Desperate for a Little Character

To hear my blog post read aloud, just click the play button. If you’re reading this in an email, you may have to click here to hear the post on my site. (Also? I know I stumbled over/mispronounced a few words…but it was a really long blog post…and I just didn’t feel up to the task of re-recording it. I humbly ask for a bit of extra grace.)

 

 

Character - Light
Character - Truth
Donald Trump is a crooked, underhanded con artist and…a spoiled, overgrown brat. – Matt Walsh on The Blaze
Trump mocks the disabled, calls women dogs, and advocates for the assassination of women and children. Hillary Clinton is a proven liar. They both have, in short, a lack of character. And people flock to them.
Why? Does it even matter? Is a person’s character at all important in this modern age or is it a relic of outdated morals? Character is more than merely important; it is vital to our society. It is important to people as individuals and it is important to society in its entirety.
When we can cheat and lie “just a little bit” and still think highly of ourselves, when we show our children that it is necessary to sometimes do insignificantly wrong things to get by, when it is more wrong to judge evil than to do evil, then we are in trouble. For our society to function well, we need people of character in leadership positions, from teachers and managers to mayors and governors.
What has happened in our world? Why do ordinary people care so little about acting in moral ways? Much of this dearth of character, this scarcity of virtue, comes from the rejection of the idea that truth is unchanging, that truth can be the same regardless of place or time. If truth is, at best, all relative and only a matter of perspective and, at worst, a social construct and simply whatever we make it to be, then why should anyone work to develop a character that may or may not be valid to anyone else? If there is no truth that we can deliberate over and discover together as a society (whatever that truth may be and wherever it may come from), we are left with, as Christian Cleric Richard John Neuhaus says, “power and propaganda and grievance and anger and caucuses and anti-caucuses and special interest groups and victims and vengeance.”
This concept of truth comes from our distinctly American philosophy of pragmatism (founded by William James, 1842-1910, who said that the true was only the expedient. Truth, in other words, is what works.). When society contains multiple competing ways of viewing the world, and when all of those ways are equally valid, then the only way to determine which viewpoint is most true is to determine which is most useful. If truth is simply what is most useful, then truth will change over time.
There is an assumption in much of society, in many of our universities especially, that we cannot keep society and relationships moving forward if we speak of one truth for all people because truth brings only conflict. Truth has become the loud uncle we are vaguely ashamed of, assuming that anything so divisive has no appropriate role in public life. When the biggest wrong that can be done in a society is to cause an argument, we are left with a society that vacantly agrees with every new opinion. When the biggest good a government can do is to smooth everything to the same level of truth, we are left with a government that changes policy for each group that shouts louder. When truth is sensible rather than stubborn, as trustworthy as a weatherman, we are left with a prediction for Snowpocalypse that leaves Walmart shelves empty but a reality of 60 degrees and sunny. Society is left to flounder on a foundation of shifting sand.
How did this happen? How did truth get hijacked and associated with the negative? How did truth become linked with religious totalitarianism and Osama bin Laden? How did it become shameful to declare a belief in truth, even simply the idea of truth, regardless of what that truth is? Part of the answer, I’m afraid, comes from us, the Church. We have a history of wielding the truth divisively, of tearing down and even destroying rather than creating and building up. We have used truth as an excuse for starting crusades and we have used truth as an excuse to look at our neighbor with contempt. Truth has become a weapon used to elevate ourselves by bludgeoning down all those we deem as “other”.
This becomes all the more baffling when we remember that Jesus, God in the flesh, claimed to be Truth. If we are condemning our neighbor with what we claim to be truth, perhaps it is not truly Truth we are wielding. Using truth as a magic wand to turn our neighbor into a stepping stone is a natural consequence when we who claim to follow Truth succumb to our world’s version of expedient truth. This is what Trump has done and this is why so many evangelicals support him. Trump is the embodiment of pragmatic truth, and when the Church has forgotten the words and life of Him who claimed to be truth, the Church is easily swayed toward truth that is useful, truth that serves a purpose, truth that turns character into a liability. As much as we might wish it, truth is not in our service, rather we who claim to be Christian are servants of the Truth in the person of Jesus.
If Jesus is, as He claimed to be, the Truth, we are given a truth that is unchanging, yet personal. We are given a truth that produces genuine, enduring character. When we follow Jesus as the Truth, living and speaking as He did, we find that God’s Spirit produces in us a character of love rather than a character of expediency. And when we are possessed of a character of love, we find that we are asked to proclaim this pure, loving truth to our world. More difficult, even, than proclaiming it, we are asked to live it out. Neuhaus tells us that it is now the Church’s task to learn how to assert truth in public “persuasively and winsomely and in a manner that does not violate but strengthens the bonds of civility”. He reminds us that it is our duty to do more than merely tolerate those with whom we disagree but to eagerly engage them, even pursue them, in love.
How? How do we declare and live truth without being divisive and unpleasant, causing strife, conflict, and wars? By remembering grace. Amazing grace. We can live out stubborn truth beautifully by remembering that we ourselves are unable to live up to our own standards and yet we are loved. When we despise or feel superior to anyone, when our goal is, as Trump claims, to “make America great again” by marginalizing the poor and disadvantaged, we derive more power from our own exalted sense of self-righteousness than from God’s grace. Living by this brand of truth that exalts ourselves is what poisons the truth with divisiveness. This is what Trump does: cause divisiveness by playing one group against another, by exalting us by means of demeaning them. Living out Jesus as truth can also be divisive, but a much different sort of divisive.  Living out Jesus as truth produces a steady character of loving and caring for others. It is exalting others by humbling ourselves. This can be threatening, and therefore divisive, to those who have already exalted themselves, but it a way of living truth that is desperately needed in our world.

