On compound interest

I was rereading a chapter in “Mere Christianity” by C.S. Lewis this morning during a little downtime, and I encountered this passage, which talks about how our treatment of others can compound, both internally and externally.

“This same spiritual law works terribly in the opposite direction. The Germans, perhaps, at first ill-treated the Jews because they hated them: afterwards they hated them much more because they had ill-treated them. The more cruel you are, the more you will hate; and the more you hate, the more cruel you will become—and so on in a vicious circle for ever. Good and evil both increase at compound interest. That is why the little decisions you and I make every day are of such infinite importance. The smallest good act today is the capture of a strategic point from which, a few months later, you may be able to go on to victories you never dreamed of. An apparently trivial indulgence in lust or anger today is the loss of a ridge or railway line or bridgehead from which the enemy may launch an attack otherwise impossible.”

I’ve fallen victim to this spiral of downward thinking in my own past.  A simple slight turns into a chasm of frustration and anger. One little misstep early in the morning can ruin the entire day. I’m not typically a grudge-holding type, but I am also not the forgetting type, so sometimes I’ll admit that things can weigh heavy on my mind and heart if I’ve been mistreated, and I’ll definitely admit that when I mistreat someone, that can affect my mood in a negative way moving forward.

The converse side of that argument is that it is very easy to compound that interest in a positive direction, as well. A single compliment or success early in the day can affect your mood positively moving forward, whether that compliment is paid or received. This is intuitive, but what isn’t intuitive is that I can actively affect those outcomes by being conscious of how an investment in someone can pay forward. I think that in the past I’ve thought of emotions as something that happened to me, but I’ve been experimenting lately with the idea actively pursuing better feelings. One of those ways is by seeking God, but another is through seeking more positive interactions with people in everyday life.

This passage from 2 Peter spoke to me on this very subject: “For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love” (2 Peter 1: 5-7). These verses tell us that the positive emotions–and even the cardinal virtues–can compound and lead to each other. An investment in faith and goodness can lead to love.

In that same previously-mentioned chapter, Lewis expounds on that idea: “Some writers use the word charity to describe not only Christian love between human beings, but also God’s love for man and man’s love for God. About the second of these two, people are often worried. They are told they ought to love God. They cannot find any such feeling in themselves. What are they to do? The answer is the same as before. Act as if you did. Do not sit trying to manufacture feelings. Ask yourself, ‘If I were sure that I loved God, what would I do?’ When you have found the answer, go and do it.”

This also calls back to my previous thoughts on practice. Sometimes in a dark moment, it can be difficult to summon those positive emotions associated with faith in God and goodwill towards humankind.  If we actively and consciously act like we think God would want us to act, though, we might be able to become closer to those beautiful things, and then we might actually achieve them.

In that way, a little thing like saying a morning prayer can pay dividends later in our relationship with God, and practicing/pretending to be our best imitation of Christ can lead to a better understanding of Him.

Easter Sunday

When I woke up this morning, in a groggy state I realized it was Easter Sunday, and I started to think about the significance of the day with respect to my young faith. Then, I think because I was really only half awake, something from my old faith crept into my mind: the apostle’s creed.

I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth
I believe in Jesus Christ, His only son, our Lord.
He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended into hell.
On the third day, he rose again;
He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church,
The communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting.

I think I’ve mentioned it here before, but it’s quite incredible to me that even though I haven’t been to a Lutheran service in years, if you say the first few words to me, I can instinctually and involuntarily recite the rest of the creed verbatim without hesitation. There’s something to be said for rote memorization as a ritual habit (there’s also something to be said about how effective “brainwashing” can really be, but that’s for another time).

At any rate, I find the apostle’s creed very interesting. It’s not really a prayer per say; it’s a statement of belief said from one person to another (or from a congregation to the Pastor). It’s a collective statement of facts, but it’s framed in such a way to address other people, and not God Himself. Originally, I thought that it was phrased this way to encourage the speaker to internalize the statements, like a mantra: if you say it enough times it becomes true. But after a little contemplation, I think it may be phrased that way to create a sense of collective worship.

