Symbolism and Second Chances in the Film, The Natural

 

Iris Gaines: You know, I believe we have two lives.
Roy Hobbs: How… what do you mean?
Iris Gaines: The life we learn with and the life we live with after that.

The well-known baseball movie, The Natural, is based upon the 1952 book of the same name by Bernard Malamud. It has a star-studded cast which includes Robert Redford, Glenn Close, Robert Duvall, Kim Basinger, Wilford Brimley, and Barbara Hershey. The movie and the book differ in several ways. The ending of the movie diverges notably from the book, and the character of Iris is also changed. In addition, the protagonist in the novel is a much less likeable character than in the film. Thus, the movie’s optimistic and inspiring tone contrasts sharply with the cynical outlook of the book.

 
The Natural is a story of a gifted baseball player, Roy Hobbs, who after having lost his prime years from being shot by a deranged woman, arrives in New York to play for Pop Fisher’s Knights. Roy is very talented–a natural at baseball–yet also very flawed. After sixteen years away from the game, he is given a long-shot opportunity to make a comeback. And he doesn’t disappoint. He begins to shine, and the fans love him. As he becomes successful, his old demons haunt him, however, and he begins to make some of the same mistakes as before. In order for Pop to be able to keep ownership of the team, the Knights must win the Pennant. In the race to bring the team out of the cellar, Roy and Pop face opposition from the Judge, who wants to ensure that the Knights remain a losing ballclub.

 
It has been said that when it comes to mythology in The Natural, Malamud threw in the kitchen sink and then some. Malamud seems to have drawn inspiration from several sources—the legends of King Arthur, the Fisher King and Percival, as well as Homer’s Odyssey. The first name of the main character, Roy Hobbs, is derived from the Latin root of king. The bat that Hobbs uses is called Wonderboy, and it is made from a tree that was struck by lightning– much like King Arthur’s sword, Excalibur, drawn from the stone. Pop Fisher’s name is an obvious reference to the Fisher King. Pop is a “wounded” manager who is about to lose the ballclub unless Percival (Hobbs) can help the Knights (again see the obvious Arthurian reference) win the Pennant (the Holy Grail).

 
Roy wears the number 9 on his jersey like Ted Williams. Williams’ goal in baseball was for people to say, “There goes Ted Williams, the greatest hitter who ever lived.” Likewise, Roy Hobbs says on more than one occasion in the movie that he wants people to see him on the street and say, “There goes Roy Hobbs, the best there ever was in this game.” This statement continues another Homeric theme—hubris. Right before Roy is shot by Harriet Bird, he tells her on the train that he plans to break all the records and be known as the best player to ever play the game. When Roy arrives in Chicago, Harriet calls and invites him to her room.  When he arrives she asks him whether he will be the best to ever play the game, and when he responds in the affirmative,  she proceeds to shoot him and then herself. From a classic point of view, Roy’s hubris, or excessive pride, led to his downfall.

 
It is interesting to note that Malamud based the shooting incident on a real-life situation between Eddie Waitkus and Ruth Ann Steinhagen. Waitkus, who was traded from the Cubs to the Phillies, was shot by Steinhagen at a Chicago hotel room in the summer of 1949. Steinhagen had become obsessed with Waitkus and had begun stalking him. Waitkus, who nearly died on the operating table, eventually recovered and was able to return to baseball.

 
As previously mentioned, the film contains many references to Homer’s Odyssey. The character of Harriet Byrd even asks Roy at the beginning of the film if he has read Homer. Like Odysseus, Roy is on a journey to get “home” after being gone for many years. The judge could be seen as Hades, the Greek god of the underworld. The judge is clearly the main villain in the movie. He hates the light, and his office is always dark. Throughout the movie, he works to sabotage Roy Hobbs, Pop Fisher, and the Knights. The symbolism for Memo Paris works on multiple levels. Memo could be short for memory. In a way she is a second Harriet Byrd. They both dress in black, and they both work for Gus Sands. Both are femme fatales who tempt Roy to throw away his success in baseball. Her last name of Paris represents distraction, fun and excitement. Memo could also be seen as the nymph Calypso, who tempted Odysseus and detained him from going home. Iris Gaines then is Penelope, the wife of Odysseus, who stayed at home and raised their son while Odysseus was away.

 
Iris stands up at the game in Chicago because she doesn’t want to see Roy fail. She appears as an angel–the sun hits her translucent hat and gives the impression of a halo around her head. She is dressed in white, which contrasts with the black dresses of Harriet Bird and Memo Paris. Roy, after seeing Iris stand up, hits a monstrous home run which smashes the clock on the scoreboard. After years of being apart, time is “stopped” momentarily as Roy and Iris meet after the game. Now Roy is on his way “home” as he will eventually reunite with Iris after being sidetracked by Memo.

