Friday, September 28, 2007

Reconciling Chivalry and Romanticism


Has it ever occurred to you that the poetic age of chivalry, so often counted as a part of the romantic past, is at odds with the philosophy of romanticism, with “happily ever after”? Let me quote,

"This woman is almost always unattainable by virtue of her social status or physical distance, and by her fear of social censure; it was, paradoxically, her vary distance that lent value to the lover’s patient suffering. The lady’s worth could be increased by dispensing merce (some token of her affection) to a worthy and deserving suitor, yet the Lady who submitted too soon would be condemned."
from Order of the Grail

and from Everyday Mommy:
"When a knight found a maiden who caught his eye it was customary for him to ask if he might be her champion. Today, a champion is someone who bats over .400 or wins a wrestling match. But, in that time to champion was to fight for or defend a person or cause. If the lady accepted him as her champion she would present him with a token, such as a handkerchief. She may have chosen to drop the handkerchief, hoping the knight would retrieve it. If he did, he became her champion and he kept the token inside his armor.

"In that age of villains and ruffians, a maiden would derive protection from having a champion. The mere mention of his name, such as Sir William of Pembroke, would afford her a measure of safety. Anyone with any sense knew better than to harm a knight’s lady, because he would pursue them to defend her honor."

The old code of chivalry used to baffle me. I appreciated the gentlemanly way knights behaved to ladies, that the champions fought battles and rescued princesses. But I was born romantic, I think, and have never liked a story without a happy ending. The tale of knights told by the history of chivalry said that often a man would choose a lady to whom to dedicate his victories, faithful to her, defending her purity. And when he had won many battles, he had very little hope of receiving the lady as his wife in return. She may even marry another, one of her class if she were a noblewoman. A princess delivered from harm would grace her hero with cheers and her favor, but not with her love. Something honorable was seen in this sacrificial chastity. I could not see it.

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End came out this summer. Spoiler warning if you care: In the first Pirates of the Caribbean, we found that Will loved Elizabeth so much that he would die for her. The second movie opened with a wedding that never took place, both parties being arrested. Throughout this movie, the young couple had their issues, particularly involving communication and honesty, two things for which they had a bad reputation. In the last movie, At World’s End, Elizabeth proves she can fight and take charge like a boy, and Will realizes a conflict between his loyalty to his father and his lust for Elizabeth. For now we see that he’s not particularly interested in being there for Elizabeth, at her side, so much as he would like to kiss her and not watch her kissing anyone else. Yes, Elizabeth is a horrible example of a lady. When the movie finished, I was caught breathless by the poignant cost of their love. Will gave up his heart, sailing ten years without touching land, for the privilege of spending one day each decade with his wife. It makes a touching tale.

But it makes a pathetic marriage. “For better or for worse” carries more than a few days’ commitment. Marriage is about becoming one, joining lives. However, based on Elizabeth and Will’s relationship to the point of their wedding, they weren’t cut out for a marriage. Letting Will rescue her, and then moving on with life, maturing into a woman interested in a life built around another person, might have been better than the one day per decade marriage.

This conclusion from a negative example (what could happen if my romantic ideals had been gratified in the days of chivalry) helped me to finally embrace that non-romantic code. My friends agree: to be surrounded by good, courteous, self-sacrificing young men is pleasant and edifying. Obviously we are not going to marry every man who holds the door open, or who defends our lives in international wars. Such services are honorable, and we all benefit from and respect the men willing to do them.

Aragorn was such a knight. He had pledged his love long ago to a woman basically unconcerned in the military campaigns he led. Eowyn noticed his nobility when he arrived at Meduseld, spoke to her kindly and intelligently, and was respectful to her beloved uncle. Perhaps she was a romantic like me, assuming that happily ever after meant the knight who rides in on his white horse to rescue her automatically would fall in love with and marry her, or at least, in dark times, let her die with him. The kingly, weathered Aragorn had more wisdom and patient faithfulness than to surrender to romantic ideology. He refused Eowyn’s shadow-love in one of the tenderest scenes in the trilogy. In the end, each player in this saga found their place, and met it with fire-tested maturity. Aragorn became the people-serving king with his long-beloved Arwen at his side. Eowyn discovered love, hope, gentleness, healing and humility in her friendship with Faramir. Faramir himself took up his role as steward, a prince tending a garden-land and inspiring a weary people by his example. He was the husband who could be at Eowyn’s side for life.

In him Eowyn was choosing the ideal of her maturity. I love Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen for presenting everyone as human, and especially for vividly portraying this contrast in heroes alongside the transition in her heroine, Marianne. In the end Colonel Brandon was her choice, having belayed her attraction to every other childish crush, however honorable he was, like the prince described in the Three Weavers. Neither gratitude nor pity nor obligation are good reasons for marriage anymore than infatuation. Yet each of these has its good place in the world. So also chivalry has its place, and however the romantics may rail, the sensible woman will cherish the old code.

To God be all glory.

Disclaimer: I'm still a romantic. In no way am I saying that marriage should be shunned for the chivalric order. The point here is that marriage is so sacred that it should be entered only if the knight and lady are that and more.

Things I Keep in My Pockets

Since fall has come I finally get to wear my jackets again. This is somewhat good and somewhat bad. What is bad is that when I went to grab one several days ago, the coat tree loaded with a shameful number of jackets, sweaters, and coats fell down. This happened because the three-pronged base had given out, the legs splintering the trunk. I put too much on my coat tree. With one hand I held up the pole, and with the other I began pulling coats off the stand and layering them on my rocking chair, which had been nearly empty for the first time in months.

