Exploring Goodness and Freedom

We are in the middle of moving, so I will be fetching from the archives for the next two or three weeks. Enjoy!

Is there such a thing as good?
Fall Colors
Light through Crocus
Not the sort of good that is only good because it results in some desired, practical outcome, but the sort of good that is good in itself.  Inherently good, intrinsically good.
Wildflowers
Fall leaf
It would be arrogant to think that such a question could be fully addressed in this small place, but perhaps this space is sufficiently large at least to begin the wonderings.
This is a question containing quite a breadth of meaning, so it is worthwhile to ask it again: is there anything that is good in itself, apart from any practical value it might have?
What would it look like if the answer was no? What would our world look like if we believed that there was nothing that was good apart from its practical value? (I hasten to insert, however, that belief of some truth is not quite the same as truth itself.)
If there is no such thing as good, then that which is good becomes the same as whatever thing that I want.
Fighting
When all that says “It is good” has been debunked, what says “I want” remains. ~ C.S. Lewis in Abolition of Man
If good is the same as I want, then we become nothing but bundles of desires chasing after what will satisfy.

American Flag

Freedom.
We in the United States love the idea of freedom, yet even that idea has changed over the years.
Freedom, for most of the time that the major religions (Christianity, Judaism, Islam) have existed, meant the freedom to choose what is good; it involved responsibility and even the idea of self-denial.
If you asked most Westerners today, even those belonging to Christ, freedom means being able to do what pleases me.  It means doing whatever I want.
Trying to steal the scooter
Sword fighting
Trying to steal the trike
Those belonging to Christ might add “as long as I do not hurt others”.
Yet even that caveat seems to apply only to short-term harm and not to anything long-term such as caring for our earth and being committed to justice.
Look at our world and see the belief that there is nothing that is purely good, that freedom means the ability to follow my own desires.
Look at Christ, however, and see that if good does exist than freedom is the freedom to choose that good rather than being controlled by what is not good.  Freedom means responsibility and self-denial.  If there are things that are purely good, than those things should always be chosen for themselves and not for any practical value they might confer.
Sunset over pond
Sunset
Autumn tree
Lily
Many of those who pursue freedom are not truly free at all.  They are controlled by their own passions and desires, forced to spend their lives chasing after what will satisfy, yet never finding it.
Those who freely choose to be controlled by Christ, however, are choosing to control their desires and to harness their passions in pursuit of that which is good.  They will be satisfied.
Once again, Christ turns the wisdom of this world upside down and gives the good gift of true freedom to those who voluntarily offer their own freedom to Him.
Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?  For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.

Using My Mistakes

I am very good at parent guilt.
Parenting
How to parent?
I can second-guess with the best of them.
I have no idea what I'm doing
I enjoy planning out our days (okay, okay, our years), and no matter what decisions I make, I’m usually half convinced they were the wrong ones.
Often I reassure myself with the notion that God can make up for my mistakes, that He can help my precious ones survive in spite of all the poor choices I make.
Yet recently I was struck in the heart with a very different perspective.
God loves them
God can use my mistakes to make my girls into the women He wants them to be.
The idea that God already knows the mistakes I will make with my children and already has plans to use those mistakes to mold my girls into beautiful women who love Him and love others??
Using me
Well.
Using my mistakes
That is beyond beautiful.
It is grace. Pure grace.
It is a breath of freedom, a release from the lie that I have to parent perfectly in order for my children to grow up loving God. Ensuring the end for my children is not my job. My job is to be as faithful as I can and then to relax, being confident in God’s love for my girls.
A love that works for the best for them. A love that not only wants the best for them but is powerful enough to achieve that best.
Loving them
It allows me to be present and just enjoy my girls without having to worry about their future.
Ah.
Let’s go play.
Let's play
I am not sovereign over my children – God is. And God will use every aspect of my human parenting, even my sins and failures, to shape my children into who He desires them to be, for the sake of His kingdom. (Parenting is Your Highest Calling and Eight Other Myths… by Leslie Fields)