Worship looks much different in a modern Christian church than it does in a traditional Lutheran church. When I say “worship” to a Christian friend, that word calls to mind having a band onstage that leads the congregation in song about the love and grace and hope and power of God.  In a Lutheran service, the songs are much different, and largely celebrate the deeds of God and what it feels like to be His child. Lutheran hymns are also read out of a book and set to organ or piano, played by a single keyboardist, typically off to the side of the pulpit. I’m not saying necessarily that one is better than the other, because that would be just my opinion, but I will say that the Lutheran way of doing things makes it much harder for me to have a “religious” experience where I feel emotionally connected to the congregation and God. Reflecting back on it, I think that the apostle’s creed served two purposes: to help the congregation identify with each other under a unifying purpose, and to collectively state the belief in the factual power of God. That sounds like worship. I wish I’d known that all those years ago.

On today, Easter, I’d like to leave off with a prayer of worship myself:

Holy Father, today is a day for rejoicing! For today I am reminded on Your love, so deep that you gave up your only Son to earth, so that he could pay our debt of sin. I am grateful for your grace and power and unyielding faith in me, and I strive today to have that same unyielding faith in You.

Traveling

It’s 5 a.m. on a Saturday morning, and I’ve been awake for an hour. In nine hours, I’ll be further away from home than I’ve ever been in my life. I’m packed, I’m prepared. I threw the whole thing together in under a week.

When I was stirring in bed, going over the last minute preparations, it occurred to me that this adventure ahead of me parallels my journey to faith. Both were spur-of-the-moment, seat-of-my-pants affairs. Both journeys feel long overdue. If you’d asked me a month ago if I felt ready to take either one, I’d have said no.

But here I am, sitting at an airport terminal, ready to take a trip alone for the first time in my life. I’m flying to Hawaii to visit my college roommate–who is a dear friend–and his wife, whom I’ve never even met.

And here I sit, writing this blog to no one in particular, contemplating my faith and my place in Christianity. I think I’ve come further in that regard in the last month than I could have ever imagined possible.

Sometimes life comes at you fast. I’m a different person than I was a month ago, and I’m looking forward to God showing me what’s next.

 

Good Friday

I won’t spill too much digital ink here today, but I do want to acknowledge that today commemorates perhaps the most important day in all of recorded history.

As a young Lutheran, like most children I always looked forward to Easter Sunday. I understood that Good Friday marked the Day that Christ died, but because it was such a somber time, it was forgotten in the anticipatory glee of the weekend. If I went to a church service, it was forgotten as soon as it ended.

These days, I see it differently. Today marks the first time in my adult life that I will truly reflect on Good Friday in my heart, and not just in my head.

Today I contemplate the pain and suffering endured by Christ, who was betrayed by people he loved, persecuted by people he represented, and brutally crucified.

Today I celebrate the sacrifice given so that my debts of sin might be paid in full.

Today I rejoice in the Love that God showed when He gave his son for us.

It’s a difficult thing for a child to understand, isn’t it? Why is it called “Good” Friday, if Christ died on a cross? I understood it in my mind–what He did for us was good–but I don’t think I really felt it in my heart.

Today, for the first time in my life, I truly celebrate what is not a “Good” Friday, but what is the best Friday.

In the cooking world, a reduction is used to boil off excess fluids, so that you are left with the most concentrated syrup or sauce. This morning, I thought about what it would look like if I reduced the Bible to its smallest, most concentrated message. I realize that this is cliche, and that this is almost certainly the most quoted Bible verse in the world, but it feels very apropos today, and a good thing to celebrate. And in the end, it might be the only verse that really matters; everything else we know about God, love, charity, and humanity can in a way be inferred from this single verse:

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

It is the comparison that makes you proud

Today, I want to revisit another cumulative lesson that I’ve been reading and thinking about for a couple of weeks. It is popular today for people to say that “money is the root of all evil,” but in a Christian context, that is untrue. Money is a root of great turmoil and strife and conflict between people, but it’s not the root of all evil. The great and deep root we’re looking for is Pride (capitalized for a reason).

There is another common proverb people spout about Pride: “Pride goes before the fall.” Until I started reading the book of Proverbs, though, I didn’t realize that this was a paraphrasing of an actual Bible verse. Proverbs 16:18 says “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.”

Pride caused the original fall, and if I think about it, it has probably been the root cause of practically every single conflict since then. I’d never really thought about it in this way, but upon reading a chapter in “Mere Christianity,” by C.S. Lewis, I’ve come to see it his way: Pride is a competition.

He writes: “We say that people are proud of being rich, or clever, or good-looking, but they are not. They are proud of being richer, or cleverer, or better-looking than others. If every one else became equally rich, or clever, or good-looking there would be nothing to be proud about. It is the comparison that makes you proud: the pleasure of being above the rest. Once the element of competition has gone, pride has gone.”

