Doormat

Those who attended our conference back in October will know from the presentation I gave that the 1982 film “The Thing” is one of my favorites. It just so happens I’d been watching the film with my daughter, Madeline, a few days prior to the conference, and at one particular moment in the film, it suddenly occurred to me just how similar the terrifying creature was to liberal progressives and the Democrat party’s platform principles. I detailed these in my speech.

But that’s not what’s on my mind this morning.

About a year ago, I joined an online forum devoted to “The Thing.” I don’t provide much content in the group. To be honest, in all of my time in the forum, I’ve only made a handful of comments. I’m more of a lurker. Although, I did take a chance at starting a couple of discussions within the last few weeks that, in some ways, resulted in reaffirming a few premises of my presentation at the conference—which, again, if you haven’t seen it, can be viewed by visiting here: https://youtu.be/Y_97Ty6s7XA.

The first post I made was simply to share a couple of pictures of me on stage at the conference beside a projector screen beaming images of the original movie poster and a few of the movie’s characters. I shared these pictures because, firstly, it’s not out of step for the group’s members to work the well-beloved film into life’s everyday moments and then share it; and secondly, I’d just accomplished this in a public speech beside some folks of relative prominence. I didn’t tell them what my speech was about, but for context, I did include a picture of the panel discussion with Candace, Abby, Charlie, and me.

The first four or five comments were good, mostly high-five in nature, expressing how cool it was that I’d figured out how to bring the film in for a landing among such folks. But it certainly wasn’t very long before the pile-on of invectives against conservatives began, and of course, I was in the crosshairs of the viciousness.

To be clear, I did get a few private messages from folks asking for a link to view the speech. I shared the link, and a few came back in follow up messages saying not only how I’d forever influenced their perception of one of their all-time favorite films, but how glad they were for my words. Unfortunately, none came to my defense publicly, and I understand why.

The last time I checked, the post had been deleted. Interestingly, I’ve seen a few posts since then that belittle conservatives. My post, which was not malicious in any way and said nothing political in nature, is gone. Their posts are still active.

Moving on…

Call me foolish, but the second post I made in the group happened last Monday. I offered it following a dinner conversation with my son, Harrison. He had suggested that the creature in “The Thing,” which assimilates and imitates every living thing it eats, probably couldn’t eat and imitate a Xenomorph, which is the creature from the movie series “Alien”—another of my favorites. The deeper Harrison and I got into the topic, the more I realized he was right. We even found ourselves discussing it the following morning over bowls of cereal, once again reaffirming our common suspicions.

Now, if you don’t know anything about these films, please bear with me for a second. I’m certain you’ll learn something other than just how much of a sci-fi horror flick nerd I am.

In the movie “The Thing,” the alien is an organic creature that operates at a cellular level. For the record, everyone in “The Thing” forum is in agreement with this. What this means is that if even one of the creature’s cells infects your body, you’re done for. It’s going to do what it does—which is to gradually eat, assimilate, and eventually become a near-perfect imitation of you. Once the characters realize the situation, in order to find out who’s human, they develop a test. The test is simple. A copper wire is superheated with the pilot light from a flamethrower and then dipped into a petri dish containing a sample of each person’s blood. If the person is human, nothing will happen. If the blood is infected, what’s in the petri dish will fight back. It’ll do this because, again, each individual cell is a sentient organism trying to survive, and early on in the film, one thing the characters learn is that the creature hates getting burned.

In the “Alien” movie series, the creature is silicone-based, which means its biology is more of a synthetic polymer. This means its flesh does not have carbon as part of its backbone structure. What’s more, it has concentrated acid for blood. Anything its blood touches is instantaneously dissolved, no matter what it is. It even melts metal. This is one reason why a Xenomorph is very hard to kill. If you try to shoot it, or perhaps hack at it with an axe, even the slightest bit of blood spatter will burn right through and likely kill you.

Anyway, being the nerd that I am, and having all of this in mind, I shared the following thought in the “The Thing” forum. I’d say my words were pretty innocuous.

