I finally got to Unplanned,  the film about the Planned Parenthood clinic director, Abby Johnson, who turned into a fiery pro-life activist. The movie had been out a couple weeks and had already been pulled from the theater nearest me.  However, it was still playing at the big multiplex at the Altamonte Mall.  For a 4-pm matinee on a Sunday there were about 30 people in the theater — a respectable number given the touchy subject matter and the fact that it had already been there 16 days.

Being pulled from the theater in Deltona runs counter to what’s happening across the nation. In its second week in release it was added to about 400 screens. It’s been a modest box office hit. It has already made back over twice what it cost to make. And it is making a difference. Over a hundred people working in the abortion industry have contacted the website advertised at the end of the film for those who want to exit the industry.

I’d already heard quite a bit about the movie. There’s been a strong push in Christian media and conservative talk-radio to publicize Abby’s controversial story.  I knew it had an R rating and that some felt that was unwarranted.  However, the R rating was not too unfair.  It’s not a film for young children or the squeamish. But perhaps PG-13 would have been more appropriate.

Of course, the professional critics hated the film. They are for the most part uber-libs and therefore not pro-life.  And they see their role as providers of snarky commentary for a sophisticated audience, and therefore anything that smacks of the label “Christian” is a fine target in their darkened minds. However, Unplanned is a well-crafted movie. It has good production vales. It tells Abby Johnson’s story in fairly a straight-forward fashion. And it gives more than a nod to Planned Parenthood’s side of the story.  Other than Abby’s cold-as-ice, hard-as-nails boss, Cheryl (Robia Scott), the workers at her clinic are not demonized. Scott is great as a well-groomed, almost glamorous, calculating purveyor of death — and Ashley Bratcher does a solid job portraying a naïve Abby whose eyes are suddenly opened to the evil she is a participant in.

Fresh out of college Abby buys into all of the pro-choice rhetoric and sees PP as mostly a provider of women’s healthcare. She starts as a clinic volunteer and in a few short months works her way up to clinic director — the youngest in Planned Parenthood.

All is well until one day the clinic is short staffed and she’s asked to assist in an abortion. Her role is to run the ultrasound. On the tv monitor she sees the fetus struggling to live, fighting the doctor’s intrusion into the womb — and then suddenly the baby is sucked out and there’s a empty womb and a red-tinged plop in a bucket. The power of the empty womb is deafening — for me in an tragic sort of transposition it echoes the power of empty tomb of Easter  It a scene of such unsurpassed brutality that it could bring even the hard-hearted to tears. The experience changed the life of Abby Johnson forever.

Almost immediately she contacts 40-Days For Life a pro-life group that had been picketing her clinic for years. The rest of the story involves a law suit that PP launches against her. A telling scene is a confrontation with her old boss Cheryl who says, “We’ve got Gates and Buffet and Soros, who’ve you got Abby?”  It turns out she had a cocky and pretty darn good attorney herself. I have not been able to find the name of the actor who plays him but he was great — the very essence of every slick tv advertising personal injury attorney ever.

I thought the movie was very authentic. The film doctor who did the abortion is a real doctor who had done many abortions before he too turned. Like many docs he was coldly efficient and a bit arrogant.

Google initially labeled the film as “drama/propaganda.”  I suppose it is, in the same sense that the Bible is propaganda to nonbelievers. A little over a decade ago my eyes were opened to the monstrous evil that is abortion– and once you see it you can never look away.  Also, as a Christian mental health provider I’ve come to see post-abortion syndrome as society’s largest unrecognized emotional problem. But at least women who are believers have Jesus’ forgiveness on their side. Nonbelievers only have denial and the cold comfort of the fellowship that an industry and culture of death can provide.

PP and the whole left-leaning Hollywood, mainstream media cabal are threatened by Unplanned because it’s powerful, it opens eyes, it tells the truth.

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The Troubling Doctrine of Demons

“For this purpose the Son of God came into the world, that He might destroy the works of the devil.”  I John 3:8

Spiritual Warfare: The above quote from the apostle John makes it clear that one of the overarching purposes of Jesus’ mission on earth was warfare against the devil. He commenced the struggle with Satan during his 40-day fast in the wilderness at the beginning of his ministry and continued it all the way to Calvary. And on a more specific level He spent a good deal of his ministry casting out demons.

