What George Orwell and C.S. Lewis can teach us about chaos, creation, and a world living in fear

by Elizabeth

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“The atomic bombs are piling up in the factories, the police are prowling through the cities, the lies are streaming from the loudspeakers, but the earth is still going round the sun, and neither the dictators nor the bureaucrats, deeply as they disapprove of the process, are able to prevent it.”

I burst into tears over this George Orwell quote in the bookstore the other day. Let me explain why.

If you know me at all, you know I was crushed over the lack of eclipse viewing on this side of the planet. Crushed. I first started reading about the eclipse in science magazines about a year and a half ago, when I realized with sadness that I would not be able to see it, even though totality was passing very close by my hometown.

As we edged ever closer to the eclipse date, and people became more and more excited, I became sadder and sadder. I would wake up every morning thinking about what I was missing and imagining in my mind’s eye what it would be like to experience that kind of natural reversal. I hear you receive spiritual and philosophical insights during a total eclipse that you rarely get in life apart from extreme grief and loss. I hear that you feel at one with humanity and at one with the solar system. Whether you believe in God or not.

But here’s the thing: I already feel at one with the solar system on a regular basis. Every time I look up at the moon, no matter where it is in its waxing or waning, I imagine where I am in relation to it and to the sun and to the rest of the planets, and I get this enormous sense of awe and wonder. I experience more awe and wonder when I catch a glimpse of a planet with the naked eye. I even get a thrill from ordinary everyday sunsets and ordinary everyday cloud-dotted skies. Understanding the science behind each of these sights does not in the least diminish their wonder for me.

So to miss out on an event that causes people who don’t normally care all that much about the sky to shudder with shock and awe, felt like a devastating loss. I collect those moments of wonder and awe in my life and, like Mary, ponder them in my heart. I store them in the long-term memory of my soul. I am a glory-chaser, and this month I felt I was missing out on something glorious that all my countrymen were going to witness (though I know the descriptor “all” is not entirely accurate here). I have really had to grieve this loss as one of many losses on both sides of the Pacific over the last 6 years.

Then today I found myself at the local bookstore with my kids, perusing the magazine rack. It’s a sort of Saturday morning tradition for us. Magazines are too expensive to buy here, so we just stand around reading articles about space and geography. I was reading an article about that infamous eclipse when I came across these words by George Orwell. They brought to mind parallel (and prescient) thoughts from C.S. Lewis, in his 1948 essay entitled “On Living in an Atomic Age”:

In one way we think a great deal too much of the atomic bomb. ‘How are we to live in an atomic age?’ I am tempted to reply: ‘Why, as you would have lived in the sixteenth century when the plague visited London almost every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night; or indeed, as you are already living in an age of cancer, an age of syphilis, an age of paralysis, an age of air raids, an age of railway accidents, an age of motor accidents.’

In other words, do not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation. Believe me, dear sir or madam, you and all whom you love were already sentenced to death before the atomic bomb was invented: and quite a high percentage of us were going to die in unpleasant ways. We had, indeed, one very great advantage over our ancestors – anaesthetics; but we have that still. It is perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering and drawing long faces because the scientists have added one more chance of painful and premature death to a world which already bristled with such chances and in which death itself was not a chance at all, but a certainty.

This is the first point to be made: and the first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things – praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts – not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.

I had read Lewis’s words earlier this month and been sobered, my mind plumbed back into alignment. Orwell’s words were likewise so true that they brought tears to my eyes. Our world is in chaos. We all know this. Globally and locally, everyone you and I meet can see the chaos in both their own country and the countries of others. There’s so much fear, fear from all sides and of far too many things.

But. There is awe and wonder that can outweigh the fear. There is truth that can outweigh the lies. And there are things we can be sure of, the chief of which is that we do not control the heavens. We do not direct their footsteps. We can predict them, and we can describe them — though they lose none of their awe-inspiring power when we do — but we cannot direct them. That is a task only God can manage. We can merely watch — or not.

So let us rest in God, in His creative power and in His unfathomable goodness. Let us take comfort in His nearness and in His grandeur, in His wisdom and in His foolishness. Let us walk with Him, through our tears and through our joys, through our fears and through our distracted and distractible daily lives. And let us remember that, regardless of how we live and regardless of how we die, God is God and we are not, and neither is any world leader who appears to be wresting power from Him — for no one can rob Him of His glory.

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I originally published this on Facebook. On one of the FB shares a friend of a friend (someone I don’t know) commented: “When asked what he would like to be found doing by Jesus on Jesus’s return, Luther said, ‘Planting a tree.’ I think the reason is the same as your quote.” That story was just too good not to pass on to you here.

