accepted and popular and loved, and I did pretty well, I think. Perhaps I would not have worked so hard for that had home been a happier place to come to, a situation I won’t talk about here because I’m told some things are best left in the 70s, may he and his enablers find repentance, atonement, and effective medication. Justice is already done, karma being a capital b-word. And no, I’m not sorry I said that. Some things should be said at last and clearly. Gone are the days of my accepting this: “Oh, you’re just spouting hurt feelings!” That’s one of the great things of getting older. It becomes time to own yourself and your feelings and not scurry away into some acceptable ball of roly-poly fear, let me hide in a corner and allow you to discount my experiences, my pain, my reaction to those things that Happened To Me.

In high school, I was a cheerleader, took stats for the JV baseball team (Coach Kirby) and the JV basketball team. I was in choir, on yearbook staff, and was Girls League President my junior year until we moved that November. At my new school, I was the yearbook editor and anything else I wanted to be, because when there are only 28 students, you can pretty much take over if you want to. I wanted to. At the end of 11th grade, I took the California High School Proficiency Exam and moved along to Christian Heritage College in El Cajon, where I made straight A’s my first semester, but had no friends. Giving up the A’s, I had more friends and more fun. I graduated at 19, got my heart broken, had my MA from BJU at 20, then taught school for a few years, had a bad marriage that produced my older daughter and lasted 2 years and another marriage (less violence, more fidelity) that so far has lasted 26. Along the way, I put my hubby through nursing school, adopted 3 babies, wrote a bunch of books, lived in Hawaii, moved 20 times, had a baby at 43, and became a lawyer, among other adventures.

That was all before. Now I’m mostly tired. Tired of parenting. Tired of homeschooling, though I still enjoy it. Tired of the same old same old that most everyone in the world would kill for. That I stay home in my giant house and do what I want. But this is, of course, new. For decades I was enmeshed in crippling poverty and emotional pain and clinical depression and the anguish of infertility. Now, with plenty of money and time and kids and a granddaughter and a choice of what to do each day, I run into this milestone with less energy, less moxie, fewer emotional outbursts, which may have something to do with the conscious destressification I’ve been actively in pursuit of the past three or four years.

This fifty-five. This marker on my path that says you are mortal, which, by the way, I can see in the mirror and feel in my bones and my brain. I don’t feel old or sick. I feel mellow and wise, though perhaps I don’t come across that way. It is a steadiness of heart and mind. I make decisions differently. I choose differently.

I choose to be apart from those whose presence doesn’t make me happy. I choose to cultivate those who interest me. I choose to listen to religious and political arguments that I avoided for years out of fear. I choose to befriend those who need me rather than those I supposedly owe. I reach out to beggars. I am not afraid of them. I have realized the great privilege I wear because I am a straight, white, middle-aged woman of a certain socio-economic status who has lived long enough not to be afraid of dying young, and please God may I use that privilege to help, not lessen or marginalize anyone else.

Not afraid, but definitely regretful. I don’t understand people who say they have no regrets. Have they done nothing? Have they made no mistakes, committed no sins, caused no catastrophes? I have made spectacular, explosive mistakes. Skeletons are stacked in my closet. How do people live without causing havoc from time to time?

I regret ridiculing a special-needs girl in my high school. I regret allowing the students in my first class to torment one of their classmates. I regret losing my dearest friend over my books–books that, had I known it would cost me the friendship, I would never have written. I regret keeping other people in my life longer than I should have, years beyond any reasonable expiration date. I regret that I am unable to cultivate friendships, that once a month for a couple of hours at Starbucks is the best I can do, and the best I want to do. I regret I never took math after Miss Royer’s Geometry in 1976. I regret not fighting for a particular friendship I can’t mention here. I regret not speaking on so many occasions. I regret turning in one roommate at BJU and not turning in an RA and his compliant girlfriend at CHC whose (ahem ahem ahem) I voyeured from my bedroom window which was separated from the CHC parking lot by only a chain link fence. They became missionaries, and I’m sure they are still as madly in love and aheming as ever. I regret squandering my brain in unaccredited colleges when I could have done something with it elsewhere. I regret not trusting myself to understand my own needs and desires as valid, giving away my autonomy to preachers, pastors, and others who by virtue of “they said so” claimed some kind of authority over my decisions when in fact they were nobody to me, just men behind pulpits or lecterns or newspapers telling me what to do when they had no idea who I was. I regret not standing up for myself on so very many occasions. For sitting there and taking it. For door-matting it up as if I was made to be stepped on, made to have dirty feet scraped off on me, made to be left out in the cold. I regret swallowing the evangelical line that the world was about to end and that we shouldn’t look forward to decades of joy and life and success and progress because everything was going to hell in a handbasket, America was finished, and Democrats were Lucifer’s spawn, when anyone who had eyes could see (especially after 1991) that democracy was spreading, that freedom was on the upswing, and that donning white robes and standing on hills waiting for the Second Coming (whether in 2000 or 2011) was not something God wanted on our to-do lists.