Faith Is Not for the Timid

Christianity is frightening.  It is not for the timid.
Sacrificing to the gods
The ancients knew they could not control their world and thus offered sacrifices to the gods in an attempt to exert some control.
controlling nature
We moderns have deceived ourselves.  We think that we control ourselves, our environment, the things and even the people that surround us.
It is this, our self-deception, which makes Christianity so wild and dangerous.
That faith can be only the gift of God emphasizes the scandal of our human condition ~ the scandal of our absolute dependence on Him. I have to depend completely upon what very largely I do not know and cannot control.  ~  H.A. Williams
This giving up of ourselves to that which we cannot control is terrifying.  It is a blind leap into the void.
A blind leap
Yet our belief that we can have some control over our own lives is really just a shutting of our eyes to reality, a whistling in the dark.
We cannot control what happens to us.  We are able to control only our response to what happens, and a giving over of ourselves to that which we cannot understand means giving over the only thing we are capable of controlling.
It is a giving up of all control.  And in return, it is a wild kind of freedom, a dangerous adventure to which the ending is known but not all of the steps along the way.
It is invigorating, lavish, and exhilarating.
Joy
It is abundant.

 

Art credits: plaque depicting scene from the “Aeneid” by Sebastian Brant and Johann Grüninger ; rock garden photo by Jim O’Connor; photo of girl on edge of canyon by Edmilson Sanches

Fairy Tale Truth

I love how much truth can be found in fairy tales and myths.  I love that God chooses to give us glimpses of Himself and His Word in the words of storytelling throughout time.
Reading Fairy Tales
We often view Christianity as rules and laws, as limitations on our freedom.  We wonder why God puts so many limits on our fun.  I recently experienced a switch of perspective.
I am reading Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton.  In his book, he points out that in fairy tales, there is always an “if”.  You may go to the ball IF you return by midnight.  You may marry the princess IF you never let her see a cow.
The Princess
All the dizzy and colossal things conceded depend on one small thing withheld. All the wild and whirling things that are let loose depend upon one thing that is forbidden. ~ Chesterton
Everything beautiful and glorious that cannot be understood is dependent upon a condition that equally cannot be understood.
In fairy tales, this does not seem unjust.  If Cinderella asks her Fairy Godmother why she has to be home by midnight, the Godmother may reply “why should you go to the ball for any amount of time?”  If the miller asks “why can’t I let the princess see a cow?” the fairy may reply “why should you get to marry the princess at all?”
Wild and fantastic
Fairy tales never focus on the condition.  The condition is so small as to seem irrelevant.  The focus is on the dazzling, the wild, the fantastic vision.
We don’t focus on the vision.  We focus on the limitation.  We wonder why we must not get drunk instead of marveling at the beauty, the deep color, the richness of the wine.  We wonder why we must only marry one person instead of living in wonder at the existence of sex.
No restriction on sex seemed so odd and unexpected as sex itself…keeping to one woman is a small price for so much as seeing one woman…It showed, not an exaggerated sensibility to sex, but a curious insensibility to it. A man is a fool who complains that he cannot enter Eden by five gates at once. ~ Chesterton
What a beautiful change of viewpoint!  To look not at the limitation but at the wonder of the permission.  To not complain about being asked to keep our words pure but to wonder at the startling glory of language.  To not gripe of not being allowed to eat all that we desire but to be astonished at the wild and vast expanse of color and taste of food.  To look upon the dazzling, wild, fantastic vision.
Vision
In Christ, all is made sacred, so search for Him everywhere.  Look for Him in the stories and fables, in the myths and fairy tales that you read.  You will find Him there.

Stories

Art credits: Fairy Tales by Jessie Willcox Smith; Fairy Tale Barnstar by Arman Musikyan; In Fairyland by Richard Doyle; A Fairy Tale by Dorothy M. Wheeler; The Fairy Tale by Walther Firle

Freedom

Freedom.
Freedom
We value freedom quite highly here in the States.  We make it one of our highest goals to obtain freedom for everyone.
Freedom is a noble and worthy goal, isn’t it?  It is a good that we as Christ-followers support, right?  Even Jesus, after all, speaks of setting us free.
Yes, however…
Many of us who have grown up in the States have become confused about what freedom means.  We think that freedom means living without limits, being able to make our own choices, casting off all restraint.
This is not freedom.  This is autonomy.  Autonomy is a very different thing.
So what is freedom?  In the world of Jesus, what does freedom mean?
Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Dietrich Bonhoeffer talks about freedom in Creation and Fall, his commentary on the first few chapters of Genesis.  He speaks of us being created in the image of the Triune God says that one of the implications of this is that we are meant to be relational beings.  Being created as relational beings means that we are dependent.  Dependent on God and dependent on each other.
This freedom we are given by being made in God’s image is, Bonhoeffer says, “a relation and nothing else.  To be more precise, freedom is a relation between two persons.  Being free means ‘being-free-for-the-other’, because I am bound to the other.  Only by being in relation with the other am I free.”
Depending
Yes, we are free, but free within our relationships.  Yes, we are free, but it is a freedom with limits, a freedom with boundaries.  It is a freedom that only makes sense within the context of our relationships.