What the darkness of a tropical jungle taught me about Advent

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We’re in Advent now – the darkest time of year. It is truly the four darkest weeks of the year. We are edging ever closer to the winter solstice: the shortest day of the year and the longest night, and the day in the northern hemisphere in which the sun travels as far south as it ever will.

The ancients – so they say – feared the sun would continue dipping farther and farther south until eternal night came and the sun returned no more — which is in a way true in the northernmost latitudes.

But on December 21st or 22nd (depending on the year), the curse reverses. Stops, and turns back. The winter solstice is a promise that night will not last forever. The days will lengthen. Light and warmth will return.

But now, as the darkness of December dives ever deeper, we remember the darkness of a world without a savior. We remember the 400-year long wait to hear the voice of God again. We remember the oppression and the lack and the longing.

And we wait. We wait for freedom and redemption and unblemished communion with God. For everything in Herod’s Temple was but a shadow of the communion we are created to live. And the communion we now enjoy through Christ crucified and risen is still but a shadow of the feasting and oneness and rejoicing in the eternal Kingdom Come.

So we wait.

I remember in the States how the darkness would get the best of me. Not before Christmas mind you – there was too much joy and excitement and twinkle lights – but after. In January (which was far colder) the short days would depress me. It wasn’t enough to immobilize me, but it was enough to feel its weight bearing down on me — and February wasn’t much better.

But I was never afraid of that darkness. In that developed place, there are enough city lights and home lights that the darkness didn’t ever feel total. Here, though, it’s different. Our low tropical latitude means sunset comes on fast and strong, all year round. The darkness doesn’t just deepen. It makes a swift descent.

And the darkness is much more complete. I never noticed it as much, before we boarded a boat too poor to own a light for a sunset “cruise” in Kampot. That darkness I tell ya, it’s quick. And thick. It’s a despairing darkness, and feels as if morning might never come.

Sunset comes at nearly the same time year round: 6 pm. We don’t have shorter days (not by much anyway), but we don’t have longer days either. I do miss the seasonal lengthening.

And though we live in the city, the darkness is still complete. Out my front door is a partially completed yet still tall and as-yet uninhabited row house. It blocks whatever city lights might get to my 3rd story living room window. So when night begins, the darkness is total.

And ever since that dark river trip in which I truly encountered the darkness of the Cambodian jungle, I cannot bear even to look out my window at night. Not after riding along a churning, muddy river without a light. This darkness is too much for me. And too soon. Each evening it comes too soon.

But isn’t this the soul of Advent? The darkness is too much for us. We were not created to live in this darkness, nor to take part in creating the darkness.

So we wait. And we cry out. We cry for mercy. We cry for hope. We cry for return. Return of the Light. Return of the Son. Return of the King.

Until He comes, we will cry. Until He comes, we will wait. Until He comes, we will not lose hope.

And we will remember. We will remember that at just the right time, eternal, all-powerful God became flesh and dwelt among us. Pitched His bodily tent among us.

His is the unwavering Light in this present darkness.

Come, Lord Jesus.

A Few of My Favorite Things {April 2016}

Here are some highlights from the hottest month of the year. To be honest, it’s been kind of a rough one, what with the heat, the power outages, the broken things, the loud funeral chanting, the karaoke music in the morning, the metal shop next door, and even the middle-of-the-night cat fights outside our bedroom windows, but here are some honest-to-goodness bright spots. (And in answer to your unspoken question, yes I’m still writing in my gratitude journal! I’m just being honest about the hard things too.) ~Elizabeth

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Watching some dear friends and teammates in the local homeschool coop’s play. I wrote about what I learned from that refreshing evening here.

Heading to Mondulkiri province with our teammates for Khmer New Year. It’s unbearably hot in Phnom Penh, but it’s at least 10ºF cooler in Mondulkiri during the day – and so cool at night I need a blanket, even without any fans. We met up with some other missionary friends in the area and had a lot of fun fellowship. I completely “unplugged” during this time and didn’t even use my husband’s phone to check Facebook or email. And the kids were again able to traipse all over the campground with their friends (there were 21 children in total), really getting that “camp experience” that Jonathan and I cherish so much from our childhoods. Here’s what I wrote about Mondulkiri on Facebook last year, what I wrote about it this year, and what I blogged about it last year.

Participating in the Velvet Ashes online retreat. The theme was “Commune: Closer to Christ, Farther from Fear.” Karolyn’s testimony really resonated with me, as she talked a lot about the Shepherd. She taught us that we are supposed to find our identity in the Shepherd alone – not even in being sheep, but really, truly in belonging to the Shepherd. She talked about how our Shepherd leads us to different pastures, but that’s all they are: different pastures. The pastures are His, and He is with us the entire time. Sometimes I can get hung up on “place” and Home being a place, but I loved the beauty of what Karolyn said about the Shepherd leading us to different pastures and being with Him the whole time. Beautiful, true, comforting imagery.

