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Archive for May, 2011

 “I am weary, God,  but I can prevail.Surely I am only a brute, not a man;    I do not have human understanding.  I have not learned wisdom,   nor have I attained to the knowledge of the Holy One. Who has gone up to heaven and come down? Whose hands have gathered up the wind? Who has wrapped up the waters in a cloak?   Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is his name, and what is the name of his son?  Surely you know (Proverbs 30:1-4)!”

The movie “Ensign Pulver” ran on Turner Classic Movies this Memorial Day weekend. It’s the sequel to the more acclaimed flick “Mister Roberts”.

The movie is much like the title character: it never gets the honor it probably deserves or its producers thought it did. While it is a funny, well-done story, you can find very little on it today.

Ensign Pulver sees himself as the lowest of the low. He is a low-ranking officer on what may be the worst ship in the U.S. Navy during World War II.

The “Reluctant” is a cargo ship stuck in some backwater in the Pacific, thousands of miles away from the action. What is worse, it is commanded by a tyrant, Captain Morton.

When the captain refuses to grant emergency leave to a sailor, Bruno,  whose child has died, Ensign Pulver decides to take matters into his own hands.  He seeks to get revenge on Captain Morton.

Ensign Pulver shoots Captain Morton in the behind with a slingshot during the showing of a movie to the crew. His projectile is a metal object full of tacks.

The crew is delighted, but doesn’t know who did the deed. It celebrates with a party and a vote is taken to identify who they think is the person they call “The Assassin”.

Ensign Pulver is an afterthought among the crews. He isn’t very respected, and he gets no votes.

When Pulver learns this, he kicks the crew out of the party headquarters, the laundry room of which he is in charge. He blasts them as he does so.

Doc, his mentor, fellow officer and friend, tells Ensign Pulver he has blown it. Having “saved” the crew with his prank, he has now damaged it severely in his anger.

Doc tells Pulver that when he performed his trick on the captain and raised the crew’s morale, he became responsible for them. Now, he has thrown it away.

In a hilarious twist, Pulver and Captain Morton are thrown overboard and end up in a life raft together. While there, the ensign takes notes on all the confessions of the captain which the man makes during his delirium.

Still, he feels some responsibility for the foolish captain. He tries to keep him from harm while they are afloat.

Eventually, Ensign Pulver and Captain Morton land on an island and are helped by natives. There they also discover a marooned pilot and two nurses whom Pulver had met previously.

When Captain Morton comes down with appendicitis, Pulver, who aspires to be a doctor like his friend Doc, decides to perform the surgery.

Now in radio contact with the “Reluctant”, Doc guides him through the surgery. It is a success, and the captain recovers.

 Back aboard ship, Pulver has a new sense of responsibility, both for Captain Morton and for the crew. He tears up his notebook from their time on the raft and gives it to the captain.

Ensign Pulver wants nothing from the captain, although the latter owes him his life. He just wants to help him.

In a final act of kindness for both the captain and the crew, Pulver convinces the captain to leave the ship. The captain is indebted to the crew for helping to save him, but he is unwilling to  change his ways. It is best for both that they part.

Ensign Pulver has changed  his, though. He repents of his anger toward the captain and takes responsibility for his relationship with the man and the men.

When the captain leaves the ship, he says, “Goodbye doctor.” Doc thinks he means him, and says, “Goodbye.”

Captain Morton says,”I didn’t mean you.” He points at Ensign Pulver and M says, “I meant him.” 

This is as much respect as Captain Morton can muster. For him, it is an avalanche.

Through his grace toward a man who he considered his enemy, Pulver has gained what he lacked before: respect. Ensign Pulver has ditched his pride and loved a man who was unloveable.

The character of Ensign Pulver in this flick reveals the destructive influence of pride and anger. But it also shows what can happen when a person repents of it.

King David was once overcome by his pride. As a result, he decided to count the number of men he had available in the Israelite army.

Indeed, it was Satan who provoked David to do it (I Chronicles 21:1).  A census is of itself not a bad thing to do, but it is clear that David’s motivation was selfish and motivated by the Evil One.

To David’s credit, he realized his error after he did it. Here’s what the Scripture reports:

David was conscience-stricken after he had counted the fighting men, and he said to the LORD, “I have sinned greatly in what I have done. Now, LORD, I beg you, take away the guilt of your servant. I have done a very foolish thing (II Samuel 24:10).”

David’s confession was a good thing, but it didn’t let him off the hook. He  still had to suffer the consequences of his actions.

What David did was a public thing and it dissed God in front of the nation. Thus, his sin had to be corrected publicly.

David was given a choice of three punishments. Here is the basis for his selection according to the Bible: David said to Gad (the prophet), “I am in deep distress. Let us fall into the hands of the LORD, for his mercy is great; but do not let me fall into human hands (II Samuel 24:14).”

A plague from God struck the people. To avert it, David offered sacrifices.

This action was the only thing that stemmed the consequences of his actions. He had to depend on the blood God required for sin to stop its effects.

Today, we can depend once-for-all blood of Christ to stop the flood of woe coming from our sin. We can go to Jesus and ask for His intercession because He alone is worthy before God the Father of acceptance.

