Faith in God

history imageI love history and I enjoy looking back at where we’ve come from – be it the 1660s with Samuel Pepys and Charles II or the 1770s with Jane Austin and her clear-eyed look at the sense and sensibilities of those around her.  Every time I reencounter humanity, no matter the age, I reencounter an aspect of our larger culture as human beings.

One thing remains the same, no matter the era—we struggle for control.  We struggle to understand the natural forces which can so easily destroy us.  We also struggle with the God who made us, defining Him by our standards or rejecting Him—to our peril. In these duel struggles, we find some small measure of security. By studying the elemental forces around us, we manage our natural fate.  By defining God, we manage our supernatural reality.

Or do we?

Samuel Pepys lived an odd faith life, going to church every Sunday, frequently sleeping through the sermons, but he also made personal vows before God, which enhanced his business success, though he was a rake and a scoundrel when it came to women. Jane Austin does not often refer to a personal relationship with God, but her characters reflect the faith values which held her society together, however fragilely. Both were aware, however grimly, of their limits and their need for introspection.

Today we live in a time where faith in God is frequently treated as a child’s game, a myth to be swept aside by the serious work of “real” lives—lives ironically filled with games and fantasy.  It seems that truth must be spoon fed to us through fiction in order to be acceptable. We can tolerate the good and evil of Star Wars, the corruption of Sauron and orcs through The Lord of the Rings but not the convictions of people of faith. Even real-life stories of “good people” is too didactic, since we all know we are a mixed lot with good and evil inside each of us.

Yet, history teaches us, and current world events should remind us, that good and evil can be rather simple and obvious.

I have been enjoying some Christian movies this Christmas season, though not all of them would be classified that way: A Wonderful Life, A Christmas Carol, and some modern movies – Do You Believe? Little Boy and Mom’s Night Out. They each speak to the reality of good and evil in the world of human beings. I am looking forward to seeing

 God's Not Dead 2 

 God’s Not Dead 2. I am relieved that some people are unafraid to see what is right in front of them. Truth is present in every age, with or without the sermon. Perhaps the reason we have become so intolerant of Christian stories is that we have become intolerant of the truth they tell.

History Minor. (n.d.). Retrieved January 20, 2016, from https://www.sju.edu/majors-programs/undergraduate/minors/history-minor
God’s Not Dead 2. (n.d.). Retrieved January 20, 2016, from http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4824308/

What Makes Heroes So Heroic?

1) In Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, readers encounter characters that remind us of the best in ourselves.  Yet none of the characters are without flaws.  They all struggle, but it is their very struggle to overcome their weaker selves that their true heroism is born. Think about Aragorn, Frodo, Bilbo, Sam, Gandalf, Legolas, Faramir, Eowyn, or any of the other heroic characters in The Lord of the Rings as you read and see if you can’t identify with them in some measure.

homeschool 42) Heroes believe in something beyond themselves and their belief leads to conviction and conviction draws them into action. For me personally, it was my belief that my children were pure gifts from God that led me to consider their welfare over my convenience and decide to homeschool.  For over twelve years that faith has led my family down a winding path of exploration and learning which I would not change for all the gold in a dragon’s lair.

country road after storm3) Heroes hope—a lot!  Homeschooling, like mothering, is a multifaceted experience.  Some days things go well and some days I want to pack it all in and start over.  But even on the worst days, I find myself clinging to the conviction that I had the right idea and that suffering does not necessarily mean I am on the wrong track but rather that bends and twists in the journey merely force me to rely on God’s wisdom more than my own. Hope is really trusting in God through the good times as well as the bad.

wedding ring4) Heroes are capable of deep, enduring love.  Love in our society has a tenancy to be equated with a passion, but passion rightly lived is merely the expression of love. Love itself is the commitment to do the best you can for another person, no matter the surrounding conditions or even the worthiness of the object of your love. There have been times when I have had to deal with the worst side of those I loved, yet in those excruciatingly painful moments, I knew that God still loved this person, even when I thought they no longer deserved my love. It was in those moments that I had to call upon the heroic nature of God and the supernatural spirit of love to wish the best for the other person—no matter whether they could understand or even receive it.

garden 2015 May5) Heroes get gifts—like wisdom, understanding, and fortitude. Acting like a real hero means committing to a high level of faith, hope, and love. It is in living that way that one actually becomes a better person.  Simply choosing to want to be a hero – makes you more fit to actually become one.