So what are demons and how do they work?  And are “unclean spirits” and demons the same phenomena and just referred to differently in scripture? It would seem so. And  although I’ve written a couple of books on spiritual warfare, and read considerably on the topic, I’ve not always been 100% certain. After all, we cannot see demons. We only see their works –and that often dimly.

Apparently demons are entities, (more than just amorphous spirits) and perhaps these  entities live in or thru what Fundamentalists and Pentecostals call strongholds — strongholds are seen as idols in our thought life, and idols are things which preoccupy our thoughts more than the Lord.  But no one knows for certain. Demonic manifestations may be the work of Satan’s fallen hosts, or demons may be some entity quite different from the incorporeal beings known as angels. One source says that the word demon comes from the Greek for dark angel, but there have been some scholars who believed that demons were not originally angels. Some believed that they were the offspring referenced at the beginning of Genesis 6 when celestial beings (Nephilim) had relations with the women of men in deep antiquity — their offspring wiped out in Noah’s flood.

And it always makes me wonder when I see some noted fundy clerical pundit in CharismaNews yammering on with great certainty about the “Jezebel spirit” or the demonic. I wonder if they know things that C. S. Lewis or Billy Graham didn’t. Although Jesus believed in demons and devoted a considerable portion of His ministry to casting them out, the Bible is not terribly specific. There are many hints here and there about the devil and the demonic and one has to kind of weave a tapestry to find a doctrine of the demonic.

My take on demonic activity is based considerably on C.S. Lewis’s Screwtape Letters. I imagine to avoid ridicule Lewis wrote a somewhat lighthearted novel about an apprentice demon working on a victim. But I suspect it was somewhat how Lewis conceived of demons going about their business. We do know from scripture that they can possess unsaved individuals, and we also know that they can create havoc in the lives of believers even without inhabiting them.

I think that born-again believers are immune from possession because they have the Holy Spirit living in them. I’m fairly certain a demon cannot reside in the same space as the H.S.  Nevertheless,  believers can obviously be tormented and tempted by them. Though they can create mischief in the material world, they mostly live in our thought-life — and I think they are primarily experienced as a voice in our thoughts — a voice that is derisive, negative and condemning. It is the same voice, but much amplified, that torments paranoid schizophrenics. Schizophrenics actually “hear” the voices and experience them as originating outside of themselves and being beamed into their heads.

Three Christians with books on spiritual warfare and the supernatural who have helped shape my thinking are Francis Frangiapane, Gary Kinnaman and Neil Anderson. But I was first introduced to the topic of spiritual warfare in a class taught by Jim Kohlmann at Northland Community Church in 1997.  He titled his class “Effective Spiritual Warfare” and he referenced Frangiapane’s The Three Battlegrounds considerably. The content of Kohlmann’s eight-week class was a major contributor to my thoughts on the demonic.

Demons are often referred to by names of human characteristics, emotions or behaviors  (e.g., the spirit of lust, the spirit of envy, or the spirit of greed) –as though particular demons looked for victims vulnerable to these character flaws. But who knows? Perhaps we simply need to give demons names to properly address them in spiritual warfare.

I have written about the three demons (or spirits) of despair in Jesus v. satan: The Message of the Wilderness Temptations. These demons relate to the ancient sin called acedia — spiritual sloth. The three devils of despair were given names for me several decades ago by the cognitive/behavioral psychologist Aaron Beck. He wrote about the depressive triad, the three attitudes that characterize almost all depressives: feelings of hopelessness, helplessness and worthlessness. Or in contemporary parlance: life sucks, I’m a piece of crap and there’s nothing I can do about it. Or how things have been, and are now, will always be the same.

These feelings or attitudes pop into our thoughts whether we like it or not, and even in the face of evidence that they are not true we still are plagued by them. They have been termed ANTs: automatic negative thoughts. And most folks have likely experienced them. Are they beliefs that create feelings or are they feelings which propagate beliefs and attitudes? That is a chicken and egg type conundrum. But I believe those thoughts/voices are amplified by, and perhaps in some cases created outright, by demons.

