Monthly Archives: February 2007

Needed: Really, Really Good Writers

I was pulled a bit away from the topic of literature in my last post. Those who read this blog know that I believe that all virtuous vocations are honoring to God and equipped to bring Him glory. My focus this week is not on work more generally, but on the specific need for excellent Christian literature.

If you are a parent of a literate child, or if you are the friend of a talented collegiate writer, do us all a massive favor and encourage said writer to write for the glory of God. It may be that God will call them to other things, but we should nonetheless encourage the development of excellent Christian writing. The word is a powerful unit in society. Christians should not cede the literary sphere to the lost. We should seek to raise up a new literary tradition capable of engaging the hearts, minds, and imaginations of readers of all types and ages.

This will likely take place through a good deal of education, a rich background filled with meaningful connection to gospel-centered Christianity, and and lots and lots of practice. I would encourage Christians who aspire to be writers to get maximal training for their craft. Lewis, Tolkien, and other important authors of the Christian tradition obtained numerous degrees in search of development and excellence. If you are a young Christian writer, seek the development of your skills. Do not think that you should start writing simply because you have good ideas and can craft good prose. Hone your writing. Get excellent training. Try to go to top-level universities where you will be strenuously challenged and comprehensively educated. Do not settle for easy allegory and simplistic metaphor. Your story or novel is not good simply because it is Christian. It needs to be objectively good–no, objectively excellent. Do not make the all-too-common evangelical mistake of thinking that shoddy material is worth people’s time simply because it’s evangelical. There is no surer way to turn a potential audience away from your work than to make this error.

Develop your abilities, immerse yourself in the body of Christ, and associate yourself with interesting Christians, who think and talk about things and who are a bit eccentric. Draw literary-minded Christians around you and resist the snippety comments from believers who mistakenly think that writing literature is a waste of time better used for more “spiritual” ends. If such sniping persists, gently and kindly list off hundreds of names who were converted to Christ through C. S. Lewis’s writings. Then, go back to being creative. Attend conferences, write excellent authors, and study their work. I basically taught myself to write rap lyrics by simply listening to rap with an analytical ear. The same can be done with any discipline.

Tomorrow, we’ll look at what good Christian literature should include. With that advertisement completed, for the rest of us who aren’t writers, we should find a literary Christian to encourage. Pray for them, push them to merge creativity and orthodoxy, and encourage them. Be a positive presence in their life, remembering the tremendous power God has given literature to express beauty and win hearts. Maybe if enough of us do so, we’ll see a Lewis come around in our time.

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When Gifting Becomes a Curse

Flannery O’Connor I have never read, but in the paraphrased words of Owen Wilson in the immortal film Zoolander, “I respect her. She’s written books, and I’ve never read them, but I really respect that.” Chesterton is also an excellent example for yesterday’s post.

On a more serious note, I would like to focus the discussion on Lewis, simply because of the gospel-oriented impact he had. Revivalism and fundamentalism (which I will soon be blogging on) had some strong points, but they were nowhere weaker in their doctrine of vocation. To put it concisely, they created latent guilt in everyone who didn’t sign up for “full-time Christian service.” Now, I am not debasing ministerial work; I am training to do it, and I pray that all kinds of Christians join me in this work. However, most Christians are not called to the pastorate or the mission field. That is not an accident; it is not a tragedy; it is not a sign of things-gone-awry. It is a wonderful thing when God gifts a person to do a work for His kingdom. In the example of Lewis, we see this powerfully played out. God touched this man, and left him with a literary gift, and the world is a changed place for it.

I wish this blog had a wider readership, not so that I would be known, but so that more might hear this and leave off their latent guilt. It should not be there. C. S. Lewis shows us the ridiculousness of thinking that only pastors can contribute meaningfully to Kingdom work. By orienting his writing around the gospel, he had (still has!) an impact that reached countless thousands who had no interest in sermons or prayer books. So what does this mean for you? It means that if you are gifted to write, then write, and do it for the Lord. If you are gifted to build homes, build homes of great beauty and detail, and do it for the Lord. If you are gifted to philosophize, then do philosophy, using the full range of your intellectual gifts for the Lord. Do all these things with gusto and joy, knowing that the Lord is using you as you work for Him and that He is richly glorified as you fully express the talents given you. He didn’t give them to you by accident. If you feel that guilt creeping up to you, then remember Lewis, and know that immense spiritual good may come of those who, regardless of vocation, yield themselves to the exercise of their abilities for the reknown of the Most Holy God.

