The acting is very good though there are few redeeming qualities about Frank and Claire. The series prompted some uncomfortable questions for this viewer, such as: What is the allure of watching the schemes of someone in high office who makes immoral decisions solely for the sake of selfish ambition? Perhaps the allure is the open display of crossing boundaries of decency that society has traditionally held in high regard. Maybe it is simply that we are fascinated by people who appear good yet are utterly pernicious. I started out liking Underwood because I thought he was a flawed person who would eventually do something noble. But like a classic tragedy, his character digs himself into an ever deeper hole while leaving a growing pile of human wreckage behind. I don’t know if I can bear to watch any more episodes. Hopefully our real-life elected officials do not rise to the level of evil personified by Underwood, but some probably come close.
Perhaps the series provides viewers with an addictive feeling of moral superiority (if so, Underwood is terrible benchmark) or confirmation that what we have occasionally suspected about some of our leaders might contain grains of tantalizing truth. The latter is a disturbing thought. Whatever the allure, House of Cards will not improve the public’s perception of our real political leaders.
All stories have just a few possible outcomes, such as: Evil prevails, good prevails, evil partially prevails, good things happen despite the evil, or a greater evil overcomes the evil. I wonder which outcome the writers for House of Cards will choose.
If you are thinking about watching House of Cards, be aware that it contains rough language and strong sexual content. Maybe I will skip to the last episode to find out if good prevails. Or maybe it is better not to know.
In Christendom, we tend to react to the type of death suffered by Hoffman as sad but also confirmation of our opposition to the evils of alcohol and substance abuse. Read Proverbs 23:31-32 and Proverbs 31:6 for a Bible perspective on substance abuse. Don’t get me wrong, I believe the abuse of alcohol and drugs can indeed have tragic consequences for many people. Addiction is a lethal enemy that comes dressed in many disguises. For instance, I knew a wonderful Christian man who ate so much food and put on so much weight that it resulted in his early death.
Stories like Hoffman’s beg some uncomfortable questions, such as: What is a person supposed to do if they are in constant mental or physical distress for which modern medicine has no cure? What is a person afflicted by chronic pain supposed to do when God does not heal in response to prayer? Sure, there are trite answers that we Christians offer in an attempt to comfort the suffering and guard our faith. Answers like: “Because Jesus was also human he can relate to your suffering.” If I am in chronic pain, hearing clichés like that does not help. Chronic pain (whether physical or mental) walks over reason, morality, and the ability to choose wisely. Pain is an adversary that is often beyond our ability to cope with. Even so, we must continue petitioning God for relief. God does not react to us the same way we react to a child who keeps pestering us for a new toy. We are told in the Bible to keep asking God for what we need.
Here is where I have a problem with some people in chronic physical pain or mental distress—when there is a cure or treatment that can reduce or eliminate their suffering, but they reject it. Hoffman at least tried to defeat his addiction using the tools available to him. Many people don’t even try, or they try by using the wrong tools. Anyhow, knowing Christ doesn’t guarantee we will overcome our addictions, pain, and all problems in this life. If that were the case, the entire human race would flock to Christ for the wrong reasons. Our biggest problem is our sin and separation from God. And Christ, if we let him, always forgives our sin and leads us back to God. Forgiveness of our sins and friendship with God are what improves our odds of overcoming addiction, pain, and life’s problems.
When I was a child, our family gathered around the TV (or as my dad called it, “the boob tube”) each year to watch the Oscars. It was a chance to glimpse the glamorous world of actors, actresses, directors, and writers. Either I was too young to know or the media, back then, didn’t do as much reporting on the private lives of movie stars. I don’t recall any stories of paparazzi hounding the mundane activities of celebrities. When a star took the stage to accept their Oscar, we didn’t know much about the star’s private life. It was an opportunity for fans to briefly see their favorite actors in a mostly unscripted setting. These days, celebrities can’t go to the loo without their movements (no pun) photographed and reported. Hey, don’t get me wrong, I like to know when Jennifer Lawrence gets her hair cut just as much as the next person (sarcasm alert), but will the information and visuals improve my life? (I know it wouldn’t take much to improve my life, but that’s not the point.)
Are we an overly entertained society? Most likely, yes. It feels like the entertainment industry is everywhere. It certainly feels like an element of entertainment has blossomed in the modern church, as well. Still, entertainment is not necessarily a bad thing even in a church context. Christ often used storytelling to add emphasis to his teachings. Give most of us straight information and we nod off. Insert the message in an entertaining story and we pay more attention. Jesus was and is a celebrity, except he is worthy of adoration for more profound reasons. With Jesus, what you see is what he is. He is the embodiment truth.
