On Footloose, Beaches and a Theology of Vacations

The family vacation has come under attack. When you speak of something as devastatingly selfish as a family vacation, you should be prepared to defend yourself from at least two different points of attack. It goes a little something like this.

The Financial Guru Follower:

“Oh, you’re going on vacation? (This is always said with a very concerned look. You know, the look your 5th grade Sunday School teacher gives you when she finds out you stayed up all last night watching wrestling. I call it the Bless Your Heart Look. It’s her way of saying that she thinks you’re an idiot.) We’ve decided to skip our family vacations until our mortgage is paid off, we have at least 6 years of salary set aside and we are able to help pay off some of the federal government’s debt. But I sure hope you have fun.” (This wishing us fun is closely related to the “We wish him the best” phrase NFL owners use when they fire a head coach for going 3-13 for 3 years straight and a distant cousin of the “I don’t think it’s God’s will” phrase college kids use when they break up with each other.)

Keith Green’s Little Brother[1]:

“Oh, you’re going on vacation? So what will you be doing, feeding homeless kids in Atlanta? Helping Sudanese refugees develop basic job skills? Oh, body boarding? I wish you the best but I don’t think that this is God’s will (grabs smart phone and iPad[2] and leaves, outraged at your materialism).

Certainly both of these groups have legitimate points that we should pay attention to. If you’re funding your vacation on your credit card and hoping that Jesus comes back before the bill is due, you should get things in order before rolling out to the beach. If you are living your life for the next getaway while neglecting the needs of the poor and hurting, you should repent. But we go too far when we delay any shred of present day joy or relaxation in hopes of saving up for some time down the road when every minute detail is in order and the world can manage without us. How sure are you that that day will even come (Ecclesiastes 3:9-15)?

As a pastor, planning family vacations can be even more difficult.

“You only work one day a week. Why do you need a vacation?”

“Man, what are we paying you? I wish I could afford a vacation?”

“I had to have some surgery[3] while you were away on vacation last week (said with Bless Your Heart Look).”

It’s important for pastors to show their wife and kids that they come before the church. A family vacation isn’t enough to show this but it certainly helps. The cold hard truth is this. You can pile up all the 70-hour work weeks you want but there will still be people in your church who think you’re not working hard enough. When pastors sacrifice their families in order to please their congregation they usually end up with broken families, spoiled congregations, poor health and a strained relationship with Jesus. If you really care about your congregation, get your family together and get away from them for a few weeks out of the year. It will refresh your family and it will remind your congregation that one way or another, at some point in time, you wont be their pastor anymore.

And last week that’s just what the Sanders family did in St. Augustine, Florida. As I’ve said before, St. Augustine dominates Panama City, the beach of choice for most people from my neck of the woods. Here are a few reasons why.

1. Waves

There are no waves in the gulf. In the Atlantic I was able to teach my son how to boogie board. It’s always fun teaching your kid how to do something that you don’t know how to do. This was a memorable moment that wouldn’t have happened in the gulf.

2. No Cowboy Hats on the Beach

I can’t find it but I know it’s there. There’s got to be an article in the Constitution of the United States that prohibits people who are not from Texas from wearing cowboy hats on the beach. Why is it necessary to do this? Again, if you’re from Texas, I get it but it just doesn’t work for anyone else. I blame Kenny Chesney. Thanks for nothing, Kenny.

3. History

St. Augustine is America’s first city. It’s origins date back to the 1500s. There’s a huge fort there that’s been around since the 1600s and is made out of some weird mixture of sand and seashells. There’s more to St. Augustine than just a bunch of sky rise hotels and shrimp restaurants. People actually live there and have done so for hundreds of years.

If you were to take a guided tour of the city of St. Augustine you’d learn about the layout of the city, famous battles and architectural influences.

If you were to take a guided tour of Panama City, this is what you would hear.

“See that right there? That’s where my deadee (father) bought my mama her first airbrush t-shirt. It said ‘Donnie ~n~ Lillian 4-ever’.

“Oh, and over there’s where I saw one of the girls from Teen Mom. She was checking me out.”

4. Signs

The signs on the beach in Panama City say, “Protected Area. Please keep out of dunes.”

The signs on the beach in St. Augustine say, “Please keep out. There are poisonous snakes in the sand dunes.”

This is the more efficient use of signage. See for yourself in the following example.

Example A: “Caution, Wet Floor”

Example B: “Caution, Wet Floor and there’s a rattlesnake over in the corner.”

Which sign are you more likely to obey?

5. Footloose

This movie edges out Point Break for the best worst movie of all-time and John Lithgow is the reason why. He plays the fightin’ fundie, small town, Midwestern pastor whose two favorite things to do are banning (in this case dancing) and burning (in this case books but I’m sure there were a few Led Zeppelin albums thrown in the fire with all of those copies of Slaughterhouse Five).

It’s been said before that the old school fundamentalists never had any fun, focused too much on the damn and not enough on the mental. Lithgow was able to channel that for this role and he hit the ball out of the park. Other than Robert Duval’s role in the Apostle, this is the finest job in the history of movies that any actor has ever done in playing a pastor[4]. I’m pretty sure that there are still a few seminaries around that tell students, “Look, when in doubt, do what the preacher in Footloose did.”

You can bet that when Hollywood remakes this movie, Shia LaBeouf will play Kevin Bacon’s old part since for some reason he gets to be the star in every movie we all wanted to be in as kids (Transformers, Indiana Jones etc…). Also, if Lil’ Wayne isn’t in the remake I’ll be conducting a DVD burning of this movie in my church parking lot. Maybe he could be the pastor.


[1] For the record, I’m a huge fan of Keith Green, just not of the guy who tries to be Keith Green by making you feel guilty for owning a car and not having 20 homeless people living in your basement. Hence the term Keith Green’s Little Brother

[2] Also a fan of smart phones and iPads.

[3] Root Canal

[4] Apologies to whatever preachers may have appeared in those Facing the Firefighter movies they show at churches.