 
The conversation at the top of this article takes place at a critical point in the movie when Roy is in the hospital after having been poisoned by Memo. He has to make some serious decisions. His original injury from the shooting comes back to haunt him. The doctor tells him that he shouldn’t play in the last game, which will decide whether the Knights win the Pennant and go to the World Series. He tells Iris as he lay in the hospital, “Some mistakes I guess we never stop paying for.” Memo and the Judge stop by to visit him to try to persuade Roy to accept a bribe and sit out the game. Has Roy learned anything from the past?

 
Just as Roy faced the temptation of Harriet Bird years before, now he must again decide what to do. Here is a second round of tests, and here is a second chance to do the right thing. Will he choose Memo or Iris? Will he help Pop or the Judge? Will he play to win or for money? Will he be selfish or play for Pop and his teammates? The inspiring thing about The Natural is that it’s a movie about the hope of a second chance, of redemption after failure. But Roy’s second chance is predicated upon whether or not Roy has learned anything from his past mistakes. It’s a movie that appeals to us because we can all relate to Roy blowing it when he makes unwise decisions. We all crave the chance to learn from our mistakes and do better the next time. So we see that The Natural is not just a movie about baseball. It’s a movie about life—of failure and victory, of second chances, and of hope.

Why Doctrine Matters

The Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 13:1, “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal.” And Colossians 3:14 seems to indicate that love is the supreme virtue that binds all the other ones together. Love indeed is supremely important because Jesus Himself said in John 13:34-35, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” As important as love is, doctrine and truth are also important. It is popular today to focus entirely on love and act as though truth or doctrine does not matter much, but we need both love and truth to be healthy, well-balanced Christians.

What is doctrine? Our word doctrine comes from the Latin doctrina, and it literally means teaching or instruction. In a Christian context, doctrine is the body or system of teachings taught by Jesus and the Apostles as laid out in the Bible.

In 1 Timothy 4:16, the Apostle Paul warned his young protege, Timothy, “Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee.” In 2 Timothy 4:3, Paul brings up the subject of doctrine again to Timothy, “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables. But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry.”

So first, we see that doctrine saves us from deception and false teaching. True teaching gives life. Jesus said in John 8:32, “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” Jesus had much to say about false teachers. When we know sound doctrine, we can spot false doctrine pretty quickly. Conversely, if we are ignorant of the truth, we can be easily led astray.

Doctrine stabilizes us and gives our belief system structure. Ephesians 4:13-14 talks about becoming mature in Christ so that we won’t be like children “carried about with every wind of doctrine.” A skyscraper needs a strong frame of steel in order to support its weight and withstand high winds. Doctrine is like that steel framework in our lives. It gives us stability and support. Chuck Swindoll once gave a great illustration about the balance between truth and love. He said love is like a river and truth is like the banks of the river. If there were no banks the river would overflow and cause damage and destruction.

It is also important that we know sound doctrine so we can pass it on to the next generation. The Apostle John said in 3 John 1:4, ““I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth.” John was talking about his spiritual children (Gaius), but I think the application can certainly be made to our literal descendants. If we do not know sound doctrine, how can we pass it on?

Back in 1 Corinthians 13:6, Paul says that love “does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth.” Part of loving is loving the truth. And how can you love something that you don’t know? Doctrine may not be popular these days, but it is vitally important. Doctrine does indeed matter. But like Paul said in Ephesians 4:15, we need to speak “the truth in love.” If we aren’t loving when we teach and share our doctrine, few will want to hear it.

Apostasy and Lawlessness

We live in interesting and scary times. It seems with each passing day, a once sound Christian institution or leader, capitulates to the secular humanists’ moral and religious revolution, or to put it another way, the postmodern zeitgeist.

 

In 2 Thessalonians 2:3, the Apostle Paul warned the Thessalonians to not be deceived about the return of the Lord. He said that two things must happen before the Second Coming of Jesus. First, there will be a falling away or apostasy. Second, the man of sin, or the Antichrist, will be revealed. In verse 7, Paul goes on to talk about the mystery of iniquity or lawlessness that is already working in the world.

 

The Greek word apostasia in verse 3 means a defection from the truth, or a standing away from. The word was used as a revolt staged by a military commander. In the last days, Paul indicates that there will be many people who will depart from the truth. This agrees with what he said in 2 Timothy 4:3-4 (KJV): “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears. And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.”

 
In Matthew 24:12, in the Olivet Discourse, Jesus says, “And because iniquity (lawlessness) shall abound, the love of many shall wax (grow) cold.” Here we have the word lawlessness that was used in 2 Thessalonians 2:7 (mystery of iniquity). It is the Greek word, anomia, which derives from the word anomos, which is found in 2 Thessalonians 2:8 to describe the Wicked or Lawless one, the Antichrist. These words carry the idea of illegality or a violation of the law, or wickedness.