6) Heroes pay a price for their choices—just like everyone else. Heroes can’t just ride off on a white horse and slay the nearest dragon.  The difference between a real hero and someone just trying on the suit is pride.  Real heroes don’t think of themselves as heroes. Heroes usually have other heroes they look to for strength and guidance.  Kind of wonderful to realize that the best of us draw out the best in others.

7) Tolkien was a man who loved heroes.  And in the process—he became one.

For more food for thought about Tolkien’s work: The Road Goes Ever On – A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings9781450288101_COVER.indd

Available on Amazon: http://amzn.to/1pUKL7W

J. R. R. Tolkien

In my mind, J. R. R. Tolkien is a heroic figure. He understood that the greatness of humanity lies within each of us through our faithfulness to our daily mission. He was a Catholic, the son of a Catholic convert and an ardent believer in God. It was under his influence that C.S. Lewis embraced the reality of Christianity.  While a young man, he formed a little club with some close friends, and despite the small size of the group, they had some very big aspirations.  They believed that they had a mission to change the world, to make it a better place.  As for many people during World War I, this vision was put to test when several of Tolkien’s friends died. They were not able to live out their noble aspirations. But in a letter, Tolkien was reminded of their ardent dreams, and he was encouraged to go forward—to fulfill his own potential.  He did. An ordinary man in so many ways, yet his faithfulness to his family, to his wife and son, his students, his friends, and his stories reach us today.

After I had read most of his major works and become astonished at his incredible insight and clarity, I decided to read more about him so I could better understand his background and his mindset.  In one book (J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography by Humphrey Carpenter), I read about one of his typical days where his bicycle broke down and he was late for dinner while a stack of papers waited at home to be corrected. I was nearly pulling my hair out thinking about the fact that he could have been home writing great literature.  But then, after I became more reasonable, I realized it was because he knew how to fix a bicycle, cared about being home for dinner, made it to meetings, and corrected innumerable papers that he was the kind of man who could write so faithfully about the human heart and the reality of suffering as well as the idiosyncratic silliness of common human interactions.

Tolkien, like many of his characters, could not predict the future, but he was engaged in humanity’s struggle to overcome evil, nevertheless.  May we today aspire to the same noble faithfulness of a simple Hobbit—and an honest writer.

On His Toes – Life in Hollywood in the Early Days

On His Toes by Irving McDonaldRecently I discovered that my grandfather had written a book and that it was still available on Amazon, so I went ahead and I ordered it. After previewing a few pages, I went ahead and read it to the family.  What an amazing joy it has been!  It is a great story entitled On His Toes written by Irving T. McDonald (who was my mother’s father) and it is all about a young man who goes to work for one of the first movie production companies of his day. When I realized that this book was published by Dodd, Mead, and Company in 1921, it hit me that this was a first of its kind.  The description of the production studios, the property rooms and all the things they used, the demanding but skilled abilities of the director and the actors, the plot involving this young guy trying to figure out what he wants to do with his life and his falling in love with the movie-making business, it sure makes for a great read.  I always knew that my grandfather was a talented man.  He was a radio broadcaster for many years, and he worked in various teaching positions throughout his life, but surprisingly, I knew little about him personally.  Reading this book has really helped me to get to know the man behind the name a bit better.

I suppose it is an all too familiar a reality nowadays that we don’t really know the very people who made our lives possible.  I recently read my grandmother’s memoirs (which is where I learned about my grandfather’s book) and I discovered that Grandfather almost died during a flu epidemic, but for the kindness of a landlady and the generosity of a doctor, he would have died.  My grandfather later married and had six children, one who was my mother.  She grew up and married and had six children, one who was me, and I am now the mother of eight children.  None of us would exist but for the kindness of those two strangers and my grandfather’s strength of spirit, which enabled him to overcome the dangers of his environment and situation.

As I live and work in my little world, I think about all the people who have made my life possible, and I wonder about their lives and how our lives are intertwined even though we may never meet.  I wonder about the people who made the car I am driving in, who designed it and who sold it to us.  I wonder about the people who made the roads I drive across and what their lives must have been like as they toiled away on hot summer days bridging rivers and forging through rock across our part of the nation.  I wonder about the doctor who brought me into the world, and I wonder about all my relatives who have passed away, giving me the opportunity to live, to share their home, on earth.  I carry their genes in my body, they are the blood of my blood, yet I know little more than their names.

Yet, as I read my grandfather’s book, I came to realize that those who have gone before are not really gone, they are just some place not within my present sight. And then I realize that I am the forerunner of all those who will come after me, and I feel amazed at the thought. I am only granted a small portion of time before I too must move on.  And I wonder who will remember me, and I wonder what will they wonder about….