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Whence Cometh the Christian Renaissance?

Think about this: sixty years ago, the writings of J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis were affecting hundreds of thousands of people. Now this: noone today has a similar effect in the literary world.

That’s a sad reality. Of course, I’m not positing Tolkien as an evangelical believer (he was Roman Catholic), and Lewis made his share of theological mistakes. However, the writings of these two men represent the capturing of the Christian worldview by the printed word. These men, who loved and studied literature, communicated with exceptional beauty and ingenuity the richness of Christian thought. They were scholars, trained by years of dogged study to think well and write clearly. They were churchmen, shaped by their contact with the Bible and the teachings of their traditions. Though I have vast theological disagreement with Tolkien, I must say that both he and Lewis spoke far more eloquently and effectively for the Christian worldview than any other literary author since.

It is interesting to note that neither of these men arose out of fundamentalism or revivalism. Each of them arose from distinctively British versions of the Christian faith, Tolkien a Catholic, Lewis an Anglican. While American Christians focused their attentions almost solely on explicitly ministerial actions, these British authors devoted themselves to writing eloquent works of profound depth that spoke to the power of the Christian worldview. Decades later, their legacy endures. Despite its weaknesses, how many countless hearts have been won to Christianity through Lewis’s Mere Christianity? Despite its failings, how many minds have been enchanted by Tolkien’s vision of Middle Earth? Now, I ask you, where are the literary descendants of these men?

Who will follow in their footsteps? Will anyone? We desperately need pastors, missionaries, and evangelists. But perhaps we also desperately need Christian authors, scientists, and musicians. This week, we’ll look at this subject, and ponder the hope of a Christian intellectual renaissance. We’ll think about this question that I leave you with: will we Christians so focus ourselves on professional ministry that we lose sight of the fact that a layman writer like Lewis has won far more to the faith than most pastors ever will?

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Fighting Feminism

I’ve noticed a couple of articles recently that touched on a topic I’ve written about before: feminist conceptions of motherhood. The Boston Globe recently published a piece in which a mother who had returned to the workplace after four years away to care for her children celebrated her career due to its lack of messiness, its ease, and its relative solitude. A New York Times article chronicled the efforts of mothers to fight for better workplace benefits. Both caught my eye, and both prompted me to want to respond to them.

Before I do, let me briefly lay out a very few brief propositions so that I’m not misunderstood.

1) I do not believe it is wrong for a woman to work.
2) My wife works.
3) I do believe that the Scripture-mandated role for women is that of wife and homemaker.
4) There are certain times in a woman’s life when it is entirely appropriate to have a job if she wishes–for example, after all of her children are out of the house.
5) Women should sharpen their gifts and abilities through collegiate educations.

I’m sure there are more I could think of, but that’s a solid base. With this base in place, I want to say that these articles trouble and even anger me. They represent the modern woman’s rebellion against the biblical role for women. There is now a whole generation–no, two generations–who fight with the mothering role. The Globe piece represents thinking that essentially despises the God-honoring work of childraising. Women who have been trained to be careerists will tolerate such duties for a spell, perhaps, but then they must rush back to work, or else the goals the feminist movement has set for them–higher salary, higher achievement, beating men–will go unfulfilled. This trend proceeds from utterly secular roots. It has utterly secular results.