Also in the retreat time Kimberly read aloud Psalm 23 in The Message, because we tend to gloss over familiar passages of scripture without really thinking about them. She wanted us to listen to the psalm and pick out which phrases really caught our attention. The phrase that immediately caught me was “You let me catch my breath.” It stood out to me because I’ve been really breathless lately. I feel I can’t catch my breath, there’s so much to do, and the idea of catching my breath with God sounds really, really inviting.

Co-leading a workshop on relationships for international teens. We focused on both friendships and dating/romantic relationships, and I really enjoyed our interactive sessions. Confession: I really miss youth ministry! It was a thrill to get just a little taste of it again. I led a session about female friendships and also participated in a panel discussion on guy-girl relationships with the other leaders.

 

BOOKS

A Circle of Quiet by Madeleine L’Engle. I broke through the “wall” I was hitting in this book, and it started flowing much more quickly and easily. L’Engle is completely out of time. She’s in my grandmother’s generation, but I keep reading her words thinking they are directed at today’s society, when in reality she was a 1940’s bride and has been dead nearly a decade. So she’s a good example of the fact that human nature and human needs don’t really change. There’s so much in this book that I underline and find profound – too much to quote. You should just read the whole thing!

Two-Part Invention: The Story of a Marriage, also by Madeleine L’Engle. Marvelous. Absolutely marvelous.  Her husband had one kind of upbringing: stable. And she had another: mobile. I found myself in her story, and I found her musings on home, belonging, and marriage to be deeply moving. Be forewarned — it’s a tear-jerker. A beautiful tear-jerker, but a tear-jerker nonetheless.

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis. We finally finished reading this one! Goodness it takes longer to get through than any of the other Chronicles. I have so much less motivation to read it, although there really are some very good metaphors for the Christian life in it, including the baptism/transformation of Eustace and the appearance of Aslan in the form of a bird in one of their darkest, most fearful hours.

 

BLOG POSTS

What If? by Michele Womble. Poetry by Michele is something you should never skip!

Commune: In the Breaking by Patty Stallings. In preparation for the Velvet Ashes retreat. Beautiful.

Sometimes We Can’t Feed Ourselves by Amy Young. Also in preparation for the Velvet Ashes retreat.

Breath of Life by Amy Young. Because I forget that I need to b-r-e-a-t-h-e. So thankful for the reminder.

Resurrection by Sarah Bessey. Because there’s no way I can pass up Sarah Bessey on resurrection — and you shouldn’t either.

The Cult of Calling by Leslie Verner. Such great truth that really touched a nerve over at A Life Overseas.

Sisterhood: We Sharpen Iron Here by Idelette McVicker. I’ve talked about this before, but I’ll say it again: Christian female friendships have been some of my most life-giving relationships. I treasure them.

A Fit Bit (on belonging; not on electronic step tracking!) by Robynn Bliss. Not belonging or fitting in: this is the TCK condition. It is also the human condition. Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful. (And as an aside, when I met with Robynn in person, I felt like I belonged. I hope she felt the same.)

The Desert Shall Bloom by Emily Hamilton. Because “flourishing in the desert” imagery speaks my language.

On Freedom and Forgiveness by Jen Hatmaker. Such important truth, and so clearly and convincingly laid out here.

 

SONGS

Let It Be Jesus by Christy Nockels. Especially the phrase:

God I breathe Your name above everything.

Beneath the Waters by Hillsong. Especially the bridge:

Your word it stands eternal
Your Kingdom knows no end
Your praise goes on forever
And on and on again

No power can stand against You
No curse assault Your throne
No one can steal Your glory
For it is Yours alone

 

VIDEOS AND PODCASTS

If:Equip is going through the Nicene Creed. Here are my favorite discussions so far (they are each 2 minutes):

Day 7 on God being good

Day 10 on God as creator

Day 18 on the resurrection

Day 21 On the Holy Spirit

Day 24 on listening to the Holy Spirit

What Room Does Fear Have? video and backstory. This one’s 20 minutes, but worth the time.

Finding Allies in Imagination: Sarah MacKenzie of the Read Aloud Revival Podcast interviews S.D. Smith, author of The Green Ember (which I recently bought but haven’t read to the kids yet). Encouraging.

Navigating Fantasy: Sarah MacKenzie interviews Carolyn Leiloglou. Another WONDERFUL Read Aloud Revival podcast.

What does it mean to be emotionally healthy? by Kay Bruner. A short but comprehensive description of emotional health, including recommendations for some of our favorite books, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Peter Scazzero and the classic Boundaries by Henry Cloud and John Townsend.

Head, body, heart: three ways to work a problem by Kay Bruner. How much do I love this (also short) animation? So much. We are whole beings and have to treat ourselves as such.

And finally, this trigonometry animation, because I’m still more than a little obsessed with sine, cosine, and the unit circle.