Some celebrities may be good people, but we really don’t know them. We connect in some way with their image, style, or the characters they portray for our entertainment. But if we had an opportunity to hang out with them for a long time, I doubt their real personality would be what we project it to be (unless they are capable of acting 24/7). For example, my wife recently spoke several times by phone with a woman she had never met in person. When she finally saw the woman on the other end of the phone, she didn’t look anything like the image my wife had created in her mind.
Celebrities may have a talent we enjoy, but it is healthier for us to view them as flawed people with many of the same shortcomings, hang-ups, hurts, and idiosyncrasies that plague the rest of us. Their celebrity status does not immunize them from problems. The greater danger for us is the insidious propensity of our entertainer-worshiping culture’s ability to influence the way we treat people who don’t have much status in our society. For instance, if I always have time to share a story and a laugh with the senior pastor at my mega-church but I don’t have the time of day for the church maintenance staff, then I have misunderstood the teachings of Christ. Everybody wants to hobnob with the well-know.
So when the Oscars air on TV in a few weeks, we can relax and root for our favorite flicks and actors, just so we don’t let the entertainment industry corrupt our soul. Go ‘Captain Phillips!’
The Wolf of Wall Street, starring Leonardo Dicaprio, should have been called the Weasel of Wall Street (though PETA might not appreciate the defamation of weasels). In the interest of full disclosure, I have not seen the movie. But I do know a film enthusiast who saw the movie. She told me the movie overflows with debauchery that pushes the boundary of its R rating in the areas of language, substance abuse, and pornography. In other words, it’s a 5 star flick by Hollywood standards.
The movie is based on a true story in which Dicaprio plays Jordan Belfort, a stock broker who was eventually convicted of fraud for stock market manipulation. Prior to his conviction, Belfort lived a life of unfettered self-indulgence via avarice, prostitutes, substance abuse, materialism, and partying. Basically, Belfort was a sophisticated thief with big appetites. How much of Belfort’s story of debauchery is true and how much is exaggeration remains a matter or speculation.
In a way, Belfort’s story reminds me of the Teacher in the Book of Ecclesiastes. The Teacher tried wine, pleasure, work projects, wealth, and folly in an effort to discover something of value to counter the pointlessness of life. One apparent difference between the Teacher and Belfort is that the Teacher sought wisdom. Who knows what need Belfort tried to fulfill in the depths of his soul. Sadly, there were unpleasant consequences for Belfort, though I’m sure his victims would argue they suffered some unpleasant consequences, as well. The loss of investor money can cause a great deal of emotional pain to innocent victims. In a way, I suppose the title “Wolf” is appropriate for Belfort (perhaps he’s more like a cross between a wolf and a weasel). Wolves prey on others. Tragically, our culture often treats theft as a crime less reprehensible than it deserves. The Bible calls Satan himself a thief who comes to “steal, kill, and destroy.” Thievery is more serious and has worse consequences than we often realize. But I digress.
The Teacher in Ecclesiastes discovered that “God gives wisdom, knowledge, and joy to those who please God.” He also learned God’s gift: “that all people should eat, drink, and enjoy the results of their hard work.” After all his searching and trying different experiences, the Teacher concludes that the best way to live is to worship God and keep His commandments. I wonder if Belfort ever came to the same conclusion. If not, he hasn’t learned much of value, yet.
The British Medical Journal recently published the results of a pilot study that didn’t go so well. A purpose of the study was to find out if people lead “unnecessarily stressful lives by wanting to be right rather than happy.” The study instructed one husband to “agree with his wife’s every opinion and request without complaint,” and to continue doing so “even if he believed the female participant was wrong.” The man’s wife was not aware that she was participating in the study.
The experiment had to be cancelled after just 12 days because the man descended into a deep depression. During the trial, the man found his wife to be “increasingly critical of everything he did.” Her measure of happiness increased only slightly during the experiment. (I suspect my wife may have signed me up for some sort of secret experiment, but that’s OK with me.)
Granted, the results of an experiment with one couple can’t be taken too seriously. But it does beg the question: do we often harm ourselves and others when we abandon what is right in pursuit of peace? One positive conclusion from the experiment might be that we trigger better mental health through expressing ourselves when we believe strongly that we are right about a given topic or situation. In other words, acquiescence as a mechanism to achieve peace and happiness does not always lead to either in human relationships. Of course heavy-handed approaches when expressing what we believe to be right are wrong. Statements like “You dimwit, how could you believe something that asinine?” do not improve anybody’s mental health (plus they hurt my feelings).