The devil is subtle and opaque. His Trick Number One in my book Satan’s Top Ten Tricks is convincing us that he doesn’t exist. And so it follows that his invisible demonic hosts are also easy to dismiss. Believing in them is as silly as believing in the little devil who dances at the end of a fork in the Underwood’s Deviled Ham commercial, or kiddoes trampling around on Halloween in Satan getups. The real thing which they impersonate isn’t really at all close to the popular depiction.

One of the most important things Jesus says about demons is in the parable of the house swept clean found in Luke 11:24-26. He likens the mind of one delivered from a demon to an empty, welcoming home — swept sparkling clean and awaiting a new inhabitant. Well, by and by The old demon returns after a spell in the desert and brings with him seven more demons even worse than himself.  And although Jesus doesn’t spell it out, just being delivered is obviously not enough. One must fill up the empty space with something positive — positives like the Fruit or the Gifts of the Holy Spirit. So perhaps the actual deliverance may not be as crucial as to what happens afterwards. It’s been said that nature abhors a vacuum and so it is with the human soul or mind. It will be filled with something — and best that something be the Fruit of the Spirit: Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness and Self-control (Gal. 5:22-23).

Pair the house swept clean parable with the quote from John that prefaces this blog and I think one will understand the importance of replacing demons with the fruit of the Spirit. Jesus came to bring us abundant LIFE (John 10:10) and not to just cast out negatives.

The abundant life is not an empty space — not just a mind cleansed of the demonic.

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“Virginia Is For. . .”

I imagine about 75% or more of you could finish that slogan. “Virginia Is For Lovers” is that state’s motto and it has adorned their license plates for years.

However, at the present time it seems kind of out of step with the contemporary political  Zeitgeist. How about instead, “Virginia is for. . . Hypocrites” or “Blackface” or “Racists” or just plain “Pro-infanticide Democrats.”

That state’s Governor Ralph Northam has kind of become the post-Schneiderman poster-boy for the contemporary Democrat party — hypocritical, unforgiving, anti-Life and obsessed with race and the politics of victimhood. He’s the gift that keeps on giving to the GOP

Northam is a medical doctor. He says Virginia needs a doctor to heal its racial wounds or some double-talk to that effect. This man is a pediatric neurologist and yet he believes in killing infants up to and even after birth. That would seem to be a violation of the Hippocratic Oath. However, in his dogged, prideful refusal to resign he’s got the doctor/god-thing down in spades.

Also, in an interview with an African-American CBS TV host he referred to the first slaves coming to Virginia in 1619, as “indentured servants.”  His remark about the 400th anniversary of slavery being introduced to Virginia was almost celebratory. Gayle King quickly corrected him and he dropped the euphemism — but talk about gaffe upon gaffe.

There have been plenty of howls for his resignation, but the loudest come from his own party. The delicious thing for the GOP, however, is that both his lieutenant governor and the state’s attorney general have compromised pasts with allegations of sexual assault and more blackface. They are both Democrats and second and third in line should he resign.

Ah, the schadenfreude. 

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Worry: It’s Job One

“If you know how to worry, you already know how to meditate.” ~ Rick Warren 

Unfortunately, my first semi-conscious morning thoughts are often about situations over which I have little control — life’s big what-ifs.  Worrying, obsessing, ruminating is how I reflexively spend or waste much of my cognitive/emotional capital.  Worry is of course a form of anxiety— sometimes the prelude to a full-blown panic attack. Worry would also seem to be rather pointless, as it in itself it does not change reality one iota.

However, I usually tell my anxious clients that obsessively worrying is a type of problem solving gone awry. Like a hound with an old soup-bone obsessive folks gnaw and gnaw on the facts of a situation without ever coming to a new solution.

Behavioral scientist have given us a good explanation for the pervasiveness of worry. The act of worrying is reinforced by the good outcome — the fact that 90-some percent of what we worry about never comes to pass. Thus in one’s unconscious magical thinking it was the worry that caused the favorable outcome. And not only that the longer and harder we worry the more likely it is that we will NOT end up bankrupt and homeless, die of cancer or from the tsunami caused by an asteroid crashing into the ocean.

