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 Is a person’s character at all important in this modern age or is it a relic of outdated morals?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.

Embodied Souls

What does it mean to be human?
March-July10 056
It is a question asked by many.  Perhaps asked by all in the way that they live and learn if not with words from the mouth.
It is a question that was recently asked by the Chairman of the National Endowment of the Humanities, William “Bro” Adams. He is exploring how the study of the humanities can answer questions about life, how we should live, and the values by which we should live.
Adams desires for us as a nation to explore how the study of philosophy and humanities can help us to understand what it means to be human.
There is nothing new in this. Throughout the ages philosophers and psychologists alike have tried to figure out what it means to be human, what a human really is. They have laid out theory after theory, description after description about humanity.
We as Christians and theologians then take those theories and descriptions and use them to figure out Christ’s humanity. Hear that again: we use our own selves to figure out the piece of Jesus that is human.
Does that seem backward to anyone else?
Karl Barth, one of the great theologians of the twentieth century, wondered how we could possibly know what it means to be human if all we know about being human comes from a messed up, broken state of humanity due to our unnatural state of sin. Christ’s humanity therefore shows us what it means to be human rather than the other way around.
Jesus was an embodied soul, an ensouled body, to use a phrase from Karl Barth. For Jesus, being human was always being a soul and a body. Even after the resurrection He made it a point to eat and drink to show us that even after our own resurrection we will still be embodied souls.
We have always been body and soul, and of a finite nature. Before The Fall, we were finite in body and soul but were allowed to continue living by way of the Tree of Life. When Adam and Eve sinned, we were still finite, still formed from the dust of the earth, but now we were subject to death and decay because we were cut off from the Tree of Life.
Then the LORD God said, “…Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever –” therefore the LORD God sent him out from the garden of Eden…
Our bodies are part of what constitutes our identity, as important as our thoughts, our feelings, our will.
Is this important? Does it really matter whether we view our bodies as important or as inconvenient?
This is where this post could grow to become book-long, but I will try to only brush up against potential ramifications rather than expanding on each one.
If our bodies are just as important as our souls, then we should spend time caring for our bodies in our daily lives. We should take the time to think about how we care for our babies’ bodies even while in the womb and whether things such as prenatal testing is more helpful or harmful in this regard. We should take the time to consider the end of life and how much should be done to keep our bodies alive.
The idea that our bodies matter a great deal affects the ethics of medicine, of medical research and technology. If we begin to think of our bodies as unimportant or, worse, as impediments to a good life, then our decision making about the health of those bodies begins to become skewed.
It is as important to the decisions we make every day as it is to the decisions that we will make at the end of our lives or at the beginning of our children’s lives.
Perhaps thinking deeply about what it means to be human, about the nature of our own selves, about the importance of our souls and our bodies, is something that is too important to be left to philosophers and psychologists alone.
Perhaps it is something that is meant to be pondered by all of us.
Pondered and prayed over.

Art credits: Nativity by Antonio da Correggio; Supper at Emmaus by Michelangelo da Caravaggio