It is ageless, this genuine sort of character. It is what the early Christians did when they loved the poor, empowered women, and brought together the races and classes. It is how the early Church overran the Roman Empire when it wasn’t even attempting to gain political power. This is the sort of truth we need. The kind of truth that provides a firm and unchanging foundation for our society. One that will not allow people to helplessly flail but gives them the strength to build a society that lasts, one that cares for all of its members. Tim Keller says that this is the sort of truth that is “a God Who became weak, Who loved and died for the people Who opposed Him, forgiving them.”
Matt Walsh calls Trump a crook and a brat, essentially labeling him as someone who deceives others and who is himself deceived. It seems unbelievable, but this seems to be what many in our country are searching for. Someone like Trump or Clinton who does whatever is advantageous today, someone who manipulates and even creates truth to suit themselves and their supporters. If, instead, you are searching for someone who will lead by serving, someone who will follow Truth rather than create it, well, I’m afraid you probably won’t find that in the upper echelons of our country.
What, then, shall we do? Despair and give up on our country? Better yet by far than any vote you may cast, rather, become that sort of leader yourself in the world of your own influence. After all, presidents have never yet been able to save our country or her people. A country full of people who live lives full of Truth and Love, however? That sort of citizenry has been known to change the world.

The Way I Treat Jesus

And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’
I like to feel good about myself.
You too?
I find it tempting to feel better about myself at the expense of judging others, especially in the privacy of my own mind.
You too?
Semiradsky
It is easy to watch the vitriol that happens on the internet and decide they need to do better at seeing the image of Jesus in those they are lambasting.
It is effortless to look at the women gathered in impenetrable circles at church and think that if they saw Jesus in those around them, they would be more inclusive.
It is troublesome to aim the same spotlight at myself.
Yet I must. 
If I am to live in Jesus who is the Truth, if I am to allow the Spirit to mold me into someone who looks like Him, I must be honest with myself. I must step into the Light that allows no shadows to remain.
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Here is the truth.
When I erupt into hissing rage at my children, it is Jesus’ face that flinches back.
When I spit a sideways look and sigh at my husband, it is Jesus’ eyes that fill with hurt.
When I impatiently wrench my car into the path of the elderly driver beside me, it is Jesus’ mouth that compresses in fear.
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How can I do this?
How can I treat the One who made me as though He were dirt under my feet?
How can I regard the One who gave me new life as nothing more than an irritation?
I forget.
I forget to see those around me as an image of the One to whom I owe everything.
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Imago Dei. The doctrine of the image of God.
This is the doctrine that says if every human is created in the image of God, then how we treat others is a reflection of how we truly feel about God.
Jesus, as He did most for most laws, raised this to a higher level. Jesus said that when we do something to another person, we are not just reflecting our view of Him, we are actually doing that action to Him.
Whatever I do to those in my little world I am doing to Jesus.
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It is a frightening thought.
Perhaps I need to be frightened. Perhaps it would help me to remember.
To remember that the way I treat the people in my world is the way I treat Christ.
Siemiradzki
Lord, have mercy. Help me to remember.
Into Thy hands. Only You can help me.
Thee I adore. I trust that You will, indeed, help me to remember.

