All Well and Good

“And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry.” (Luke 12:19, emphasis mine)

Read what happens though, in the next verse. Positively horrifying, if you ask me. When God says “Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee…”, it’s as if all the chips have been called in and then all the things—immaterial and non, I’m just going to throw that in here right now—with which we sought to substantiate our lives at large in this world, fade, vanish, disappear.

“In your patience possess ye your souls.” (Luke 21:19)

You want this

There is such danger in getting comfortable in your surroundings with reference to your stuff. God would have our needs supplied but only in Him do we find that thing our souls are searching for. The writer of Proverbs, chapter 30 ( verse 8) had it right when he said “feed me with food convenient for me”. But with reference to God, that space in us that yearns for more stuff, or even the divesting and winnowing down of the stuff we don’t need—in order to attain a sense of peace and calm and purpose—necessarily comes from Him alone.

“Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him…” (Psalm 37:7a)

Did you know that’s the answer for everything? The other day, I was reminded by the Lord to spend more time in the little place He and I have carved out over time. It’s there in all of us, memories, colors, feelings. Places within that bring an emotional response that can then in turn be directed to Him in praise and worship. Places in our hearts and minds that God dwells and that are like doorways back to the foot of the throne of grace (“Let us therefore come boldly…” Hebrews 4:16). Because we all go through our little prodigal moments. And while I believe He is always by our side, always with us, He most certainly is where we left Him, arms outstretched awaiting our eventual return. He knows.

You need this

“This same Hezekiah also stopped the upper watercourse of Gihon, and brought it straight down to the west side of the city of David. And Hezekiah prospered in all his works. Howbeit in the business of the ambassadors of the princes of Babylon, who sent unto him to enquire of the wonder that was done in the land, God left him, to try him, that he might know all that was in his heart.” (2 Chronicles 32:30-31, emphasis mine)

Read through that again if you have to and think about what it implies (the italicized line). The depth of our heart is fathomless. As acutely introspective a person as God has made me, I am unable to line out the bottom of my heart. I feel things. For people, for pastimes, for atmospheres and qualities and even certain foods. But the weight of these feelings come and go. And I’m left pretty much the same person as when I started out (though I find my personhood is on a steady upward incline as I follow Christ). And so I come upon this passage from 2 Chronicles the other day and begin to understand what it implies. This particular story during Hezekiah’s reign is repeated twice in the Old Testament (see 2 Kings 20 and Isaiah 38-39). Of his sickness and judgment and repentance before the Lord. He was one of those kings who “did that which was right in the sight of the Lord, according to all that David his father did.” (2 Kings 18:3–David is that benchmark after which all the kings in his line were compared: the “man after [God’s] own heart” see Acts 13:22) But during this time of severe trial regarding an impending war with the Assyrians, Hezekiah made a mistake. It’s a broad correlation, to be sure, but follow me here. Jumping over to the version of the story from Isaiah:

“At that time Merodachbaladan, the son of Baladan, king of Babylon, sent letters and a present to Hezekiah: for he had heard that he had been sick, and was recovered. And Hezekiah was glad of them, and shewed them the house of his precious things, the silver and the gold, and the spices, and the precious ointment, and all the house of his armour, and all that was found in his treasures: there was nothing in his house, nor in all his dominion, that Hezekiah shewed them not.” (Isaiah 39:1-2, my emphasis)

Do you see that? And in case you were wondering, those two Babylonian regents’ names have dotted red lines underneath, just so you know. The word for “armor” is misspelled, apparently, as well but that’s neither here nor there. Think about what just happened. The first verse of chapter 38 says “In those days was Hezekiah sick unto death.” Isaiah, the prophet during that time comes around and tells Hezekiah, yes, his time has indeed come: he’s going to die soon. And so Hezekiah seeks God and God hears and heals him and then grants him fifteen more years of life. But moving forward, in the wake of this miracle and subsequent sign (see Isaiah 38:7-8) Hezekiah welcomes these Babylonian ambassadors into his innermost chambers. In the Old Testament, where many things symbolic were represented by physical objects and spaces, transgressions and infractions were met with their attendant punishments. This act, of squiring Babylon throughout all his kingdom necessarily meant that anything reserved between God and his people was open to the eyes of another kingdom, one that not only had been the enemy but that has always symbolized “the Enemy”. And so Isaiah comes back around and asks “What have they seen in thine house?” (39:4) Hezekiah at least answers honestly: “All that is in mind house have they seen: there is nothing among my treasures that I have not showed them.” And this is where it gets scary and super serious. But before we go any further, if you’d like a starter crop for creating your own quiet place, find Douglas Wood’s A Quiet Place. Came out a number of years ago, beautifully written and illustrated (by Dan Andreasen).

“Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.” (Proverbs 4:23)

I have made many a mistake in this area. I would have to say that it boils down to needing and wanting validation from something or someone other than God. But as God dwells within (the aforementioned “place in our hearts and minds that God dwells”), letting someone or something else in who doesn’t belong there is dangerous. The repercussions to Hezekiah’s blunder are lined out as follows: “Behold, the days come, that all that is in thine house, and that which thy fathers have laid up in store until this day, shall be carried to Babylon: nothing shall be left, saith the Lord.” (Isaiah 39:6) Hezekiah at least takes it in stride responding with “Good is the word of the Lord which thou hast spoken.” (verse 8) But it needn’t have gone that far.

You have to have this

“Let your conversation be without covetousness and be content with such things as ye have: for He hath said I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.” (Hebrews 13:5, emphasis mine)

For Jesus to live His earthly life for thirty-three years in perfect obedience means the Father has seen all the ways of humanity exhibited perfectly in the body of one man. And so, “it is finished” (John 19:30). But this also means that the closer you get to the Lord, the more He begins to require those moments of prayer and praise and the active pursuit of His stillness, so as to ensure all the heavy, detail-laden ways of life into which we are now stepping out, continue to be infused with His presence. It takes time but it’s so worth it. Hezekiah wasted the entire stock of Israel’s treasure houses simply by voyeuristically letting the enemy in. Let us learn this lesson, that no matter what God gives us, we are to keep not only His relationship with us front-and-center but the objects (blessings, whatever) free from the prying eyes of those who have no respect and would only want to steal what you’ve got.

“Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from Thy presence; and take not Thy Holy Spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of Thy salvation; and uphold me with Thy free spirit.” (Psalm 51:10-12)

In closing, the point I’m getting at here is God will never leave you (the NLT says regarding Hezekiah that “God withdrew from Hezekiah in order to test him and to see what was really in his heart.”), Jesus will never forsake you. There may be times, though, where you feel a void where once you walked with your Heavenly Father and it’s only because He trusts you and desires to see into the depth of your heart, the things that you may not. Like crystal clear water at the bottom of a deep pool. Here, you can help him along. Pray this:

“Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me and know my thoughts: and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalm 139:23-24)

Looking the Part

I read Jurassic Park when I was ten. Fourth grade, Ms. Stevens. She and my dad had taken a partnered, special interest in my reading and I had followed suit by polishing it off in just under a week. Had to make the deadline of the movie’s release, dontcha know. But I skipped whole parts and didn’t really get the concept of Malcom’s iterations and whatnot. Blank spaces being filled in with whatever DNA was at hand… That Summer was a watershed for me. I remember walking down to McDonald’s many a time to get a large fry and to collect whatever new dinosaur cup was a being offered by way of toy/prize. Also, my baby brother was in utero. Life was going from cool to cooler in spite of the heat. I digress. Dinosaurs! So I read it again prior to The Lost World’s (book) release. Read it in full, I did. The one thing that dismayed me a tad was the fact that I couldn’t then displace Sam Neill’s portrayal of Grant in my mind’s eye. It bothered me that I couldn’t dredge up my internal visual representation of Grant from Reading Jurassic Park 1.0. But I moved forward and enjoyed the sequel all the same.

Contrast the above with Paulo Coelho’s irreducibly complex Alchemist and you’ll see that the boy of the tale is a tabula rasa for you. Not one word is given as to his personal appearance and I find that refreshing. Just under the cusp of gimmick, as it were. Truly brilliant as a literary device, if I may. But moving forward, how do I reconcile all the above with the intensity of a person like Tom Cruise who went on to portray Lee Child’s Jack Reacher? Having never read the series but who from a distance I feel would have been best served by someone like Clive Owen sans British accent or Liev Schreiber in a strong-but-wounded masculinity? God knows. When I read (or heard, not sure) that Child, screening the film, was actually impressed—more so than he’d thought, I find it remarkable that a real person could unseat the image of a character in even the creator’s mind. At least, this is my interpretation. Weird.

I read about half of James Thackara’s Book of Kings in my early twenties. Quite a tome with successive layers of flashback requiring an older, more focused mind than the one I then possessed. One day in the newsstand of my local Barnes and Noble, I came upon a cover to Spin or some such featuring The Strokes in all their heyday. And I was gently struck dumb with the appearance of Justin Lothaire in the person of Albert Hammond Jr. That was a new one.

In closing, William Gibson has recently edged out (by several orders of magnitude) Crichton as my all-time fave fictioneer. A strong kernel as to why this is true (there are many, many) is due to his creation and development and portrayal of the character of Milgrim. Introduced in Spook Country and wholly rounded-off in the excellent Zero History, Milgrim is described by Heidi thus: “You couldn’t find a whiter guy” (p. 386). This says volumes, to me, and while he is generically unremarkable in appearance, it’s his mind. His mind belied behind his easily flaccid exterior. While Alchemist’s protagonist didn’t do much for my personhood in spite of the book’s being a beautiful bildungsroman, Gibson’s Milgrim has given my adult life and mind a mirror from which to further actualize.