Proverbs 16:13 says, “Righteous lips are the delight of a king,
and he loves him who speaks what is right.”
Proverbs 24:26 says, “Whoever gives an honest answer
kisses the lips.”
The Bible encourages the speaking of what is right, but there is a caveat: we are imperfect people and can misconstrue falsehood as truth. That is why stubbornness (aka hardheadedness) must not dominate our lives. And one more thing: acquiescence to God is ALWAYS appropriate and healthy. He is the best teacher of what is right.
Phil Robertson, from the Duck Dynasty TV show, has a wonderful ability to convey to the masses (via his appearance and antics) that the life of any Christian can be fun, edgy, and meaningful. In other words, all Christians don’t have to aspire to look and act like Billy Graham or Francis Chan (don’t get me wrong, I think Billy and Francis are dashing fellows, even though I’ve never seen them in camo and full beards). But it is encouraging that the Robertson family and Duck Dynasty are extremely popular with such a wide range of people right now. Even so, we ought to remember that America has become a fickle nation of fadaholics. The Roberson’s personify the meme. But how long will it last? I hope it lasts a long time and in a good way. Perhaps there is a third generation of Robertson’s waiting in the wings to take the reins.
No doubt the Robertson’s will have their struggles going forward. The paparazzi are always on the prowl to catch celebrity drama and screw-ups. I hope the Robertson’s financial success remains above board. I hope their marriages survive and thrive and that they don’t suffer a tragic moral fail along the way. I hope their children don’t suffer from the harmful side effects of celebrity. But even if some of the Robertson’s mess up because they are human, perhaps their fans, especially Christians, will be prepared to forgive their shortcomings.
Here’s the part that blows my mind: God may be directly using the Robertson’s to inspire millions of Americans (who might otherwise never give God or Christianity a second thought) to ponder the meaning of commitment to family, redemption, transformation, and choosing to live a life that follows Christ while at the same time enjoying life and being industrious. I find it exhilarating and ironic that God has used the Robertson’s to spread the message of God on such a large scale. American church leaders and congregations may have been waiting for a skilled and charismatic speaker, author, mega-church pastor or evangelist to reintroduce God to the people, but God may have other plans. It fascinates me that God may have raised-up the Robertson’s from the ranks of a congregation rather than relying mostly on the heavy hitters in pulpits around the country. But God is known for doing the unexpected now and then. The Robertson’s demonstrate a powerful reality for each person in the congregation: every believer does not need a doctorate in theology, a job as a pastor, and flawless skills in oration to communicate the faith.
The question remains: is Phil Robertson still happy, happy, happy? Other than Phil, Miss Kay may be the only person who knows for sure. I don’t know Phil but I’ve know men similar to Phil, and not much bothers them. I believe Phil Robertson is most likely still happy, happy, happy, because he’s had a life-changing encounter with God. Prior to God entering his life, Phil had seen first-hand how bad life can get. This brouhaha over Phil’s comments regarding sin probably doesn’t come close to the dark places he’s been in the past.
If nothing else, Uncle Si Robertson’s character proves that God has a tremendous sense of humor.
Recently, Phil Roberson, of the popular Duck Dynasty TV show, gave an interview with GQ magazine (which made me wonder if GQ plans to feature camo attire for hipster men). The GQ interviewer asked Phil a question about homosexuality. Phil’s answer included his opinion on same-sex sex (from a heterosexual male perspective) as well as a reference to same-sex sex that is included in a list of several sins within the Bible. Since the interview, Phil has been demonized by the gay community and progressives as Satan incarnate.
Some of Phil’s comments were likely an attempt at humor. He is, after all, a purveyor of humor on Duck Dynasty. But Phil does not veil his Christian faith or his personal preferences. He draws his faith beliefs from the Bible. If you don’t believe the Bible is God’s word to humanity or if you don’t believe in a moral and loving God who sets safe boundaries for human behavior, what difference does it make to you what Phil Robertson believes? Nevertheless, enlightened progressives & representatives from the gay community called Phil a homophobic bigot and hater. They claim such bigotry is born of ignorance. That’s a two-way street. In other words, one could say the same of some in the gay community and their beliefs about Christianity.