“Perhaps it’s been posited here before, but I was thinking the one creature The Thing probably couldn’t assimilate would be a Xenomorph. The acid-blood would definitely be a problem.”

As with any post, conversations ensued. What bothered me, however, is that those who disagreed with my premise did so first by way of an insult. Consider the following conversation that unfolded—and for the sake of anonymity, I’ve given this particular forum member the name “Brandon,” because, well, it just feels right.

Brandon: Eh? You aren’t too bright, are you? Assimilation is AT THE GENETIC LEVEL.

Me: I thought assimilation happened at the cellular level. That’s different from genetics. If cellular, the silicone framework would prevent it. And the acid-blood would be little less than a superheated wire causing The Thing to retreat. They’d fight, but the Xenomorph would not get assimilated.

Brandon: You are kind of ignorant when it comes to cellular biology. Blood is made of cells.

Me: No need to continue insulting me. You said genetics. That’s a different discussion than cellular. I agree with the cellular premise. Nevertheless, the Xenomorph’s blood is not cellular. It’s concentrated acid. It does not contain anything relative to cells, which means it doesn’t have anything in it with cytoplasm bound externally by cell membranes. Concentrated acids react exothermically with organic material. They burn up cellular material. It seems pretty straight forward.

Brandon didn’t offer any follow up commentary.

But here’s the thing that bugs me in all of this. In both circumstances of my posts, why attack me? It sure seems to prove the liberal-progressive caricature. They get mad. They attack. They call people names. They shout. They walk out, expecting everyone else to feel as though they lost someone important to the conversation.

I suppose we could try to examine all of this, but in a practical sense, perhaps I’ll simply ask, what good does it do as a first reaction to so venomously tear into an opponent because of a differing opinion or position? It certainly doesn’t help toward winning the opponent to your way of thinking. When a person comes out swinging in this way, I can promise you I’ve got one thing on my mind relative to his or her character. I think Nicolas Boileau said it best:

“Honor is like a rugged island without a shore; once you have left it, you cannot return.”

Frankly, one’s honor is near-fatally harmed when viciousness is shown to be the go-to tool in debate. Even further, the louder such people shout at me (or the more they write in all caps), the more I trade genuine curiosity in their position with interest in what’s happening outside the nearest window.

But notice I said “near-fatally.” No matter how much I’d prefer to write someone off completely for such behavior, from the Christian perspective, a believer must be ready to offer forgiveness in these circumstances. Say, for example, Brandon reaches out asking for forgiveness. If he were to do this, it would be on me to be ready to give it. And yet, let’s again be frank with one another. That same Christian perspective reminds us just how hard it is to salvage a relationship when the offender lacks the fruits of genuine repentance. In other words, the person can rip you to shreds verbally, and he or she can then offer an apology, but the words will lose all of their gravity when the person does not at least demonstrate an active willingness to fix it.

Amending is part of the equation.

Of course, none of this infringes on the fact that when Saint Peter asked Jesus how many times we ought to forgive a neighbor who sins against us, the Lord told him hyperbolically, “Seventy-seven times” (Matthew 18:22), which is to say indefinitely. Still, understand the Lord shared this instruction right after He taught His disciples how to deal with an unrepentant person, essentially saying that the time might arrive when forgiveness must be withheld (vv.15-18).

The Christian is mandated to forgive. Well, maybe “mandated” is too strong a word. On the other hand, maybe it isn’t, especially when one realizes that by the power of the Holy Spirit through the Gospel, a Christian has everything necessary for meeting the mandate—and not as an element of salvation, rather as a fruit of faith. Another way to say it: A Christian is privileged to forgive (1 John 4:19). The same goes for the offender. The Christian offender has at his disposal the same Spirit-endowed muscle for repentance. The offender has everything necessary for not only expressing sorrow, but for proving his sorrow is genuine by changing the behavior. The offender is privileged to amend. Take a quick trip through Saint James’ epistle. You’ll see just how insistent the Apostle is that this is true. He speaks pretty straightforwardly about faith producing what faith is designed to produce. For James, just as faith and works are inseparable, so also are repentance and forgiveness.

This is the Christian’s identity, an identity that relates to the Law as we’re born from the Gospel.

