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Why Reason Needs Faith

mere christianityI was in ninth grade when I read Mere Christianity for the first time. C. S. Lewis compiled the book “to explain and defend the belief that has been common to nearly all Christians at all times.” Nowadays, he’s better known for The Chronicles of Narnia than his extensive works in apologetics, the defense of faith. I remember struggling through a few pages of Mere Christianity every night before falling asleep. I’ve never opened the book since.

That is, until my life group decided to study it this fall. Now that I’m older, it’s strange how simple Lewis’ reasoning and examples seem. The whole book is fascinating, though one chapter in particular has captured my interest. Lewis describes the concept of faith in a way I have not heard anywhere else. Instead of pitting reason and faith against each other, he argues they are allies.

The real threat to reason is emotion, not faith. A person does not necessarily go on believing something is true because evidence convinces him. Sometimes emotion overwrites evidence and stirs up doubt. For instance, when someone decides to believe in Christianity based on its weight of evidence, Lewis predicts, “There will come a moment when there is bad news, or he is in trouble, or is living among a lot of other people who do not believe it, and all at once his emotions will rise up and carry out a sort of blitz on his belief.”

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Credit: Elise Communications, courtesy of The Hagley Museum and Library (https://flic.kr/p/7BR5JE)

Fresh evidence must be evaluated, of course, but regarding runaway imagination and emotions, Lewis calls it a virtue to keep faith in what reason told you is true. In his own words: “Now Faith, in the sense in which I am here using the word, is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods.”

So faith becomes not about denying reason but rather the inconstant emotions that try to overthrow belief. This kind of faith is important to both Christians and Atheists alike, otherwise everyone would change their minds arbitrarily, depending on their mood of the day.

This definition of faith seems closer to what we now call being faithful. To be faithful is to be constant and steadfast. A faithful person keeps their commitments in spite of their emotions. A husband and wife may be overjoyed the day they commit their lives to each other, but they may feel quite the opposite by their one-week anniversary. We call spouses faithful when they choose to love even on the bad days. Perhaps that’s why “faithfulness” is listed in the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23).

I had faith in Christ before I ever applied reason to his claims. But when I did…reason strengthened my faith. I remember the thrill of discovering that I didn’t have to deny my questions or doubts, that God had answers for skepticism, that he encouraged me to seek them out (Matt. 7:7-8).

After a while, I had enough encounters with God that apologetic arguments seemed superfluous. Nothing felt more natural than to believe. But that doesn’t make me immune to bad days. Lewis’ prediction still rings true for me…and every other Christian I’ve had the privilege to know. We all have days when none of what we believe feels right anymore, regardless whatever rational thinking first introduced us to belief.

On those days, we have to rely on faith to carry us through. Faith keeps us trusting in Christ, believing he loves us even then. I imagine it isn’t much different from the virtue that holds a husband and wife together “until death do we part.”

Let love and faithfulness never leave you;
bind them around your neck;
write them on the tablet of your heart. Proverbs 3:3

 
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Posted by on December 5, 2015 in Books

 

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“Boundaries”: How I Learned to Hear No

1f0be051b9b8121dc0f39c0218acb63dSome people can’t say no. Personally, I do not understand these people. I have the opposite problem. “No” is easy for me to say and yet hard to hear.

For a long while, I was in denial. I only recently admitted this to myself after reading Boundaries by Drs. Henry Cloud and John Townsend. The book came highly recommended by several friends, which made me curious how good it could possibly be. After reading it myself, I have this to say about it: Eye. Opener.

My last post emphasized the importance of vulnerability in relationships, but too much openness can be as harmful as none at all. Vulnerability needs to be balanced with healthy boundaries. According to Cloud and Townsend, boundaries separate what we are and are not responsible for. Think of a fence surrounding someone’s property. The fence defines what belongs to the property owner as well as what does not.

“In short, boundaries help us keep the good in and the bad out,” Cloud and Townsend write. Boundaries should allow good to come inside while being solid enough to protect from danger.

The book is rich with case studies, practical applications, and biblical wisdom about the use and abuse of boundaries. Every page has some valuable lesson to draw on. Reading this book led me to reevaluate every relationship in my life. I feel equipped with new filters to judge what is healthy and working well in addition to what areas need adjustment.

For instance, I’m even more grateful to how my parents raised me (see Chapter 4: How Boundaries Are Developed). I know my firm sense of personal boundaries, like the power to say no, comes from lessons in early childhood. (I remember many talks about what to do if a stranger tried to lure me into a car. Hint: Don’t get in the car.)