The Apple of My Mind’s Eye

This first came across the screen of my mind with Alan Rickman’s portrayal of Ronald Reagan in The Butler. Not a movie I took the time to watch but as I cut my teeth on Rickman as Hans Gruber in 1988s Christmas action flick Die Hard, I experienced an internal reorientation as to just who can portray whom. I was also thoroughly impressed with whomever it was did the casting for this movie, to pull him out of my internal typecasting set to “arrogant” and “villainous” and in turn have him portray the founder of modern Conservatism. They were visionary, in my opinion.

Fast forward to this year’s excellent Love and Mercy featuring respectively Paul Dano as a young and then John Cusack as the aged Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys. I liked this movie enough to purchase Wouldn’t It Be Nice the next morning. And it was in no small part due to the portrayal of Wilson by each actor. While I’ve never been into the Beach Boys’ music, I could most likely point out a contemporary Brian Wilson in a crowd and even possibly a younger as well. This being said, I found Dano’s sensitive, brilliant portrayal exceptional (He portrayed a sensitive and brilliant Wilson). It was exceptional in spite of the fact that he didn’t sing. I don’t think, I could be wrong. I seem to recall him from an earlier film off the edge of my periphery. But John Cusack stirred up the aforementioned “casting call” thing from The Butler. Again, while I never watched Rickman’s Reagan mannerisms—which I’m sure weren’t too far off base—Cusack’s nervous tics and sloping, halted gait seemed to me to be spot on. I mean, he’s an actor’s actor. Were he to stand up straight, relax his face, I wouldn’t have pegged him for the older Beach Boy, ever. Props to the casting director for Love and Mercy.

And now, furthering the unconventional casting call paradigm, I see Michael Fassbender portraying Steve Jobs in the forthcoming Steve Jobs and wonder. If I hark back to all the actors I remember portraying real people, I think of Kelsey Grammar as George Washington, Daniel Day Lewis as Lincoln and Russell Crowe as Noah, there are more. The thing about the former two, however, is they more-or-less resemble the very real historical figures they intend to (and do indeed) portray. But this idea. Furthered with the what might seem to be an ad hoc choice of Fassbender as Jobs. Something in Rickman’s face was placed atop Reagan and the rest is history. Watching the sensationalist trailer for Steve Jobs, however, I not only don’t see Fassbender in that role—never did but as I read the Isaacson biography shortly after it came out the very real Jobs imprinted upon me in the way a posthumous biography will, keyed to my unique neurochemistry. While the book was written towards the end of Jobs’ life, I don’t think he ever saw it (said he didn’t want to) and it was published three weeks after he passed. I had in March, seven months prior, purchased my first Apple product: an iPod touch, 4th gen. and so it was during this year that Jobs was on my mind and standing atop my creative processes. God rest his soul. But he was there allowing or else relearning my inherent approach to user interface and tracks of thought with reference to a peripheral. I count him one of my strongest influences for thinking and drive. And moving forward, I found Ashton Kutcher’s portrayal in Jobs—while it may not have been based on the book proper—carried with it pitch perfect reenactments of bullet points to Jobs’ temperament (his fit over an employee’s neglect of font-design seemed directly to be lifted from the scene in the book as imagined by me). And now Kutcher is modeling for Lenovo, weird. I still want to see Jobs’ invective “Not. F******. Blue. Enough!!!” (see Steve Jobs by Isaacson, pg. ) But I thought Kutcher was great. He got the walk down and even though his general shape and hair/face combination come across as more of a representation, a caricature of the real man (offset against Josh Gad’s Wozniak), I appreciated it for what it was. I wonder about Fassbender and wonder more at Aaron Sorkin’s screenplay. We’ll see. And back in the nineties with Noah Wyle as Jobs in The Pirates of Silicon Valley, the casting-according-to-look paradigm holds true and holds up, in my mind. In closing, I find it remarkable that the Jobs book would be turned into a movie when the book itself wasn’t well received by the higher-ups at Apple (no surprise, really, when you think about it). While I emerged from its reading with my opinion of the man galvanized, most of my fact base gaps filled in, I still respected him, still hold him in esteem. Contradictory, mercurial aspects of his temperament notwithstanding, that he would keep his eye on the prize forsaking all others, so to speak, was perhaps the pilot light of his person, in my opinion.

And whether or not those who knew and worked with him at Apple appraised (and therefore disliked) the Isaacson book as an incorrect portrayal of Jobs as an all-things-considered decent person (my take home message) or whether they thought Isaacson cast him in the tyrannical light those who haven’t read into his psyche or past experiences dismiss him as, I know not. But this year’s new book by Schlender and Tetzeli seemed, after a hundred pages or so, to be painting the same aforementioned picture in my mind’s eye (altogether brilliant-but-flawed and wounded-but-decent) and was lauded and well-received by those who knew and worked with him. I stopped reading.