Mean Women in the Church

Qualification for an Elder: “If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?” 1 Timothy 3:5

Qualifications for a Deacon’s wife: “In the same way, their wives are to be women worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything.” 1 Tim 3:11

Recently my family and I were visiting a church. My daughter noticed that a woman I knew from a former Bible study group was on the church worship team. She turned to me and said, “Hey mommy, is that one of the mean girls?” At the age of seven, my daughter is exquisitely attuned to the realities of my life. She knows and understands quite well the meanness I have endured from women. As far as the mean behavior of women goes I have been subjected to every form known to man from an early age on.

Educators now are much more sensitively attuned to the reality of bullying since we now have child terrorists who plan and engage in murderous attacks against schools. But back when I was little no such awareness existed. So when I was in first and second grade I had the fun business of going to school only to be excluded from the group by the lead female bully. Every day the ring leader would give the “ok” signal in class to a girl sitting nearby. That girl in turn would return the signal to her and then turn and give the signal to another girl as the sign of inclusion. If you did not receive the signal and you tried giving it but did not receive it back from another girl, you were not “in” for the day, which meant you would be excluded at recess. I remember the sick feeling of anxiety that would settle in the pit of my stomach when I did not get the signal. My method for coping with this varied. I would alternate between attempting to placate the ring leader and trying to be in her good graces, to giving up in despair and going and playing soccer with the boys. One day I pushed the girl bully in the bathroom. She went back and reported to the teacher that she had a stomach ache because I pushed her and so I got in trouble. If I had known I was going to get in trouble I would have made it worth my while and punched her in the mouth. No teacher ever intervened in the situation and it went on unabated. In third grade I called her up on the phone and told her to “go to hell.” Pretty bold for a third grader but I had had enough of her and no one else was coming to my defense. She was a sociopath in the making. She was a schemer and a pathological liar from an early age and this continued until her untimely death at age thirty six by cancer. Psalm 55:23 says that “bloodthirsty and deceitful” men will not live out half their days.


As I have previously stated, educators are now much more aware of bullying because our schools have turned into war zones. But how about our churches? Are they war zones too? They can be. Women wage war very differently than men, but they wage it just the same. They mostly wage war by murdering people with their tongues and using the medium of relationship to destroy. Psychologists have now come up with a name for this type of warfare: “relational aggression” and women specialize in it. Relational aggression is also known as “covert aggression” or “covert bullying.” It is a type of aggression in which harm is caused to one’s relationships or social status.

Men have been given power and authority to lead the church. A part of that power and authority is supposed to be used to “protect the flock.” Yet male leaders in the church are often either woefully unaware or purposefully blind to aggression perpetrated by women. According to one article on relational aggression there are three main types: 1. Excluding others from social activities 2. Damaging the victim’s reputation with others by spreading rumors, gossiping about the victim or humiliating him in front of others. 3. Withdrawing attention and friendship. Psychological manipulation and coercion can also be a type of relational aggression. What are some of the consequences in general for women who experience relational aggression from other women? Regularly experiencing aggression can cause many short term and long term consequences such as depression, behavior problems, poor social skills, lack of close peer relationships, difficulty in academic performance, low school engagement, undermined feelings of competence, low self-esteem, and physical symptoms of distress. These are some pretty profound consequences which would obviously affect our ability to have authentic fellowship with others in the church as well as affect our ability to serve using our gifts.

Though there are no “qualifications” listed for elders wives, one of the qualifications listed in 1 Timothy is that an elder is to be hospitable. He also must be able to manage his own family well. It specifically outlines qualifications for deacon’s wives: women worthy of respect, not malicious talkers, temperate and trustworthy in everything. Certainly if you are a woman who engages in any form of relational aggression you most definitely are not trustworthy and not acting in a manner worthy of respect. Nor are you showing respect for other people You also most likely are using your tongue in a manner which harms others. Elders, which include the pastor, need to take seriously whether they meet the qualifications to lead the church, but also take seriously whether their wives meet them as well. A part of leading one’s family well is knowing one’s wife. Does she meet the description above? Temperate? Not a malicious talker? Trustworthy? How does SHE personally treat ALL women in the church? Does she speak well of them? Treat them with kindness? Is she inclusive? Do you know? The church is supposed to be a family of believers reaching out to a lost world not a social club where members sit around and congratulate each other on their righteousness. Churches should be places where ALL women can find acceptance and belonging and be loved by their sisters in Christ. It should not be a place of favoritism where some women are welcomed into the exclusive clique and others rejected. The church belongs to Christ, and it is a great honor but also a great responsibility to oversee it. It’s a difficult task and one not to be undertaken lightly.

Let’s look a little closer at the qualifications listed for a Deacon’s wife.

What does it mean to be a woman worthy of respect? Well certainly it means to be a person of integrity. In other words someone who is consistent in character. Women who are worthy of respect are women who fear God and thus are women who have respect for what God has made. So it would mean a woman who shows respect for other people in general. In particular she would treat other women with honor, with kindness, with compassion and care. She would consider other women above herself and look out for their interests. (Philippians 2:4) She would be a woman who welcomes other women into the church and embraces them. She would be an encourager to other women and treat them with dignity and respect. She would support other women in the church as they use their gifts. These kinds of actions cannot take place if we harbor pride, bitter envy and selfish ambition in our hearts (James 3:14). We will not act as women worthy of respect if we see other women as our competitors. Barnabas, whose name means “son of encouragement” showed this kind of honorable conduct to the Apostle Paul. He embraced Paul and took him to meet the other disciples who were afraid of him. He also encouraged and supported Paul in his missionary journeys. He took the attitude that “Paul’s success is my success” since we are working toward the same goal.

What does it mean to be a woman who is not a malicious talker? The Greek word here for “malicious” is “diabolos” and means slanderer. It is not hard to see the reference to the devil who is diabolical and the “accuser of the brethren.” We are told he accuses them night and day before the throne. We act like the devil when we accuse others and judge them falsely and render false reports of them. It is not honorable behavior to talk badly of others. Yet women often engage in gossip and have eager and receptive listeners. Proverbs says that the words of a gossip are “like choice morsels” that “go down to a man’s inmost parts.” (Proverbs 18:8) But even though hearing gossip initially is akin to eating a tasty treat, it’s ultimate effect is not so pleasant. Gossip effects the gossip, the listener as well as the victim of the gossip. We cannot listen to gossip without having our opinion about another person be changed, even if it is very subtly. The next thing we know our actions toward that person have also changed. We are treating them slightly different because of what someone has told us about them. And what if that report was false? Proverbs says “A gossip separates close friends.” (Proverbs 16:28). It does not say that a gossip separates friends. It says close friends. Thus the effect of gossip is to cause division among people who were once dear to one another. To gossip is also to destroy another woman’s reputation. Proverbs states that a person’s reputation is very important: “A good name is more desirable than great riches, to be esteemed better than silver or gold.” (Proverbs 22:1) So to be a part of destroying someone’s good name then is a serious matter. It is akin to murder. Proverbs 18:21 says that the tongue has the power of life and death and that those who love it shall eat it’s fruit.” To use our tongue to slander others is to murder them. It creates the destruction of lives and relationships. The word malicious means “having or showing the desire to cause harm to another person.” If we are women who are worthy of respect we will be by the grace of God trying to live out the two great commands of loving God and loving others. We cannot love others with a tongue fueled by hate and set on fire by hell (James 3:6).

What does it mean to be a woman who is temperate? The Greek word for temperate used here translates to “sober minded, circumspect.” To be circumspect means to carefully consider all circumstances and possible consequences. The business of the church often calls for discreetness. The elders and deacons are privy to many private matters which occur in people’s lives. I am sure they share many of these matters with their wives. Knowing such private information about people requires that women be able to be discreet. It requires them to have wisdom which involves knowing the right thing to do in the right situation. It is also about knowing what not to do in certain circumstances. Wisdom is forward thinking. It thinks ahead to what the consequences for an action or a word will be and weighs that consequence. Thus a woman who is sober will be a woman who gives thought to her ways and particularly to how her actions may affect her husband and the church. Positions of leadership require this ability of circumspection. The foolish actions of a woman can cost both her husband and the church a great deal.


What does it mean to be a woman who is trustworthy? The Greek word here is “pistos.” It means to be sure, to be true. Some translations say “faithful in all things.” There are many days in my cynicism where I am not sure any trustworthy women can be found. People in general are good at presenting fronts, but women in particular have honed this into an art. I have a name for this, I call it the “smiling assassin.” Women can smile to your face, speak pleasantly and seem genuinely concerned about you. However, as soon as you are out of earshot they are speaking about you in the most critical manner, assassinating your character. The only person we are lying to is ourselves when we act this way as women. The truth of the matter is that we are little more than hypocrites and liars when we act as if we love someone to their face when in fact we hate them in our hearts. Do we really believe God is fooled? Jeremiah in his prayer in Jeremiah 20:12 describes God as “the Almighty, You who examine the righteous and probe the heart and mind.” God is never fooled by our hypocrisy and eventually and usually unwittingly we give ourselves away by word or action. Those moments when I’ve been with another woman and they’ve just revealed themselves to me is never pleasant. However I will say it is helpful for me when women play their hand, and they always do. I’ve told my husband many times “I really have to stop having lunch with my enemies.” But it’s dang tough sometimes to know who your enemies are until they play their Ace of Hearts. It is impossible to trust any such woman who acts like this. A woman who is trustworthy is someone who truly loves God and shows her love for Him by her genuine love for people. She is someone you know has your best interest at heart and she is able to keep a confidence. If I were to devise a single test to determine the trustworthiness of a woman it would be this: can she keep a confidence. That test alone would leave a heck of a whole lot of women in the dust, because it requires self-restraint of the tongue.

One can see why these characteristics, being worthy of respect, not given to slander, temperate and trustworthy would be very important as the wife of a leader in the church. Women who think they are submissive to their husbands often show that they truly are not by engaging in the types of relational aggression previously discussed. They may “behave” while around their husbands, but if they are engaging in behaviors which cut down and destroy other women, they are undermining the leadership of the church just as much as any man. Men, including leaders of the church, walk around impervious to this kind of aggression which is going on. I have seen it happen right in front of male leaders and they are completely oblivious to what is unfolding in front of them. I am not sure what it is going to take to get male leadership in the church to both understand and take seriously the aggressive behavior of women. There have been several stories which have made national news of female teens who have committed suicide due to the bullying of female peers. Is it going to take this kind of tragedy for the church to wake up? If we have a zero tolerance policy for bullying in the workplace and the schools, should we tolerate bullying in the church? Should we tolerate a climate of rudeness, disrespect and incivility? If we have had to wise up to violence in the workplace and in the schools, should we not wise up to it in the church? One of the ways we need to “wise up” in the church is understanding and dealing effectively with the hidden aggression of women. Men need to be courageous and man enough to stand up to women and deal with their poor behavior, even if it is their own wives. Anyone who has seen Shakespeare’s play Othello knows the devastating effect one unrestrained liar can have.In the same way, one unrestrained sinful woman can bring down an entire church. If there is one thing the last five years has taught me it is that the Christian life is serious business and so is the leading of the church. Male leaders need to “wise up” and take the behavior of women seriously and deal with it just as soberly as they do men. When we treat the wound of sin lightly we make the church a dangerous place for all.

Feature Box Photo credit: Public Domain / CC 1.0

Photo Credit: Public Domain / CC 1.0

Photo credit: Public Domain / CC 1.0

Photo credit: By Tiago Lima from Lisboa, Portugal (WhisperUploaded by tm) [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Night Of The Living Dead: Also Known As A Trip To The DMV

I have to admit that I dread any trip to the Division of Motor Vehicles, but I particularly dread the trip where I have to get my new license photo taken. By some miraculous act of God, my last license picture was Department of Motor VehiclesGOOD. I ACTUALLY LIKED IT. I am not photogenic, at least this is what I tell myself. It could just be that my photos are realistic and I don’t like them because I am actually not that good looking. As Twain says, “Homely truth is unpalatable.” At any rate, it was time to go in for the dreaded license photo. By some other miraculous act of God the DMV was empty. I walked right in and was waited on right away. This should have been a sign to me that something was definitely awry.

Every other DMV visit I had been able to read War and Peace. In retrospect the DMV was empty because all the real workers had been replaced by zombies. I walked up to the lady. She was dressed in black, wore glasses and at no time emanated any signs of life. She stared out at me blankly and said in a monotone almost automated voice, “What is your name?” Then she proceeds to ask me a number of questions all in this same monotone voice. I want to ask her if she would like me to get the resuscitation paddles, but I think better of it as this IS the woman who will be taking the dreaded license photo.

I am instructed to place my forehead against this machine which in turns lights up a screen. I make a note to myself to try and purchase one of these for home use. The kiddos would like it. Then I am instructed to read the letters aloud, just like at the eye doctors office. Curiously the letters spelled out R-U-N-F-O-R-Y-O-U-R-L-I-F-E. I found this odd, but didn’t have time to dwell on it as we moved to the next test. This test is a “sign” test. This is to see if you understand and can recognize the street signs you see everyday. I feel greatly worried that two of these signs are a traffic light and a stop sign. Do people really need a review of THESE? If they do, I am going to start riding the Metro. The only sign I miss is the “Dead End” sign. It is a red sign with a white box in the middle, minus the letters of course. “Dead End” seems to be some sort of metaphor for this whole experience I am enduring.

Finally it is time for the dreaded photo. The only thing worse than getting ones picture taken for ones license is that you also have to tell your weight. Out loud. Don’t they know that this is anathema to every American woman? Heck to every woman on the planet? You want me to tell you my REAL weight OUT LOUD? This is the equivalent of having the dressing room door ripped open by some kid when you are in the middle of trying on swim suits. You finally got up the courage to try on that bikini and BAM that renegade kid exposes you. It’s THAT traumatizing. The weight question always puts me in a moral dilemma. There is a strong urge to lie, but then I am afraid that my nose will look longer in the picture. Do I go with the long nose or the short nose? Do I dare speak aloud the real weight or go with the false weight? These questions seem too daunting.

I want to protest that these are the kinds of questions that take eons of philosophical debate to answer. I am given seconds. I make my decision. I am also asked a very serious question of whether I want to be an organ donor. I decide I am going to consider donating my brain to science. Certainly that particular DMV worker is on some sort of waiting list somewhere to receive a new brain. She asks me in her droning voice to take a seat. I am wondering if she has any experience at all with cameras. After all this IS a very important photo. The light has to be just right. I can’t be smiling too broadly, or too wanly. Does my hair look okay? Do I look fat in this shirt? Does she think the color I am wearing will become me? She doesn’t care. The woman who knows the two greatest secrets of my life, my age and my weight, doesn’t give a rip. The flash is blinding and then the dastardly deed is over. As was expected, I didn’t like it. I wanted to ask for a retake, but mummies don’t give retakes. So I am stuck with my homely truth, my genuine weight, and my short nose. I guess it could be worse. I could be a mummy who works at the DMV.

Photo credit: defndaines / / CC BY-NC-SA

Feature Box Photo Credit: Scott Ableman via Compfight cc

The Face Of My Soul: Pondering the Picture of Dorian Gray

“Sin is a thing that writes itself across a man’s face. It cannot be concealed.”

Oscar Wilde


“Beauty? Let me tell you something- being thought of as a ‘beautiful woman’ has spared me nothing in life. No heartache. No trouble. Love has been difficult. Beauty is essentially meaningless and it is always transitory.”

Halle Berry


One of the reasons we read literature is because it asks us to grapple with the hard questions of life. It suffuses us in difficult subject matter. In “The Picture of Dorian Gray”, Oscar Wilde asks us to reflect upon art, Oscar Wildebeauty, influence and sin. Wilde is part poet, part wit, and part philosopher. His writing is lyrical. It is a thing of beauty in itself. I would come to certain sentences and write “wonderful” or “beautiful” in the margin. Here are a couple that I admired: “She was a curious woman, whose dresses always looked as if they had been designed in a rage and put on in a tempest.” And: “He was trying to gather up the scarlet threads of life, and to weave them into a pattern; to find his way through the sanguine labyrinth of passion through which he was wandering.”

The story revolves around three main characters. An artist, named Basil Hallward, a young man named Dorian Gray, and the aristocratic Lord Henry. The story begins by a visit from Lord Henry to his friend Hallward. They are discussing the full length portrait Hallward has just painted of a young man of extraordinary beauty, Dorian Gray. Lord Henry admires the work as the best Hallward has ever done. During this visit Hallward confesses to Lord Henry that he will never exhibit Dorian’s painting because he has “shown in it the secret of my own soul.” He then describes to Lord Henry the fact that in first meeting Dorian Gray he felt afraid because he felt he had met someone “whose personality was so fascinating that, if I allowed it to do so, it would absorb my whole nature, my whole soul, my very art itself.”

Of course Lord Henry wishes to meet this young man who has so fascinated his friend. Hallward says, “Dorian Gray is to me simply a motive in art. You might see nothing in him. I see everything in him.” It is as if Basil Hallward has found the perfect muse for his art. A young man who exemplifies a beauty and naivete that is unspoiled by the world and that inspires Hallward and gives a transcendence to his art. Hallward essentially admits, though not in explicit terms,that he “worships” Dorian Gray. He tells Lord Henry how he has flattered Dorian dreadfully. Yet he also admits that Dorian can be “horribly thoughtless” and “seem to take a real delight in giving me pain.” He says further, “Then I feel Harry (Lord Henry) that I have given away my whole soul to someone who treats it as if it were a flower to put in his coat, a bit of decoration to charm his vanity, an ornament for a summer’s day.”

Lord Henry is now very curious to meet this young man Dorian Gray whom Hallward is so taken with. Hallward strenuously objects. He says to Lord Henry slowly and painfully “I don’t want you to meet him………..He has a simple and a beautiful nature……Don’t spoil him. Don’t try to influence him. Your influence would be bad. The world is wide, and has many marvellous people in it. Don’t take away from me the one person who gives to my art whatever charm it possesses; my life as an artist depends on him.” Lord Henry feels he is talking nonsense. In walks Dorian Gray. Lord Henry gives his initial impression of Gray: “Yes , he was certainly wonderfully handsome with his finely curved scarlet lips, his frank blue eyes, his crisp gold hair. There was something in his face that made one trust him at once.” Dorian is almost immediately fascinated by Lord Henry. Basil warns Dorian not to listen to him. He says, “Don’t pay any attention to what Lord Henry says. He has a very bad influence over all his friends, with the single exception of myself.”

