Juvenon or Jesus?

Sermon Preached on the Feast of Ignatius (Bishop of Antioch, and Martyr, c.115) at The Chapel of St. John the Divine, Seabury-Western Theological Seminary, October 17, 2005.

"JUVENON: The Supplement That Can Slow Down the Clock on Aging Cells. For more information, call 1-800-JUVENON."1 That number again is 1-800-j-u-v-e-n-o-n.

This ad appears in this week’s issue of Time in the middle of a short piece from Dr. Andrew Weil’s latest book, Healthy Aging in which he criticizes the growing field of anti-aging medicine for its role in helping us turn a blind eye to the reality of death. Dr. Weil suggests:

"accept the inevitability of aging, understand[] its challenges and promises, and know[] how to keep minds and bodies as healthy as possible while moving through life’s successive stages."2

He then goes on to provide a number of proven techniques: don’t smoke, watch your weight (better yet, follow Dr. Weil’s Wellness Diet), take a multivitamin and multimineral supplement (you can buy one formulated for your specific needs from Dr. Weil’s website), get regular exercise, adequate rest, mitigate stress, and exchange nurturing touch.3 You can read more about these techniques in Dr. Weil’s new book. A book which, as of yesterday, ranked 39th in sales at Amazon and it won’t even be released until tomorrow.4

The market for anti-aging products – and, I would include Dr. Weil’s books, DVDs, and nutritional supplements in this market despite his own criticism of the field – that market for anti-aging products just five years ago was $30 billion. In 2003, this rose to $65.2 billion5 and today includes money spent on live-cell therapies, caloric restriction, and hormone therapies all promising to reverse the normal process of aging.6 Although the technology is new, the concept is not. Men and women have been dying their gray hair for quite some time – mine is highlighted, not dyed - thank you very much! – and buying skin lotions and eye creams that cause wrinkles to magically vanish overnight! Who are these people? According to a Wall Street Journal article that appeared last month, anti-aging treatments are sought mostly among men and women in their 30s and 40s.7

Flashback 19 centuries. . . .

Bishop Ignatius was also interested in physicality. While en route to his trial in Rome, he wrote letters to several Christian churches including those in Ephesus, Smyrna, and Rome. In these letters he warns the churches about the dangers of docetism – a problem in his own community of Antioch. For Ignatius, to deny Jesus’ humanity – his “fleshiness” –is tantamount to removing him from history. And, removing Jesus from history leads ultimately to the removal of humanity from salvation. Jesus’ death on the cross had to be physical – not merely spiritual - in order for it to be effective. It is not surprising then that as Ignatius marched from Antioch to Rome, marched to his own martyrdom, that he would ask the churches not to intervene on his behalf. A death as violent and as physical as that experienced by Jesus was, for Ignatius, a noble death.8

Early 21st century – anti-aging medicine; early 2nd century – noble martyrdom. What has happened? Today, many of us carefully create our own image of life, and even more carefully avoid any image of death, any image that reminds us of our humanness – of our physical nature. I am not suggesting that we should be seeking opportunities for martyrdom – though in our current political climate this may become as inevitable for some of us as it was for Ignatius; but rather, I am suggesting that we reexamine our own understanding of what it means to be human, to be created in the image of God, to be gifted with a physical body, and to imagine growing older. Anne Lamott may help us here. In her latest book, Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith, she makes the bold decision that her body – even the jiggly parts of her legs which she kindly names “The Aunties” – her body deserves to soak up the sun just like everybody else’s.9

This is not about self-acceptance; rather, it is about acceptance of others and acceptance of God. Anything less is a betrayal – a betrayal of our Lord.

We have a choice:
JUVENON: The Supplement That Can Slow Down the Clock on Aging Cells;
THE GOOD NEWS: “Neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation” – nor our own self-loathing attempts to deny our creaturehood “will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
The fine print: “The statements made here have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The product featured is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.” But, it does come with a 100% Satisfaction Guarantee!

1 Advertisement appearing in Time, Vol. 166(16), p.68.
2 Andrew Weil, "Aging Naturally," Time, Vol. 166(16), p.62.
3 Ibid., p.64-9.
4 As of the date of this posting (10/21/05), the book has risen to #7 in sales.
5 According to this website, the figures I provided were inflated. Another suggests my estimate was too low. In any event, the number is really, really big!
6 Weil, p. 62.
7 Rhonda L. Rundle, "Wrinkle Treatments Don't Age Well," Wall Street Journal, September 27, 2005, p. D-6.
8 Sources include: John Anthony McGuckin, The Westminster Handbook to Patristic Theology, (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004), entries at "Ignatius of Antioch", "Docetism", "Antioch".
9 Anne Lamott, "Cruise Ship," Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith, (New York: Riverhead, 2005), pp. 279-98.