Who needs yet another review of The Shack?

The apostle Paul already wrote the definitive review of The Shack, in 2 Timothy 4:3, almost 2,000 years ago (about A.D.61 or 65), while he was imprisoned in Rome, and aware of his impending death. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.”

Paul also had the solution, as he exhorted Timothy, “As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” In other words, press on, ignore the foolishness, stand for the truth no matter the personal cost. Easy for you to say, right Paul? Not really, as Paul was certainly one to live according to the advice he gave others. For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.

Tradition holds that Paul was beheaded, rather than crucified, since he was a Roman citizen (membership has its privileges, I guess). So rather than offer another review of The Shack from the comfort of my home in the land of the free, I will just state that if I can say at the end of my life, even if that end is premature, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith,” I will die with a smile on my face.  My ears don’t itch, do yours?

Do the right thing.

No, this is not about the Spike Lee movie of the same name, it’s about the GREAT CONUNDRUM. Let’s not confuse that with the “great commission” either, even though obeying Jesus’ command to “go and make disciples of all nations” would eliminate most of the conundrums of life. The GREAT CONUNDRUM I am referring to is, “how do I know what is the right thing to do?”

This question causes untold agony, keeps legions of therapists employed, sells countless books, popularizes no end of made-for-TV gurus, leads to much prayer and re-prayer (when the first answer that comes isn’t the one we wanted), and keeps a whole therapeutic culture afloat. Let me simplify this. When you are confronted with life’s harder choices, the right action is almost always the one you least want to take.

That answer is consistent with my view of human nature. While human beings are capable of mercy, forgiveness, heroism and self-sacrifice, such actions are NOT the result of doing what comes naturally. What is natural, what feels good, is to take the (apparently) easy way out (though almost always that “easy way” yields the worst result), cut corners, put off whatever is uncomfortable, claim our rights, shirk or transfer our responsibilities, and finally blame someone else when it all goes wrong, which tends to be the result of doing what comes naturally. Of course, I include myself in the foregoing analysis. Do you?

A life pattern of doing what is comfortable–“the path of least resistance”–will inexorably lead to poverty and frustration, broken relationships, and then excuse-making and blaming (the “system”, parents, whomever and whatever is the explanation du jour for why life didn’t turn out). Combine that pattern with the drugs of wishful thinking and self-pity, and you have a death spiral. There is a way out.

It’s never too early to begin developing the habit of doing the hard things. The key word is habit! I’ve heard it said that elephants can be restrained by a chain around their ankle, a chain that is anchored to a stake in the ground, a stake that can be pulled up with virtually no effort by an adult elephant. Because said elephant was trained as a baby with a chain and a stake that was too strong for them, which caused great pain when they struggled against, they eventually learned to stop struggling and stand passively. Habit is a cable, too strong to break…if you’re an animal and cannot recognize that your behavior is a habit. As a human being, you can replace bad habits with good ones…or not.

The “therapeutic culture” we live in seems to encourage blaming your circumstances on something other than your habits, as if you can’t help yourself. Many years ago I read something by Zig Ziglar that greatly encouraged me to start new habits. At the time he wrote it, he was morbidly obese and could barely walk from one end of his block to the other. One day he got SO disgusted with himself, that he began an exercise program. He started walking, and the first week his goal was just once around the block. When he accomplished that, he slightly increased his pace and distance, until he was walking a mile or so. Then it was fast walking the mile, then jogging it. After months of slightly increasing speed and distance, running became a habit. How do you know when an activity has become a habit? Doing it feels more “natural” and comfortable than not doing it.

This lesson is for everyone. Human beings DO what feels comfortable and natural, so if what you are doing is the wrong thing, slowly and gradually do something better until it feels easier to do it than not to. BUT, in order to undertake such discipline, you must, like Zig, become disgusted with the results of not being disciplined. That will be $100 please. 




The epidemic of ______ophobias and “hate speech.”

It’s not good enough among certain segments of our population to simply disagree with ideas or religions or sexual practices. If you disagree with a media-favored group, you catch a phobia. It’s become an epidemic. But unlike other epidemics, there is no patient zero. No one knows who started the homophobic or Islamophobic name calling, yet it’s become the most popular form of stifling dissent, way less messy than truncheons and jackboots. The effects are more insidious than bloodier methods.

A language is how we communicate with each other, and arbitrarily changing the meaning of words is not a casual thing, it destroys truth itself. A phobia is an irrational fear marked by dramatic physiological changes and severe anxiety. Sufferers of real phobias should rise up against the labelers for denigrating their experience. The truth is that almost no one who disagrees with homosexual practices is phobic, and almost no one who disagrees with the Islamic concept of God is phobic. They disagree. If their disagreements become expressed through harm, they should be held accountable by the law, like all of us.

There is something far more insidious going on though. When any person or group deliberately changes the meaning of words to promote their cause or to stifle dissent, they undermine the truths on which their culture is based. The Nazis were masters of language twisting and disinformation, of the sowing of suspicion and fear, but then again that’s what totalitarians do. The spirit and core of totalitarianism is the drive to control what others do and even how they think. Totalitarian methods may differ, but as messy as the truncheon and jackboot are, they are less effective at stifling dissent than hate labeling and language manipulation. Yes, I am saying that labeling disagreement as “hate-speech” or labeling someone who disagrees that homosexuality is healthy as a “homophobe” (which automatically means that whatever they say is “hate speech) is ultimately more damaging to a “free society” than truncheons and dungeons and is a more insidious method for stifling disagreement.

