“Christian” movies like Fireproof and Faith Like Potatoes bother me. They could, debatably, be considered Christian propaganda.

I recognize that the movies have had a positive impact on the faiths of many individuals. But did they receive the right positive impact? I would argue they didn’t.

The general plot of each movie is simple. First, a man’s life is horrible (anger problems, a dying relationship with his wife, dying relationships with others). Second, the man accepts Christ into his life. Third, his anger problems and life disappointments disappear after his conversion, and his actions seem to instantly transform into the right ones. Though I feel strongly about my negative opinion of the films, I don’t believe my plot simulation is exaggerated.

The movies portray Christianity as a fix to life’s problems. So do many mainstream churches. Sure, a sincere conversion to Christianity should result in a changed perception of life– in turn leading to the changed behavior of the new Christian. But painting Christianity as a fix is ridiculous since mere conversion doesn’t rid someone of their anger problems and life disappointments.

In Faith Like Potatoes, a man’s farm produces an extraordinary harvest of potatoes after a severe drought– a result of his faith. In Facing the Giants, a man’s football team begins winning games even though they’re not very good– again, a result of his faith. In Fireproof, a man’s anger problems and addiction to pornography cease to save his marriage– a result of his conversion. Though such things are completely possible and it would we foolish to put a logical limit on the power of God, is it acceptable for Christians to portray the faith in such a “look at what you could have” fashion?

Accepting Christianity isn’t about an inwardly-focused desire for what you could have. It’s about the discovery of truth. Truth is what changes one’s perception of life, and has the ultimate power to drive one’s behavior. Truth does not immediately change habits or cure diseases. Truth cannot save a marriage or even grow potatoes. It merely defines with authority the lens we view life through– making it one of the toughest things humans wrestle with in the coarse of their life (next to, I believe, love…a painful, beautiful experience).

Two of the three movies I mentioned left me with a message that wasn’t centered around the realization of truth, but rather the impression that Christianity improves your life. That’s not what it’s about. In fact, that’s not what the Bible communicates– when it comes down to it, adopting Christianity is the revelation of a beautiful truth and love, but also a declaration to live a tough life. Doesn’t sound like a fix to me, no matter what Osteen says.

Not only is the “Christian fix” unrealistic– it’s harmful to the perceptions of non-Christians. If non-Christians come to view Christianity as a fix-all, they’ll logically have a huge problem with Christians who still exhibit imperfect behavior. Despite being inevitable, the hypocrisy of Christians is already a major deterrent to those on the outside looking in. Many non-Christians already have a flawed perception of Christianity, and the fix-all message from popular Christian movies is not improving that at all.

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West Texas is quite bizarre.

An eclectic blend of sprawling cattle ranches, quirky railroad towns, and wide-open desert, Texas west of the Pecos River is starkly different than every other part of the state.

Particularly bizarre is Loving County, Texas– the least populated county in the entire United States. Loving County is home to roughly 70 people (rounded up from the official 2000 figure of 67), 15 of which populate the county seat of Mentone. There aren’t many people there. Imagining a small community of people living in the blazing Chihuahuan Desert is pretty easy. Imagining the practicalities of running a county here– government, public works, a school system– is a little mind-boggling.

As you may have hypothesized, normal aspects of civilized, American life like buying groceries and, well, taking a hot shower are very different in Loving County. This blog, unfortunately, is mostly reporting facts– but honestly, I find the facts interesting enough to allow them to speak for themselves. Here are some “Lovely” facts about the desolate community:

  • In 1930 the population of Loving County was a bustling 600. In 1950, the number had dwindled to 225. In 1970 the population had fallen to 73, all Caucasian. After a brief peak in 1980 to 100 residents, the number has dropped steadily.
  • The county closed its school system in 1972, when just two students were enrolled. Students were transferred to Winkler County’s school system, a short 35-mile drive away.
  • A survey of the 1980 population discovered that only four county residents were college graduates.
  • In the summer of 1988 Loving County piped drinking water to a 500-gallon tank in Mentone for use by residents– the first time drinkable water was actually piped in.
  • Also in 1988, petroleum gave the small population of Loving County the highest per-capita income of all US counties– $34,173. Not bad for a county whose county seat was abandoned twice.
  • The county seat, Mentone, used to boast a whopping five cafes and five gas stations in its heyday. The small community now comprises of a courthouse, two stop signs, a gas station, a post office, and a cafe. Oh, and that 500-gallon water tank.

Having grown up in a large city, it’s fascinating for me to imagine a county in which sherrifs only thirty years ago didn’t carry a gun since they knew everyone in the county. Also, Loving County doesn’t have a grocery store. Or a medical facility. Or a bank. Or a library. Of course, 75 percent of the world doesn’t have these amenities. But Loving County is in Texas, just six hours from Austin– which changes my perception.

With so many people migrating to urban areas to live and work, you have to wonder what will become of Loving County in the next 50 years. Keep in mind Mentone was abandoned twice in the 1900s. If the oil the county is floating on runs dry, it could happen again. But what would the state do if people abandoned the place, or if it was no longer capable of producing a county-level government? Would they de-activate Loving County and divide its land to the adjacent Reeves County or Winkler County? Counties just don’t lose their people every day. Perhaps Loving County should be put on the “endangered species” list.

I’d like to take a road trip through West Texas soon and visit such bizarre attractions as the Marfa Lights (http://www.absoluteastronomy.com/topics/Marfa_lights), Wink Sinks (http://ceed.utpb.edu/the-wink-sinks-project/about-the-wink-sinks/), and the incredibly tiny town of Mentone (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mentone,_Texas).

