Welcome to my blog!

5 11 2013


Hi!  Welcome to my blog!

I’m sorry to say, I actually haven’t written anything on here in a few years.  Nevertheless, maybe you’ll be blessed by some of the things I wrote back when I had time to blog.  I still believe the things I wrote about here, and frequently share them with clients in my work as a therapist.  




Laughing at Suffering

16 08 2011

I’ve been talking recently about humor.

Today I want to share a thought that I’ve had several times, but I don’t really know what to do with it.  It’s about a face that is burned in my memory.

Maybe you remember it too.  It’s from the powerful and horrifying scene in the movie, The Passion of the Christ where Jesus is whipped.

Ugh.  So horrible.  Something about watching the Roman soldiers laugh while they flayed Jesus alive made the whole thing that much more horrifying.

Remembering this moment of the film makes me wonder: What is it that could make a person laugh at this kind of torture?  Surely the inclusion of this man’s laughter in the film isn’t just Mel Gibson’s way of exaggerating the horror of what happened to Jesus: Because Scripture tells us clearly that Jesus was mocked, laughed at, beaten, and spit upon by guards and soldiers.  And even apart from Scripture, we all know that this sort of thing really happens.  We know that Gladiator battles and public executions have been popular forms of entertainment throughout history.

Are We Any Different?

"I was there when they crucified my Lord / I held the scabbard when the soldier drew his sword."

We modern westerners have reason for indulging in the hope that we are “different” than such “barbaric” societies.  I’m glad that our society doesn’t commonly use human suffering as a form of entertainment.

But when I think about some of the things I do let myself be entertained by, I wonder if I’m not all that different from that Roman soldier.  Take a look again at the instances of degradation in the movie “The Hangover” that I cited in my last few blog posts.  If I allow myself to be entertained by the degradation of another human being—even mild degradation—then the difference between me and that Roman soldier is only a difference of degree, not a difference of type.  I’m a little evil and the Roman soldier is a lot evil; but what’s the difference?  We both have evil in us!

This, in particular, is what scares me about humor.  If I were given God’s eyes for a moment to look back on the last week of my life, how many times would I see myself laughing at Jesus in the midst of his suffering?

“Blessed is the one who does not condemn himself by what he approves.” (Romans 14:22)

“Truly, I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.” (Matthew 25:45)

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The Hangover: Glory vs. Depravity in Humor (Part 4)

9 08 2011

Getting back to the movie itself

Now, let’s take a look at the glory and the depravity of “The Hangover” movie itself.

Glory and Creativity in “The Hangover”

Funny is good.

This is pretty obvious: The movie is really really funny.  Noticing a tiger is in your bathroom while you’re peeing… that’s just funny.  Watching Mike Tyson rock out to “In the Air Tonight” by Phil Collins… hilarious.  And then there’s this little clip here: CLICK FOR CLIP.  Funny stuff.  And minus one cuss at the end, it’s not even borderline inappropriate.  Just pure and simple creative humor.

These things are glorious, creative and worth celebrating.  The reason the film-makers have the ability to do these things is that they were made in the image of God.  He gave them intelligence, creativity, and talent at making people laugh.  Not only is it fine to laugh at such things: It’s appropriate for such things to move us to worship!  I believe that the reason we have a sense of humor is because God himself has a sense of humor, and we are made in His Image.

Depravity in “The Hangover”: A Pervasive Lack of Empathy

But there’s some not-so-good-stuff, too.  Let’s start with the obvious: The movie’s got some obviously inappropriate stuff that Christians are used to critiquing and avoiding: nudity, swearing, and general overall raunchiness.

But there’s some other not so obvious stuff that I think may be just as important because of its tendency to fly under our radar.  For that reason, we’re far more likely to be affected by it without even knowing it.  What I’m talking about is the general disregard for the dignity of every person in the film.  Think about the movie—heck, even watch it again—while keeping your eyes open for this: you might be surprised.  I think you’d be hard-pressed to find more than a couple moments in the entire film where a character is treated as a real human with real value.  People are constantly treated as objects: nobody has empathy for anybody else.  (With the possible exception of Zach Galifianakas’ character, and a couple moments in the romance between Andy from the Office and Heather Graham.)  In that sense, the movie and all of its characters are extremely narcissistic.

Narcissus lacked empathy, fell in love with himself... and got a personality disorder named after him.

The danger of this is that underlying styles of relating to people have a tendency to worm their way into our relationships.  Case in point: not many of us are in danger of accidentally marrying a prostitute in Vegas (as happened in the movie).  But I’m guessing that all of us have been hurt by—or hurt someone else with—undue sarcasm and lack of empathy.  The first step down the path to narcissism is failing to notice it as such.

