Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Integrative Essay

Erica Chan
DCM – C.S. Lewis
Profs. Ribeiro
Joy in the Journey

Joy.  This seemed to be a common theme throughout interim class.  Joy has been a rather difficult thing because sometimes I can be too serious, but I was surprised in the many places and ways joy can manifest itself.
We should find joy in our work, in our calling, our vocation.  God has called us to many different roles in life, whether it is a daughter, a mother, a sister, a teacher, the family snow plower.  In every aspect, whatever our calling, we should be “working as unto the Lord”, as it says in Colossians.  To work unto the Lord, we should be “doing well a thing that is well worth doing” (Sayers); we should be enjoying your work for the work itself, not what rewards we will receive upon completing the task.  Joy can be found by doing “the work for which he is fitted by nature…and in the fulfillment of his own nature, and in contemplation of the perfection for his work” (Sayers). We find joy because the work fits us.  In working solely for the work, we are put our skill and talents to use.  Because we know these are God’s, not ours, all praise goes to Him. We can have the satisfaction of having done our best, stewarded God’s gifts, and served His kingdom.  I like Even when we are doing so-called unimportant things, we can find joy because they build character and we know it is preparing us for our future callings.  As Plantinga says in Engaging God’s World, we learn the skills in order to have more freedom and more ability to solve the problems that come your way (130).
In preparation, for our work, we often learn these skills through education.  While skills and education are necessary for future occupations, one must pursue learning simply for the sake of learning.  As Lewis says in “Our English Syllabus”, a college student’s “business is to pursue knowledge” (85).  People may question the importance of learning and the joy found in it, when there seem to be more important and entertaining things to do that overshadow learning.  Students wonder why they must sit through a boring professor’s lecture or why they must still be in a lab at 9:00pm. Joy is found by learning about “’What do I most want to know?’” (Lewis, Our English Syllabus).  By delving deeply into a topic, we can marvel at God’s handiwork, his creation, his greatness.  Learning can be a duty, our work, our calling, which is glorifying to God, because “an appetite for these things exists in the human mind, and God makes no appetite in vain.  We can therefore pursue knowledge as such, and beauty, as such, in the sure confidence that by so doing we are either advancing to the vision of God ourselves or indirectly helping others to do so” (Lewis, Learning in War-Time).
In light of these two things, learning and our future occupations, college students struggle to find the balance.  Sometimes they can go together, but especially in our economic times, it is more difficult for most people.  They worry about the future.  Well, basically everyone worries about tomorrow.  But as Christ says in Matthew, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.”  We do not have to worry because we know God is in control.  Instead, we should focus on the present, or eternity, like Lewis describes in Letter XV of The Screwtape Letters:
He therefore, I believe, wants them to attend chiefly to two things, to eternity itself, and to that point of time which they call the Present. For the Present is the point at which time touches eternity. Of the present moment, and of it only, humans have an experience analogous to the experience which our Enemy has of reality as a whole; in it alone freedom and actuality are offered them. He would therefore have them continually concerned either with eternity (which means being concerned with Him) or with the Present—either meditating on their eternal union with, or separation from, Himself, or else obeying the present voice of conscience, bearing the present cross, receiving the present grace, giving thanks for the present pleasure."

We cannot always plan ahead because God can do some crazy things in our lives.  was reading Choosing to See by Mary Beth Chapman, and she listed three things she said she would never do: adopt, home school, and speak in public.  But God led her to do those very things, and she has received many blessings and also been a blessing to others as a result of her obedience to God.  By focusing on the present, we can find joy.  “Happy work is best done by the man who takes his long-term plans somewhat lightly and works from moment to moment ‘as to the Lord’.  It is only our daily bread that we are encouraged to ask for.  The present is the only time in which any duty can be done or any grace received (Lewis, Learning in War-Time).  The question we should be asking is not “What am I going to do tomorrow?”  but “What am I going to do today to grow? What am I doing to glorify God and encourage others along in their journey as well?”
            Plantinga describes each person has having responsibility over a little kingdom within God’s big kingdom.  In order to best serve God’s kingdom, we have to work with our neighbors and develop true friendships.  We cannot find joy in longing to be part of some group simply to be a part of it because “as long as you are governed by that desire you will never get what you want….The quest of the Inner Ring will break you hearts unless you break it” (Lewis, The Inner Ring).  Instead, we can find joy by choosing to spend time with people simply because we enjoy spending time with time.  We can find joy by running “the race marked out for us”, helping others to “throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles”, as the author of Hebrews writes.  As Lewis describes in The Screwtape Letters, it is easy for a person to not realize they are wandering from the narrow road; they only have this “vague, though, uneasy, feeling that he hasn’t been doing very well lately.”  But as fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, it is our job to keep each other accountable.  We can find joy by sharing in their happiness and sorrows, in helping each other live in Christ and grow in grace. 
All this joy is a result of surrendering to Christ.  It is when our will is given to God’s that it “becomes truly creative and truly our own when it is wholly God’s” (Problem of Pain 101).  This is shalom, “the way things are supposed to be” (Plantinga 15). And we will only have shalom when Christ returns, when we can finally enter the pearly gates.  Even when we are joyous here on Earth, it will not compare to the joy found in heaven.  Here, we long for something that we can only see glimpses of in this world, in a glorious piece of music, on a hike through the mountains, in uncontainable falling-off-the chair, belly busting laughter.
These things – the beauty, the memory of our own past – are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers.  For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited” (Lewis, Weight of Glory).

That country is heaven.  There in heaven we will be able to “be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it.”  No longer will we just look at the beauty; we will be able to look along it.  We will be able to experience glory, “good report with God, acceptance, by God, response, acknowledgement, and welcome into the heart of things” (Weight of Glory).  We will be able to experience the wonderful pleasure and joy of praise from God; we will be able “to be a real ingredient in the divine happiness…to be loved by God...delighted in as an artist delights in his work or a father in a son.”   Heaven will be a place where we can be healed from all our pain, sorrow, and suffering and filled with joy for “the whole man is to drink joy from the fountain of joy” (Weight of Glory).
And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.

-C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle

Works Cited

Holy Bible: New International Version. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006. N. pag. Print.

Lewis, C.S. “The Inner Ring.” Print.

Lewis, C.S. “Learning in War-Time”. Print.

Lewis, C.S. “Our English Syllabus.” Print.
Lewis, C. S. The Problem of Pain,. New York: Macmillan, 1944. Print.

Lewis, C.S. The Screwtape Letters. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1958. N. pag. Print.

Lewis, C.S. "The Weight of Glory." Print.

Plantinga Jr., Cornelius. Engaging God's World: A Reformed Vision of Faith, Learning, and Living. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2002. N. pag.  Print.

Sayers, Dorothy.  “Why Work?”. Print. 

Monday, January 24, 2011

Why Work?

By Dorothy Sayers

The writer describes work "as a way of life, in which the nature of man should find its proper exercise and delight and so fulfill it to the glory of God.  That it should...be thought of as a creative activity undertaken for the love of the work itself...." People "should make things...for the sake of doing well a thing that is well worth doing."   She argues "we should ask of an enterprise, not 'will it pay?' but 'is it good?'; of a man, not 'what does he make?' but 'what is his work worth?'; of goods, not 'Can we induce people to buy them?' but 'are they useful things well made?'; of employment, not 'how much a week?' but 'will it exercise my faculties to the utmost?'"  Her reasoning is that "work is the natural exercise and function of man" and as an offering to God, we should do our work well.

Sayers asks some very good questions.  I really like her comparison of work to a hobby because we do not gain monetary reward from doing it; it is simply the satisfaction and joy of doing it. 

"Work is not, primarily, a thing one does to live, but the thing one lives to do." Because of this, we should a) not focus on our wages, as long as we receive enough to keep on working because our reward is found in working; b) do, and have others do, what job/work we are best suited to; c) not think of our work as something to get done so we can have "leisure" but to enjoy it; d) fight for the "quality of the work that we do" - is it honest, beautiful, or useful? 

I agree with Sayers on the purpose of work but as to wages, one must make sure they are making ends meet.  She had a different way of looking at leisure, that it should be "the period of changed rhythm that refreshed us for the delightful purpose of getting on with our work."  I always thought of people doing their jobs because it was their job, even if it was enjoyable.  I never thought of fighting to produce a good product, of going beyond doing your job well to making sure what you are doing is beneficial. 