The Picture of Dorian GrayDorian is intrigued. He says to Lord Henry, “Have you really a very bad influence, Lord Henry? As bad as Basil says?” Lord Henry replies, “There is no such thing as a good influence, Mr. Gray. All influence is immoral…….because to influence a person is to give him one’s own soul. He does not think his natural thoughts or burn with his natural passions. His virtues are not real to him. His sins, if there are such things as sins, are borrowed. He becomes an echo of someone else’s music, an actor of a part that has not been written for him.” Then he explains to Dorian his philosophy of life, “The aim of life is self-development. To realise one’s nature perfectly – that is what each of us is here for. People are afraid of themselves, nowadays. They have forgotten the highest of all duties, the duty that one owes to oneself.” He goes on to further expound his philosophy. “I believe that if one man were to live out his life fully and completely, were to give form to every feeling, expression, to every thought, reality to every dream – I believe that the world would gain such a fresh impulse of joy that we would forget all the maladies………the only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it.”

Just as Dorian has become indispensable to his artist friend Hallward, dominating him with his personality, so Lord Henry will become to Dorian. Dorian comments about Lord Henry’s views: “The few words that Basil’s friend had said to him – words spoken by chance, no doubt, and with willful paradox in them – had touched some secret chord that had never been touched before, but that he felt was now vibrating and throbbing to curious pulses.” At one point Lord Henry comes outside to find Dorian drinking in the fragrance of a lilac bloom. “You are quite right to do that,” he tells him. “Nothing can cure the soul but the senses, just as nothing can cure the senses but he soul.” Dorian draws back. He is afraid of Lord Henry. Dorian says, “Why had it been left to a stranger to reveal him to himself? He had known Basil Hallword for months, but the friendship between them had never altered him. Suddenly there had come someone across his life who seemed to have disclosed to him life’s mystery. And yet what was there to be afraid of? It was absurd to be frightened.”

Lord Henry warns Dorian he should take care not to become burned by the sun. “What should it matter?”cries Dorian. “It should matter everything to you, Mr. Gray. You have the most marvellous youth, and youth is the one thing worth having. Now wherever you go, you charm the world. Will it always be so? ……….You have only a few years in which to live really, perfectly, and fully. When your youth goes, your beauty will go with it, and then you will suddenly discover that there are no triumphs left for you, or you have to content yourself with mean triumphs that the memory of your past will make more bitter than defeats. Every month as it wanes brings you nearer to something dreadful. Time is jealous of you, and wars against your lilies and roses……..Live the wonderful life that is in you. Let nothing be lost upon you. Be always searching for new sensations. Be afraid of nothing…….a new Hedonism. That is what our century wants.”

It is as this point in the story that the artist finishes his picture and turns it for Dorian to inspect. Wilde writes, “when he saw it he drew back, and his cheeks flushed for a moment with pleasure. A look of joy came into The Picture of Dorian Grayhis eyes, as if he had recognised himself for the first time…..The sense of his own beauty came on him like a revelation. He had never felt it before. “How said it is,” he remarks, “I shall grow old, and horrible, and dreadful. But this picture will remain always young. It will never be older that this particular day of June…….If it were only the other way around! If it were I who would always be young, and the picture was to grow old! For that I would give everything! Yes, there is nothing in the whole world I would not give! I would give my soul for that!” Lord Henry makes some comment here about how that Basil would not like that very much. That this would be “hard on his work.” Here Dorian turns on Hallward angrily, “I believe you would Basil. You like your art better than you like your friends. I am no more to you that a green bronze figure. Hardly as much I dare say!…….How long will you like me? Till I have my first wrinkle I suppose. I know now that when one loses one’s good looks, whatever they may be, one loses everything. Your picture has taught me that. Lord Henry Wotton is perfectly right. Youth is the only thing worth having.”

Dorian soon comes to Lord Henry and tells him he is in love and engaged to be married to a poor young actress named Sybil Vane. Dorian himself is of a more respectable class and is privately wealthy. Lord Henry, being the disillusioned man that he is, instructs Dorian on love. He tells him, “Never marry at all. Men marry because they are tired, women because they are curious; both are disappointed…….When one is in love, one always begins by deceiving oneself, one always ends by deceiving others. That is what the world calls romance.” Dorian persists in his declarations of love for Sybil. He invites both Basil and Lord Henry to see her perform. Her perfomance is a disaster.

It turns out that since she has fallen in love with Dorian, she now sees acting as a fraud. The stage was where she once “lived her life.” She can no longer do so she tells Dorian because real life and real love now mean more to her than acting. Dorian is disillusioned both by her performance in front of his friends and in her new philosophy of life. In the same way he accused Basil Hallward of being more interested in his art, Dorian seems to have been more interested in the actress Sybil Vane, than the real person Sybil Vane. He says to her after the performance, “You have thrown it all away. You are shallow and stupid! How mad I was to love you! What a fool I have been. You are nothing to me now. I will never see you again. I will never think of you. I will never mention your name……How little you know of love, if you say it mars your art! Without your art you are nothing.”

When Dorian comes home that night, as he enters his residence his eye falls upon the painting that Basil had painted of him. Wilde tells us, “He started back as if in surprise. Then he went on into his own room, looking somewhat puzzled……Finally he came back over to the picture and examined it. In the dim arrested light that struggled through the cream colored silk blinds, the face appeared to him to be a little changed. The expression looked different. One would have said that there was a touch of cruelty in the mouth. It was certainly strange….Cruelty! Had he been cruel? It was the girl’s fault not his. He had dreamed of her as a great artist, had given his love to her because he had thought her great. Then she had disappointed him. She had been shallow and unworthy. And, yet, a feeling of infinite regret came over him as he thought of her lying at his feet sobbing like a little child. He remembered with what callousness he had watched her. Why had he been made like that? Why had such a soul been given to him?……But the picture! What was he to say of that? It held the secret of his life and told his story. It had taught him to love his own beauty. Would it teach him to loathe his own soul? Would he ever look at it again?……….It had altered already, and would alter more. It’s gold would wither into gray. Its red and white roses would die. For every sin that he committed a stain would fleck and wreck its fairness. But he would not sin.” Dorian decides he will make amends. He will go to Sybil Vane and try to love her again.

In the morning Lord Henry comes to tell him of Sybil Vane’s suicide. Dorian wonders why he cannot feel this tragedy as much as he wants to. He knows it does not affect him as it should and that he does not feel wounded. He wonders if “life has still in store for me anything as marvellous.” Lord Henry assures him, “Life has everything in store for you, Dorian. There is nothing that you, with your extraordinary good looks, will not be able to do.” “But suppose I become haggard, old and wrinkled? What then?” Dorian asks. “Ah then,” says Lord Henry, “then my dear Dorian, you would have to fight for you victories. As it is, they are brought to you.” Instead of mourning Sybil’s death, Dorian and Lord Henry go to the Opera later that evening.

From now on, morning by morning Dorian sits before his portrait, “wondering at it’s beauty, almost enamoured of it. Was it to become a monstous and loathesome thing, to be hidden away in a locked room, to be shut out from sunlight that had so often touched to brighter gold the waving wonder of his hair? The pity of it! The pity of it!” He wonders at the prayer that he uttered and how it has come true. Yet he decides, “If the picture was to alter, it was to alter. That was all. Why inquire too closely into it? For there would be a real pleasure in watching it. He would be able to follow his mind into secret places. This portrait would be to him the most magical of mirrors. As it had revealed to him his own body, so it would reveal to him his own soul.”

At first Dorian places his painting behind a screen to hide it from view. But when Basil comes to visit and requests to exhibit it, Dorian decides the portrait must “be hidden away at all costs.” Paranioia grips him. He places a rich purple cover over the picture and has it moved upstairs to an empty room which he now keeps locked. “Yes that would serve to wrap the dreadful thing,” Dorian notes to himself. “What the worm was to the corpse, his sins would be to the painted image on the canvas. They would mar its beauty, and eat away its grace. They would defile it, and make it shameful. And yet the thing would live on. It would always be alive………His own soul was looking out to him from the canvas and calling him to judgement…..How ugly it all was! And how horribly real ugliness made things!”

Around this time Lord Henry gives Dorian a book. It is a poisonous book that fills Dorian’s mind with poisonous thoughts. He begins to sink down into a life of sordidness and sin. “Yet the wonderful beauty that so fascinated others……never seemed to leave him. Even those who heard the most evil things against him, and from time to time strange rumors about his mode of life crept through London and became the chatter of the clubs, could not believe anything to his dishonour when they saw him.” Yet privately the portrait kept changing. Dorian describes it: “Looking now at the evil and ageing face on the canvas, and now at the fair young face that laughed back at him (in the mirror he held)…..the very sharpness of the contrast used to quicken his sense of pleasure………He would examine with minute care, and sometimes with a monstrous and terrible delight, the hideous lines that seared the wrinkling forehead, or crawled around the heavy sensual mouth, wondering sometimes which were the more horrible, the signs of sin or the signs of age…..he would think of the ruin he had brought upon his soul.”

Then it came to pass that he could hardly be separated from the picture at all. Now Dorian was so afraid someone would see his secret he had elaborate bars placed upon the door. “It was still true”, Dorian notes, “that under all the foulness and ugliness of the face, the portrait still preserved its marked likeness to himself.” Though he lived his life in wanton luxury and gorgeous splendour, it was said that “there were not a few who distrusted him.” Women who had wildly adored him, were said to “grow pallid with shame or horror when Dorian entered the room.” Wilde notes, “It was remarked that some of those who had been most intimate with him, after a time, appeared to shun him.” Yet, these whispered scandals only seemed to increase for many his “strange and dangerous charm.”

The Picture of Dorian GrayFinally his good friend Basil Hallward comes to confront Dorian on these terrible rumors he is hearing about him. He asks him how come so many young men who have associated with Dorian have now come to ruin? He says to Dorian, “You don’t want people to talk about you as something vile and degraded. Of course you have your position and wealth, but position and wealth are not everything. Mind you I don’t believe these rumors at all. At least I can’t believe them when I see you. Sin is a thing that writes itself across a man’s face. It cannot be concealed.” He wonders aloud if he really knows Dorian. But Basil decries, “Before I could answer that, I should have to see your soul.” At this, with a bitter laugh of mockery, Dorian decides to show him the portrait. “You shall see it yourself tonight!” he cries.

After Dorian tears the curtain from the portrait, “an exclamation of horror broke from the painter’s lips as he saw in the dim light the hideous face on the canvas grinning at him. There was something in the expression that filled him with loathing and disgust. Good heavens! It was Dorian Gray’s own face that he was looking at! The horror, whatever it was, had not entirely spoiled that marvellous beauty……His own picture! What did it mean? Why had it altered? He turned and looked at Dorian with the eyes of a sick man.” Dorian reminds Basil of the prayer he had uttered about his own portrait and how it has come true. The portrait changes, while his beauty remains unaltered. Basil says to him, “I worshipped you too much. We are both punished.” He urges Dorian to pray for repentance. “It is too late,” replies Dorian. “Don’t say that”, says Basil. “You have done enough evil. Don’t you see that accursed thing leering at us?” At this Dorian glances at the picture and a feeling of hatred for Basil comes over him. In a fit of rage he murders the artist who had painted the “face of his soul.” Aferwords Dorian is able to go and sleep peacefully.

Yet, Basil’s murder will haunt Dorian for the rest of his life. The portrait now shows blood dripping from one of Dorian’s hands. He ends up enlisting the help of one of the young men he has ruined to help him get rid of the body. The man is unwilling to help him, but Dorian threatens to expose a secret he knows about him, so the man is forced to participate in the cover up of the murder. Later this man commits suicide. Still Dorian is unable to find respite from the guilt, even though he tries to “cure the soul by the senses” by going to “the opium dens.” In the end, unable to live with himself or the mirror of his soul, Dorian attempts to destroy the painting itself. He stabs it repeatedly with a knife. When the servants enter the room they find hanging upon the wall “a splendid portrait of their master as they had last seen him, in all the wonder of his exquisite youth and beauty. Lying on the floor was a dead man, in evening dress, with a knife in his heart. He was withered, wrinkled and loathesome of visage. It is said that “It was not till they examined his rings, that they recognised who it was.”

Dorian Gray is a story for our times. It is a beautifully crafted and well thought out piece of literature. Wilde definitely displays his brilliance here. He asks us to consider many things: Influence, beauty, art and sin. Let’s look at the first of these which is influence. Wilde himself influences us with the idea that “all influence is immoral.” Certainly we see here the intersection of two powerful influences on the young life of Dorian Gray. Influences that once set in motion, will ultimately destroy him. I don’t agree with Wilde that all influence is immoral. Nor do I agree that to influence is to simply make someone a parrot of oneself. What I think Wilde does show well with his inimitable genious is the power of influence. The first influence on Dorian is Basil Hallward. Through Basil’s flattery and ultimately his exquisite portait, Dorian becomes self aware of his beauty. No sooner is he exposed to this fragile gift God has bestowed upon him than it is stolen away by the cynicism of Lord Henry. Lord Henry has experienced much of life and has found it disappointing. Lord Henry is not wrong to say that youth will fade. Yet what he introduces into Dorian’s life is much more. He exposes him to fatalism. He tells him in essence to have the courage to live out every hedonistic desire he has because once youth is gone, there will be nothing more for Dorian to live for. The combination of the influence of these two men place Dorian’s life on a tragic trajectory. Hallward has given him a permanent memorial to the fleeting gift of beauty. Lord Henry has already taken away his hope that life can have any meaning. This is a challenge for us. Do we influence people for good or evil? Do we bring hope, life and meaning to their lives? Or do we bring death and despair?

Lord Henry’s philosophy is nothing new. In the New Testament the Apostle Paul talks to two groups of philosophers in Athens – the Stoics and the Epicureans. The Epicurean’s believed that “seeking happiness or pleasure” was the primary goal of life. The Stoics placed reason and thinking about feeling. They tried to live in harmony with natue and reason, suppressing their desire for pleasure. Lord Henry is an Epicurean and so are many, many people today. Their philosophy could be summed up, “eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die.” This philosophy ultimately leads people to despair as they ruin their lives by indulgent pleasures. There is little thought or focus on love for one’s neighbor. There certainly is no understanding of God or view of eternity in place. I think Oscar Wilde is really putting forth his own views in the voice of Lord Henry.

Both Lord Henry and Basil Hallward reduce Dorian to something less than he really is. By worshipping Dorian, Basil reduces him to an object. Dorian objects to this by telling Basil “he cares more for his art than for him. Dorian in turn does the same thing to Sybil Vane. Dorian worships Sybil and so reduces her as well. Just as Dorian worried that Basil would not be interested in him if his beauty faded, so Dorian lost interested in Sybil when she failed him as an actress. This exemplifies that all idolatry leads to disillusionment. Lord Henry reduces Dorian as well. He expresses the idea that Dorian’s life will only be meaningful while he is beautiful. Once his beauty is gone, so also his life will be gone. Thus Dorian’s prayer to keep his outer beauty at the expense of his soul. The conclusion of the story shows us the wisdom of Christ’s words: “What good is it if a man gains the whole world and yet forfeits his soul?” Though he had everything the world says is important: wealth, beauty, position, ultimately it is meaningless because of the corruption of his soul. A double life gets extremely heavy to bear.

Wilde asks us to ponder both the meaning of art and of beauty in this story. Lord Henry tells Dorian that “beauty is a form of genius – is higher indeed than genius because it needs no explanantion……it has divine right of sovereignty. It makes princes of those who have it.” In the preface of the story Oscar Wilde writes a number of philosophical statements. He begins with: “The artist is the creator of beautiful things.” He ends with “All art is quite useless.” One could say that this sums up Wilde’s philosophy of life. God is in fact an artist. He is a creator of beautiful things. One of the things he created was human beings, some of whom are very beautiful indeed. Yet without a knowledge of his creator, man does sink down into meaninglessness. It is only with the understanding that he is a created being, made in the image of God and designed to have a relationship with his Creator, does man gain meaning. Without this understanding, beautiful people become as useless as beautiful art.

We live in an age where beauty reigns supreme. There is hardly a woman in America who feels she “measure up” or is “good enough” when it comes to meeting the beauty standards women are supposed to live up to. We are bombarded constantly with images of beautiful people in movies and magazines. We spend billions annually on consmetic surgery, cosmetics and other things to enhance our outward facade. Yet we spend little time and energy on the development of our souls. Wilde challenges us to consider the things we automatically attribute to beautiful people. As Lord Henry tells Dorian, “ Now you do not have to fight for your victories, they come to you.” So many things are just handed to beautiful people aren’t they? We automatically assume they are trustworthy, smart, successful, talented, popular. We really do fall at their feet and worship them. We have a hard time believing they could be corrupt. We think it is not possible that they could be evil. Yet we see this is exactly what Dorian was. Wilde is challenging us to confront our stereotypes of beauty.

And what of art? Is it meaningless? I don’t believe it is. Oscar Wilde’s story in itself is a thing of art. It is well crafted and beautifully written. We learn a lot from it, not only about Wilde, but about ourselves. A great artist ultimately reflects and point to the greatest of all artists, which is God himself. Not all art helps us to see God. Not all art is good. Some of it is pure rubbish. Good art always transcends. Every piece of music that Bach wrote was written ‘solo de gloria’, to the glory of God. His music stands the test of time as great art because it lifts our eyes to the heavenlies. Wilde’s art stands the test of time as great literature, because it makes us ponder the great questions of life.

Where Wilde really excels in this story is in his depiction of sin. In describing the altered portrait that Basil Hallward sees Wilde says “the leprosies of sin were slowly eating the thing away. The rotting of a corpse in a watery grave was not so fearful.” It’s interesting to think of sin like leprosy. Sin is not a disease, but it functions a lot like a disease. It slowly wears away at the inner life of a person, just as Dorian’s portrait altered over time. Leprosy is a disease which damages the nerve endings in the skin. So the person who has leprosy may put his hand in the fire and not realize he has been burned. So sin has the same effect on a man. It hardens his heart so that each time he commits that sin, he becomes a little more callous to it until he can no longer even feel sorrow for committing it. This callousness of heart is a far worse condition than leprosy. It is interesting that the first change in the portrait is reflected in the mouth. A touch of cruelty in the mouth.

The book of James says, “the tongue is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” He says that “It is set on fire by hell itself and it sets the whole course of a man’s life on fire.” (James 3:6) Dorian Gray’s words were so cruel to his fiancee that she took her own life. The same day he learned of her death, he went to the Opera that evening. Even at that young age Dorian was cruel without remorse. Worse yet is enjoying cruelty. Basil Hallward noted Dorian’s tendency to “take a real delight in giving me pain.” In the end Dorian sinks from sadistic cruelty down to hatred and murder, though in fact he murdered from the beginning with his tongue. The man Dorian enlisted to help him get rid of Basil’s body tells Dorian, “You have gone from corruption to corruption, and now you have culminated in a crime.”

