“A taste for the beautiful is most cultivated out of doors.” //Henry David Thoreau, Walden
When I was younger, my definition of art was very limited. I only appreciated artistic expression that I could relate to or that I was attracted to. As I’ve grown older, I’ve come to value many forms of art, whether modern or traditional, abstract or concrete, functional or avant-garde, even if it doesn’t align with my personal aesthetic. I now realize that art is not so much about the product, but about the process and the passion. I see beauty in so much around me.
However, despite all this beauty that I have witnessed in this world, nothing is more stunning to me than the beauty of nature.
I recently had the opportunity to travel to Colorado, which I have never before visited in the summer. Everywhere I went, everything I saw, emanated beauty. I can’t help but agree with Thoreau that nature is the greatest (maybe second, only to love) source of inspiration and beauty. In some ways, it seems unbelievable to think that of all the artists who have existed and of all the masterpieces that have been created, it is the oldest piece of art in history that I view as the greatest.
And yet, this all makes sense when I think about the Artist who designed this complex yet simple, mystifying yet tangible, and savage yet fragile piece of art we call earth.
As with many of the good books I read, this one was recommended to me by my dad. Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christians Debate is written by Justin Lee, a committed Christian and executive director of the Gay Christian Network. In this book, Lee recounts the story of his life with humor, wisdom, and humility in order to address one of the most controversial topics in the contemporary Christian church: homosexuality.
Lee grew up in a close and loving family who raised him in a Bible-centered church. By the time he was a teenager, Lee had begun to actively pursue a personal relationship with God and had committed himself to serving God; so much so that his peers at school gave him the nickname “God Boy.” Lee felt like he had all the right answers to questions about morality and Christian living…until he discovered that he was attracted to men instead of women. This discovery led to a 15-year long pursuit of truth as he struggled to figure out God’s plan for his life and for other people in the LGBT community.
What I loved about this book is that it takes complete advantage of the power of literature to place readers in contexts and situations that they would have otherwise been unable to experience. Rather than present chapters full of theology and debate, Lee simply shares his own story, allowing readers to draw their own conclusions. In the process he touches on some of the following topics: why people are gay, how to respectfully communicate with gay people, the role of the church in responding to the “gay debate”, God’s view of same-sex relationships, and more. As is common when reading good books, I ended the book with more questions than answers and more unsure of my beliefs than I was when I began. Regardless of whether you agree or disagree with all of Lee’s conclusions, Torn is a powerful message that can’t help but change you in some way.
The following story takes place on the day of the Sabbath, as Jesus interacts with a man who has a shriveled hand. Read the story to learn what happens…
Jesus Heals on the Sabbath (Mark 3:1-6)
Another time Jesus went into the synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath. Jesus said to the man with the shriveled hand, “Stand up in front of everyone.”
Then Jesus asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy?” But they remained silent.
He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored.Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus.
My dad recently reminded me of this story and drew my attention to the people’s reaction to what Jesus was doing. Rather than respond in awe and gratitude for the miracle Jesus performed, the people were more concerned with whether or not it was lawful for Him to heal on the Sabbath. My dad then challenged me to think about the ways that we as Christians are often so preoccupied with determining whether things are “right” or “wrong” that we forget to appreciate the work that God is doing in the lives of others. I’ve been thinking a lot about this and about ways that I sometimes see myself and the church unintentionally following in the footsteps of the Pharisees, rather than following Jesus.
Are we so concerned with executing our interpretation of the law that we not only fail to see God’s work, but even inhibit it? What are some examples today where our actions may result in the destruction of life because of our obsession with the law, rather than God’s healing grace?
With the start of this beautiful spring season comes the talk of “spring cleaning.” I have seen articles, checklists, and tutorials about “the seven places you never thought to clean” or “the perfect solution for your worst stains.” As much as I love cleaning, I’ve been thinking about cleaning my home in a different way this spring by thinking about its function in my life and examining the way that I live. In the next few weeks I will be sharing some areas of my home that I would like to commit to “cleaning” throughout this spring season to make sure that my day-to-day life reflects my personal priorities and values.
I just finished reading A Faith of Our Ownby Jonathan Merritt based on a recommendation from my dad. The book is focused on shifting away from “the culture wars” and searching for a more effective approach to living out the gospel. He shares some history of how Christianity has evolved over time and encourages Christians to focus on serving others in their daily lives rather than relying solely on politics and voting to transform culture, as they sometimes have in the past. I really loved his desire to end the “us-versus-them” mentality and focus instead on loving and serving the way Jesus did.
This statement really captures the heart of the book –
“‘Christians…forget that it is not what you think or how much power you have or how you vote that changes the world. It’s your hands that do the changing'” (page 142).
Here are a few of my other favorite quotes…
“‘Twenty years ago when I was looking at evangelical Christianity from the inside, it seemed like a movement bursting with energy to spread good news to people,’ he [Brandon, a 32-year-old who has left the church] says. ‘Looking at it from the outside today, the message seems to have been lost in exchange for an aggressive political agenda'” (page 80).