 

FUNNY STUFF (because too often I forget to laugh)

27 Ridiculously Funny Things Sleep Deprived Moms Have Done. I laughed so hard at these! (Once I walked into a wall while on my way to fetch my little nursling.)

This Video Slays Every Video About Working Women Ever. Found this through a FB friend. Kind of like Igniter Media’s Nobody has it all together, minus the Christianity.

Jim Gaffigan on bowling. Because it’s Jim Gaffigan, and that means funny. (I actually do love bowling though.)

Jim Gaffigan on Disney World. As someone who doesn’t like amusement parks, I couldn’t stop laughing at this. (Beware one bad word.)

 

QUOTES (but only a few this month)

For the liturgical among us, Easter is a season, not a day. So even though it’s way past Easter, I’m going to share an Easter memory from Kimberlee Conway Ireton’s book The Circle of Seasons: Meeting God in the Church Year.  This particular story took place on Easter morning several years ago. The author’s son had been given a balloon in Bible class. He walked into the sanctuary where his mom was chatting with one of their pastors. He accidentally let go of the balloon, causing it to float upwards. The pastor immediately started walking for a ladder to retrieve the balloon for this heartbroken young lad. Kimberlee tried to stop him: “Please don’t. We believe in letting him experience the consequences of his actions.” But the minister turned around and said,

“It’s Easter, Kimberlee. There are no consequences.”

Aslan and Lucy in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader:

“Do not look so sad. We shall meet soon again.”
“Please, Aslan,” said Lucy, “what do you call soon?”
“I call all times soon.”

Stephen Hawking, in The Illustrated A Brief History of Time, explaining straight lines and the curvature of space in a way in which I finally “got it.” I must admit that my study of spherical (or globe) geometry from several years ago greatly aided my understanding of this section. Even so, this is the best explanation I’ve ever read:

Einstein made the revolutionary suggestion that gravity is not a force like other forces, but is a consequence of the fact that space-time is not flat, as had been previously assumed: it is curved, or ‘warped,’ by distribution of mass and energy in it.

Bodies like the earth are not made to move on curved orbits by a force called gravity; instead, they follow the nearest thing to a straight path in a curved space, which is called a geodesic. A geodesic is the shortest (or longest) path between two nearby points. For example, the surface of the earth is a two-dimensional curved space. A geodesic on the earth is called a great circle, and is the shortest route between two points. As the geodesic is the shortest path between any two airports, this is the route an airline navigator will tell the pilot to fly along.

In general relativity, bodies always follow straight lines in four-dimensional space-time, but they nevertheless appear to us to move along curved paths in our three-dimensional space. (This is rather like watching an airplane flying over hilly ground. Although it follows a straight line in three-dimensional space, its shadow follows a curved path on the two-dimensional ground.)

How can I not love this chemistry analogy from Mike Bickle in his book Growing in the Prophetic? Though it’s not a perfect description of the science (but really, what metaphor is perfect?), over and over this has been my spiritual experience: I sit and I sit and I sit before God, and nothing happens. Then all of a sudden one day, something BIG happens:

There is a chemistry experiment called a titration. In this experiment, there are two clear solutions in separate test tubes. Drop by drop, one solution is mingled with the other. There is no chemical reaction until the one solution becomes supersaturated with the other. The final drop that accomplishes this causes a dramatic chemical reaction that is strikingly visible.

Some sit before God in prayer rooms and renewal meetings for hours with no apparent spiritual reaction taking place. Then, suddenly, they have a power encounter with the Spirit that radically impacts them. In retrospect, they come to believe that a spiritual “titration” was going on through the many hours of waiting on God and through soaking in the invisible and hidden ministry of the Holy Spirit.

Corduroy by Don Freeman. I got back into reading shorter books with my younger kids this month and was particularly drawn to the end of Corduroy, where the little girl Lisa brings Corduroy home from the department store.

Corduroy blinked. There was a chair and a chest of drawers, and alongside a girl-size bed stood a little bed just the right size for him. The room was small, nothing like that enormous palace in the department store.

“This must be home,” he said. “I know I’ve always wanted a home.”

Lisa sat down with Corduroy on her hap and began to sew a button on his overalls. “I like you the way you are,” she said, “but you’ll be more comfortable with your shoulder strap fastened.”

“You must be a friend,” said Corduroy. “I’ve always wanted a friend.”

“Me too!” said Lisa, and gave him a big hug.

Isn’t that just the heart cry of all of us? We want home and a friend and unconditional acceptance.

Horton Hears a Who by Dr. Seuss. No matter how many times I read this book, little Jo-Jo’s YOPP at the end still gives me goose bumps. No matter what it is or how small it seems, the kingdom work you and I do matters.

