God Wants Full Custody

The true path to right living: God must be The Boss

Original Man

A sign outside Conyers Church Of Christ, in Conyers, Ga., not far from where I live, got me thinking and thinking and thinking.

It was so clever, brilliant really — and so true.

It said in bold letters: “God Wants Full Custody, Not Just A Weekend Visit.”

Wow! Simple, yet powerful. It works on multiple levels, and in language we understand immediately, since “custody” is an ever–present word in our society these days.

There are newspaper and magazine headlines aplenty about custody battles among Hollywood stars and other celebrities. And those addicted to the myriad detective, true crime and forensic-evidence shows on TV are well acquainted with the legal term “chain of custody,” which defines whether rules of evidence-gathering and storage have been followed properly.

Loosely speaking, having custody of something means having possession of it with considerable control over what happens to it.

That sign is an awesome reminder that God wants full possession of us, wants us to surrender ourselves to His will, in such a way that we defer to Him in every way, in every matter, every day.

In the movie, “Get On Up,” a “biopic” of the life of soul singer James Brown, there is a scene at the end, in which Brown’s character — after reflecting on a life filled with crushing defeats as well as soaring triumphs — turns to the camera and says: “I paid the cost to be the boss.”

It was a moving, defining moment. It made me want to cheer after nearly two hours of watching Brown ‘s struggles, as he rose from abject poverty, abandonment by his mother and trouble with the law to become one of the most celebrated entertainers in the world.

But that sentiment, which might seem so right, is dangerous. It is poisonous, as deadly as Cyanide, Ricin, Sarin, or Anthrax. Actually more deadly. It is an anathema, directly opposed to the Word of God as recorded in the Bible.

As Christians know, God is the Boss. He, not us, has paid the cost. As the Bible tells us, His only begotten son, Jesus Christ, himself fully man and fully God, died on the cross on our behalf to pay the debt for the worlds’ sins. A debt we — not one of us — could ever pay.

Yet, is it difficult, even for many Christians, to live every day as if we know God is boss. It is difficult to surrender control, to not figure we can handle things ourselves. After All, we’re smart, or at least educated, and we try to be good people. We help others. We’re good to our parents, spouses, or significant others, our children and those we encounter each day.

It is not easy letting God take control of EVERYTHING, even the smallest things, but especially the big things, the ones we worry about most. A wonderful movie I saw recently — “War Room” — handled this issue well. One of the female characters was frustrated because her husband, a highly “successful” pharmaceutical salesman, was so busy trying to be successful, to make all the money he could — any way he could — that he had become an arrogant jerk, who ignored his wife and young daughter and had little time for anything that didn’t seem likely to raise his business profile.

As a result, his family was miserable. There was plenty of discord, and every second the family spent together was as tense as scouts trolling a mine field. There were always arguments and sharp words across the dinner table. The wife would sometimes snap back, trying to defend herself, or get her husband to see the error of his ways.

As a real estate agent,  the wife encountered an elderly widow, who was putting her house up for sale. The older woman had been widowed when her husband, a career soldier, was killed in war. The older woman confessed to the main character that she, too, had been frustrated with her husband, had been bitter and blamed him for treating military life as his real wife, rather than embracing her in that role.

She said she found no peace until she took the matter to God, started praying every day for Him to show her how she could have handled things differently, and how she could ease her troubled mind and heart. The answer, she explained, was that she should have stopped battling with her husband, should have let God work on him.

That advice convinced the younger woman she should take the same approach, and she did, praying daily for God to watch over her husband, to help him see where he was headed, and help him reclaim his love for his family. The couple’s young daughter saw her mother’s new approach and decided to quietly follow it, too, petitioning God to help her mother and father “love each other again.”

The results were remarkable.

Taking that approach is not easy, especially for men who grew up in a society where most of the noise around us tells us that a man has to be strong, doesn’t totally submit to anyone or anything. Doesn’t expect others to fight his battles.