I’m happy with the selection of my jackets. I have three denim ones, and only need one, but it took three tries to get one I like. There is an old imitation black leather jacket, and a new one; the old one wearing out. I have a long dressy coat, a mid-length black velvet, and a light, silvery one I hardly ever wear. Recently I’ve come to appreciate the spencer shape of the knee-length sweaters everyone was wearing several years ago. I have one loosely woven in perfect slate blue, which looks fantastic over all white. Another, light blue, is warmer. And finally I have a cozy, soft white one that I picked up at the church garage sale this summer, and it is my only white coat. With my newfound eye for white skirts, I needed a white sweater. There are others, like my two navy windbreakers, one of which says Awana on the front. And I have two hoodies: a slate grey with bell sleeves and one that has Tigger on it. My heavy coat is grey wool, with a hood. The sweater I wear most is also grey wool, and reminds me of Anne of Green Gables while going with almost everything. There are various others.

Yes, my collection is shameful. But the fact is I wear almost all of them, because I am often cold. Could I get by with less, though? Quite definitely. Since I stopped growing at about sixteen years old, I have been the same size for a long while, and all the jackets I used to have still fit. Like C.S. Lewis in Shadowlands, “I’m not very good at throwing things away, you see.”

In most of my coats and jackets there are pockets. And if there is a pocket, there is almost definitely something in it. I won’t remove the odds and ends that find their homes there. For example, I keep a dime in one. That way I’m never broke. Another has a used spark plug, smooth and cylindrical and useful for messing with when I’m thinking about something else. Some pockets have positive treasures in them, like short notes or little gifts from friends. These are the things that make me smile every time I put my hand in my pocket or feel the weight dangling from my coat. If someone wants to talk about me at my funeral (whenever that is), I hope that the contents of my pockets will be noted. They are testimonies of who I am, what I live for, and how I keep going every day.

Next post: sweater sale?

To God be all glory.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

What Do You Seek?

John 1:38 records Jesus' question to two disciples of John the Baptist who were following Him. "What seek ye?" He asked. What if He asked you or me?

Philippians 2:21, "For all seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ's."

There are days when the weight of the Church's need seems to crush me. I think that now, in the modern times, we have it really bad. Families leave church meetings to get to sports games on time. Friends are too busy to do Bible studies together. Parents are burnt out, and don't want to take care of their own kids, let alone do children's ministry.

If Paul had the same dilemas, though, this can't be a modern phenomenon. There have always been distractions. Throughout the history of the church, there have been more people seeking their own than those who are sold out to Christ Jesus. I mean with abandonment, like Paul, like Timothy, like Peter, who "left all, and followed" Jesus.

And I think, there is no one likeminded. Philippians 2:20, "For I have no man likeminded, who will naturally care for your state." Then I wonder, just what kind of mind do I want others to be like? Mine?

Philippians 2:5, "Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:"

Is my mind like Christ Jesus'? Am I seeking the things which are His, seeking first the kingdom and His righteousness? Do I look out for the interests of others? Is my faith all-encompassing? Not "would I" leave everything, but "have I" left everything?

What of my own do I seek, then? I seek rest, books, entertainment, beautiful things and clothes, movies, music, friends, answers, money, a husband, forum, comfort, chocolate. Self gratification. To weigh the time spent pursuing or thinking about these things over the things of heaven!

Colossians 3:2, "Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth."

What are the things above that I seek? To know Christ, to love Him. His will for my life. Preparation for fulfilling His will for my future. That utterance may be given to me to open my mouth boldly to make known the mystery of the gospel. The gospel to go to the Middle East and the Middle Class. The restoration of the Church. The edification of my friends.

1 Timothy 4:12, "Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity."

2 Timothy 2:2, "And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also."

2 Timothy 2:21, "If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the master's use, and prepared unto every good work."

Romans 12:1-2, "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God."

To God be all glory.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Three More Books

...recently added to the list. Three more book reviews. Go on. What are you reading? I know some of you are reading. Talk to me. Has anyone read the new biography of Billy Graham, The Preacher and the Presidents?

To God be all glory.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

For Your Consideration

I get really excited about small-budget, independent films. The San Antonio Independent Christian Film Festival is a great place to hear about these. Some of the finalists this year were recently published by Vision Forum:
A Cry from Iran
Monstrous Regiment of Women
Joel's Journey
Smuggler's Ransom

I have a friend who went to film school, and another friend who is finishing up a film project from this summer. Though they know an irritating lot about cameras, lighting, angles, and editing (taking those obligatory photos after competition events with a group of filmmaker/photography people tries patience). All of my knowledge comes from watching DVD extras: making of, especially for low-budget films. I've watched Excel Entertainment's Pride and Prejudice making of, Pride and Prejudice for BBC, Lord of the Rings, other small independent films. They're all great. I love finding out how they did the costumes, decorating, dealt with extras issues, and chose locations.

The movie industry is going to experience a diaspora, more independent films, less big stars. Watching it happens is, yes, exciting.

Another little film I found is:

To God be all glory.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Geniuses and Giants

This morning I was finishing C.S. Lewis' Weight of Glory. What a great Christian philosopher! How eloquently he puts the issues facing believers! The ideas he describes fill his novels, so they were so familiar to me that I thought they were my own. Heaven, church, faith, glory are all very relevant spheres to explore.