Here’s the truth: real Christians (I’m assuming Phil is a real Christian) feel sad and empathetic when they see people hurt themselves by engaging in sins. That includes ALL sins, not just those that aren’t fashionable at the moment. For instance, greed is not currently in vogue so a great number of folks consider it socially acceptable to demonize the greedy. If Phil is indeed a genuine Christian, then his comments about sins, as described in the Bible, are not an attempt to hurt people or make them feel bad about themselves. It’s just the opposite. It is a straightforward (no pun intended) effort to encourage people to stop self-destructive behavior and draw closer to God. After all, anybody who knows Phil’s personal story knows that he has experienced first-hand the devastating effects of sin and poor choices.
I’m fairly confident Phil knows that people can’t be forced to stop making bad choices. People will ultimately do what they want, not necessarily what is best for them. Some people will even claim to be enlightened when they are actually living in darkness. But Phil’s conscience dictates that he speak truth as he understands it. Every American should take note of this and rediscover the sacred value of free speech and how necessary it is for the survival of the human spirit. Without free speech we will unavoidably become slaves to someone else’s tyranny. And free speech is not a commodity for a select few. If everybody doesn’t have free speech, nobody has it.
Real bigots are not concerned with helping the objects of their loathing. Haters are not concerned with helping the objects of their hatred. Homophobes are not concerned with helping the objects of their fear. Is Phil Roberson any of these ugly things? I don’t know for certain, but I doubt it. (Anyhow, I wonder if any gay duck hunters feel conflicted by Phil’s statements, though perhaps they have not yet come out . . . of the duck blind.)
Anhedonia is not a country in Eastern Europe. It is the inability to experience pleasure. Granted, most of us do not suffer from this malady, but not through lack of trying. We Christians, generally speaking, often struggle to enjoy ourselves. For me it started in adolescence when I heard the Parable of the Rich Fool, found in Luke 12:15-21. In the Parable, a man harvests a massive crop that sets him up for the good life for years to come. He tells his soul it is time to sit back, eat, drink, and be merry. There’s just one problem: he died that night and never got to enjoy the fruit of his work. He probably didn’t make it to heaven, either.
The moral lesson of the Parable deals with people who have little or no place for God in their life. Without God as our most significant other, all our plans, achievements, and pleasures are meaningless. The problem is that many of us heard this Parable and took it too far. We have become hyper suspicious of pleasure. Just to be clear, I’m not referring to sinful pleasures (e.g. drunkenness, fornication, gluttony, laziness, sexting, Miley Cyrus concerts, etc.).
In my opinion, there is nothing innately sinful about common pleasures such as enjoying a fine meal, music, or a back rub from your spouse. It’s just when we allow pleasure to replace God as our most significant other that we cross the line into unwise territory.
A family friend passed away a few weeks ago. We went to his funeral recently, which was held at a traditional Lutheran church. It was a formal, pleasant, and moving ceremony. The organ played, a choir sang, the congregation and pastor did responsive readings, and the pastor preached about the deceased man’s hope in Christ. That evening we went to a Winter Jam concert featuring several famous Christian bands and artists. The music was so loud I could feel the thump, thump, thump, of drums and bass in my chest. Thousands of people attended, though it was predominantly a young audience. Fans danced, sang, swayed, stomped their feet, lifted their hands, prayed, took pictures with their mobile phones, and lit up the arena with thousands of lights from smartphone aps.
I couldn’t help but think of the contrast between the funeral services that morning and the concert that night. And yet both events provided followers of Christ a means to worship God. This raises the question: are some church format’s overly dry while others are uncomfortably glitzy? Absolutely! But I must admit I felt God move my heart in both venues that day. Solemn AND lively expressions of faith have tremendous poignancy when you see that coffin in front of the church altar. Solemn churches show us how to have reverence for the God who defeated death (the most serious subject of all) on our behalf. Lively church venues show us how to celebrate the God who defeated death on our behalf.
If you only experience God’s presence through one style, I encourage you to try new styles now and then. It will enrich your faith and expand your encounters with God. It will empower you to move between diverse expressions of faith without feeling dry or out of place. It will broaden your community of fellow believers. Warning: You may find yourself occasionally visiting a church with an unhealthy style. (If they break out a box of poisonous snakes during worship, well, LEAVE!) I believe the Holy Spirit warns us when we are in an unhealthy style of worship. But we have to be listening to the Spirit’s promptings. On the other hand, it is too easy to let our preferences stifle the Spirit’s attempts at touching our hearts. When we set limits on how we allow God to communicate, well, that’s extreme . . . extremely limiting and unfulfilling.