I am instructed by the old hymn by Robert Lowry:

  • What can wash away my sin?
    Nothing but the blood of Jesus;
    What can make me whole again?
    Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

    • Refrain:
      Oh! precious is the flow
      That makes me white as snow;
      No other fount I know,
      Nothing but the blood of Jesus.
  • For my pardon, this I see,
    Nothing but the blood of Jesus;
    For my cleansing this my plea,
    Nothing but the blood of Jesus.
  • Nothing can for sin atone,
    Nothing but the blood of Jesus;
    Naught of good that I have done,
    Nothing but the blood of Jesus.
  • This is all my hope and peace,
    Nothing but the blood of Jesus;
    This is all my righteousness,
    Nothing but the blood of Jesus.
  • Now by this I’ll overcome—
    Nothing but the blood of Jesus;
    Now by this I’ll reach my home—
    Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

Like Ensign Pulver and David, I recently let Satan stick his foot out and trip me up. My anger and pride got in the way and I reacted rather publicly.

Now I have to own up to my sin. My only recourse is the blood of Jesus. I’d much rather drown in that than depend on anything of value from my fellow humans or my own actions.

My ability to find my way out of my self-created dilemmas is similar to attempting to wander my way out of a fog.  It seems impossible. But what is fog but a low-lying cloud?

The Scriptures say God rides on clouds. I would prefer to think of God being present in the midst of my mist instead of seeing the fog as a hindrance to finding my way.

As I walked in the fog this morning, I noticed next to the nearby railroad track a sign that said “Begin TWC”.  A little research tells me this means “Track Warrant Control”.

The railroads use this to tell members of a train crew that it is ok to occupy the main track in a high traffic area. The dispatcher uses radio to communicate.

A crew member takes down what the dispatcher says on a form, and repeats it back to him. If it is correct, the dispatcher says “OK”.

I am willing to put my life into the hands of the Great Dispatcher. I think I am im my own personal TWC area  now and I have to listen closely for his direction in the fog. 

It would be stupid and prideful of me to go on in the mist on my own. I will listen, try to get  God’s guidance right, and wait for God to say to me, “OK, you got it”.

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“Blessed are all who fear the LORD, vwho walk in obedience to him (Psalm 128:1).”

“Now it’s my will against yours and you will lose”!  Clint Eastwood, portraying Sergeant Major Gunny Highway has just laid down the law in his new Marine platoon.

It’s Memorial Day weekend, and the Military Channel is running “Heartbreak Ridge”, the story of a crusty old Marine (Eastwood) whose job it is to train a group of young, immature slackers. He has his work cut out for him.

His men are rebels. They have no intention of obeying this anachronistic old man.

When Gunny Highway comes into their pool hall and throws things around, pulls noses and ears and insults them, they have a plan. They can’t wait for The Swede to get out of the brig.

When The Swede does appear, he is a foreboding figure. He is a huge hulk of muscle who looks like he could tear Gunny Highway in two. In fact, he tells Highway he intends to.

After Highway decks the Swede, the latter tells him softly,”I’ll wait outside for the MPs to come.” Gunny Highway replies,”Negative, Johannson. You’re going to become a Marine, right now.”

These boys learned some wisdom from Jim Croce: you don’t tug on Superman’s cape, you don’t spit into the wind and you don’t pull the mask off that old Lone Ranger. In other words,  if you have any brains you don’t take on persons with  more power, authority, experience and know-how than you.  You don’t mess around with the Gunny Highways of life.

Gunny Highway knew that if he didn’t train his men to be tough, hard, courageous fighting machines, they would get killed. Him, too.

These men weren’t ready to fight, but they didn’t know it. In fact, they didn’t even think of the possibility they might end up in one.

When Highway first meets the men from his platoon, a couple of them pretend not to speak English. As he is whipping the men in their introduction, he says to the two: “I don’t want to get my head shot off in some far away land because you don’t “habla”, comprende?”

Gunny Highway tells the men,”I’m here to tell you life as you knew it has ended”. He tells them to go into town, blow off steam and get rid of whatever it is in their old ways that may hold them back, because at 6 am the next morning they belong to him.

A problem I have as a believer in Jesus Christ is that I forget who I belong to. When I enlisted in the Christian life, I volunteered to live the way God requires me to.

When I forget whose I am, a grunt in God’s army, and that my old life is way over, I tend to revert back to my immature ways.  When I do, I am liable to get my head blown off.

This is because I am truly in a war. I forget this, too.

There are spiritual forces out there who wish to destroy  me. My immaturity could get be severly wounded, even killed.

God comes in and kicks butt like Gunny Highway and tries to get me ready and able to fight the His battles.  However, like the unprepared, lazy recruits in “Heartbreak Ridge”, I resist.

Gunny tells his new platoon in  that if they think they can “slip and slide” because their previous sergeant was a wuss…”Well, you’re going to start acting like Marines now.” This is exactly what I think.

I believe I can slip, slide, and maneuver around God’s will and still be a strong Christian. I am deluding myself.

A couple of weeks ago, I allowed myself the luxury of acting like an immature grunt in my place of work. Like The Swede, I thought I could tug on Superman’s cape and prevail. I let my anger get the best of me.

Now I find myself pinned to the floor. The only thing I can do is look to God, and say,”I’ll wait outside to be taken off to the brig, now.”

However, I think like Sergeant Gunny Highway, God is telling me,”No dice. You’re going to become a mature Christian now.”

David, like me now, learned that not doing things God’s way from the start will result in humiliation. He sent Nathan the prophet to rebuke him.