Art Credits: Christ in the House of Martha and Mary by Siemiradzki; Let the Little Children Come unto Jesus by Bloch; Gethsemane by Bloch; Christ Healing the Blind Man by Le Sueur; Christ in the House of Martha and Mary by Vermeer; Christ and Samaritan Woman by Siemiradzki

Resurrection Made Dull

To hear my blog post read aloud, just click the play button. If you’re reading this in an email, you may have to click here to hear the post on my site.
They heard God’s voice and ignored it.
Resurrection
Resurrection
And not that “still, small voice” of God’s way down in the depths of their hearts, either.
They heard His loud, audible, filling-up-the-sky voice, just after Jesus came riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, and they ignored it.
Resurrection
They explained it away. They looked for the rain that must come since it was thundering, or even went so far as to call it an angel.
Anything but the voice of God.
Some things are too astounding, too wondrous for our hearts to accept.
The resurrection is one of those things.
Resurrection
Resurrection
The resurrection is anything but dull. The story of God becoming man, being defeated by man, and rising again to defeat death is the most heroic tale of all.
That man should play the tyrant over God and find Him a better man than himself is an astonishing drama indeed. ~ Dorothy Sayers
But it is hard to accept that we cannot save ourselves. It is humiliating to acknowledge that there is absolutely no way we can cleanse our own hearts. It is a bitter and unendurable truth that we are hopelessly imprisoned in our shadows and darkness.
Resurrection
The resurrection throws its light over our darkness in such a daring, audacious way that our helplessness is impossible to ignore.
So we choose to explain away the resurrection or else we attempt to dull its edges so that we cannot be cut.
We choose to explain it away as Jesus’ teachings becoming immortal in the manner of Shakespeare, or as the spirit of Jesus living on in us in the manner of Socrates, or as simply a manner of speaking in the symbolism of the human spirit conquering all.
Yet the resurrection refuses to be explained away.
Resurrection
You can call it nonsense or you can call it lies, but you cannot call it poetry.
You can deny the resurrection and live mired in the fear of inexorable death or you can believe the resurrection and allow it to bring you hopeful life in the now, but you cannot claim to believe in the resurrection and continue on in your darkness and dread.
The remarkable thing about it is that the real truth of the resurrection seems to be too strong for us, because it will not suffer itself to be hidden or concealed in these harmless clothes. ~ Karl Barth
Resurrection always bursts forth, rising up and shouting, “Do you truly believe that the only reason Jesus came, suffered, and died was to bring you empty comfort in the middle of the reality of life?”
No. Unequivocally no. The truth of the resurrection gives us certainty of our outcome. The truth of the resurrection gives us perfect assurance that death is, indeed, defeated and that we are, indeed, able to be presented before God pure and holy.
Resurrection
Resurrection
The truth of the resurrection blazes forth and tells us that everything has changed.
Truth is extraordinary, never dull.

Whatever Is Necessary

What do we do with the truly awful things of this life? With a loss of love, with a deep constant pain, with a fear that pervades our depths?
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 Discouraged
 It is dangerous to attribute it all to our not loving God enough, although perhaps we could say that is often the case.
Our faith is, as CS Lewis once said, often only a house of cards.
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He always knew that my temple was a house of cards. His only way of making me realize the fact was to knock it down. ~ CS Lewis A Grief Observed
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We walk around, believing that our foundation is solid, but in truth we are playing at faith. Our house needs a good breath of wind, for if it is never allowed to fall, it can never be rebuilt to last for eternity.
If my faith is only steady enough to endure this life, wouldn’t I want God to blow it down with whatever wind is necessary so that I can endure to the end?
I’m not sure.
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I think I want this, but fear holds me back. Fear of what God, in His infinite love and wisdom, might deal out.
He never promised to be gentle.
Is any pain at all worthwhile if it brings us closer to Him, closer to the sort of life with God that Jesus lived?
The given answer should be yes, but I hesitate and pull back at the brink of giving it.
Which means that I do not yet desire God above all else.
Not truly.
Do many of us?
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We give our hearts over to so many things other than God. . .As long as our happiness is tied to the things we can lose, we are vulnerable. ~ John Eldredge Walking With God
If God is truly enough, if He is what we need for happiness, for contentment, then we should be able to let go of those we love, endure that deep pain, rise above the pervasive fear, because we still have Him.
It is God who remains when all else is gone. It is God who fills us up with Himself so that we do not need anything or anyone else.
In truth, when we lose, when we hurt, we have more of Him than we have in the comfort and in the ease. That in itself should make us turn from the easy way.
For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him…that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. ~ Philippians 3. 7-12
If only I could believe that. Truly know it and live it.
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But without the pain of learning it.