I’m most concerned with Christian women who unwittingly have been trained in the feminist mindset and who thus espouse and live by its doctrines. As is characteristic of so many of us, I don’t think that Christian women who live by feminist principles even understand that they are doing so. They have simply been indoctrinated in feminism and raised in a culture in which feminism is simply a matter of fact, and so they live by feminist ideals, all the while obscuring the glory of God and rebelling–whether unintentionally or not–against His created gender roles. It is an ugly thing to see. We can only hope for a recovery of the biblical vision for women and especially that Christian women will cease to assume feminism and begin to practice complementarianism. After all, it is not my view that women should not work, but merely that complementarianism would hold first priority for a woman and that women would esteem and prioritize the role of homemaker.

Men and women are not in competition, but feminism says they are. The biblical vision for women is not oppressive, but feminisim says it is. Like other modern ideologies, feminism is so destructive, and so far-ranging. The idea of complementarianism is of great importance. Christians who downplay the significance of complementarianism are entering dangerous waters. The family is the essential unit of life. All that is proceeds from it. It is thus vitally important to make sure that we understand the Scripture’s teaching on the family. It is equally important that we then put into practice those teachings. It’s a terrible thing to rebel against God, whether you know you are or not.

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Spiritual Warfare in Entertainment

I’m not one to talk much about spiritual warfare. In a practical sense, I don’t think the Bible emphasizes it a great deal–at least it doesn’t specify the parameters of the war that rages around us. We of course know that there is a great conflict between light and dark here, but we know little of it’s actual shape.

I’ve been reflecting a bit on yesterday’s post, though, and I can say that I do think that one of the primary ways Satan seeks to derail us is through distraction and mindlessness. C. S. Lewis has popularized this idea in his Screwtape Letters. I don’t buy all of Lewis’s ideas, but there is something worth considering there. I’ve thought about this in relation to Ipods. It used to be that when you walked somewhere, or worked on something, or stood in line, you were more or less forced to engage those around you or, if alone, forced to think and contemplate and perhaps even pray, if you were particularly redemptively minded. Nowadays, though, our favorite artists walk with us everywhere. Long drive in the car? Bring your favorite downtempo cd. Long walk across campus? Don’t pray for those ten minutes–listen to that familiar favorite you’ve heard a thousand times. Standing in line? Don’t engage someone in conversation–just turn up the tunes and avoid social interaction altogether. In small ways, we are in a battle to be spiritually minded and to shrug off the quick, the easy, and the entertaining to actually fasten ourselves to something lasting and good.

I love good music and I listen to it daily. But I’m also reminded often of the need to steward the resources available. I must regularly remind myself that entertainment is not the master of me. Such a suggestion is an attack, albeit a quiet, easy-to-heed one. No, I am the master of entertainment, and I must pray that I do not become so mindless, so bored, so desperate for the perpetually blissful state of the entertained that I miss out on quiet moments with my God.

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Change by the Turn of a Page

I’ve commented recently on the need to surround ourselves with beauty. This involves ingesting good material. It also involves not reading superficial and silly material. Turning a page, we find, makes all the difference.

This is a challenging exchange, I must say. Bethany and I subscribe to World magazine. This means that when I pick up World, I automatically laud myself for reading a thoughtful magazine instead of a trashy rag. However, if I’m honest, I de-laud myself for skipping directly to the articles on entertainment and culture. Now, such articles are not wrong by any stretch. I like culture, entertainment can be fun, and World provides a sound perspective from which to think about the two. However, I find that I tend to skip right over important articles on world affairs and other (regrettably and shamefully) boring pieces.

So last night I shamed myself into leaving the reviews and going back to the cover article from this week’s issue, which is on modern-day slavery. I came away from the article horrified by what I read. How easy it is for me, a comfortable American living happily in ease and education, to suppose that everyone else lives just like me. How false this is. I suspect that this is one of the primary effects of a mindless, entertainment-saturated culture: we fail to see what is truly important in the world. Focusing on which starlet is entering rehab, we forget the Dalits, the Untouchables of India. Interested in entertaining ourselves, we check up on movie reviews, and skip merrily past the section on child trafficking. We do so forgetting that we are stewards of our eyes. We are not forced to be entertained by culture. We allow it to entertain us.