Helping

It is the sort of freedom that a cellist in an orchestra has.
A cellist who asserts her autonomy while playing a Rachmaninoff symphony will only cause sour notes and chaos.  A cellist who asserts her freedom within the confines of the orchestral relationships around her creates art and beauty.  She is free to bring out the best within herself only because she willingly submits herself to the limits of the piece and the limits placed by the conductor.

Freedom

Insisting on and clinging to our autonomy creates only sour notes and chaos.
Being set free, however, asserting our freedom for those around us…
This.
This gives beauty, peace, joy.  This kind of freedom is what brings out our best, most true selves.

Art credits: Bonhoeffer plaque from Wiki Commons; Cellist photo from Amanda Wen

Is Christianity Good?

I was listening to my Mars Hill Audio Journal recently when I heard one of the guests claim that the current question about faith for the younger generation (ages 18-35) has moved from Is Christianity true? to Is Christianity good?
Creation of Adam
I am on the upper end of this demographic and this claim at first struck me as false.  After all, much of my youth, especially in high school and college, was spent learning apologetics, learning how to prove to everyone around me that Christianity was true.
Chris Chrisman
(This book not particularly recommended!)
We’ll ignore the fact that most people turn to Jesus because of a friend who lived Jesus rather than because of a stranger who argued Jesus.  I was taught all of the classic defenses and I read all of the classic books: Mere Christianity, A Case for Christ, etc.
None of this is bad.  It is wise to know whether or not your faith is true, to know whether it is intellectually probable.  It would be foolish to “believe” solely because you were raised that way.  The question of whether or not Christianity is good simply never occurred to me.
Yet the more I thought about it, the more I think that perhaps this claim is, after all, true, at least to some degree.  Even beyond the question of whether Jesus is necessary (if you persist in believing that you are not “that bad” then you will not believe that you need such an ultimate sacrifice as the cross), if you believe that human dignity and human good are based on human freedom, and if you believe that freedom is synonymous with autonomy, than Christianity is emphatically not good.
chains
Christianity speaks much about submission, about losing your life, about obedience, and these words sound oppressive in light of what most believe about personal freedom.  Yet any thoughtful person knows when it is articulated clearly that limits are good, that complete autonomy for every individual leads to unsustainable living conditions.
After all, limits provide constraints, but they also provide direction and therefore opportunities.  Leon Kass, an American physician, scientist, and educator, pointed out that gravity is a form of limit but without it we could not dance.
Many of us who follow Christ try to retool the Bible to fit what modern culture has taught us is good.  We want to make Jesus less about submission and more about social justice.
I think most of us do doubt at times whether Christianity is truly good, wondering whether freedom might be a better path.  After all, our culture has taught us that the ability to make all of our own choices is more important than the quality of any of those choices.  Our own Supreme Court has stated that “at the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life”.  (Planned Parenthood vs Casey, 1992)
Christ's Freedom
If we can pause for a moment, however, and remember that freedom is not the same as autonomy, then the gospel begins again to become good news rather than being burdensome and dictatorial.
If we can remember that freedom means being who we truly are, being who we were created to be, even being allowed to participate in the Being of our Triune God, than God’s way of submission becomes the way of love rather than the way of oppression. God’s path of obedience becomes the path to becoming our true selves, free from all of the appetites and desires that threaten to enslave us.
Thus the answer to the question “Is Christianity good?” is an emphatic yes.  But only if we step back from our culture’s definition of freedom and move back to a truer definition.  A definition that replaces our autonomy with our very truest selves.
I know which one I would rather have.
What have you found in your relationships? Do people care more about whether Christianity is true or whether it is good?
Art Credits: Creation of Adam by Michelangelo Buonarroti; photo of chains by Javier Gonzalez; photo of Christ by Asta Rastauskiene

