Top Chef Masters: Judges React to Judgment

We are all allergic to judgment. It makes us angry, and it turns us against the people we perceive to be judgmental. The last two weeks of Top Chef Masters are a perfect illustration of this. Two weeks ago, Suvir Saran (my until-recently favorite contestant) competed with his fellow chef-testants in a competition that challenged the chefs to turn the cravings of contestants on The Biggest Loser into healthy meals. For instance, one of the chefs had to find a healthy way to satisfy someone's craving for a chinese buffet.

Saran's "Biggest Loser" contestant's craving was a bacon cheeseburger. Instead of trying to satisfy her, Saran created a veggie patty in a pita pocket (which she, unsurprisingly, hated). And not only that, when he presented the dish, to the judges and to the room full of "Biggest Loser" contestants, he went on a rant against eating red meat. He felt his duty was to give her what was good for her, regardless of what she wanted. No surprise: Saran is a vegetarian. One of the judges, in criticizing Saran, went so far as to call his veggie patty "a lecture on a plate."

At the end of the evening, Suvir found himself eliminated from the competition.

Last week, George Mendes dared suggest that chefs of his caliber were too good to be running a lunch rush at a fast food restaurant (the challenge of the week). For his "holier than thou" attitude...he got himself sent home.

This spate of eliminations is a wonderful illustration of how distasteful we find those who are holier than we are. And, interestingly, it sheds light on an interesting fact: it doesn't matter whether or not it's true!

Mendes is quite right...he IS too good to be submitting his food to the lunch crush conditions of a fast food drive-through. Saran is right, too...America IS experiencing an obesity epidemic, attributable at least partially to our eating habits. Neither of these truths, however, made their critiques more palatable. (Get it? Palatable?) When we feel that we are being judged, or lectured, our reactions are severe. We run away from our restrictive parents and we eliminate uppity chef-testants.

Judgment and critique are hallmarks of what St. Paul calls "the Law." This Law, says Paul, brings only death. Certainly, Suvir Saran and George Mendes would attest to that.

Catch Love if You Can

Frank Abagnale, Jr. (a real person), is perhaps better known as "The Guy Leonardo DiCaprio Plays in Catch Me if You Can."  His 2000 autobiography is the inspiration for the movie, and his exploits in the book are, if anything, more audacious than those in the film.

For the uninitiated, Frank Abagnale was, according to his wikipedia page, the autobiography, and the film, a
"confidence trickster, check forger, impostor, and escape artist. He became notorious in the 1960s for passing $2.5 million worth of meticulously forged checks across 26 countries over the course of five years, beginning when he was 16 years old.  In the process, he claimed to have assumed no fewer than eight separate identities, impersonating an airline pilot, a doctor, a Bureau of Prisons agent, and a lawyer. He escaped from police custody twice (once from a taxiing airliner and once from a U.S. federal penitentiary), before he was 21 years old." 
One of the most audacious con-men (con-teenager?) in American history, Abagnale flew for free on over 250 PanAm flights, impersonating a deadheading pilot.  He forged a Columbia degree and taught sociology at BYU for a semester.  He pretended to be a pediatrician at a Georgia hospital for almost a year.  For another year, after forging a Harvard degree, he passed the Louisiana bar exam and worked in the Attorney General's office.  All before he turned 21.

For the purposes of this blog post, though, we're going to forget about the book for a moment, and, in fact, let's forget about the real guy altogether.  In the film, the event that is alleged to have started Abagnale on his life of crime is the divorce of his parents, brought about by his father's financial ruin in the face of an IRS investigation.  Abagnale believes that his mother leaves his father because of the family's financial woes, and that if their lifestyle can be restored, everything will be returned to normal.

Huey Lewis would have called this "The Power of Love."  He sang that "The power of love is a curious thing / Make a one man weep, make another man sing / Change a hawk to a little white dove / More than a feeling that's the power of love."  In the movie's view, rather than changing a hawk to a little white dove, the power of love goes the other way:  it changes a 16 year old Abagnale into one of the most wanted criminals in the world.

The lengths to which we will go for love are astounding.  Tragically, however, we feel like Frank Abagnale did:  we've got to earn it.  Abagnale thought of it in literal financial terms:  If he could "earn" (in his own way!) enough money to set the family's lifestyle right, love would return.  The IRS, in a sense, was holding love hostage.  Often, Christians think of God in this way:  Holding his love back until we earn it.  "God helps those who help themselves."  "Faith without works is dead."  I'll leave you with what are the most comfortable words in the Bible, words that Frank Abagnale probably could have stood to hear as a 16-year-old:

"You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.  Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die.  But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:6-8).

The Belle Brigade Tries to Check Out


This is The Belle Brigade performing their very catchy song "Losers." The first lines really caught me:
There will always be someone better than you. Even if you're the best. So let's stop the competition now. Or we will both be losers.  And I'm ashamed I ever tried to be higher than the rest.  But brother I am not alone. We've all tried to be on top of the world somehow,'cause we have all been losers.
It's also got a cool modern-Kingston-Trio vibe.  The song seems to be about the futility of attempting to live up to the inevitable comparisons and competitions of human life; the Law.  It's also a sad-but-true statement about the universality of human pain and struggle.  But, sadly and perhaps predictably, The Belle Brigade's solution left me a little cold:
So I wanna make it clear now.  I wanna make it known.  That I don't care about any of that [expletive] no more.  Don't care about being a winner.  Or being smooth with women.  Or going out on Fridays.  Being the life of parties.  No, no more, no.
So, the answer to the pressures of life is to...check out?  How exactly does one do that?  Is a Conan-sponsored declaration good enough?  I wish I could just declare myself immune from the Law's demand:  I will NOT feel that I have to be a better father than I am.  I will NOT let others' expectations rule (and subsequently destroy) my life.  I will NOT worry that I am about to be discovered as the fraud I fear I am.

Sadly, the Law's demands on us weigh heavily whether we accept them or not.  Whether we acknowledge them or not.  Whether we believe in them or not. I want to be a winner.  I want to be smooth with women.  I want to go out on Fridays.  I'm desperate to be the life of parties.

The Law is the terrible wind storm that threatens to blow our house down.  Throwing open the door and shouting, "You will NOT destroy my house!" is not a winning strategy.  Best to get a new house; ideally, one with many rooms (John 14:2).
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