The God of the Ordinary

From my article ‘Your Day Job is Your Ministry‘:

When the apostle Paul was writing to Titus, he told him a specific message to give to bondservants. Paul said that “in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior” even in the mundane tasks they performed. (Titus 2:10) This was also a theme Paul picked up on in his letter to the Corinthians, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Cor. 10:31) Everything can be done to the glory of God, and not just “spiritual” tasks.

This simple truth can sometimes be hard to truly believe. It’s easy to appreciate how work in Christian ministry can glorify God. It’s easy to appreciate how sharing the Gospel with someone can glorify the Lord. But it’s harder for us to understand how the mundane things we do Monday through Saturday – things like eating, sleeping, working at a secular job, etc. – can bring glory to our Creator.

Parenting and the Goldilocks Principle

From my post ‘What Science Has to Say About Heavy-Handed Parenting‘:

“…we often see similarities in the outcome of children whose parents who are too loose and children whose parents are overly strict. Both are avoiding the really effective type of parenting which is consistent moderate discipline (and I am using discipline in the broadest sense here)….Effective parenting is a dynamic matter of being so in tune with your child that you find that Goldilocks level, which will be different for each child. Children are so different that what constitutes moderate discipline for one child could be overwhelming severity for another.”

Is ‘Reformed Catholicity’ Sectarian?

From ‘Peter Leithart on the End of Protestantism‘:

[The claims made by those advancing ‘Reformed Catholicity’ imply] that true catholicity is only realized by Protestants in the twentieth-century onwards, which is (historically speaking) a very small subset. However, to say that true catholicity is realized only by a small subset (as measured historically and not merely geographically) sounds very sectarian to me…. one can argue that ‘Reformed Catholicism’ is super-individualistic because it has never found corporate expression in any ecclesiastical body.

Studies Link Facebook With Social Comparison and Depression

Among my circle of friends, I’m always the last one to find out the news. Why? Because I don’t read Facebook. Anyone who is a “friend” of mine on Facebook may find that hard to believe, given how active I appear to be. But my Facebook activity is rather like C.S. Lewis’s relation to the newspaper: the fact that Lewis never read the newspaper didn’t stop him from publishing articles in it. I mainly use Facebook narcissistically to encourage people to read about the latest things I’m thinking about (ironically, I’ll probably post this article on Facebook), and to promote my articles so I can earn more money. I’ve felt bad about this, and sometimes think I should spend more time “reading the news feeds” to give other people more attention. But after finding out about some studies last year, I’m no longer going to feel guilty for not spending hours and hours on Facebook like my friends do.

woman on FacebookThe studies, published last in the ‘Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology,’ showed that time spent on Facebook correlated with depressive symptoms for both men and women. The article, which you can download as a PDF here, tells how it wasn’t just ordinary Facebook viewing that was linked to depression, but Facebook viewing in which social comparisons took place. “Social comparisons occur when people automatically contrast themselves with others on abilities or attributes they deem important.” This type of comparison often happens on an unconscious level that we are not aware of until it’s pointed out to us.

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The Politics of Imagination

From “School Deform How Common Core Promotes Cultural Engineering by Killing the Imagination“:

“To cultivate learning without cultivating the imagination is to create automatons, for it is through the imagination that we are able to make connections, to form associations, to conceptualize long-term consequences, and to see the infrastructures of meaning beneath the surface of things. The poetry of life, and the sense of wonder that keeps the imagination vivid, fresh, and restless, is anathema to prosaic utopians who aim to convince citizens that there is nothing beyond this life to live for. That is why the capacity to imagine has been the enemy of totalitarian regimes throughout history. In order for collectivist and totalitarian regimes to work, the first books to go must be those that have no obvious functional value in a work-based economy but that feed one’s imagination and sense of wonder.”

Challenges Facing Christians in Libya

‘What religion are you?’

Antonio Espares and his two co-workers had been abducted by masked men. His friends said that they were Muslims. Antonio could have done the same; he was a migrant worker from the Philippines, and he had registered himself as a Muslim, thinking it might make life easier in his new home. But when faced with death, he couldn’t deny his God.

‘I am a Christian,’ he said.

The two Muslims were allowed to go to a van, which drove away. Antonio’s captors cut off his lips, then forced him to kneel, and cut off the front of his thighs. Finally, they cut off his head.

The above story, taken from the website of Open Doors Ministries, is one among dozens of similar recent reports that illustrate the challenges Christians in Libya have been facing since the fall of President Gaddafi four years ago.