Goodness and Freedom

Is there such a thing as good?
Fall Colors
Light through Crocus
Not the sort of good that is only good because it results in some desired, practical outcome, but the sort of good that is good in itself.  Inherently good, intrinsically good.
Wildflowers
Fall leaf
It would be arrogant to think that such a question could be fully addressed in this small place, but perhaps this space is sufficiently large at least to begin the wonderings.
This is a question containing quite a breadth of meaning, so it is worthwhile to ask it again: is there anything that is good in itself, apart from any practical value it might have?
What would it look like if the answer was no? What would our world look like if we believed that there was nothing that was good apart from its practical value? (I hasten to insert, however, that belief of some truth is not quite the same as truth itself.)
If there is no such thing as good, then that which is good becomes the same as whatever thing that I want.
Fighting
When all that says “It is good” has been debunked, what says “I want” remains. ~ C.S. Lewis in Abolition of Man
If good is the same as I want, then we become nothing but bundles of desires chasing after what will satisfy.

American Flag

Freedom.
We in the United States love the idea of freedom, yet even that idea has changed over the years.
Freedom, for most of the time that the major religions (Christianity, Judaism, Islam) have existed, meant the freedom to choose what is good; it involved responsibility and even the idea of self-denial.
If you asked most Westerners today, even those belonging to Christ, freedom means being able to do what pleases me.  It means doing whatever I want.
Trying to steal the scooter
Sword fighting
Trying to steal the trike
Those belonging to Christ might add “as long as I do not hurt others”.
Yet even that caveat seems to apply only to short-term harm and not to anything long-term such as caring for our earth and being committed to justice.
Look at our world and see the belief that there is nothing that is purely good, that freedom means the ability to follow my own desires.
Look at Christ, however, and see that if good does exist than freedom is the freedom to choose that good rather than being controlled by what is not good.  Freedom means responsibility and self-denial.  If there are things that are purely good, than those things should always be chosen for themselves and not for any practical value they might confer.
Sunset over pond
Sunset
Autumn tree
Lily
Many of those who pursue freedom are not truly free at all.  They are controlled by their own passions and desires, forced to spend their lives chasing after what will satisfy, yet never finding it.
Those who freely choose to be controlled by Christ, however, are choosing to control their desires and to harness their passions in pursuit of that which is good.  They will be satisfied.
Once again, Christ turns the wisdom of this world upside down and gives the good gift of true freedom to those who voluntarily offer their own freedom to Him.
Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?  For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.

A Precarious Perch

I sit at my kitchen table and stare out the window.

Out my kitchen window

I am weary.

I see a robin settle on the tippy-est top of a tree.

Robin perched

The wind is blowing him fiercely as he desperately tries to keep his perch.

Robin on the edge

I feel a sudden kinship with this robin.

I, too, feel as though I live perched at the top of a tree, fighting to keep my place, leaning this way and that, re-balancing with a flap of my wings as people and circumstances gust all around me.

Trying to fix all the pieces of my husband that don’t quite suit me.

Robin plus one

Trying to make my kids love God above all else.

Robin plus two

Trying to force my heart to desire God more than anything else.

 

I offer “suggestions” to my husband that will help him to be more like I want him to be.

I plan activities galore to train my girls’ hearts toward God and their minds toward brilliance.

I read book after book to help me understand how to make my heart like God’s.

And I read this:

And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh,

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.  Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.

It shouldn’t be a startling conclusion. I am NOT the Holy Spirit. Neither are you.

Yet we so very often try to do His work for Him.

Rather, we must step aside and allow the Spirit to do His job. In His own timing.

I open my heart wide to His gentle teaching and reminding and, at least for this moment, give up my striving and balancing, allowing the Holy Spirit to surround me and give me rest and peace. Peace in knowing that He loves my family even more than I do.

Robin trust

He alone will heal and change our hearts.