And he climbed with the lad up the Eiffelberg Tower.
“This,” cried the Mayor, “is your town’s darkest hour!
The time for all Whos who have blood that is red
To come to the air of their country!” he said.
“We’ve GOT to make noises in greater amounts.
So open your mouth, lad! For every voice counts!”

Thus he spoke as he climbed. When they got to the top,
The lad cleared his throat and he shouted out, “YOPP!”

And that Yopp . . .
That one small, extra Yopp put it over!
Finally at last! From that speck on that clover
Their voices were heart! They rang out clear and clean.
And the elephant smiled. “Do you see what I mean? . . .
They’ve proved they ARE persons, no matter how small.
And their whole world was saved by the Smallest of All!”

A Few of My Favorite Things {September 2015}

Here are some of my Favorites from this last month. ~Elizabeth

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Pen-and-Paper journaling and analog Bible reading. As much as I loved reading the Kindle versions of Grace for the Good Girl and From Good to Grace for my devotional times over the summer, my soul felt so happy to return to good old pen-and-paper journaling and analog Bible reading this month. Apparently I need the turning of pages and the moving of my hands on paper. My soul is different on the inside, more still and at peace.

Prayer time with the prayer team.  Being in ministry and continuously pouring myself out for others, I often forget to let others pour into me. I (usually) remember to let God fill me up, and I most certainly draw strength from my marriage, but I generally forget to let other people pour into me. Which is why meeting with the prayer team at our international church felt so good. I didn’t owe anyone anything; my only job was to receive prayer. I didn’t even have to come up with words and verses for them to pray over me; that was their job. I cannot tell you how good that felt and how many burdens were lifted from my heart after that prayer session.

A farewell night with my team. I’m so thankful for the families on our Team Expansion team. They are dear, safe confidants, and their children are like my children’s cousins on the field. In an ex-pat world of moving people, there is something so comforting about having people who get you (because you live the same lifestyle), and who are also committed to you on a longer-term basis (because of the organizational link). The difference in relational security is staggering. And also, my people are funny. They make me laugh. I can be so focused and serious sometimes (most times?) that I need real, live people to pull me out of my Seriousness and have fun with me.

Worship music from Hillsong, International House of Prayer (IHOP), Bethel, Matt Redman, Chris Tomlin, etc. While I dozed over the Pacific, I listened to my (10-year old) iPod shuffle, which has all my favorite worship music on it. I love IHOP music. Can’t get enough of it. In the time of flux we like to call “furlough,” this music served to re-center me and focus my affections on God. Bonus: it lulled me to sleep during a bad hour of turbulence. I get airsick pretty easily, and Jonathan told me later that he kept looking over at me during this hour, fearing I would be sick. Instead I was fast asleep. Thankful for that!

My parents’ house. As expected, I did feel right at home walking into their house. My parents have lived here 15 years, the longest they’ve ever lived anywhere (with the next longest time being 4 ½ years), and it truly feels like home to me. For years Jonathan and I lived only 20 minutes away, and I brought my kids here at least once a week. I have all these memories of my mom babysitting so I could go to pre-natal appointments and then staying for the rest of the day, of using her laundry when we didn’t have a washing machine of our own, and of just plain sitting nursing my babies while I sat and talked with her.

And my kids remember this place too, both before we moved to Cambodia and on our last stateside service, when we stayed here a couple months. This house is for them, I hope, what my grandparents’ house was for me: a rock, and a stable place to return to. Plus, Mom makes yummy food, and her house has soft sheets, a dryer, and comfortable carpet. What other creature comforts could I ask for?? It truly is a safe place in a time of transition and culture shock.

Free parks in cool September weather. It’s not cold yet! The weather is pleasant and beautiful. Friends lent us bicycles, and my kids are enjoying those, along with all the free, non-rusting, non-blisteringly-hot playgrounds. Windows are wide open all the time, and I’m enjoying the very fresh, non-garbage-y air. I can walk the neighborhoods — whose sidewalks are both clean and flat — without a bunch of mangy dogs barking and nipping at me. Also I’m loving the back porch as a place to read and write.

A total lunar eclipse. I hadn’t seen one since I was a girl, and it was neat to both see it and revisit some of the science behind eclipses. I was still jet-lagged but nothing can erase the splendor of a blood-red moon.

Free books from the library. Need I say more? My mom lets me max out her library card while I’m here. If I come across any treasures, I’ll be sure to review them here next month.

And now for some Link Love . . .

 

BOOKS

When God Became King by N.T. Wright. This is my first N.T. Wright (I know, I’m late to the game), and like all Wright, it’s dense and will take me a while to get through. So far I’m intrigued. I love the Creeds (Apostles’ and Nicene) and the way they encapsulate the gospel story. But Wright says they’re incomplete. They’re missing Jesus’ LIFE. So I’m on a journey to find out more. . .