How does one know exactly that they are in the presence of an evil person? Certainly Dorian’s image made it hard for anyone to believe that he could be capable of hideous things. We all know people like that don’t we? There are many people who hide behind facades of good while carrying out terrible crimes. We just can’t believe the “nice, little old man” could be a sexual predator, or the hockey coach could be beating his wife at night, or that the mother who sings and plays her trumpet in the choir could be a stalker. How can these things be possible? Double lives are more than possible. They are very probable. Eventually Dorian’s reputation cannot be contained. I find it the most interesting that it was the people who knew him the most intimately who eventually shunned him. This is a lesson about evil one needs to note. One cannot always tell at first if they are in the presence of an evil person, but over time they cannot hide their nature completely. There is a natural revulsion we feel in the presence of evil. Sometimes we only become aware of that revulsion slowly. That is a lesson to be noted.

The Picture of Dorian Gray was Oscar Wilde’s only novel. It may as well have been his autobiography. Wilde lived his life much in the vein of Lord Henry’s philosophy. Married with two children, he lived lavishly and Oscar Wildedressed like a dandy. He was known for his acerbic wit and was a brilliant conversationalist. At the height of his fame as a playwright he was engaging in a homosexual affair with a young man named Lord Alfred Douglas. He ended up suing the father of his lover, the Marquess of Queensbury for libel. That ended up backfiring on him. The trial unearthed evidence to support Queensbury’s charges. Though Wilde dropped the charges, he ended up being arrested and after several more trials he was charged with gross indecency with other men. This resulted in him being sentenced to two years hard labor in prison. After his release he travelled to France. Destitute, he died in Paris at the age of forty-six.

How is it that a successful man of such intellect, talent and brilliance could have come to such a terrible end? Wilde himself admitted in his poem “De Profundis, “I must say to myself that I ruined myself, and that nobody great or small, can be ruined except by his own hand.” He also wrote: “The Gods had given me almost everything. But I let myself be lured into long spells of senselessness and sensual ease. I amused myself with being a Flaneur, a dandy, a man of fashion. I surrounded myself with the smaller natures and the meaner minds. I became the spendthrift of my own genius, and to waste an eternal youth gave me a curious joy. Tired of being on the heights, I deliberately went to the depths in search for new sensation.

What the paradox was to me in the sphere of thought, perversity became to me in the sphere of passion. Desire, at the end, was a malady or a madness, or both. I grew careless in the lives of others. I took pleasure where it pleased me, and passed on. I forgot that every little action of the common day makes or unmakes character, and that therefore what one has done in the secret chamber one has some day to cry aloud on the housetop. I ceased to be lord over myself. I was no longer the captain of my soul, and did not know it. I allowed pleasure to dominate me. I ended in horrible disgrace. There is only one thing for me now, absolute humility.”

Wilde exemplifies many things in this statement. One is that the problem of pursuing pleasure as the end goal of life, is that it eventually bores you. Eventually in order to find stimulation, one must descend into perversity. Lord Henry belied this sort of cynicism. He had “been there, done that, tried everything” and was essentially bored. Wilde is like so many men of genius who reach the heights: they begin to believe the laws that apply to ordinary men do not apply to them. In his arrogance Wilde thought to defend himself against sins he had actually committed. It is so ironic that he could write lucidly about the end of a life of sensual ease and sordid pleasure for Dorian Gray, but could not see that end for himself.

He like Dorian, surrounded himself with men of poor company. Did he really believe he could outrun such influence? That he could outwit the effect of sin? Pride always makes one believe one can accomplish impossible feats. In the end all that he felt that was left for him to embrace was humility. De Profundis is essentially a treatise on suffering. I understand most sharply when he said he could “not bear his sufferings to be without meaning.” That truly is the one thing about suffering which is essential. It must have meaning, or it is unbearable. My only wish is that Wilde’s suffering could have led him to more than humility. My greatest desire for him is that it could have led him to God.
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The Destruction of Othello

Every year in the city where I live they have a Shakespeare Festival. The festival is free and offers the opportunity to watch one of Shakespeare’s plays on an outdoor stage in a beautiful local park. The evening was nice and balmy when we went to see Shakespeare’s tragedy Othello. In this play Othello is Moor, a general in the service of Venice. He has recently secretly eloped with Desdemona, the daughter of Brabantio who is a wealthy Venetian Senator. Barbantio is not happy about the marriage, but is unable to do anything about it because Venice is on the brink of war with Turkey. They both wish to control the island of Cyprus. Othello is sent off to Cyprus, but the war is diverted when the Turkish fleet is destroyed at sea. At this time Othello is appointed to be the Governor of Cyprus and to assume command there. Othello chooses a rich young officer to be his Lieutenant by the name of Michael Cassio. Iago, who is an ensign in Othello’s company, is outraged that he was not chosen for this position. He is so angry and envious, that he sets out to destroy Othello. Othello

Iago works his plan in a variety of ways. First he enlists the help of a rich young Florentine by the name of Roderigo. Roderigo is in love with Desdemona, and Iago promises that if he helps him, Iago will help Roderigo gain Desdemona’s love. Next he works to discredit Cassio. He urges Cassio to get drunk one evening and then incites him to fight Roderigo. Because of these actions, Cassio loses his post and Iago is now named Lieutenant.

Merely gaining the position however, is not enough revenge for Iago. Iago now moves to poison Othello’s opinion of his wife. He implies through innuendo that Desdemona has been unfaithful to Othello. Since Iago’s wife Emilia works as an assistant to Desdemona, Iago is able to obtain a special handkerchief which was given as a gift to Desdemona by Othello. He then plant this handkerchief among Cassio’s belongings. Cassio upon finding the beautiful handkerchief gives it as a gift to Bianca, a courtesan with whom he is having an affair. Othello sees the exchange and is thus convinced his wife has had an affair with Cassio. Othello then asks Iago to kill Cassio. Iago again appeals to Roderigo to help him kill Cassio. During the fight Cassio is wounded by Roderigo, and Roderigo is killed by Iago to silence him. Meanwhile Othello, enraged and unconsolable with the thought of Desdemona’s unfaithfulness, kills his wife. Emilia upon discovering her murdered mistress, weeps as she tells Othello that is was she who gave the handkerchief to Iago. When Iago comes in to inform Othello of the battle, Emilia outs him as a liar. Iago promptly stabs her. She dies embracing her slain mistress. Othello realizing he has fallen for the machinations of a liar and has killed his love as well as lost his honor, then kills himself.

There are many moral lessons one could take away from this play. Yet the most powerful one of all for me, was the devastation that just one liar can do. When I asked my husband what he thought of the play, he said he felt that Shakespeare had made his characters too “dumb” meaning they so easily fell for everything Iago said. I disagreed. I have seen firsthand the machinations of a liar at work. People are SO easily manipulated. We automatically assume people are trustworthy if they have all the outer “credentials” of being so. We almost never assume someone is setting out to deceive us, and that by very defnition puts us behind the curve.

Light Breaking Into the DarknessThe woman I knew who was a pathological liar, made simple requests of people that on the surface did not seem malicious. They quite willingly did her bidding, unaware they were helping her with her schemes. She also used the technique of innuendo. She might not come out and directly slander someone, but she would play on people’s emotions to leave them with a false impression of people she hated. For example she would “look sad” when someone’s name was mentioned. This implied that the person was “hurting her.” The manipulated person would then feel sorry for her and jump to her defense. She should have received and Oscar. She was the best actress I have ever met. She convincing lied to almost everyone and pathetically duped even her own husband and family. It is true that some people do have the spiritual “gift of discernment.” There are some among us who discern the characters of others more easily than others. They feel a certain sense of pride in that “they would never be duped by anyone.” Yet I wish to say that there are some people who are so masterful at lying and deceit, that they can fool even the most discerning. In truth most of us are easily manipulated and deceived by cunning liars. The woman I referred to did not deceive everyone, but those she did not deceive, she silenced, just like Iago. She did not physically murder people, but she murdered them with her tongue by slander. By slandering their reputation, she ensured that people would not believe them even if they tried to tell the truth about her.

Most people do not think they have any enemies as vicious as Iago. Yet if they are worth their salt as a Christian they have a personal enemy even more malicious than Iago, the devil himself. A lot of people don’t believe in an entity called “Satan.” They do not think he is a real being. Yet scripture clearly declares that Satan was indeed a created being, the most beautiful in fact of all of God’s angels. Angels are God’s messengers. They also worship God around his throne. Satan’s beauty was his downfall, and he desired to be like God. So the Bible tells us he was cast out of heaven and took a certain number of angels with him, which we now refer to as demons. Iago represents the main characteristics of Satan: Iago was a liar, a murderer, and a thief. Satan stands as an enemy to every Christian and he wishes to destroy them, just as Iago hated and wished to destroy Othello. Satan is more vicious, more cruel, more cunning, more sadistic, more deceitful, more malicious, more hateful than Iago ever dreamed of being. He works a lot of his deceit just like Iago did, whispering innuendo’s into our ears. Some of his favorites are: “If God is good, would he really let this happen to you?” “Maybe God doesn’t really love you, maybe he has abandoned you.” “Are you really sure God is going to take care of and protect you?” He always places doubts in the Christian’s mind about God and about his word. He whispers in people’s ears about fellow Christians, getting them to doubt and hate each other, much as Iago got Othello to doubt his own wife. He knows he is a defeated enemy, but he wants to create as much damage as possible on his way down, and he does it quite effectively. The story of Othello is most of all a sobering reminder of a very real enemy and the destruction he wishes to do.

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Boudoir Photo Shoot and Groupon

Every day in my e-mail in box I receive the Groupon of the day. This is a discount coupon you can purchase for a service, or restaurant, or item. I read today’s Groupon and immediately started laughing, because I was reminded of an incident that happened in my past.

My husband I were looking to move, so we went out and looked at different houses every week. A woman in my Bible study group happened to mention that she was selling her house and that I should go look at it. So we did. Her realtor let us in and we began to look around the house. It was a nice house and everything was going well, until we got to her bedroom. When we walked in her bedroom in a rather large frame above her bed was what could only be described as a “Budoir Photo.” Here on the wall in a glossy 20 x 24 was my Bible study friend posed very seductively in black lingerie. I just about fell over. Now I wasn’t appalled at the photo, it was tasteful enough and if you want to do that for your husband, so be it. But for the love of mercy take it down when a realtor is showing your house. After that I could not take the rest of the house seriously. All I could do was wander aimlessly from room to room laughing my behind off. What was I going to say to my friend next Wednesday at Bible study? “Hey, nice house. And look Trixie, your dorky realtor should have told you to take down your version of Mount Rushmore you got goin’ there in the bedroom. It’s a nice monument to self, but come on. Should it really be on display during an Open House? What is this, the Playboy Mansion? Is your realtor named Hefner? This is not exactly what I envision when I am told a house has “curb appeal.” Apparently her house had “curve appeal.”

So today I am reminded of said event when I received a Groupon in my e-mail for 77% off a Budoir Photo Shoot. Now this coupon was very appealing to me for many reasons, but specifically because of that extra two percent they gave me over 75%. Now what idiot set that percentage? I have a feeling it was a former realtor. I haven’t yet decided if I will sit for my Budoir photo shoot, but if I do, you can know for sure that baby goes with me to the grave.

My Epitaph:

Here Lies Stacey
and her Budoir Photo Shoot
It was rather racy
Worth a grave to Loot.


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Sunday School Girl vs Entropy Man

Have you ever taken a class and felt like what you learned was completely useless? That it would not help you a whit in everyday life? It is knowledge, but it is not functional knowledge to you? Physics however, is functional knowledge. I have been amazed at how much physics plays a part of my everyday life. For example, gravity is a law you can count on. I have found from experience when you walk off a building, you die. It’s really true. Every time. If it weren’t for that Chesnut mare I would have been a goner. Fortunately I fell off the building, and in full Clint Eastwood style, onto my saddled horse and rode off into the sunset. Or maybe it was to the Seven Eleven to get a Slurpee. I can’t quite recall now.

However I have found that some physics laws actually come to life. For example, every Sunday I face my formidable foe “Entropy Man.” Entropy, in case you forgot physics 101, states that everything is moving from a state or order to disorder. Now nothing proves this principle faster than children. They are constantly moving from a state of order to disorder faster than the parental hand can move. Every Sunday I begin the process of trying to get ready for Sunday school. So you could call me “Sunday school girl.” Now for those of you who have children, and those of you who don’t, let me say that trying to get out the door for church on Sunday morning with children is like trying to run a race with sand bags tied to each leg. For each child you have it is an additional sand bag. So every week, with three twenty pound sand bags tied to each leg, I begin the attempt of trying to show up for church. First I go through the arduous process of cleaning up little Johnny and little Jimmy. I comb their hair. I tie their shoes. I tuck in their shirts. I give them a final spit shine. Then I sit them on a bench. I look them square in the eye and say something like this, “Now listen Jimmy and Johnny, mommy just has to change the baby and then we can go. So you two just sit there. Don’t speak, don’t breath and whatever you do, do not move. If you move, you die. Are we clear?” With rather large eyes they nod at me affirmatively. I turn back to the baby, who gives me her most beautiful smile. I talk to her sweetly as she coos at me as I change her diaper. This is the calm before the storm. I am so pleased. We are finally ready to go. Then I turn back to Jimmy and Johnny. In the six point three nano seconds it has taken me to change the baby, Johnny’s shoes are untied, his shirt is untucked and his hair is disheveled. Jimmy on the other hand has a new stain on the front of his white shirt, his shoes are completely missing, and there is gum in a place no gum should ever be. It is at this moment that I know my silent enemy Entropy Man has been here. I have never seen him. He works stealthily and silently. Sometimes I think I have caught a glimpse of the edge of his cape, but only a glimpse. I have only to admire his work. He is my great nemesis. I now turn back to the baby who has just pooped in her fresh diaper. She looks up at me and laughs. I sigh. It is 8:30 and we haven’t even tackled Captain Mini Van yet.

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The Mitigation of Justice: The Jodi Arias Trial

Mitigate: Make less severe, serious or painful

Justice:  The administration of the Law; especially the establishment or determination of rights according to the rules of law or equity.

Before I had children, I have to admit that it was easy for me to judge other parents. I would roll my eyes sometimes at parents whose kids were throwing tantrums in a store. I would think “cant they do a better job at controlling their children?” Then I had kids of my own and understand what it is like to be held hostage by a child throwing a fit in a store. The public meltdown is humiliating and you feel very helpless. The truth is you can’t “control” children. They are their own independent persons with a will of their own, a will that exerts itself against the very people who love them.

In the same way I can’t exactly understand what it is like to be called to be a juror of a murder case where the death penalty is a possible option. I know the jurors in the Jodi Arias case went through much. I know it had arias2to be agonizing to sit through all the testimony and then ultimately be handed the decision of her fate. Yet even though I commiserate that it is not an easy job, just like parenting isn’t an easy job, I still expect a parent with an out of control child to execute some kind of disciplinary measure to reign the child in. In the same way, I expected the Jodi Arias jury to execute a disciplinary measure towards Jodi Arias commensurate with her crime. The fact that the jury could not ultimately make a decision was excruciatingly painful. The whole point of their job was to “administer justice.” That is what they were called to do, no matter how painful it was. I understand that nobody asks to be a juror. At the same time, nobody volunteers to be a victim of a crime either. So just because a decision is hard, and you are forced to hear difficult things about the ultimate break down in social relations, does not mean a decision should not be made. I cannot but help to express my disappointment with the jury’s failure to do it’s job.

The law in Arizona allows a new jury to be formed for the penalty phase if a mistrial occurs, which it did in this case since the jurors deadlocked. A new jury, if an unprejudiced one can even be found, will only hear a fraction of the testimony this jury did, and then be forced to decide the “penalty phase.” If this jury couldn’t decide after hearing months of testimony, how is another jury going to feel confident deciding with less testimony. In essence by deadlocking, this jury is making it even less possible that a just decision can be made. If they don’t feel comfortable making that decision, do they feel comfortable handing the decision over to people who have less information? Do they feel justice will be better served that way?

By refusing to come to a unanimous decision, the jury played Pontius Pilate. They convicted Arias of first degree premeditated murder. They also agreed that the murder was especially cruel. Yet they couldn’t decide what punishment to give her. What they really decided is that they “wash their hands of the whole thing.” Pilate didn’t want Christ’s blood on his hands because he found him innocent. Four members of this jury didn’t have the guts to “have blood on their hands” by handing down a just punishment to Jodi Arias for a heinous crime they agreed she committed. Their decision was extremely disappointing. Did they not understand that handing down a punishment WAS their job from the beginning?

For those not aware of the case let me describe the crime. Jodi Arias, a woman in her twenties met and began dating a young man named Travis Alexander in February of 2007. Jodi did all that she could to hang onto Alexander, which included events as disparate as being baptized into the Mormon faith and engaging in wild sex. Despite her desires, the relationship did not work out and they broke up in June of 2007. After the break up Arias moved to Mesa Arizona where Alexander lived. Alexander communicated his fear of  Arias to friends. In April of 2008 Arias finally left Mesa and moved in with her grandparents in California which is where she was from. Alexander told friends he was relieved. However Arias wasn’t finished with him yet. On June 2nd she rented a car and drove to Mesa. She showed up at Alexander’s house. The two engaged in sex. Afterwords Alexander took a shower. Jodi had been taking photographs with her camera. At this point she claims Alexander attacked her because she dropped the camera and she then killed him in self-defense.

She attacked Alexander while he was naked, cornered and defenseless in the shower. In “self-defense” she stabbed him at least 27 times, slit his throat from ear to ear, and then shot him in the head with the same caliber of gun that had been stolen recently from her grandparents home. She put the digital camera in the washing machine. She returned the rental car after cleaning it. She then proceeded to a new “love interests” home where she engaged in kissing him. Her initial story was that it was a break in and that Alexander was killed by intruders while she fled. Then when she knew she was cornered by the evidence later recovered from the digital camera, she changed her story to Travis “abused her” and she was reacting in self-defense. Murdered on June 4th, Alexander’s body was discovered by friends from work on June 9th. In their 9-1-1 call made after the discovery of his body, they mentioned to police that Alexander had a girlfriend whom he complained was “stalking him, accessing his Facebook page, and who had slashed his tires.” Alexander was survived by seven siblings and his grandmother who raised him. His parents were both deceased. His grandmother would die before his case would come to trial.

