Archive

reflection

“The task of the Christian is to remain open to being carried forward by God to a deeper level of maturity. In [Hebrews] 6:1-3 the preacher is saying very simply, You cannot go back in time. You cannot pretend that you do not understand the foundational truths you learned after you became Christians. You cannot act as if you need someone to specify for you what it means to be a Christian in the world. You have to assume responsibility for the level of instruction, knowledge, and experience you already possess.” – William Lane

Advertisements

This post is my attempt to retain and respond to C.S. Lewis’ chapter Friendship in his book The Four Loves

Friendship, that mysteriously unnecessary love, bears great resemblance to art or literature, according to Lewis, in that it is not necessary to our survival but it makes surviving worthwhile.

Friendship differs from companionship. Companionship arises from being thrown together in a workplace, family or in our studies. In our hunter-gatherer days, companionship was necessary to band together as a pack and get things accomplished. This is still the case today. We must be, at some level, of the same mind as the people we are working with, working towards a common goal on a team to meet the bottom line or get a project finished. However, companionship is brought to the level of friendship, when, according to Lewis,

two or more of the companions discover that they have some insight or interest or even taste which the others do not share and which, till that moment, each believed to be his own unique treasure (or burden). The typical expression of opening Friendship would be something like, ‘What? You too? I thought I was the only one.’

Lewis talks about the benefits of friendship. A friendship doesn’t form based upon common race or family situation or profession. These things fall into place as friends get to know each other. However, friends are on a common quest for truth and they get to know each other through these interests that they share.

There can also be a great amount of humility that comes out of a friendship. Lewis says, “In a perfect Friendship this Appreciative love is, I think, often so great and so firmly based that each member of the circle feels, in his secret heart, humbled before all the rest. Sometimes he wonders what he is doing there among his betters.” In addition to this, a true group of friends all bring out the best in each other when they are all there. Sometimes friends are not complete in just a group of two, they need others to bring each others’ best qualities fully out. This symbiotic relationship between friends is breathtaking and humbling. What a blessing to have friends like these! We can never deserve a gift like this!

Lewis also warns about the darker sides of friendships. Just as friendships can be based upon something positive or productive, so can they be based on a mutual hatred or grievance. Even in good friendships, writes Lewis, “the transition from individual humility to corporate pride is very easy.” It is short jump to go from feeling honored to being a part of a group full of funny, intelligent, loving friends to feeling as though you all are superior and delighting in being known by the “best” of people. While friendship must exclude in some sense (you cannot have an intimate relationship with someone if you are always forced to meet with them with 30 other people), friendships based upon exclusivity are shallow because there is nothing deeper shared but the form of the friendship itself. It defines itself in a negative space, who cannot be let in, and therefore limits itself greatly.

Lastly, Lewis highlights the Christian perspective on friendship as he closes the chapter, pointing out:

The Friendship is not a reward for our discrimination and good taste in finding one another out. It is the instrument by which God reveals to each the beauties of all the others.

I’m writing this post as a “note-to-self”, if you will, about how important prayer is in my life and especially in the support-raising process. Prayer is so, so great when I actually sit down and am still. That said, it is so difficult to find the time to spend with God in conversation. I know this isn’t a coincidence and that I need to fight with the power of the Holy Spirit to rest in prayer. Here is some encouragement I’ve found Betty Barnett’s Friend Raising about prayer with promises.

  • We are co-laborers with Him, not in our own strength.
  • “After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?” Galatians 3:3
  • “Asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding… in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power…” Col. 1:9-11
  • “Gratefully, technological developments have provided many helpful tools for missionary work, along with organizational structures that greatly facilitate the recruitment, sending, maintenance, and support of mission personnel. But… tools and organizations can never substitute for God’s power which comes alone in answer to prayer… dependence upon God in prayer is the ultimate way for doing spiritual work.” – Daniel Bacon, former US Director of Overseas Missionary Fellowship
  • “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need… God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them… Imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.” Hebrews 4:16, 6:10, 12

The Lord is my sole provider. The Lord is equipping me for his work. I should rejoice through this process– through the difficulties and the hardships. His grace is sufficient for me. He will raise up what I need to do his work.