After reading the last essay in Weight of Glory, I pulled out my Journals of Jim Elliot, which has been begging to be read since I purchased it earlier this summer. The first page of entries had his application thoughts on several chapters of Genesis, cross-referenced with other Bible verses, even including a Greek (Greek alphabet even!) word to clarify the meaning of the verse, prayers, the challenge of pastors and mentors. I was delighted to be able to underline. Usually my underlines mean "well put," if you're familiar with the phrase (see Fiddler on the Roof). Today they meant, "Me too. I need to work on that. Thanks for pointing that out. I need to remember this."

C.S. Lewis was a professor, a philosopher, a lapsed atheist. His impact through his books has been huge in the past fifty years. As far as I can tell, C.S. Lewis didn't live such a radical faith. He was a genius, almost prophetic through his understanding of the outcome of popular worldviews.

Jim Elliot lived his faith. He wasn't perfect. He struggled. In his journals I read his prayers begging God to sanctify him. As a student preparing for the mission field at a Bible college, he was well-versed in Scripture and evangelism. I know from reading Passion and Purity that he avoided wasting time by studying memory verses in the lunch line.

Jim Elliot is a hero of mine. It would be relatively easy to die for Jesus. What is harder, the great adventure and lifetime of effort, is to live a life of radical faith for Jesus. Jim Elliot did both. When he wrote, you heard Scripture. When he decided what to do, he sought God's will in His Word.

Which book would I rather read? The Journals of Jim Elliot. In the same way I would rather hear a Sunday school lesson (or teach one for that matter) that, like the Journals, was saturated with Scripture, in a let-God-speak-for-Himself way. Christian philosophy like that which CS Lewis offers is interesting, but lacks the qualities that make it "...profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness," as would a lesson focusing on the Bible.

To God be all glory.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Conservative Presidential Candidates Side by Side

Jesse and Crystal Paine live-blogged the values voter presidential debate that happened tonight. Their post provides a nice cross-section of the views of the most conservative presidential candidates.

So far Huckabee is my favorite, having strong answers on pro-life and fiscal issues, along with executive experience as governor of Arkansas (even though I know there are bad associations with that distinction!).

From what I can tell, Ron Paul is a favorite among my other ultra-conservative friends and bloggers, but he's too extreme. He deifies the constitution, and has an isolationist view unpractical in the technological 21st century. I'm pretty libertarian myself, but I do believe the government has the God-given authority to legislate morality, even morality affecting Christians. Because our government is elected by the people, we need to be proactive in voting for people who share our faith and values, men we can trust to make decisions for our country.

Tancredo is from Colorado, and I agree with him on most issues, but he's not very eloquent and has a reputation for being extreme.

Brownback seems like he would be a repeat of President Bush, which is not favorable to me or to most people. I support Bush, and believe he was God-ordained to carry our country through the last eight years. Hopefully he was only a step in a more conservative direction.

Alan Keyes was my dad's choice for President when I was in fifth grade (I think). So he's been around for quite a while. I think he's Catholic, strongly prolife, and conservative. Just doesn't have a big image.

I'm not sure what I think of the economics-focused Cox, and whether any of his other values and faith are deeply held and sincere. His stand on the need for statesmen instead of career politicians is encouraging. And he's from Chicago!

Duncan Hunter has been second in my support so far, but I don't know much about him, and he's from California.

Fred Thompson wasn't in the debate, but gives the appearance of being the most conservative front-runner. I distrust him for being an actor, but not only for being an actor. It's the show in which he most recently acted that makes me uncertain of his values stand.

Rudy Giuliani, John McCain, and Mitt Romney all have shaky stands on several values issues. And I am a values voter.

Make your choice. Vote your conscience.

To God be all glory.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Is Illegal Immigration Criminal?

I listened to a portion of Hugh Hewitt's recent interview with Rudy Giuliani on the radio today. A part to which I objected: Giuliani said we can't call illegal immigration a crime because there aren't enough jail cells.

Since when is something only a crime if we send them to jail for it (let alone only a crime if we have room for the criminals in jail)? What happened to fines, to deportation?

Allow me to quote the American Heritage Dictionary from
"crime: 1. An act committed or omitted in violation of a law forbidding or commanding it and for which punishment is imposed upon conviction.
2. Unlawful activity: statistics relating to violent crime.
3. A serious offense, especially one in violation of morality.
4. An unjust, senseless, or disgraceful act or condition: It's a crime to squander our country's natural resources."

In case we have forgotten what illegal means: "Prohibited by law."

My dad wants to know when the act of illegally immigrating ends. As soon as one crossed the border? But crossing the border is not immigrating. Again, American Heritage: "To enter and settle in a country or region to which one is not native."

Tonight I did some research on the laws that prohibit entering the country except by the legally prescribed means. I found this section of the United States Code, updated through August this year. Because the way laws are written are complicated, these separate quotes may not be in order, and there is obviously a lot of material ommitted, but I included the website in case you want to study the matter for yourself.

The law:
"A) Immigrants.-
(i) In general.-Except as otherwise specifically provided in this Act, any immigrant at the time of application for admission-
(I) who is not in possession of a valid unexpired immigrant visa, reentry permit, border crossing identification card, or other valid entry document required by this Act, and a valid unexpired passport, or other suitable travel document, or document of identity and nationality if such document is required under the regulations issued by the Attorney General under section 211(a) ,
or (II) whose visa has been issued without compliance with the provisions of section 203, is inadmissible..."

"Construction of unlawful presence.-For purposes of this paragraph, an alien is deemed to be unlawfully present in the United States if the alien is present in the United States after the expiration of the period of stay authorized by the Attorney General or is present in the United States without being admitted or paroled..."