Nathan tells him a story of how a rich, powerful man humbled a poor man and took a dear possession from him. The Scriptures say, “David burned with anger against the man and said to Nathan, ‘As surely as the LORD lives, the man who did this must die’ (II Samuel 12:5)!”

David was pretty good at acting “high and mighty” and losing his temper at injustice. Then he was told by Nathan,”YOU are the man (v. 7).”

David had stolen the wife of one of his soldiers. Not only that, he arranged to have the soldier killed in a devious manner.

To David’s credit, he didn’t have Nathan beheaded.  Instead, he didn’t shoot the messenger, and acknowledged his sin (II Samuel 12:17).

I’ve had a couple weeks to reflect on my own actions at work and I have come to the conclusion that I blew it. This is because I didn’t follow God’s Army Field Manual, the Bible.

When I end up in a fight, I end up trying to slip and slide away. I think I know more than other people and God.

Paul Simon’s lyric explains my attitude:

“God only knows
God makes his plan
The information is unavailable
To the mortal man
We work our jobs
Collect our pay
Believe we’re gliding down the highway
When in fact we’re slip slidin’ away.”

What is truly humiliating, as I explained to my former supervisor yesterday, is that I am old enough to know better.When as a middle-aged man you discover you have been acting like a boy just out of adolescence, it brings great shame.

 But Simon wrote the truth about a lof of men my age when he penned the following:

“Slip slidin’ away
Slip slidin’ away
You know the nearer your destination
The more you’re slip slidin’ away.”

The result now is that in order to maintain my place in God’s corps, I have to get up off the floor like The Swede and become a good Marine.  I will have to eat some crow.

As someone told me yesterday, crow doesn’t taste very good, but it IS nutritious. Thus, I need to make the rounds and apologize to the people I offended at my work.

There’s no guarantees things will work out in my favor. When the baby he fathered with his stolen woman got sick, he humbled himself before God, fasted and pleaded for the child’s life. The child died.

David got up, asked for some food and went on with his life. When asked how he could do this, he replied: 

 “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept. I thought, ‘Who knows? The LORD may be gracious to me and let the child live.’ But now that he is dead, why should I go on fasting? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me (II Samuel 12:22,23).”

It’s would have been better if David hadn’t went slip sliding away in the first place. The same with me.

However, like David and The Swede, I need to get up off the floor, quit trying to move and shake with the Lord, and obey His field manual. Then maybe I will be a good Christian soldier.

The thought reminds me of the old hym:

  • Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war,
    With the cross of Jesus going on before.
    Christ, the royal Master, leads against the foe;
    Forward into battle see His banners go!

    • Refrain:
      Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war,
      With the cross of Jesus going on before.

His cross gives me the chance to confess my sin, get up off the floor and live my life for Him again. Thank God for that.

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 A voice of one calling: ‘In the wilderness prepare  the way for the LORD; 
make straight in the desert  a highway for our God (Isaiah 40:3)’.”

Yesterday my daughter was having a party with a group of high schoolers and I needed to get her to it. She gave the address to my son and he put it into one of those computer-generated direction finders.

The route took us out into the countryside near our neighborhood. In fact, we were amazed at how close we were to all this nature.

As we went down this long, winding country road, we were looking for our turn off. It was called Honeysuckle Lane. All the streets in the are had street names like this, for example, Cranberry Lane.

When I made the turn on to Honeysuckle, it was nowhere near the field of dreams the road names intimated. It turned out to be a narrow, dirt road.

The road was a sunken road full of potholes, mud, rocks and sticks. I was flabbergasted.

I had to stop the car once to move a large block of wood out of the way. My wife and I began to worry about the fate of our brand new tires.

The undercarriage of my 19 year old vehicle began to shake,  rattle and roll. I mentally began to curse the computer program that led me down this road.

After a short time, we connected back on to the paved road which led to our destination. Later, I learned that had I gone another mile or so I could have smoothly turned onto this road.

Ironically, later, as we went to pick  our daughter up,  we passed Honeysuckle Lane. . Right at the entrance was a paving crew.

We laughed hilariously. In fact, we made a point of showing this to our daughter when we drove out of the area.

What came to my mind were idiomatic phrases like “too little, too late” and “a day late and a dollar short”. I suppose if I wanted to put a positive spin on the matter I could also have added “better late than never”.

As evidenced by the computer program which led me and the late arriving paving crew, my logic tells me that man’s help is vain. Indeed, this is quite biblical (Psalm 108:12).

The Psalmist asked God for His directions (Psalm 27:11). He didn’t rely on the faulty help of man.

After we dropped our daughter off yesterday, my wife and I went to a little park in our town and sat in a gazebo. We had to talk over our lives.

She had been reading a particular piece of Scripture and wanted me to read it, so I did. I took out my Bible and read Haggai.

After I read, she asked me if anything spoke to me. In my typical male dullness, I mentioned tithing, since we had been discussing that recently.

She listened and then pointed out how the passage spoke of giving “careful thought to your ways” (Haggai 1:5,7; 2:15).  Ok. Sure. I saw that! (Duh!).

We talked about how in our present circumstances how important it is to give careful thought to our ways. We also talked about how I needed to lead as the head of the household.

Now, I see this leadership role as an awesome responsibility. It’s scary.

I am just as faulty as the programmers who made the computer program that led me astray and the johnny-come-lately road pavers. I am human and make mistakes, lots of them in fact.