Sayers argues that the Church should view work as sacred because people are called to serve God in their work, not to separate their work and their Christian lives.  In order to serve God, we first have to make sure our work is done well, "that work is true in itself, to itself, to the standards of its own technique....The only Christian work is good work well done."  Because the work is an expression of a person, the work of a Christian will "naturally be turned to Christian ends." 

One must have integrity with their work.  God wants us to be faithful, and this is one way of doing it.  I'm not sure if I agree with the last sentence of the previous paragraph because sometimes a Christian's work, though it is done with good intentions, can lead to bad results, or un-Christian results.  If they forget to take some things into consideration, it can mislead people or have bad results. 

Lastly, Sayers argues that we should serve God before serving the community.  So in our work, we have to serve it, not the community or else you be distracted by questioning what others think of your work, you might think people owe you for your work, and you will only serve the community's wants, which is always changing, instead of doing good work. 

This relates back to "Learning in War-Time" where Lewis talks about learning as our duty.  Here, our job, our work, is our duty to God.  Plantinga, in his chapter "Vocation" also emphasizes the idea of finding what God has called you to, and doing the best job you can.  Also, in "The Weight of Glory", Lewis says "if God is satisfied with the work, the work may be satisfied with itself" (work meaning each person).  One still has to remember that while you want to do your job well, you must not be so focused on it so you ignore other people or other responsibilities, other callings God has for you.

Joining in the Dance

 I found this poem and gave my sister a copy of it for Christmas.  Dr. Ribeiro was talking about joining in the holy dance, and this seemed fitting:

Instruments (1)  By Madeleine L’Engle

The sky is strung with glory.
Light threads from star to star
from sun to sun
a living harp.
I rejoice, I sing, I leap upwards to play.
The music is in light.
My fingers pluck the vibrant strings;
the notes pulse, throb, in exultant harmony;
I beat my wings against the strands
that reach across the galaxies
I pla


It is not I who play
it is the music
the music plays itself
is played
plays me
small part of an innumerable
I am flung from note to note
impaled on melody
my wings are caught on throbbing filaments of light
the wild cords cut my pinions
my arms are outstretched
are bound by ropes of counterpoint
I am cross-eagled on the singing that is strung
from pulsing star
to flaming sun

I burn in a blaze of song.

The Problem of Pain: Ch. 6- Human Pain

The pain Lewis talks about in this chapter is "any experience, whether physical or mental, which the patient dislikes" and is synonymous with "'suffering', 'anguish', 'tribulation', adversity', or 'trouble'."  He says "the proper good of a creature is to surrender itself to its Creator" so we human beings as God's creation should be surrendering ourselves to God.  However, Lewis describes us as "rebels who must lay down our arms" because we find that "to surrender a self-will inflamed and swollen with years of usurpation is a kind of death"; we won't do it unless we find something wrong with our own will.  I found it interesting how Lewis says surrendering ourselves to God is "good".  I had never really connected this idea of surrendering to God and the concept of good and evil.  But it's true, apart from God, we cannot be good.

Lewis goes on to describe three purposes for pain:

1). "God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain; it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world."  Pain is God's tool to alert people know when something is wrong, either their actions or their surroundings. "A bad man, happy, is a man without the least inkling that his actions do not 'answer', that they are not in accord with the laws of the universe....But pain gives the only opportunity the bad man can have for amendment.  It removes the veil; it plants the flag of truth within the fortress of a rebel soul."  I had never thought of pain as giving a chance for people.  I guess it would be considered pain when someone rebukes or corrects you.  Sometimes you dislike the correction, but in the end it makes you confront and change yourself.

2).  Pain is used to show we cannot be self-sufficient; we have to depend on God.  If life if good, people don't recognize their need for Christ, that all their blessings could be gone and ultimately, God is the only One who will be there. Maybe the normal family that doesn't hurt anyone experience pain so they depend on Christ all the more.  Lewis describes a quality of God which he calls "Divine humility".  "[God] stoops to conquer. He will have us even though we have shown that we prefer everything else to Him, and come to Him because there is 'nothing better' now to be had."

This reminded of some verses from James 1: "Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance."  By facing hard times, we can grow stronger in our faith.  God's Divine humility struck me because it shows how patient God is. God will still accept us and love us even though He is our last resort before Hell.  It shows how He is willing to be ignored, to wait on us, until we can figure out with our stupid minds that He is the only one we can depend on and there is no way we can survive on our own. 

The third use of pain is to know when we have chosen to follow God's will.  Before the Fall, what we enjoyed doing was what doing things for God's sake.  "Pleasure was then an acceptable offering to God because offering was a pleasure."  But after the Fall, our desires often ignore God.  If our pleasure is the thing God wants us to do but we don't do it because it is God's will, "it remains a happy coincidence.  We cannot therefore know that we are acting at or, or primarily for God's sake, unless the material of the action is contrary to our inclinations, or (in other words) painful, and what we cannot know that we are choosing, we cannot choose.  The full acting out of the self's surrender to God therefore demands pain: this action, to be perfect, must be done from the pure will to obey, in the absence, or in the teeth, of inclination."

Again, I had never thought of this application of pain.  It was really interesting how Lewis describes the before and after of the Fall.  But if you have the perfect relationship with God, then you will want to do what He commands.  I agree with Lewis that pain is definitely an indicator for God's will.  And yet, I don't think every time we choose to follow God's will, pain is a part of it.  Nobody is perfect, but I think there are people who have reached a point in their faith where they find pleasure in doing what God says, just because it is His will, at least some of the time. 

"Human will becomes truly creative and truly our own when it is wholly God's, and this is one of the many senses in which he that loses his soul shall find it."  This is totally opposite of what one thinks; one usually thinks holding on tighter will give them the ability to control their life. 

A question I was thinking about is whether pain is evil.  Is it something that is evil that God turned for good?  I don't think I mean pain, in Lewis's sense, in which we dislike it, but where it hurts us? 

*Reminder: Lewis is talking about Pain as any experience, whether physical or mental, which the patient dislikes" and is synonymous with "'suffering', 'anguish', 'tribulation', adversity', or 'trouble'."

Friday, January 21, 2011

Vocation in the Kingdom of God

Ch. 5 by Plantinga

I found it interesting how Plantinga talks about each of us having our own little kingdom within God's kingdom.  I had always thought of us being just a servant in God's kingdom.  I guess this gives us more of a sense of responsibility, this area I have to take care of.

A vocation is what a person is called to do.  One person can have many vocations, such as father, lawyer, elder, son, and coach.  These vocations all fall under the vocation of serving the Lord.  Plantinga lays out questions lays out questions one should ask when looking for a career: 
"Where in the kingdom does God want me to work?  Where are the needs great?  Where are the workers few?...How honest is the work I'm thinking of doing?  How necessary and how healthy are the goods or services I would help provide? How smoothly could I combine my proposed career with being a spouse, if that's also my calling, or a parent, or a faithful child of aging parents?  How close would I be to a church in which I could give and take nourishment?"  Is my job going to result in me conquering less evil than I take in? 
While I do not think one should compromise his standards, I thought some of these questions seemed really ideal because there are always circumstances which stop you, for example the current economy, distance, people you need to care for, the lack of money.  Then I saw how Plantinga said we should also consider how it goes with our other vocations, especially those related to other people.  Maybe ultimately you are to become a doctor, but at this point in time, you are called to be a waiter, in order to fill the needs of your family.  A part of this chapter was on the idea of doing our best whatever the calling is, even in the small mundane tasks.

A problem I have had with the discussion on vocation is how do you know what God is calling you to?  I know that right now, my calling is to be a student, to "prepare for further calling", as Plantinga says, but I have no clue, nor much idea how to find out, what that exactly is.  