"a) Any alien who
(1) enters or attempts to enter the United States at any time or place other than as designated by immigration officers,
or (2) eludes examination or inspection by immigration officers,
or (3) attempts to enter or obtains entry to the United States by a willfully false or misleading representation or the willful concealment of a material fact, shall, for the first commission of any such offense, be fined under title 18, United States Code, or imprisoned not more than 6 months, or both, and, for a subsequent commission of any such offense, be fined under title 18, United States Code, or imprisoned not more than 2 years, or both."
- from Immigration and Nationality Act of the US Code

So I say that illegal immigrants are criminals. (Though I confess I encountered a section of legislation which specifically defined criminal aliens, except the law meant additional crimes, which it enumerated, and the penalties of which are different because the offender is alien.) Criminals should be punished. Borders must be enforced, and that doesn't mean simply fenced. Those who would enter our country illegally must be deterred by the real threat of punishment through our legal system. I recommend that this be deportation, at least for the first attempt. Obviously if an additional crime has been committed, there must be additional consequences.
What a mess it would be to have a president who did not consider those who do illegal things to be criminals, and who does not see the need to prosecute them.

To God be all glory.

The System: Health Care, Mortgages, Debt - and the Free Market

I just read an enlightening article on Townhall about the Swiss system for health care. Like our car insurance laws, everyone is required to own health insurance, which isn't very cool with me. But it is a market-driven approach, requiring consumers to make choices rather than their big corporation employers. There is less wasted money in the Swiss system.

Anyway, our health care system is too bureaucratic and inefficient. To completely socialize medicine would be much worse. As Geico tells you, it saves money to eliminate the middle man. Or in the case of government, we have to say "middle men."

A senator from Oklahoma is trying to introduce a bill to revolutionize the American healthcare system in that way. I haven't read it, and if it makes laws limiting the free market, that's a mistake and none of the government's business. As usual, the government would do best to back out.

In the Denver area, on 710 KNUS (my talk radio station), there is an advertiser whose commercials play regularly during my favorite shows. The company is Lenox Financial. Their plan is to revolutionize the mortgage industry by offering no closing cost refinancing. What I'm getting at here is not only their novel approach, but that they did not need the passage of laws to begin effecting this revolution.

What I am advocating, then, is that we the consumers of healthcare rebel against the broken system and innovate new methods, advertise them in the free market, and make beneficial changes ourselves. Refuse to comply with current systems.

Though I mentioned a mortgage company above, I want to suggest that we also rebel against the debt system. For instance, my car insurance company on my last bill informed me that my rates might be lower if I had a credit rating. Their problem: I save up money and pay in cash for things I purchase. That's a no-risk deal. But they would trust me more if I borrowed money from some bank or credit card company (not my brother, since that wouldn't be documented), and pay them back regularly. I'm told credit ratings can affect the availability of housing. It is almost impossible to survive in this country without at least a debit card, which means patronizing credit card companies even if not for credit. The money you and I put in the bank is used by the bank to encourage debt. They lend it. You almost can't buy a house without going into debt because the prices are artificially inflated. What should we do? Buck the system. Write letters. Money talks. Don't give it to those who abuse potential borrowers.

To God be all glory.

PS: I added theology as a label for this post. Stay tuned for a study of how much the Bible talks about money: debt, giving, stewardship, earning, etc.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

On What Basis Do You Make Moral Choices?

On what basis does the non-theistic and practical atheist make moral choices, which include going to war and capital punishment? One might answer, "the Constitution," but to many liberals the Constitution is a "living document" subject to constant interpretation, re-interpretation and revision to match "the times." So is it the times that shape such a presidential candidate, or something more permanent? - Cal Thomas

This was one of the deepest points brought out in Chuck Colson's Gideon's Torch, a novel written over a decade ago. [I post a disclaimer. The plot of the book involves an extreme abortion protest group, which takes the law into their own hands. I do not advocate this, and nor does Chuck Colson.]

Going back to the quote above, Cal Thomas actually said that in reference to the presidential campaign now legitimately underway. He argues that if atheists believe (as do I, in this case) that a candidate's personal faith ought to be public knowledge because it will potentially affect how that candidate would make decisions in office; if atheists ask for that kind of openness, let them not forget that secularists and atheists may be asked the same question. On what basis will they make judgments? Where do they draw the line?

Even as a Christian (or a Mormon or a Catholic or a Muslim), the answer to those questions may not be obvious. There is no guarantee that you as a human will be faithful to your religion's ideals. So I can ask you, though you are probably not running for president, on what basis do you actually make decisions? Where do you draw the line?

For example, what do you believe about lying? Is it ok to lie if everyone is? If no one knows? If no one gets hurt? If it's the only way to keep yourself from being hurt? If it keeps others from being hurt? If lives could be saved? How do you decide? Where is the line when a lie starts to be wrong?

To God be all glory.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Ravi Zacharias

My brother said something last night that struck me as profound. He told me that the way he enjoyed college was by focusing on all the little relationship and missionary things he did in between doing the school. Or sometimes he would even write about God and biblical worldviews in his papers. I don't know how his teachers dealt with him, getting the gospel so regularly!

When I have to drive to a place, the place and activity isn't so bad once I'm there. The leaving of home and all the things I might be doing, especially during the twenty or thirty minutes of wasted time while driving, is the hard part.

So the past several weeks I have been delighted to find that one of my favorite radio programs airs at exactly the time I had to travel to a regular babysitting job. One message in particular was so good that even a week and a half later, I have to tell you about it.