Five years later the trial eventually commenced. At great hardship to them, two sisters and a brother of Alexander were at the trial every day. At the end of the trial one sister and a brother read “victim impact statements.” This is allowed by Arizona law. In very moving statements they described how the crime had impacted them personally.Alexander’s sister wept openly as she read her statement. Arias on the other hand, never showed any true remorse for her crime and lied repeatedly to the jury over and over, trying to and succeeding in manipulating them time and again. Prosecuting attorney Juan Martinez did an excellent job of juan-martinezprosecuting the case. DESPITE ALL THIS, the jury STILL COULD NOT DECIDE HER PUNISHMENT.

Let’s look at the “mitigating factors” in this case. The jury is instructed to consider these factors during the penalty phase. To mitigate means “to make less severe, serious or painful.” These were as follows: age, no prior criminal history, she was a “good friend”, she lacked support from family, she suffered abuse and neglect as a child, she tried to make the best of her life, she tried to improve herself, she is a talented artist. Let’s take these one by one.

  1. Age: Should Arias not get the death penalty for a brutal crime it was proven she committed because she was young? To me age does not make the crime “less severe.” If anything, it should be considered a strike against you that you could commit such a heinous crime at such a young age. If she is that hardened by age 28, she hasn’t been a practicing saint for some time.
  2. No prior criminal history: What we SHOULD say here is NO PRIOR CRIMINAL HISTORY ON RECORD. It was clear from the stalking and the slashing of tires and the inherent threat in such activity, not to mention the robbery at her grandparent’s house where she stole the gun she used to kill Alexander that “prior criminal history” did exist.
  3. The was a good friend: Prosecutor Juan Martinez covered this one. A friend, he noted is one whom you have a trusting, reciprocal relationship with. Since Arias proved herself to be a pathological liar, could she really have been a true friend to anyone?
  4. She lacked support from family: Many people lack support from their families. Should we use this to cut them a break in committing a heinous crime? There are legitimate means of finding support as opposed to killing an ex-boyfriend who you feel “owes you” support. We are all required to find legitimate legal ways of meeting our needs. That is a part of growing up and doesn’t excuse us when we don’t.
  5. She suffered abuse and neglect as a child: Interesting that they did not put “she suffered abuse” from Alexander as a mitigating factor. Again, many children suffer abuse and neglect as children and have to overcome that hardship. Of any of the mitigating factors, this is probably the only one that has any substance. In terms of the crime, the only way abuse should have been a mitigating factor for the crime was if Alexander abused her. A previous girlfriend of Alexander’s testified under oath that he was never abusive toward her. I think abuse could be a mitigating factor, if it were true. Since Arias is a pathological liar, can anything she says be believed? Was there enough tangible proof there that Alexander was abusive? Abuse by our family of origin does not justify not giving the death penalty for a heinous crime.
  6. She tried to make the best of her life: If you call trespassing, harassment, stalking, vandalism, lying, stealing, and murder “trying to make the best of your life” then I guess it’s a mitigating factor.
  7.  She tried to improve herself: What evidence do we see that she was trying to improve herself? The only thing she tried to improve was her “image.” In her media interviews she was very concerned about her looks. She wanted to powder her nose and make sure her make-up was just right. She knows one thing about America, “we like things to look good.” I notice she was not a blonde bombshell in court. For court she dyed her hair mousy brown, wore glasses and demure clothes. She was going for sympathy. Arias knows how play on the emotions. She is a master at it.
  8.  She is a talented artist: I really appreciated the “survivor” t-shirt she displayed in court. It gives me great joy to know that if we give her life in prison she will continue to make these “survivor” shirts for victims of domestic violence, after all that is what she is. I have to agree that she is a talented artist. She is a talented CON ARTIST. Even while standing convicted of especially cruel first degree premeditated murder she has the audacity to play the victim card in front of the Alexander family and the whole court. I don’t know how defense attorney’s sleep at night when they defend such humanity.

I think it is striking that no one, not even her mother or father, got up to say anything to the jury about why Jodi should get life and not the death penalty. That is pretty rare. Yet even that can be a sympathy factor for some jurors. “This poor girl, not even her family is defending her!” I really wish they had called in Robert Hare, who is an expert in Sociopathy. He wrote a book called “Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths Among Us. In his book he talked about the main weapon Sociopath’s use to get what they want: SYMPATHY. Ironically sociopaths themselves show a marked lack of empathy. They do not truly “connect with other people.” They show no respect for their boundaries. They don’t care about others. People are merely things for them to exploit to get what they want.

Maybe if the jury could realize that about Arias, they wouldn’t make the mistake of regarding Arias as “a person like themselves” and shown empathy for her. Several of the jurors, including the jury foreman, expressed arias3difficulty seeing her as a murderer. She just didn’t “look like one.” She was too demure, to soft spoken, too mousy.” I think they even felt sorry for her when she cried on the stand when Prosecutor Juan Martinez grilled her “Were you crying when you stabbed Travis Alexander over twenty times.” Poor, poor Jodi. He is SUCH a mean, aggressive prosecutor. How dare he make her cry on the stand? Do they understand that for a sociopath crying is just a performance like everything else? In a sense their whole life is a performance, and the rest of the world are just their pawns in a grand game of manipulation.

At the end of the day some of the jurors got sucked in to the sympathy card Jodi Arias plays so well. That and probably unrecognized prejudices about putting women to death, especially attractive, articulate, pretty women. How can we put such a delicate petal as her under such a harsh penalty? One of the jurors said, “Well she still get’s death,” meaning life in prison is as good as death. But life in prison is not as good as death. Not to the Alexander family and not to anyone who is concerned about justice, such as me. I am truly baffled at this jury’s inability to make this decision. I am not only baffled, I am acutely disappointed. Are we really, truly confused about what type of crime should incur the death penalty? If an exceedingly cruel premeditated first degree murder does not deserve this penalty, what does?

One of the jurors’ implied that “the system worked.” Yes, maybe the system did “work”, and maybe that salves their conscience, but the system is imperfect. The bottom line is that this jury failed to complete their job. Yes I have sympathy that it was a hard job, it was brutal and emotionally taxing. I agree it was a difficult decision, but we were relying on them to make it and they let us down. What they did is essentially elegate a difficult decision to someone else. They did not execute justice, they obscured it.

A jury member reading this might say, “Easy for you to say. You weren’t there.You weren’t on the jury. You don’t REALLY know what it was like.” I have to admit that is true. However I would say to that, that I do know what it is like to be a victim of a crime by a woman sociopath who has never been brought to justice. Like Arias, she too does criminal activity without getting caught because she hides behind a facade. This jury’s decision makes me very sad, because it makes me feel I too would never be able to get true justice even if I could get a trial and present the evidence. Most of all I am sad for the Alexanders who not only received no justice, they have lost their beloved brother forever. Some of these jurors obviously could not live with themselves by putting someone to death. I hope they can live with themselves knowing they mitigated justice away.  

Before There Was Reality T.V. There Was……….Anatomy Lessons?

“Hey honey, what do you want to do this weekend?” “Oh, I definitely want to go see Mrs. Smith dissected. I heard she had some WORK done!” This is a possible discussion between a couple during the Renaissance. (Somewhat kidding here) During that time public dissections were very popular. In fact, you might even purchase admittance to one as a marriage present. Can you imagine? You payed to gain entrance to these dissections per visit or per corpse and they lasted up to a week. Many small dissection theaters were built all over Europe to cater to this public fascination. Since the theaters were made of wood, many did not survive.

Anatomy Lesson of Dr Tulp by Rembrandt Van Rijn
Anatomy Lesson of Dr Tulp by Rembrandt Van Rijn

One such public dissection was captured for posterity. The affair would have been crowded with doctors, lawyers, intellectuals,etc. In other words, if you were important you would be there. The painting is called “The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Tulp.” Dr. Nicolaes Tulp was actually a real man who was a member of the local Amsterdam surgeons guild. Dr. Tulp apparently commissioned this painting and chose a young artist in town to render his likeness. You might have heard of him? His name was Rembrandt. Only twenty-six at the time Dr. Tulp chose this young artist probably thinking to do him a favor and give him an artistic break. Dr. Tulp chose well. In the video he narrates “Every Picture Tells a Story” art historian Waldemar Januszczak explains that Dr. Tulp was not his real name. His real name was Claes Pieterszoon. Nicolaes is apparently a more proper version of Claes. Tulp means “tulip.” At this time, tulip mania had broken out in Holland. Apparently Dr. Tulp hoped to cash in on some of the notoriety. Later Dr. Tulp was to go on to be mayor of Amsterdam four times. Ironically, though Tulp hoped to achieve notoriety, he only did so because he became a subject in a painting by Rembrandt. There is a lesson in humility for you.

Also ironic is the fact that even though Dr. Tulp meant himself to be the “star of the show” he is at least rivaled, if not upset by the corpse. We also know his name too. A petty criminal, his name was Adriaan Adriaanszoon, also known as “The Kid.” He was convicted of armed robbery and hanged for stealing a coat. Well, sort of. It was just the “last straw” in a series of criminal acts. The hanging took place on January 16, 1632. The city of Amsterdam permitted only one public dissection per year and it had to be an executed criminal. Adriaanszoon was the lucky model and he gained a notoriety beyond his wildest dreams. He is, however, immortalized as a criminal. His body literally shines a ghostly white and is face is partly in shadow. Perhaps this is to indicate every man is a mixture of good and bad. Or maybe it is to indicate “the shadow of death.”

Dr. Tulp has started the anatomy lesson with the arm, which is probably not the likely place where most anatomy lessons would have begun. The body has apparently already been prepared for dissection. Dr. Tulp’s fingers are pressed together to show that if you lifted the muscle indicated, the fingers would come together. Januszczak notes that in art the ability to paint the body accurately “separates the men from the boys,” and Rembrandt proves himself here to be a master. In the lower right corner of the painting you see an enormous open textbook on anatomy.

Surrounding Dr. Tulp you see a gaggle of doctors. Some of the men are leaning in, observing closely and hanging on to every word of Dr. Tulp. Some of the men seem to be staring off into the distance, maybe a little bored? Two men stare straight out at the viewer. One of those holds a paper, which lists the names of the men in the painting. Most likely everyone paid to be in the portrait. The way it works is the more you pay, the better the position you secure in the painting. This is also how it worked in Rembrandt’s famous portrait “The Night Watch.” Rembrandt has also signed his full name, as opposed to his initials.

As Januszczak points out in the video, there is something missing from this portrait, and that is the audience. Where is the larger audience viewing the autopsy? Simple. The audience is you. Rembrandt cleverly makes you a participant of the painting, not just a viewer. If you notice closely, Dr. Tulp isn’t looking at the men in the painting. His gaze extends out beyond them to the invisible audience. Also, one of the two men who look directly out at the viewer is pointing down at the corpse. This Januszczak says, is to illustrate the fact that death is the inevitable end of every man. So Dr. Tulp got his portrait for posterity and Rembrandt got to make his point. Death IS the end of every man. The only question really is what kind of man have you been? Good or evil? After all, in the end it is only the anatomy of the soul that really counts.





People Of The Lie: A Critical Analysis

“The only question of ultimate significance is whether the individual soul will be

won to God or won to the devil.”  – M. Scott Peck

Cover of the book People of the LiePeople of the Lie: The Hope For Healing Human Evil  is a dangerous book, so says author M. Scott Peck. Its contents “have the potential to harm, to cause pain, and the misuse of its information may harm others.” In offering a critical analysis I hope I will indeed handle the content of his book with care. Peck declares that “Jesus Christ is Lord and that his commitment to Christianity is the most important thing in his life and is, he hopes, pervasive and total.” Though he and I are in agreement about this commitment, I am not in agreement with all his viewpoints in the book.

Attempts to define evil will always be somewhat elusive at best, because it seems to evolve. Yet because it is ancient, and because all God’s created beings act with a certain degree of order, I think there are things we can say about evil with certainty. Peck identifies the first of these: Evil people are people of the lie. Thus the title of the book. What does he mean? He writes in his book of various encounters he has had with what he believes are evil people. Some are clients. Some are parent’s of clients. Some are exorcism’s that he has witnessed. Though he admits that very few evil people are willing to submit to psychotherapy, he writes of at least one evil woman he worked with at length. In his various encounters with evil people, one thing that often results is confusion. Why? Because lies confuse. And as he says so well, “evil people are people of the lie, deceiving others as they also build layer upon layer of self-deception. He talks about if a therapist finds himself confused by a patient, one of the questions he needs do ask is “is the patient doing something to confuse me?”

I think Peck is very on the mark to call evil people, “people of the lie.” The devil is described as the Father of lies.

The nature of his activities are clarified: he comes to steal, kill and destroy, just like the proverbial fox in the hen house. Only the fox kills to sustain his life. Evil doesn’t kill of necessity. It kills out of many motives such as wrath, pride, vengeance, cruelty, malice, envy, or even pleasure, but it does not kill out of necessity.

If an individual soul is not won to God, by default he is won to the devil. So I think we can say with certainty that evil people will be liars, and their behavior will also exhibit the nature of stealing, killing and destroying. C. S. Lewis once remarked that “deceit is habit forming.”

Proverbs chapter six includes a list of seven things that are abominations to God and one of the seven is a lying tongue. People often think about the fact that lying to each other is wrong, but they rarely think about the fact that lying to themselves about their own behavior is equally wrong. God hates lying because it by very nature destroys community. You cannot at once love your neighbor while simultaneously deceiving him. In dealing with an evil person one is almost always at a disadvantage. When people set out to deceive you, as liars do, you are already behind the curve. It may take you months or even years to come out from under the deception to understand what you are dealing with. Such is the power of a lie.

Peck describes this well. He says “The feeling a healthy person often experiences in a relationship with an evil one is revulsion. The feeling of revulsion may be almost instant if the evil encountered is blatant. If the evil is more subtle, the revulsion may develop only gradually as the relationship with the evil one slowly deepens.” Revulsion, he notes, is a “powerful emotion that causes us to immediately want to avoid, to escape the revolting presence. And that is exactly the most appropriate thing for a healthy person to do under ordinary circumstances when confronted with an evil presence: to get away from it. Evil is revolting because it is dangerous. It will contaminate or otherwise destroy a person who remains too long in its presence. Unless you know very well what you are doing, the best thing you can do when faced with an evil is to run the other way. The revulsion counter transference is an instinctive or, if you will, God-given and saving early-warning radar system.”

I don’t know if I would call it “counter transference” or just God-given “intuition” that gives us warning that is beyond reason. The most evil person I have ever known has been a woman. What makes her the most evil person I have ever known is that she is evil that disguises herself behind good.

2 Corninthians 11:13 says “For such people are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. Therefore it is not surprising his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness, whose end will correspond to their means.”

She is the only person I have ever known where I felt the revulsion Peck describes. The revulsion developed slowly the more I came to know her. It reached the point though where I was extremely uncomfortable whenever I was in her presence. When I am in her presence I can “sense” it even if I cannot visually see her. That is very eerie.

If the first characteristic of an evil person is that they are a liar, not only to others but also to themselves, then the second characteristic is that they are murderers.

I John 3:15 says that “Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him.” The scripture describes Satan as a murderer and says he has been a “murderer from the beginning.” Peck says, “Evil is in opposition to life. It is that which opposes the life force. It has in short to do with killing. Specifically, it has to do with murder – namely unnecessary killing. Killing that is not required for biological survival.”

We see that murder entered the world very quickly after the fall of Adam and Eve. Cain murdered his brother because he was of the evil one and because his brother’s actions were righteous. He murdered him out of wrath and envy. He cared not that he was his brother. He cared only for himself. Evil people not only commit physical murder they also try to kill the spirit, in fact this may be an even greater pleasure for the evil one. “Let’s let him live, but destroy his soul.”

One of the ways evil kills the spirit is by oppressively controlling and using another human being. By very definition evil is parasitic. It feeds off the life force of others and saps them of vitality. Peck notes: “it wants to quell independence, to discourage people’s capacity to think for themselves, to diminish originality, and to keep people in line.” In this way people’s very lives are stripped from them. This is murder.

Evil by very nature is a thief. No one likes to be ripped off. We feel very angry when we are cheated. We feel particularly devastated when the product we have been sold is a “person” and that person turns out to be deceiving us as to who they really are. That is one of the most bitter experiences on the planet.

Since evil people are very adept at making the victims of their evil look like the perpetrators, one is doubly punished. Not only has one been sold a lie, but then the liar turns around and makes you look like the bad guy.

That is the silencing effect of evil. Abuse is about silencing. So evil is not only a thief in personage, but evil also rips you off of individual goods. The most severe thing it can rip off from you is your life, as we have talked about in the above paragraph. It can rip you off of love, of passion, of a good reputation. It can rip you off of money, possessions and property. It can rip you off of vitality, truth, life. It can rip you off of your very soul, and this is its most deadly aim of all.

Peck is right when he says that the only question of ultimate significance is whether a soul is won to God or the devil. One can only be won to God by the truth. The devil tries to come and “steal” the truth from an individual who hears it, thus prohibiting him from finding Christ who is the “way, the truth and the life.” These purposes are the polar opposites of the purposes evil.

Peck makes some other distinguishing comments about evil people. He notes that evil people cannot necessarily be defined by the illegality of their deeds, nor even the magnitude of their sins. For example there may be a person in prison who has committed a crime. Their act was evil. Perhaps it was even a very great evil act.

For example, let’s say a mother has murdered the drunk driver who killed her son. Her act is evil, but she herself may not be an evil person. Peck makes the point that evil people are defined by the consistency of their sins. He says, “their destructiveness is remarkable consistent.. This is because those who have ‘crossed over the line’ are characterized by the absolute refusal to tolerate the sense of their own sinfulness.” Not only that but as Peck also notes, evil people also exhibit extraordinary willfulness. This definitely rings true of my experience with evil people.

He says, “They are men and women of obviously strong will, determined to have their own way. There is remarkable power in the manner in which they attempt to control others.” They exhibit a “malignant narcissism” in which they and they alone count in the universe. Moral choice involves consideration of others. For the evil person, there is no choice. They simply exert their will. They want what they want, and it doesn’t matter the cost to others to get it. Others are merely extensions of their ego. They feel themselves to be “above the law.”They are entitled to have what they want.

King Ahab, one of the most notoriously wicked kings in the Bible, sulked because he could not have a man’s property. His wife, who was just as renowned for evil as he was, said, and I paraphrase: “Don’t sulk darling. I will just arrange to have the man murdered.” Problem solved.