Plantinga discusses the difference between a secular and Christian college education. Most Christians in secular education will have a harder time developing a Christian philosophy, or worldview on everything in life, and will not take the time to differentiate between good and evil on campus and develop such a philosophy whereas a student in a Christian college will have their faith integrated into their learning.  He warns the Christian-college attending student to be wary of just going with the flow and to really think about what you are learning, to push yourself out of your safe zone.  While I agree a secular education has many difficulties that a Christ-centered education does not, I have found we, at Calvin, get caught up in work and don't have time to think about our own Christian philosophy, just like the secular student.  For example, our floor class was focused on origins of this world.  It was supposed to present different views, give people a better understanding of what those views are exactly, and to promote discussion.  One of the things I discovered is that it didn't help get any closer to finding out what I believed. 

Plantinga talks about how knowledge, skills, and virtues are necessary to fulfilling our vocation.  I like Plantinga's description of skills as "'how to' disciplines that...require a certain amount of sweat and repetition, and then yield some wonderful freedoms" and his comparison of this idea to a jazz musician.  By learning the skills and having discipline, the basics, the jazz musician has the freedom to improvise.  A student will be able to use the skills they have learned and apply it new ways and to different problems.  Virtues I feel are less emphasized in society but play a huge part.  A person who slacks off but is extremely knowledgeable or skillful may end up being of less value than a person who is very diligent, doing the best he can, and sets out to learn everything they can about the job.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Man or Rabbit?

"Can't you lead a good life without believing in Christianity?" Lewis said one should never ask this question because that means you are not considering if Christianity is true or not; you simply want whatever is most helpful to you. Lewis argues we cannot avoid the question of whether Christianity is true or not.  If we just try to ignore it because we don't want to think about it or the consequences when one does find out about it, we are "shirking....[We are] in a state of dishonest error, and that dishonesty will spread through all his thoughts and actions: a certain shiftiness, a vague worry in the background, a blunting of [our] whole mental edge, will result."  Lewis says such a person is "an ostrich, hiding its head in the sand", not a Man.

Lewis was especially convicting when he seemed to be talking about things he himself did: "evade the Son of Man, to look the other way, to pretend you haven't noticed, to become suddenly absorbed in something on the other side of the street, to leave the receiver off the telephone because it might be He who was ringing up, to leave unopened certain letters in a strange handwriting because they might be from Him....."  After reading this, I was like "Ahhhh.  That's me."  Not about pursuing Christianity's credibility but about other problems I need to face such as choosing majors, greeting people I don't really know, or just things I don't want to find the result of.  But I can't put things off because I simply do not like doing them because I will end up doing them anyways.  I find that if I try to ignore things, it ends up catching to me.  And when I just start out avoiding a couple of things, I get into the habit of doing so, like Lewis said.  It also applies when I know I am sinning and/or not being the best steward of my time, but I try to come up with some excuse for it.

A point brought up in class was errors or sins found in others.  Dr. Ribeiro talked about how she would try to avoid seeing them because she didn't want to confront others.  I found myself doing the same thing sometimes.  Or if I do see it, I don't want to do anything for fear of insulting them or not wanting to cause trouble.  But God has called us to watch out for others and correct them in love, in order to help them grow; it is our responsibility. Lewis emphasizes this: "Knowledge of the facts must make a difference to one's actions."  I have failed at living this out because I know of God's grace and love, I know what He has commanded me, but often it doesn't influence my actions.  I need to live it out, on Christ's strength.
I like how Lewis doesn't want to give us an answer to whether you should be a Christian.  He says, "Here is a door, behind which, according to some people, the secret of the universe is waiting for you."  He wants you to search for it yourself.  "Isn't it obviously the job of every man (that is a man and not a rabbit) to try to find out which, and then to devote his full energies either to serving this tremendous secret or to exposing and destroying this gigantic humbug?"  It seems the problem today is that most young people don't care what others believe.  Something I heard often in high school was, "This is what I believe.  It's okay for you to believe whatever you want to." Or there was just a general ignorance about religion.  I remember in a high school literature class, we were discussing allusions to the Bible, and I was astounded to see the Biblical illiteracy.  What surprised me more was the general apathy to anything even religious.  One of my classmates asked, "This stuff is just myths, right? Science has already proved all this wrong, I thought."  They hadn't even bothered to think about it for themselves and just took what people said as truth, which was discussed in "Our English Syllabus."  

Lewis continues by saying you can never be good on your own, to refute the original question.   That, in fact, is not our purpose:
"We are to be re-made.  All the rabbit in us is to disappear - the worried, the conscientious, ethical rabbit as well as the cowardly and sensual rabbit.  We shall bleed and squeal as the handfuls of fur come out; and then, surprisingly, we shall find underneath it all a thing we have never yet imagined: a real Man, an ageless god, a son of God, strong, radiant, wise, beautiful, and drenched in joy."
This reminded me of Eustace when Aslan peeled off his dragon skin, which was also discussed in class.  How glorious it will be when we become who God has made us? 

"Morality is a mountain which we cannot climb by our own efforts; and if we could we should only perish in the ice and unbreathable air of the summit, lacking those wings with which the rest of the journey has to be accomplished.  For it from there that the real ascent begins.  The ropes and axes are 'done away' and the rest is a matter of flying."

The Inner Ring

An Inner Ring can be described in modern terms as cliques.  It is a group of people that is exclusive. Lewis describes a "genuine Inner Ring" as a group where "exclusion is no accident; it is the essence."  He says Rings are inevitable but one should not desire to strive to get into a Ring just to get in, "to be in the know".  "One of the most dominant elements [of life] is the desire to be inside the local Ring and the terror of being left outside."  Because of this desire and fear, "the passion for the Inner Ring is most skillful in making a man who is not yet a very bad man do very bad things."  Lewis argues that we should cast the desire to be "in" because we will never be fulfilled by it:  "As long as you are governed by that desire you will never get what you want.  You are trying to peel an onion: if you succeed there will be nothing left.   Until you conquer the fear of being an outsider, an outsider you will remain.... But if all you want to be is in the know, your pleasure will be short lived.  The circle cannot have from within the charm it had from outside.  By the very act of admitting you it has lost its magic....The quest of the Inner Ring will break your hearts unless you break it." 

If you ignore the desire and pursuit of the Inner Ring in the workplace and just work your hardest, you gain respect for being a good worker and enjoy the work, which will transcend the rings that exist in the workplace.   If  you spend time with people you like, doing things you enjoy, "you will again find that you have come unawares to a real inside: that you are indeed snug and safe at the centre of something which, seen from without, would look exactly like an Inner Ring.  But the difference is that the secrecy is accidental, and its exclusiveness a by-product."

I found this essay to be extremely applicable and convicting because I am sometimes caught up in desiring an Inner Ring without realizing it.  I too often think of what people would think of me if I do a certain thing, if I expressed interest in a certain activity, instead of just being myself.  A bad result of caring excessively about what others think is sometimes I question who I really am.  What do I really enjoy?  Who is the real me?  Or are they both a part of me, just like everyone else has different aspects of their personality?  What perception do I have by being with this group, by belonging to this department, by having this major?  In class, we talked about how the element of pride plays a huge part in our pursuit of the Inner Ring.  But if we get over the desire for the Inner Ring, get over our pride, you enjoy life instead of constantly pursuing something you cannot attain.  I kind of thought of it as a hamster running on the wheel. 

An example Lewis gives is a man who does overtime at work and makes it seem like it is important when "it is a terrible bore.... It is tiring and unhealthy to lose your Saturday afternoons: but to have them because you don't matter, that is much worse."  This makes me think of Letter XII of The Screwtape Letters where Screwtape describes his ability to make a man waste his life away doing Nothing.  Am I wasting my time doing stuff I don't like just to be in?  Granted, you cannot do what you want all the time, but is your desire driving your actions? 

Everyone wants to belong, to feel loved but in the end, if you want to belong just to belong, you end up with nothing.  This seems almost ironic, that when you go after it you can never get it but if you don't, you find it along the way.  From my experience thus far, it seems that the deliberate exclusiveness is more prevalent in high school than college.  In high school, we seemed to constantly worry about having friends around us, categorizing people, and keeping them out.  At college, I experienced for the first time the freedom people had to be themselves.  Yes, there are Inner Rings, but they are the formations of good friendships and a true intimacy, a delight in one another, and not thinking about "us" and "them".

