In 2011, I wrote a series of blog posts that were a result of watching many episodes of the popular T.V. show that ran on Fox. It received quite a reaction.... including one of my football dads who texted me and said he was praying for me and this crazy doctor I was talking to!
These posts only make sense if you watch the show, and I don't know the appropriateness of trying to engage in apologetics discussions with a fictional character- but I am always motivated by a simple truth.... all people need Jesus... we all have trials and sin.... God loves us no matter our condition... and the gospel is calling out to us even in our darkness and distance.
Conversations with House- The Breakthrough
I don't know how long it took for Greg House to finally allow me to converse with him. I knew it would be unlikely that he would ever respond to someone like me, and I had pretty much given up ever having the chance.
I am not worthy of this dialogue and I feel very unqualified to succeed- I'm not even a great representative of my faith. I often chided myself over my lack of prayer and I'm not one to fast (which is self convicting), which made Dr House's response more than a shock.
Of course- you can play endless mind games with House- is this really him? Is this a set-up for a take down? Is he intrigued or is he just going to finally let me have it with a venomous loathing? Why did I finally get through? What will be the medium of communication? Is this 5 seconds? 5 minutes? 5 years?
Many of you will ask why I chose to reach out to him. And I don't know why. Is there a part of me that wants to be significant in a larger sense? Is it just another tribute to my selfishness and pride?
Deep down though- I feel honorable motives. Dr Greg House ultimately represents a world view that has connection with a large segment of power players in our culture. A large number of people are drawn to him, partly for entertainment, partly for intrigue. We think about him and empathize for him. But I also think there is a high regard of respect because he honestly endures pain, both physical and deeper wounds of the heart. Yes, he hides and uses pretense (like we all do) but he is honest in his openness of deceit. And this transparency only exposes how deep and complicated the human heart is and why relationships are tangled and intertwined in 'soap opera' type narratives. Life is indeed stranger than fiction.
Dr House is humanity and all humans need exposure to the gospel. A gospel that is often hidden and perverted by all three enemies: flesh, culture, and evil.
My smart phone buzzed- a text- "Your persistence has annoyed me long enough. How do I press CANCEL?"
I spent a good half day pondering it. He knew who I was. He responded. He had a large number of options including lawyers, police, hospital administration, changing numbers, but he responded in person.
My olive branch had been simple but continuous.
'Dr House, I am a coach and teacher, and have admired you from a distance. You have a articulated a strong view that God does not exist. I would love a short window of time to challenge that worldview- just one on one. I desire no publicity and it is unlikely I will persuade you- but I want to at least offer a friendly back and forth. I am your ally not your enemy."
I would change the wording from time to time to indicate that it was not a 'cut and paste' deal. One time I just texted, 'I'm not a robot- just thought about you today- and look forward to our conversation."
The weird thing is that he never replied. Had he texted even one time- 'Stop bothering me'- I would have stopped. He never texted 'How did you get my cell?'
So as long as there was no response, I just kept it up. Not everyday- no real pattern- just a quiet prayer that he was reading and deleting- and that maybe I would get a shot.
Now, one last weird premonition. I feel like he had been checking me out on the internet. I keep track of my page views and visits on my blog and website. There is a lot that can be found out about me just on a google search.
And for a week or so I have noticed increased traffic on my posts tagged 'apologetics'. This is not that uncommon- but the search source was a .edu and then came the text.
That evening I responded.
"Thank you for the response. I hope to prove to be a man of my word. All you EVER have to do is say STOP and I will never text you again. But the best thing you could do is have an initial conversation with me and then decide if this exercise has any benefit for us."
And now, I just wait- intrigued- and playing mind games. Whose voice is talking to me right now?- "You are such a hypocrite and self righteous fool- there are plenty of other people to reach out to and try to impress with your half-wit logic- but you are spending time on this dead end road."
I just push back in my thoughts- 'Nobody is hurt by this. I'm just following a heart hunch- which can be dangerous- but God can close any door he chooses. He can open them too."
Conversations With House- Peppered and Fried
My phone buzzed and I knew that the game was still on:
"I'm going to call you at 2- I need to hear your best southern redneck y'all."
I spent the morning wondering what was going to happen- this was an adventure for me as well. This is the type of exam you are never ready for- but my foundation has always tried to stay close to I PETER 3:15; "...but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone that asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence..."