But I am grateful for two persons whose advice I can trust: my God and my wife.

With God lately, sometimes I wonder if He has deserted me. My human frailties have been too much for me and I wonder where He is.

This morning as I thought about the following lyrics from Billy Joel, I felt His love:

“Once I thought my innocence was gone
Now I know that happiness goes on
That’s where you found me
When you put your arms around me
I haven’t been there for the longest time.”

Right now, I believe God has His arms around me and will lead me in His love so I can lead my family.

Not only that, I was thrilled at the talk my wife and I had yesterday. This kind of conversation between us hadn’t happened for the longest time. Again, Billy Joel writes what’s on my heart this morning:

“Oh, oh, oh
For the longest time
Oh, oh, oh
For the longest
If you said goodbye to me tonight
There would still be music left to write
What else could I do
I’m so inspired by you
That hasn’t happened for the longest time

Oh, oh, oh
For the longest time
Oh, oh, oh
For the longest
I’m that voice you’re hearing in the hall
And the greatest miracle of all
Is how I need you
And how you needed me too
That hasn’t happened for the longest time

When we drove down that crummy road yesterday, I needed to give careful thought to my driving. My wife was next to me, looking and advising how to go.

Like any man, I resent “back-seat driving”. But as in this case, and as I told her in our talk about bigger things later, she is usually right. She was on that road.

“I had second thoughts at the start
I said to myself
Hold on to your heart
Now I know the woman that you are
You’re wonderful so far
And it’s more than I hoped for.”

My own fallennesss and that of others will lead me down the long, bumpy highway to destruction. When I end up on those paths, I need to give careful thought to my ways.

My first careful thought is to turn my heart to my wife and listen to her. God gave her to me as a helpmate.

My second careful thought is to give my heart to my God. He will either smooth out the bumpy, rocky road ahead, or lead me down a smoother path.

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 “You turned my wailing into dancing;  you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing your praises and not be silent. LORD my God, I will praise you forever (Psalm 30:11).”

“I write about misery.” That’s what David Bowie told the New York Times in 2002 when his interviewer asked him what he believed to be the central point of his work.

Bowie chuckled when he made this statement, but like in all humor, there must be at least a grain of truth to his comment. Like any good writer, I am sure he writes what he knows.

A look at David Bowie’s life and lyrics will show an attempt to learn to know himself. Whatever he has found along the way he must not have liked, because he is known as “The Chameleon of Rock”.  He has  changd personas like most people change underwear.

Changing himself has been a focus of his music. One of his big hits in the early ’70s was “Changes”:

I still don’t know what I was waiting for
And my time was running wild
A million dead-end streets
Every time I thought I’d got it made
It seemed the taste was not so sweet
So I turned myself to face me
But I’ve never caught a glimpse
Of how the others must see the faker
I’m much too fast to take that test

“Ch-ch-ch-ch-Changes
(Turn and face the strain)
Ch-ch-Changes
Don’t want to be a richer man
Ch-ch-ch-ch-Changes
(Turn and face the strain)
Ch-ch-Changes
Just gonna have to be a different man
Time may change me
But I can’t trace time”.

In his own misery in the 1970s, Bowie admirably saw the problem: himself. If he understood that if he wanted to change, he would have to look in the mirror, even if he didn’t like what he saw and it caused him pressure and stress.

Like a lot of rockers of his era, Bowie became addicted to drugs. In an attempt to clean up his act, musically and chemically, he moved from Switzerland to Berlin in the mid 70s.

In his New York Times interview, he said of this time:

”At that time, I was vacillating badly between euphoria and incredible depression. Berlin was at that time was not the most beautiful city of the world, and my mental condition certainly matched it. I was abusing myself so badly. My subtext to the whole thing is that I’m so desperately unhappy, but I’ve got to pull through because I can’t keep living like this. There’s actually a real optimism about the music. In its poignancy there is, shining through under there somewhere, the feeling that it will be all right.”

 In 1980, after the Berlin period, David Bowie collaborated with Queen to write a song sung for charity, “Under Pressure”.

“Pressure, pushing down on me
Pressing down on you, no man asks for
Under Pressure
That burns a building down
Splits a family in two
Puts people on streets 

It’s the terror of knowing
What this world is about
Watching some good friends
Screaming let me out
Pray tomorrow takes me higher
Pressure on people
People on street

Chippin’ around
Kick my brains ’round the floor
These are the days
It never rains but it pours.

Turned away from it all
Like a blind man
Sat on the fence but it don’t work
Keep coming up with love
But it’s so slashed and torn
(Why, why, whhhhhyyyy??)
Love love love love

Insanity laughs under pressure we’re cracking

Can’t we give ourselves one more chance?
Why can’t we give love that one more chance?
Why can’t we give love give love give love?
Give love give love give love give love give love

Cause love’s such an old fashioned word
And love dares you to care
For the people on the edge of the night
And love dares you to change our way
Of caring about ourselves.”

At this point in time, Bowie seems to have hit on a way out of his misery: caring for others in the same shape.  Yet, in the 90s he sought to distance himself from some of his  old music. However, he found he couldn’t.

Bowie relased a new album during the period of his 2002 interview, and he told the New York Times:

‘I tried to make a checklist of what exactly the album is about and abandonment was in there, isolation,” he said. ”And I thought, well, nothing’s changed much. At 55, I don’t really think it’s going to change very much. As you get older, the questions come down to about two or three. How long? And what do I do with the time I’ve got left?