Hijacked Truth and Futile Character

Character is vital to our society. It is important to people as individuals and it is important to society in its entirety. I wrote long ago about how we form character and why character matters, and I re-post this particular essay today because of the lack of character that I see all around us these days.
Disobeying
When we can cheat and lie “just a little bit” and still think highly of ourselves, when we show our kids that it’s okay to do little wrong things to get by, when it is more wrong to judge evil than to do evil, then we are in trouble. For our society to function, we need people of character in leadership positions from teachers and managers to mayors and governors.
Why has this happened? Why do ordinary people care so little about acting in moral ways?
Much of this dearth of character, this dearth of virtue, comes from the rejection of the idea of truth.
If truth is, at best, all relative and just a matter of perspective and, at worst, a social construct and simply whatever we make it to be, then why should anyone work hard to develop a character that may or may not be valid to those around us?
If there is no truth that we can deliberate and discover together as a society (whatever that truth may be and wherever it may come from), we are left with “power and propaganda and grievance and anger and caucuses and anti-caucuses and special interest groups and victims and vengeance.” ~ Richard John Neuhaus, a Christian cleric and writer
grievance
There is an assumption in much of society, in many of our universities especially, that we cannot keep society and relationships moving forward if we talk about truth because truth brings only conflict. Truth has gained a negative connotation, one that assumes that anything so divisive has no appropriate role in public life.
How did this happen? How did truth get hijacked and associated with the negative? How did truth become linked with religious totalitarianism and Osama bin Laden? How did it become shameful to declare a belief in truth, even simply the idea of truth, regardless of what that truth is?
Church Wars
Part of the answer, I’m afraid, is due to the Church. We have a history of wielding the truth as divisively as possible, of tearing down and even destroying rather than creating and building up. We have used truth as an excuse for starting wars and we have used truth as an excuse to look down on our neighbor.
Richard John Neuhaus says that it is now the Church’s task to learn how to assert truth in public “persuasively and winsomely and in a manner that does not violate but strengthens the bonds of civility”.  He challenges that it is our duty not to just tolerate those with whom we disagree but to eagerly engage them in love.
How? How do we declare truth without being divisive and unpleasant, causing strife, conflict and wars?
Grace
By remembering grace.
By remembering that we can’t even live up to our own standards and yet we are loved.
When we despise anyone or feel superior to anyone, we are living by moral performance rather than grace. And living by moral performance is what brings divisiveness to the truth.
By the way we live, by living a life of loving and caring for others, we can show truth and speak truth with no divisiveness at all.
Love
This is what the early Christians did when they loved the poor, empowered women, and brought together the races and classes. This is how the early Church overran the Roman Empire when it wasn’t even attempting to gain political power.
This. This is the truth we need.
Because this truth is
a God Who became weak, Who loved and died for the people Who opposed Him, forgiving them. ~ Tim Keller
Truth
Will you speak and live this kind of truth to your world? Our world desperately needs Him.
art credits: Medieval image of Peter the Hermit leading the Crusades; Christ Crucified by Diego Velazquez; engraving of the Hotel Dieu; photograph of Christ on the Cross by Asta Rastauskiene