 
That same word, anomia, or lawlessness, is found again in 1 John 3:4: “Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law (commits lawlessness): for sin is the transgression of the law (lawlessness).” So, John here equates sin with lawlessness. It is a violation of the law.

 
The same word pops up again in 2 Corinthians 6:14: “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness (lawlessness)? And what communion hath light with darkness?” Here Paul is telling us to have nothing to do with lawlessness. Believers and unbelievers have no fellowship together. He goes on to say in verses 17 and 18, “Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.”

 
Paul uses the word again as he quotes from Psalm 32 in Romans 4:7, “Saying, ‘Blessed are they whose iniquities (lawless deeds) are forgiven, and whose sins are covered.’” Paul also uses the word in Titus 2:14, “Who (Jesus Christ) gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity (lawlessness), and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.” Here we see the Gospel’s offer of forgiveness of our lawless deeds or sins through faith in the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.

 
As we think about the lawlessness of our age, our minds probably are directed to the normalization of immorality, such as homosexuality. We might think about the increase in violence and disregard for human life. We see the lawlessness increasing in our society almost every day. And this is taking place not just in secular society, but sadly in major Christian denominations and churches. So could this be the falling away or apostasy that Paul was talking about in 2 Thessalonians? Only God knows for sure.

 
One thing is clear from these passages, though. We are to have nothing to do with sin and lawlessness. We live in a time when even many Christian teachers seem to imply that you can be a Christian and live like the world. But as we see from the verses mentioned above, that is just not the case. Christ wants us to depart from iniquity. We are not to live lawless lives but instead lives of love and light.

 
In these uncertain times, let us hold to the anchor of God’s Word. We need to develop a love for the truth and hold fast to sound doctrine. We must live pure and blameless in a wicked and lawless world. May we be found ready for the appearing of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

The Gift of Books

Whenever you finish reading a book, a gift has been given to you–the gift of personal growth. You are no longer the same person you were when you started that book. You have learned things that you did not know before. Your worldview, your way of looking at the world, may have changed. Your curiosity has likely been piqued, and you may now want to read other books and investigate other topics that before you did not even know existed.

I would like to share three books which I’ve read, two recently and one not so recently, that have changed my outlook and view on things. I love books for several reasons. They bring joy to me as they transport me to other times and places. They spark my imagination. As I discussed before, they also change me and cause me to grow as a person. And there’s one that has changed millions of people’s lives, and that is the Supreme Book–the Bible.

I first read the Bible completely from Genesis to Revelation during my college years. No other book has affected me the way the Bible has. I became a Christian at a young age when my mother shared the Gospel with me, and I put my faith in Jesus as my Lord and Savior. My knowledge of most of the Bible, however, was fairly limited to the basics until I got older. After I went off to college, I wanted to know for myself what the Bible said and why I believed what I believed.

Reading the Bible did at least three things for me. First, it helped me to grow as a Christian and learn about what God’s will was for my life. Many people when they read the Bible get bogged down in Numbers and Leviticus. Let me say, though, that the Old Testament is full of action and interesting stories. Far from being boring, it relates the lives of Biblical heroes, such as Abraham, Joseph, David, and Jeremiah, but more importantly it shows how God worked through His chosen people, Israel, to establish the Davidic Line, from which the Messiah would come. I was perhaps most excited when I saw Christ prefigured and prophesied about in the Old Testament in multiple passages.

Moving to the New Testament, one finds Jesus’ ministry, the Crucifixion and Resurrection, the early Church, and the Epistles. In Matthew 5-7, you will find the famous Sermon on the Mount. One of the things I learned from the Sermon on the Mount was the importance of mercy and forgiveness. Jesus said, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.” I discovered in Romans 12:9 that my love was to be sincere and I was to hate evil and love what is good. I learned from 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 that I was to rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and be thankful in everything.

The second thing that the Bible did for me was that it confirmed to me what I believed and why I believed it. I became more confident in my faith and my worldview. When debates on current issues arose, I could look back on the Bible as my foundation for what I believed on any certain topic. I guess you could say it grounded me in a society which had a very uncertain moral compass.

Third and finally, reading the Bible helped me to appreciate all the allusions and references to it in Western literature. You can’t read The Scarlet Letter or speeches from Abraham Lincoln and fully understand them without knowing the Bible. Much of Western literature refers back to either the Bible or Shakespeare.

The second book, which I just read in the last few months, is All Quiet on the Western Front. It, of course, is the fictionalized account of a German soldier in WWI, based upon Erich Maria Remarque’s actual experience in the war. The book describes in graphic detail the physical and emotional horrors of trench warfare. One of the themes of the book is the difficulty that the soldiers face in readjusting to civilian life and the psychological devastation the war inflicts upon them.