I don’t know any of the people who attacked me in the first post. I don’t know Brandon, the guy who insulted me in the second. With that, I don’t expect any of them to seek my forgiveness, at least not in an age of throw-away online relationships. Of course, if I’m wrong and they do come around asking for it, I’ll give it. Beyond any of this, here in the world of my immediate surroundings, I’ll continue to amend my behavior when I wrong someone. I’ll expect others to do the same when they wrong me. If they can’t seem to get their behavior somewhat under control, then I’m more than happy to continue forgiving them each time they ask for it, but at the same time, I’ll probably keep my distance in the same way I’ve resumed my role as a lurker in the online forum. I have other things to do—things that require focus, things that are more than hindered by the fetters of contention. And besides, turning the other cheek does not mean being someone’s doormat. Just because you’re a Christian, doesn’t mean you’re required to exist in situations where the people have access to wiping their feet on you every time they disagree. You can exist in some relationships from a distance. You can even keep the mandate to serve and forgive them from a distance, too.

God Will Let It Slide, Right?

I’m reminded of something my daughter, Evelyn, said to me on our way to the school this past Thursday morning.

Folks in Michigan will recall that Thursday was quite the sunny day. Even at 6:45am, which is when Evelyn and I set out for the day, the sun was already well above the horizon. Turning east out of our subdivision, the sun’s beams poured through the windshield, filling the car with its glory. It felt good—the warmth on my face in crisp distinction from the chill just outside my window. Even as it was somewhat blinding, before feeling the need to adjust the sun visor, its first stirring was that of happiness.

Surprisingly, Evelyn grumbled.

“I don’t like the sun in my eyes,” she said, scooting up in her seat and reaching to adjust her visor.

“I love it,” I replied, my visor still tucked neatly above the windshield. “It feels good.”

“I don’t,” she countered. “It’s too bright.”

“Well,” I added, “we probably shouldn’t complain about it, especially since we’ve been longing for days like this all winter.”

Evelyn didn’t respond, but I could tell she was reconsidering her position.

Certainly, I understood her frustration in the moment, especially since I was piloting the vehicle. For as much as I enjoyed the sun’s resplendence, I needed to be able to see, and the sun was making that a little more difficult. Still, the last thing I ever want to do is lie to myself, expressing any dismay at all for something I’ve been waiting more than a half-year of mornings to enjoy. In my eyes, or wherever, the sunshine was a welcomed guest to a long-suffered winter.

Tapping away at the keyboard while recalling this circumstance, I suppose there are plenty of lessons within it to be learned by it. Although, I can’t think of one in particular.

Okay, how about this…

Looking back at what I just wrote, the lesson that seems most prominent is the foolishness found in lying to oneself.

One of the worst things that anyone can do is to lie to his or herself. And it’s not necessarily the lie itself that holds all the danger, but rather the potential for becoming so convinced by your own deception that you willingly exchange truth for untruth. This reminds me of a video of Joe Biden from 2015 I watched this past week. It was a quasi-interesting twenty minutes of Joe sitting before a fawning reporter and cameraman and doing what Joe does, which is to wear a triangular smile while rambling incoherently. And yet, during the purgatory-like segment of softball-question nonsense, there was something Joe spoke about with relative unequivocalness. I ended up posting something about it on Facebook. Here’s what I wrote:

“I just watched a portion of a video of Joe Biden from September of 2015 in which he attempted to describe the authenticity of his Catholic faith. Barely a few minutes into his plastic words I had a thought. To be a liar is one thing. To be a sincere liar is something altogether worse. Or as Shakespeare mused through the character of Hamlet, ‘One may smile and smile, and be a villain.’”

The point behind this comment relates to ongoing news of several Roman Catholic bishops around the country and overseas pushing for Joe Biden to be excommunicated. They’re doing this because Joe claims that one can be a Catholic and be pro-choice—and not just the “safe but rare” kind that the Democrats proffered back in the 80s, but rather the kind that goes right over the cliff into believing abortion (in all of its grisly forms) is a gift from God, and even worse, that full-term abortion is something upon which God dotes with an similarly triangular smile.