Yet at the same time, I do have a problem with hearing no. I need to practice being aware and respectful of other people’s boundaries. If someone tells me no, I have to let go responsibility of their feelings, choices, and actions–everything I have no right to control.

The truth is: I’m a manipulative controller.

Credit: printmeister(https://flic.kr/p/6S3Z8r)

Credit: printmeister(https://flic.kr/p/6S3Z8r)

At least that’s my self-diagnosis after reading Boundaries. One of the early chapters describes the main personality types of people with boundary issues. Surprisingly, the types include both people whose boundaries are violated by others and the people who commit the violations. Manipulators are a violating type. They don’t have so much issue with their own boundaries as they do with the boundaries of others. They use deception and trickery to get around other people’s boundaries. Jacob is a biblical example of a manipulator. Twice, he tricked his brother out of his rights as the firstborn son. His name actually meant “deceiver”.

While aggressive controllers are more direct and demanding to get what they want, the manipulator is a sneaky little fox who may sometimes play the victim or fake virtue and goodness. Personally, I use the “good intentions” excuse. Or my hurt feelings. Whatever act they scheme, manipulators are ultimately crossing the boundaries of others to control them.

Boundaries confronted me with a mirror. It wasn’t too long before I tried manipulating one of my friends again. She didn’t give in to my tricks. I got angry and finally had to admit my problem. The next day I called her to apologize. Thankfully, she forgave me, and I hope our friendship won’t suffer for my temptation to trample boundaries. Repentance isn’t an overnight change. It’s something I expect to work on the rest of my life, one relationship at a time.

Do you struggle more with protecting your own boundaries or respecting others’? What do you find most difficult about relational boundaries?

 
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Posted by on October 7, 2015 in Books

 

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The Secret to Getting “Scary Close”

My copy of Scary Close by Donald Miller.

My copy of Scary Close by Donald Miller.

Everyone wants to be loved, but no one wants to be vulnerable. So we find ourselves stuck, because love is impossible without vulnerability.

This is what Donald Miler learned after breaking off an unhealthy engagement. After decades of dead-end relationships, he had hit bottom and knew something needed to change. In “Scary Close,” Miller is more honest and transparent than ever before as he explains the long road to his healing.

Written in his trademark reflective essays, the book traces how he learned to “drop the act” and open himself to a life of intimacy. The journey leads him to rediscover himself underneath the barriers he used to keep other people at a distance. Things like being smart, funny, or manipulative. Anything it’d take to hide who he really was.

And he realized he wasn’t alone in pretending.

“Somewhere along the line I think many of us buy into a lie that we only matter if… We only matter if we are strong or smart or attractive or whatever,” Miller writes.

We’re superheroes wearing masks so no one recognizes us for being ordinary, boring, imperfect humans. The downside is people never have the opportunity to love our real selves under the masks. Our act designed to help us connect with others instead becomes the brick wall separating us.

As a teenager, my brick wall was silence. I thought I needed to be intelligent and wise for anyone to like me. With nothing profound to say, I relied on silence to create a façade of thoughtful sagacity. My guiding motto was: “Even fools are thought wise if they keep silent, and discerning if they hold their tongues” (Prov. 17:28). Yet the plan didn’t work like I had hoped. Instead of drawing friends, I felt coldly distant from my peers. Even the ones inviting me to their cafeteria lunch tables and birthday sleepovers. They assumed they knew me, but it was only a caricature.

College gave me the chance to start over. I developed more confidence in speaking, whether or not I sounded wise. It seemed like progress…until I realized the power of wit and sarcasm. I could make people laugh. I could catch their attention. I could cut them using only words. As Proverbs 18:21 warns, “The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.”

After some time, the witticisms act also unraveled. Speaking impulsively, I wouldn’t think through opinions before claiming them. I’d say shocking or offensive words just for the gratifying attention, and then later regret speaking at all when I realized those were not my actual thoughts. My careless words hurt people who cared for me. I was again misleading others into an unreal impression of me. To let others know me, I’d have to speak up…but only what was true.

“The whole experience makes me wonder if the time we spend trying to become somebody people will love isn’t wasted,” Miller writes, “because the most powerful, most attractive person we can be is who we already are, an ever-changing being that is becoming and will never arrive, but has opinions about what is seen along the journey.”

Miller’s greatest test came when he decided to try again at love. He began dating a woman who refused to put up with his acting. When he practiced vulnerability instead, he experienced a truer intimacy with another person than he had ever felt before.

