The Acceptable Overdose

Most folks, regardless of religion, don’t encourage binge-drinking on a regular basis. Most of us tend to look askance when a friend habitually runs up credit bills. Overdosing on any substance, illegal or otherwise, is usually cause for serious concern.
Yet, regular binge-watching has become a perfectly acceptable way to pass the time, in Christendom and beyond. In fact, any stigma or shame around the word “binge” has seemingly dissolved to the great delight of Netflix, Hulu, and other streaming services to which we subscribe.
Zombie-like he stares at the screen
OH SNAP. NO SHE DI-INT. Ol’ prudeyface Kendra just yanked the plug on the joy cord.

Hah. Oh, dear friend. If only that were true.

If anything, this is a missive to myself on my own habits, an examination of my own penchant for blazing through the latest program on my queue like it’s my full-time job with bennies. I love me a good drama (“Six Feet Under,” “The Wire,” and “13 Reasons Why”), and have been known to drop out of life for the sake of a compelling documentary, e.g. “Making a Murderer.” My attention rapt, I go to sleep hypothesizing about what will happen next and wake up having dreamt about D’Angelo Barksdale and Hannah Baker. But it’s all well and removed from my life and no one gets hurt, right?
Family watching TV on their boat - Fort Lauderdale

The danger of writing about a seemingly innocuous habit, e.g. binge-watching all 7 seasons of “Parks and Rec,” is sounding overly pious and adding more killjoy rhetoric to an already heaping pile of legalism. So few of us respond well to rules for the sake of rules. Change that is sustainable begins in the heart. And as far as binge-watching, my heart is good, right? Who’s saying anything about change? You’re the one titling this post, Kendra. Maybe we don’t agree on the definition of overdose. After all, even Christian publications endorse binge-watching. CT Women recently featured the interview with Andy Couch, “How to Binge-Watch like a Believer.” However, the piece was technology-focused and did not address actual binge-watching. Even Relevant Magazine endorses binge-watching for believers.

And this, I think, is the problem. We have bandied around the term “binge” so freely in recent years that it has lost some of its potency. For example, I expect most of us would be troubled if a friend mentioned that she spent all weekend watching porn. I mean, all weekend. Like, barely slept. Concern for her would abound, surely. But it’s all good in the ‘hood if she spent all weekend watching “Parks and Rec.”

‘What’s happened to the man I married?’

So what you’re saying, Kendra, is that Hard-Core Porn and hard-core watching Amy Poehler are the same thing.

Well, are they?

I heard writer David Dark speak at the Festival of Faith and Writing a couple years ago. Dark, whose writing I admire, said his “guilty pleasure was binge-watching” certain shows. We could unpack what it is to have something that is both pleasurable and guilt-inducing but Dark had done his own unpacking of this paradox. He observed that in his own life, this meant that he was drawn to particular story lines. For example, he wondered aloud, “Is there some unacknowledged despair in my own life that is better articulated in ‘Breaking Bad’?”

That resonated with me. A season of NBC’s “Parenthood,” for example, had once felt eerily pulled from my life’s narrative. It was a balm to watch the show, to see a clean resolution in their stories in contrast to the raggedy edges of my own life.

Dark’s identifying of being drawn to story lines was a great point to begin my own self-examination. What I took from Dark was that we should not deny the inner situation that draws us to certain stories. Whether it’s resonance or total escape from our reality, we should not be afraid to examine the reason for our intake of stories. Because that is, after all, what binge-watching is all about: stories. Whether fact or fiction, whether in short spurts or long-binges, we should not fear walking past a mirror on our lives.

This was incredibly freeing. Especially because we know addictions are often rooted in shame. What good can come of more shame?

I believe Proverbs 4 is not meant to shame us, but to call us to this very kind of freedom. We are exhorted to guard our hearts. Above all else. Above our time, above our physical health, above our money. Maybe this is because, as the verse continues, “everything you do flows from it.” Everything you do is a heart matter. So guard your heart. To me, this is a better petri dish for examining how we spend our time, and how we populate our Netflix queues.

The question is not, how many episodes of “When Calls the Heart” have you watched this week, but how is the calling on your own heart?

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On being a grumpy protester in the Easter pageant

My pastor has asked me to lead a scene in our Easter pageant and I am grumpy about it. It’s not that I don’t like Easter pageants or directing. I’m just ill-equipped to direct this one. Work is kicking my tail, my husband has been traveling, and my kitchen is a revolving door of kindergarten shoebox dioramas. I am exhaustion covered in glitter glue.