”When it’s taken that nakedly, these are my subjects. And it’s like, well, how many times can you do this? And I tell myself, actually, over and over again. The problem would be if I was too self-confident and actually came up with resolutions for these questions. But I think they’re such huge unanswerable questions that it’s just me posing them, again and again.”

It appears David Bowie has come full circle. His comments harken back to the final lyric of his song “Changes”:

“Ch-ch-ch-ch-Changes
(Turn and face the strain)
Ch-ch-Changes
Oh, look out you rock ‘n rollers
Ch-ch-ch-ch-Changes
(Turn and face the strain)
Ch-ch-Changes
Pretty soon you’re gonna get a little older
Time may change me
But I can’t trace time
I said that time may change me
But I can’t trace time.”

Time seems to have not changed David Bowie, at least much. He seems as lost and miserable as ever.  Bowie would do well to look back over his own writing,

He was right. It’s difficult to sketch time, the past, the present, or the future. Our memories fade, and we spin things from the past in our favor.  Thus, it’s hard to learn much from our history.

Furthermore, no person knows his or her  future. We are unable to outline it.

However, we can make some choices.  Our futures aren’t resigned to fate, as Bowie in his false humility seems to intimate. There are answers “out there”.

Today, as I face my future, I find myself under pressure. I can either turn and face the strain, or run from it. The old me would have done the latter,

However, as Bowie wrote, in the midst of current changes, I just have to be a different man than the one I have been before. The key to doing so has to be taking his dare.

I have to dare to be different than I have been before. This means caring for loved ones who are “on the edge of night”.

It also means changing the “way” I have cared for my loved ones, and for myself for that matter.  My old ways certainly haven’t been too effective to date. I need a new way of thinking.

I would do well to heed God’s instructions to Joshua in this time of pressure from people and circumstances:

” No one will be able to stand against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their ancestors to give them.

 “Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.  Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go (Joshua 1:5-9).”

 I haven’t been very faithful in meditating on God’s Word day and night. Forget about doing what it says, since it hasn’t been much in my thinking.

The effect has been fear and bad choice. It’s time to turn and face the strain, and lead my loved ones out of the mess I have created

Joshua did. He made a plan right after God told him how to be successful. He didn’t waste any time (Joshua 1:10-11).” 

Ray Stedman writes that a mature person doesn’t trust in himself. In this respect, Bowie is correct. He just has the wrong answer, which is no answer.

Stedman to me has the right answer. He writes,”God will not use human flesh to bring about success in his kingdom. Anything that is not built by the power of God, through the wisdom of God, according to the will of God,will not succeed.”

I am not much younger than David Bowie is today. I don’t have to be lost like he seems to be because I have a God who has provided a way to success in my life.

God tells me to lead in love, through His power and wisdom, and in His will.

Here’s Bowie final words of “Under Pressure”.

“This is our last dance
This is ourselves under pressure
Under pressure.”

Like David, my last dance in my remaining days should be before the Lord. As I move, I need the girdle of truth and wise counsel from Him around me as David did, also (II Samuel 6:14).

 After all, He’s the Lord of the dance. I can’t keep living like this, kicking my brains around the dance floor, and coming up with bad answers to my life problems. It’s time to let Him lead in the dance.

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My eyes are ever on the LORD, for only he will release my feet from the snare (Psalm 25:15).”

Fatalism has various meanings, but according to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy “philosophers usually use the word to refer to the view that we are powerless to do anything other than what we actually do”.

Fatalism is put to the test in a recent episode of the medical drama “House”.  Patient Cyrus, a repairman, has won 42 million dollars in the lottery.

While discussing the patient’s physical condition, the doctors on House’s team and the good doctor himself discuss the effects of winning the lottery.

House jokes about a winner who committed suicide after his grandkids misused his money and another winner who fell victim to crime.  Doctor Taub, the doctor who calls herself “13”, and House debate these remarks:

Taub : Sure, some people will screw up anything, but some won’t. That kind of cash, he has a chance to turn a miserable life around.

House : Miserable stays miserable. Happy doesn’t buy lottery tickets in the first place.

Thirteen : Our level of happiness is set. It’s in our DNA. No cash payout’s gonna change that.

House : It’s like there’s two of me.

What House means is that both he and 13 both have a fatalistic view of life. It’s no wonder considering the suffering both have endured.

House almost died due to a leg injury. He survived, but is addicted to painkillers and is a cynical, miserable man.

13 has a terminal disease which will eventually cut her young life short, and also has had a tragic family life. Her brother had the same disease, and she performed what she thought was an act of mercy by helping him kill himself.

House and 13 are not the only doctors philosophizing about the power of people to change. Doctors Foreman and Chase are debating each other’s abililty to overcome their character flaws.

Chase believes Foreman is incapable of  controlling his frustratation and anger around House. “House gets to  you more than anyone”, Chase tells him.

On the other hand, Foreman believes Chase is an incurable sex addict. However, Chase informs Foreman that he has become celibate recently.

Chase explains,” Was having tons of sex, and I was bored, hating myself. Was never gonna be ready when something real came along.”

Upon hearing this, Foreman says to Chase,” So you’re becoming some kind of super monk, and I can’t change at all.” Chase counters with,” I challenge you to go one differential without House or anyone else getting under your skin.”