Entertainment and amusement are not bad things. But they should be moderated. They should not keep us from seeing the brutal realities of this world. Is that not a key scheme of this present darkness, to trick us into thinking the world is a merry, silly, amusement-drenched place? I think it is. Perhaps we will not ourselves free the Dalits, or end child trafficking, but we can tear ourselves away from mindlessness. We can give ourselves even the briefest chance to see anew the sad state of our world. In an age when “news” equals “silliness,” that is no small thing. Perhaps change will come simply by the turn of a page.

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A Boy’s First Car

I’ve been under the weather recently, but I’ve recovered. My convalescence allowed me to ruminate a bit on a recent development in my life: the need to sell the only car I’ve ever owned.

This will be a difficult parting, I can tell. Not in a theological sense. I know the answers when it comes to the theology of selling my car. Our life is not our own, and we are not the sum of our possessions. We won’t take anything to heaven with us. However, I’m not so worried that about me being a part of the car. On the contrary, my 1995 tan Honda Accord coupe is a part of me.

There are so many memories that come with your first car, especially when you’ve taken good care of the car and kept it around for a while. Each time I open the car door I’m greeted with a midsized amount of memories. I can remember the day my mother bought me a Bowdoin College decal to put on the car I would one day own. Little did I know that I would own that car at the end of the day. Picking me up from college after my freshman year, my parents discussed with me my prospects of someday getting a car. When we pulled into our driveway, I saw a beautiful tan Honda coupe with a big bow. My first thought, showing the stunning discernment abilities I possess, was this: who is at our home, and why do they drive a car with a blue bow on it? A few minutes later, I was the one who would drive it, albeit without the big blue bow.

The car and I went everywhere together. The memories accrued from those times ride with me each time I drive, like an old friend keeping you company in the passenger seat. Trips to Portland with my friends; riding to church (usually late) with my roommate, Keegan; driving to summer camp to work as a counselor. Driving through the snow, rain, and mush of Maine winter; driving to the store on errands; driving to Louisville in search of education and a degree. Driving my future wife on our first date–thank goodness for a steering wheel with good grip. Running our first errands together as a married couple. In these and so many other reminisces, my car is not simply a vehicle. It’s a friend, a trusted one. I guess that’s why I feel like I’m putting my favorite pet to sleep. Maybe some of you out there understand. Or maybe you’re laughing at me. I understand, but have to reiterate: there’s something about a man’s first car. Gets in your soul. Becomes a part of you, whether you want it to or not.

Goodbye, Sweet Chariot. It’s been a good ride.

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A Boy’s First Car

I’ve been under the weather recently, but I’ve recovered. My convalescence allowed me to ruminate a bit on a recent development in my life: the need to sell the only car I’ve ever owned.

This will be a difficult parting, I can tell. Not in a theological sense. I know the answers when it comes to the theology of selling my car. Our life is not our own, and we are not the sum of our possessions. We won’t take anything to heaven with us. However, I’m not so worried that about me being a part of the car. On the contrary, my 1995 tan Honda Accord coupe is a part of me.

There are so many memories that come with your first car, especially when you’ve taken good care of the car and kept it around for a while. Each time I open the car door I’m greeted with a midsized amount of memories. I can remember the day my mother bought me a Bowdoin College decal to put on the car I would one day own. Little did I know that I would own that car at the end of the day. Picking me up from college after my freshman year, my parents discussed with me my prospects of someday getting a car. When we pulled into our driveway, I saw a beautiful tan Honda coupe with a big bow. My first thought, showing the stunning discernment abilities I possess, was this: who is at our home, and why do they drive a car with a blue bow on it? A few minutes later, I was the one who would drive it, albeit without the big blue bow.

The car and I went everywhere together. The memories accrued from those times ride with me each time I drive, like an old friend keeping you company in the passenger seat. Trips to Portland with my friends; riding to church (usually late) with my roommate, Keegan; driving to summer camp to work as a counselor. Driving through the snow, rain, and mush of Maine winter; driving to the store on errands; driving to Louisville in search of education and a degree. Driving my future wife on our first date–thank goodness for a steering wheel with good grip. Running our first errands together as a married couple. In these and so many other reminisces, my car is not simply a vehicle. It’s a friend, a trusted one. I guess that’s why I feel like I’m putting my favorite pet to sleep. Maybe some of you out there understand. Or maybe you’re laughing at me. I understand, but have to reiterate: there’s something about a man’s first car. Gets in your soul. Becomes a part of you, whether you want it to or not.