Ravi Zacharias does a program called Let My People Think (a wonderful title), and in my city it airs every Sunday evening at 5:00 PM (on 910KPOF). Fortunately, he also archives his messages for download. I have enough on my computer to last me two days solid, I think.

This special message is called The Search for Absolutes in a Pluralistic Society, and Ravi hits post-modernism on all its major heads, coming from a deep understanding of the philosophies driving the trends we see today. As always, he points us back to Jesus Christ, who holds the answers for every generation.

The third in the three-part series is my favorite, in which Ravi quotes several outside sources including G.K. Chesterton, whose genius for expression I have already noted. I wonder what Chesterton would say if he knew all these protestants loved to quote him. Anyway, the passages Ravi Zacharias quotes are so deep and so fast and so true that you'll want to listen to them several times. Not a word in each 30 minute segment is superfluous. Every sentence means something.

A good way to keep from thinking about the wrong things (self) is to think about the right things. Listen to this, and be a thinking people.

Philippians 4:8,

"Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true,

whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just,

whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely,

whatsoever things are of good report;

if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise,

think on these things."

To God be all glory.

Updates on Life and Literature

Update: I finished two new books, and am in the middle of Waking Rose, which I can't put down (except to blog, obviously!).

There are several of my items for sale on Ebay. I am in the process of increasing the inventory on my official business website as well.

Fall has relapsed into late summer, with a forecast high in the mid 80's inDenver today.

Monday was the first night of junior high and high school Awana at my church, and aside from one child's broken wrist and starting twenty minutes late, everything went great.

Tonight (Wednesday) is the second night of the younger Awana, and I'm out of my comfort zone being game director. After last week, however, I have new focus on being a teacher of the kids instead of a boss.

God is answering the prayers I forget I prayed, but quite quickly and specifically. Never underestimate him.

On Saturday I played volleyball for the first time in at least four years, and after hours of practice, I was finally hitting the ball (forward) when it came my way, instead of crying "no" and ducking out of the way for the imaginary teammate to do it for me. At what time of life do normal people learn to play volleyball? Would you believe I got half a credit in high school or junior high for volleyball?

To God be all glory.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

George MacDonald

I believe most of George MacDonald's books are public domain, and you can read many here. I have a fascination with fairy tales, especially those which Disney did not adapt, or of which no one has heard. George MacDonald wrote such, among other things. He is a kindred spirit, I think, because whatever he wrote was very thoughtful, as though he were answering some deep question about life and God and relationships. His books influenced both CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien very deeply, so I am glad to have discovered him myself.

The Light Princess is the story I just read, a short fifteen chapters. I enjoyed the story, and feel as though it were a picture book though there were no pictures.

I have also read At the Back of the North Wind, a much longer story about a little boy named Diamond who is an example to anyone.

To God be all glory.

This Winter: Jane Austen

I woke up this morning and had the privilege of pulling a sweater from my closet. The taste of the air was positively crisp, promising that fall is finally here. For the first time in months the weather has the subtle hint of a turn. The summer heat has been turned to the mellow, windy atmosphere of autumn. Labor Day was last weekend. School is started. My Broncos won a close season opener for football today.

As much as I love this time of year, there is certainly something to which to look forward this winter. Beginning January 13, 2008 Masterpiece Theater on PBS is airing movie adaptations of all six major Jane Austen novels. Several of the screenplays were written by Andrew Davies. I am especially excited about Northanger Abbey, an oft-neglegted lighthearted story whose heroine, I am happy to report, looks perfect for the part.

To bring excitement to a pitch worthy of surviving the intervening months, PBS released a long trailer for the series, which will also include a biographical production of Jane Austen's life. For more information, you can try the official site, and the Jane Austen Society report. Another excited blog is Austenblog. Related sites include Republic of Pemberley, Eras of Elegance, and In Timely Fashion.

Again, watch the trailer. It's exciting.

To God be all glory.
Fanny Austen-Knight (1793-1882) by Cassandra Austen
Fanny Austen-Knight (1793-1882)

Friday, September 07, 2007

What Is versus What Ought to Be

I purchased a book today that is knock-my-socks-off exciting. First published in 1947 (originally written in 1930) by a missionary society (the author wrote the preface from Argentina), The New Testament Order for Church and Missionary is a well-studied book that includes biblical references and quotes from outside sources, as well as personal testimonial experiences of the author and his colleagues. If you read my series on Changing Church, you probably have a fair idea of the direction my thoughts on Church tend. Recently I have contemplated a book on the subject, all I know about Church.

A lot of us recognize there is something wrong with at least one portion of our Church model, whether it is the drop-out rate after youth group, the worship, "extracurricular" involvement, or craving for deep teaching and mature discipleship that just isn't available. Some authors and Church leaders have advocated programs based on secular entertainment or business or education models to turn these trends around. A faith in God-based approach would be to go to the Bible in case He had something to say about the way Church should be. It follows from the fact that God instituted and created the Church that He also knows what will be most effective in it, and if that is important to Him, He let us know what those things were.

Alex R. Hay, the author of this book from sixty years ago, says in his foreword that he sensed a movement of the Holy Spirit in Christians' lives around the world pointing them back to the New Testament for their Church models. I commented to my mom, who was with my when I bought the book, that I was impressed that the same movement of the Spirit that I can note among the different movements, websites, books, and friends with which I am familiar was happening in 1947, too. Her reply was less than encouraging, "When was this written? And obviously the book didn't change the world. The principles weren't put into place."