Thus, the two begin to test each other. While discussing their patient with the other members of the team and House, Chase begins to monitor Foreman’s blood pressure.  Not to be outdone, Foreman bribes a nurse to reject Chase’s advances and slap him.

The two men fail their tests. Foreman eventually yanks off his blood pressure cuff in frustration. Chase sleeps with the nurse, who had returned Foreman’s money and slapped HIM!

Chase is shown in bed, next to the sleeping nurse. He has a very worried look on his face.

As Foreman finally loses his cool at one of House’s suggestions, and House tells him,”We’ll do it your way -go shout at the patient till he gets better”, 13 tells House her fatalistic view is confirmed:

 “Here’s the dirty little secret. I just think we are who we are. And I think lotteries are stupid.”

Barbara Barnett interprets 13’s comment about lotteries in her review of the episode:

“In a lottery you risk money over and over, expecting you won’t win, but hoping you will. Lottery winnings don’t come with coping mechanisms to deal with the unexpected (or expected) disappointments that come along with newfound riches. In a lottery, you only risk your money, a dollar or two at a time. As 13 points out, Cyrus’ lottery experience is a metaphor for living a hopeful life. ‘Lotteries suck,’ she says. You keep risking; you keep hoping, knowing there’s very little chance to win. And when it’s not a dollar, but your heart, it’s just not worth it to play the game.”
 
At the end of the episode, House analyzes 13’s fatalism for her:
 
“You lost your mother. You euthanized your brother. You got the life expectancy of a pretty good sitcom. If you can convince yourself that you’d be miserable no matter what even without all that stuff, then maybe you don’t have to hate the universe for dumping a giant turd on you. Fatalism is your survival mechanism.”
 
13 is not convinced. She counters to House:
” And you? Dumped by everyone you’ve ever loved. Rehab was a bust. Your leg feels like somebody took a giant bite out of it. We are who we are. Lotteries are stupid.”
 
“Changes” ends with House contemplating her comments and chewing on a potato chip.
 
As I chew on my sandwhich here in a coffee shop, I am asking myself, “Are we indeed powerless  to effect change in our lives?”  Is 13 correct? Is it true that “we are who we are and lotteries are stupid?”
 
I am not a philosopher. My mind is not constructed so as to get a handle on the thoughts of people like Aristotle.
 
Having said this, I believe the answer to my questions could be “yes.
In answering “yes” I would say some things are stacked either for or against us. For example, take a look at the life of the Apostle Paul.
 
Paul was on trial against some very unfair charges brought by the religious leaders of the Jewish people of his time. The irony of it all was that Paul was a “super Jew” himself. 
 
If anyone could stake a claim to righteousness, it was Paul. He said of his life before putting his trust in Jesus Christ:
 
“If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee;  as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless (Philippians 3:5,6).”
 
Paul was involved in an internal political battle within his own religion. Even the secular authorities hearing his case saw this (Acts 25:13-21).
 
I think the normal modern “Christian” thing to do would have been to present his case and leave the results to God, trusting He would move in the hearts of authorities in accordance with His will. But not Paul. He took matters into his own hands.
 
Paul moved to send his case to the Supreme Court of his day, that of Ceasar. He did this before any judgment had even been made at the lower level.
 
What Paul didn’t know was that the men judging him, King Agrippa and Governor Festus,  had decided in his favor.
 
“After they left the room, they began saying to one another,’This man is not doing anything that deserves death or imprisonment.’

 Agrippa said to Festus, ‘This man could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar (Acts 26:30-32)’.”

I wonder if Paul let his strong sense of justice and righteousness, something built into his framework, lead him to a wrong, impulsive decision. After all, Paul was human. He wasn’t infallible.

In Paul’s case, it could be said his choice was almost predetermined because of his personal makeup. He felt what was happening was unfair, and his strong  sense of rightness took over, leading him to what may have been a mistake.

His choice to appeal to Ceasar led to a rough road ahead, including involvement in tempests, eventual imprisonment, and death. From a  purely human point of view, Paul made the wrong decision.

 From a fatalistic point of view, he couldn’t help himself. His upbringing and personality geared him to make the choice he did,

However, when God is factored into the philosophical equation, fatalism becomes flawed.  Where men are powerless, God is not.

We may be genetically and circumstantially predisposed to be sex addicts and rageaholics, but God is under no such imposition. He is so powerful, he overcame the death spiral of our world through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.

That’s the problem with death: it’s fatal. When people are among the living dead, as the characters in House are, it should come as no surprise that a hopeless philosophy such as fatalism would prevail.

However, as believers, we have hope that God can take even our bad decisions and make our lives work out to His good effect, and ours. For example, Paul wrote much of the New Testament from jail, to which we today are extremely grateful.

It would be easy for me to be a fatalist. A lot of things have gone wrong in my life of late.

As a result, I recently made a choice which was partly influenced by my predispositions and the pressures of my world. From the human point of view, my decision  could be considered a big mistake. 

Without a loving God factored into my belief system, I would be walking around singing “Que Sera, Sera, What Will Be Will Be.” But I am not.

I made the choice I did based on the hand life, God or the devil presented me at the time.  Right or wrong, though, the decision isn’t fatal because the living God is still around to pick up any broken pieces.