 

BLOG POSTS

An Open Letter from My 42 Year Old self to My 28 Year Old Self Who is About to Begin Homeschooling by Laura Hamm Coppinger. New homeschool moms take note of this advice! I had the privilege of being counseled by Laura at Bible camp for several years in a row back in the 1990’s, and I relate to her on so many levels, not least of which is being guilty of taking homeschooling waaaaay too seriously in the early days. As she says, “Hello, he’s five.” Also she cracks me up with: “Someone always has to poop.” Yep. Ask any mom of boys and they’ll tell you the same. For another hilarious parenting one from her, check out The Story of My Sleeves.

My Daughter was Born on the Anniversary of 9/11 by Rachel Pieh Jones. If there’s one thing Rachel knows how to do, it’s write tear-jerkers! It’s been a few weeks since we commemorated the anniversary of 9/11, but this post is worth going back to. May you be encouraged by both the hope and the shalom present in this story.

Stupid Phrases for People in Crisis by Marilyn Gardner. Need I say more? The title tells all. Marilyn is always wise — and in this case, she’s funny too.

How to Respond (without violence) When Someone Says “Everything-Happens-For-A-Reason” by Christine Suhan. More on the subject of responding to people in crisis. This post reminded me of the scene in Call the Midwife when Jenny is in despair after her boyfriend unexpectedly dies. Sister Julienne tells her, “God isn’t in the event, Jenny. He’s in the response to the event.” I’ve always had trouble accepting theology that says God is sovereign; therefore He intended for [rape/violence/trafficking/cancer] to happen. Sentiments like Sister Julienne’s comfort me in my faith in a loving God, and I often find myself remembering her statement in the midst of tragedy.

Grace and Anger by Chris Lautsbaugh. Sometimes I’ve found, as Chris explains in this post, that what’s underneath my anger is a deep sadness and grief that I’d rather not address. Perhaps you’ve experienced this too.

Christ, Our Righteous Garment by Missy Filler. Another post on grace and works. I think so many of us have felt this way before and struggled to untangle our thinking.

An Unexpected Friend by Melanie Singleton. So many reasons to love this post about insecurity, gratitude, and finding deep, healing friendships with other women.

Faith in the Valley: Hagar in the Desert by Katrina Ryder. I’ve gotten to know Katrina through fellow A Life Overseas writers Andy and Kay Bruner. When I shared with her my recent post about Hagar, she in turn shared her thoughts on Hagar. I was blown away. Blown away. I love the stories in Genesis. I think and read about them a lot (I take after my mummy in that regard). But here Katrina offers thoughts that you’ve never thunk before. Read it and engage with her in her own comment section, and then let me know so I can read your thoughts, too.

 

VIDEOS AND PODCASTS

Kari Jobe teaching on worship.  You all know I love to worship. And I love this teaching on worship from Kari Jobe.

Addicted to Anxiety 2 seminar. Over the years I’ve dealt with some pretty significant anxiety, both in social situations and over health and safety fears. I don’t generally live with overpowering anxiety anymore, but in times of stress, I can really start to feel anxious again. What I love about this seminar is finding out that teachers and writers whom I love and respect have dealt with heavy anxiety too; I’m not alone. Maybe you also need to know you’re not alone in your anxiety. In particular I loved hearing from Angie Smith (whom I know from IF:Gathering) at 19:00, Beth Moore at 34:40, and Holley Gerth (founder of incourage.me) at 2:01:55.

Emily P. Freeman on the Feathers podcast. I’ve talked about Emily, author of Grace for the Good Girl, before. I loved this interview with her.

Flourishing in Grace by Katrina Ryder. As I mentioned before, I met Katrina through some mutual friends. She’s the editor at the website To Save a Life, where some of Jonathan’s and my work has been reprinted. I love her video sessions! This one is based out of her personal interaction with the ideas in Emily P. Freeman’s Grace for the Good Girl. Scroll to the bottom to watch the video.

Finding the Rest of My Faith by Katrina Ryder. Another one from Katrina, on spiritual rest, and I like it even better than her first one. She made me laugh a bunch in this one.

Erasing the Stigma of Mental Illness in the Church — an interview with Kay Warren. Wow. You will cry during this interview. Kay and her husband Rick lost their son to suicide several years ago. Kay is wise and compassionate and offers advice for churches wanting to help those suffering with mental illness, including some beginning book recommendations. What I love about Kay is that she thinks the Church has something to offer those suffering from mental illness that no one else can offer. It’s a really hopeful view of both the Church and mental illness.

To Scale: The Solar System. You might have seen this already. I love it. When I was a child, I dreamed I walked the solar system. I passed by the gas planets, walked all the way to Pluto (which was still considered a planet), and ended in a beautiful valley. It was paradise, the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. I often think of that dream and the way God placed a love for the heavens in me from a very early age. Of course the science and scale of my dream was waaaaay off, for me to be walking past the gas planets. But the awe and wonder present in that dream are still present in my waking hours today.