It’s frightening how many Americans are completely disengaged from the food they eat. Not only are most uneducated about the details of what actually goes into their food, but most just don’t care—and eat crap throughout their day without even thinking about what they’re ingesting.

But can you blame them? Not exactly. Our environment tends to shape our perspective on food. In fact, I believe it’s fair to say Americans’ eating habits result from what they see around them—and largely from what’s convenient. In offices and schools, it’s vending machines. In airports, malls, or on the highway, it’s eateries like Subway, McDonald’s, and Burger King. At entertainment venues, it’s popcorn and cotton candy. These food sources are rooted into our thinking because they’re often times all that’s available. They’re convenient. And when something’s convenient, it doesn’t warrant any further exploration of options.

For example, I went through the security checkpoint at Chattanooga’s six-gate airport this afternoon to discover limited food options for departing passengers. The airport offered just one eatery, offering pre-made sandwiches wrapped in Saran-wrap—chalk-full of preservatives listed on a white sticker that circumferenced the entire thing. Their “healthy” eating options included trail mix (mostly candy-coated M&M’s), chocolate banana bread (also laced with preservatives), and non-organic apples (also wrapped in Saran-wrap, indicating they’ve been there for a long time). Supplementing the eatery were three vending machines, sporting Coca-Cola beverages. Nearly every one listed “water” and “high fructose corn syrup” as their top two ingredients.

The limited availability of healthy eating options is not limited to Chattanooga’s small airport. It’s nearly everywhere. Our society is becoming increasingly aware of the unhealthy affects of our typical diets—processed snacks, synthetic ingredients, and an astounding lack of natural nutrients—but has yet to, on the whole, care about doing anything about it. All-natural ingredients are seldom found in chain restaurants, the majority of our produce is still covered with pesticides, and organic food is just too expensive. Consider the amount of oil used to produce an ounce of beef and you’ll realize our food system is undeniably hurting our society.

The system can be fixed—but only if people start to care about it enough to change their habits. In a country where all changes come down to dollars and cents, if enough people start making more mindful decisions about what they eat and where they get it from, food manufacturers will be forced to change their ways. But what does this look like? Local advocacy? Awareness campaigns? What does a system change actually require?

The truth is, food is a different breed of an issue than oil, electricity, or other public services. We need it to survive, and we’ve needed it since the world was created. We’re depriving ourselves of proper nutrition because we’ve bought into the convenience wealthy companies have provided. We’re too comfortable to think of what we could have. It’s time we educate society and help Americans remember tomatoes actually grow in the ground.

Standing atop a parking garage in downtown Chattanooga, Tennessee today, I had the privilege of joining a discussion with locals about the proposed re-vitalization of Chattanooga’s central business district.

The group was brainstorming ideas of how to draw more people to downtown Chattanooga. The potential remedies? Unique local shopping, a corporate magnet like Target or Whole Foods, a theater district, a museum. Beneath these solutions, however, lies a make-or-break practicality: parking. In a society that on the whole depends on the automobile as its sole means of transportation, could the convenience or inconvenience of parking influence one’s decision to travel downtown?

I’d say yes, it does– and I say this primarily because of my extensive suburban exposure. I’ve never lived in a location I could consider to be “downtown,” and live in a city (Austin, Texas) that does not have, in my opinion, a convenient or adequate mass transit system. Traveling downtown for me is complicated. Parking spots are usually hard to come by, unless I choose to park in a garage, which can cost over $10. Nearly every street is lined with parking meters, and I (like most people my age) rarely carry enough change to afford over half an hour at a meter. While I’m willing to make this work and pay the price to be downtown, I’m fairly confident a portion of the suburban dwellers being lured to downtown by whatever means may not believe these inconveniences are worth the effort.

That’s why I believe parking– affordable, convenient parking– is a priority in urban redevelopment. It’s important to ensure visitors from all walks of life will be comfortable with a convenient parking solution that won’t “scare them away” from downtown.

I had a meeting with my fellow Student Government Executive Board members a few days ago, discussing how we could better communicate with students– that is, getting information to students and gathering accurate feedback. I asked the following question as I approached the whiteboard to write down potential answers: “how can we better engage with students and work more collaboratively?”

The first two proposed remedies caught me by surprise: drop-boxes and bulletin board flyers. In an age of rapidly-evolving mobile technology and social media, traditional bulletin board advertising and paper-and-pen messaging often goes unnoticed by those who’ve adopted technology as a standard for interaction. The fact the two organic remedies were mentioned didn’t surprise me the most– it was the overwhelming support of the ideas that really floored me.

The beauty of social media? It’s versatile. Not only can social media connect old and new friends– it can serve as a connecting medium between customers and business, and in this case, university students and administration. Instead of drop-boxes, why not implement a Twitter feedback system where students can text “@studentgovernment” with their opinions about campus issues? Instead of a weekly flyer with Student Government news, why not post weekly blog entires to update students, allowing them to comment with their feedback?

I believe the key for the Student Government here is to capitalize on what’s convenient to students. Hoping they’ll walk by a flyer is not efficient compared to a Twitter update that could travel directly to a student’s smart phone. Hoping they’ll take time to fill out a feedback questionnaire at a drop-box is inefficient considering the time they’d save by texting while eating or walking.

There will be no drop-boxes or bulletin board flyers on my college campus this fall– at least not for Student Government. Like many other college campuses and business, we’ll be testing a new medium of communication and measuring its success against its prehistoric predecessor: the drop-box.

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