There are several answers to that statement. First, as the missionary agency was international, there may very well be congregations implementing the style of Church described therein. Or the book may not have been well-publicized. The copy I now own was apparently used as a textbook or reference book. There is underlining in it. I would say the fact that it was on a used bookstore shelf might reflect on its importance to the original owner, but since the book was published sixty years ago, it seems likely the original men taught by the book are retired or deceased. I don't know when seminary training became prerequisite for pastorship at most churches, but these schools now present multiple concepts of ministry and theology, allowing students to study for themselves. They have to study modern methods, just like I had to wade through shelves and rooms and stacks of books to discover this gem, and it is only by God's grace that I pulled this one off the shelf at all. The task of wading through all the books and theories can be overwhelming. That's why we go to the Bible.

But here is my other answer to my mom's observation. Is she saying that the work is less true or important because it is not popular? Because its ideas did not "win" in the subversive battle for Church structure? This is the subtle philosophy derived from evolution that governs our legal system, our philosophy, and our culture. I am told that because the cultural norm is for women to move out after high school, attend college, and pursue a career with a husband on the side, that my anti-establishment choices are not even going to work in this modern reality. Case law was specifically designed to undermine natural and moral absolutes*, taking the Darwinian view that the dominant or concensus idea is the "fittest," so it is right for the current generation. Our philosophy takes the same position, that whatever is exists because it is best, the most pragmatic for our time. New ideas replaced old ones. We are in a progression. Thus the Bible is outdated. Family is obsolete. Our Constitution is a living document, and we humans are slaves to the drive of society.

The problem is the evidence refutes this perception. Majorities have never changed the course of the world. Change happens in a society because lobbyists speak loudly and corral the masses. Some things are always true. God, the transcendent eternal guide, is the source for truth, and the only Northern Star by which we can set our compasses in a world of experiments that take a lifetime to discover were wrong.

My brother asked without much thought one day if anyone had ever done a test to see on how little sleep the average human can survive. In case you didn't catch on, if in the study a human did not get enough sleep to survive, he was dead. The experiment would be the same as seeing how long you can go without breathing before you're dead. You can always push the envelope until there's no envelope to push, and then there's not much point in having that data. The same with the social experiments. The consequences of fooling around with God's order are too dire to permit.

Go to God. Seek His plan. Implement it to the best of your ability. Trust Him. In Church. In your family decisions. In economics. In morality. In education. For salvation.

To God be all glory.

*Case law was not always the standard in the United States of America. Prior to the spread of Origin of Species (and its implications taken up by the ripe intelligentsia of the day), natural law was the standard. It involved absolutes. This was the basis of the Declaration of Independence's inalienable rights. Once case law was introduced to the judicial system of America, the study of law became complex, involving familiarity with innumerable and sometimes contradictory precedents. By giving judges power through precedent, they were enabled to do what is today called "legislating from the bench." It is because of this misapplication of the judiciary that we have taken God out of the schools and "legalized" abortion. For more information, read Men in Black by Mark Levin and research "case law," "legal positivism," "precedents," Christopher Columbus Langdell, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Blackstone's Commentaries on the Laws of England, and "common law."
Disclaimer: I haven't read the book yet, only a few parts. I'm not saying I agree with everything Mr. Hay wrote. In fact, after researching the website, I am skeptical of his interpretation of women in ministry. He could at the least be more humble about a matter on which so many have disagreed.

Church in What Context?

From Crystal, who heard about it from Amy, on a blog I've visited before, is an article that struck me as timely in my life. I mentioned a few posts ago that I participated last Saturday in my first abortion protest. Why not before? Lame excuses like being busy or being overwhelmed by the problem or being too angry about it to keep myself under control.

While there, the man who drove our group, who has been interceding for the unborn on the sidewalks outside abortion clinics for years, wondered aloud (which is always intentional for him) about churches that never mention abortion. They never preach on its evil. Church leadership would rather have you feeling good about yourself than make a desperately needed difference in the world. My pastor is not like that. He's willing to speak to issues, though he doesn't do it a lot. And our church supports a pregnancy center designed to combat abortion by offering help.

I also applaud Focus on the Family for their continued support of the silent millions. They did a campaign a few years ago to get ultrasounds (or maybe an advanced 3D ultrasound?) into pregnancy centers across the country, citing claims that when women see their baby, they're much less likely to murder it. They walk the line of political involvement, but let me say here that in this presidential race, media and campaigners will tell you the social policies and personal convictions of a president don't matter, because he doesn't make the laws. This is not true. The president directs use of some money, and many administrations have funded Planned Parenthood, the largest abortion "provider" in the United States. He also has the power to veto legislation (law-making) that could potentially increase or reduce the right to life. (See this recent example.) He can ask congress to consider legislation. Presidents are public voices, in a position to influence issues about which the people are thinking, even if he cannot sway their thought. And he chooses Supreme Court Justices, who initially "legalized" abortion with Roe v. Wade, and who have continued to defend the horrific procedures, though in the last few years they did uphold the law passed by congress outlawing partial-birth abortion. We've a long way to go.

Granted the seriousness of the situation, let me point you to the article I mentioned above, that insists when we design our worship in our churches, we have to put them in context: the context that our country is guilty of at least 50 million legal abortions. Does church have an answer to offer?

To God be all glory.

Why Submitting Feelings to Truth is Important

In reading Living a Cross Centered Life, I was struck by a chapter that made sense of some trials in my life. C.J. Mahaney wrote that before we can be impacted by the truth of the cross, we must learn to put our emotions in their proper place. Feelings are real, and powerful, but they do not always reflect reality. Life only works when we base our decisions on truth, regardless of how we feel.