So if you watched “The Hangover” and spent the whole time laughing (or even if you spent the whole time critiquing the raunchiness and partying), but never once noticed, “Hey, not a single one of these people has any empathy for anyone else!”, then I would suggest to you that it’s the lack of empathy that’s really doing damage to your soul.

Oh, funniness... is funny.

This goes for much more than just “The Hangover”.  Don’t make the mistake of thinking you’re not being negatively affected by something just because it’s “only PG-13”, or showing on regular TV.  Just because nobody is dropping F-bombs or taking off their clothes doesn’t mean you’re not subtly absorbing lessons about how to disregard the dignity of the Image of God.

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t watch such things; I’m saying that when you do, I hope you notice it.  And I hope you let your heart be grieved by it.

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The Hangover: Glory vs. Depravity in Humor (Part 3)

5 08 2011

Last time I posted my list of emotional responses to the instances of Degradation and Debasement that I saw in the movie “The Hangover”.  So… what’s the point?  There are several.

What can be gained from this exercise?

Yes, it's true.

First of all, I like sin—and I suspect that you do, too.  I hope you noticed that my list was a little vulnerable in that I acknowledged feeling joy, excitement and arousal in response to the depiction of certain kinds of degradation.  I wanted to be fully honest about my emotional responses because I believe that we will never overcome sin if we are in denial about the state of our hearts.  It is essential that I fully grasp that there is a part of me that very much wants to revel in sin.

Second, I believe that our ability to go on sinning comes partly from our refusal to connect emotionally with the sin.  This is true in two ways: One, we refuse to connect emotionally with the fact that we like the sin (as I stated above).  As a result, our draw towards the sin remains mysterious and untouchable to us.  We can’t control it because it feels like something that is happening to us rather than something we are choosing.  On the other hand, if I acknowledge that illicit sex seems exciting to me, I’m humbled (especially to share that with all of you) and become more able to choose against that desire.

It would be healthy for this to make you angry.

Two, we refuse to connect emotionally with the damage of the sin.  If you connect emotionally with the damage that is caused by sin, you will be far less likely to do it.  For example, you can only enjoy pornography to the extent that you disconnect from the fact that the person you are objectifying is very likely a self-re-abusing victim of sexual abuse who believes that she has nothing to offer the world other than her sexuality.  If you connect emotionally with her pain, your arousal will diminish.

Therefore it becomes extremely important that we cultivate a lifelong practice of (1) understanding what is sad about every instance of sin sin and (2) remaining emotionally connected to that sadness.

Now, I’m sure there are people who would read this series of posts and say, “Dude, you need to lighten up!  It’s just a movie!  It’s just funny!  You don’t have to analyze everything and talk about your “feelings” all the time!”  Such people may have a point: “The Hangover” would be a lot funnier to me if I disconnected my heart from the things that are happening in it.  On the other hand, I’d rather have a heart that is alive and engaged with life than laugh at a few more jokes.

But is it still an ok movie?

The point of everything I’ve said here isn’t to criticize the movie at all.  In fact, your response to the movie tells you a lot more about yourself than about the movie!

I hope my tone isn’t negative, because that’s not my heart at all: In fact, my overall point is something very postive: That the Dignity that God has graced us with as bearers of his image is so great that it should be cherished and honored, and it is right for us to feel sadness and anger any time that Image is debased or degraded.

But as for the movie itself: Is there glory in it?  I’m sure that there is.  Let’s take a look at that in the next post.

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The Hangover: Glory vs. Depravity in Humor (Part 2)

1 08 2011

Here it is, part 2 of my analysis of the humor in the movie “The Hangover”.  Remember the Homework I gave?  Here it is:

Make a list of all the examples of Degradation and Debasement you see in the trailer (or remember from the movie) and list your corresponding emotional reaction to that instance of Degradation or Debasement.

Here’s my list:

Debasement: Intoxication via drugs and alcohol (which qualifies as debasement because, particularly in this case, it is done to enable addiction, numbing, infidelity, and other self-damaging behaviors).  My emotional response: Sadness (because I’ve seen loved ones damaged by drugs and alcohol, and have been personally hurt by them as well).

Debasement: Reveling in sin (going to Las Vegas with the explicit intention of violating one’s own moral code for a thrill).  My emotional response: Sadness; anger (because I long to see men act with integrity; their intentional shunning of integrity shows that they are insensitive to the damage they are causing to the world).

Debasement: Intentionally causing physical pain for humorous effect with a stun gun.  My emotional response: joy (I laugh; for some reason, this is really funny); sadness & anger (because the police officer enjoys their pain).  (And yet apparently I, too, enjoy their pain.  Apparently I’m a hypocrite.)

Debasement: Sexual promiscuity (ignoring the connection between body and soul, and failing to treat the body and soul as sacred).  My emotional response: Arousal/excitement (illicit sex seems exciting); sadness/anger (I’ve seen the damage this sort of thing does; I’m angry that these men are cheating on their girlfriends; I’m angry that our society condones paying women to sexually abuse themselves via stripping and prostitution).