Biblical Imagination and the Gospels — interview with Michael Card. Jonathan and I have a long-standing love for Michael Card’s theologically-rich lyrics, including songs like El Shaddai, Things We Leave Behind, Why, and God’s Own Fool (which I’ve actually blogged about before). I loved listening to Michael’s explanation of the Biblical imagination and how to connect the head and the heart, and his four new Gospel commentaries are now on my To Read (Eventually) list. Here’s a quicker explanation for the Biblical imagination from Michael. He’s also done some teaching on lamenting as worship, which I really appreciated.

Never Once by Matt Redman. I listened to this song on the plane. It was the theme song during our last trip to the U.S. and truly represented how we felt about our first term in Cambodia. Now that I’ve finished a second term, I can again say with gratitude that never once did I ever walk alone. He has been with me, beside me, and in me this entire time, and I see how His love has burned ever deeper into my heart the past two years.

Enjoying the God Who Ignites the Stars {Velvet Ashes}

Elizabeth is over at Velvet Ashes today, talking about one of the big ways she enjoys God.

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“What is the chief end of man?” asks one of the Protestant catechisms. Its answer captivates me: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” What a privilege, what a beautiful and lofty purpose we’ve been given! For me, one of the best ways to enjoy God is to revel in the heavens He has stretched out like a curtain (Isaiah 40:22).

I was once so enthralled by an astronomy article that I announced over the dinner table, “Did you hear the latest about black holes?” I had inserted this statement into an Avengers conversation that had apparently been going on without me, much to my family’s amusement. I was forced to defend myself against their laughter: “Black holes are important! The more you know about the heavens, the closer you get to God.”

I actually believe that. The truest thing I know is the very first verse in the Bible: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” When I lose my way, it is the rock I return to. When my faith begins to capsize, it is the lifeboat that rescues me. In those times, no other theology will do. No other verse matters — only what I see in the stars.

“The Lord merely spoke and the heavens were created. He breathed the word, and all the stars were born. For when He spoke, the world began! It appeared at His command” (Psalm 33:6,9). I can’t get over this truth. It never loses its wonder for me. It is the splendor of creation ex nihilo, something out of nothing. This one thing I know for sure: He speaks, and creation begins. He speaks, and stars appear. He speaks, and we come into existence. Light, energy, mass – all were created at His command.

Finish reading the post here.

Faith That Won’t Fracture

by Elizabeth

fract3

By now you probably know I’m a romantic about the Cosmos. So when I heard that Krista Tippett had interviewed Margaret Wertheim for her podcast On Being on April 23rd of this year, I knew right away I had to listen to it. Several years ago Wertheim gave a TED talk on coral reefs as physical representations of hyperbolic (or non-Euclidean) geometry, and I’ve been enraptured by — nay almost addicted to —  those ideas ever since. (But hyperbolic coral geometry is a blog post for another day.)

Anyway, at one point during the interview Krista Tippett says, “So, I always like this fact that light can be a particle or a wave depending on what question you ask of it as kind of a way of demonstrating, I think — something we all also experience, that contradictory explanations of reality can simultaneously be true.” Oh yes – there is paradox in physics as well as life. I’ve talked about that before.

Krista goes on to read something beautiful that Margaret Wertheim wrote in one of her books:

“Wave particle duality is a core feature of our world. Or rather, we should say, it is a core feature of our mathematical descriptions of our world. But what is critical to note here is that, however ambiguous our images, the universe itself remains whole and is manifestly not fracturing into schizophrenic shards. It is this tantalizing wholeness and the thing itself that drives physicists onward like an eternally beckoning light that seems so teasingly near. It is always out of reach.”

In the interview Margaret expounds on her own quote:

“Physics, for the past century, had this dualistic way of describing the world. One in terms of waves, which is usually conceived of as a continuous phenomena. And one in terms of particles, which is usually conceived of as a discrete or sort of digitized phenomena. And so quantum mechanics gives us the particle, as it were, discrete description. And general relativity gives us the wavelike, continuous description. And general relativity operates at the cosmological scale. And quantum mechanics operates so brilliantly at the subatomic scale. And these two theories don’t currently mathematically mesh. So the great hope of physics for the last 80 or so years has been, ‘Can we find a unifying framework that will combine general relativity and quantum mechanics into one mathematical synthesis?’ And some people believe that that’s what string theory can be. And it’s often — when contemporary physicists write about the world, they talk about this as being a fundamental problem for reality. But it’s not a fundamental problem for reality. It’s a fundamental problem for human beings. The universe is just getting on with it.