One of the strongest lessons the culture taught me as I grew up is that “a man handles his business.” Anyone who doesn’t handle his business, run his household, pull his weight, is not a real man.

Overcoming such pervasive teaching is difficult. It takes a lot of prayer, meditation on the words of God, and interaction with other men who are serious about making that journey, too.

It is not just a problem for men, however. Submission is tough for many women as well. It goes against the human will. It is seen as weakness, losing control. The human mind fears a loss of control.

Finding the desire, the willingness and the strength to let God take control — or as the familiar saying goes — to “let go, and let God,” is one of the greatest challenges of being a Christian.

It requires uncommon trust in God, in The Holy Spirit. Especially in this world where we see so many people surrender full control to some professed “holy man,” who makes good speeches and is able to convince them to follow him and his “blessed prayer cloths” to paradise, only to discover he is a complete charlatan. Many have been led to their deaths, following such crooks.

That Church Of Christ sign works on a simpler level, too. It reminds those of us, who — supposedly — have bought into following Christ and accepting him as lord and savior, that just popping in to see Him during a weekend worship service won’t cut it.

God welcomes drop-ins and visitors, of course. But, at some point, we all need to discover that the only true, redemptive path is inviting Him to adopt us into the family that is called by His name, giving him complete authority over our lives, and obedience to his will.

He doesn’t want part-timers, or Christians in name only. He wants full-time believers, who understand the blessings that flow from letting Him call the shots.

Remember: God doesn’t want to share custody of us with anybody, or any thing.


Why Refunds Offered On Harper Lee’s Book


Michigan bookstore critical of the publication

of  ‘Go Set A Watchman’ as a ‘new novel.’

When I first saw the article on the website, Galley Cat, which chronicles happenings in the book and entertainment industries, I didn’t quite know what to think.

I had certainly been aware of the incredible hullaballoo over the publication of a so-called “lost manuscript” of Harper Lee’s that was being called both a prequel — because it was written before “To Kill A Mockingbird” — and a sequel, because the action in the book takes place some 20 years after the events of the earlier work, which is recognized as one of the world’s most- beloved classics.

The Galley Cat article reported that Brilliant Books, an independent bookstore in Traverse City, Michigan,  was offering free refunds to its customers who had purchased “Go Set A Watchman.”

The reason, according to the report, is that the store owners viewed the promotion and sale of the book as Ms. Lee’s major “new novel” as something bordering on fraud. Although they did not use the term “fraud.” They were upset because they see the book as merely an early draft, not a finished novel.

They did make clear they consider the publication and all of the hype generated around it — which undoubtedly benefited sales — as “disappointing and frankly shameful … This is pure exploitation of both literary fans and a beloved classic (which we hope has not been irrevocably tainted.)”

Biting words, for sure. But they didn’t leave it at that. According to Galley Cat, they offered an earlier example of a similar situation, involving author James Joyce and his literary classic, “The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.”

“This situation is comparable to Joyce’s stunning work … and its original draft ‘Stephen Hero,'” the quote in Galley Cat says. “‘Hero was initially rejected, and Joyce reworked it into the classic ‘Portrait.’ ‘Hero was eventually released as an academic piece for scholars and fans — not as a new ‘Joyce novel.’ We would have been delighted to see ‘Go Set A Watchman’ receive a similar fate.”

After I fully digested their argument, I could clearly see their point, and I cannot say their way of looking at the situation is wrong.  “Go Set A Watchman” has been over-hyped, has been skillfully positioned to explode onto the literary scene, through the use of mystery, timing and hints about the aging author’s physical and mental abilities — and whether she could make a sound decision about the work’s publication.

And it worked to an extraordinary degree. There were said to be preorders for the book totaling more than a million copies weeks before the actual publication date. It has likely sold millions more, worldwide, since then — and is still on several bestseller lists.