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 May he give you the desire of your heart  and make all your plans succeed. May we shout for joy over your victory and lift up our banners in the name of our God. May the LORD grant all your requests. Now this I know: The LORD gives victory to his anointed. He answers him from his heavenly sanctuary with the victorious power of his right hand.  Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.  They are brought to their knees and fall, but we rise up and stand firm. LORD, give victory to the king! Answer us when we call (Psalm 20:4-9).”

As I sit in a McDonald’s tonight, the weather outside is frightful. The lights and displays in here are flashing on and off.

This is because there is a violent thunderstorm accompanied by lightning outside. If I was smart, I would turn off my computer. But, I guess I am not.

We humans are fascinated by the weather, aren’t we? I mean, we have an entire cable TV channel dedicated to it.

It’s usually on the monitor to the left of my treadmill at the gym. I learn about the weather whether I want to or not.

Another cable channel had a show about the effect of weather on history while I was exercising. They mentioned how a violent tornado caused the British to flee Washington, D.C. during the War of 1812.

The British infamously burned down the White House during this raid. But the tornado killed more of them than the American army did and they took off.

Last night the family watched a computer-animated flick called “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs”. In the movie, failed young inventor Flint Lockwood creates a machine that turns water into food.

Needing power, he hooks his machine up to his town’s power grid and the machine shoots into the stratosphere like a rocket. With the water in the clouds, the machine begins to rain food on Flick’s town and he becomes a hero.

Unfortunately, the machine goes out of control and mutates food. Soon, the whole world is being rained on and violent weather such as a spaghetti tornado wrecks his town.

Landmarks all over the world are destroyed by food weather. Flint goes from hero to goat.

As a result, Flint hides in a trash can, where his father find him. His Dad wants to know what he is doing there.

Flint tells his Dad that he is where he belongs. Since Flint is “junk”, he belongs with the junk in the can.

With encouragement from his father and help from him as well, Flint manages to fix the problem threatening the world. He destroys the food machine at the risk of his life. The world is freed from weather-borne pizzas, bagels and spaghetti and meatballs.

One morning this weekend I found myself in a state park, sleeping in a campground. I awoke to a beautiful, bright sun shining through the trees.

This was made even more impressive by the fact that the last couple of weeks have been filled with clouds and rain. The day ahead held a lot of promise.

While out in the nature, I sat at the picnic table at my site and turned to the day’s Psalm.  I read:

“The heavens declare the glory of God;
   the skies proclaim the work of his hands. 
Day after day they pour forth speech;
   night after night they reveal knowledge. 
They have no speech, they use no words;
   no sound is heard from them. 
Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
   their words to the ends of the world.
In the heavens God has pitched a tent for the sun. 
It is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber,
   like a champion rejoicing to run his course.
It rises at one end of the heavens
   and makes its circuit to the other;
   nothing is deprived of its warmth (Psalm 19:1-6).”

About that point I felt a little like Flint after his machine began to wreck the world. I was overwhelmed by the effects some of my choices had made on me, and I felt like junk.

However, when I read about the sun, this brought to mind a vague question the Apostle Paul made: “Is it with ____that God is concerned?”  I couln’t remember the topic, but it turns out what Paul was referring to was oxen.

Like Paul, I figured God didn’t put this passage about the sun in the Bible because He had a big concern about this inanimate creation of His. He of course is concerned about people, not heavenly bodies.

Paul uses this simile: “It is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, 
like a champion rejoicing to run his course.” Paul humanizes the sun. I think God is making the point here that we humans can be victorious, bright and strong, like the sun he planted in a tent in the sky.

At the time I read this, I felt quite defeated. However, I have been reflecting on this passage this weekend and thought that I don’t have to roll over and die or toss myself in the junk can like Flint Lockwood did.

The rest of this Psalm, after the segment on the sun, talks about how perfect and “right, radiant and pure” God’s Word is. It appears to me that if I want to shine like the sun, then I need to soak up the Bible and apply it to my life –daily.

If I depend on my own resources for success in life, my guess is that I will end up like Flint Lockwood BEFORE he listened to his Dad. However, if I listen to my Heavenly Father and heed His word, AND enlist his aid as Flint did AFTER his father encouraged him, then I can 0vercome my obstacles and difficulties.

Sometimes my problems are self-imposed. Sometimes they come from other people. More than ever, I am convinced many of them come from that devil Satan.

Whatever, the source, with God the Father’s encouragement I can triumph and succeed over the people and things that oppose His plan for me. 

Tomorrow morning when I wake up I know now I can be strong and courageous in my life because my Father rescued my from the junk pile. I don’t have to be a  wimp and let the storms buffet me anymore.

My heavenly Father has helped me before. He will do it again. Somehow, of late I have forgotten that in the midst of my storms. No longer.

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After this, Paul left Athens and went to Corinth.  There he met a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had ordered all Jews to leave Rome. Paul went to see them,  and because he was a tentmaker as they were, he stayed and worked with them. Every Sabbath he reasoned in the synagogue, trying to persuade Jews and Greeks (Acts 18:1-4).”

Martha M. Masters is an unusual character in the world of Gregory House.

First, unlike all the rest of her colleagues, she is not a full-fledged doctor. She is a medical student.

Second, unlike House and the rest of his team, she is ethical and honest. She will tell the honest truth to patients, even if it gets in the way of their recovery.

In a recent episode of the medical drama “House”, Masters is faced with a couple ethical dilemmas. Now that’ not unusual because this happens every episode when her character comes into play.