I would argue with Lewis that one should desire to be in the Inner Ring consisting Christ-followers.  They should want the freedom, the joy, the love, the relationship we have in Christ, which is evidenced in our lives.  While we should not be living out our lives for others to see but for God alone, we still have to be aware of how people perceive some of our actions, especially across cultures, like we discussed in The Poison of Subjectivism.

Professor Ribeiro asked a good question:  Do you feel like an insider or an outsider here at Calvin?  The same question could be applied to everyone.  In your workplace, at school, in society, in your family even, are you in or out?  And are you okay with your position?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Four Loves : Eros

Eros is, as Lewis defines it, as being in love.  In Eros, a person first has "simply a delighted pre-occupation with her in her totality.  A man in this state really hasn't leisure to think of sex.  He is too busy thinking of a person.  The fact that she is a woman is far less important than the fact that she is herself."  I found it very interesting that Lewis put being in love in that way.  It puts a clear guideline to see if you truly care for the person or if you just want he or she can give to you.

"For one of the things Eros does is to obliterate the distinction between giving receiving....In one high bound it has overleaped the massive wall of our selfhood; it has made appetite itself altruistic, tossed personal happiness aside as a triviality and planted the interests of another in the centre of our being.  Spontaneously and without effort we have fulfilled the law (towards one person) by loving our neighbour as ourselves.  It is an image, a foretaste, of what we must become to all if Love Himself rules in us without a rival."  I thought it was pretty awesome how God created this love which reflects His love for us, a selfless love.   I'm reminded again of how things on this Earth are just a picture, just a glimpse of God's kingdom.  How great God's love if this care, the concern, this Eros, is already so big?

Even though Eros can bring out good qualities,  Lewis warns us that "Eros, honoured with reservation and obeyed unconditionally, becomes a demon."  We cannot just obey it like a god.  We cannot hurt others or sin in order to glorify it or the person we are in love with.  Lewis also refers to this in "We Have No Right to Happiness." Eros, like any other passion, has to be put in check.

St. Francis called his body "Brother Ass."  "Ass is exquisitely right because no one in his senses can either revere or hate a donkey.  It is a useful, sturdy, lazy obstinate, patient, lovable, and infuriating beast; ...both pathetically and absurdly beautiful.  So the body....It would be too clumsy an instrument to render love's music unless its very clumsiness could be felt as adding to the total experience of its own grotesque charm...."  I don't have any experience in this area, so I kind of compared it to words.  Sometimes you just don't have the words to share with a person your feelings, your affection, your love, or even your hatred, and so that is where physical touch or even your just your presence comes in.  A hug, punch in the face, a kiss, just sitting by a person while she cries can express a lot more than fumbling around with words.  And so it is with love and expressing it with the body.  Or one can think of music.  Sometimes music better than anything a poet can say, the nuances, the longing, the gloominess, the excitement and joy.

"The husband is the head of the wife just in so far as he is to her what Christ is to the Church.  He is to love her as Christ loved the Church...and give his life for her."   This quote helps bring to light the meaning of submission and being the head of the household.  Not that a woman should surrender herself totally to the man, because "a woman who accepted as literally her own this extreme self-surrender would be an idolatress ofering to a man what belongs only to God."  I think it means submitting to a man's spiritual leadership.  And that submission would be gladly given if the man puts her first, if he is thinking what is best for her, and what will help her mature.  This is not to say a woman is inferior to a man, but I think God has given the leadership role in a family to men, which is also an immense responsibility.  I think it can be applied in practical matters as well, though not necessarily in every area, because sometimes you need a final say and you need someone to turn to.   In class, we also discussed the fact that a growing phenomenon that women are more spiritually mature than the men.  In this case, the woman should, by no means, stop growing in the Lord.  As it says in 1 Corinthians 7, an "unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife."  If Paul says this about an unbelieving spouse,  I think he would say the same about a spiritually behind husband.

In the recording of Lewis summarizing The Four Loves, he compares love to a garden.  We cannot just leave the garden alone; it will not water, weed, or fertilize itself.  Without care, the garden will soon be overgrown and cease to be a garden.  We need to cultivate it in order to maintain its beauty.  We must treat Eros and any other kind of love the same way; we need to care for it because it will not be able to survive by itself.

"For the Church has no beauty but what the Bridegroom gives her; he does not find, but makes her, lovely."  We can make other people "lovely" by encouraging and building them up.  We can see the beautiful things, characteristics in them and cultivate them by loving them for who they are, admonishing them when they need it, and keeping them accountable.  By having a common goal with others and "since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us" (Hebrews 12:1).

Tuesday, January 18, 2011


Ch. 4 by Plantinga

"Everybody wants liberty.  The problem is that everyone wants it on his own terms."  Freedom in God is found in following His laws and commands; they keep us from falling back into the bondage of sin.  I found it very interesting the way Dr. Ribeiro compared it to an escapee from a concentration camp.  The escapee has received papers from an Allied spy with instructions about where to go and where to stop at.  If the papers say to stop at a certain checkpoint, the escapee can choose to, and receive help from someone else and continue on his journey to freedom, or he can disregard the instructions, which means he gets less help and has to figure things out for himself, making it harder to escape.  

An important part of this chapter was the idea of double grace: sanctification and justification.  Justification is the forgiving and reconciling of sins by God, and sanctification is the process of becoming holy, the lifelong transformation of becoming like Christ. In transforming, we need to act more like Christ.  Plantinga included a quote by Martin Luther that captured the relationship between salvation and good works: "Good works are not the cause, but the fruit of righteousness.  When we have become righteous, then we are able and willing to do good.  The tree makes the apple; the apple does not make the tree." So good works are the result of our salvation, the result of God's grace and of a life in pursuit of God and His will. We cannot do anything to earn salvation.  

For Reformed Christianity, redemption is not just for people; we also need to redeem the structures, the systems, the societies of this world.  "Everything corrupt needs to be redeemed, and that includes the natural whole natural world, which both sings and groans."  The idea of redeeming our culture and even economic structures was pretty new to me.  I never thought of that as part of redemption.  I knew we should be a steward of what God has given us, and it was innate to me that we should fix what is wrong, but I never realized it was part of God making things right in this world.

I found it interesting how Plantinga described our dying and rising with Christ as a rhythm.  "...The central rhythm of reform is dying and rising with Christ, practiced over and over till it becomes a way of being."  Death to our old selves, confessing our sins, and rising as a transformed person.  It is not a one time thing, something we need to constantly work on.  

Reformed people have traditionally prayed a "prayer of illumination" before Scripture reading because they know "unless the Holy Spirit breathes through Scripture all over again is it's read, we might hear it the right way and we might not believe it."  This is a good reminder that our understanding may be blurred and that we should always rely on the Holy Spirit to open our eyes, ears, and hearts to what God has to say.  In our groups discussion, Andrew brought up a Bible verse that was really fitting: "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work" (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

Learning in War-Time

What is the point of learning, of studying things like biology and literature, when there seems to be such a little chance of finishing and more things around us that, like war, are more important?  Lewis addresses this question of the trivial pursuit of learning in light of World War II.  "The war creates no absolutely new situation: it simply aggravates the permanent human situation so that we can no longer ignore it.  Human life has always been lived on the edge of a precipice.  Human culture has always had to exist under the shadow of something infinitely more important than itself....Life has never been normal."  Instead of just thinking about the war, Lewis says we need to consider first the fact that we "are every moment advancing either to heaven or to hell."

I have never thought of comparing the weight of war to eternity, and too often I forget how this life could just end in an instant.  I forget that each day here, in my normal life, is an opportunity to draw closer to God and to draw others as well.  Like Lewis says in "The Weight of Glory", "All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations [heaven or hell]."  

Lewis continues with the idea that after he became a Christian, he didn't so much change what he did, but in the manner, the attitude he did them and the way he thought about things.  Instead, we should do everything for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31) because "all our merely natural activities will be accepted, if they are offered to God, even the humblest: and all of them, even the noblest, will be sinful if they are not."  Learning, for some people, is their duty, their calling, the way in which they can best glorify the Lord at that point in time.  Learning not for ourselves but "the pursuit of knowledge and beauty...for their own sake."  This is also for God's glory because "an appetite for these things exists in the human mind, and God makes no appetite in vain.  We can therefore pursue knowledge ...and beauty...in the sure confidence that by so doing we are either advancing to the vision of God ourselves or indirectly helping others to do so."  However, we must be careful not to "delight not in the exercise of our talents but in the fact that they are ours, or even in the reputation they bring us.  Every success in the scholar's life increases this danger.  If it becomes irresistible, he must give up his scholarly work.  The time for plucking out the right eye has arrived."