The book affected me on an emotional and a philosophical level. As I read it, the narrative brought sadness to my heart as I thought about the suffering of the soldiers in the trenches on both sides. I had studied WWI before, but this novel helped me to get a more complete picture of how horrific the war was on a human level.

Philosophically, it caused me to ponder the moral ambiguity of the war. Soldiers from the Allied and Central powers were killing each other, not because the soldiers had anything against the other, but because their respective countries were at war with each other. This moral uncertainty is captured perfectly in a scene in the novel where the main character finds himself in a hole in No Man’s Land with an enemy soldier. He has to kill the man to save himself, but then he feels guilty for doing it when he realizes that this man is just like him and has a family, too. Remarque does a superb job of exploring the human element in a very inhumane and mechanized war.

The most recent book that I’ve read (in fact I just finished it before writing this) is The Only Woman in the Room, a surprisingly delightful book that I did not even know was out there and had no intention of reading before I saw it advertised on Facebook as the Barnes and Noble book of the month. It was written by Marie Benedict, and it is a historical fiction novel based on the life of Hedy Lemarr.

The book traces her life from a Jewish girl in Austria to her career as an actress and inventor in Los Angeles. I learned a lot about Austrian culture in pre-WWII days as well as the abuse that Lemarr faced in her marriage; as well as the sexism she dealt with in her endeavors as an actress and an inventor. I’m not one to subscribe to notions of feminism and chauvinism, but Benedict really makes the reader, even male readers, feel compassion for Lemarr over the mistreatment she faced as a female who refused to let herself be powerless in the face of oppression.

These three books are very different, yet they all impacted me, and when I finished them, I was changed in some way for the better. Now, let me say that I’m not trying to equate the latter two books with the Bible. I believe the Bible stands above all books because it was written and inspired by God. My point in writing this blog post is that no matter what book you read, if it is a good one, it will change you in some way. Books are powerful forces. They can change lives; they can change the world. And we would be remiss if we did not take advantage of what they have to offer us. So, grab a good book, snuggle up in your favorite chair, and start your new adventure. You won’t be the same after you’ve finished it.

Weekend Getaway

Last Friday night as we were headed to the Chickasaw Retreat and Conference Center near Sulphur, Oklahoma, I wondered where my wife had booked us to stay for the weekend. I didn’t know anything about the hotel. We were out in the middle of nowhere, and I thought maybe we were going to a shack in the woods.

 
I was pleasantly surprised when we drove up to the conference center and it was all lit up. “This place looks pretty nice,” I thought. The empty parking lot made the place look deserted. There were hardly any other cars around. We had the place virtually to ourselves.

 
The hotel was very stylish and modern. There was even Bedre chocolate waiting for us in our rooms. We went swimming in the pool after checking in. There we saw a few other guests already in the pool. The water was warm, and the pool was 3 to 4 feet deep. The kids had a great time in the water. After swimming, we went back to the room and watched the Brewers beat the Dodgers in Game 6 of the NLCS.

 
The next morning, after eating breakfast, we drove to the Chickasaw Cultural Center, which was hosting a pumpkin patch for the kids along with crafts. We also enjoyed free corn on the cob. It was perfect, fall weather—sunny and mild. We went across the sky bridge and looked out over a recreated Chickasaw village. Then we went down the stairs and walked through the town and over the Ikana suspension bridge.

 
We spent the afternoon exploring the Chickasaw National Recreational Area. First, we drove to Little Niagara. We walked across the rocks of the falls and enjoyed the serene sound of the running water. A word of caution—the rocks are slick, and if you have kids be careful because they could easily slip and fall into the rushing water.  Next, we hiked a mile or two to Buffalo Springs. It was a peaceful, secluded spot that included a fresh-water spring surrounded by a circular rock enclosure. The Civilian Conservation Corps built many of the rock structures in the park during the Great Depression. I dipped my hand in the cool water. The water was clear, but the algae and moss made it look green when you looked at it from a distance. Leaves gently fell around us as we walked back through the woods; it was an idyllic, peaceful scene. I breathed in deeply the fresh air, and I thanked God for time with family, beautiful weather, and the wonderful scenery.

 
We hiked back the way we had come…to Travertine Island. Then we spent a few more moments at Little Niagara, enjoying the relaxing ambience before heading to downtown Sulphur to see the Artesian Hotel. We walked through several shops around the Artesian. We really enjoyed Sweet Swirlz, a candy store. I don’t know who was more excited—the kids or me. We walked out of there with five or six bags of candy.   We were hungry and tired, so we called it a day and went to eat dinner at Las Abuelitas. On Saturday night, we spent the night in and around the hotel—walking the grounds, swimming, watching more baseball, and reading.