Things I don’t regret are all the crazy things Brian and I have done that everyone told us we shouldn’t do. We shouldn’t get married after knowing each other only three weeks. We shouldn’t move across the country so Brian could go to nursing school, a decision that scandalized everyone we knew for being “unmanly” and to which I can only reply, “In your face, sexist pig,” but I wouldn’t because those poor sexist sillies are still making twelve or fifteen dollars an hour and probably still saying men “shouldn’t” be RNs, if not so loudly. They said we shouldn’t adopt transracially, shouldn’t move to Hawaii, shouldn’t move 20 times in 20 years, shouldn’t shouldn’t shouldn’t. It’s all right. I was critical of their decisions too. For us, we make our decisions together. Every time. Every single time. If we agree, who is anyone else? Marriage is (assuming a friendly partnership, not some hierarchical authority structure where one partner is assumed right) you and me against the world, period.

People I’d like to thank as I slam into door number 55: Dan Salter for yanking off my very thick blinders, his niece Lily whose ordination causes me to relax and realize that brilliant young women are doing what I won’t be able to, Brenda and Elizabeth for not going away, David Diachenko and Jeffrey Hoffman for you-know-what-you-did, Tammie and Nancy for being wonderful friends for many years, Valerie for being there since 7th grade, Shannon for being there with laughter and friendship in the late 80s when I was gasping for air in a deep humiliation and crushing poverty, for everyone who has ever read anything I’ve ever written and told me it made them laugh or cry or both, because that feeds me. Brian for letting me breathe deeply and laugh/cry/rant with abandon for 26 years without complaint or criticism ever. I know this is rare in men, and I am grateful.

The Romans put milestones on the side of the road so you’d know where you were on the path, how far you’d come, and about how far you had to go. I’m going to amend my first statement. I’m not colliding into this milestone, this 55. I’m on the path going past it. I see it. I nod to it. I smile that I’ve come this far. My grandparents lived into their 90s (my last grandma died just six years ago a month from 96), and I hope to follow them there, all crinkly and ancient and saggy, with my head full of wisdom, my heart full of joy and satisfaction. I want to be 90 and look back at 55 and say, Oh, I was so young then, and how many things have happened since then, and how many new friends I learned to make and how wonderful that I learned to play the cello, and how great that I wrote another book and took up causes and traveled and taught English in Mongolia and found a place to worship and people to worship with, and how wonderful that my husband and children and grandchildren filled my heart up. Then I want to see 100 on a stone ahead and look back to 90 and tell my baby granddaughter Penny, who will be 46 that year, how much of life is ahead of her and how great it is going to be.



Ah, the Cold War. That frightening time in our history when we practiced Drop Drills (the Russians were coming), were terrified by youth group leaders into memorizing even more Scripture (the Russians were coming), and went to bed in fear that we might wake up to a world in which we would have to Learn Russian (I should have. Half the associates at my local Wal-Mart speak nothing else, at least while they’re working.). Once I mentioned aloud that I wanted a “Mao Jacket” and was roundly castigated for “going soft” on Communism. I was 17. I liked the frog closure at the top. No, Mao was not Russian, but he was Close Enough. (He was also dead, but this did not matter.)

Also, apparently it was part of our National Pride to be the country of origin for our guy (who was Good) who could play chess better than their guy (who was Bad). Because, if an American champion can beat a Russian–excuse me, SOVIET (as if “soviet” is a nationality)–champion, then we can put up another tally mark in our column on the Who’s Ahead Board. Never mind the American champion is going stark raving berserk from the pressure. “Mr. Fischer, you don’t mind carrying the weight of our Entire National Honor on your shoulders, do you?” What do we care–dogs into space (at the cost of the dogs) or win a few board games in Reykjavik (at the cost of our guy’s sanity)–so long as We Win. (Were we traitors for cheering for Olga Korbut? Or that huge guy who used to lift weights in like fifteen Olympiads? Remember him?)

This reminds me of that ongoing thing about “If you do such-and-such, then the Terrorists have won.” Aren’t you sick of that? “If you put off traveling to Place X, the Terrorists have won.” Or, “If you have compassion for prisoners in Gitmo, then the Terrorists have won.” Newsflash: the Terrorists have not won. Granted, we (“we” as in the-civilized-world-but-paid-for-by-the-USA) need to Do Something about ISIS/ISIL, the current freaks-du-jour who are giving away girls to teen boys who kill for the cause, but The Terrorists As A Concept (that is, FundyIslam that wants to destroy America) have not won.