I’m not sure that I’ve ever actively thought of my own pride as being competitive against my fellow men and women–I’m not a particularly competitive person. But looking back, of course there is an element of comparison to my peers.  This friend is married with a house, those strangers drive better cars, that coworker makes twice my salary.  Greed and selfishness are certainly a component of the unrest that might cause, but ultimately I think I have wanted some benchmark–call it the “average”–against which to measure myself. That is how I’ve always defined my self-worth. I am rather cleverer than average, a slight bit taller than average, that sort of thing.

This is not only a terrible way to assign value to myself, but it is also a horrifying way to measure my fellows. If I am constantly looking to my neighbor to see if he has more than I do, I will forget to be thankful for what I do have. Furthermore, if I am constantly evaluating my self based on where I fall on the continuum of human success, I will forget that everything I have I owe to Him who made me. The following verse calls out that very idea: “You may say to yourself, ‘My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.’ But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth” (Deuteronomy 8:17-18). If I compare my own success to that of my peers, I will forget to find joy and gratitude in the victories that God has granted me.

One way to let go of this is to recognize that in the eyes of God, we are, all of us, the same. He does not discriminate against any of us. As Paul writes, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). God does not see the crude matter I am made of, nor does He revere the human husk that contains any other soul. He sees only the luminous part of us. We are comparing ourselves based on meager criteria that mean nothing in the end.

The real danger, though, is not when we compare ourselves to each other, or to our past selves, or even to our own potential. I wrote a bit about this idea in this previous post about selfishness, but I’d like to take a moment to expand. There, I wrote that one root cause of my selfishness was that I thought I was the creator of my own successes, of my own greatness, and that I was the master of my own life. This is the most prideful folly, and it is the most dangerous idea in all of human history. We think that because we have free will, we are fit to compare ourselves to God.

One of my favorite movies of all time is “Rudy.” It’s the (mostly) true story of a hilariously undersized linebacker who dreamed of playing football for Notre Dame. One day, when Rudy is feeling dejected, he visits the campus church, where his priest unloads this bit of wisdom on him: “Son, in thirty-five years of religious study, I’ve come up with only two hard, incontrovertible facts: there is a God, and I’m not Him.” This is my favorite line in the film. In context, it’s very funny, and Father Cavanaugh says it to illustrate the fact that he doesn’t know everything about God (actually, he’s illustrating that in the grand scheme of things, he is certain of next to nothing). But in another sense, in the context of my writing today, I think that this quote may actually be about pride, and understanding our place as God’s creation. We simply do not compare.

EDIT: After thinking about it for a bit more, I recalled something that Lewis wrote about the Natural Law (knowing right from wrong and good from bad). In the case of that Natural Law, he says we are essentially comparing our own capacity for good or evil against an external standard of perfection. There is such a thing as “perfectly good,” even if we cannot achieve it. I think this may also apply here! There is such a thing as perfection, and we might be able to better understand how humble we truly should be by thinking of ourselves in the shadow of that perfection.

Lewis is right, I think, in saying that once comparison is gone, so too shall be Pride. Whether I’m comparing myself to my neighbor or to God Himself, I must remind myself that down that path lies a fall.

On Temperance

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about something I’ve always considered myself to be fair at, but now I’m less certain: temperance. In a modern context, a lot of people consider that word to be synonymous with teetotalism. When I write “temperance,” I’m not specifically talking about avoiding alcohol–though I’m pretty good at that when the time is right. I’m talking specifically about the combination of moderation and prudence, with a sprinkling of moral fiber to understand how much is enough of something, and how much is too much.

There are a couple verses I want to call out. One is written by Paul in Galatians, and I’ve called it out before: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22,23). Here, in the NIV translation, the word “self-control” is used in lieu of “temperance,” which appears in the King James translation with which I grew up. I think it’s an interesting choice; firstly, it’s more of a layman’s term, and secondly it’s true over broader set of circumstances.

The second verse that speaks to me comes from Proverbs. “If you have found honey, eat only enough for you, lest you have your fill of it and vomit it” (Prov 25:16). Solomon wisely uses honey, something sweet and seemingly innocuous, as a symbol for worldly pleasures, and the proverb means that too much of anything can be a bad thing. This sums up many of my feelings on what temperance ought to mean for me. Temperance is not necessarily about avoiding or abstaining from worldly pleasures–though it can be–but should be more focused on understanding where partaking ends and gluttony begins. This can be true of alcohol, of food, of sex, of material goods, and of a great many other things.