 
We took our time getting around on Sunday morning. My wife wanted to go see the Lake of the Arbuckles. Because of all the recent rains, the water was high enough to partially cover picnic tables and trees. After standing on the edge of the lake for a few minutes, we headed back home. After getting a treat in Davis at Arbuckle Mountain Fried Pies, we drove to Sonny’s Café in Purcell to eat lunch. We enjoyed it very much. My wife got a huge chicken fried steak, and I had the Western Hamburger Steak covered in green chilies, tomatoes, cheese, and bacon. The kids had chicken tenders and fries. The fries were extra tasty as well. It was a great way to wrap up the trip.

 
I was very pleasantly surprised by Sulphur and the Chickasaw National Recreation Area. Surprisingly, even though I was born and raised in Oklahoma, I had never been to Sulphur that I can recall. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it ended up being a wonderful weekend getaway. We got to enjoy nature and relax. The kids had a fun time, too. I would recommend it to others who haven’t been.

Three Lessons from Doctor Zhivago

Doctor Zhivago is an epic historical drama and romance film with beautiful scenery, themes, and music. Besides being an entertaining movie to watch and enjoy, Doctor Zhivago is also ripe with lessons for us to consider. Let’s look at three important lessons that we can take away from the story.

 
First, let’s examine the obvious lesson of the movie—communism is a terrible form of government. I love the scene where Yuri Zhivago returns from World War I and arrives home in Moscow only to find that the Soviet government has divided his house into tenements. The idea of private party has been abolished by the Bolsheviks, and the people living in Yuri’s house begin to steal his personal belongings.

 
Now it is important to recognize that there were people starving and suffering in the country before the Russian Revolution. We can all agree that there was great inequality between the rich and poor, but the movie does a great job of showing that Communism only made a bad situation worse. Students of history know that there were multiple factors at play in the origin of the Revolution, such as economic inequality, technological backwardness, and a lack of confidence in Tsar Nicholas II’s ability to govern. But whatever the causes, the cure was worse than the disease.

 
Now granted, film critics have criticized the movie for what they think is a trivialization of the Revolution. But I think that the viewer must realize that the movie is basically a love story set against the backdrop of the Revolution. As film critic, Roger Ebert said, Doctor Zhivago “seems political in the same sense Gone with the Wind is political, as spectacle and backdrop, without ideology.” But perhaps one of the unintended consequences of the film is that it does a superb job of showing the horrors of Communism and the Soviet government without being preachy about it.

 
After Lenin and the Bolsheviks took over in the October Revolution, Yuri and his family have to flee the city to a countryside estate in Varykino because his poetry is considered seditious by the government. Yuri soon discovers that his former love interest, Lara, lives nearby in Yuriatin. He and Lara begin an affair, which eventually causes him to be separated from his family. He is forced into service as a medic by Communist partisans in the Russian Civil War. Yuri finally deserts after two years and reunites with Lara, only to find out that his family is in Moscow and will soon be deported to Paris.

 
This brings us to the second lesson we can learn from the film–our choices have consequences. Yuri’s decision to have an affair with Lara is what led him to be conscripted into the war, and it eventually prevents him from reuniting with his family. He loses Lara, as well, and he dies a lonely, broken-hearted man. Obviously, Yuri made a poor choice in regard to his adulterous affair with Lara, and few movies do a better job than Doctor Zhivago of showing a man suffering for his infidelities.

 
The third lesson for us is that sometimes events beyond our control can shape our destinies. One of the themes in the film is how the Revolution affects the lives of all of the characters in the story. Obviously, Yuri’s life is greatly affected by political realities. Because of the government’s reaction to his poems, Yuri is forced to take his family and move to the Ural Mountains. And if not for his move out of Moscow, he likely would not have met up with Lara again. Lara was tied to the Revolution through her marriage to Pasha. She enlists as a nurse in order to look for her husband and ends up working with Yuri at a hospital in the war, where they fall in love. Cynical Victor Ippolitovich Komarovsky is probably the most skillful at adapting to the ever-changing political situation, but even he has to move to the Far East when he takes up a position in the nominally independent Far Eastern Republic. He takes Lara and her child with him as Yuri stays behind.

 
The characters in Doctor Zhivago could not change the events that shaped their lives, but they could adjust how they responded to them—either for good or bad. Perhaps that is why Doctor Zhivago is such a classic movie. All of us can find a character in the movie to which we can relate. Although the setting and events are different in every person’s life, human nature is a constant. We all deal with many of the same desires, challenges, and hardships, albeit on a smaller scale. And it is how we react to these problems that help determine the course we take, both as a nation and as individuals.