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

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

To You Who Doubt

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To you who doubt, I say
Bravo.
We are often closer to God in our doubts than in our certainties…it is all right to be like the small child who constantly asks: Why? Why? Why? ~Madeleine L’Engle
And have mercy on those who doubt…Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy,to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.
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IMG_5628To you who question God’s nature or even very His existence, I say
You are courageous.
If we begin with certainties, we will end in doubt. But if we begin with doubts and bear them patiently, we may end in certainty. ~ Francis Bacon
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord,
or who has been his counselor?”
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To you who voice concerns over why the ugly exists and why life is unfair, I say
Thank you for speaking aloud the fears we all harbor deep in our hearts.
Love, which trusts God so implicitly despite the cloud, that it is brave enough to ask questions, no matter how fearful. ~L’Engle
And Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!
You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.
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To you who doubt the things you have been taught, who question traditional religious beliefs, I say
Search on.
To come to a doubt, and to a debatement of any religious duty, is the voice of God in our conscience: Would you know the truth? Doubt, and then you will inquire. ~ John Donne
To whom then will you compare me, that I should be like him? says the Holy One.
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When people shrink back in horror from your questions, when fellow Christ-followers load shame onto your heart, remind them of the faithfulness of doubt.
This (the faithfulness of doubt) is often assumed by the judgmental to be faithlessness, but it is not; it is a prerequisite for a living faith. ~ L’Engle
Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
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To you who continue to seek through the fear of what the answers will be, I say
Take heart. God is and He will be found.
If my religion is true, it will stand up to all my questioning; there is no need to fear. But if it is not true, if it is man imposing strictures on God…, then I want to be open to God, not to what man says about God. ~ L’Engle
And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest. Yet you are holy
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To you who you are brave enough to doubt, brave enough to ask questions, brave enough to keep on searching for God Himself rather than what man says about God, I say
You deserve our deep respect for your courage.
You deserve our cheers and our thanks for refusing to settle for a shallow faith that only is manifested in appearances.
To you who doubt, I say
Well done, hero.
As a deer pants for flowing streams,
so pants my soul for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God,
for the living God.
When shall I come and appear before God?
My tears have been my food
day and night,
while they say to me all the day long,
“Where is your God?”
These things I remember,
as I pour out my soul:
how I would go with the throng
and lead them in procession to the house of God
with glad shouts and songs of praise,
a multitude keeping festival.
Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation and my God.

art credit: Road to Emmaus by Zund; Christ with Martha and Maria by Siemiradzki

This essay is, in part, for my brothers who kept searching for God at different times, in very different ways, and under very different circumstances, yet both found and were found by Him.

How Truth Got Hijacked

One reason that I wrote recently about character, how we form it and why it matters, is because of the lack of it that I see all around me.



When we can cheat and lie “just a little bit” and still think highly of ourselves, when we show our kids that it’s okay to do little wrong things to get by, when it is more wrong to judge evil than to do evil, we are in trouble. For our society to function, we need people of character in leadership positions from teachers and managers to mayors and governors.

Why is this? Why do ordinary people care so little about acting in moral ways?

I think a lot of this dearth of character, of virtue, comes from the rejection of the idea of truth.

If truth is, at best, all relative, a matter of perspective, and at worst, a social construct, whatever we make it to be, then why should we work hard to develop a character that may or may not be valid to those around us?

If there is no truth that we can deliberate and discover together as a society (whatever that truth may be), we are left with “power and propaganda and grievance and anger and caucuses and anti-caucuses and special interest groups and victims and vengeance.” ~ Richard John Neuhaus



There is an assumption in much of society, in many of our universities especially, that we can’t keep society and relationships going if we talk about truth because truth brings conflict. Truth has gained a negative connotation, one that assumes that anything so divisive has no appropriate role in public life.

How did this happen? How did truth get hijacked and associated with the negative? How did truth become linked with religious totalitarianism and Osama bin Laden? How did it become shameful to declare a belief in truth, even simply the idea of truth, regardless of what that truth is?



Part of the answer, I’m afraid, is due to the Church. We have a history of wielding the truth as divisively as possible, of tearing down and even destroying rather than creating and building up. We have used truth as an excuse for starting wars and we have used truth as an excuse to look down on our neighbor.

Richard John Neuhaus says that it is now the Church’s task to learn how to assert truth in public “persuasively and winsomely and in a manner that does not violate but strengthens the bonds of civility”.  He challenges that it is our duty to not just tolerate those with whom we disagree but to eagerly engage them in love.