And so I think the universe isn’t schizophrenic. It’s not having a problem. We’re having a problem. And I don’t think it means that there’s anything wrong with what physicists are doing. Quantum mechanics and general relativity have both been demonstrated to be true in their demands of expertise to 20 decimal places of experimentation. That’s a degree of success which is mind-blowing and awe-inspiring. But the fact that these two great, fabulously functional descriptions don’t fit together means we haven’t, by any means, learned all we’ve got to know about the world.”

I love how Wertheim says the Cosmos isn’t fracturing with our inability to reconcile relativity (on the large scale of planets, stars, and galaxies) with quantum mechanics (on the small scale of subatomic particles). The Universe isn’t freaking out about this problem. We humans are the ones freaking out, because we can’t get the math to work.

In the same way, our faith need not manifestly fracture into shards with our inability to fit together paradoxical descriptions of God – nor, for that matter, does God Himself fracture with our human inability to understand all of Him. I love the idea that the Cosmos and its Creator are higher than our capacity to comprehend them. I love the sense of awe and wonder that induces. And I love the fact that there’s always more for us to learn and discover.

In the 6th chapter of John’s gospel, Jesus says some really strange cannibalistic-sounding things. The disciples respond by saying, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?” The Greek word that is translated “accept” means to “comprehend by listening.” I find there is a difference between accepting something as paradox or mystery, and actually comprehending it. So perhaps the disciples were really saying, “Who can understand this teaching?”

I do not need to fully understand the way the universe works in order to accept that it does work. I do not have to fully understand Jesus’ words in order to accept them as Truth. This is the enigma of loving a limitless God.  This is the mystery of life with Christ, God-made-flesh. This is the joy of a faith that won’t fracture.

 

photo credit

Paradox and the Hope of Progress

by Elizabeth

The paths of subatomic particles in a bubble chamber.

The paths of subatomic particles in a bubble chamber. Photo source: CERN

A few months ago I came across the phrase “No paradox, no progress” in a science magazine. The quote was attributed to quantum physicist Niels Bohr and immediately grabbed my attention. (Bohr made breakthroughs in understanding the structure of atoms, among other things.) No paradox, no progress?? This statement is as true of quantum mechanics as it is of life.

The phrase really stuck with me and came to mind as I was writing my last installment in the Parsonage Heresies series at A Life Overseas. I didn’t have space in the article to contemplate this beautiful quote the way I wanted to. And at any rate, I couldn’t remember in which article I had found the words “no paradox, no progress,” so I let the idea go. Until now.

When I went searching for the quote in the Place Where All Lost Quotes Reside (also known as The Internet), I discovered that Bohr’s actual words were more akin to “How wonderful that we have met with a paradox. Now we have some hope of making progress.” I love the sentiment from this scientist: we need to give ourselves permission to embrace paradox.

Paradox, that discomfiting feeling we experience when opposites happen at once. Paradox is living in a place where it smells so bad and smells so good all at the same time. Paradox is feeling hope and despair in the same moment. Sometimes we struggle when we cannot reconcile our contradictory facts and feelings, or, in the arena of theology, reconcile seemingly contradictory Biblical passages.

We Western Christians are not very good at making peace with Paradox, are we? Yet without Paradox, our faith gets stuck. Without Paradox, we cling so tightly to our confusion and our contradictions that we can’t move forward in life.

I’ve found that it’s easier in the end — though definitely not in the beginning — to simply accept the paradox of two seemingly opposing truths than to attempt to force them into one truth and lose my faith. It’s better to accept both the good and bad in life and within myself rather than rationalizing any of it away.  After all, Niels Bohr is also quoted as having said “The opposite of a profound truth is another profound truth.”

Bohr’s kind of thinking has strengthened my love for God (He’s so much bigger than I could imagine!) and enriched my study of the Bible (I don’t have to understand it all!). It’s illuminated my past and enabled me to offer grace more fully to other people. I think the more liturgical among us call Bohr’s motto “Mystery.”

Mystery is holding two truths together lightly in our imperfect, human hands, and releasing the need to have one Perfect Answer. Mystery is the reason I’m troubled by extremist theology. Why is it so hard for us, in a trusting embrace of the Father, to hold two truths at the same time? Why can we not hold both that God is mercy, and that He is justice? Why can we not hold both that God is sovereign, and that we have free will (because He gave it to us)?

This Mystery I speak of, it consoles me.  I don’t have to have all the answers. I don’t have to get it all right. I can still believe. Mystery: it’s such a comfort. And in the words of Laura Hackett Park below, what Mystery can give back to us is a Life Abundant.

 

Now love’s a choice I know it’s true

He never forced my heart to move

But therein lies the mystery

That He reached first in choosing me

He spoke my name the sweetest sound

And to this day I still resound

Now death has lost its hold on me

Now life springs up abundantly