No Purpose in the Nexus

 

In the movie Star Trek Generations Captains Picard and Kirk are caught up in the Nexus, an extra-dimensional realm in which those inside feel complete bliss and can have whatever their heart desires. In the Nexus, Captain Picard gets to celebrate Christmas with a family he never had, while Captain Kirk prepares breakfast for his wife in their home and rides horses with Picard. Picard tries to convince Kirk to leave the Nexus to help him stop the madman Soran from destroying a star, and as a result, the surrounding solar system. When Kirk makes a jump on his horse and feels no fear, he soon realizes everything in the Nexus is an illusion. He agrees to go with Picard, even though the odds are against them, because he wants to make a difference.

 

There are some profound lessons here for us if we pay attention. I think this movie does a good job of portraying the choice before us all.  Will we seek a comfortable life where we can get everything we desire or will we choose the harder path of service and sacrifice in which we, like Picard and Kirk, can make a difference?  The Nexus, after all,  sounds like a very appealing place. Who wouldn’t want to go where time stands still and all your dreams come true? There’s only one problem with it–there’s no purpose in the Nexus.

 

You can live a life of pleasure and ease, but soon you will wonder, “What is my purpose? Does anything I’m doing actually matter? Do my actions make a difference?” The life of purpose is more difficult, but it is more fulfilling and rewarding. It goes back to what Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35).”

 

Captain Kirk ends up dying as he helps Picard, but he does make a difference. The pair are able to stop Soron from destroying the star. Picard doesn’t get the family he’s always dreamed of, but he does save his other family, the Enterprise Crew.

 

The movie ends with Commander Riker and Captain Picard going through the wreckage on the bridge of the Enterprise. Riker finds an important photo album of Captain Picard’s, and Captain Picard waxes philosophical. Picard tells Riker, “Someone once told me that time was a predator that stalked us all our lives. But I rather believe that time is a companion who goes with us on the journey, and reminds us to cherish every moment because they’ll never come again. What we leave behind is not as important how we lived.”

America’s Soft Thinking Problem

I’m thankful for my parents, teachers, and pastors who taught me along the way that there is such a thing as absolute truth. They taught me that there are things which are clearly right or wrong; that God’s Word is our standard by which we judge the worthiness or unworthiness of an idea or theory; and that logic and reason are to be favored over emotions and popular opinion.

It seems that today in America, however, we’ve lost the notion of truth. We’ve become a society which operates according to our feelings. “If it feels good, do it.” “If it makes you happy, it must be right.” We tolerate everything except for the truth. We don’t even know what the truth is anymore. I call it America’s soft thinking problem. The number one problem in America is the same one as in the book of Judges. Everyone does what is right in his own eyes. People no longer subscribe to a universal accepted standard of right and wrong.

What really alarms me is that many in the upcoming generation cannot think for themselves. They blindly swallow whatever their professor, the news media, or their friends tell them. Where are their critical thinking skills? Where is their application of reason and logic?

This phenomenon was exhibited clearly in the recent hearings for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Many on the left automatically believed the accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, simply because she was a woman. Evidently in the #MeToo era, every woman is to be believed and every man is guilty of sexual assault. Even though the witnesses whom Ford claimed were at the party denied that it happened, those on the Left said that Kavanaugh must be guilty. Facts no longer seem to matter, because feelings trump facts in post-truth America.

Liberal Senator Cory Booker used the phrase “her truth” at the hearings as if there were more than one truth. Kavanaugh and Ford gave conflicting testimonies. They both could not be telling the truth. Senator Booker later said that it didn’t matter if Kavanaugh was guilty or innocent…he shouldn’t be appointed. But shouldn’t the truth matter? If Kavanaugh was telling the truth, that means that Ford was lying. Why should Kavanaugh not be appointed due to false allegations? And if Ford is lying, why should she be considered a hero? It most definitely does matter whether Kavanaugh is innocent or guilty, but in this post-truth bizarro world that we live in, it’s as if both can tell “their truth” and be equally respected. And Ford is automatically right and Kavanaugh is automatically wrong because Ford’s a woman and Kavanaugh is a man.

We hear a lot about the “Snowflake Generation” and how they must be coddled so that their feelings aren’t hurt. They cannot bear to listen to a speaker on college campus who challenges their left-wing views. Orwellian measures are taken against anyone who dares to speak against the accepted line of thinking. Dissenters to liberal orthodoxy must be labeled as haters or bigots. Minds are closed, and thinking is almost non-existent.

These trends extend to religion as well. The ecumenical idea that “all roads lead to heaven” is also becoming more accepted, even though the different religions make conflicting truth claims. Logically, they cannot all be correct, but because tolerance is the chief virtue, no one can gather the courage to tell others that they are wrong. So everyone must be right, right?