In C.S. Lewis’ masterpiece “Mere Christianity,” he tackles this issue in a section about cardinal virtues: “One great piece of mischief has been done by the modern restriction of the word Temperance to the question of drink. It helps people to forget that you can be just as intemperate about lots of other things. A man who makes his golf or his motor-bicycle the center of his life, or a woman who devotes all her thoughts to clothes or bridge or her dog, is being just as “intemperate” as someone who gets drunk every evening.”

1940s sexism aside, his point remains true. We live in a culture that’s obsessed with becoming obsessed with things to the point of gluttony; it’s almost encouraged! Think of the term “binge watch.” It’s how many of us spend our weekends, and the word “binge” is right there under our noses telling us that this is deliberate gluttony. Watching football, working out, gambling, shopping. Temperance might be our virtue in shortest supply these days.

I am not saying that I have not been guilty of these things, because of course I have. I am more temperate than many, but less temperate than others. I also do think that I am self-aware enough to know when I am not practicing this virtue. In many ways, it goes hand-in-hand with understanding my own idols and setting them aside.

In the first sentence of this entry, I did not say that I was uncertain that I’m personally “good” at practicing temperance; the word I used was “fair.” This was a deliberate choice that leads into my next thought: I believe now that I have been lacking with regards to how I treat others’ lack of temperance. Lewis writes in that same section: “An individual Christian may see fit to give up all sorts of things for special reasons—marriage, or meat, or beer, or the cinema; but the moment he starts saying the things are bad in themselves, or looking down his nose at other people who do use them, he has taken the wrong turning.”  Here’s what I mean in the context of what he has written: I do think that I’ve been guilty of looking down on others because of their habits, and in that way, I have not been fair to them. Though I can say that I’ve always tried not to judge, I can also say that at times I’ve stood on a soap-box.

Later, Lewis addresses morality in general terms, talking about the every day choices we make, and how each of them can affect our spirit. I think this quote relates to both temperance, and to my own life: “People often think of Christian morality as a kind of bargain in which God says, ‘If you keep a lot of rules I’ll reward you, and if you don’t I’ll do the other thing.’ I do not think that is the best way of looking at it. I would much rather say that every time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different from what it was before.”

He is saying that every single moral choice I make results in a slight change in my heart; too many choices in one direction or another can change me permanently, for good or for bad. For some people, a choice is whether or not to have that beer with dinner tonight. For me, a similar choice might be whether or not I choose to judge someone for an action I deem intemperate.

Becoming a Child of God

I’ve written before about what I think it might mean to accept Christ’s love in my heart, and how it can make me a child of God.  I’ve also written about how Christianity is a practice in a literal sense: It takes work; every moment, every day, I must make conscious choices of faith, until it no longer requires any conscious choice (which may be never).

This morning I’d like to write a bit about what I’ve read in C.S. Lewis “Mere Christianity,” and in particular the portion entitled “Let’s Pretend.”

Lewis starts the chapter relaying a story about an unattractive man who wore a mask to disguise his face. After a time, he removed the mask, and found that his face had grown to its shape–he was made handsome by pretending to be handsome. The point is that by pretending to be like Christ, we can actually become a little bit more like Christ every day. He writes:

“What is the good of pretending to be what you are not? Well, even on the human level, you know, there are two kinds of pretending. There is a bad kind, where the pretense is there instead of the real thing; as when a man pretends he is going to help you instead of really helping you. But there is also a good kind, where the pretense leads up to the real thing. When you are not feeling particularly friendly but know you ought to be, the best thing you can do, very often, is to put on a friendly manner and behave as if you were a nicer person than you actually are. And in a few minutes, as we have all noticed, you will be really feeling friendlier than you were. Very often the only way to get a quality in reality is to start behaving as if you had it already.”

This speaks to precisely the idea I wrote about earlier, and here Lewis and I are of one mind–practice makes (closer to) perfect. Lewis continues on to say that if we earnestly “dress up” as Christ, and put on that mask, Christ will actually be with us, and influence our lives. He says that if you or I pretends to be like Christ, “You are no longer thinking simply about right and wrong; you are trying to catch the good infection from a Person.”