The Beauty of Gray

The older I get, the more gray shades I see in our world.  An expansion of colors, a deepening of my perceptions, these nuances that make my life richer are a bit astonishing.
It was much easier when the lenses I wear saw only black and white.
Lily Black and White     Analise Black and White     Cross Black and White
Life gets harder when you see things from other points of view.  Straight lines get hijacked and carry you off to the unknown.  Solid perspectives grow a little blurry and you begin to take a softer view of those you disagree with.
The more I meet people who were raised differently than I was raised and the more I read authors from other places and times and faith traditions, the more I begin to catch a glimpse of how much my view of God, of the Bible, of the world around me is colored by my own place and time and faith tradition.
Just as with every place and time and faith tradition, there is truth to be found and there is misunderstanding.  There are many issues of our faith that I have been rethinking and restudying lately, asking God once again to teach me His way.
Issues like the role of women in the church and in the family, homosexuality, how science and the Bible fit together, what the inerrancy of the Scriptures really means.  On some of these issues I am changing.  On others I remain.  Yet on all of these issues and more, as I read and study I realize something that is even more important than figuring out what is right and what is wrong.
No human here on earth is my enemy.  We who claim the name of Christ are all trying to love Jesus and obey God’s words.  Rather than those who disagree with me being the enemy, being the one who is deliberately misinterpreting God’s words, being the one who picks and chooses what they will believe, those who see things in a different light are just trying their best to follow Jesus.
Just like I am.
Perhaps they are interpreting Scripture incorrectly, but perhaps I am the one who is wrong.
Grace.  It is easy to receive and devilishly difficult to dole out freely.  I spend so much time wanting to get it right, sometimes from good motivation and sometimes from pride, that I quit looking at the person with whom I differ.  I see black and I see white, and the sharp edges of truth keep me from seeing the gray shades of Jesus in the face of the person before me.
Lily Four Shades     Analise Four Shades     Cross Four Shades
It is easier to look at the black and white of an issue, because to see the gray of a person is to see Jesus.  And seeing Jesus is always hard.  Looking at the face of Jesus has a way of changing you deep down where it hurts.
There is a reason why Jesus said that the most important thing is to love.  Loving God and loving people is more important than getting it all right.  He didn’t say it was the easiest thing.  Most things with Jesus aren’t.
Loving others has a way of hijacking the straight lines of your life and carrying you off to the unknown.  Loving Jesus has a way of blurring your sharp edges and softening the contours of your heart.
It is painful and it is frightening.
Lily All Shades    Analise All Shades    Cross All Shades
And those gray shades are beautiful beyond words.


Thanks to Kirk Sewell for turning the colors of my photographs into various shades of gray.  You can see more of his work at

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. 


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.

How Can We Find Truth?

Why do we have so much trouble with Truth?

One would think that Christ-followers would have a good grasp on what Truth is, yet we seem instead to settle into two separate and distinct camps: either we think that interpretation of Scripture is personal and whatever it means to you is what it means, or we think that there is only one possible interpretation and we know what that is.

Part of the trouble is, I believe, simply the worldview that our own time and place of living thrusts on us. 

We Americans take great pride in being individualistic, of having individual rights and freedoms. These are good things and have allowed us to worship with great freedom, yet they also teach us that religion is a private matter, that it is up to the individual to choose what they will believe. 

Which leads all too quickly to the idea that there is no one truth.

As I sat in Panera one afternoon, reading and writing, I couldn’t help but overhear a conversation between three people who were discussing the start-up of a New Age magazine. As they were talking about how to bring in money, advertisers, one of the women said, “Well, I can always find something in my Christian-ness to attract New Agers. I can find something in the Bible that will relate to them where they are.”

As distressing as this sort of worldview is, many Christ-followers have reacted too violently against this way of thinking about Scripture, which sends them spinning into that second camp. I have met so many who think that there is only one interpretation of Scripture and who are quite certain that they know which one is correct.

So much of Scripture contains layer upon layer of meaning. The deeper you delve, the more you uncover. Why do we give in to our pride and think that we know all there is to know about God’s Word? Why do we shore up our defenses against those who believe differently than we do? Have other Christ-followers become our enemy or is our enemy much more insidious than that?

So how do we solve this? How can we keep from falling too far towards either extreme? How can we who claim to follow Jesus know what Truth really is?

What if we simply listen? Listen to the words of Him Who is the Way, the Truth and the Life?

In the gospel of John, Jesus gives one of His most famous statements: 

The truth will set you free.

That is a beautiful (and oft-quoted!) statement, but how do we know what the truth is?

Ah. Just listen. Jesus gives us that answer too.

The whole sentence is this: 

Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.

Then. A very key word! What comes before? One very important if.

IF you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. THEN you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.

There it is. If we hold to Jesus’ teaching, if we read it, meditate on it, live it, then we are His disciples.

Jesus’ disciples know the truth (even, perhaps, the truth about Truth?). 

God’s Spirit Himself teaches us.