Despite the fact that evil people display a malignant narcissism, the kind which we often display as infants, I am not sure if I would call evil a kind of immaturity as Peck does. If evil people are immature almost gives them an excuse for their behavior.

We often excuse children for what they do because “they do not know any better.” (Folly is bound up in the heart of a child). Children need to be trained. They need to be taught to make good moral choices. Yet even children who are taught right from wrong, can choose to be evil. Their choice is not out of immaturity, out of willfulness. They have become vengefully uncaring of anyone other than self. I see evil less as immaturity and more as sloth.

Evil people know the right course. They do not want to make the effort to be good. That takes too much work. They only want to “look good.” As Peck says, “They lack the motivation to be good. It’s even more serious than that. In a certain sense all people apart from God are bound over to sin and can only sin. Yet evil people have given into sin and do it habitually. However some evil people intensely desire to “appear good.” They are cognizant of social norms.

Thus it is that C.S. Lewis once said, “Of all bad men, religious bad men are the worst.” To be evil is to be by definition morally lazy and to be a coward. It must be noted however, that not all evil people care about their reputation. Some don’t give a rip that they are evil and even enjoy the reputation of being so.

As Peck points out, evil people are common. Not only are they common, but their evil actions are subtle.

This is a point I feel most people seem to be ignorant of. The average person thinks the evil people are in jail, and that the cops are chasing down the others who are yet to be put behind bars. Yet there are many, many evil people who exist who are not in jail. Many who have committed crimes and are so good at deceit, lies and manipulation that they have not been caught. This could be the little old lady down the street, the grocery store clerk, your business partner, the choir member, or your pizza delivery guy.

In 2007, Michael Devlin, who was an Imo’s Pizza manager, was arrested for the kidnapping and sexual abuse of two boys. He had held one of the boys hostage for four years. He lived in an apartment in a sought after suburb. He didn’t even try to hide his victim. He allowed the child to ride his bike in the apartment parking lot.

Most people seem “shocked” at these kinds of events, which tells me that they perceive evil as something that is far removed from them. Evil is not far removed. Evil is around us all the time and it is subtle, very subtle, in addition to being very disturbing and extremely dangerous. To not understand this truth is to be naïve. In kids videos, evil people always “look” evil. They dress in black and look menacing. In this world, evil people can be some of the most physically beautiful people you will ever meet, with impeccable manners. Why else have some of our poets described the devil as “a Gentleman?”

Let’s look now at what Peck describes as the “thesis” of his book. Peck, since he is a psychiatrist, is partly writing the book out of what he sees as a need for evil to be “studied.” He states clearly that the thesis of his book is: “That evil can be defined as a specific form of mental illness and should be subject to at least the same intensity of scientific investigation that we would devote to some other psychiatric disease.”

A part of the reason he feels that evil need to be “studied” is so that evil can be “healed.” He states: “The attempt to heal the evil should not be lightly undertaken. It must be done from a position of remarkable psychological and spiritual strength.”

He gives three reasons why he believes people struggle with the idea of evil as a mental illness.

First, we think of illness as suffering, and evil people often don’t seem to suffering. They in fact think that there is nothing wrong with them. Yet Peck points out, the absence of our knowing we are diseased, does not in fact mean that we are not. For example, we may have the condition of heart disease many years before we actually experience the symptoms of heart disease.

Second, we struggle to see evil as a mental illness because to us someone who is ill must be a victim. He says, “We tend to think of illness as something that befalls us, a circumstance over which we have not control…..a curse in the creation we did not anticipate.” He makes the point however that we often have an active hand in bringing on disease, such as the alcoholic who eventually succumbs to cirrhosis of the liver.” His point is that although they have a certain degree of responsibility for bringing on their illness, we still consider them ill.

The final argument against labeling evil an illness is “the belief that evil is a seemingly untreatable condition. Why designate as a disease a condition for which there is neither known treatment nor cure?” Peck says, “The fact that we currently do not know how to treat evil in the human individual is the best reason to designate it a disease. For the label of disease implies that the disorder is not inevitable, that healing should be possible, that it should be studied scientifically and methods of treatment should be sought. It is, he states, “the central proposition of this book that evil can and should be subjected to scientific scrutiny. We can and should move form our present state of ignorance and helplessness toward a true psychology of evil.” Peck says that “The designation of evil as a disease also obligates us to approach evil with compassion.”

To be blunt, I cannot agree with the very thesis of Peck’s book. First and foremost I do not believe that evil is a disease. Secondly, though I think certain truths can be said about evil, many of which I talked about above, comprehensively I don’t think evil can ever be fully “defined.” Finally, I do not think evil can be “cured” by psychotherapy.Let’s look at each of these in turn.

Although evil has some similarities to disease, it is not a disease. It can be similar to a disease in that when evil people practice and give in to evil, it corrupts that whole person. It is also “disease like” in that it is harmful and can destroy not only the host but others (disease spreads). Like a disease, the destructive nature of the person’s evil may not be transparent for a long time. Though he acknowledges that men can live in such a way as to bring on a disease in their body, I think too many times the “disease model” makes men think they are not responsible for their choices. “I can’t help that I am an alcoholic. It’s a disease.” Similarly one could say, “I can’t help it that I only think of myself, I have narcissistic personality disorder.” Too often men use the disease model to excuse themselves.

Since the advent of psychology, moral categories have gone out of vogue. We no longer talk about sin. We talk about “Borderline Personality disorder.” I for one get very sick and tired of hearing about “Borderline Personality Disorder.” Just once I would like someone to have the courage to say “what they did was evil.” Never have we looked so intensely into ourselves and yet seen ourselves with less clarity. Peck defines illness as “Any defect in the structure of our bodies or personalities that prevents us from fulfilling our potential as human beings.”

Evil is much more than a deformation of personality. Evil is much more than something that prevents us from fulfilling our potential as human beings. Evil is persistent, pernicious sinning. To sin is to violate God’s moral law. It is direct rebellion against one’s Creator. Sin destroys a man at his core. Sin also separates a man from God and from his fellow man.

Secondly, I don’t think evil can be “studied” like a scientific endeavor. This is not to say that certain things cannot be said definitively about evil. Yet evil manifests itself in so many ways and forms how could one ever define them all? Peck felt evil should be studied so that we could understand it and then humanely treat it. He says, “I do not think that we shall come any closer than we are today to understanding and, I hope, curing human evil until that healing professions name evil as an illness within the domain of their professional responsibility.”

I am not quite sure how Peck can reconcile this statement with the one he made earlier about “Jesus Christ is his Lord and that his commitment to Christianity is the most important thing in his life and is, he hopes, pervasive and total.” Nothing could be more antithetical to Christianity than to say evil is an illness that can be healed by psychotherapy. To think the healing of evil is within the reach and scope of man is not only arrogant and foolhardy, but nullifies the very need for a Savior. Why should Christ have to die on a cross if we had within our grasp the hope of healing ourselves of our own evil? The only hope now or ever for the healing of evil is the finished work of Christ on the cross.

The apostle Paul makes clear in the book of Ephesians that men without the spirit of God are dead men. Men only have the life changing, transforming power of the spirit if they have place their faith in Christ. Only God’s spirit can radically transform dead men to life again. Until a man is changed by the transforming power of God he is bound over to sin. Even if an evil person would submit themselves to therapy, which even Peck admits they rarely do, it would be futile to discuss their evil behavior with them.

Evil can only be curbed and contained and this with great force and consequence. This is why we have police officers surround a murderer with guns, handcuff him and then put him in a jail. This is why the angel grabbed Lot by the scruff of the neck and pulled him back inside. Lot was standing outside the door of his house trying to reason with the men of Sodom who were insisting on raping the visitors he had at his house. Evil people, by definition, are not reasonable. As was stated earlier, not every person in a jail cell has given themselves fully to evil, though every person in a jail cell has done an evil act.

Chuck Colson works with the prison population because he believes they can be redeemed. But the redemption he offers those in Prison Fellowship is the same redemption he discovered himself: the redemption of the cross. He even tells a story of visiting a jail where he asked the warden how many of the prisoners were “mental cases.” She replied, “all of them.”

He was appalled by this reply. Then he relates this story: All the prisoners were treated with “therapy.” “Therapy” for one of the prisoners included being escorted by a female guard to see a movie. On the way to “therapy”, he overpowered the guard, raped her, then murdered her. One only needs to hear this story to know the power to cure evil is, and has always been, only by the grace of God. Man’s only hope is to bow in humility before his creator and acknowledge there is nothing that can be done to cure his condition but to accept Christ’s death on the cross as payment for his sin. If Peck wants to work with an evil person in therapy, his work must begin there.

A Critical Look at Steinbeck’s “The Pearl”

Those who long to be rich, however, fall into temptation and a trap and many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all evils. Some people in reaching for it have strayed from the faith and stabbed themselves with many pains.”
1 Timothy 6:9-10


John SteinbeckIn 1939 John Steinbeck wrote a novel called “The Grapes Of Wrath.” It was a runaway success and achieved commercial fame. The novel was about farmers from Oklahoma who, devastated by drought that had plagued the land, moved west in search of work that could earn them a living. Steinbeck for his time, was considered a radical California writer. This new book also brought controversy, because he seemed to be making a statement that perhaps communism was the way to settle ecomomic disparity in the United States. The book was essentially about poor people and how their lives were changed by evolving industry. The public responded with a backlash of persecution toward Steinbeck for writing about marginalized society. Instead of enjoying his fame and the money that came with success, he experienced deep self-doubt and went through a period of reexamination of American values.

As a result of this time of reflection, the novel “The Pearl” was written. The story is a parable, and it’s title is meant specifically to make readers reflect upon the biblical “pearl of great price.” In Matthew 13:45 Jesus says, “Again the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.” The parable is not implying that to follow God means you must live a life of ascetisim. It is implying that there is nothing more important than to seek God himself and eternal life with him in heaven.

Steinbeck takes this parable and writes about it literally. His story revolves around three main characters: Kino, Juana and Coyotito. Kino and Juana are a poor Mexican couple. Kino earns his living by diving for pearls. Coyotito is their beloved infant son. Steinbeck cuts right to the chase and puts us in suspense in chapter one as we read about Kino and Juana watching a scorpion slowly descend on the ropes of the “hanging box” that their precious baby is laying in. With baited breath they watch it’s movement until finally the baby laughingly reaches up and grabs the rope. The scorpion falls and the thorned tail of the scorpion finds its mark on the baby’s shoulder. Steinbeck introduces a number of elements here. First we see a foreshadowing of the fragility of their “true” pearl, baby Coyotito. Steinbeck also introduces into the narrative here a device which he uses throughout. He contrasts the “song of family” with the “song of evil.” Kino and Juana are simple, illiterate, working class people. Their dialogue in the story is limited. So Steinbeck uses this “music” both to express mood and to replace dialogue. Desperate, Kino and Juana take the baby to the local doctor, who is an evil, brutish wealthy white man. He refuses to treat the baby because the couple have no money. After Juana applies a poultice, the couple do the only thing they know to do: they go out in their little boat so Kino can dive for pearls.

Juana prays that day that they can find a pearl so they will have enough money to pay the doctor. Kino, not only finds a pearl, but he finds the “pearl of all pearls.” Steinbeck describes it: “There it lay, the great pearl, perfect as the moon. It captured the light and refined it and gave it back in silver incandescence. It was as large as a sea-gull’s egg. It was the greatest pearl in the world.”

The rest of the story is about the unfolding of Kino’s life after he finds the great pearl. The whole town becomes wrapped up in his story. This is the way Steinbeck tells it: “Every man suddenly became related toThe Pearl By  John Steinbeck Kino’s pearl, and Kino’s pearl went into the dreams, the speculations, the schemes, the plans, the futures, the wishes, the needs, the lusts, the hungers, of everyone, and one person stood in the way and that was Kino, so that he became curiously every man’s enemy. The news stirred up something infinitely black and evil in the town; the black distillate was like the scorpion, or like hunger in the smell of food, or like loneliness when love is withheld. The poison sacs of the town began to manufacture venom, and the town swelled and puffed with the pressure of it. But Kino and Juana did not know these things. Because they were happy and excited they thought everyone shared their joy.” Steinbeck here defines that infinitely curious thing about wealth: the one who has it is never quite sure of people’s motives in relating to him. One thing for sure, Steinbeck lets you know that people certainly aren’t happy for you if you have it.

Kino quickly understands he must sell the pearl, lest someone try to steal it. Kino also has his own dreams wrapped up in the pearl. His dreams are not for himself, but for his son. He hopes to sell the pearl so that he will have the money to send his son to get an education. Kino sees his son as the savior of the family, the one who can deliver them from poverty. The townspeople watch Kino and Juana closely. Steinbeck writes, “All of the neighbors hoped that sudden wealth would not turn Kino’s head, would not make a rich man of him, would not graft onto him the evil limbs of greed and hatred and coldness. For Kino was a well-liked man; it would be a shame if the pearl should destroy them all.” Steinbeck slowly asks us to consider shifting our perspective from the pearl being an object of great worth to an object of sheer evil.

The corrupt town doctor, learning of Kino’s find, suddenly reverses his decision and comes to “help” the baby. Preying upon Kino and Juana’s ignorance he gives the baby poison, only to come back an hour later to “save” the baby with the antidote, all the while telling them he is saving Coyotito from the scoripion venom. The doctor’s sole goal is to see if he can possibly detect where Kino has hidden the pearl. We see here that the pearl puts Juana and Kino’s greatest treaure in peril and we have already seen the fragility of Coyotito’s life. Later that night Kino awakes. Juana asks him, ‘Who do you fear?’ Steinbeck writes, “Kino searched for a true answer, and at last he said, ‘Everyone.’ And he could feel a shell of hardness drawing over him.” Juana says, “This thing is evil! This pearl is like a sin! It will destroy us…..Throw it away Kino. Let us throw it back into the sea.” Later in the narrative Juana tries to do just that, and Kino ends up beating her. Thoroughout the story Juana remains the voice of reason and we see Kino’s character begin to be corrrupted by the pearl.

Kino goes the next day to sell the pearl, and runs up against another injustice: the corrupt pearl buyers. There is more than one buyer in the local town, but they all work for one man. So they try to offer each seller the lowest amount they can give. When Kino brings the pearl in they tell him that it is worthless, that it is a ‘novelty.’ Yet even in his ignorance, Kino knows this is a lie. He decides he must journey to the “big city” to see if he can get a fair price. Kino’s brother Juan Tomas, understands that the local buyers have most likely collectively cheated their people for years, yet what Kino is undertaking is very ambitious and has never been done. Tomas’ warns him, “There is a devil in this pearl. You should have sold it and passed on the devil. Perhaps you can still sell it and buy peace for yourself.” Kino tells him with eyes that are hard and bitter, “it is my misfortune and my life and I will keep it……This pearl has become my soul. If I give it up I shall lose my soul.” In an effort to keep his dreams alive, Kino has to descend into a morass of evil. Before all is said and done, he has beaten his wife and killed several men. Being hunted by trackers, he and Juana flee with their son. Kino manages to kill the trackers, which is his only hope of escape, but not before the one with the rifle ends up killing Coyotito, who is hidden away in a cave with Juana. Steinbeck describes Kino and Juana’s abysmal return into town with their dead son wrapped in a bundle. In the end, Kino with Juana at his side, throw the pearl back into the sea. Kino has learned that “power accrues to those who already have it” and also that “greed corrupts the soul.”

John SteinbeckThe Pearl is a distinctively American story that is just as relevant today as it was when it was written. How many American’s have come to the end of their lives and realized they have sacrifed too much for the attainment of this ideal we call “the American dream?” In America we often feel that the “pearl of great price” is something called “success.” Success ususally gets dumbed down in translation to “having a lot of money.” Success is the prize we run after and that is the thing we sell everything we have for. The things American’s “sell” to attain this goal are very costly. We sell our marriages, our children, our health, our time, our money, our very lives. Once success is achieved, American’s like to live their insular lives amusing themselves to death. They do not like to be reminded of something as sordid as poverty. They don’t like to admit that not everyone really does have an equal chance of achieving the American Dream. The Pearl is a direct expression of Steinbeck’s very personal experience of achieving the American dream and finding it wanting. He is asking us to consider whether the cost is worth it. Steinbeck called The Pearl “a brutal story but with flashes of beauty.” He indeed shows us the brutal toll of the corruption of greed in a simple, stark, straight-forward narrative that challenges American ideals to the core. He asks us to consider what our true treasures are. Though not a Christian, it is interesting that Steinbeck alludes to the Bible and the “Pearl Of Great Price” by choosing the title that he did for his novel. The only difference between when he wrote and today is that today many would not automatically understand that inference to scripture.

Steinbeck also certainly knocked down American’s number one idol of greed. It is clear from scripture that of all the idols that will inhibit one from finding God, greed is at the top. Jesus put is succinctly: “You cannot serve both God and money.” It is interesting to note that pearls must be searched for and that they are a rare and beautiful treasure. So although the moral of Steinbeck’s story is not to search for God, it points us in the direction of the parable of the Pearl of Great Price, and in that parable God himself tells us: Search for me! I am the rare and beautiful treasure you long for.”

Steinbeck learned the hard way that American’s set up and then love to watch the demise of their celebrities. The celebrity today is the American equivalent of the Gladiator. We put the celebrity in the ring to entertain us and then we like to watch him die. We only want our celebrities to amuse, not to make us ponder difficult questions. Upon achieving his pearl of “success” Steinbeck found it as bitter as Kino, and one wonders if he too would have like to have thrown it back into the sea.

A Little Controversy: The Gospel and Eminem

Controversy – noun. A discussion marked especially by the expression of opposing viewpoints

“No, I’m not the first king of controversy
I am the worst thing since Elvis Presley
To do black music so selfishly
And used it to get myself wealthy
There is a concept that works
Twenty million other white rappers emerge
But no matter how many fish in the sea
It’ll be so empty without me….

Now this looks like a job for me
So everybody just follow me
Cause we need a little controversy
Cause it feels so empty without me”
Without Me, Eminem

With some fear and trepidation I am going to do a blog post on Eminem. I know a lot of Christians would crucify me for just talking about him. How could you talk about that terrible, obscene, vile, filthy rapper? One reason I dare is because he is so influential. “Recovery” was his seventh studio album. The album debuted at number one on the U.S. Billboard 200 chart, selling 741,000 copies in its first week. It was his sixth album to debut at number one in the United States. It was the best selling album of 2010 and sold 5.7 million copies worldwide. Those statistics reflect the enormous influence he has. On first glance Eminem is just an angry male who grew up in the white equivalent of the ghetto: the trailer park. No doubt he is angry. Cursing in general is a sign of an angry heart. Yet his music resonates with many, many young people who grew up in broken homes and who also are angry. Whether you love him or despise him, no one can deny he is influential.

