The Road Not Taken

If you like to talk to tomatoes; if a squash can make you smile

If you like to waltz with potatoes, up and down the produce aisle

Broccoli, celery, got to be VeggieTales! ? ? ?

If you can’t put the music to that jingle, then you probably also do not know Bob the Tomato and Larry the Cucumber. No, these are not nicknames of notorious Vegas mobsters. They are actually two of the cast of popular characters that includes Petunia Rhubarb, created by the fertile minds of Phil Vischer and his team during the 1990s when they started the VeggieTales production company. If you know none of this, clearly you were not raising Biblically-committed Christian kids back then. By the way, the Lapin family, along with many of their Orthodox Jewish friends were as enthusiastic fans as were their Christian playmates.

The VeggieTales production team created some really wonderful children’s entertainment rooted in Biblical morality. The company grew rapidly and as can sometimes happen in business, their growth outpaced their management and financial abilities and maybe also their luck. Whatever it was, I was not alone in feeling their pain and hoping they’d find some way to save the company, keeping those endearing smiling, singing vegetables on the screen. Finally, it became necessary to sell the company and millions of fans hoped that the buyers would allow VeggieTales to continue.   Several Christian-owned companies bid to buy VeggieTales along with a company owned by a dear friend of mine, a brilliant businessman and an Orthodox Jew of great integrity.

Would it be better if VeggieTales was purchased by a Christian company that shared their religious outlook? I think most observers at the time felt this way.

Here is another question that was widely asked at the time of the sale:

Would it be better if VeggieTales was purchased by a Jewish company that didn’t share their religious outlook and would therefore be less likely to tamper with the formula for doctrinal reasons? And again, many analysts felt this way.

Obviously VeggieTales was going to be purchased by either a Christian company or a company owned by non-Christians. It was one way or the other. Yet, during analysis, both options, though contradictory, could work.

In the real world, we often cope with contradictory ideas and though we’ll eventually be forced to go with one way or the other, it always pays to examine both thoroughly. Let’s see an example in ancient Jewish wisdom:

Contrast how strongly God seems to disapprove of Israel replacing the prophet Samuel with a king in I Samuel 8 with how eager He seems to be to have Israel acquire a monarchy government in I Samuel 9:

The Lord said to Samuel, ‘Listen to the voice of the people…for it is not you whom they reject but it is me whom they reject…be sure to warn them and tell them about the protocol of a king…’ Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people who had requested a king. “This is the protocol of the king who will reign over you…he will take your sons to his army… he will take your daughters…he will confiscate your best fields, vineyards, and olive trees…he will take a tenth of your harvest and you will become his slaves…on that day you will cry out because of the king whom you have chosen for yourselves but the Lord will not answer you…   – (I Samuel 8:7-19)

Clearly, from the foregoing we see that a king is a terrible idea. The Lord sounds hardly sanguine about Israel replacing a prophet with a king. But now compare what you have just read with this very different view of God telling the prophet Samuel about the future king of Israel:

…I will send you a man from the land of Benjamin and you shall anoint him to be ruler over my people Israel and he will save my people from the hand of the Philistines for I have seen the distress of my people since their cry has come before me.  – (I Samuel 9:16)

In this chapter, not only does God not warn Samuel against the very idea of a king but He positively enthuses about it. We need someone to save my people from these accursed Philistines and my man, Saul, is just the man for the job.

So in I Samuel 8 God warns of how tyrannical a king will become while in I Samuel 9 God indicates that He has witnessed the distress of Israel and desires a king to save His people.

So which is it? Will King Saul tax Israel into a monarchial tyranny or will he deliver Israel from the Philistines? Does God think that Israel getting a king was a bad idea or a great idea?

Ancient Jewish wisdom explains that the answer is both! Have you ever seen the construction drawings that an architect prepares for a house? It’s never just one drawing on one sheet of paper. It’s many drawings on many papers and no two drawings are identical. In fact, it’s easy to find two drawings that look nothing like one another. One might be a front elevation showing how the house will look from the street. Another might be a side elevation. Yet a third shows the internal wiring and plumbing details. All drawings are needed. All show different aspects of the same house.

Was it good for Israel to get a king? Yes, and no. It was good for several reasons including Israel’s future ability to defend themselves. It was bad because of several unhappy consequences.

One cannot progress in life waiting for actions that have only good consequences. It would be lovely if life offered simple solutions. But ever since mankind tasted from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, it is almost impossible to find actions whose results are 100% good. Or for that matter, 100% evil.

As we make those hundreds of everyday decisions for ourselves, our families, and our jobs, we err in seeking a solution that pleases everyone and has no downside. This is the road to paralysis. Instead, we examine all options and finally once we commit ourselves to one of the courses of action, we must pursue it single-mindedly and without regret.

In the end, VeggieTales was purchased by a Jewish owned company and it worked out well.   The Jewish company brought seasoned management and needed capital, but didn’t interfere with VeggieTales’ winning formula.  They were subsequently bought by Dreamworks. Had a Christian-owned company bought them, things might have worked out just as well.  Stressing to find answer that is all positive with no negatives is usually pointless.  There are different roads to take and the important thing is to make a decision and work with the reality it presents.

I love writing Thought Tools and looking more closely at Biblical ‘stories’ that I have read so many times. My powers of judgment sharpen and invariably Bible-study provides me with lessons that improve my family and business life. You can get three volumes of Thought Tools (over 150 teachings!) in one package. You’ll be surprised how frequently the one that catches your eye as you flip through a book speaks directly to you.

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