The pastor has recruited dozens of people to take part in a silent motion stage performance of modern day resurrection scenes. The enthusiasm surrounding this Easter pageant is infectious and the opening scenes are always very powerful. But when I get an e-mail with our rehearsal schedule, I just want to drop out. I want to stay home and watch “The Great British Baking Show” on Netflix, even though I know how every season ends.

Alas, my kids are gunning hard to be in the pageant this year. Every other year I demurred thinking the day would be too long for them. My son has campaigned very hard for the last month to play the part of “Bearded Guy.” He settles for a Syrian refugee boy, but continues to ask when he is going to get to wear the beard every 4 minutes. My husband can only make part of the rehearsals due to his work schedule. This does not help my grumpiness. Nothing can help it.
Not even our pastor who is is all of a twitter about this Easter pageant.

The pastor and his family are the saltiest salt of the earth and I will follow them to the ends of the earth. But this play rehearsal, y’all. It is feeling a little extra. When we arrive at rehearsal, the pastor sells the idea of each scene to us. He is especially excited about scenes reminiscent of the recently released “Hacksaw Ridge,” the trailer from which he pulled the music for the opening.

We divide into groups and try to figure out how to portray the action. We’ve been given a skeletal script, basic notions of what we’re trying to represent. I know a few of the other actors in my scene, but I’m not entirely sure what we are supposed to accomplish and how this is supposed to play out in the seconds we’re given. The basic plot is that we are a bunch of political protesters holding signs with pithy political messages. We square off in two formations, showing angry, violent opposition to the other formation of political protesters.

Some of the actors have a vision of how we can assemble and I defer to them. Others don’t know where to enter; others are concerned that they won’t be seen. My son keeps wandering out of his scene to tug my shirt and ask me when he’s going to get his beard. For three nights in a row, I am somewhere between Syria and Washington DC, surrounded by soldiers being lowered down Hacksaw Ridge on Okinawa. None of this makes sense–especially our political scene which ends when two angels appear. Enter: cherubs. Then, the protesters throw down our political signs, hoist a huge American flag, and hug one another. Two teenage girls even snap a selfie, political opponents no more! I glance at the other scenes and I can recognize the true beauty that rises from the ashes of refugee camps and tragic school bus crashes and wartime heroics. But our scene just feels hokey.

At the end of practice, I make sure the American flag we use as a prop isn’t left on the ground. I drape the flag over a church pew. As I arrive at rehearsal each successive night, the flag has been folded neatly and lovingly into a triangular formation. It becomes my obsession, keeping the flag lifted and not falling on the stage where it can be trampled.

As the final rehearsal finishes, I am proud of my little group of protesters. We have worked hard to get our scene right. As the angels emerge from out of the darkness, we’re all in position and the flag is where it needs to be. The “Hacksaw Ridge” trailer music queues like nightmare on loop. I don’t know how we are going to do this for 13 consecutive performances. I text our pastor and his wife. “When do we get to debrief about this?” The pastor replies that the best part of this is not the performance but the chance to build community. I feel bad for being one more grumpy church lady he has to deal with.

We are up at 6a the day of the pageant for makeup. My hubby and kids are sponged and dusted with cocoa powder and make for convincing refugees. My pack of protesters are outfitted in our best patriotic garb: tattoos, bandanas, red trucker hats that say “Make America Great Again.” In between scenes, I get to know the protesters who are students of nursing and psychology; single mothers and new drivers; socially liberal singers; former members of the police reserves who just like to carry guns.

I am barely awake for the first few performances but by 11a.m., the church is packed to standing room only. Cheers cry out for Desmond Doss as he climbs Hacksaw Ridge to save “just one more,” and it all comes crashing down on me and the tears come and they just keep coming. The flag that we raise and the ladder that the soldier climbs are not mutually exclusive as symbols go. In fact, they are the same. This is not mixing religion and politics–trust.


Christ came to save us all: the tattooed and the trucker hatted; the schoolbus driver and the new teen driver; the gun-toting soldier and the refugee. He would not let one fall to the ground without regarding it as precious. Not a sparrow falls without his notice. In the same vein, this flag that we revere, the one we cannot let fall to the ground, is one for which blood was shed so that all could enjoy freedom. What could be freer than love? Freedom and love are regularly compromised and trampled on the battlefield for our hearts, but the war has already been won by the One.

We throw down our signs as we throw down our crowns. And his name shall be Emmanuel, God with us.

photos by Andy Nash.

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