For My Friend

I lost a friend this week.
steph
Showers.Nursery 105
She was one of the most beautiful women I have ever known.
She has suffered for too many years, enduring pain and sorrow, kidney transplants and countless hours of dialysis. Ever since her second transplant failed, her agonies had seemed even worse.
Yet through it all, her heart remained fully God’s. She was selfless, compassionate towards others while she was the one in pain. Even when the limitations of her body sent her emotions spiraling, she still knew and would declare unequivocally that emotions can play you false and that Love was true regardless of how you feel.
When I got the word that God had taken her home, my first emotion was relief. Relief on her behalf that she is finally free at last. Free from her physical body that so limited her spirit.
Yet as I think about this initial reaction of mine, I wonder why I don’t feel this way with everyone.  Surely, as Paul said, to depart and be with Christ is better by far, so why did I feel such sadness when Kristina died, when my Papa died?
Sewell_118
Analise, Natalie and Papa
Surely I don’t want to bring anyone back here to this earth, to this broken world. Surely I don’t want to carry them away from God, away from being free from pain and sorrow.
I search my own heart and finally realize that what I really want is to join them.
I am not sad that they are not here, rather I am jealous that I am not there.
It is not a desire for everyone to stay here with me but a longing for everyone here to be there. With God.
What I really want is for God to come back now. I want Him to make everything right again. Perfect. New.
The Church often gives confusing messages when it comes to death.
IMG_3384
IMG_3393
We seem to bounce back and forth between the medical view that death is an enemy to be conquered by medical technology and the Ars moriendi view that death is a friend to be embraced because it moves us from the hated physical into the desired spiritual.
It seems to me, rather, that the Christian view, the view that comes from watching how Jesus Himself died, is that death is an enemy, but one that has already been defeated.
IMG_3400
IMG_3397
This allows for the reality of the sadness that we all feel when someone we love dies and at the same time acknowledges our hope for the future, our hope in the power of Jesus’ resurrection and in His grace that will let us share in that resurrection…that physical resurrection.
I am saddened by death. I hate death’s power to destroy and bring loss.
IMG_3383
IMG_3404
And I long for the day when God will make our world and our bodies new again, perfect and free from pain, sorrow, and death.
Luca_Giordano_-_Resurrection_-_WGA09020
And so, as I mourn the loss of my friend, I embrace my weeping.
I weep for myself, for my brokenness and for the years in which she will not play a part in my story, and I weep with a profound yearning for Someday when all of our stories will finally reach
Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.
Last Battle

Art credits: The Resurrection painting by Luca Giordano; final quote and illustration from The Last Battle written by C.S. Lewis, illustrated by Pauline Baynes

Beautiful Law

I think a lot about rules and law these days.
girls
Why? I have a preschooler and a toddler in the house.
To them, law is restrictive, constraining, unpleasant.
mad
As I consider how to teach them to obey, I am, once again, brought up short and shamed by the deep places inside of me.
The deep places that agree with my preschooler and my toddler.
I, too, see rules as unpleasant. I sometimes feel constrained by the laws of God.
angry at the law
I have thought about this before, the idea that living under God’s authority gives me the freedom to be truly myself, to be who God created me to be.
Yet I still disobey. I still think of myself as better than others. I still yell in anger at those I love. I still struggle with wanting to spend all day reading rather than taking care of my responsibilities.
frustrated
Why is this so difficult? Why do I view God’s laws as restrictive?
I search God’s Words as I am searching my own heart, and I read David’s words in the Psalms:
My soul is consumed with longing for Your laws at all times.
The law from Your mouth is more precious to me than thousands of pieces of silver and gold.
Oh, how I love Your law! I meditate on it all day long.
When I am honest with myself, my difficulty is that I don’t truly believe God. I don’t believe that His way is better, that obeying Him will bring me happiness.
I continually choose my own way and am always disappointed.
mars_hill
While I contemplate this striving, I hear an interview with Gerald McDermott on my Mars Hill Audio Journal, discussing these very ideas, discussing the beauty of law.
McDermott is discussing Jonathan Edwards’ views on God’s laws when he speaks about the beauty of the Triune God who loves His human creation with deep father love, Who wants us to be able to participate in His Being (which is, in itself, astounding and worthy of much more searching and study and writing!). The way that we do this, the way that we are able to participate in the Being of this Triune God is to live the way that God lives.
The way that we do that? We live the way that God lives when we live by His laws, by His teachings, in His ways.
Samantha
IMG_2975
This turns everything upside down and over around on its head. Are you as astonished as I am?
I can live the way that God lives.
If God has given us His law so that we can live like Him, so that we can participate in His Being, then I can no longer view that law as unpleasant or constraining. God is simply giving us the ways that will bring us the deepest, most lasting sort of happiness. God’s law is beautiful!
IMG_2529
God gave them other rules…The rules showed God’s people how to live, and how to be close to Him, and how to be happy. They showed how life worked best. ~ The Jesus Storybook Bible
Teach me, Abba, how to obey. Teach me to believe that Your law is beautiful, that living in Your ways will bring me happiness and will help me to be more fully myself.
Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in Your law.