Goodbye, Sweet Chariot. It’s been a good ride.

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A Boy’s First Car

I’ve been under the weather recently, but I’ve recovered. My convalescence allowed me to ruminate a bit on a recent development in my life: the need to sell the only car I’ve ever owned.

This will be a difficult parting, I can tell. Not in a theological sense. I know the answers when it comes to the theology of selling my car. Our life is not our own, and we are not the sum of our possessions. We won’t take anything to heaven with us. However, I’m not so worried that about me being a part of the car. On the contrary, my 1995 tan Honda Accord coupe is a part of me.

There are so many memories that come with your first car, especially when you’ve taken good care of the car and kept it around for a while. Each time I open the car door I’m greeted with a midsized amount of memories. I can remember the day my mother bought me a Bowdoin College decal to put on the car I would one day own. Little did I know that I would own that car at the end of the day. Picking me up from college after my freshman year, my parents discussed with me my prospects of someday getting a car. When we pulled into our driveway, I saw a beautiful tan Honda coupe with a big bow. My first thought, showing the stunning discernment abilities I possess, was this: who is at our home, and why do they drive a car with a blue bow on it? A few minutes later, I was the one who would drive it, albeit without the big blue bow.

The car and I went everywhere together. The memories accrued from those times ride with me each time I drive, like an old friend keeping you company in the passenger seat. Trips to Portland with my friends; riding to church (usually late) with my roommate, Keegan; driving to summer camp to work as a counselor. Driving through the snow, rain, and mush of Maine winter; driving to the store on errands; driving to Louisville in search of education and a degree. Driving my future wife on our first date–thank goodness for a steering wheel with good grip. Running our first errands together as a married couple. In these and so many other reminisces, my car is not simply a vehicle. It’s a friend, a trusted one. I guess that’s why I feel like I’m putting my favorite pet to sleep. Maybe some of you out there understand. Or maybe you’re laughing at me. I understand, but have to reiterate: there’s something about a man’s first car. Gets in your soul. Becomes a part of you, whether you want it to or not.

Goodbye, Sweet Chariot. It’s been a good ride.

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Musical Recommendations

It’s Friday, and I have some musical recommendations for you. Kevin, thanks for your comment–I will be quite happy to post some book recommendations on beauty in the very near future, and will email you as soon as I can.

I strongly recommend the following two Christian songer-songwriters. First, Andrew Osenga. He writes great songs about the complex character of Christian life in a fallen world. I’ve recommended him before, but I want to recommend him again, simply because his music is so moving. Go to the link I’ve provided and click on the album player. Then, listen to “New Beginning” and “Early in the Morning.” Beautiful, heartfelt songwriting, and music to match.

Second, Andrew Peterson. I don’t know a great deal about this artist, but I know that he’s a talented, thoughtful musician who writes songs that resonate with the heart longing for redemption. Go to the link I’ve provided and open the album player and listen to the cd. Then, with both of these guys, go and buy their music. Your money will not be wasted. It will support thoughtful Christian music made with an eye to beauty and redemption.

Also, go out and get the “Pride and Prejudice” soundtrack. It is intensely beautiful and haunting. Honestly, I can’t stop listening to this melodic piano-driven soundtrack. The compositions are elegant, quiet, and moving. Honestly, just buy it. You don’t even have to preview it. Anyone who likes good music to study and think by will delight in this piece of art. The only drawback: it’s just 40 minutes long. Oh well–just play it through twice. I do.

So there’s a few practical ways to bring some beauty into your life. Perhaps you’ll join me in enjoying these purchases and in bringing a little melody and elegance into your life. I promise that you won’t be disappointed as you do so. Beauty, like the friend who invariably strengthens and encourages you, has a way of leaving its mark on you.

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