This soft thinking problem extends to evangelicals as well, especially those who promote social justice. Those who promote open borders say it is unloving to limit immigration and control our borders. Yet is it loving to not protect your own citizens from danger? Loving your neighbor doesn’t just mean letting everyone in the door. It also means protecting your family from harm.

The reason why so many people hate President Trump is because he often gives the raw, unvarnished version of the truth. He rarely gives the politician’s answer, the politically correct version that the liberal media want to hear. He usually tells it how it really is. And since people are responding with their feelings and not logic, many of them get upset.

Isaiah 59:14 mentions truth being fallen in the street in ancient Judah. That’s where we are today in America. It is due in part because many in our nation have rejected God and His Word or they are ignorant of it. But another contributing factor is soft thinking. What is the solution? It is fourfold. One, we need to teach the upcoming generation the Word of God. Two, we must teach them that there are such things as absolute truth and right and wrong. Three, we need to teach them that we cannot make emotions our guide for decision making. Feelings change and are often unreliable. Finally, we must teach our kids critical thinking skills through the use of logic and reason. If we do these things, we can start to reverse this soft thinking trend and get back to the bedrock of unchanging truth.

Hope and Mercy

Eighteen-year-old Sheila Jackson had walked in with two souls and left with none. She could not escape the sinking feeling that she had made a grave mistake. This would be a dividing line in her life—Sheila pre-abortion and Shelia post-abortion. And already she did not like the latter.

 

Before she had gone into the clinic, she had seen a man carrying a sign which said, “Choose Life.” The man’s eyes connected with Sheila’s. “Don’t do this. You’ll regret it,” he said. She wanted to talk more with him, but Sheila’s boyfriend, Eric, hurried her inside.
As she sat in the waiting room, she thought about what the man had said. She couldn’t get it out of her head. But he didn’t understand–she didn’t have a choice. Her parents had pressured her to do this. They told her that she was still in high-school and that having a child would ruin all of plans for college, not to mention the embarrassment of having a child out of wedlock. Eric was noncommittal and told her that he would be fine with whatever she decided. She secretly had hoped he would tell her to keep the baby. She needed some kind of support to be strong and make the right decision, but everyone wanted to run away from the situation and make it disappear.

 
Eric and Sheila walked out of the clinic towards Eric’s car. It was a blustery, cold day in early February. “Just take me home. I want to go to sleep,” she told him.
“Are you alright?” Eric tried to show concern. Sheila was in no mood to talk. She hadn’t expected it to be like this. Before the abortion, she thought maybe she would be able to put it all behind her, but now she knew better.

 
On the way home, Sheila kept seeing things that reminded her of the baby. They passed a billboard with an advertisement for a hospital. It had a picture of a baby with the words, “We help you bring new life into the world.” Nothing could have made her feel worse. And right before they reached her neighborhood, they stopped behind a car which had a “Baby on Board” sign. She wanted to crawl under a rock and hide from the world. She felt so guilty, so unworthy. She hated herself. How could she ever be happy again?
Eric dropped her off at her house, and they really didn’t say much to each other except “good-bye.” She wasn’t sure what she felt now for Eric. A part of her resented him, but then she thought it was unfair to blame him when she had plenty of responsibility in this.

 
Sheila went straight to her room and got into bed. She lay there a long time and thought about what she had just done. She eventually fell asleep and dreamed that she was at a birthday party at her house. Her parents were there along with some of her other family. When she entered the kitchen, there was a baby boy in the high chair with a birthday cake in front of him. It had one candle on it. The baby smiled at her, and she smiled back. She went over and picked him up. It was her baby. She felt such joy holding him. She gazed into his eyes, and he smiled back at her. Then suddenly he lifted up his head and got an angry look on his face. He looked directly at her and said, “Why did you kill me?”
Sheila jumped up out of bed in a cold sweat. She was breathing heavily, and she began weeping bitterly. She didn’t know it was possible to feel such guilt. It crushed her soul and made it hard for her to breathe. She felt like she was going to collapse onto the floor.
Sheila thought that maybe she should try to read her Bible. She hadn’t read it in a long time. She randomly flipped it open, and her eyes fell upon Proverbs 6. She began reading the chapter, and she came across verses 16 and 17. Hands that shed innocent blood were third on the list of the things that the Lord hates. She quickly shut it. She felt nothing but judgment and guilt. Everything seemed hopeless.