Let me say for the record that I do not endorse Eminem. I don’t own any of his music. I don’t agree with all his viewpoints. I don’t like his profanity. I don’t like the way he has talked about women in such degrading, violent ways. The only music I have heard of his is that which receives airplay on the radio. Obviously that is usually censored. Eminem, real name Marshall Mathers, knows that he is controversial. He obviously has a healthy ego about that fact as evidenced by his lyrics “Cause we need a little controversy, cause it feels so empty without me.” Controversial people are in your face and they put things out there for people to consider. Mathers has made a nice living from it.

Though as Christians we may only listen to praise and worship or classical music, most, if not all, of the people we need to reach with the gospel do not listen to that. Many young people listen to Eminem. This must mean they resonate with the things he raps about on some level. In order to connect with these young people, many who are angry and come from broken homes like Mathers, we must be able to connect with their world. How can we do that? One way is through music. Music is a very powerful medium for a culture to express its values. Though we may hate Eminem’s views and “values” they reflect the views of some people in the culture. You man say, well who would share the gospel with anyone who listens to Eminem? They are obviously beyond salvation. Really? I think Jesus would have shared the gospel with them. I think Paul would have too. The Apostle Paul, who is probably one of the greatest evangelists of all time said, “I become all things to all people, so that by all means I may save some.” (I Corinthians 9:22) When he was speaking to the men of Athens he quoted their own poets to try and reach them with the message of salvation. Mathers is a poet of sorts. So how could we use Eminem to reach someone with the gospel? Let me give you an example. One of Eminem’s popular songs which received airplay was “Lose Yourself.” At the beginning of this song Eminem asks this question:

Look, if you had one shot, or one opportunity
To seize everything you ever wanted in one moment
Would you capture it, or just let it slip?

Eminem is talking here about opportunity. Opportunity is a universal idea. We all are faced with opportunities. More than this he is asking if you had one shot to grasp all you ever wanted, would you go for it? Now most people translate this to mean things like achieving wealth, success, power, influence, love, etc. Eminem himself tells us what it means to him: success. Success he says “is his only option, failure is not.” Why? For Eminem success is the highest goal one can attain in life, so if he fails to achieve that there is nothing higher to reach for and all is lost. At this point one could suggest that the truth is that there is more than this life and a higher goal to reach for than success. The highest goal that any man can attain to is to know God. God is his creator. He was made to know and be known by his Creator. Because knowledge of the Holy is so high and exalted and can never be plumbed in totality, it takes all that you have as a person. It requires your best effort, all your talent, the extremes of your intellect and most of all, the totality of your heart. When the gospel is presented to a man, it is an opportunity, but not just an opportunity, it is THE opportunity. It is the very thing Eminem describes. It is the chance to seize everything you ever wanted. Of course only God’s grace can enable a man to understand this high and lofty truth. For indeed God is so great, so beautiful, so holy, so mighty, so glorious, so all in all, He is indeed everything you could ever want. When Christ said I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and end, He not only means that He has always existed, but that He is the greatest gift to be had.


We are all presented with opportunities, and opportunities require choice. An opportunity is defined as a favorable juncture of circumstances, or a good chance for advancement and progress. Later in the song Eminem says, “You only get one shot, do not miss your chance to blow, for opportunities only come once in a lifetime.” Opportunities are favorable crossroads. Sometimes it is true that the opportunity only comes once. Some people do let it go. There are people every day who are presented with the greatest, most glorious, most exalted truth of the gospel and refuse its truth. They say, “I will search for God later.” Nothing could be more foolish. What is the gospel? It is the truth that man because of his rebellion against his creator has been separated from God. God himself however provided a way that man could once again have a restored relationship with Him, and that is through the death of Jesus Christ on the cross. Why does that act provide a restored relationship to God? Christ’s death on the cross paid the debt we owed to God. We all know in earthly terms when we commit a wrong there is a payment to be made for that wrong. If we commit murder, hopefully if our justice system works properly we go to prison. Scripture makes it clear that all the wrongdoing we do is ultimately against God and God alone. So the penalty we owe for the wrong that we do is death, not only physical death, but spiritual death. Christ pays that penalty in our place. If we accept and believe that truth, we have a restored relationship with God and the promise of eternal life with him. The alternative is that we pay the penalty for our rebellious deeds ourselves.

You may think that using Eminem lyrics to talk to someone about the gospel is sacrilege. Certainly one should not do so if one cannot in good conscience do so. Yet I think it is a powerful way we can build a bridge with someone who is an unbeliever. Some people will be disappointed in my view. Some people will be disappointed with me. I am being controversial. Certainly no figure in history could have been more controversial than Christ himself. When I read the gospels I find that he is constantly challenging people in many ways they don’t like. People could not stand the fact that he ate with sinners, people like prostitutes and greedy tax collectors. People were amazed that his harshest words were reserved for the “religious”, while he was greatly merciful to “sinners.” He constantly exposed the prejudices of men and the idols of their hearts. He never did the expected. He told men what they needed to hear and not what they wanted to hear. He was not the proud political king men longed for, he was the humble spiritual king men need. Everything about his kingdom is disconcerting: dying to self, taking up your cross, the last shall be first, no other gods before him, he is the only way, just to name a few. I think many, many Christians would NEVER even entertain the idea of having dinner with Eminem. I think if Jesus Christ were here today he would. I know that idea is very controversial. Yet, perhaps, we need a little controversy.

A Black Sneering Coolness: Reflections On The Nature of Evil From Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

What is evil really? Webster’s defines it thus: morally bad or wrong; wicked. Causing ruin, injury or pain; harmful. Characterized by anger or spite; malicious. I can tell you for certain that evil is alive and well, but it is not a particularly popular axiom.

There are some men who have dared to admit the truth. Man indeed faces a great struggle, a war within the soul and a war against the soul by others. Robert Louis Stevenson in his story “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” describes the duality that resides in man. Speaking as Dr. Jekyll he says, ‘It was on the moral side and in my own person that I learned to recognize the thorough and primitive duality of man. I saw that, of the two natures that contended in the field of my consciousness, even if I could be rightly said to be either, it was only because I was radically both. Describing the struggle that men face he says, “It was the curse of mankind that these incongruous faggots were thus bound together, that in the agonized womb of consciousness these polar twins should be continually struggling.”Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Dr. Jekyll wished to escape the struggle of fighting against his warring natures, so he sought to separate himself by drinking an experimental potion. The potion would transform Dr. Jekyll into Mr. Hyde. Dr. Jekyll could thus maintain two identities. As Dr. Henry Jekyll he would remain a co-mingling of good and evil, a doctor who chose to restrain his evil impulses to live a moral, respectable and upright life. Hyde, however, would be pure evil. In Hyde he could engage his evil nature to the fullest. Jekyll notes, “If each, I told myself, could be housed in separate identities life would be relieved of all that was unbearable: the unjust might go his way, delivered from the aspirations of his more upright twin; and the just could walk steadfastly and securely on his upward path, doing the good things in which he found his pleasure, and no longer exposed to disgrace and penitence by the hands of this extraneous evil.” Thus Mr. Hyde was “born.”

All who met Hyde were repulsed by him. One man who collared Hyde after Hyde had just run down a child said of him: “He was perfectly cool and made no resistance, but gave me one look, so ugly that it brought the sweat out on me like running.” He described him as having a “black, sneering coolness.” Mr Utterson. Dr. Jekyll’s lawyer friend, sought Hyde out. He desired to see who the upright Dr. Jekyll had left his fortune to. After laying eyes on him he said of Hyde, “O my poor Henry Jekyll! If ever I read Satan’s signature upon a face, it is on that of your new friend!”

Dr. Jekyll describes his transformation into Hyde: “There was something strange in my sensations, something indescribably new and from its very novelty, incredibly sweet. I felt younger, happier, lighter in body; within I was conscious of a heady recklessness, a current of disordered sensual images running like a mill race in my fancy, a solution of the bonds of obligation, an unknown, but not innocent freedom of the soul. I knew myself at first breath to be more wicked, tenfold more wicked, sold a slave to my original evil; and that thought in that moment braced and delighted me like wine. I stretched out my hands, exulting in the freshness of these sensations and in the act I was suddenly aware that I had lost stature.” This Jekyll attributes to the face that this side of his nature was ‘less robust and developed.’

Dr. Jekyll takes a first look at himself in the mirror: “Edward Hyde was so much smaller, slighter and younger than Henry Jekyll. Even as good shone upon the countenance of the one, evil was written broadly and plainly on the face of the other. Evil besides (which I must still believer to be the lethal side of man) had left on that body, an imprint of deformity and decay. And yet when I looked upon that ugly idol in the glass, I was conscious of no repugnance, rather of a leap of welcome. This too was myself. It seemed natural and human. In my eyes it bore a livelier image of the spirit and seemed more express and single, than the imperfect and divided countenance I had hither to been accustomed to call mine.

At first Jekyll was able to control the experiment. He drank the potion, turned into Hyde and participated in his licentiousness: “All that time my virtue slumbered, my evil kept awake by my ambition, was alert and swift to seize the occasion…” He continues, “The pleasures which I made haste to seek in my disguise were, as I have said, undignified. I would scarce use a harder term. But in the hands of Edward Hyde, they soon began to turn toward the monstrous. When I would come back from these excursions, I was often plunged into wonder at my vicarious Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hydedepravity. This familiar that I called out of my own soul, and sent forth alone to do his good pleasure, was a being inherently malign and villainous, his every act and thought centered on self, drinking pleasure with bestial avidity from any degree of torture or another; relentless like a man of stone.”

After awhile though, the allure of being Mr. Hyde became too great. As Dr. Jekyll he was “growing towards an elderly man.” As Hyde he was “free from restraint, lively, young.” Stevenson writes: Henry Jekyll stood aghast before the acts of Edward Hyde, but the situation was apart from ordinary laws and insidiously relaxed the grasp of conscience. It was Hyde after all, and Hyde alone, that was guilty. Jekyll was no worse; he woke again to his good qualities seemingly unimpaired; he would make haste, where it was possible, to undo the evil done by Hyde. And thus his conscience slumbered.”

Hyde had his own sleazy residence but could come and go at Dr. Jekyll’s at will. He had a key. One morning Dr. Jekyll awoke in his own bed at Cavendish Square as Edward Hyde. This marked a turning point. Dr Jekyll notes, “This inexplicable incident, this reversal of my previous experience, seemed like the Babylonian finger on the wall, to be spelling out the letters of my judgment, and I began to reflect more seriously that ever before on the issues and possibilities of my double existence.” He goes on to say: “That part of me which I had the power of projecting had lately been much exercised and nourished; it had seemed to me of late as though the body of Edward Hyde had grown in stature……..I began to spy a danger that, if this were much prolonged, the power of voluntary change be forfeited, and the character of Edward Hyde become irrevocably mine.”

Alas, Dr. Jekyll’s reflections came to late. Jekyll swears off becoming Hyde for two months, but in the end he succumbs again to the transformation. “My devil had long been caged, he came out roaring. I was conscious when I took the draught, or a more unbridled, a more furious propensity to ill………..I had voluntarily stripped myself of all those balancing instincts by which even the worst of us continues to walk with some degree of steadiness among temptations; and in my case, to be tempted, however slightly, was to fall.” Jekyll goes on to describe what it felt like to be Hyde: “Instantly the spirit of hell awoke in me and raged. With a transport of glee, I mauled the unresisting body, tasting delight in every blow; and it was not until weariness had begun to succeed that I was suddenly in the top fit of my delirium, struck through the heart by a cold thrill of terror. A mist dispersed. I saw my life to be forfeit, and fled from the scene of these excesses, at once glorifying and trembling, my lust for evil gratified and stimulated, my love for life screwed to the topmost peg.” Initially once he has transformed back into Dr. Jekyll, he is “smitten with gratitude and remorse.” and penitently prays to God. But later he says, “as the acuteness of remorse began to die away, it was succeeded by a sense of joy. He feels renewed in his effort to lead the good life as Dr. Jekyll. Hyde would be blamed for the murder and Jekyll vows to never become him again. “I resolved in my future conduct to redeem the past, and I can honestly say that my resolve was fruitful of some good.”

For a brief time Jekyll remains “good.” But it was as his own self, and “ordinary secret sinner” that “I at last fell before the assaults of temptation.” Jekyll muses, “There comes an end to all things; the most capacious measure is filled at last; and this brief condescension to my evil finally destroyed the balance of my soul. And yet I was not alarmed; the fall seemed natural, like a return to the old days before I had made my discovery.” Jekyll’s fall came about just like King Nebuchadnezzar, with one proud thought: “After all, I reflected, I was like my neighbors; and then I smiled, comparing myself with other men, comparing my active goodwill with the lazy cruelty of their neglect. And at that very moment of that vain-glorious thought, a qualm came over me, a horrid nausea and the most deadly shuddering. These passed away, and left me faint; and then as in its turn the faintness subsided, I began to be aware of a change in the temper of my thoughts, a greater boldness, a contempt of danger, a solution of the bonds of obligation. I looked down; my clothes hung formlessly on my shrunken limbs; the hand that lay on my knee was corded and hairy. I was once more Edward Hyde. A moment before I had been safe of all men’s respect, wealthy, beloved – the cloth laying for me in the dining room at home; and now I was the common quarry of mankind, hunted, houseless, a known murderer, thrall to the gallows.” From that point on Jekyll could not longer control turning into Hyde. He turned into him “at all hours of the night and day” and he would “leap almost without transition” into Hyde. He says,“The powers of Hyde seemed to have grown with the sickliness of Jekyll.” Though Jekyll tries desperately to make a new draught, it is without efficacy. He believes his first formula had some kind of unknown impurity in it which he cannot now replicate. In the end the respected Dr. Jekyll is completely given over to the diabolical Mr. Hyde, a wanted murderer. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Stevenson’s story is essentially about a man who is living a double life. Granted he has found the unique ability to be a “truly separate self” when he is doing his evil, that the rest of us do not have the luxury of being. Though Hyde initially starts out as smaller and less developed physically, he eventually comes to be stronger than Jekyll and finally to overcome him totally. Stevenson is suggesting something here about our sin nature. The more we give in to it, the more robust it becomes. As Jekyll realized when he was Hyde, that sin nature felt natural to him. Giving in to it did not really seem like something foreign. One may think that the reality of a person living a double life is rare, especially one so drastically different as Dr. Jekyll versus Mr. Hyde. Perhaps in this extreme it is rare, but I in general a double life is not nearly as rare as one might think. For examle both men and women can be domestic abusers. By day they might seem like the nicest person you would ever meet, but at night they go home and are brutal to wives, husbands and children. Some of these people hold prestigious jobs and are active in community service and church. Yet the reality is, they lead a double life. If we really could see who they are, as their intimate partners see them, we would be as repulsed by them as people were by Hyde. Hyde exemplifies well many traits of evil. By nature evil is cruel. It is contemptuous, bold and brazen. Some evil people delight in their evil, which is to be sadistic. Hyde is man who thinks he can do what he wants and somehow get away with it. Many people who lead a double life do get away with it for a long time. Manypeople get away with sin in general for a long time. Yet even though Dr. Jekyll found a way to make a separate self who could be pure evil while he remained a co-mingling of good and evil, he found that the influence of that evil eventually consumed him. Jekyll was aghast at Hyde’s antics and tried to cover them over, which reflects the enormous energy one must expend to live a double life. The most powerful lesson of the story to me is that Dr. Jekyll did not “fall” as Hyde, but he “fell” as himself. The thing that brought him down was his own “simple, ordinary pride.” The greatest double life of all is to be self-righteous. It is to pretend to be good and virtuous and upright, when the reality of your heart is dark. Christ called such people “white washed tombs.” He said, “You people look good on the outside, but inside you are full of dead men’s bones.” Dr. Jekyll had begun to feel pretty good about his cover up scheme. In fact he felt so good about it, that he actually felt he was more virtuous than other men. As soon as he had that thought, Hyde took over and he was never again able to contain him. Perhaps the greatest lesson of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is this: Never think yourself a “righteous” man. This is the greatest form of pride, and pride always goes before a fall. Always remember that any righteousness you possess is simply that which has been imputed to you by Christ’s death on the cross. The greatest of all evils is to be a self-righteous man.

The Long, Slow, Agonizing Path to Justice

 This post is dedicated to all the victims of Jerry Sandusky and their families. My thoughts, compassion, mercy and prayers are with you.

Those who have never experienced a serious injustice cannot comprehend what is like to be a victim waiting for justice to come about. Probably there is no greater frustration than to be a victim whose hands are tied.

One who has to sit back and watch as more people are victimized by an evil person who is hidden behind a facade of good. It is maddening. It is agonizing. Not only does the victim experience the helplessness of being victimized in the first place by this more powerful evil person, but then they experience the helplessness of being unable to bring the evil person to justice because of the overwhelming odds of being believed. I understand that situation in its entirety. I have lived it and am living it. The persons who victimized me have yet to be brought to justice. Thankfully in the case of sexual predator and serial pedophile Jerry Sandusky enough victims were able to unite against him and an investigation was launched which led to him being arrested and charged.

Sandusky was a former Penn State football player who began his coaching career at the University in 1969. As one of the victims was quoted as saying, “Sandusky was known to everyone as this pillar in the community, this outstanding, wonderful, friendly man.” In addition to having a long successful career there, Sandusky also founded a nonprofit in 1977 called “Second Mile” which was dedicated to “helping troubled boys.”

As is clear now, Sandusky used this organization as a means of gaining access to his victims and “grooming them.” Sandusky’s “alleged” crimes date back at least 15 years. In addition to his crime, bystanders at the University who either saw, or knew about his evil actions, stood by and did nothing. The University police investigated a report that Sandusky showered with a boy in 1998. The case was closed and no charges were filed. In 2000, a janitor sees Sandusky performing oral sex on a boy. He tells a co-worker, but no report is made. In 2002, Mike McQueary, a graduate assistant coach, sees Sandusky performing anal sex on a boy about 10 years old. He stops Sandusky and then tells head coach Joe Paterno. Paterno alerts the athletic director of Penn State Tim Curley and the senior vice president of finance, Gary Schultz. Sandusky’s keys to the locker room were taken away, but no police report was filed. Finally in 2008, a parent of “victim 1” calls her son’s school, which alert authorities and an investigation is launched. In addition to resulting in Sandusky’s arrest, Penn State’s president, athletic director and senior vice president all step down; the latter two were arrested for perjury and failing to report a crime. Head coach Paterno was also fired after a long and distinguished career.