What do we do when the first thing we think when serving others in any capacity is, "Oh, I'm doing something right; I'm being a servant"?  I know lifting up it up to God and recognizing we are in no better position than they are solutions, but does one stop serving altogether until he has attained the right attitude?  Or does one keep serving because like Paul says, he is rejoicing over the fact people are spreading the Gospel, even though some have bad reasons for it?

Lewis raises three attacks scholars feel from war, which is excitement, frustration, and fear.  Excitement in the sense we think about the war rather than our work.  Lewis's argument is there are always distractions from work.  "The only people who achieve much are those who want knowledge so badly that they seek it while the conditions are still unfavorable."  Frustration is the "feeling that we shall not have time to finish."  His solution is "never, in peace or war, commit your virtue or your happiness to the future.  Happy work is best done by the man who takes his long-term plans somewhat lightly and works from moment to moment 'as to the Lord'....The present is the only time in which any duty can be done or any grace received."  I have always felt this feeling of frustration, and this was a really good reminder, especially in light of the economic situation and the fact we are in college and deciding our majors or careers.  By thinking of the present, we actually do things, we act, instead of just thinking and worrying.  It also reminded me of another quote from Letter XV of The Screwtape Letters:

"The humans live in time but our Enemy destines them to eternity. He therefore, I believe, wants them to attend chiefly to two things, to eternity itself, and to that point of time which they call the Present. For the Present is the point at which time touches eternity. Of the present moment, and of it only, humans have an experience analogous to the experience which our Enemy has of reality as a whole; in it alone freedom and actuality are offered them. He would therefore have them continually concerned either with eternity (which means being concerned with Him) or with the Present—either meditating on their eternal union with, or separation from, Himself, or else obeying the present voice of conscience, bearing the present cross, receiving the present grace, giving thanks for the present pleasure."

By fear, Lewis talks about death and pain.  He said war doesn't make death any more frequent; "100 per cent of us die."  I had never looked at death and war in this way, but it is true because we all will die.  What is the point of fearing.  But there is a benefit of war:  "War makes death real to us....It forces us to remember it."  And when we remember it, we are more aware of our present and of eternity. 

There is a two-fold effect from war.  I agree with Lewis that it makes people realize and face their mortality and give those around them the extra kick to tell others about Christ.  I agree that we should not look at it differently than "normal" life because we can always die in both peace and war times, we always have the weight of eternity on us.  And yet, I feel like one can still look at it differently because the people who are going to war have a higher opportunity to die sooner.  And when they die, they will no longer be able to receive Christ.
A quote I really liked was "If men had postponed the search for knowledge and beauty until they were secure the search would never have begun." It really spoke to me because it reminded me that I can not always wait for the perfect opportunity before doing something.  Sometimes, in fact many times, we need to step out in faith.  My counselor from church compared it to landing an airplane.  When your engine dies, the important thing is landing the plane.  It may not be pretty, but if you land the plane, you have done your job. 

Lewis's final sentence is this:  "But if we thought that for some souls, and at some times, the life of learning, humbly offered to God, was, in its own small way, one of the appointed approaches to the Divine reality and the Divine beauty which we hope to enjoy hereafter, we can think so still."

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Poison of Subjectivism

Lewis talks about the premise that people are questioning their own values and how they perceive right and wrong  - "his own reason has become the object: it is as if we took out our eyes to look at them."  The "modern" view is that our judgements are conditioned by our environment, and each environment or culture is different from each other.  Lewis argues we cannot invent a new value apart from the traditional values and every attempt to do so results in emphasizing only one part of traditional value.  For example, the "Aristocratic Ethic" only has class as the only criteria. These reformers would be taking down themselves if they try to take down traditional values because " the trunk to whose root the reformer would lay the axe is the only support of the particular branch he wishes to retain."

So, Lewis continues, we must either accept traditional morality as legitimate without needing support or totally reject it as part of our emotions.  He brings up the possible arguments that a constant moral law prevents us from progressing and traditional morality is different for all societies.  Against the first he says just because something is old does not mean it is wrong: "The square on the hypotenuse has not gone moldy by continuing to equal the sum of the squares  on the two other sides."  In fact, unless there is a constant standard, progress is not possible because there is nothing to compare it to.  But, he argues our ideas of good may improve, but that is different from innovation where, like Nietzcsche, we throw away traditional moral laws and "can find no ground for any value judgements at all."   "Real moral advances" can only be made within the realm of the traditional values.  Lewis then argues we must have a common moral law across cultures and societies, which is much like his argument in the first part of Mere Christianity - "Right and Wrong as a Clue...." 

A part I was slightly confused about was Lewis talking about innovation.  He says previously that you can't have a new set of values apart from the traditional ones, the common moral law, and yet he introduces Nietzcshe which seems to apart from it.

In class, we discussed the idea that "real moral advances, in fine, are made from within the existing moral tradition and in the spirit of that tradition and can be understood only in the light of that tradition.  The outsider who has rejected the tradition cannot judge them."  We talked about how different cultures have different standards and need to respect them like it says in 1 Corinthians 8 so we do not cause our brothers to stumble.  We also talked about we need to be careful about how we tell people from other cultures about their sin because it may turn them away from Christ or cause other sin.  One way we can do this is by living out your faith, your standard, and others can see, which may produce better results than trying to preach to them.

I'm no way sure if I understand Lewis when he talks about God and His relation to the moral.  He says we are finite beings and when we think about the law, it is only in terms of making it or obeying it, but those categories may be wrong.  Lewis says that God "neither obeys nor creates the moral law." He reasons that if God "commands them because they are right" than God is "the mere executor of a law somehow external and antecedent to His own being."  If He made the law, then God would just be an "omnipotent fiend" that does whatever He wants on a whim and there is no meaning to goodness.  Lewis argues that Goodness can't have been created; it is not dependent on other things.  God is goodness and goodness is God. 

The conclusion I draw is that since God is goodness, He is the law.  Goodness is part of God's character and He can't act in any other way, which is the standard for the law. To me, I don't really have an theological objections to God doing whatever He wants because after all He is God, and also He is goodness.  So whatever He does will be in line with His character, and that is goodness.  Unless that is Lewis's point?

 Lewis closes his argument against subjectivism with this statement: "But give me a man who will do a day's work for a day's pay, who will refuse bribes, who will not make up his facts, and who has learned his job."  He is talking about qualities of a ruler or leader.  Instead of the qualities that are in fashion such as "vision", "dynamism," and "creativity", he would rather have someone who has virtue, diligence, knowledge and skill.  A person who is faithful.  I'm not sure what Lewis is intending to do by relating his argument to the political realm, but these standards can be applied to every person.  Are we faithful in all we do?  Perhaps going along with his position that "we perish" if we don't follow the common moral law, each person must hold to this standard in all walks and parts of life or else all areas of our society will fall apart.  And I think I agree with Lewis on this.


Ch. 3 by Plantinga

"Evil needs good in order to be evil."  Everything God created was originally good but then it got corrupted.  A corrupted person misuses God's gifts, perverts it, and "pollutes his relationship with foreign elements."  I had never really thought of evil needing good until class.  Good is the standard, evil is just everything besides it.  Plantinga expanded on the second part about polluting your relationship by saying sometimes we want both God and the world, but that isn't possible.  This disregards what God has done; the world will never fulfill as God does.  I've often felt the tug from both sides and just really struggled because I just want it all.  It makes me think of a verse from Romans 7, where it says "I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do....For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing."

Total depravity means that every part of our lives is affected by sin.  Common grace is the fact that God empowers everyone to be good; it is " the goodness of God shown to all, regardless of faith,consisting in natural blessings, restraint of corruption, seeds of religion and political order, and a host of civilizing and humanizing impulses, patterns, and traditions."  The concept of common grace was a relatively new idea for me.  I never really thought of the good found in people as grace.  If the way God created man was naturally good, then wouldn't that be the standard rather than something else that God has additionally given us?