Life’s worries and anxieties bubble up spontaneously from our unconscious. It is a process over which we have little or no control. Worries will come to mind whether we like it or not. However, once they’re in our conscious mind we have the power to decide whether we will think on them (ruminate, obsess) or change our focus.

I tell clients that obsessively worry there’s a saying: “You cant stop a bird from landing on your head, but you can stop it from building a nest.”

There are various cognitive-behavioral (CBT) strategies to deal with obsessive worrying. However, I think the Christian alternative is the best option. Prayer and meditation can sometimes lead to a solution, and the Bible has plenty of scriptures about fear and anxiety that one can memorize.  However, Paul provides us with the best suggestion in Philippians 4:8. He writes that we should “think on these things”– the true, the just, the lovely, the honest, the pure and the virtuous. I write about this strategy and others in my book The Unwelcome Blessing. 

One cannot “think” something out of their thoughts. As soon as you’re told not to think about something it comes to the front of the queue. So the answer is to replace your obsessive worries with positive thoughts — the true, the lovely and the virtuous.  Like Nature, our mind abhors a vacuum. Consider the parable of the house swept clean that Jesus told and that Luke recorded (11:24-26).  A demon is driven out of a man and unable to find rest he returns to the house swept clean — and he brings seven more demons with him. And the man’s state of mind becomes even worse than it had been. Worries do not go away, they just generalize and multiply. Better to fill the mind swept clean with the lovely, the true and the virtuous — scripture, good literature and uplifting music.  An unswerving focus on thoughts such as these will eventually lead to having little or no room for worry.

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Connectivity Derangement Syndrome

Planet Fitness: People texting between sets, texting in the locker room, texting as they walk. Whole lotta texting goin’ on, and every third person is wearing ear buds. Ear buds are almost as prevalent as tattoos amongst the under-45 crowd. Presumably they’re listening to music — but maybe not.

Mindfulness has become a hot topic in the past few years but I’m here to tell you about mindlessness. If mindfulness is being aware and alive in the moment, then mindlessness is being focused on electronic media a degree or two removed from the immanent, tangible now.

Planet Fitness has a sign that says folks should only talk on their phones in the lobby. Good rule — but the Planet folks are apparently not brave enough to add texting. I don’t get it; I leave my phone in the car at the gym. I leave my phone in the car when I’m in church and when I’m going to a movie. I can do without connectivity for a couple hours without going into withdrawal.

Sitting at a traffic light folks are texting and miss a quick light change. I don’t get it. The under-45 world has lost its collective mind. The millennials especially can’t be without their electronic fix — codependent on connectivity.

Funny meme: “I saw a guy today at Starbucks. He had no smartphone, no tablet, no laptop. He just sat there drinking his coffee. Like a psychopath.”

Now old people who are not dependent on cell phones or computers are suspect and young people should be wary of them — like psychopaths. But I’m not immune. I make fun of people my age who still use flip phones and cant access the internet from their phone.

I’ve written extensively on TDS: Trump Derangement Syndrome. Now we can add Connectivity Derangement Syndrome (CDS) to the diagnostic lexicon.

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Alfred Turns 100

Tis true!                                                                                                                                                     the proof, you see, was in the rock.                                                                                                            Stratas of a century past. . .                                                                                                            The voice that woke us and we drowned. . . and                                                                                            Twas nothing that could be done                                                                                                   as everything that could be done or said was done                                                                          or blown to bits or to the slaughtatorium sent. . . Finito !

Escalator Up backwards arms outstretched                                                                                          the Ascension I became                                                                                                                        Escalator Down arms open wide the Incarnation.                                                                       Up and Down. . .Down and up. . .and repeat . . .                                                                                      Rapt confused. 

But I thank you C.S. and T.S. with hearts aflame                                                                            and Herr Rofkar who many a time and oft in the Rialto                                                                  strained the quality of mercy in his petty place                                                                               to the last syllable of recorded time which was sixth period I Think                                                     and I thank you Dr. Edgar Garrett and Paul G. Moore and even Orville W                                  who taught me about the cinema and the Odessa Steps. . .                                                              but not the Twelfth Step or the Two Step or the Rumba.