People of course are expressing shock. How could this happen they ask? I am not sure why we are so surprised at these events, considering the recent scandal and the scope and magnitude of the clergy abuse of young boys in the Catholic church.

Evil will always hide behind good whenever it can. We should never be shocked by that. That is the most pragmatic guise for its efforts. What is more shocking is that people knew for years about Sandusky and did nothing. Do we really believe that we can be a bystander of a crime and bear no responsibility for bringing that to justice? Each person involved in this case seemed to feel as long as they told their superior they had ‘done their duty’ and were off the hook. Was it really unclear to them that this was child abuse and that is a criminal offense? How did they go to bed at night knowing they were employing a man who was raping young boys? How does one live with oneself knowing that by not turning this guy in he further victimized countless children and ruined their lives? By their silence the bystanders came pretty close to being near accomplices. I feel incredible sadness for all the victims, but also incredible sadness that some of those might have been spared the victimization if just one person had the courage to do the right thing. I also understand what the parents were up against in trying to get people to listen and believe them in their complaints about the “revered football coach.”

No doubt Sandusky “needs help”, and I guess there are those out there with hearts big enough to work with such people. As for me, I have absolutely no compassion for Abusers of any type. This is not to say that I am a perfect person, or consider myself not to share the same category of “sinner” as abusers do. We are all sinners, and all do abusive things at time. By that I mean “little a” abusive. We are all capable of yelling at our kids, or speaking unkindly, or being rough in manner. We also are all capable of “big A” abuse as well, but thankfully most people do not engage in such atrocity. Some would disagree with me that “we are all capable” of that kind of evil. Yet I believe the depth of depravity of the human heart is such that I better consider my heart “capable” of anything in order to fight the evil in it effectively.

When you know the absolutely devastating affect abuse has in a person’s life, it is very difficult to have much sympathy for such evil people. I think of all the children that man lured to himself through his non-profit organization. These were children who trusted and looked up to him and thought that he was being kind to them because he was a good man. He used this very kindness to draw them to himself and then horrifically abuse them. It’s hard not to hate a man like that.

I hope that one lesson that will be learned from this is that if you know of someone who is being abused and you are a witness to that,either directly or indirectly, that you will have the courage to step forward. My prayer is that you will be an advocate for the victim, and that you will stand against evil by reporting the perpetrator.

Child abuse is against the law, and child abuse must be reported. Domestic and elder abuse is also against the law and must be reported. This is a non-negotiable. If a person tells you they are being abused, believe them, especially if it is a child. Don’t discredit their report because they are a child. Investigate the matter fully. It is the basic duty of every human being to stand for justice. We are to speak up for those who are poor, or oppressed, or do not ‘have a voice.’ Children cannot advocate for themselves in terms of abuse. They need others to believe them and stand up for them.

I just want to say that I am glad that Sandusky has been apprehended and that no more children can be abused by him. My heart goes out to all the victims and their families. Will there be justice for these victims? Sandusky being sent to prison for life or even given the death sentence would not even begin to be justice when one considers that he ravaged the beauty of an eternal soul. Yet it is a start. For the victims Sandusky’s path to justice has been long, slow and agonizing. Now that his path has begun, I pray that their path to healing and peace may too.

Reflections On “Losing It” A Memoir by Valerie Bertinelli

“Alcohol makes you feel better and then makes you feel worse and then remorselessly very bad indeed, but then alcohol will make you feel better again. It is the cure for the dog that bit you, and how easily you forget it is also the dog.”

Roger Ebert

Ever since Valerie Bertinelli wrote her memoir “Losing It- And Gaining My Life Back One Pound At A Time” I have wanted to read it. Valerie Bertinelli Author of Losing It

Finally, my opportunity came. I found the book at the Goodwill and grabbed it up for a dollar.

In high school I became a huge Van Halen fan. I was particularly fond of Eddie Van Halen thinking he was very cute. I remember going to see them in concert in Charleston, West Virginia. It was a blast. I was closest to the side of the stage Eddie was on. I was thrilled! He was indeed very cute and had a very nice smile. He also smoked like a fiend. He had a cigarette lit and positioned in his fret the whole time he was playing. Sammy Hagar was now the lead singer. I remember him running around high above on the catwalks and leaning out over them perilously, to my distress. He was a great showman, but he scared the heck out of me.

So I have to admit my interest in reading the book was primarily: What was it LIKE to be married to EDDIE VAN HALEN? I came away feeling respect for Bertinelli, thinking I could easily be her friend, and really rooting for her happiness. What was it really like to be married to Eddie Van Halen? Primarily hell. That is what it is like to be married to any addict.

In Cornelius Plantinga’s book, “Not The Way It Is Supposed To Be: A Breviary Of Sin” he talks about the relationship of sin and addiction. He defines addiction as “A complex, progressive, injurious, and often disabling attachment to a substance (alcohol, heroin, barbituates) or behavior (sex, work, gambling) in which a person compulsively seeks a change of mood.” He points out that “what drives addiction is longing….. a longing of the heart.”

He explains, “Addicts long for wholeness, for fulfillment, for the final good that believers call God. Like all idolatries, addiction taps this vital spiritual force and draws off its energies to objects and processes that drain the addict instead of filling him.

Accordingly the addict longs not for God but for transcendence, not for joy, but only for pleasure- and sometimes escape from pain.”

However as he soberly enjoins: “No matter how they start, addictions eventually center in distress and in the self-defeating choice of an agent to relieve the distress. In fact, trying to cure the distress with the same thing that caused it is typically the mechanism that closes the gap on the addict- a trap that might be baited on anything from whiskey to wool.” This fact is cleverly illustrated in the above quote from Roger Ebert, who himself was an alcoholic.

In truth Eddie Van Halen was an addict from the day Bertinelli met him.

Eddie Van HalenIt took her twenty years to come to grip with this fact and to divorce him. One really agonizes with her about this in reading the book. It makes you realize just how terrible it is to marry someone who is already in the grip of addiction.

It was clear that she really loved him and truly tried to save him, despite making her own mistakes in the marriage. At first she admits that she partied with him, and that was a way to be a part of his world. But this lifestyle got old and hard to maintain. So she pursued her acting career and he immersed himself in creating music and drinking and doing drugs.

Despite the birth of their child, Ed was not able to pull himself out of his living hell. Plantiga notes: “An addict makes and repeatedly breaks contracts with himself; who finds his longings narrowing and hardening into an obsession with things he knows will devastate his work, self-respect, relationships and bank account and who yet seeks compulsively to satisfy those longings; who thus finds his will split between wanting to banish an addictive substance from the earth and wanting to protect his private cache of it; whose addiction, as it moves through mild and moderate stages, first enthralls him in one sense of the word and then in the other-an addict like this often comes to believe that his “struggle is not against enemies of flesh and blood, but against……spiritual forces of evil.” (Ephesians 6:12)

He points out that the “Big Book” of Alcoholic Anonymous says “addiction is cunning, baffling, powerful and patient.” These words could describe the devil himself.

He offers the human being a powerful substitute for God, an idol called “addiction.” This substitute provides immediate pleasure. One does not have to wait for heaven, nor restrain the senses, nor worry about morality. Just take the drink, sniff the coke, smoke the weed and you are in paradise now.

At first it seems like a good trade, until you get hooked. Then you just live for the next time you can get drunk or high. You lose all for the addiction and you don’t even care. You become a shell of yourself. You live in your own isolated living hell, just you and the addiction. It must be so very terrible.

You can just look in the book and see the photos of Eddie as a young man and then when he is older. He looks horrible. The effects of the alcohol and drugs have ravaged him.

For Bertinelli the straw that broke the camel’s back was when Ed refused to quit smoking after getting tongue cancer and having a portion of his tongue removed. She finally admitted to herself then that he was not going to help himself. After finding cocaine in a wallet, she confronted him one last time before she left.

The book also chronicles her own battles with food addiction. In her efforts to cope with Ed and his addiction, she fought her own private hell with her weight. Being an actress only made that issue a million times harder as she had to constantly battle to slim down for roles.

One reads the book and gets the sense of two people who connected and were really wanting to reach out to the other, but the tragedy of addiction kept them apart. All sin isolates, but addiction isolates in a particularly pernicious and destructive way.

In the end Bertinelli won her own private battle and ended up losing fifty pounds and looking terrific. You feel thrilled for her as she loses the weight and ends up finding love too. Yet she still needs to find the ultimate fulfillment which is God himself. Until then, even these momentary victories will remain somewhat shallow.Addiction is the tragedy of idolatry carried to the extreme. When we try to put anything in the place of where the worship of God alone belongs, we come up empty and fall short. Our hearts were created to know Him and to worship Him. Until we acknowledge this we will always be digging empty wells and the buckets we pull up will run dry. They might provide some temporary pleasure, but when we put the bucket down the well again, it will bring up less water each time. So it is with sin.As C.S. Lewis says in the Screwtape Letters, “It is an ever increasing craving for an ever diminishing pleasure.” Sin does provide pleasure, but it is a counterfeit pleasure and each time we engage in it we will find it brings us less. To paraphrase Lewis, the devil cannot really offer any man a pleasure. He can only offer a man a perverted pleasure, one that leaves him more thirsty than he was before. Addiction is just the extreme form of this. Man has decided to turn to alcohol or drugs and make them the center of his life and worships them. At first they offer a return, but then he must have more and more to get the same effect. In the end the whole life withers and is consumed by the addiction.The vital energy needed to seek God is drained away. Could there be anything more tragic? Van Halen once wrote a song called “The Best Of Both Worlds.” In it Hagar sings,

“You don’t have to die and go to heaven
Or hang around to be born again,
Just tune in to what this place has to offer,
Because we may never be here again.
I want the best of both worlds,
And honey I know what it’s worth,
I want the best of both worlds,
A little heaven right here on earth.”

Every honest saint will tell you that this is not heaven and the pleasures this world offers pale in comparison to what heaven will be like. That’s the irony. To have the best of the next world you have to let go of the temporal pleasures that may be found here. As martyr Jim Elliot put it, ‘He is no fool, to give up what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose.”

Christ said is another way, “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world yet forfeit his soul?” The truly wise live for eternity.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and The Liquid, the Perishable and the Hazardous

There are certain signs one has reached the holiday season.

First, they are playing the eternally sappy song with the lines: “It’s the most wonderful time of the year.”

Second, you have been inundated with catalogs in your mailbox.

Third, it is time to make the inevitable trip to the post office to mail your Christmas cards and packages.

Upon entering the post office you immediately notice that everyone is haggard and disgruntled. You drag yourself to the number box, and pull your sentence slip from the wall. It says “47.” They are on number “32.” You sigh.

You try to make things interesting by noticing all the customers, by counting and recounting your cards, and by whistling. This does while away some of the time.

Finally, the momentous moment has arrived and it is your turn. The postal worker looks a bit droopy as she rattles off the familiar words: “Are you mailing anything liquid, perishable or potentially hazardous?”

Since this was my third trip there of the month, I just had to ask. I looked the lady square in the eye and said, “Does anyone ever say ‘yes’ to that question?”  She laughed.

“No,” she admitted, “They never do but we have to ask.” “You know,” I remarked, “the bad guys aren’t exactly going to fess up to what they have in the package. Honesty is really not their strong suit.” We had a good chuckle.

I think I brightened her day because she was still smiling as I left and she wished me a happy holiday.

In my mind I envisioned my next trip to the post office. When they asked me the inevitable question I decided I was going to reply: “Is it liquid, perishable and potentially hazardous? Why yes, It’s all three!”  I can’t wait to see their dumbfounded face as I am escorted out in handcuffs.

Get Low: A Look at Sin, Regret and Forgiveness

*Note: If you haven’t seen the movie and you want to, this post reveals the ending.

Anyone who tells you they have no regrets is a liar.

Anyone who says they are not lying about having no regrets, is a liar.

It’s impossible to live without regret. Those who think it is possible deceive themselves.The Mugshot in the movie Get Low

In the movie “Get Low”, starring Robert Duvall and Bill Murray, the themes of sin, regret and forgiveness are explored. When I picked up the DVD, the movie intrigued me because it was about a man, Felix Bush (Duvall’s character) who had lived as a hermit for forty years who wants to throw himself a “funeral party.” The idea is that he is a man about whom many stories have been told, most of them disreputable. He wants to invite people from all four local counties to “come and tell their stories” about him.

Enter Frank Quinn (Bill Murray’s character), who is the director of a local funeral home. Murray is a bit down and out because nobody in the town seems to want to die, so business is slow. When his assistant hears this reclusive old grouse wants to spend his cash on this party, Murray jumps on it. So the mug shot of the recluse is taken and the invitations sent out.

Felix Bush talks to his preacher friend in the movie Get LowMeanwhile the hermit goes to visit an elderly African American pastor. He wants him to come to the funeral party so he can tell the man’s true story, because the pastor is the only one he has confessed it to. The pastor at first refuses, but then he relents and comes. The big day arrives and the whole town has converged at the “funeral party.” Instead of telling their stories about him, the man tells his own story and sets the record straight about his life.

It turns out that for forty years Felix has been living in self-imposed isolation as “penance” for his sin, which he now confesses to. Forty years earlier he had been having an affair with a married woman. One night he went to see her and when she answered the door she was covered in blood. Her husband had been beating her. Felix went in to the house to intervene. A fight ensued. The husband sets fire to the house. Felix attempts to get the woman he loves out, but he is not able to save her. He is not even sure how he himself gets out.

Felix had also dated the sister of the woman he was having an affair with. She did not know about the affair all these years, and being in the crowd she learns for the first time how her sister died. The crowd listens in stunned silence and leaves quietly at the end. Now they know the real story behind this mysterious figure about whom so much has been told.

The movie rather poignantly portrays several things about sin. First it exemplifies the weight of guilt people carry for the sins they commit. Even if no one knows, they know somewhere deep in their hearts the wrongs they have committed and they carry this weight like a pack on their back. It also showed that the consequences of sin affect many people. Sin is like throwing a stone in a pond. The ripples move out in concentric circles. Yet even those who are farthest from the center are still impacted.

The whole town, to some degree, was affected by Felix’s sin. He was so “notorious” that many stories had spread about him, some of which were untrue. The movie illustrates that sin and its effects are like a prison. In Proverbs 5:22 It states: “The evil deeds of a wicked man ensnare him; the cords of his sin hold him fast. He will die for lack of discipline, led astray by his own great folly.” Felix’s self-imprisonment was a physical illustration of what was already a spiritual reality. The irony of sin is that it seems like freedom and instead is a prison. Another facet of sin that it exemplifies is that sin leads to alienation. Sin alienates us from others and even from ourselves. In the movie the man’s affair was an attempt to escape his isolation, but the sin brought further alienation for him and death for her.

Interestingly Felix Bush is not interested in receiving forgiveness. He says “People say I need to ask Jesus for forgiveness, but I ain’t never done nothin’ to Him.” He Felix Bush gets ready for a time of confession in the movie Get Lowfeels that he has “done his penance” by choosing to live in self-imposed isolation to atone for his sins. The preacher tells him, “You know it isn’t enough.” There is no remedy for guilt other than forgiveness and there is no true forgiveness found in penance. The only true forgiveness to be found is by believing that Christ died for your sins and accepting his death as payment for yours.

This is a position of humility because it recognizes that there is nothing one can do to “pay” for their own sins. We certainly do experience earthly consequences for our actions. Yet these are not “payment” for our sins. They are consequences. The man’s statement that he “never did nothin’ to Jesus” is an untruth. Scripture makes clear that all sin is primarily against God. King David in his famous Psalm of penitence says “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge.” (Psalm 51:4) Sin is betrayal. We betray the one we are to love the most. We put another God in His place and worship it. This is the breaking of the first commandment: Thou shalt have no other God before me.” No one on earth will be able to say to God “I never did anything against you personally.” We all owe a debt to God. That is a non-negotiable truth. The negotiable part is how we handle the debt.

Felix Bush was able to tell his story and share the regret he had bottled up. It shows him at his death walking toward a figure dressed in white, presumably the woman he had an affair with who has now “forgiven him” and they now will presumably be reconciled in the hereafter. In reality all he had done was share the regret of his story. He did not relieve his guilt, nor did he receive forgiveness, because he did not make peace with God to whom he owed the debt.

Ironically the movie is entitled “Get Low.” Obviously we “get low” when we are laid in the earth for the last time. Yet if this man had really “got low” and humbled himself before God and asked for forgiveness, he wouldn’t have needed the communal confession which did him little good. Maybe it’s a good reminder for us all. It’s high time to get low before we are brought low.

Is There Anything More Important Than Serving God?

Do you ever notice how in life it is the simple stories that hold the most profound truths?

I want to look at one such ‘simple story’ from the Bible. In looking at it I want to answer the question ‘Is there anything more important than serving God?’

It is the story of Jesus visiting the home of Martha and Mary.

Martha and Mary
Martha and Mary by He Qi

It is a familiar Biblical story to many people. “Yes, yes”, we say. “We know. Martha was too busy cooking dinner for Jesus to be sitting at his feet listening to him. We need to be more like Mary who was attending to Jesus. Ok, I’ve learned the point of that story. What’s next?” Well, in truth, have we learned the point of that story? If we have, then why are so many Christians lacking in wisdom and maturity but instead are exhausted, worn out, harried, frenetic, self-righteous, critical servants? Perhaps we better take a look at the text again.

Jesus and his disciples are on his way to Jerusalem to face his final test in this world- his arrest, trial, conviction, and crucifixion. On the way they stop at the home of Martha and Mary and their brother Lazarus, close friends of Jesus. Martha is most likely a widow since she owns property. We are told some things about Martha in this text. We are told she had opened her home to Jesus. That is no small insignificant fact.

We are also told that Martha had a sister named Mary who “sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said.” But Martha “was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made.” Now in true sister form Martha was irritated that her sister was “loafing” and not helping “share the load” of the work.

So Martha does an interesting thing. She rebukes God.

Now straight up, that isn’t a wise thing to do. Yet we see it in ourselves don’t we? We too have been irritated with God when He is not “cooperating with our ministry plans.” We say things like, “Hey Lord, I’m under the load here. Couldn’t you send more volunteers to help with my great work I have going?” Martha implores God, “Tell her to help me!”

Jesus is very gracious with Martha. He rebukes her gently.