"The glory of God's good creation has not been obliterated by the tragedy of the fall, but it has been deeply shadowed by it.  The history of our race is, in large part, the interplay of this light and shadow."   I really liked the second sentence here because it was great imagery and so true.  Someone in class mentioned how the first sentence offered the idea of hope, which I didn't think of.  Even though sin has permeated everything, goodness has not been defeated.  Ultimately, God will triumph over all evil and isn't that something to look forward to?

"Satan goes to church more than anybody else because he knows that at a particular time and place, a corrupt church can devastate the cause of the gospel."  This is a scary thought but it is true.  Think about all the things "Christians" have done, the attitudes they have, that deter people from truly knowing God, that have hurt them.  Using Christianity to promote oneself or a selfish cause is another example of perversion.  

A recurring theme throughout this class that appeared again in discussion was the idea of how the little things matter.  It first starts with a little sin, then we feel more comfortable with it and continue to sin until we no longer recognize this sin and we need others to alert us of our wrong.  Every sin, every person has to be redeemed, has to be saved, individually.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Show and Tell

Reading "The Weight of Glory" made me think of this song as Lewis talked about life after this one. I had thought of heaven as spending eternity with God, the streets paved with gold, and singing and rejoicing, but I never thought of seeing glimpses of heaven in the things we find absolutely beautiful on Earth, the things that just take your breath away. I had never thought of our yearning for heaven as wanting "to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it."  It made me remember a speaker who said he thought of heaven as biting into this piece of juicy, tender steak and just enjoying the juices, the taste, the texture.  (Sorry vegetarians.)

The song is "Heaven is the Face" by Steven Curtis Chapman.  This was from his first album after his five-year-old daughter was struck by the car her brother was driving.  So here is heaven from another perspective:

Friday, January 14, 2011

Right and Wrong as a Clue to the Meaning of the Universe

Mere Christianity Preface, Book 1: Ch. 1-4

I really liked Lewis's analogy between Christianity and a house, how becoming a Christian is like entering the hall, while the rooms, where one can eat and sit by a warm fire in, are the different denominations: "Mere" Christianity is "like a hall out of which doors open into several rooms.  If I can bring anyone into that hall I shall have done what I attempted.  But it is in the rooms, not in the hall, that there are fires and chairs and meals.  The Hall is a place to wait in, a place from which to try the various doors, not a place to live in."  I think I can relate to Lewis's view that the hall is not some place to live in because in junior high and high school, I went to a different church during different parts of the year due to soccer games on Sundays, and it was sometimes difficult because I couldn't connect consistently with the same people to have fellowship with them and to grow. 

When approaching a "room", Lewis says to ask these questions: "'Are these doctrines true; is holiness here?  Does my conscience move me towards this? Is my reluctance to knock at this door due to my pride, or my mere taste, or my personal dislike of this particular doorkeeper?'" I found this particularly relevant to students new to this area, looking for a church, and also as a reminder to everyone in general.  So often we get distracted but non-essential things but I think Lewis really lays out what is important. 

"When you have reached your own room, be kind to those who have chosen different doors and to those who are still in the hall.   If they are wrong they need your prayers all the more; and if they are you enemies, then you are under orders to pray for them.  That is one of the rules common to the whole house."

Two points Lewis makes is that all human beings have a common idea of how they ought to live and that they don't behave in that way.  "The truth is, we believe in decency so much -- we feel the Rule or Law pressing on us so--that we cannot bear to face the fact that we are breaking it, and consequently we try to shift the responsibility."

Lewis refutes arguments people may have against the existence of a Moral law common to all human beings.  Some say we it is only our impulses.  But Lewis argues no impulse is inherently good or bad; they can be both, depending on the situation.  The moral law For example, you see someone getting mugged.  You are pulled in two opposite directions: either help defend them or run away in order to protect yourself.  The moral law tells you what you "ought" to do.   I really like Lewis's metaphor: "The Moral Law tells us the tune we have to play: our instincts are merely the keys."

Lewis says the moral law  is beyond the facts/"laws" of nature because the laws of nature "only mean ' what Nature, in fact, does,'" - for example, with falling rocks, the law of gravitation describes what happens and cannot describe what ought to happen separately from that - while the moral law does not describe how humans behave actually behave; only how they should.  "It begins to look as if we shall have to admit that there is more than one kind of reality; that, in this particular case, there is something above and beyond the ordinary facts of men's behaviour, and yet quite definitely real-- a real law, which none of us made, but which we find pressing on us." He goes on to say "anyone studying Man from the outside as we study electricity or cabbages, not knowing our language and consequently not able to get any inside knowledge from us, but merely observing what we did, would never get the slightest evidence that we had this moral law.  How could he? for his observations would only show what we did, and the moral law is about what we ought to do."  In the same way, we can't examine the universe to see if there is a power behind it or if it is there for no reason, but we can examine ourselves. And since we experience this other outside thing that tells how we ought to behave, this law, it tells us there is something greater above the facts, "a Director, a Guide."  

This made me think of "Meditations in a Toolshed" where Lewis compares looking along and looking at something.  This seems to be a case where you can get a truer view of things while looking along it.  I agree with Lewis that science is observations and, in itself, cannot tell  the reason for the universe or else it would be a philosophy, and yet all of creation is a testament to  God.  As it says in Romans 1, "for since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse."  So I'm still thinking about this and trying to figure how to wrap my mind around this.

NOTE: In Lewis's note at the end, he talks about a "Life-Force" as a force but with out morals or a mind.  He says people like this because it gives "one much of the emotional comfort of believing in God and none of the less pleasant consequences" and refers to it as "a sort of tame God.  You an switch it on when you want, but it will not bother you."  A common remark about Aslan in The Chronicles of Narnia  is  that "he's not a tame lion" which may refer to this. 

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Screwtape Letters - Letter XII

"Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one - the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts."  I found this statement to be the most awakening because I pictured impending doom.  We, as Lewis's whole letter shows, can be wondering along the path, mistakenly thinking it is heading to heaven but once we have arrived, discover we have ended up in the opposite destination.  You start off with choices that seem "trivial and revocable."  We still be going to church, doing the "right" things but not growing in your faith.  We have this "vague, though uneasy, feeling that [we haven't] been doing very well lately."  When this comes, we should immediately examine the source of this uneasiness, this dimness.  Otherwise, we increasingly fall away, and we can spend our lives doing nothing.  That too is frightening, realizing you have wasted all that time, countless hours, just existing, not really living.  As Lewis says, "Nothing is very strong: strong enough to steal away a man's best years not in sweet sins but in a dreary flickering of the mind over it knows not what and knows not why, in the gratification of curiosities so feeble that the man is only half aware of them...in the long, dim labyrinth of reveries that have not even lust or ambition to give them a relish, but which, once chance association has started them, the creature is too weak and fuddled to shake off."

This is connected with Lewis's essay "We Have No 'Right to Happiness' because in both, there is the idea of being faithful in the small as well as big things.  We cannot go back in time and change our choices; we can only change the future.  In class, we used the example of cookies - chocolate chip or perhaps oatmeal raisin or not even a cookie at all.  It is just one small thing but it can show your discipline and will, your resistance against addiction, and perhaps how you will behave when the big trials come.  You are conditioning yourself.

Another point in Screwtape's letter was how going to church does not necessarily mean growth.  Your attitude at church is extremely important as well as the environment.  Are you trying to get it over as quickly as possible?  Are you falling asleep once the sermon starts?  Are you comparing yourself with others, making yourself superior?  I really like the quote the professors had, which I don't remember exactly,  but goes something this:  the violence of the bump shows the height of the perch we have fallen off of.  They also referred to someone experienced some problems with his children, and described the church being divided into three groups: 1) those who are judgmental,  2) those who expressed sympathy but put themselves in a higher position because they assumed the trials were the parents' failures, and 3) those who had gone through the problems, who prayed, sympathized, and shared in their pain.  What kind of person are you?

The profs said that staying by yourself, being independent, leads to mediocrity.  You are alright, but you could be better.  This can be seen even in the academic and athletic worlds.  In soccer, I push myself harder when I train with my team, have more ignorance for the aches, am more determined to improve because you don't want to let your team down and everyone else is working along with you.  But by yourself, suddenly you just want to quit after only two miles, instead of the three, you think I don't need to practice, I can give myself a break.  These are are seemingly little choices, I can do it the next day, but then they add up.  When you're back with your team, everyone seems stronger, quicker, improved in their skills, while you are awkward and behind. 