And then the Truth will set us free.

art credit: flag photo by Robert Linder; Christ in the House of Mary and Martha by Johannes Vermeer


May we continue the conversation?

If our daily lives are to be centered around Christ, if we are to build physical reminders of Jesus into our daily routines, if all that we are and all that we do is to be made sacred, then how does that idea expand to include the world around us? Is the world around us, the culture in which we live, also to be made sacred?

I read “Resounding Truth” and ponder this:

This book is concerned with…gaining theological discernment about music…It is concerned with how God’s truth might “sound” and “re-sound” in the world of music.

My mind begins to whirl. Should I attempt to view music through a godly perspective? Even purely instrumental music? If in this, than in what other realms should we have a godly worldview?

Literature? Politics? Art? Philosophy? Science? Technology?
Should everything be interpreted through a God-window?

I suppose that there is nothing outside of the lordship of Jesus.

I think through this a little more.

Are we asked to view everything in our world through a godly framework? Are we called by God to actively think through issues in our world, to read and listen, pray and ponder the things in our culture that are relevant in the world?

It would certainly be easier to stay focused only on my home, my daily routine.

Easier, however, is not generally what God calls us to pursue.

Paul says in Colossions 3.17:

And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks for God the Father through Him.

Whatever you do. This certainly reinforces my thoughts about consciously bringing God into my daily life. This doesn’t, however, necessarily translate to God asking us to actively pursue an understanding of and engagement with our culture.

I continue to wonder and seek God in this as I move through my day.

I sit at the computer and see that I have received my Mars Hill Audio Journal in my in-box.

Mars Hill’s stated purpose is to help Christians thoughtfully engage their culture.

They make the argument (rightfully, I believe) that a layer of “Love your neighbor as yourself” is to

pay careful attention to the neighborhood: that is, every sphere of human life where God is either glorified or despised, where neighbors are either edified or undermined. Therefore, living as disciples of Christ pertains not just to prayer, evangelism, and Bible study, but also our enjoyment of literature and music, our use of tools and machines, our eating and drinking, our views on government and economics, and so on.

Considering a godly perspective on technology and economics is a newer idea for me.

Paul certainly engaged the culture when he spent time in the marketplace in Athens, listening to and speaking with the philosophers of the day. (Acts 17)

As artists, my friend Kati and I have discussed this issue from the perspective of making quality art and engaging the artistic community where they are in order that art may be pervaded by Christ.

Should there be any realm of human endeavor that is not pervaded by Christ?

The host of Mars Hill says it this way:

But it is nonetheless imperative for us to be active in the culture, not because we are saved, but because we are created. Pursuing an understanding of and engagement with our culture is necessary for Christians because we must first bow to God as Creator, to thank him for the goodness that remains in his fallen creation, to live creatively, that is, in keeping with the patterns and norms he has established for creation, even as we eagerly await the advent of a new creation.

Meanwhile, life in this created sphere has meaning and value. God bestows blessings even on the unrighteous. He gives wonderful talents and abilities to those who hate the mention of his name. These blessings are what we mean by common grace: the gratuitous gifts to the just and the unjust that sustain and enrich the life shared by the wheat and the tares.

C.S. Lewis also argues that God asks us to bring Him into all branches of human thought:

If all the world were Christian, it might not matter if all the world were uneducated. But, as it is, a cultural life will exist outside the church whether it exists inside or not. To be ignorant and simple now–not to be able to meet the enemies on their own ground–would be to throw down our weapons, and to betray our uneducated brethren who have, under God, no defense but us against the intellectual attacks of the heathen. Good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered. The cool intellect must work not only against cool intellect on the other side, but against the muddy heathen mysticisms which deny intellect altogether.

I must conclude that God does, indeed, ask us to actively pursue an understanding of and engagement with our culture. As I pursue this idea of holistic living, of considering everything to be made sacred, I must go beyond the walls of my home, beyond the walls of my church.

I will keep reading and listening, praying and pondering.

Will you continue the conversation?

If you want a bit of Further Reading on this, here are two essays:
Christianity, Culture and Modern Grace
Christianity and Culture