I knew that. I’ve taught that. Truth has been a theme in my life this summer. In fact I have always been fascinated by truth: by right answers, apologetics, systematic theology, consistent worldviews. Some months I am learning that my quest for truth, or for proclaiming truth, needs to come second to my relationships. God is truth, but I need to know Him more than I need to know about Him. The two greatest commandments, Jesus said, are “Love the Lord your God,” and “Love your neighbor.” Funny. Those commands seem to involve feelings.

In fact, they are commands to feel a certain way. Post-modern culture, with all its baggage from last century, finds that incomprehensible. “Obey your feelings,” is its creed. You can’t help your criminal or immoral behavior, let alone the urges that instigated your choices. The Bible, in some of its most famous verses, is arguing to the contrary. You can control your feelings. You should choose who and how you love others.

So you’re supposed to submit your feelings to truth, but you’re also supposed to center your life on a feeling. When I learned the first part, my initial reaction was to disengage from relationships. If I can’t control my emotions while in a relationship, then I had better stay out. Then the second part, the command, crept in, and I realized I was making my life about me. I didn’t think I could handle love without losing control. But I had to learn, and God was going to teach me.

I love writing autobiographies. Maybe that’s a complex. Occasionally I’ll see all my past life in a new light, and I have to write out how each part contributed to the one theme that I see at present. But I will tell you that I feel vulnerable to tell this part of my biography. I don’t usually tell anyone except people whom I have observed for a long time, and grown to trust.

The point cannot be fully made without testimony, however; so on I go. When I was fifteen, I heard people talk about sweet sixteen, and I laughed. Boys had never meant anything very special to me, so I wasn’t worried they would at sixteen. Acquaintances who were tossed about with every wind of romance were low in my estimation. And then I turned sixteen. Not immediately, but soon, I found myself suffering from the maturity process that unleashes not only massive amounts of hormones, but also a world of new experiences.

Every feeling seemed of utmost importance, and each was so much more intense than any I’d experienced in the past that I assumed it had to be “true love.” Except there was doubt. Let me explain.

I grew up on movies, books, and examples that took love, dating, and marriage very seriously. (Actually, I don’t think any book I have ever read involved dating. If you think about Jane Austen’s novels or the classics, there was no series of evening meals spent alone at a restaurant, nor trips to the movie by couple…) A prime example is Brigadoon, starring Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse, two fantastic dancers in a tale of time, sacrifice, and the miracle of true love. When we first meet Fiona (Cyd Charisse), she is explaining to her sisters and the other girls in the village why she isn’t married yet. “I hold a dream, and there’s no compromising. I know there’s one certain laddie for me… Waitin’ for m’ dearie, and happy am I to hold my heart ‘til he comes strollin’ by.” From my parents’ implications I understood that crushes had to be controlled, even suppressed. Dating would not be allowed at the inexperienced age of sixteen, and flirting was out of the question.

By the grace of God working through what I didn’t understand, I set about a course of submitting my crush to God. Through three years, I was thrown onto my knees consistently and continually, each time I found that a young man was filling my thoughts rather than God. I can’t tell you here how many things I learned about myself, about friends, and about true love (and what it isn’t) in those three years. What was happening unwittingly in me is that I was learning through slow, painful experience that it is better to walk by faith in the truth than by my feelings. And I was practicing doing that.

A few years later, there I was again, with a different young man, wondering what God could want to teach me that He didn’t manage the first time. Of course God, who knows all things and promises to guide us with His eyes if we lean not on our own understanding, had a purpose. At this post-high school point, I was learning the other side of the coin. God wanted me to submit my feelings of attraction to Him, but He also wanted me to love the young man, selflessly, as a neighbor. There were nights I told God it wasn’t fair; the task was too hard. But I was learning. Eventually God let up on the training, and the door closed for us to even communicate with each other.

And then the foundation that had been laid started to come in handy. Not sensing the need to go to God so frequently for help, I drifted. I didn’t feel like praying. I didn’t feel loved. I didn’t feel direction from God, or inspired to follow. My Bible readings were rote, and while there were glints of truth and of God’s involvement, overall I felt adrift.

Feel, feel, feel. I had to cling to something, because this path was not pleasant. In fact it is empty. We need time with God to make us content. I need Him for everything: every dream, every intention, and every choice. So in this time I learned to affirm that God is who He says He is regardless of how I feel. God loves me even if I don’t feel it. He is always good. He is always there. He is always faithful, and the giver of every good gift.

I’m still learning. Still struggling against the temptation to let my feelings tell me what to do. When I feel lonely, or tired, or compass-less, or weak, I am learning to seek God, to claim His promises. Frank Peretti wrote about truth in his book Nightmare Academy. In it is a scene where the main character is in a virtual reality room, and his senses are all telling him that the ever-changing virtual reality is the only reality. Until he creates a delay in the computer program, by which he gets a glimpse of the cement wall beyond the hologram every six seconds. And he sees a ladder. He grabs a ladder that the computer-generated reality insists to his senses isn’t there. And he pulls himself up, clinging to the ladder like we cling to the truth found in the Bible. That’s how I walk a confusing world.

By surrendering my heart to God in the matter of romance, I trust that in His timing the “true love” He will commission me to feel will be more potent having behind it the confidence of truth. And this is how we look at the cross, reflecting on its truths, in order that our hearts might be deeply touched by feelings generated out of ultimate reality.