The Apostle Paul writes in Romans that we should figuratively “clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.” (Romans 13:14). This is probably what he meant there: If we think of how Christ would be or feel or act in a situation, and try to clothe ourselves in that action or feeling, we will react more like Him, and less like our meager selves. In that way, Christ is acting through us, and we become more than ourselves. There’s a reason that the “What Would Jesus Do?” bracelets were so popular years ago.

Here’s the thing: we absolutely know that this principle works. There are dozens of scientific studies about how smiling can actually make you happier, or how posing like a superhero can actually make you feel more confident. If I pretend that I am like Christ, and accept His guidance in my heart, then He will begin to act through me, and I will be closer to Christ. It’s just like practice.

I’ve found this in my own life as well. In particular, I tend to take notice of my actions or thoughts that are not Christ-like. I am consistently more mindful of moments where I flash to anger, or when I am being untrusting, or when I begrudge someone for something instead of being patient and forgiving. By simply being conscious of Christ’s influence in my life, I am becoming better at being who God wants me to be. By actively choosing to trust people as Christ did, or to forgive as He did, or show patience as He did, I am becoming more like Him, and He is with me.

This is a daily process, and it is hard work. Maybe someday it won’t be, and I’ll realize that the practice and this pretending and this mask has made me into something more beautiful than when I began: a true child of God.

I don’t know what’s next

Yesterday was the first day I missed since I started writing here in this space. If I’m being honest, yesterday I didn’t feel very close to God.

Yesterday, I felt angry.

I’ve written here before about being slow to anger, as instructed by this verse in James: “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James 1:19).

I’m not sure what to do with a true, slow burning coal fire in my chest, though.

I had an early tea with a close friend yesterday, and she gave me a piece of information that broke my heart. She didn’t mean to tell me to hurt me, she almost certainly didn’t know that I didn’t have that piece of information at my disposal. That is really not the point. The point is that I started out as heartbroken, but as the day wore on, regardless of how I tried to distract myself, I slowly grew more and more angry.

The specifics are personal, and not for this public space, but I feel comfortable writing that the details were about a past relationship, and that they made me feel completely betrayed, replaceable, and discarded. I have been despondent about the loss of this personal relationship over the past weeks. It has made me introspective, and it has made me be honest with myself about my direction for the future. It has been the genesis for great personal change, and it was the catalyst for my new faith.

And, of course, I still believe all of those are good things for me. I will continue to pursue that personal change, just as I will continue to pursue my new faith. I need both of them now more than ever.

But yesterday was really, really hard. It felt like a brick wall for the worst moments, and a stumbling block at the best moments.

In the evening, I went to see a movie with a church group, on the invite of the Pastor I’ve mentioned before. The movie, “A Case for Christ,” is a biopic of Lee Strobel’s investigation of the validity of the Christian faith. A journalist by trade, Lee is dedicated to finding facts, and believing in only that which the facts can prove. This investigation leads him all over the country, but in the end he comes to a fork in the road: the evidence he’s found for Christ’s resurrection is overwhelming, but still something is holding him back from believing. A close friend and mentor tells him that whether he chooses to believe, or not to believe, either one requires some leap of faith. You can guess, of course, which one he chooses.

The real climax of the movie is his first true prayer alongside his wife Leslie. He is humbled and relieved to the point of tears (been there), and doesn’t really know what to say or how to say it (if you’ve been reading this, you know I’ve been there, too). His prayers ultimately amount to a joyous request of “I don’t know what comes next, but I want that.” It’s a touching, relatable moment, particularly for me–I feel that not just in my faith, but in my life.

We can give people our hearts and hope for the best; we hope that they will cherish that and love us gently. But there is inherent risk in doing so, and sometimes that doesn’t pay off. I know that can’t stop me from moving forward, and of course I trust that God wouldn’t want my heart to be broken. But sometimes, the human element can get messy, and we get hurt. Sometimes we can get angry.

Sometimes that pain makes me feel farther away from God. I might want to retreat into a shell of unfeeling, like a turtle. I might want to lash out in anger, and say things I would regret. It’s easy when we’re betrayed by people close to us to feel as though everything, even God, has betrayed us. It is easy to lose sight of distant hope when the light is the lowest.

But one of the most important things I have written about here is hope, and in a way I think endurance is an outward sign of hope. Paul writes: “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies” (2 Corinthians 4:8-10).