He says in effect, “Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed, Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken from her.” (Luke 10:41-42)

Now if you would ask many Christians the question I asked in the beginning, “Is there anything more important than serving God?” I think many would respond quickly and emphatically, “No!” Serving God seems to be the most important thing we could ever do with our lives. Yet, God himself intimates a different answer.

Martha and Mary by Velasquez
Christ in the House of Martha and Mary by Velasquez

Let’s look at some of the things Jesus teaches us by his words to Martha. First, Jesus implies in his words that how we spend our time has eternal consequences. He also is saying that some of our choices are better than others, particularly those that will reap eternal, versus temporal benefits. Paul himself elaborates this kind of distinction in 1 Timothy 4:8 “For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.” Translated: exercise is good, godliness is better. Jesus says the same here. “Hospitality is good. Listening to God is better.” Jesus commends Mary for her choice saying “It will not be taken from her.” What Mary learned at Jesus’ feet had value, not only for this life, but also the one to come.

Mary is commended by Christ. Why exactly is this so?

Is it only because her choice is better? It is not only because her choice is better, but it is also because the heart behind it is motivated by a higher goal. Mary’s highest goal was just to know Jesus better. Her’s was a position of humility, submission and dependence. She understood that we cannot serve Christ until we have received from Him. She had the right order. Jesus already told us, “I am the vine, you are the branches. Apart from me you can do nothin

Martha and Mary
Christ in the House of Martha and Mary by Vermeer --- Vermeer's placement of the figures of Martha and Mary in relation to Jesus might imply that their actions are of equal weight. But is this what the biblical text implies?

g.” How often though do we spend our days in busy service, neglecting to just “be with God.”

Mary is also commended here for a deeper reason. Jesus said that the whole law could be summed up in two commands, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength, and Love your neighbor as yourself.” He also tells us in the Old Testament, “To obey is better than sacrifice.” Mary obeyed. She chose to love God with all she had and thus she fulfilled the great commandment. In doing so she showed a heart of wisdom.

Which is the easier task, to sit or to serve? On first blush, sitting at Jesus feet seems like the easier task. After all Mary is not doing any “work.” Or is she?

One of the things that makes Jesus distinct is his counter-cultural attitude toward women. Pharisees did not have women disciples. They did not consider women as equals, and certainly not as logical enough to learn scriptural truths. Yet we see that Jesus treats women very differently. He treats them respectfully. He engages in theological discussions with them (i.e. the Samaritan woman at the well). He also teaches his women disciples (i.e. Mary). Sitting is actually the more difficult task. It requires that we be still. It requires that we listen. It requires discipline and an attitude of active thought (meditation). It requires us to understand how deeply we are dependent on God and need to hear his words to us everyday (humility). It requires an attitude of worship and awe for God.

Martha is described in the text as being “distracted.” She is “worried and upset” about many things. To be worried is to “have a divided mind.” To distract is “to draw one’s attention to a different object.” Life is full of distractions. We could spend our entire life dealing with them and never accomplish anything of value. Jesus teaches in the parable of the soils that the “worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth” can choke out the Word and its fruitfulness in our lives. This shows that distraction and worry are serious temptations for us to contend with if we truly desire to mature in our Christian life.

Martha and Mary
Christ in the House of Mary and Martha by Vincenzio Campi

Is there anything more important than serving God? Yes. Jesus teaches us here that it is more important to love God by seeking to know Him.

An opportunity is defined as: “A favorable, appropriate, or advantageous combination of circumstances.” There could be no greater opportunity than to learn the mind of God from God. That is the opportunity that Martha and Mary had. Yet if you lack wisdom you will not be able to make the best choice when the opportunity arises. That is why Moses prays in Psalm 90: “Teach me to number my days aright that I may gain heart of wisdom.” God promises if we ask for wisdom, He will supply (James 1:5) We need to ask for this wisdom so that we can do as Paul admonishes: “Be very careful how you live, not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.” Inherent in wisdom is the understanding of the brevity of life.

This simple story is not just about Martha and Mary. It is the very situation we face every single day.

Every day we get to choose if we will pick up the Bible and listen to and learn the mind of God from God and to love him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. We cannot say that we have check marked off this story as “got that point” unless we are applying it. James says, “Do not merely listen to the word and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” (James 1:22). If you hear the message that you should attend to God himself as first priority but don’t apply it, you deceive yourself, and so do I. We often think that we would obey God if only we were clear on what He expected of us. Yet here He makes it clear: ONLY ONE THING IS NEEDED. The truth is not that we are uninformed, it is that we are disobedient to what we know.

I pray for you a heart of wisdom to make the better choice, as I pray for myself.

When Life Hands You Lemons Make Puttanesca: Lessons from the Lemony Snicket booket

They say that everyone has a story.

I guess someday I thought maybe I would write mine. But it turns out that a book has already been written about my life. Not just a book, but a set of them. They are called: A Series Of Unfortunate Events.

Unfortunate, a word which here means having or marked by bad fortune; unfavorable or inauspicious circumstances.

I have to admit that I was intrigued by the book title and who can resist an author by the name of Lemony Snicket? My favorite pie is lemon pie. That must be why he was chosen to write my story.

Book one is entitled “The Bad Beginning.” Series of Unfortunate Events: The Bad BeginningIn the book the Baudelaire children, Violet, Klaus and baby Sunny, who are from a wealthy privileged home, are suddenly orphaned. This is unfortunate event number one.

Then they are sent to live with their nearest relative who turns out to be the evil Count Olaf who is a member of a very suspect troupe of actors. His house is a horrible dilapidated place and he has a cruel streak, even slapping young Kraus across the face.

He makes the children do many tasks and one of the tasks he assigns them is to make dinner for his entire acting troupe. Given only a small amount of money the children head next door to the house of the kind Justice Strauss to read cookbooks from her library. Here they come up with the ingenious plan to make puttanesca, a recipe which consists of a sauce of sauteed olives, capers, anchovies, garlic, chopped parsley, and tomatoes served over spaghetti.

The children buy all the ingredients and make the dish only to have Count Olaf come home and tell them he expected Roast Beef. Yet another unfortunate event.

Though he might have wished me to reach this conclusion sooner, it took me till about the end of chapter five to realize the brilliance of Lemony Snicket. I understood then that he was writing a book to and for children who are facing the issue of child abuse and showing them he understood and empathized with their pain.

How does one write a book to children about that topic?

Snicket figured it out.

Maybe that wasn’t his aim. Maybe that’s just what I read into it. Maybe he just wanted to write a horribly unfortunate story with a horribly unfortunate ending and make a fortunate amount of money. I guess I will have to let the author himself weigh in.

Yet he describes very well many of the things abused children face: evil parents, verbal and physical abuse, squalid conditions, unfair demands, insufficient care, all with little or no chance to escape.

Snicket says: “I am sure you, in your life, have occasionally wished to be raised by different people than the ones who were raising you, but knew in your heart that the chances of this were very slim.”

So what do children do in these inescapable conditions? Baudelaire ChildrenFor the Baudelaire children “they figuratively escaped from Count Olaf and their miserable existence. They did not literally escape, because they were still in his house and vulnerable to Olaf’s evil in loco parentis ways. But by immersing themselves in their favorite reading topics, they felt far away from their predicament, as if they had escaped.” That so accurately describes how children cope the unbearable. They make a way of escape in their head.

It seems Snicket doesn’t give us a happy ending, or does he?

In a way he does by showing that the human spirit can still transcend. Life handed the Baudelaire orphans a lemon, and they made puttanesca.

The human spirit can escape the inescapable even if only figuratively. We can be trapped by terrible things, but we can still dream. The Baudelaire orphans would go visit Justice Strauss and lost themselves in the books of her library.

As Dickinson says “Hope is the thing with feathers- that perches in the soul- And sings the tune without the words-and never stops- at all-”.  For all those children out there who find themselves in a series of unfortunate events please remember that there is always hope.

Hope, a word which here means, grounds for believing something good may happen.

Notorious: Inside The World Of Art Heist

Unlike the theft of money or jewels, cars and other collectibles, the theft of a
singular work by an artistic virtuoso is truly a crime against all of us.

Anthony Amore, Tom Mashberg

Let’s say hypothetically, that you wanted to become an art thief.

You pick your museum of choice. You case the joint. You lay out your plan. You watch the change of the guard. Then you go for the prize.

Here’s the rub: What exactly do you rob? How do you know what you should take?

Well according to Anthony Amore and Tom Mashberg, who have written a book on the subject, the jewel of any museum’s collection is a Rembrandt.

That being said, take note of their warning: “It’s very rare for a Rembrandt thief to gain something valuable from the act….Almost never has a theft brought them riches or happy lives.”

Art theft is a serious crime and it’s never a victimless one as they point out. In fact we all suffer at the loss of an irreplaceable work of a Master. Amore, one of the authors of “Stealing Rembrandts, The Untold Stories Of Notorious Art Heists” knows a little about this as he is the head of security at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. The Gardner Museum, located in Boston, was robbed in 1990 on the eve of Saint Patrick’s Day. Two men posing as Police officers knocked on a side door of the museum supposedly in response to a call about a disturbance. The two guards let them in and they were promptly tied up. The thieves then spent the next two hours leisurely robbing the museum, in some cases cutting the canvases from the frames. One of the items they took was Rembrandt’s “The Storm on the Sea of Galilee.” It is Rembrandt’s only known seascape. They also stole Rembrandt’s “A Lady and Gentleman in Black” as well as a postage stamp sized self-portrait etching. As Gardner had stipulated in her will that none of the artwork was to be moved, today the empty frames stand as mute testimony to the greed of men. None of the stolen artwork has been recovered.

Art theft is often portrayed as glamorous, but it reality it is far more gritty. Amore and Mashberg describe it as “disorganized crime” often done by petty offenders who are also involved in all sorts of other thievery. It’s not as beautifully orchestrated as it is in films such as “The Thomas Crown Affair.” I also highly doubt the thieves are as good looking as Pierce Brosnan.

Gaugin Brooding WomanIn the book they describe different robberies that have occurred. One example is the robbing of the Worcester Museum in Massachusetts. Upon driving off from the museum during the getaway Gauguin’s painting “Brooding Woman” was placed on top of the car’s luggage rack while the thief stuck his arm out the window to hold it down. One has to wonder if the thieves thought it would be bad luck to have a brooding woman in the car with them. It would remind them too much perhaps of the nagging woman they were going to go home to who would be extremely upset about the stolen artwork now under her bed. He just didn’t want to think about it.

In stealing art, the thieves often quickly find out that the frames are just too #*!* heavy to carry.  In one art heist Rembrandt’s Saint Bartholomew was stolen. Along the way the thief tossed out the original seventeenth century frame. Thrown into a canal it was never recovered. Another amusing, but lucky fact is that many art thieves often pass by works of greater value than the one they are stealing.

In the book there are other interesting facts they bring out about art theft. For example, do you know who has the dubious honor of being the most stolen artist in history? Picasso.

Another interesting fact is that “thieves who rob museums more than once are unusual. Rarer still is the painting that is stolen for a second time.” The exception to this they point out is Rembrandt’s portrait of Jacob de Gheyn III.

Rembrandt's Portrait of Jacob De Gheyn
"The Takeaway Rembrandt": Stolen four times!

Outlandishly it has been stolen four times all from the same museum, the Dulwich Picture Gallery in London. It is known as “The Takeaway Rembrandt.” After the third theft and subsequent return the museum bolted the painting to the wall. It did no good. The fourth time the thieves brought a crowbar. The miserable director of the gallery was informed “The Rembrandt is gone again sir.” It was found three years later. It had been place at a railway station “wrapped in paper and placed inside a series of three boxes.” Upon receiving the painting back once again the director wryly remarked: “The temptation is to lock the wretched thing away and put up a color photograph.” The portrait had been a set of two done at the request of two friends: Jacob de Ghen III and Maurits Huygen. As a symbol of their friendship they wanted their portraits painted and whoever died first the surviving friend would get the other’s portrait. The portraits were meant to stay together, but over time they were separated. If only de Ghen knew what an exciting journey his portrait has been on!

Art museums give considerable thought to how artwork is secured to a surface. As Amore and Mashberg point out “stealing art is difficult.” It’s basically done any way it can be. Sometimes even teenagers have been able to carry off a piece, by creating a distraction in one part of the museum while stealing something in another. I personally can’t imagine doing it. To me a museum always seems like such a highly watched environment. Having just been to the St. Louis Art Museum recently my husband set off an alarm by stepping too close to a painting. I also realized I had stepped over a line on the floor I was not supposed to step over. The motives are many for stealing art and thankfully the recovery rate is usually high. Art doesn’t really have “street value” which often leaves the criminals at a loss for how to exactly profit from their heist. You can’t exactly pawn a Rembrandt.

Far away from all of this is the artist himself. I wonder what Rembrandt would think about all the clamoring over his work. As the authors point out “Even those with little background in fine arts- and that includes most criminals- are impressed when standing before a Rembrandt.” In other words you know you are a really great artist when even the dummies realize you are. You also know you are a great artist when people the world over recognize you by your first name.

I recently showed Rembrandt’s “Adam and Eve” etching to a group of people. I asked them if they knew who the artist was. None of them did. When I told them who it was however they let out a collective “Ahh, as in I should have known that!”

Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn was born July 15, 1606 and died October 4, 1669. Eschewing the high money of court painting he led a gritty urban life. He drew constantly immortalizing the common life. He had a particular skill for portraits and painted many as that was where the money was in art in his day. He also drew and painted many self-portraits in a sense making Rembrandt a “household brand.” Unlike some artists he was famous in his day. People knew his name and his face and he had financial success. In the end however he died “grief stricken and barely solvent” and was buried in an unmarked tomb in Amsterdam’s Westerkirk Chruch. He was a prolific artist who left the world some 2,000 works. “Today Dutch and American scholars agree on the following minimum numbers: 300 paintings, 700 drawings, and 80 metal plates from which Rembrandt made etchings.

One of Rembrandt’s most famous pieces is called “Nightwatch” (1642).

Rembrandt's Night Watch

As the author’s note: “It portrays men in charge of guarding Amsterdam by night as a gaggle of dandified and half-cocked musketeers rather than redoubtable sentries.” Ironically it is often this gaggle of dandified and half-cocked musketeers who guard Rembrandt’s art today who are easily duped and outwitted by art thieves. Rembrandt will get the last laugh if “Nightwatch” is carried off. He already predicted it.

The JC Penney Applicant Test Designed By Homer Simpson

Recently I decided it would be advantageous for me to get a part-time job.

Since J.C. Penney is one of my favorite places to shop, I thought it would be enjoyable to work there. I only wanted some seasonal employment to bring in some extra income for the holidays. I am currently a stay-at-home mom and am not ready to re-enter the work force on some grand scale. I went in to the store and inquired if they were hiring.

The sales lady was very friendly and helpful. She said, “Oh yes, they are hiring for the holidays. In fact I just applied not to long ago and they called me right away! She instructed me to go to the computer, or what is otherwise known as the “career kiosk.” No sweat I thought. This should be a piece of cake. I will have me a part-time job in no time.

So the next week I brought in my resume and sat down at the “career kiosk” to apply. I was applying for a customer service job essentially. So I sat down and began the process of applying.

After filling in my basic information I got to part-three. It consisted of fifty questions concerning customer service scenarios one might face, questions about JC Penney and questions assessing your personality. At the end of this fifty question “test” I was told by the computer that “I did not match the qualifications they were looking for and that I could reapply in 180 days.” That was rather a slap in the face let me tell you.

I can say from first hand experience now, that there is nothing more demoralizing than being told you do not qualify to be a JC Penney customer service representative.

The only thing I can think of that might be worse is being told that you don’t qualify to be a Walmart greeter.

I had to wonder at that point just exactly what idiot designed this “test” that screened out applicants. Judging from the quality of his assessment I feel sure he has a beer belly, eats lots of doughnuts and works for someone named Mr. Burns.

Homer Simpson and the JC Penney Application Test
I believe he is responsible for creating these tests!

I had a notion to write the colleges where I received my bachelors and my masters degree and ask for a refund. I wanted to tell them that I am confused as to why they conferred these degrees upon me since I am apparently not qualified to run a cash register at JC Penney.

First off I want to say that I think these tests are designed to assume that you are lying, so that when you actually tell the truth, they think you are lying.

For example, they asked me where I preferred to shop. J.C. Penney was an option. If I select this option they will think I am lying and just saying that to be a brown noser. If I don’t choose it they will say I am not brand loyal. That is a classic double bind. Who wrote this freakin’ test?

Then there was the awesome question about the guy selecting mattresses. The question stated, “Suppose some guy comes in wearing a ratty t-shirt and shorts and goes over and is looking at the most expensive mattresses. Do you:

A. Smile and tell him he has good taste
B. Call security
C. Ask your co-workers to keep an eye on him
D. Ask him to please stay off the mattresses

I think there might have been one more option but I can’t recall it now. Let’s just look at the stellar selections we have.

First off I want to say that half of America dresses in ratty t-shirts and shorts. So if I go over and insult him (option D), then Bill Gate’s nephew is going to go home and tell his Uncle and their goes the J.C. Penney scholarship fund Bill had planned to set up (in addition to the lost mattress sale). Secondly, why should I choose b or c? If the guy attempts to steal a mattress I think we’ve got the heads up on him. So that leaves option A. It’s not great, but it’s the best we’ve got given the ridiculous options.

Another great question was: If you know that one of your co-workers is stealing from the company what would you do? Honestly, I can’t say what the ‘average’ person would do, but I would turn them in. Again, they probably figure the ‘average’ person would not turn them in, so if you say you would, you must be a liar.

But all of this is beside the point really. The real question is why am I being screened by a computer for a customer service job? Customer service is all about people skills, and though I sound a little like a cynical Alanis Morisette in my remarks about this test, it really is rather asinine to have a computer judge a human being. After all, I thought “It Is All Inside?”

I was in at JC Penney once, late at night, right as the store was getting ready to close. I was looking around in the shoe department. There was a couple at the register with a lot of clothes. That was unusual. People don’t usually pay for clothes in the shoe department, especially a lot of them. I got the feeling they knew the sales clerk and that he was going to let them walk out without paying for any of the items. Yet that can’t be true, because he apparently “passed the test” and we know that statistically this test has been proven to screen out 99% of sociopaths, mass murderers, liars and lunatics. (I guess you will have to judge in which category I fall).

After suffering Post Traumatic JC Penney Associate Rejection Syndrome and much therapy, I have moved on. I have applied for a job at a nuclear power plant. I hear the beer and doughnuts are pretty good. I also hear they don’t require any tests, because apparently the reactors are easier to operate than cash registers.