“The contrast between twenty-first century Christianity and the Jesus of the Bible is stark. This Jesus–the compassionate loving friends of sinners–is difficult to reconcile with an often disconnected, insular ‘us-versus-them’ Christianity. Jesus said His disciples would be known by their love, but in America today they are known in part for their anger toward homosexuals” (page 114).
“Rather than get offended at our world’s brokenness, Christians see these as opportunities. When they perceive a problem, they are less likely to mobilize an angry protest and more likely to begin working with others to create and implement solutions. Rather than focusing on what’s wrong in culture and warring against it, they are cultivating goodness” (page 126).
“…every story has a climax, and today’s Christians are convinced that the climax of the Bible’s narrative is Jesus. Everything in the Scriptures point to Christ and everything speaks of Christ. He stands with God at the Creation, is surprisingly sewn throughout the Old Testament, is the subject of the Gospels, and Paul begins almost every letter by invoking His name. For a growing number of rising Christians, He is also the paradigm through which they are reading the Bible anew. If Christians are shifting, a reacquainting with the person and work of Jesus is almost certainly behind it” (page 130).
I respect the fact that although Merritt spends much of the book highlighting the faults of Christian movements in the past, his closing chapter begins with this quote from George Orwell…
“‘Each generation imagines itself to be more intelligent than the one that went before it, and wiser than the one that comes after it'” (page 170).
As important as it is to improve the way that we live to better serve God, I think it’s also very important to recognize the value in past generations’ efforts (regardless of their downfalls) and to look critically at our own mistakes rather than just everybody else’s.
I recently shared some of my thoughts about Faith Unraveled here. In this book, Rachel Held Evans shares an experience that I, as well as many of my friends and family, have experienced and are experiencing. She explains how at some point in her life, she had to strip away what she had learned about God and Christianity from the world and from her community, and focus instead on the teachings of the Bible, specifically the teachings of Jesus.
Evans says that when we teach our own interpretations of the Bible as infallible truth, “…We inadvertently imply that embracing the Bible as truth requires embracing the one interpretation of it. This results in false fundamentals, which result in an inability to change, which results in a failure to adapt and evolve.” (page 193).
As I was reading in Matthew 15 the other day, I came across a story where the Pharisees ask Jesus why His disciples fail to obey the law by not washing their hands before the eat bread. As He so often did, Jesus responded with a question…
“‘Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition?…
Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying:
‘These people draw near to Me with their mouth,
And honor Me with their lips,
But their heart is far from Me,
And in vain do they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.””
It is so easy to unintentionally serve men, rather than God, without realizing it if we simply follow what we have been taught, rather than seek out the truth for ourselves. Unfortunately, the consequences are not only that we “worship in vain” and suffer ourselves, but that we misrepresent Jesus and His beautiful gospel to others. I have been constantly reminded in the last few months to be very careful to distinguish between the commandments of men and the commandments of God. I pray for the grace and wisdom to do so for the rest of my life.
Over the past several years, I have read several phenomenal books that have really changed my perspective on specific issues, or helped mold my perception of the world and of God. I have decided to share some of these books with you, because I’m an English teacher, and I love to talk about books!
The first book I’ve decided to share about is one of my most recent finds – Faith Unraveled*by Rachel Held Evans. In this book, Evans shares her story, from growing up in a small, conservative Christian community, to questioning her faith during college, and then redefining her beliefs and values in God. I read this book along with some friends and family members, and it is a wonderful book to spark powerful conversations. Evans’ witty humor and bold commentary also makes the book an entertaining and insightful read.
Here are some of the topics I found most interesting in the book, along with some quotes relating to each one:
Questioning the “Christian worldview” and the impact it has on our interactions with others:
“…I’ve grown increasingly skeptical that there is such a thing as a biblical worldview. When we refer to ‘the biblical approach to economics’ or ‘the biblical response to politics’ or ‘biblical womanhood,’ we’re using the Bible as a weapon disguised as an adjective. We inadvertently imply that embracing the Bible as truth requires embracing the one interpretation of it. This results in false fundamentals, which result in an inability to change, which results in a failure to adapt and evolve. Imagine if geocentrism were still ‘the biblical view of cosmology’!” (page 193).
Analyzing what Jesus taught about salvation:
“…Jesus said that his kingdom is more accessible to the poor than to the rich. ‘It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle,’ he said, ‘than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.’ When his disciples protested, asking, ‘Then who can be saved?’ Jesus responded by saying, ‘What is impossible with men is possible with God’ (Luke 18:25-27). (You can get that last part printed on a canvas tote bag for twenty-one bucks online)” (page 151).