Debasement: Self-mutilation for humorous effect (Andy from the office pulls out his own tooth).  My emotional response: sadness/horror (he’s irreversibly destroying his own body, and that feels sick to me); excitement/joy (“Oh my gosh, I can’t believe that!”)

Debasement: Child abuse and neglect (the baby).  My emotional response: joy/laughter in some instances (when the baby gets hit by the car door); rage (I want to rip the face off of anyone who would neglect their child in this manner, and also of anyone who would think this is funny).

Debasement: Dishonoring of the marriage relationship (inherent in the whole idea of “going to Vegas” the night before your wedding).  My emotional response: sadness (for the women to whom this happens); anger (at the women who put up with this garbage); rage (at the men who perpetrate this garbage).

Whoa… that got vulnerable.  And intense.

Next time I’ll make some observations about what can be gained from looking at this list.

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The Hangover: Glory vs. Depravity in Humor (Part 1)

26 07 2011

As a follow-up to my last post about the dangers of humor coming at the expense of human dignity, I wanted to cite a real world example.  (I have chosen the movie, “The Hangover” because it is a movie that is generally agreed upon as both very funny, and kind of raunchy.)

What is a healthy emotional response to this?

I have some hesitancy about doing this, because some may feel judged for thinking that something (like “The Hangover”) is funny, or may disagree with my assessment of things.  So, I want to say two things about this:

1. Some things that are inappropriate and damaging are also, for better or for worse, really funny.  We can’t always control our instinctive responses to things.  So, if you find yourself (as I often do) laughing at something inappropriate or damaging, that doesn’t necessarily make you a bad person.  But how you respond to it (i.e., indulging it and encouraging it, vs. walking away or changing the channel) is worth looking into.

2. My goal here isn’t to pass judgment on “The Hangover”.  I have no doubt that there is true Glory and Creativity in the movie!  I’m not here to pass judgment.  My goal, rather, is to use “The Hangover” as an example to help us consider what goes on in our hearts when we laugh.

And without further ado… The Trailer:

Homework!  (Can I assign homework in a blog post?  Whatever; I’m doing it.)

Since this series of blog posts is about how humor often comes at the expense of human dignity: Make a list of all the examples of Degradation and Debasement you see in this trailer (or remember from the movie) and list your corresponding emotional reaction to each instance of Degradation or Debasement.


Debasement: Intentionally causing physical harm to a human being with a stun gun for humorous effect.

My emotional response: joy (I laugh); sadness/horror (It’s awful and wrong to enjoy the torture of a living thing.)

Is self-mutilation funny if it's fictional?

Next time: I’ll show you my complete list and then respond to my list!

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No Britney Spears Jokes.

19 07 2011

“No human being can tame the tongue.  It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.  With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God.  From the same mouth come blessing and cursing.  My brothers, these things ought not to be so.” (James 3:8-10; ESV)

Charlie Sheen is probably mentally ill. Have you treated him like a man made in God's Image? Or have you mocked and dishonored God's image in him?

If you know me very well, you know I can be kind of a talker.  If you find me in the right mood, you’ll find me speculating endlessly about the deep truths of existence, analyzing literature or film, or just trying to be funny.  Unfortunately, this often gets me into trouble.  I often walk away from a conversation thinking, “Shoot, I hope I didn’t hurt that person’s feelings with that joke (that wasn’t even very funny).”

Humor is a wonderful thing.  But it can also be dangerous, because humor in our society often comes at the expense of the dignity of other human beings.  I don’t know if this has always been the case, or if it’s a 20th & 21st century development, but it definitely seems to have gotten worse with the advent of the media age.  Whether on television, radio, or the internet, never have so many people had access to so many intimate details of the lives of people they have never met—and therefore feel no responsibility to treat as actual humans.

I fall into this trap all the time: I find myself making sweeping judgments or mean jokes about celebrities who I’ve never met—and even attempt to philosophically defend my right to do so.  Occasionally, I notice that I’ve done this again, and I remember this video that I saw a few years ago:

What about Britney Spears? If she degrades herself, do you feel that gives you permission to do the same?

Wow.  I didn’t even know who Craig Ferguson was before I saw this, but this makes me want to be his friend.  That is just pure class.

Can you imagine living in a world where every human being, regardless of his standing in society or what he has done was always treated with dignity?

I desperately long to live in such a world.

Help me, please: If you ever hear me trample on the dignity of another human being, call me out.  And you, too, do your best to treat all humans, always, with dignity and respect.

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What about Bin Laden? If someone is a murderer, does that mean you can celebrate his death? Should you not rather grieve that such extreme measures were necessary?