“The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.” 1 Thess. 5:24

While I haven’t been able to consolidate my thoughts enough to write a traditional post, I thought I’d share what I’ve been enjoying and what has got me thinking this past week– with bits of commentary. Look forward to some of these becoming future blog posts in the weeks to come!

Stumptown Girl 
A terrific profile on Carrie Brownstein in the New Yorker. Nuanced and complex, this piece takes a look at her work with Portlandia and how she relates satire to her actual life and the real city she lives in. This article made me think about what kind of culture satire is helpful in the sense that it fosters progress and what kind is merely observant or passive. Also, interesting to hear Brownstein talk about the “narcissism of small differences” and why people may be clinging to small distinguishing factors to derive a sense of unique value or worth.

The Social Networks of Emily Dickinson, Paul Gauguin and Charlotte Bronte 
This piece by Keith Sawyer, published in the 99%, explores what contributes to creativity and if it can be fostered in isolation. He analyzes an article by Katherine Giuffre, which profiles famous creatives that our culture would generally consider loners. Her conclusion is that even in the most limited means of letters, these people relied on communication, collaboration and critique and never created in a vacuum like the individualistic myth might suggest.

The Soft Bigotry of Kony 2012
This Atlantic article explores the assumptions that we make when we buy into viral videos like the Kony 2012 campaign. A terrific read, and made especially interesting by the news today about the Invisible Children’s founder and his recent actions. A favorite quote of mine was:

Kony 2012 is so seductive for precisely the same reasons that make it so dangerous. … [It] sets viewers up for a message so gratifying and fulfilling that it is almost impossible to resist: there is a terrible problem in the world, you are the solution, and all you have to do is pass along this video. … it tells Americans that by simply watching a video, and at most maybe buying a $30 “action kit” of wristbands and stickers, they have done all that’s necessary; they are absolved of responsibility.

Our Nomadic Existence: How Electronic Culture Shapes Community
A long read, but a great read. Far from being a dismissive luddite, Hipps simply encourages us to consider how the medium of the internet shapes the message of what we are saying (an idea borrowed from Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death and McLuhan’s Laws of Media). Something that I was left to think on:

“Electronic culture does opposite things at the same time. If oral culture is tribal, and literate culture is individual, then the phenomenon of the electronic age is marked by what I call the tribe of individuals. We live in a confused state of being characterized by a deep and growing desire for connection and community and the ever-increasing experience of an electronic nomad. It’s the isolating and thin existence of electronically wandering the globe, glancing off one another, but never really connecting or encountering the other… The end result is apathy and inaction. This is not our fault; it’s not because we are bad people. The human psyche isn’t designed to withstand all the weight and trauma of global suffering without shutting down. Numbness and exhaustion are natural reactions… and it didn’t exist prior to the electronic age. The reason this matters is that the spiritual habit of empathy at a distance also finds its way into our local communities. It becomes increasingly difficult to muster local activism and genuine concern for others when global suffering has already cauterized the nerves of compassion…”

“But the very act of pausing in a busy day to pray is an act of weakening pride in my life, acknowledging that I am a dependent creature. I am not self-sufficient.” -CJ Mahaney

I have been struggling recently to understand how to be productive while still taking care of myself (eating well, getting sleep). I realize that busyness can actually be a sin of pride when it pushes other things out of my life. When I am busy, depriving myself of good friends, sleep that my body needs, and most importantly God and time with him, I am trying to be something I am not: self-sufficient. I love Mahaney’s quote above because it motivates me to pray and clearly delineates the battle in my heart: do I labor intensively to be perfect and not rely on anyone? Or do I rely on God first, giving him the first fruits of my time and trusting that I will get done everything that I need to that day? My perfectionism (all-or-nothing thinking) and my procrastination go hand-in-hand with my productivity.

I want to share this resource with you. It’s a free e-book written by Mahaney. In it, he collects bits of wisdom from other authors and examines the heart issues behind busyness and procrastination. I have not finished reading it myself, but when I do, I hope to blog more extensively on this topic.

In the last post on reading and Reinke’s new book, Lit!, we talked about how to make time to read. In this post, we’ll be using Reinke’s book to address the issue of reading comprehension.

I never absorb what I read!

I am all too familiar with this problem. Although the average person probably won’t remember 90% of the words they read, it’s the important concepts and select phrases and quotes that stay with us and make reading worthwhile. How do we go about remembering those important points to share with someone or remind ourselves of later on in our lives?