And I have spent a good part of the last 25 years trying to do that- preparing and sharing.
I had a light lunch and prayed, spending some time laughing at myself that I am excited about speaking to House but God is not a respecter of persons- I should be just as excited about sharing with my cashier at Publix.
2:00- 2:03- 2:05- 2:15 the phone never even flickered.
I went on the rest of my day wondering- it should have been so obvious....
My phone rang precisely at 1 o'clock AM - 2:00 eastern and it was somewhat obnoxious at the late time of night.
I tried to gather myself. 'Hello?'
"Did I wake you up?" It was him! He was short and already forceful and rude.
"Yes"- No need to lie now.
"Good. You need more drawl. Say something like 'nice white rice'"
I said it.
"I'm already disappointed- play it up a little for me 'niiiiice whiiiiite riiice'"
"Thank you for responding to my request."
"Well, I have no idea in hell why I decided to waste time on you. All you have done is annoy me. And you are wasting your time- but I thought I might as well spend a little time tearing your tooth fairy boring life view to shreds."
I started to reply when he boldly cut me off in mid breath..
"Here's the game. Time for me to annoy you. I will call you and ask you questions from time to time. No need for pleasantries. I ask. You answer. And I will stay on the line as long as you keep me interested. Do not call me in any circumstance. We will do this until you figure out that there is no God or I decide I am bored or I am finally convinced that you are too stupid to learn truth."
CLICK- He was gone. The game was on.
3:15 AM my phone rang. I pushed the answer button and without even hello he started.
"IF God is good and God is God why am I suffering in pain? Why are there children dying of disease? Why do most of the world not only live in hell but according to your dogmatic doodoo are going to hell as well because they don't worship a naked man on a tree?"
I replied as calm as I could:
"You aren't asking a question, you are making general and vague accusations. What do we mean by God? What do we mean by good? And who are we to judge where anyone is going- that is the duty of the deity?"
And that was what the next three weeks consisted of. My phone would ring 2-3-4 in the morning. He would pepper me with a question- mostly old school apologetics classics- found in any textbook. I would start to answer and he would shut it off. Sometimes in the middle, mostly right at the end of my quippy response.
The toughest thing was that I didn't feel good about sharing this with anyone- I knew he was going to check me out- and I wanted to assure him that I had not told a soul.
But I was beating myself up pretty good. He was now the one annoying me. I was his toy. The cynical side of me was beginning to convince myself that I was his new enjoyment. Let me pepper and fry this southern hick religious nut.
I imagined him sitting in his chair, with his glass of whiskey, trying to nod off in pain and I was his last little jolt of the day. I imagined that mischievous smirk staring through the ice as he laughed at new game.
My guess is that I received 20 or more calls. He had one a day for me.
3:15 AM BUZZZZZZZ- "Are gay people going to hell?"
"We all are going to hell if we stand before a holy God and no justification for our sin."
"That was your worst answer yet. You are so political. So safe. So polished. These things come out of your mouth like some differential diagnosis my staff throws out. You have no passion- you really don't care about anyone. And your logically flawed and silly philosophy is not even worthy to be sold as horse crap." click
His words stung me. I was no longer enjoying this. My cynical self was now lecturing me about 'casting my pearls before swine'.
What have I done? I just prayed silently, cursed the darkness, and felt my frustration build over another sleepless night.
Conversations With House- Miracle from Princeton-Plainsboro Teaching Hospital
I don't know if it was my answer or if he was growing bored.
I picked up the cell after it buzzed just after midnight- very early for him.
"Do you believe in evolution?"
It was an awkward pause.
"Because the science is sound. All species because of their genetic make-up and environmental factors undergo slight, successive variations over time."
"Are you reading these answers?"
"No, Dr House- but I am trying to be very careful and succinct when we chat."
"So you say the earth is millions of years old and young earth Christians are morons."
"No sir, I did not say that. To make that statement, you have moved beyond science in my opinion and become speculative- not illogical- but not provable beyond a reasonable doubt."
And then he lost his temper - for real this time. He was speaking so fast, so crude, and skewering me that I was having a hard time keeping up. It's funny- but before he had stung me- yet I was kind of enjoying this rant.
I now know why- calling me passionless and safe hurt my pride. Calling him unscientific and speculative hurt his.