Discussing varying interpretations of the Bible:
“I imagine an alternate universe in which Christians have chosen a different biblical condemnation [other than homosexuality] upon which to fixate, such as women uncovering their heads or people getting tattoos. I imagine TV preachers claiming that 9/11 happened as a result of God’s wrath on the gossipers and the greedy, and churches raising funds to support an amendment to the constitution making remarriage illegal for people who are divorced. I imagine people carrying signs that say, ‘God Hates Gluttons’ or ‘Stone Disobedient Children,’ and I think to myself, Boy I’m glad we didn’t pick ‘lifestyle sins’ like materialism or judgmentalism to obsess about, because if we’d had, I’d totally be screwed” (page 179).
Providing a new perspective on doubt:
“…In short, we never learned to doubt. Doubt is a difficult animal to master because it requires that we learn the difference between doubting God and doubting what we believe about God. The former has the potential to destroy faith; the latter has the power to enrich and refine it. The former is a vice; the latter a virtue” (page 219).
Whether you feel like you have questions about Christianity and would like to hear someone else’s thoughts about them, or whether you feel like you already have all the answers, I strongly recommend reading this book. I have also really enjoyed following Rachel Held Evan’s blog – I admire her willingness to share her thoughts on controversial issues and her devotion to seeking out the perspective of others who are often criticized or pushed out of the Christian community. I’d love to hear your thoughts on any of these quotes, or your thoughts on the book if you have read it!
“We are not the same persons this year as last; nor are those we love.
It is a happy chance if we, changing, continue to love a changed person.”
– William Somerset Maugham
Although I’m sure William Somerset Maugham was a talented writer, I have to disagree with this sentiment. I don’t really believe in “happy chances.” I think that loving a person over time and throughout change takes sacrifice, commitment, forgiveness, and unconditional love – not chance.
Tanner and I have been so blessed to have parents who have modeled this selflessness in their marriages. Throughout my lifetime I have witnessed my parents change and transition through various seasons of life, and yet they have always continued to serve each other and appreciate changes in one another even during obstacles in life. It is such a beautiful portrayal of Christ’s love for the church.
“Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God… Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” -Ephesians 5: 1-2, 25
I am so grateful to my parents and for Tanner’s parents, and for the example they have set not only for me, but also for everyone who knows them. The love they each share in their marriages, along with their undiminishing commitment, is something I aspire to and admire.
Because of this, I am proud to share our anniversary week with them, and I look forward to many joyous years of celebrating our three marriages together! Happy Anniversary!
As a child, I remember I loved Sunday mornings. I would wake up, get my breakfast, and sit down to watch Adventures from the Book of Virtues on TV before church.
Each episode in the series was taken from mythology, Aesop’s fables, or any other story that involved a moral lesson. To this day, I remember several stories I watched on that show. One story in particular consistently comes to the forefront of my memory – “The Magic Thread.”
In this story, a young boy named Peter is frustrated with his life. He is stuck in school and hates all the work; he can’t wait for the day when he will be done with school. During this time, a woman approaches him with a spool of magic thread.
She tells him, “This is your life thread. Do not touch it and time will pass normally. But if you wish time to pass more quickly, you have only to pull the thread a little way and an hour will pass like a second. But I warn you, once the thread has been pulled out, it cannot be pushed back in again.”
The boy is overjoyed. At first, he tugs on the thread a bit to pass an hour or two in school. Soon, he falls in love with a girl, and he can’t wait to be old enough to marry her. He decides to pull the thread a little harder this time. As you can imagine, throughout his life, as obstacles become more difficult, the more frequently he takes out his spool of thread, and the harder he pulls. At the end of the story his children have moved on, his wife has died, and he is left all alone. He finally realizes that by skipping over all the difficult parts of his life, he also missed the most beautiful times.
Fortunately, the story ends happily, as Peter wakes up, once again a young boy, and the whole thing was a dream. He then learns to appreciate even the most boring lessons in school, because he has his whole lifetime ahead of him.
I sometimes struggle with patience. At times, I focus so much on the future that I’m tempted to miss out on the present. However, in these times, I often think about this story of “The Magic Thread” and am reminded that each moment in life is a gift. For example, throughout the four years that Tanner and I dated, I often wished I could pass by time so we could finally be married. But, I made a conscious decision to enjoy that season. Looking back, I am so grateful for those years that we spent getting to know each other without the responsibilities of marriage and our careers. I have such beautiful memories of our days spent together, dreaming about our future. And now that that future is here, I can enjoy it even more.
“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens…” -Ecclesiastes 3:1
Don’t forget to be grateful for whatever season you are in. And regardless of how difficult that season may be, don’t be tempted to pull the string.
My word for 2014 is “follow.” Because of the many life changes I experienced in 2013, this coming year has many new challenges and opportunities for me. However exciting that may be, it can also be very intimidating. As I was thinking about my goals for the upcoming year, I realized that I want to focus on two things: trusting in God and serving others. Combined, I think those two focuses result in one action: following Him.
Regardless of the obstacles I face, the doubts I have, or the mistakes I make, I choose to follow.