“I felt a sense of relief,” Miller writes. “If honesty is the key to intimacy, it means we don’t have to be perfect and, moreover, we don’t have to pretend to be perfect.”

Paul directed the Ephesian church with a similar challenge. He wrote, “Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body” (Eph. 4:25). Vulnerability with each other is the key to both giving and receiving love. The truth is when we can finally let others love us just as we are, no hiding or pretending, we gain the ability to love in return. We’re no longer defending ourselves behind brick walls; we’re reaching through an open gate to take each other’s hands.

Miller married the woman who helped him learn how to be vulnerable and therefore intimate. He knew she was good for him in many ways, but he struggled to grasp what he could possibly offer her. So one day after their engagement, he asked her. She laughed at him, surprised he couldn’t tell. She listed some examples of how he had changed her life for the better. After that, Miller began to enjoy more his time spent with other people. He’d looked forward to meeting a friend for coffee because he wouldn’t be the only one to benefit.

“I wonder if we’re not all a lot better for each other than we previously thought,” Miller writes. “I know we’re not perfect, but I wonder how many people are withholding the love they could provide because they secretly believe they have fatal flaws.”

We need to recognize our doubts that tell us, “We only matter if…” and finally take advantage of the enormous good we’re capable of giving others. It’s scary, of course, but well worth the risk. Love is impossible otherwise.

 
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Posted by on September 26, 2015 in Books

 

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Read This Before Giving the Poor Your Change

Well-meaning, good-hearted people can do a lot of damage.

For the past year, I’ve served in a volunteer program that seeks social justice for the marginalized and disadvantaged. It’s been a challenging year, including times when I’ve wondered how much good I was really doing.

Recently a friend introduced me to the book When Helping Hurts by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert. Someone had recommended it to her as a must-read for every missionary. After reading the book, I would add that it’s a must-read for anyone in ministry, social service, political office, or non-profit community organization. Correct that to anyone who sees, knows, or contacts poor people. If panhandlers wait on street corners of your city, you should read When Helping Hurts.

Corbett and Fikkert teach economics and community development at Covenant College as well as have leadership roles in the Chalmers Center for economic development. Their book starts with the premise that people who try to help the poor often result in causing more harm than good. They explain that poverty has much less to do with a material problem than it is a relational problem.

According to the authors, poverty occurs in four foundational relationships: with God, with self, with other people, and with the rest of creation. They write, “Due to the comprehensive nature of the fall, every human being is poor in the sense of not experiencing these four relationships in the way that God intended.”

Credit: Jeremy Brooks (https://flic.kr/p/56xUqh)

Credit: Jeremy Brooks (https://flic.kr/p/56xUqh)

This worldview turns out to be key to resolving poverty. The authors circle back several times to the universal poverty inherent in every human being. They argue that we cannot hope to tackle the causes of poverty unless we’re able to first admit its presence in our own lives.

Once we can begin our healing, then we can move forward in healing others.

The other major worldview shift comes with recognizing different situations require different kinds of help. The authors divide help into three categories: relief, rehabilitation, and development. To grasp the different levels of help, imagine a tsunami destroying an impoverished community.

Relief: provide “first aid” for basic survival, including medical care, temporary shelters, and food handouts.

Rehabilitation: restore the community to its pre-tsunami state, rebuilding houses and reestablishing businesses and farms.

Development: improve the community beyond its pre-tsunami state, growing businesses, increasing social stability, and empowering community members to realize fulfilling lives.

North Americans tend to think the more resources are pumped into a community, the better off it will be. Relief is simpler, easier, and produces faster results than the development needed for long-term, sustainable growth. The authors explain this is seeing poverty only on the material plane while ignoring relational brokenness.

We pour more money into the bottomless jar, hoping something will stick, and what we find is a magic trick where the dollar bill disappears and never comes back. The givers end up frustrated and jaded, stuck in their god-complexes, while the poor become even more disempowered, feeling inferior, and stuck in their helplessness. The relational poverty grows.

On a Sunday not long ago, I walked by a woman sitting near an outdoor ATM. She could have been waiting for someone to meet her, I thought, until she waved at me to stop.

“Hey, hey, can you help me out?”

There was cash in my wallet. It would have been easy to hand her a bill, ask her name, and hear her story. I could have spared five minutes for decency’s sake.

So why didn’t I? Corbett and Fikkert encourage generosity and compassion for the poor. They even admit to times when they have provided handouts, but they explain why that may not have been the wisest course and how they would change their response.