To God be all glory.
Thanks to Snapshots of Joy for the picture.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

First Things

On September first I realized that the firsts seem to be significant this year. Even if nothing significant is happening, I feel different on those days. There is expectancy and a philosophical attitude to my activities.

The first day of this month I participated in my first (conscious) abortion protest. (I held a sign along a highway when I was little, and while I didn't object, I didn't choose to be a part on my own.) My two brothers and I joined some friends to stand outside Planned Parenthood, not to chant or hurl insults, but to pray, and to ask the women to let us at least talk to them about their choice. We wanted to save the babies and give the gospel to the mothers.

A book I'm currently reading is Living the Cross Centered Life by C.J. Mahaney. In it he uses 1 Corinthians 15:3-4: "For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures," My beloved King James Version says that Paul delivered to the Corinthians "first of all that which" he also received. Whether the meaning is "of first importance" or if the gospel was the first thing Paul communicated, both add meaning to this topic of firsts.

Tonight was my first night as Game Director at my church's Awana program. Working with 3 year olds through 6th graders is hard work. For one thing, I know almost nothing about 3 and 4 year olds. Any ideas of games to play with them? My instruction book says they should be very active, but the twelve I had tonight weren't. They were content to stand around and look at the balloons I gave them to play with. I'm praying for wisdom.

Are there any firsts you want to share? What is of first importance in your life? When you talk to others, what is the first thing you tell them? Is that the most important thing to tell them?

To God be all glory.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

The Shaping of Things to Come Part 7

From The Shaping of Things to Come page 65 - “Now we are seeing such a dramatic fracturing of Western society into a range of subcultures, even in the suburbs, that one-size-fits-all is increasingly outmoded. This is called the subculturization or tribalization of the West… But we are forecasting what most Western social commentators are saying – that even the suburbs are now splintering into myriad subcultures. Churches, like missionaries, will need to understand subcultural mores and folkways and incarnate themselves into the rhythms of each specific people group or “tribe” to which they feel called.”

This observation on culture was new to me, and yet resonated as a good explanation for what I see in the world around me. I believe there is an economic cycle that first draws people together into big cities, then gradually disperses them back out into more neighborhood-focused lives.

Last night I was watching a debate originally aired on ABC, featuring the hosts of The Way of the Master (an evangelism-training TV show). On this debate an atheist asked whether Christians are not projecting their cultural image into a being they call God. The answer from the Christians was that Jesus' salvation is not a cultural thing. It is not Western, though it shaped Western culture for many decades. The need for a Savior is universal. The Bible's message of blood being shed to pay for our sins is universal. Community is need felt by all the subculture splinter groups. And the Word of God is relevant, and powerfully alive, to all of them.

To God be all glory.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

On Spiders

I hate spiders. I'm not afraid of them, that they'll kill me or hurt me or ruin my life. The way their legs move is just too creepy; I get shivers. And there's not much more horrifying than spiderwebs brushing against your skin. The beasts are found all over my world, and sometimes gang up on me, taunting me by skittering across my wall or floor or worse: through blankets or clothes or things. And right before a brother comes to the rescue to kill it with a shoe, they disappear through a crack beneath a piece of furniture too large to move, only to reemerge when I'm alone at night and trapped: it guarding the path between me and escape.

But I have to admit that thing with the legs is pretty beautiful. I hear spider silk is a technological marvel. And Spiderman was pretty cool.

This beats it. We humans think we're so smart and advanced. Please click on the link. The picture isn't that bad! Yes. This spider lives its entire life underwater, but it is not a fish. It has no gills. The spider spins what scientists describe as sort of scuba tanks, out of web. Our God is so awesome.

To God be all glory.

The "All Authority" Clause

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations,
baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.
And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
- Matthew 28:18-20

One of my biggest hang-ups with evangelism is when I face authority conflicts. If I'm at work, is it ok to use my boss's time to share the gospel? Am I allowed to share the gospel with kids if I think their parents would disapprove? What about a Muslim woman? Her husband, if he found out, might be furious. Why would she listen at such risk? Why do I dare usurp authority like that?

But the authority isn't mine. All authority is the risen Jesus'. And He sent me as His ambassador, so I can go confidently with His proclamation. After all, this is a matter of life and death.

In the end, the authority issue is an excuse, and a bad one directly addressed in the Great Commission. So pray for me, as Paul requested:

"And for me, that utterance may be given unto me,
that I may open my mouth boldly,
to make known the mystery of the gospel"
- Ephesians 6:19

To God be all glory.

Not Home Yet

A friend made a beautiful point in Sunday school yesterday. She said that the bad things that happen in life are reminders that we are not home yet. A bird died in her back yard, and she was very sad. But death doesn't happen at home. Home is a place with no crying or pain or death. Right now we're just pilgrims in a weary world.

Tonight I was talking with some friends about saying good-bye. We know we'll miss our friends when we say good-bye. When they leave for a year or two or four or forever to college or other countries, we know life won't be the same. We'll change. They'll change. So good-bye is hard. It hurts.

Good-bye is another reminder that we are not home yet. Heaven is an eternal reunion.

Last night, still remembering my friend's reference to the Steven Curtis Chapman song (Not Home Yet), I thought of an old Michael Card song, where he took a theme of the books of prophecy in the Old Testament and made it into a song called "I Will Be Your Home." Part of the chorus says, "From this fearful, fallen place, I will bring you home." How comforting. God is our home, our refuge, and also will bring us home to the place prepared for us, the heavenly city.

To God be all glory.