Those who love truth and are not ashamed of themselves have no reason to fear disagreement. Those who cannot stand to even listen to a dissenting opinion loathe themselves or their own practices. How better to explain the rabid hatred they display towards disagreement while they simultaneously claim to love free speech?

Let there be peace, or not.

At home, when my wife or children used to occasionally get into a tiff with someone, and wanted to use me as a sounding board, I would listen to their grievances, and then ask, “who wants to resolve that conflict the most?” That’s the person who will make peace first.

I wonder if this idea will fly on the world stage. Taking perhaps the most bitter dispute I can think of as an example of how this would work–the Israeli Palestinian conflict–here are my questions to each side for a peaceful resolution:

1. Are you willing to create and implement a win-win solution, at least in principle? It may not be possible but is it your goal?

2. Are you willing to concentrate on how things are now, in the present, and seek a solution that works for both parties now?

3. Are you willing to ask for forgiveness for wrongs you have committed and are you willing to forgive wrongs done to you?

4. Are you willing to sincerely question your own motives, assumptions and beliefs, and submit to correction when you are wrong?

5. Are you willing to first agree on general principles that will govern your solution, rather than fighting over particulars?

6. If you cannot say “yes” to all the previous questions, are you willing to agree to disagree on some points while finding others that you both agree on?

7. If all of the foregoing fails, then who has the biggest guns and the most willingness to use them? Because that is the next step.

So when you hear the words “peace process” don’t be terribly surprised when it blows up.


Social justice? Darwin vs. Jesus

Let’s first visit with Charles Darwin, writing in The Descent of Man, as he gave his approval for the idea that”the weak in body or mind are soon eliminated” among “savages,” and disapproved of how civilized men “build asylums for the imbecile, the maimed, and the sick, “with the result that “the weak members of civilized societies propagate their kind.” Then, comparing man to livestock (which is still a big step up from amoebas) Darwin added, “no one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man.” Darwin especially disliked how “the reckless, degraded, and often vicious members of society, tend to increase at a quicker rate than the provident and generally virtuous members.”

Then there is Jesus Christ, in the book of Matthew 25:34-40. “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.  For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’  Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?  And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?  And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’”

Those crusaders for social justice follow whom?

Just saying….

Comfort in helplessness

March 11, 2016. I had just started a new job, and was at home beginning to cook dinner, feeling really optimistic. Suddenly, my legs started to shake, and I felt as if I was turning to water. My immediate thought was, “I’m having a stroke.” I managed to grab my cellphone from the kitchen table just before I fell helplessly to the floor. Somehow I managed to call 911, and as I lay there paralyzed, with 2 cats nudging me (probably thinking “does this mean we won’t get fed tonight?”), I was hoping I had left the front door unlocked, so the first responders wouldn’t have to bust it in.

My entire left side was paralyzed, and I was barely conscious for the first couple of days. After a night in the emergency room I was transferred to an intensive care unit. Unfortunately, this unit was anything but. The staff kept closing my door, and I had no call button, and I couldn’t move or even throw anything at the door to get someone’s attention, so I lay there for what seemed like hours, yelling help when I was in pain.

In my fear and helplessness I regressed to 4th grade, when I got so much comfort from my teacher reading the 23rd Psalm. “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, He leads me beside still waters, He restores my soul…..” When first I heard those words I didn’t even know what they meant. I was a Jewish kid whose parents never mentioned the Bible. This was in a public elementary school in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I didn’t even know I was supposed to be offended by the words of the Bible. I only knew I was comforted. Those same words comforted me in my fear and helplessness more than 60 years later.


What’s wrong with hating?

These days, if you disagree with someone’s orthodoxy, you can get called a “hater”, as if there was something wrong with hating. I imagine a dialogue that goes something like this, between me and a person I will call the hate labeler:

Me: I believe that since God ordained and created marriage, it is not subject to human re-definition as the union of two people of the same sex.

H.L.: That’s hate speech, you must be a homophobe.

Me: I suppose here is where I am expected defend myself, or deny I hate, or insist that I am not phobic. I won’t do any of that. I do hate it when someone tries to tamper with God’s definitions. What’s wrong with hating?

H.L.: Hating is wrong.  Anything that tramples on someone’s self worth is wrong and bad.

Me: Wrong and bad according to whom? Why should I care about someone’s self worth? What standard are you appealing to if you value people’s feelings about themselves?

H.L: I am appealing to the intrinsic value and dignity of all human beings. The Declaration of Independence states “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights…”

Me: Hold the fort, are you appealing to the Declaration itself, or to the Creator? That Creator who not only endows human rights but also defines marriage, and has a long list of things He hates, may have an issue with your accusation of hate speech. Maybe you should appeal to Darwin instead.

Why do I suggest appealing to Charles Darwin? I am assuming, here, that most “hate labelers” hold to a Darwinian view of human origins, or none at all. In such cases, what would be their basis for believing in the worth of a human being?

So the next time you get called a hater you should reframe the dialogue. Check out my March 14 post on social justice.