When Helping Hurts taught me that what I do for the immediate rush of feeling kind, generous, and good actually disempowers both the poor and myself. Giving a handout seems compassionate at first, but it wouldn’t have changed the woman’s situation. Even if I stopped to listen, she would still ask the next passerby for the same kindness. She’d still be stuck.

I kept walking because I wasn’t in the position to do what it would really take to change her life.

Corbett and Fikkert support a developmental approach to poverty. This requires long-term relationships, recognizing the poor’s assets, assisting them to plan their goals, and letting them take the lead in changing their communities for the better. Most importantly, it means acknowledging our own poverty (of God, self, others, or creation), repenting for hurting the poor in our attempts to “save” them, and walking alongside the poor in humbleness towards our mutual growth.

I’m thankful for the past year learning from those striving for their local community’s development. My volunteer placement involved serving school-age children in need of caring mentors to be their role models and friends. The mentors give their time and energy to uplift their mentees for a brighter future. They build the children’s self-esteems, help them discover their passions, and guide them towards achieving their goals. These children will later become successful, contributing community members. Some return to become mentors themselves.

It’s been first-hand experience that positive relationships revitalize people in poverty, whether their symptoms are material or not.

 
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Posted by on July 21, 2015 in Books

 

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“Packing Light”: How to Become a Writer in 50 States or Less

“I wonder if I’m not the only one who panics when people ask that dreaded question—what do you do? There is so much wrapped up in it, so much that has nothing to do with a job. We worry it says something about our identity to say we’re a waitress, or a barista, or a lawyer, or a student.”

–Allison Vesterfelt, Packing Light

Allison used to live in Portland, where she grew up, and taught middle school classes. She probably would have told people she was a teacher, but what she left unspoken was that she actually wanted to write a book.

She also wanted to travel to all 50 states of America. A friend liked the idea and convinced her to take a road trip. She could write her book while her friend played music at gigs across the country. And so Packing Light was begun.

They would have to give up almost everything to make it work: quitting jobs, selling belongings, and putting relationships on hold. They packed everything they thought they would need in Allison’s 1999 Subaru Legacy GT and left the rest behind.

Over time, their perfectly organized car becomes a mess. They can’t find half of the stuff they brought with them, and yet somehow the belongings accumulate and multiply. Several times, they stop to throw unnecessary and unwanted items in boxes to either ship home or give away.

The book’s opening quote by Rick Steves does well to sum up the lesson: “You’ll never meet a traveler who, after five trips, brags: ‘Every year I pack heavier.’ The measure of a good traveler is how light he or she travels.”

But there are other intangible things, such as parts of Allison herself, that are harder to give up. Changing locations doesn’t change who she is or free her from the challenges she doesn’t want to face. Life on the road is surprisingly similar to life at home.

For instance, it takes her several chapters to realize that she already was a writer before driving one mile. All she needed to do to be a writer was to simply write. Yet in the first week of travel, a new acquaintance asks a question that particularly resonated with me.

Are you a Christian or are you not? That question stuck with me for weeks, even months, after he had asked it,” Allison wrote. “It was an important question—a helpful one—even though it didn’t feel like it at the time. At the time it felt like an attack, like a headlock I wanted to wriggle my way out of. Why did we always have to pick a side? I was a Christian, and I wanted to be a writer, but was I a ‘Christian writer’? I didn’t know.”

What did it mean to be a Christian writer? And was that what she wanted to be? I’ve asked these same questions before.

Perhaps the first question to ask is: what does it mean to be a Christian? I believe Christianity is about more than how I spend my Sunday mornings. It’s not even weeknights at church or going to special conferences and retreats. None of that makes me a Christian.

Being a Christian is a way of life for every day. It means every day is devoted to following Christ and loving him more than I did the day before. This doesn’t allow for any compartmentalizing. Either Christ is part of everything I do, every moment that I’m alive, or he’s not. There’s no sitting on the fence or being lukewarm.

And if that’s the case, how could I not be a “Christian writer”? If being a Christian affects everything else in my life, then of course my writing should be no exception.

Since her trip, Allison has written multiple books and started a business to inspire and coach others to pursue their literary dreams.

“I prayed that He would whisper words to me, and I promised I would commit them to paper,” Allison wrote about one night camping in the Grand Tetons. “Is that what it means to be a ‘Christian writer’? I asked God. Because if it is, that’s the kind of writer I wanted to be.”

Me too.

 
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Posted by on May 1, 2015 in Books

 

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