In the end, I know that I must trust that the future will be brighter, and that this will not break me. I know that my anger will not help in the long run. Only hope and trust and love can help me on my journey. My final verse for this morning comes from Psalms 34:18: “The Lord is near to those who are discouraged; he saves those who have lost all hope.”

Prayer:

Be near to me now, please, God, for I am discouraged beyond words.

Letting go of selfishness

I will be the first person to tell you that I am not perfect, and that I have done and said things that I am not proud of, because I know they were morally wrong. I have no excuse.

I believe it was selfishness–living only for myself–that led me astray. I do not mean by “selfish” that I hoarded things that ought to have been used to help others, or that I unconsciously used people that I cared about for my own benefit, or that I have put myself above other people. I have certainly and ashamedly done those things, yes, but that’s not what I’m talking about in this instance.

What I am talking about is living selfishly as though my life belonged to me, and only me. I’m referring to living as though I had earned everything in my life, and as though I was entitled to anything I could grab hold of. I’m talking about living as though I had made myself, and my only purpose was to serve my own needs–and in some special cases, the needs of those very close to me.

I find that once I admit to myself that I was created by God, and that my salvation I owe to Christ, then it is easy to understand that in order to accept His sacrifice, I owe Him everything, and that my life is not my own. Not really.

There are lots of writings and songs about Christ living in me, and through me. I’m not sure that I really understood it until recently, and if I’m being frank, I still need to continue to think about it in order to fully wrap myself around that idea.

Paul writes to the Romans: “For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another” (Romans 12:4-5). This is neither the first nor the last time people are referred to as the body of Christ

C.S. Lewis takes this idea, and expounds on it in a more colloquial way in his book “Mere Christianity.” He writes, “when Christians say the Christ-life is in them, they do not mean simply something mental or moral. When they speak of being “in Christ” or of Christ being “in them,” this is not simply a way of saying that they are thinking about Christ or copying Him. They mean that Christ is actually operating through them; that the whole mass of Christians are the physical organism through which Christ acts.”

When I think about it, it makes sense enough. By aspiring to be like Christ, by imitating His actions, philosophy, piety, devotion to God, and love, I am acting on his behalf. Then, when I take Communion (a concept I’ll delve into in great depth at some point), I am metaphorically accepting his human body, the part of Him that allowed my debts to be paid, as part of my own body. In combination, the two mean that I am actually acting as an extension of Christ’s life, and of His will. He can act through me.

Two things were getting in the way of my understanding of Communion.  Firstly, I was only twelve when I studied for my first Communion, and couldn’t possibly have understood this incredibly complex and nuanced concept. Secondly, because I have always been a person that ascribes power to words, I think that the actual verse that we used to describe Communion in the Lutheran church was getting in my way. We were told “Do this in remembrance of me.” To me, that means something far different than the actual meaning behind the act of Communion. To do something in remembrance of someone means that they are gone, and I am performing this action to remember Him, and to serve my memory. But the sentiment should have been something more akin to “Do this with me, so that my spirit can live on through you and your actions.”

The word “Communion” derives its origin from the Latin “communis,” and later the English “common,” meaning “shared.” Understanding that etymology supports the idea that we are all becoming part of Christ’s will, and that we as a whole are becoming an extension of his body on Earth. We literally are taking a metaphorical representation of his body into ourselves, in order to represent the idea that we are all one with Christ, and one in Christ. We are making it so that we have that thing in common with Him, and in common with each other.

Lewis makes another apt metaphor early in part three of the same book, and this speaks to me personally–particularly in regards to acting selfishly and as though my life was my own:

“There are two ways in which the human machine goes wrong. One is when human individuals drift apart from one another, or else collide with one another and do one
another damage, by cheating or bullying. The other is when things go wrong inside the individual—when the different parts of him (his different faculties and desires and so on) either drift apart or interfere with one another. You can get the idea plain if you think of us as a fleet of ships sailing in formation. The voyage will be a success only, in the first place, if the ships do not collide and get in one another’s way; and, secondly, if each ship is seaworthy and has her engines in good order. As a matter of fact, you cannot have either of these two things without the other.”

I feel as though I was a lone ship, trying to act of my own accord. Even though I have a moral compass that I can now see I was disobeying, because I was not sailing with the rest of the ships or in the formation, I was causing disharmony and chaos in my own part of the sea.

On Free Will

Before I accepted God in my heart–really welcomed Christ as my personal savior–one of the most difficult concepts to wrangle was that of free will against the Will and Plan of God.