Do you know what full-term abortion is? If you guessed a full-term newborn child being killed immediately after delivery, then you guessed rightly. The President of the United States—your president—believes such a thing is holy.

Of course, I expect the nominal Christians to come out of the shadows to say I’m misconstruing his position, that he only supports it in this or that special circumstance. These folks will say this because, well, they voted for him, and like him, they aren’t necessarily using the lens of God’s Word for discerning these things. Well, whatever. Use whichever intellectual dance moves you prefer for avoiding the visceral fact that the President of the United States has given a thumbs-up to doctors delivering and then murdering newborn children if in such a moment a mother decides she doesn’t want her child.

But let me take a brief step backward to where this started.

As a Christian, the only way to arrive at an acceptance of the pro-choice position, no matter the justification, is to lie to yourself about a great many things. It is to lie about what life is and means. It is to lie about life’s Author. It is to lie about what that Author said with regard to human dignity and the truest definition of personhood. It is to wield the Word of God in deceptive ways, and ultimately by such handling, to summarily reject it, whether the one wielding it realizes it or not. Lastly, it is to be caught in the dilemma that to reject the Word of God, by default, is to reject the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ.

You cannot stake a claim in Christianity and reject the Savior who sits at its heart. It just doesn’t work. Thankfully, there remain plenty of Bishops in the Roman Catholic Church who are willing to enforce this basic doctrinal premise.

I wrote and posted something else this past week that comes to mind, too. It had to do with an article from The Federalist entitled “Lockdown Mongers Can Point Fingers, But The Science Is In: They’re To Blame.” By the way, one of the two senior editors at The Federalist is a biblically astute LCMS Lutheran, Mollie Hemingway, whose father is a Confessional Lutheran pastor. I should add that The Federalist has several LCMS writers on its roster of contributors, and in my opinion, that alone makes it one of the few political/cultural news sources out there to be trusted. Anyway, here’s what I wrote when I posted the article:

“The devil has plenty of instruments in his bag, but deception is the glove he wears for wielding each one.”

Again, the point here was to say that there are plenty of tools in the devil’s toolbox for drawing us into Sin, things he uses for convincing us to believe and do the wrong things. But before he goes about his darkly deeds, his grip on each instance begins with deceptively enticing half-truths.

“Sure, I know it’s against God’s Word for me and my girlfriend to live together before marriage,” the young man says, “but it makes good financial and logistical sense to do so. I figure that as long as we have the intention of getting married, God will let this one slide.”

Don’t lie to yourself. Repent.

“It makes perfect sense that the churches are closed,” the husband and wife contemplate over Sunday morning coffee. “The science says that mass gatherings for worship are sure to be super spreaders of the virus. The Church can ‘love thy neighbor’ a lot better by masking up and staying home.”

Don’t lie to yourself. Repent.

“Certainly I’m justified in speaking poorly about that person to others,” she muses. “How could I be wrong in doing so? My friend hurt me, and I need the emotional support from other friends who understand. The only way to get the support is to tell others about what happened.”

Don’t lie to yourself. Repent.

To knowingly persist in such behaviors unrepentantly, having exchanged the truth of God’s Word for lies, won’t end well. Still, the devil will work to convince you that it will. He may even do it in ways that sound pious, kind of like Adlai Stevenson’s infamous words given in jest: “A lie is an abomination to the Lord, and a very present help in trouble.”

Again, I don’t want to lie about the sunshine and say I don’t like it. I love it, even when it’s uncomfortably shining in my eyes. It’s the same here. Don’t be fooled. Stick to the truth of God’s Word, even when it’s uncomfortable to do so. No matter what happens, you’ll have the certainty of real truth. You’ll be traveling along the stepping stones of faith cut from God’s reliable quarry. Along the way, you’ll know and understand the gravity of your Sin—your very REAL Sin—and you’ll know the One who came to forgive you of that Sin, to recreate you by His wonderful love, and to send you out as someone capable of beaming the refreshing and face-warming sunlight of His love in a wintry world of Sin longing for the rescue of a divine summer.