1. Practice reading meditatively rather than reading and reacting.
Ever read a few pages of a book and want to take a facebook break? Or do you come across a great sentence and feel compelled to tweet it or tumble it? The Atlantic, the LA Times and Wired have all written pieces on the internet’s negative effect on our attention spans. It’s a fact, online habits greatly reduce our ability to concentrate. Reading is exercising that long-term concentration that we don’t get many other places. Try to set aside 30 minutes to read uninterrupted. When you come across a quote you like, something you don’t understand or an idea you think is important, think about it yourself first. Write in the margins or pull out a notebook and jot it down. Things will stick in your mind much better if you think about them after your read them.

2. Mark up your books.
Although librarians may have hit you with a ruler for doing this in grade school, don’t be afraid to write in them now! The main reason why I buy my own books is so that I can write my reactions in the margins, highlight, star important points and dog-ear the pages. Also, even if you end up not writing a lot in a book, simply holding a pen or pencil while reading and tracing the lines will keep you focused and and even help you read quicker.

3. Aim for quality, not volume.
That said, reading quickly is not the goal of reading. In fact, reading lots of books isn’t even the goal of reading. To read well, we must be reading to glorify God by delighting in the written word and gaining wisdom. We can’t do this if we rush our reading. Reinke says,

“A wide gap separates a reader who simply consumes books from a reader who diligently seeks wisdom. Book consumers view books as ‘things to get read’. Wisdom seekers view books as fuel for slow and deliberate meditation” (178).

4. Join a book discussion.
A sure-fire way to prevent yourself from being a selfish reader is to discuss a book with friends. Do you read to help others understand things? Do you use what you’ve learned to apply it to your life and the lives of your friends? Do you join a book club with a humble and teachable heart, willing to acknowledge that others have gotten different things out of the same book you’ve read? Read to build up your community. Let it be a blessing to those around you!

Reinke ends his helpful book by pointing out that in reading, like in everything else, Christ is the center. There is no reading or comprehension without the light and grace of God in our lives. We find our identity and our confidence in Christ – not in how many theology books we can read or how well we use our time. Psalm 36:9 reminds us, “In your light do we see light.” Reinke responds with this exhortation:

We are humbled, but we are encouraged. We grab a new book and press on, not as slaves bound to a chore, but as liberated sinners who read to delight in the gifts of our God. We press on, reading and thanking God for the light we do see in books, and for his illuminating grace that lights our way. (185)


In last week’s post, I introduced The Fabric of Faithfulness (Garber). This book traces three habits that help connect what we believe with how we live, in college and in our careers after graduation. These three include a comprehensive worldview, community and character. I love hearing stories of people living consistently, adhering to their beliefs with integrity and letting them shape how they relate to people, how they philosophize, how they make art. Fujimura is a Japanese contemporary painter living in New York. He’s also a teacher, having lectured at Yale and Princeton and founded the International Arts Movement, which promotes dialogue between artists about faith, culture and humanity.

His faith and the work of the gospel in his life pervades his art. My favorite of his series works is Gold. He uses gold leaf and powder faithfully in the Japanese tradition. In this series, Fujimura encounters beauty through the golden fire, portraying sanctification, destruction and the wrestling within our own souls to accept grace and to let ourselves be shaped by God.
In a letter to young artists, Fujimura rebukes the legalist’s approach to art and religion. We either strive to earn certain behaviors and results or instead accept grace that comes to us now and in the future through faith in Christ. He writes:
Strict moralism has never produced great art. Like Mary’s expensive oil, our expression flows out as a response to grace in our lives. Even if you are not cognizant of a grace reality, you can still create in the possibility of future grace. That takes faith to do, but if you can do that, you will be joining so many artists of the past who wrestled deeply with faith, doubt, poverty, rejection, longing and yet chose to create. Know that the author of creativity longs for you to barge in, break open the gift you have been saving; he will not only receive you, he can bring you purpose behind the battle, and rebuke those who reject you […]
So endeavor to create generatively.  Don’t be a critic when you create. You can look at your work later and discern what is good. Your growth as an artist is not in being able to impress others, or even God.
Check out more of his work here.