Back to Pawn Sacrifice.

So, this is a movie about Bobby Fischer, an American chess prodigy who got so good at moving his pieces around a board that Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger got all fired up about it. Which reminds me of another Cold War memory from Junior High. We didn’t have Facebook, so we did things like sit around and play ADD UP THE LETTERS IN YOUR NAME TO SEE IF YOU GET 666, and apparently, you could add up the value of the letters or vowels in Henry Kissinger’s name and figure out that He Was The Anti-Christ. Because that’s super scriptural. (Maybe there’s an app for this now. “What supposed anti-Christ figure are you?”)

Figuring out who was the Anti-Christ figured large in the Cold War Christian Kid’s manual of how to be afraid of the Russians. Because they were coming, probably soon, and definitely you were going to have to inform on your parents, but no one would inform on you because you weren’t holy enough: “If you were arrested for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?” was one of those Christian-school chapel messages thrown at kids sitting in alphabetical order to make them feel the need to Come Forward. (Bonus, if you come forward, you miss half the next class and maybe you can get out of the pop quiz because you were busy rededicating your life.) Rapture Fiction was already going strong in the 1970s (the time about which I am most familiar in the Cold War paranoia, because after that I was grown up and worried about other things like lesson plans and taxes and scaring kids about the Coming Russian Invasion–it was way easier being on the Scaring End of that than on the Scared End, and I apologize to the 5th Graders of 1981 and 1982 a whole whole lot, and not just for this.), and a lot of it was based on the idea that The Tribulation prophesied in Revelation and setting us all into a frenzy of fear was Exactly Equal to what Russian Christians were already suffering at that moment and had been since 1917 and even before that, because life under the Tsars was no picnic, amirite? Anyway, don’t get me started on what American Christians think equals “persecution” (being laughed at for doing something stupid comes to mind). Plus that general fear that gripped you when you got home and no one was there and you knew for doggone sure you had been (cue scary Larry Norman music) Left Behind.

Bobby Fischer (Tobey Maguire) goes to Reykjavik (spelled it right the first time, woot!) to challenge World Champion Boris Spassky, who is played almost entirely mutely by the great Liev Schreiber. I’m game for watching Liev Schreiber play all sorts of characters without speaking, now that I’ve seen him do so with such expertise here. Henry Kissinger has more words in his movie than Liev Schreiber.

Hey, did you know that Dr. Kissinger is still alive? Dude is 92 years old, has been married to his wife since 1974 (that is, since I was terrified that the Russians were about to Take Away the BIBLE, so we’d better have most of it memorized, hurry up very very quickly; does anyone know any passages from Obadiah?), has a bronze star and a Nobel Peace Prize and runs Kissinger Associates? Nice work for a sometime anti-Christ, if you can get it.

Fischer doesn’t want to play Kill The King unless conditions are just right. That gets worked out. Lots of suspenseful chess ensues, including shocking moves that stun the audience. I love the level of intellect that realizes, “OH NO! He moved his rook! In 14 moves, it’ll all be over!” Mostly, because when I play chess, I can see roughly one move ahead, possibly two, if I’ve had a lot of caffeine and am not worried about imminent Russian advances or terrifying secretaries of state who Weren’t Born In The United States (I’m not kidding, Dr. Kissinger had us shaking in our clogs and striped bell-bottoms with rope-and-bead belts. Because United States citizens who have risen to Cabinet posts AND ARE JEWS are always wannabe beasts or false prophets.).

We win. Duh, it’s the Cold War. We were always going to win. Because Dollars. And they were Starving to Death and trying to recover from Stalin at the same time, while trying to cosmonaut it up at our Neil-and-Buzz level, Good Luck with that one, Russkies! Which is not to say we shouldn’t have been afraid. At any moment some shoe-banging Soviet Dictator could have decided not to turn his missile-carrying boats around. Or any number of other disasters could have overtaken us. But it’s easy, now that we’re on the other side of that, to make snide comments. Unless you want to start talking about How Scary China Is. Which I don’t want to do. Because no.

The movie is definitely worth seeing. You understand the title refers to Mr. Fischer, right? Never mind his mental clarity or need for psychiatric care–we’ve got to Get Ahead of The Bad Guys. What nonsense are we doing like this now in whatever quest we’re currently on? Let the kid play chess. There’s no need to make a federal (or international) case out of it. Of course there’s some footage of Real Bobby Cracking Up In Public at the end. I’m not sure that was called for, but whatever. I’ve cracked up in public myself. Happily, before cell phones. Once, memorably, at a bowling alley, but that is a story for another time.