We can prevent ourselves from going down the slope by finding friends that will grow together with you, by studying God's Word together and telling you what you need to work on.  We can also read other books of people who have gone through the same trials as you have and learn from their experiences.  We need to develop "moral stock responses" - positions that you have already thought through - so that when the time of testing comes, you will have an automatic response.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

How we should view our work and others'

The Ribeiros referenced this sometime from The Screwtape Letters, Letter XIV:

"The Enemy wants to bring the man to a state of mind in which he could design the best cathedral in the world, and know it to be the best, and rejoice in the fact, without being any more (or less) or otherwise glad that having done it than he would be if it had been done by another.  The Enemy wants him, in the end, to be free from any bias in his own favour that he can rejoice in his own talents as frankly and gratefully as in his neighbour's talents - or in a sunrise, an elephant, or a waterfall."

The Weight of Glory

“We must not be troubled by unbelievers when they say that this promise of reward makes the Christian life a mercenary affair.”  Lewis uses the example of a student learning Greek: the student cannot see the joy that he will find in Greek poetry, which is the reward, while he is studying grammar.  He begins as a mercenary, studying Greek to get good grades, please his parents, etc., but he will end up enjoying Greek poetry, which will be the “proper reward.”  Christians are similar to the student because eternal life is “the very consummation of their earthly discipleship”, even though we cannot fully understand until we are there.  Also, the farther the Christian has been on this road, the more he begins to understand what heaven and God are all about, which would be different from his perception when he first came to Christ.  We should be disinterested in ourselves, not living to gain rewards for ourselves but because we want to please God.  When the going gets rough, is it wrong to think of the rewards stored up in heaven?  Is it wrong to use that as an additional impetus to keep on serving?

Lewis then talks about our longing for heaven.  We see or hear things that seem to have this certain quality, this beauty.  But the beauty we perceive from music, books, nature,

"was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing.  These things – the beauty, the memory of our own past – are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers.  For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited."

This connects back to the chapter on longing from Engaging God’s World as well as what Lewis says about trying to fill that longing with the things of this world.  “Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak.  We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a sum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea.  We are far too easily pleased.” If we think about the things we find truly beautiful in this world, how stunning they are, how much more awesome will heaven be if this is only a picture of what is to come?  It makes me think of The Last Battle by Lewis. Narnia, which seemed so wonderful to them, was only a model of Aslan’s country, which was so much more glorious, more real.

God also promises glory to His people.  Lewis describes it in two ways.  The first is to be praised by God, to have “good report with God, acceptance by God, response, acknowledgment, and welcome into the heart of things.”  It is hearing Him say,“Well done, good and faithful servant!” (Matthew 25:23)  Lewis describes this as a huge weight on us:  "To please God...to be a real ingredient in the divine happiness...to be loved by God, not merely pitied, but delighted in as an artist delights in his work or a father in a son - it seems impossible, a weight or burden of glory which our thoughts can hardly sustain."  I am still mulling over the meaning and implication of this.  I took this to mean we have this huge gift of love and we don’t want to undermine it.  We don’t deserve it so we must do our best, even though that will never be enough.  God’s love and delight in us should evoke awe and reverence, a thought of as the song “Friend of God” says, “Who am I that You are mindful of me?”

Lewis then describes glory as a "brightness, splendour, luminosity."  It is to "be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it."  Relating back to "Meditation in a Toolshed,"  we can look at it but not along it yet; we are on "the wrong side of the door" but "some day, God willing, we shall get in."

In light of this glory, Lewis says, "the load, or weight... of my neighbour's glory should be laid daily on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it" because "there are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal."  Everyone is either something you "would strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption" you would only see in a nightmare," and we are constantly pushing each other to one place or the other.  We need to take each other seriously, keeping each other accountable, with love.  I really like Lewis's application of this "weight of glory." Often, we learn about what is to come, or aspects of God's character, but not how that gets lived out.  This is another part of the "weight" in the glory we experience.


Ch.2, by Plantinga

"Creation is neither a necessity nor an accident."  God doesn't need us because He is in constant communion within the Trinity and He didn't make us on a whim.  Rather, "creation is an act  that was fitting for God.  It was so much like God to create...."  I found this last quote to be particularly striking because I had never thought about it that way, despite talking how God doesn't do things contrary to His nature.  I also liked it because it reflects a deeper relationship with Him, a knowing of His character, much like how good friends know each other.  Creation can be though of as an "act of imaginative love."  Plantinga quotes Chesterton saying " 'the whole difference between construction and creation is ... that a thing constructed can only be loved after it is constructed; but a thing created is loved before it exists." 

A main point in the chapter was that God's glory is visible in all of creation; creation is a mirror, a reflection of God.  We can study creation as well as God's Word to understand him better.  Creation really reveals the awesomeness, the inventiveness, and infiniteness of God.  We have no idea what else created and what we do know is overwhelming. 

Plantinga included some reformed theology, deeper meanings, that can be drawn from creation.  The first is that the original goodness of creation, which it still retains though corrupted, is "potential redeemable."  This concept has been emphasized a lot at Calvin, and I never really thought about redeeming the world.  To me, it seems to be returning things back to the way they were created, how it should be.  Another point is that we are to love creation but not worship it; we should instead worship the Creator, who also created us.  The doctrine of creation "places us in the scheme of things."  Being only an image of God, we are not gods.  But as His images, we know He created with purpose and design, not by random chance, and we are to reflect God "in our personhood, communion, responsibility, dignity, virtue, suffering, and freedom."  Plantinga also says being an image of God "secures a range of human rights, including the right to respect, the right to life," and to other freedoms.  The image that came to my mind was being citizens of God's kingdom and His children. 

Some other aspects of bearing God's image:
1) He gave us dominion over creation.  With this authority, we should empower, not overpower, caring for its well-being and living in a "healthy interdependence."  It is a stewardship, and we should "lord under" rather than "lord over" it.  Just like Jesus is our Lord and yet, "the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many"  (Mark 10:45).  Plantinga also mentions "cultural gifts, such as government, art, and family, as part of creation and under our dominion.  I had always thought of creation as nature and not parts of human life.  His reason is that it is still a reflection of God.  With this, the implication is that we must develop cultural possibilities - filling the potential - like learning a language, building, etc.  In class, we also talked about the servant nature of the human being evident in the universe.  We cannot live without the planet and the animals, but they can survive without us.  Even by our very nature, we must be stewards or else we won't survive.  

2)We are to be in community with others, which reflects God's Trinity.  It is something we must take seriously, as said in "The Weight of Glory" by C.S. Lewis, because all are made in the image of God and that cannot be taken away.  We must encourage people to be on their way to become "everlasting splendours" and deterring them from becoming "immortal horrors."  While we are in community, we need to be reminded each person is unique, despite being dependent on others. 

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Our English Syllabus

Lewis talks about the purpose of school/college in this essay.  He says "education is essentially for freemen and vocational training for slaves" but that it is impossible for all education and no vocational training because people would not be able to do their jobs.  He emphasizes the importance of education as a means for leisure, for "human life means to [Lewis] the life of beings for whom the leisured activities of thought, art, literature, conversation are the end, and the preservation and propagation of life merely the means."

Though I understand where Lewis is coming from, I am not sure if I agree with Lewis completely about vocational training because I know people find great joy in their work. In their training, they can also be "educated," developing characteristics of "a good man."  I'm not quite sure what I think about Lewis's opinion on the purpose of human life.  Isn't our lives meant to serve and fellowship with the Lord? So yes, it does include those things Lewis mentioned but doesn't it encompass more?

Lewis goes on to describe a pupil in grade school to be a "mere candidate for humanity-an unregenerate little bundle of appetites which is to be kneaded and moulded into human shape" by his teachers while a university student should already be "human," "who is already beginning to follow learning for its own sake, and who attaches himself to an older student, not precisely to be taught, but to pick up what he can."  He should be a "fellow student" of the professors and his "business is to pursue knowledge." 