From the Frying Pan Into the Fire

In 2011, the United States attacked Libya with air strikes.

In 2011, the United States attacked Libya with air strikes.

In 2011, President Obama decided to use air strikes to support the ‘Arab Spring’ movement in Libya. Joined by various Western powers, including British air and naval forces, Obama succeeded in overthrowing the dictator Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, who was shot on 20th October, 2011. (At the time, I warned about the illegality of this war, and the dangerous political philosophy behind it.)

Instead of peace and democracy coming to Libya as hoped, the country began to be plagued by internal struggles, political corruption and civil unrest. Revolutionary groups that were united in overthrowing Gaddafi found themselves at loggerheads when it came to questions about running the country. Despite attempts from the new government to bring order and stability, the country has been the theater for a number of high profile attacks, massacres and hostage situations.

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Democratizing Beauty

From my Colson Center article ‘Liberation from Embodiment: How the Modern World Wages War Against the Female Body‘:

“Commercialism dehumanizes us through industries and technologies that democratize our concept of beauty. In the process, beauty becomes unattainable to the vast majority of women; if it were attainable, all women would be squeezed into a homogeneous mold since there is an increasingly limited range of options we are told can count as true beauty. In this way, the idolatrous claims of commercialism turn out to be a cheat: while promising to release our individuality and fulfill our self, these idolatries actually do just the opposite, removing our individuality and homogenizing us.”woman worried about her looks

Surrendering to Art

From ‘Literary Criticism and the Biblical Worldview (Part 2)

Just as a Christian approach to literature involves enjoying literary works for their own sake regardless of any functional value, so it also involves surrendering to artworks in a way that causes us to grow into deeper and richer people. To explain what I mean by this, I’d like to draw your attention to a portion of the haunting poem “Remembering Marie” written by the German poet Bertolt Brecht (1898 –1956):

It was a day in that blue month September
Silent beneath the plum trees’ slender shade
I held her there
My love, so pale and silent
As if she were a dream that must not fade

Above us in the shining summer heaven
There was a cloud my eyes dwelled long upon
It was quite white and very high above us
Then I looked up
And found that it had gone

Even in translation, this portion of Brecht’s poem is profound. When the subject looks up and finds that the cloud has vanished, there is a sense of sadness that hits the reader, though it’s hard to explain just why. One is impressed, on a very deep level, by the transience of time and love. “Remembering Marie” moves us if we let it, yet it does not have any immediate functional value for the Christian life. The value that it has is artistic, not pragmatic.

Now certainly if we surrender to these types of works and let them work on us as people, we become richer and deeper men and women, and so there ends up being a certain functional value. But that is not where we start. We start by learning to surrender to the artwork and letting it change us in undefinable ways, as C.S. Lewis argued in An Experiment in Criticism.

When we surrender to works of art – whether a song, poem, film, novel, painting or ballet – and let the artwork stir our imagination, we are often changed in ways that are hard to quantify. Often the experience may be difficult to articulate and may actually lose something if we try to put it into words. This is what I experienced when I watched the foreign language film The Lives of Others(warning: there is at least one inappropriate scene that should be fast-forwarded).

Sometimes we have to simply let ourselves experience a work of art before we try to explain it, to let ourselves surrender to it in a way analogous to our approach to persons. The way to get to know a person is not to begin analyzing him or her, but just to enjoy the relationship, to listen to what the person has to say, to empathize with the person, to allow ourselves to experience life through our friend’s perspective. In doing this, the horizons of our own personhood are expanded. It is the same with literature.

When we approach literary texts like this, we often find that they are laced with paradoxes and evade any straight-forward explanation.

Distinguishing Interpretation from Application

From ‘Literary Criticism and Postmodernism‘:

Sadly, many Christians have succumbed to a Postmodern approach to scripture. You may have been at a Bible study before where it is the custom to go around the room sharing what this passage means to me. Having been influenced by Postmodernism, we think that any interpretation of a passage is just as legitimate as any other, while the question of what Moses, Luke or Paul may have actually meant is completely neglected….In this regard, what is true of scripture is true of other literary texts. Using Milton’s play Samson Agonistes to give us insight into religiously motivated violence in the post 9/11 world is one thing; claiming that doing this helps to clarify the actual meaning of the text is quite another. The meaning of a text is always and only what the author meant by it. That is why there can only ever be one correct interpretation of a text, even though there may be any number of legitimate applications.