What makes this episode called the “Last Temptation” out of the ordinary is that Masters has to make ethical decisions that will alter her life. Will she follow Housian principles of solving the problem regardless of the moral choices involved, or will she choose to do the right thing and potentially suffer loss.

The problem with such choices as the ones faced by Masters is that “the right choice” is not always clear. Dr. House himself was impacted by a decision of that nature once.

In seeking advice  from House’s friend Dr. Wilson on what to do about a young girl named Kendall with bone cancer, Masters learns of this life altering decision. Wilson tells her,”Once he was in a medically-induced coma, his girlfriend signed the consent form as his proxy. They went ahead with the surgery against his will. Probably saved his life.”

Masters asks Wilson,”So she did the right thing?” Wilson replies,”Depends on who you ask?”

House and other have  suffered immensely because of that decision. He is in great pain, which has even led to drug addiction in the past. He also walks with a cane, and all of this has contributed to his surly personality.

In addition to facing a decision about doing the right thing concerning Kendall’s care, Masters is also dealing with her own major choice. She is graduating from med school this very day, and House has created a positon for her.

House knows Masters has exceptional potential, but believes she will never actually be so until she learns to make tough choices without always considering ethics. Thus, througout the day, he pushes Masters to turn in a false log  he signed showing she has perforned the required amount of a procedure to graduate, although she actually lacks one.

Masters knows what House is doing, and she is struggling to turn in the log.  More importantly, unless she does something to amputate Kendall’s arm, the girl will die. Yet, even Kendall’s parents stand by her decision not to have the surgery.

Finally, Masters fakes a medical emergency and convinces the parents to sign a consent form as a result. Kendall’ s arm is amputated and her life saved.

Afterward, House runs into Masters and they have the following conversation:

House: Someone has got their pouty face on.

Masters: I did things no doctor in their right mind would do.

[He drops his backpack on his desk and pulls some cash out of his pocket.]

House: Good.

Masters: I manipulated, lied, forged, stole.

 House: I don’t want to know the specifics. Might be called to testify.

[He leaves. She follows, continuing the conversation as they walk down the hall.]

Masters: I broke the rules because I believed I was right.

House: You were right.

Masters: Then why don’t I feel good or satisfied? Instead, I just feel like throwing up.

House: And you’re following me to ask how I break the rules and maintain my rosy demeanor.

[He knocks on Wilson’s door.]

Masters: I didn’t do it to be happy. I just thought I would be.

House: Well, you can’t always get what you want.

[Wilson closes the door after House speaks with himWilson]

Masters: House. I can’t do it. I’m leaving.

House: Surgery? (Meaning, another job.)

Masters: I… don’t know what I’m going to do. But I do know I don’t want to be here.

House: Nothing will ever be simple again.

Masters: I’m fine with that.

Masters confidently strides out of the hospital with a new future.

Masters finally determined that living with herself took precedence over being an exceptional doctor. As one of the episode’s writer’s notes,”Ultimately, it’s not the right place for her to be.”

I can identify greatly with Masters. Last week I basically quit my job.

I have spent days reflecting over whether or not this was the right decision. As crazy as it sounds, this TV drama has helped me come to an understanding that I did.

I did not agree philosophically with the actions of  my superiors, especially as they related to me. This came to a head last week and caused me great anguish.

Ultimately, I have determined that this workplace was not the right place for me to be. Quitting may cost me, and yes, the near future may not be simple, but I believe maintaining my sanity and self respect was more important than staying on purely for financial reasons.

Masters wanted to throw up when she considered her actions at her workplace. I wanted to throw up this morning when I thought about returning to the kind of environment I have been working in. I literally felt nauseous.

Perhaps my methodology was flawed, but emotionally this morning I feel like the Psalmist:

  “He reached down from on high and took hold of me;
   he drew me out of deep waters. 
He rescued me from my powerful enemy,
   from my foes, who were too strong for me. 
They confronted me in the day of my disaster,
   but the LORD was my support. 
He brought me out into a spacious place;
   he rescued me because he delighted in me (Psalm 18:16-19).”

One of my friends recently wrote me and asked how Iwas doing. I told him about my job situation.

He wrote me back and one of the things he told me was how good I was at a particular thing. He lamented that it was not easy to make money at it.

I’m fine with that. It may not be simple, but I am thinking strongly of pursuing this kind of work with all my might. It’s my passion, and maybe because of that I can make some money at it.

God made the Martha Masters of the world. He made me, too.

In the movie Popeye, based on the cartoon, the title character says:

  • Oh, what am I? Some kind of barnicle on the dinghy of life? Oh, I ain’t no doctors, but I knows when I’m losing me patiensk. What am I? Some kind of judge or lawyers? Maybe not, but I knows what law suitks me.  Careful there, don’t ruffle me feathers. What am I? I ain’t no physcikisk, but I knows what matters. What am I? I’m Popeye the Sailor.
  • [singing] And I yam what I yam and I yam what I yam that I yam / And I gotta lotta muscle and I only gots one eye / And I never hurts nobody and I’ll never tell a lie / Top to me bottom and bottom to me top / That’s the way it is ’til the day that I drop, what am I / I yam what I yam.

Being the best “me” will be the best thing for me, my family and my God. Doing His will and doing it well means to me being the person God has created me to be.

If that means moving on, even if it makes some things complicated, so be it.

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