I agree with Lewis's view on a students' life before college and during college.  But I think our mentors, the people who have walked farther along this journey than we have, can still continue to mold us while we are human; I think we can still receive a formal education from them but we can choose what to do with this education.  This can also be applied to our spiritual life.  Before, we just listened to what our parents said and the environment in which we lived, but when we mature, or rather, to mature, we have to start examining, pursuing Christ ourselves.  A point I didn't consider while reading the essay before class was the possibility of overdoing the pursuit of knowledge.  We can go so far as to start ignoring and hurting others in the pursuit of it.

"The proper question for a freshman is not 'What will do me most good?' but 'What do I most want to know?'" This was statement struck me because I had been asking those same questions of myself.  Lewis overwhelmingly argues the pursuit of what most interests you and says college has "to offer will do him good unless he can be persuaded to forget all about self-improvement for three or four years, and to absorb himself in getting to know some part of reality, as it is in itself."  Lewis recognizes we are limited by the need of a job in the future but says we should ignore that.  While that is something I would love to do, I still think that is an important consideration, especially with responsibilities we have to other people.

"For the life of learning knows nothing of nicely balanced encyclopaedic arrangement.  Every one of the suggested subjects is infinite and, in its own way, covers the whole field of reality."  Lewis says this to argue against learning a little of many subjects, an education, a syllabus that others create.  "A perfect study of anything requires a knowledge of everything." Our human minds can only hold so much, so instead of trying to cover all types of topics, we should dive into a particle body of knowledge.  I agree with Lewis that we should know a topic really well but I think we also need to be well rounded.  We cannot be so specialized that we are stuck in this little bubble and know nothing about the world around us.  By understanding other fields, we can better relate to and help others.

With all of these points, Lewis's main argument seems to be that we must choose for ourselves what we want to learn and pursue.  We cannot let others dictate what is most important for us because it is not the same for everyone.  As Lewis says, "Do not tell me that you would sooner have a nice composite menu of dishes from half the world drawn up for you.  You are too old for that.  It is time you learned to wrestle with nature for yourself.  And whom will you trust to draw up the menu?  How do you know that in that very river which I would exclude as poisonous the fish you specially want, the undiscovered fish, is waiting?  And you would never find it if you let us select."  And so we must press on. 

Monday, January 10, 2011

We Have No "Right to Happiness"

The essay starts off with a situation where a man leaves his wife for another woman, while that woman leaves her husband for the man.  Clare argues they can do this because they have the “right to happiness.”  Lewis disagrees with  the idea that we have such an unlimited right.  He argues that people like Clare have put sex about other impulses,when all other impulses “have to to be bridled.  Absolute obedience to your instinct for self-preservation is what we call cowardice; to your acquisitive impulse, avarice.”  People value being in love because it offers promises of lifelong happiness and are afraid if they miss this chance, they will never get another. Lewis finishes with the arguments that women will ultimately be the victims in such a society, because they are naturally more monogamous and men care more about a woman's looks than a woman does about a man's, and even though the "right to happiness" argument is mostly aimed at the sexual impulse, it will eventually "seep through our whole lives."

Professor Ribeiro told us a quote of Lewis: “We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst.”  This is saying we scoff standards and do not hold them in high regard but find it surprising when people do something hurtful.  It seems so weird that we would think this, but it goes with the idea of wanting something without doing the work for it.  
During discussion, the Ribeiro's said we (meaning people) look for stuff on the outside of a person what we should be looking for on the inside.  How true is that! 

The failed promises of being in love connect back to our longings talked about in chapter 1 of Engaging God's World.  People try to fill their longing for love and joy with things that cannot fill it, instead of putting their hope in the Lord.  Are we willing to lay down the things we are longing for to God?  And if we are chiefly concerned with our pursuit of longings, our right to happiness, we can easily ignore other people around us. 
I found the quote Professor referenced from Pascal to be encouraging: "It is is good to be tired and weary from fruitlessly seeking the true good, so that one can stretch out one’s arms to the Redeemer."   

Longing and Hope

Chapter 1 in Plantinga's Engaging God's World: A Reformed Vision of Faith, Learning and Living

Plantinga begins with the idea we have a longing that nothing can fulfill apart from God and that we should find things to excite that longing for Him.  Longing is a part of hope, and “genuine hope always combines imaginations, faith, and desire.”  Plantinga uses Martin Luther King, Jr. as an example of a person who had a longing for justice and appealed to people’s hope.  Hoping for oneself but we should be too focused on ourselves.  Instead, as Simone Wiel says, we should

empty ourselves of our false divinity, to deny ourselves, to give up being the center of the world in imagination, to discern that all points in the world are equally centers and that the true center is outside the word, this is the consent to the rule of … free choice at the center of each soul  Such consent is love.

Biblical hope is a yearning for the new heaven and earth, it is for shalom, which “means universal flourishing, wholeness, and delight – a rich state of affairs in which natural needs are satisfied and natural gifts fruitfully employed, all under the arch of  God’s love. Shalom, in other words, is the way things are supposed to be.” 

Plantinga states that “nobody hopes for what he’s convinced is a lost cause or a logical impossibility.”  I think Christians should always be hoping because God can do anything and He is coming back, so everything will be made right.  Even when they feel something is a lost cause, they can still hope in Jesus Christ. And sometimes, that is the only place they can turn to. 

A point of discussion that struck me is that we should be here in the present, the here and now, and that we shouldn’t dream then.  Often, I have drifted away so I’m not here, experiencing life to the fullest but am in some other world, constantly thinking about stuff instead of just enjoying the moment.  Thinking about stuff, dreaming, is meaningless unless it leads to action. 

We also discussed the place of doubt.  Doubt occurs at the crossroads of life and on the way along the road.  Doubt is good for reflection and examination of life but is not good when it paralyzes you.  This definition struck me because I have often questioned how much doubt is healthy.  One must question oneself but to what extent is it too much?

Friday, January 7, 2011


Bulverism is the idea that "refutation is no necessary part of argument."  It is when people attack their opponents rather than the points of argument.  This phenomenon is an obstacle to true learning and thinking because people do not consider the ideas and test them, but rather put all their effort into shooting the person down.  Instead, as Lewis argues, "you must find out on purely logical grounds which of them do, in fact, break down as arguments....You must show that a man is wrong before you start explaining why he is wrong."

For our floor class, we studied evolution and we experienced the effects of people attacking the opposing views' character rather than the points of their argument.  When doing so, it shut out and put off the audience who agreed with the "wrong" side instead of appealing to them and helping the audience to better grasp the speakers' views.  People were more receptive to an inviting speaker who was just telling what they had learned and was seeking to understand the universe better. 

I didn't understand Lewis's definitions of cause and reason until discussion with other students.  Reason seems to be the thinking or analysis of a situation while cause is our worldview, our background, our assumptions, maybe the "taint" Lewis mentions. Lewis questions whether "all thoughts are tainted at the source" and "does the taint invalidate the tainted thought - in the sense of making it untrue - or not?"  I think all things are tainted at the source because everyone's perspective on life is influenced by their environment and what they grew up with.  Does that taint matter? Yes and no.  Like stated before, Lewis says to confront the argument at hand rather than the source so the taint can lead to a valid and invalid argument.  But it is helpful to understand the taint so that we can better understand where the person is coming from.

A point that did not even cross my mind while reading the article was how to combat bulverism.  Our attitude should be one of humility, recognizing we are finite and looking to help each other to a better understanding of the topic.  We should listen, truly listen and not just hear, and be objective towards the person - would your opinion change if a different person said it?  Obviously, some people have more credibility than others, such as a scientist talking about the field of their expertise, but one should not accept or reject ideas simply based on the person speaking it.  A comment that really struck me was that we should respect everyone like the person you really admire. When respect is given to them, they will give you respect in return.  How my attitude and actions would change!  Especially with people close to me and people I do not respect very much, I can see how messed up I am in this area. 

I really like the analogy used in class for how to approach our relationship with people in this world.  It is like we have all fallen into mud on the ground.  All we can do is to pick each other up and clear the mud from their eyes so they can see more clearly.  We are all still dirty but we are helping each other see things as they truly are.  We should not be trying to sling more mud into people's faces.