My grandmother has always loved C.S. Lewis, and she gave me a copy of “The Screwtape Letters” to read a long time ago. I remember it a little, though it’s probably time to re-read it through a new lens. It’s a fictional satire in which demons are plotting and advising one another on how to undermine a man’s faith and piety. It’s really quite brilliantly written, and I hope to revisit it soon.

Upon the recommendation of Pastor Mark, I recently picked up another book by Lewis, and one I’d forgotten about long ago: “Mere Christianity.” I know that I’ve read parts of it, because they sound familiar, but I also know that there is no chance that I fully understood the argument being presented. Not unlike Charles Dickens’ “Great Expectations,” I must have read this book when I was early in high school, and missed the point entirely.

Lewis is entertaining if, like me, you’re into graceful, clear prose and well-reasoned arguments. This particular book sounds very conversational (not unlike the blog I’m writing now) and it sounds that way for a reason; it was originally part of a British Broadcasting talk-radio series back in the early 1940s, during the heart of World War II. In the foreword, he says that he wanted the radio talks to sound very much like real talks, and that comes through in the text.

At any rate, as of this morning I am not quite halfway through the book, which I would recommend highly to anyone on the fence regarding their faith in God and Christ. I can easily see how someone who was on the fence might be convinced by his argument. It’s quite beautifully written, and appeals to logic in a way that few Christian works dare to do. It’s not perfect, of course–faith of any kind requires a leap–and some of the points he makes about science seem dated, but the crux of the arguments remain intact.

Last night as I was reading, the words and concepts were flowing freely. His writing has an almost lyrical quality at times, and appeals to me personally–it is almost as though we are kindred spirits, Lewis and I. The best writing, the stuff that really changes my mind, seems like it was written directly to me, and with me in mind. As I said, I was cruising comfortably. Then I stopped dead. I read the following passage three times, then put the book down, then picked it up half an hour later and read it again.

“Anyone who has been in authority knows how a thing can be in accordance with your will in one way and not in another. It may be quite sensible for a mother to say to the children, ‘I’m not going to go and make you tidy the schoolroom every night. You’ve got to learn to keep it tidy on your own.’ Then she goes up one night and finds the Teddy bear and the ink and the French Grammar all lying in the grate. That is against her will. She would prefer the children to be tidy. But on the other hand, it is her will which has left the children free to be untidy. The same thing arises in any regiment, or trade union, or school. You make a thing voluntary and then half the people do not do it. That is not what you willed, but your will has made it possible.”

It seems so obvious when it’s put that way! I wish, wish, wish that someone had put it to me so succinctly and clearly before.  He continues:

“Some people think they can imagine a creature which was free but had no possibility of going wrong; I cannot. If a thing is free to be good it is also free to be bad. And free will is what has made evil possible. Why, then, did God give them free will? Because free will,
though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having. A world of automata—of creatures that worked like machines—would hardly be worth creating . . . Of course God knew what would happen if they used their freedom the wrong way: apparently He thought it worth the risk.”

This latter passage caught my eye for a couple reasons. Firstly, “automata” has long been one of my very favorite words. Secondly, it explains why God would have chosen to make me more than an automaton (the singular of “automata,” and another favorite word by extension). In short, He did so because that is the only way that I would be capable of greatness. It is also the only way I would be capable of seeking Him in earnest.

This all leads into explaining the fall of man, and the fall of Satan. Essentially, because we are made to be smart and strong willed and free, we are capable of greater good, but also more tremendous bad. A being made even greater than we, such as a fallen angel, would be capable of even more good than we, and even more evil.

This reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from “Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince,” of all things.  Albus Dumbledore says to Harry, “I make mistakes like the next man. In fact, being–forgive me–rather cleverer than most men, my mistakes tend to be correspondingly huger.” This is a work of ridiculous fantasy fiction, of course, but the truth in the underlying sentiment is the same: the pendulum of our capacity to be good or bad swings farther in either direction depending on the length of the rod.

If I had not met with Mark, and had not followed his advice to pick up this book, I would still be grappling with these concepts, and I am grateful that I chose to do both of those things. I feel as though I was meant to do so, but I still could have chosen otherwise, and that is the entire point.

Prayer for the morning:

Holy Lord, thank you for giving me the right to choose. The right to choose good, the right to choose You, the ability to choose to accept your love, and the ability to love in return. Grant me clarity, and speed me along my path to You.