In my capacity as a member of the Board of Directors at BJUnity*, I have occasion to think about how Christians interact with (or fail to interact with) their gay friends, co-workers, and children. I’ll admit my thoughts are rudimentary, but perhaps they might be, for all their simplicity, helpful to Christians who learn that someone in their circle of influence in gay. Particularly, if the person is one of their own children.

Thought #1: Take the Anderson Cooper Test

If you had a chance to meet Anderson Cooper, would you say, “Ewwwww, no, how gross! He is so gay!”? No, you would not. If you had a chance to have dinner with Mr. Cooper, you would be as gracious as possible, and your conversation would be as witty and as sophisticated and as focused as you could possibly muster, given that your heart would be racing with absurd levels of star-struckedness.

Treat your gay kid with at least this much grace. He or she came out of your body and loves you. Anderson Cooper is thinking, “How long do I have to stay here with this person just because they won the CNN caption contest?”

Thought #2: Take the Sally Ride Test

When thinking about great Americans, do you leave out Sally Ride and say, “Oh yeah, she was America’s first female astronaut, but we’re not talking about her because she was a freaking Lesbian”? No, you do not. You put up her poster and talk about her as a great American woman who blasted through the glass ceiling of NASA like it was nothing but space. You discuss her PhD in physics, her work on the Challenger commission, her space missions. You don’t throw her contributions out because she had a 27-year-long partnership with another woman.

Treat your gay kid with at least this much respect. He or she wants your love and longs for your acceptance. Would you have shaken hands with Tam O’Shaughnessy, Ride’s partner? Shake hands with your own kid’s partner.

Thought #3: Take the Neil Patrick Harris Test

If you could be on NPH’s new show, Best Time Ever, would you? Or would you say, “No way, never. It creeps me out even to think of being near a man who is married to another man. I would throw up. I can’t get out of my mind the images of what they are doing to each other”? No, you would go on the show. You would have fun. You would laugh.

Allow your gay child at least this much access to you: to have fun and enjoy family moments as you would have fun and talk about (forever, and you know it) how much fun you had on NPH’s show, were you ever fortunate enough to get on.

And, of course, I’ve saved the best for last.

Thought #4: Take the George Takei Test

If you could meet Mr. Sulu. I repeat: If you could meet Mr. Sulu, would you, dear Christian trekkie, say to him what Christian parents say to their children, “I will never speak to you again! You’re not welcome in this house! You’re going to hell and God can’t save you. Your grandmother will die in shame because of you. I hope God brings you to your knees in disaster. You can’t see your siblings ever again!”?

You would not. You love George Takei and you want him to love you. You would speak kindly. You would recount your happy memories of a certain fencing incident. You would assure him he was and always will be far better than John Cho could ever hope to be (even though you are highly appreciative of Mr. Cho’s performance, darn that pesky external inertial dampener). You would shake Mr. Takei’s hand and you would shake Brad’s hand, too, were it offered to you. You wouldn’t say anything that remotely referenced their intimate relationship or what you might think it entailed.

In short, you would be an adult.

Granted, these things are more difficult with your own child. You never had hopes and dreams for Neil Patrick Harris. You did not imagine specifics of Sally Ride’s wedding. You never worried that your own parents might think ill of George Takei’s marriage choices. But you are still an adult, and you are still a Christian, and you can exercise prudence, compassion, and kindness.

You can keep communications open.
You can express love without prefacing and couching and following-up with “you know where we stand.”
You can shake hands, chat about the weather, exchange holiday and birthday gifts, inquire as to your child’s and your child’s partner’s/spouse’s health and job.
You can congratulate people on promotions, raises, graduations, new babies, and marriages.
You can be there.
You can stand between them and those who would be cruel.

No one is saying these things would be easy, only that they ought to be done.

They don’t have to be done perfectly. After all, people will crawl all up your business if you’re kind to your gay child and his/her/their partner/spouse. People will shame you and say you are “condoning sin” if you don’t cast stones and hurl aspersion. You may be shunned. You may be talked about. They might say you have walked away from the faith, that you can’t be saved, that God can’t love you if you love your gay child, that you never really were saved at all if you could do such a thing as be kind, compassionate, and accepting of your own child who has come out to you.

This is your son. This is your daughter.

Treat this person who aches for your love at least as well as you would treat a random gay celebrity who, if you ever did meet them, would forget about you before you had left the room.

*BJUnity is a group of LBGT and straight allies affiliated in some way with Bob Jones University. I am a 1981 graduate of BJU, a former staff member, and author of 11 books published by BJU Press, 3 of which are still in print. You can reach BJUnity at