 
The emotional pain she felt now was too great for her to bear. She began thinking of ways she could commit suicide, but after a few minutes she decided that wasn’t a good idea. She couldn’t do that to her parents and family. She was always taught that suicide was not the answer. That was just a way of giving up and not facing her problems.
She wanted to call her best friend, but she felt too ashamed to talk to her. She decided to risk going back to sleep, hoping she didn’t have another nightmare. She got back in bed and pulled the covers over her head. She would hide from the world as long as possible.
Somehow Sheila survived the next few weeks. Eric and her soon broke up. It was a mutual decision. She went to school each day, but her mind was not on her studies. She sat in class and stared off into space, not hearing a word her teachers were saying. She was off in the world of her own mind. Guilt and obsessive thoughts consumed her. She withdrew socially from her circle of friends and extra-curricular activities. Life had lost its spark, and now everything seemed gray and hopeless for Sheila.

 
As she drove to and from school each day, she passed by a church. It had a marquee with a Bible verse on it that changed every week. Sheila found herself reading it quite often. It was always very encouraging and made her feel better. She thought about trying to go to church sometime. She and her family had not been to church since she was in elementary school. She had to admit to herself that she kind of missed going. As she drove by this day, she noticed that the sign said they had services tonight at 7 p.m. Maybe she would go.

 
Sheila went home and had dinner with her parents. She told them after they finished eating that she was going out. They asked where she was headed, but she didn’t say. She felt weird telling them she was going to church. Since her parents hadn’t been in a long time, she feared that they might not want her to go.

 
When Sheila arrived at the church, she walked in and sat on the back row. She was late, and the services had already begun. The choir sang, “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing.” After the song, the pastor went up to the pulpit and began the message. He asked the congregation to turn to Psalm 130. The title of the sermon, “For with the Lord there is Mercy,” appeared on two screens on either side of the stage.

 
Never before had a sermon pierced Sheila’s heart like this one. It was heaven sent. As Sheila listened to the pastor’s words, everything else around her faded. It was as if he were speaking directly to her. The message was exactly the balm that her wounded soul needed to hear.

 
The preacher wrapped up his sermon, and a picture of Jesus on the cross appeared on the screens. Sheila looked at it and understood the Gospel for the first time. Jesus suffered and died on that cross for her sins, including the sin of killing her baby.
“And he rose again the third day,” the preacher said as he explained the Gospel. Hope welled up in Sheila’s soul. Jesus conquered death and rose to new life. This impacted her in a profound way as she pondered the death of her child.

 
When the preacher gave the invitation and asked everyone to stand, Sheila remained seated in the pew and poured out her heart to God in prayer. “God, have mercy upon me; please forgive me. Give me a second chance, Lord. Don’t deal with me in your anger or wrath, but in your love and mercy. Please save me, Lord Jesus.” She felt God touching her soul. She hadn’t felt that warmth in a long time. For the past several weeks, it had felt like God had turned from Sheila and shut her out. But now she experienced his new life and resurrection. There was hope to be found, and mercy, too—and she found them in Christ.

 
Sheila had walked out of the abortion clinic a different person, but for the worse. Now she walked out of that church a changed person, but this time for the better. What she had destroyed, God had restored. She couldn’t bring her baby back, but maybe she could convince other women to avoid her terrible mistake. Tomorrow, she would go back to the clinic and try to do just that.

Reflecting on 9/11

On this 17th Anniversary of 9/11, I went back and watched again the news coverage from the morning of the terrorist attacks. It is still somewhat surreal to see the planes fly into the Twin Towers and to watch the buildings collapse and not be there anymore. Sadness comes to my heart when I think about all the people who lost their lives on that day—a day in which people woke up like any other day, never expecting anything like that to happen.

I think of the first responders who were so brave to head straight into impending danger. I think about the sense of fear and helplessness those on the planes and in the buildings must have felt. I think of the people killed and injured at the Pentagon and the heroism of those on United Flight 93. I think of those who called loved ones from the plane to say “I love you” one last time.

That day America realized it was vulnerable, just as it had 60 years earlier when Pearl Harbor was attacked. We all felt a little less safe after 9/11. It did something to our national psyche. No longer was security of the homeland guaranteed.

But I also think about the incredible unity and brotherhood that took place in the weeks after 9/11. The cathartic power of sports was on clear display when New York Mets player Mike Piazza hit a home run in the first MLB game after the attacks. I remember when members of Congress gathered on the steps of the U.S. Capitol and locked arms and sang “God Bless America.” Those kinds of things brought the country together and gave people hope. I remember how people turned back to God and began to think about the brevity of life and their own mortality. It seemed like revival might break out, but sadly it didn’t last.

It may sound cliché, but as we think back on the events of that day, I hope that we can be spurred to be a little kinder to each other; to seek unity and brotherhood; to love instead of hate; to cherish our families and friends; and to seek God and repent of our wicked ways. Events like 9/11 remind us that life is fragile. Let us come together as one nation under God, pray for revival, and once again love one another. And instead of saying, “God bless America,” which He so clearly has in so many ways, let us pray that America would bless God through repentance and faith, thanksgiving, and loving one another.