"Look, Dr House, I'm no scientist- I'm not even a true theologian, but from what I have read, all we can document is change in species within species but there are divided opinions as to whether there is proof of species transformation. Yes, birds beaks grow during long droughts, but they also trend back to average size when the rain returns."
It was the longest I had ever spoken to him without a hang up or cut off.
And next came the most unexpected bombshell, one I could have never guessed.
"I'm changing the game now."
I don't know how long the pause was, but it was riveting. My heart beat was audible in my ear and a surge of endorphins made me take quick crisp breaths.
"You are coming to see me. I am going to put you through a 5 day gauntlet. You will fly out next Thursday, you will stay at the Nassau Inn, and you will return to Alabama on Tuesday evening. And- this is almost a miracle of water and wine significance.... I'm going to cover the expenses myself. Someone from the hospital will call you in the morning to set up travel details. So you are going to at least tell your wife now that you have broken through and will personally proselytize the infamous House." click
What have I done now?
Conversations With House- Finally Face to Face
I arrived at the Nassau Inn on the campus of Princeton in no shape to spar with Greg House. I was tired and the trip had been more difficult than I desired.
I did feel a resurgence of anticipation when I saw how beautiful Princeton was this time of year. I was especially thankful to finally arrive at this historic hotel.
I guess I'm reeling as well from the initial uneasiness my wife and family had over the news and sudden trip. Does it ever turn out well when you tell people you love that you have been holding a secret?
My wife knows of Dr. House well enough to be afraid of what shenanigans he may be up to. I have those same fears.
My guess is that a face to face with him means challenges of my personal faith- where will I compromise? Where will I show inconsistency? Will he ask to meet me in a strip club? Will he set up a game of shots? Will he bring me face to face with alternate lifestyles and make me sentence them to an eternity without God?
I'm praying for moment by moment wisdom and I just want to be me.
I laugh at my past failures of trying to play Christian and putting my righteousness on display to impress others.
When I review my last 30 plus years of talking to people about the Lord, I get embarrassed at all of my failures and know that only God's grace and control can salvage my foolishness. Too often I was trying to make myself look good and too often it was my stupid self righteousness that hindered the message. It has to be real and it has to be loving. I will never forget a powerful reminder from friend and pastor, David Filson, "Life is too short and the gospel is too good to spend time living as a POSER!"
If it was going to have any authenticity to it, I was going to have to live out the gospel with my flaws in view. I was going to have to take ownership of my sin. But I was also going to have to grow in grace and knowledge of truth. This lack of pretense is not a religious ritual to justify poor devotion- it just means that I am who I am- and it takes courage to live that way. And the sad thing is that I still don't live that way as much as I should.
The famous Dr. Greg House limped into the lobby of the Nassau Inn- cane and all- and seemed to recognize me immediately. I stood up and walked to meet him- a much bigger man than I had pictured him. There is something in man that elevates height. I should have known that such a commanding presence was going to be 6'2 minimum. This moment was larger than life!
He stopped, leaned forward on the cane, and looked me over. It was exactly like I imagined it to be. All the mannerisms were more pronounced in real life. He nods as he makes assertions. He looks down a lot and rarely catches your eye- not out of weakness- He is not afraid to look at you- it is more of the alpha male pretending not to notice and demonstrating that you are under him. He pressed me into immediate submission by his height and body language.
"Thank you for having me." I mumbled- we never tried to shake hands.
"Thank you for coming." It was quick- snappy- and totally shocked me.
He leaned away, nodded his head. and motioned- "Let's take a WALK". He said it kind of funny, almost weird, and it hit me right in the heart. Here is a man who lives in pain, it takes great effort to lean on that cane step by step- AND HE CAME TO ME! This was a sacrifice in a number of ways and I was getting more humbled by each hobble.
I was pleasantly relieved when I saw the Segway at the door.
"Sorry that there is only room for one, but I am handicapped you know."
He parked his cane on the handle. Stepped up on the platform, leaned forward and now I was the one who was sacrificing. I was at that awkward pace between a fast walk and slow jog. He knew exactly what he was doing.
"Have you seen the historic Princeton campus? Home of Albert Einstein? Pride of Presbyterian history?" The Segway was quiet and quick.
I was already breaking a sweat.
Conversations with House- Pain and Presup at Princeton
Day 1 with House at Princeton was adventuresome and fun. No doubt it was House, but it was fun.