How? How do we declare truth without being divisive and unpleasant, causing strife, conflict and wars?



By remembering grace.

By remembering that we can’t even live up to our own standards and yet we are loved.

If we despise anyone or feel superior to anyone, we are living by moral performance rather than grace. And living by moral performance is what brings divisiveness to the truth.

By the way we live, living a life of loving and caring for others, we can show truth and speak truth with no divisiveness at all.



This is what the early Christians did when they loved the poor, empowered women, and brought together the races and classes. This is how the early Church overran the Roman Empire when it wasn’t even trying to gain political power.

This. This is the truth we need.

Because this truth is 

a God Who became weak, Who loved and died for the people Who opposed Him, forgiving them. ~ Tim Keller




Will you speak and live this kind of truth to your public? Our world desperately needs Him.


art credits: Medieval image of Peter the Hermit leading the Crusades; Christ Crucified by Diego Velazquez; engraving of the Hotel Dieu; photograph of Christ on the Cross by Asta Rastauskiene

A Plea for a Different Sort of Compliment

Today is going to be a bit different.

One small difference is that I’m not going to use pictures. As you read on, perhaps you’ll understand why. 

The main difference? 

Usually, I write about things that have a fairly wide range of interest for people rather than writing for parents or musicians or thirty-four-year-old women who love art and logic.

Today, though, I feel as though God is asking me to speak directly to my women friends. To be honest, I’ve actually been avoiding this essay for a while. I’ve found, though that it’s usually best not to disobey God.

To my men friends: please don’t go away. Keep reading if you like and hear some things that could teach you how to better love all of the women in your life.

The impetus for these thoughts was a conversation I overheard at a Hearts at Home conference last month. 

Yes, I was eavesdropping. It’s a really bad habit of mine. My darling husband has tried his best to break me of it, but people always have such interesting things to say! I can’t help being curious about people I see.

The two women were talking about a marathon that one of them had just completed. My own thought was “Wow! That’s impressive. What discipline and what an amazing accomplishment.” 

The comment of her companion? “Wow! No wonder you’re as skinny as a stick!”

My heart grew just a bit heavy as I glanced back at them.

May I say something here in this space that we don’t talk about much, if ever? Something that is a really hard thing because this place in our hearts is so very sore and tender?

All of the women I know, with whom I have spoken about these things, struggle with their body image. 

All.



Small, large, tall, little, plain or stunning by this world’s standards…all.

If you do not and never have struggled with this, you are in a blessed minority. I am so grateful that you have not had to hurt over this. Will you keep reading so you can know how to help the rest of us?

Sweet friends. Our world, our culture, screams at us that we should look a certain way, that our bodies should be a certain shape. Most of us (all of us?), at the least, go through periods where we do not like what we see in the mirror. 

Some of us never like what we see.

With our world forcing impossible images in front of our hearts and minds, could we, as sisters in Christ, vow to stop talking to each other in the manner I overheard? Could we stop complimenting each other on how skinny we are and bragging about how little we eat? 

Could we, instead, praise each other for working hard at a difficult task, for doing yet another week’s laundry for our family, for working on the fruit of self-control, for spending a little extra time with God yesterday? 

Yes, we should take care of our bodies. Yes, we should encourage each other to eat well and exercise so as to stay healthy and to have enough energy to accomplish the tasks that God sets before us.

But could we please stop reinforcing our culture’s obsession with the size of our waists?

We seem to think, and to communicate to each other, that we are made beautiful by what we do or don’t do, rather than by the simple fact that God made us. 

To paraphrase James: my sisters, this should not be! We are called to be different, to speak God’s truth to each other.

Out of love for each other, out of love for your sister who is struggling to see herself as a beautiful work of God, could we all promise to choose different compliments? 

The words that we use with each other can either reinforce our culture’s perspective that we are how we look or our God’s view that we are beautiful because He made us.

My beautiful sisters (and you amazing men who stuck with me!), will you choose to be mindful of how you speak? Will you promise to use words that encourage rather than words that make us want to either run into a darkened room to hide God’s amazing creation or to take sinful pride in what we have accomplished in our own strength?

If you wish, we could use the comment space as a safe place to talk about this subject. We have only kind words and compassionate hearts here.