Gagged by a fuzzy peach I dared not eat — but I loved the Blade Peach Section with its cheesecake and all the measured coffee cups of mornings past & lost                                                   and yellow raisin bread with scrambled eggs and the smells                                                 wafting up to the chapel from the kitchen at Nazareth Hall                                                               rosary in hand, True Cross sliver on the silver altar reliquary.  

A century past, time dropped in decay, the candle burnt out                                                          But I thank You again for the Eroica, for Rachmaninoff, Swan Lake,                                            Carmen and all things melodic and numinous — and I dared not ask                                                what is it? and yet I went and made my visit.                                                                                      And I thank You for the talented Mrs. Bunskin from whom                                                        I learned so much but mostly about being me and a man — not                                                    mutually exclusive — and for ’93: shingles and Linda and Dr. Joel

and all blessings welcome and unwelcome and the wherewithal to write                                    it all and at all and for word-processors and for mentors and teachers and leaders and friends and for Your holy Word which spoke it all into existence

things of beauty and Joys forever. . .







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Angelo: RIP

In the parlance of Star Wars: there’s a disturbance in The Force. A great man passed from the earthly scene into eternal life.  He was 99.

He also happened to live in my neighborhood. I met him a decade ago during a morning walk, a few weeks before his 90th birthday, and over the years I’ve blogged about him several times. Talking with Angelo was like listening to a living history of the 20th Century.

His birth date was in the first week of October, 1919.  He graduated on Christmas eve, 2018.  I last spoke with him during the summer. He stopped his morning walks around the neighborhood a few years ago. He’d fallen and scraped his arm up badly and his daughter-in-law forbid him taking his walks. His comment was priceless. “I flew 22 missions in a B-24 during WWII and got hurt worse walking in the neighborhood.”

Then in lieu of walks, Angelo would sit in a white plastic chair out by the chain-link fence around his son’s property.  Folks, including myself, would stop by and chat.  A couple years back he started using a walker, but at 96 or 97 he remained as sharp as a man fifty years younger.  However, in the past year I could see him beginning to fade a bit cognitively.

A couple months ago I noticed that his white plastic chair disappeared. He used to set it ready for use just around the corner from the gate. I thought the chair disappearing was ominous, and I thought the next time I’d see his son I’ll have to ask how Angelo was doing. I thought perhaps he’d gone into the hospital, or a senior care facility, or that maybe was staying in Daytona with his daughter for a spell.

Yesterday morning I noticed the chair was out front again and an American flag was propped up in it and on the seat was a scarlet blossomed Christmas cactus. I feared the worst and when I saw his son later in the day he confirmed Angelo’s passing.

Not everybody can tell you what it was like to see Babe Ruth in person with the rest of the 1927 Yankees. He grew up in the Bronx a few blocks from Yankee Stadium, and Ruth would flip the neighborhood kids dimes on his way into the stadium. And not everybody could tell you what it was like to walk guard duty around Diamond Head a few months before Pear Harbor — or what it was like to be a ball-turret gunner flying three missions on D-Day over the Normandy beaches. He knew I’d visited the UK several times and when I asked if he’d like to see RAF Halesworth again where the 489th Bomb Group flew from, he quickly replied, “No, too many bad memories.”  Angelo was a sensitive, gentle soul and he had some harrowing, traumatic memories about crewmates shot to pieces and the screams of men being burned alive.

And also not many men are left who could tell you about training on the new B-29s when the Japs surrendered, and then knowing you were going to survive and not be deployed to the Pacific.

And not everybody’s dad sang on stage at the Met with Enrico Caruso. And just being the last survivor of eleven children was an event in itself. That’s the terrible fact about living to 99 — there are no siblings or peers left to share memories with — and so you gab with 70-year-old youngsters and others who wander around the neighborhood in the cool morning air.

Angelo wore a big wooden cross around his neck suspended on a rawhide shoestring — and in an casual off-the-cuff way witnessed about his faith. He knew his final destination, and so I’m happy for him in a way. . . but he will be missed.

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