I was a little disappointed that none of his staff were in town and he was actually on a vacation. His department shuts down for 10 days each summer where he takes no patients at all.
So it looks like I was part of his holiday fun and his infinite appetite for distraction.
The man lives in serious pain. I admire his strength of will, his rare intellect, and his ability to function despite the pounding pulses of pain that surge through his thigh. No doubt that he is on edge due to that pain. But it doesn't take any time at all to see that it runs much deeper than anyone can decipher.
The first day, he called all the shots. He ran me around campus until I was sweating. We never stopped to eat- and though he wasn't serious about giving me the 10 cent tour, I was impressed about how much he knew about the history of Princeton. He rattled off chapters and verse of information- dates, significance- the weird part was that is was so non-chalant.
We finally stopped for coffee (He paid- which I am still most confused about and it seems most out of character for him) and sitting down I knew that there was finally going to be a meat and potato talk.
"Ok", he said, "Here you are. You wanted to be here. I have put you through some paces. Now go."
"I'm very surprised to be here," I answered, "because I have only seen you from a distance, there was always a part of me that wanted to get an inside look, get to know you better, and my heart tends to want to encourage people..."
"No, you already are dodging. Come on- you are hedging. What people call southern charm and grace I call wussiness. You are beating around the proverbial bush- I invited you here- you have my attention- GO."
"It's not that simple and I don't think you know my real motives."
"NO, You don't know YOUR real motives." He was very forceful- still closed and waterproof.
My head was spinning.
He was getting very impatient....
But suddenly I found a few words....
"You are right, no one can know the motives because I believe our hearts are deep and twisted- maybe too nuanced for words. But I am no charlatan and I don't regard setting context as wussiness."
I have no clue why, but that one comment, maybe it was a facial expression, maybe it was strength or transparent weakness- broke right through the veneer. He finally looked at me as a human being and not an oddball sideshow for kicks.
He nodded his head in approval. "Good". He then began that staring off to the side lean, eye flickering back and forth. as he held the coffee in both hands now. His can hung on the back of his chair and he pressed into me.
"I have read everything you have posted. And I do think you are genuine. Naive yes- simple yes- and you do have an agenda- you pick postings to persuade and because you do it publicly, you desire for them to justify you- you desire to be validated. You show a care for people- an olive branch- because it brings back affirmation and significance. You reached out to me because I am famous and if you can get a famous person to validate you, that is a big ole stamp of universal approval."
I interrupted him for the first time, "And does that put my faith as false?"
"Ah so you agree with my diagnosis?"
"Well.....I think about intrinsic motivation all the time. My question is more about how your evaluation of me connects to evaluation of faith."
He looked back at me. "You know my stance, I have no doubt that religion is delusional and likely harmful."
"You have no doubt that there is no God."
"Pretty bold, I know you are a brilliant man, Dr House, but your faith in NO God goes beyond your powerful logic."
"Stop playing games. I know all the arguments and debate. Your best debate for God is trumped by best reasons for no God. I have ultimately sided on the transcendental argument for the non-existence of God."
I laughed when he said it. It is not a unique position. Christian apologetics has become more grounded in a line of though called TAG or the transcendental argument for God which basically proclaims that without the existence of God you have no grounds to argue the truth of anything at all because God is a necessary precursor to anything universal like the laws of logic. Skeptics responded with TANG (transcendental argument for the non-existence of God) which plays off of TAG (which seems to support TAG)- but skeptics would say that TANG stands on its on.
So what do you do when there is the rock and a hard place disagreement? Give up and agree to disagree? Keep pressing until there is a cry of uncle?
I sipped my coffee. Had a brief pause. We looked at each other.
"So why am I here? You are smart. You have thoroughly studied the issue and landed on a premise. You are unswayed by anything you have read and not impressed with anything I might say or do. Why did you bring me here if you are so sure?"
"I guess I wanted you to see my pain up close. I want you to see deep in my soul and consider the darkness and watch your southern nice gospel grace be extinguished in the deep darkness of world hunger, brutality, fanatical religion, destitution, and my throbbing leg which has to be explained to the absent God."
I interrupted him. "Well then you failed. Because the light is not overtaken by the dark."
His rebuttal. "The darkness remains."
"Well then, Dr. House, let's try to turn on all the light."
He laughed and I laughed. We touched our coffee cups in a toast and I felt more alive than I had ever felt before.