The fraud — and I do use the word loosely here — was so successful because we, the reading public, were willing participants. “To Kill A Mockingbird” and its main characters (especially Atticus Finch and Scout) have such a place in the literary heart of not just this nation, but of lands across the globe) that both fans and skeptics found it hard to resist a “new novel” by one of the world’s best-known writers, who had vowed decades ago that her first book would be her last.

Now, there is even more controversy, because so many of those fans simply can’t see the book for what it is: an early draft that, with rejection by a publisher, and then being re-imagined and rewritten, became a truly remarkable book. That early draft, probably should have remained “lost” in the dust bin of history.

Blogs and other online sites are filled with comments by those saddened that Atticus Finch goes from being a beloved, bold champion of justice in “To Kill A Mockingbird,” to being a racist-leaning, aging and disappointing father in “Watchman.”

They act as if the second book is, indeed, a sequel and that it shows the natural progression of the story. Some say they are horrified, or feel cheated. “How can she (Ms. Lee) do that?” they wail.

They do not understand the writing process. According to several reports, the manuscript for “Go Set A Watchman” was rejected by a book editor, but he suggested that Ms Lee try rewriting it from the point of view of the young girl, Scout, rather from that of the adult Jean Finch, through whose eyes the story of “Watchman” is revealed.

When a writer decides to do a complete revision of a work, often he or she re-imagines the story, changes locales, dates and times; old characters disappear and new ones emerge. Sometimes, the new work bears little resemblance to the old. It is, in fact, a new creation. Old characters can remain, but often their personalities are different, as are their motivations. Even the theme driving the work can be vastly different.

It makes perfect sense to me that a very young girl living in a small, Southern town, such as Scout, would look up to, and view — perhaps adore– her lawyer-father as her champion, a man who can do no wrong. But that a grown-up Scout (Jean), who has lived in the hurly-burly and urban clatter of Manhattan might see her lawyer-father with more exacting eyes.

Fans of Harper Lee should be happy that the original manuscript was rejected (although I’m sure that wasn’t the outcome she hoped for at the time.) If that work had not been rejected, it is highly unlikely we would have been able to enjoy “To Kill A Mockingbird,” which is, hands down, a superior work.

I want to say here that “Go Set A Watchman” simply does not work as a novel. While there are several skillfully written scenes, the book does not hold together as a work of fiction driven by a central dramatic action or actions that propel it forward. The dramatic device that makes “Mockingbird” such an interesting work is the trial of the black man accused of raping a white woman. In “Watchman,” that incident is only mentioned in a short summary, which robs it of its dramatic impact.  There is simply too much “telling” and not enough “showing” in “Watchman.”

The book seems to be more treatise than novel, with its often heavy-handed moralizing about race relations. It doesn’t approach the art and skill of a well-crafted novel.

 It is also clear why that early editor rejected it, and suggested that Ms. Lee tell the story from the point of view of the young girl, Scout. In”Watchman,” Jean Louise, although reportedly a woman of about 26  years  of age, is incredibly naive about the political and moral leanings of her father, other family members and the mores of the small town in which she has spent the majority of her life. That naivete is even more implausible given that she has been living and working in gritty, worldly New York City for, at least, a few years.

Her sense of surprise, shock and horror when she discovers the strong anti-integration stance of her family seem too much of a surprise, and are overwrought, as well.

I wondered then why the author had agreed to its publication, but I was thinking through my writer’s lens. Many writers, including me, of course, are jealous of the early versions of their work as they craft them into stories they are eventually ready to share with the world. We are, so often, a self-conscious lot. And our early drafts can seem embarrassingly bad to us. So much so that we believe anybody who gets a hold of them will think us stupid, naive, or both.

I am sure Harper Lee has her reasons for approving the publication of what is clearly only an early draft. I don’t know those reasons, but I can assume that at this point in her life and journey as an American icon, she is a lot less vain and uptight about her art — and how it is viewed — than so many of the rest of us.