A Christian Response to the Battle over Confederate Symbols

Confederate monument in front of the South Carolina capitol (taken by Lael Arrington)

Last week, as two factions violently clashed over whether to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee in the city of Charlottesville, VA, the movie Selma was playing on TV. I flipped the channel between live coverage of young white men attacking those who wanted to bring the statue down and actual newsreel footage inserted in the movie of young white men waving the Confederate battle flag to mock and harass the Selma marchers.

You couldn’t miss the contrast in the two scenes. In the movie, David Oyelowo as Martin Luther King was invoking the love of Christ and his non-violent example as he led many young blacks to march and stand quietly with their hands clasped behind them. By contrast, the faces of the young white men waving their stars and bars were screwed up in hate. In Charlottesville you could see the anger exploding on both sides.

What a difference strong, Christ-following leadership made.

Here in South Carolina we have seen that difference defuse the battle over Confederate symbols more than once. Two Christian governors have stood up to tradition and strong emotions at great political risk. Their words speak compellingly to this moment.

A Window on the World of C.S. Lewis

Photo journal of his places and spaces in Oxford and Cambridge

Just returned from Oxford where part of the delight was seeing where C. S. Lewis lived, worked and loved. In spite of his superior skills in reasoning, writing and history, Lewis struggled to gain entrance to the great Oxford University. He was pitiful at math.

The central Oxford landmark, The Radcliffe Camera (left, 1749, part of the Bodleian Library), and All Souls College (right).

Is It Time to Give Up Your Ordinary? Making plans that count this fall

August is traditionally a time when many of us pull out our calendars, prayer journals and Bibles – asking God to show us where to invest our time and energies this fall. To help provide clarity, today’s guest post is by Lucinda Secrest McDowell, author of 13 books including Dwelling Places which was just awarded the Christian Retailing Best Award for Devotional 2017  (voted by the bookselling/publishing industry professionals).  Like my book Faith and Culture,  Dwelling Places is rich with sturdy content for the mind (a devo with footnotes!) and deep reflections for the heart. May Cindy’s words challenge you to say yes and no wisely to the opportunities for impact in the months ahead:

She could not have been more ordinary.

Gladys, was also a poor student and had quit school by age fourteen. She grew up to be a London parlor maid with few prospects. But then God got a hold of her heart and after hearing about the needs in China, she was determined to serve Him there.

Only no mission board would accept her.

Dunkirk: The movie…and our calling

Yesterday evening we went to see Chris Nolan’s new film, Dunkirk, where the British and French armies were forced to pull back to the beaches in the face of Hitler’s army.  The movie powerfully shows the terror of 338,ooo men pinned down on the beach waiting and trying to evacuate to England across the channel. Overhead the Luftwaffe bombed the hospital ships and destroyers loaded with men and strafed those still on the beach or in the water.

But the movie leaves out much of the larger story. Right when they had the Allies in their tank sites, the German army halted their advance for three days.  They believed the Allies were doomed and they took the liberty to consolidate their position. A British officer cabled home a curious message that signified nothing to the Germans, but dire distress to the British populace who were familiar with the King James Version of the Bible: “But if not…”

The message quoted Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego as they faced the furnace of the Babylonian king (Daniel 3:17-18: “Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king. But if not, let it be known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.”

The troops faced a fiery ordeal. They needed a miracle.

Trump’s Extraordinary Poland Speech (edited for you)

"...let us all fight...for family, for freedom, for country, and for God."

Do you think this is “racist” and “white nationalist”? Do you think it’s Biblical to be this proud of Western history and values? Speaking in Warsaw last week, Trump vilified Soviet Russia and celebrated the sacrifices of the Polish people’s fight for freedom. He also celebrated the culture and achievements of Western Civilization, especially the way we value freedom, God and family. For all that he has been widely criticized.  I’ve edited this very important speech for quicker reading and encourage you to read it for yourself…What do you think?

“…This is a nation more than one thousand years old.  Your borders were erased for more than a century and only restored just one century ago.

In 1920, in the Miracle of Vistula, Poland stopped the Soviet army bent on European conquest.  Then, 19 years later in 1939, you were invaded yet again, this time by Nazi Germany from the west and the Soviet Union from the east.

Under a double occupation the Polish people endured evils beyond description: the Katyn forest massacre, the occupations, the Holocaust, the Warsaw Ghetto and the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, the destruction of this beautiful capital city, and the deaths of nearly one in five Polish people.  A vibrant Jewish population — the largest in Europe — was reduced to almost nothing after the Nazis systematically murdered millions of Poland’s Jewish citizens, along with countless others, during that brutal occupation.

In the summer of 1944, the Nazi and Soviet armies were preparing for a terrible and bloody battle right here in Warsaw….

Remembering Norman Rockwell’s Four Freedoms

On this July 4th celebration, I invite you to join me in savoring these images of America’s Freedoms. Struggling to get his head around how to illustrate President Roosevelt’s call to commemorate such big ideas, Rockwell finally decided to depict them as he and his neighbors actually experienced them in his home town. Here’s the backstory:

“In his 1941 State of the Union address, President Franklin D. Roosevelt attempted to unite the American people to a common cause. Though Pearl Harbor was still a year away, the war was already raging in Europe and Asia. England was on the verge of collapse. Pres. Roosevelt, faced with an isolationist-leaning America and the looming prospect of a second world war, set forth a vision that would inspire citizens to brave the sacrifices and perils he foresaw in the war against fascism. His vision consisted of four universal human rights:

freedom of speech, freedom to worship, freedom from fear, and freedom from want. He saw these values as America’s heritage, now threatened and needing to be defended.

Two Reasons We’re Celebrating Forty Years Together

June 25, 1977

We were young and deeply in love. Making big promises we had no idea what it would take to keep. Maybe that is part of God’s grace. We don’t know what we don’t know. But before long we began to get an idea.

Jack and I share so much. We are both strong personalities. (“This will not be a boring marriage,” said our pre-marriage counselor-pastor.) We are both thinkers. I love discussing books, movies and ideas, talking theology and politics with him. We both enjoy travel adventures together, and back when I could ski we delighted in riding the lifts and swooshing down the mountains together.

But in other ways we were so very different.

Do things happen for a reason, or by chance?

Views from Christian, modern and postmodern worldviews

In The Year of Living Biblically A.J. Jacobs, general editor of Esquire magazine, writes, “Julie [his wife] always told me that things happen for a reason. To which I would reply, Sure, things happen for a reason. Certain chemical reactions take place in people’s brains, and they cause those people to move their mouths and arms. That’s the reason. But, I thought, there’s no greater purpose.”

We all long to know where our lives in particular and history in general are going. Does everything happen by chance? Or is God directing the course of human events with purpose? Are our lives part of a larger story (a meta-narrative) that’s going somewhere?

Ark, flood…how could a loving God…?

In last week’s post I reported on our trip to the Ark Encounter in northern Kentucky, a Biblically scaled ark with many thoughtful exhibits. Invoking artistic license, the creators have assigned names and back stories to everyone on the ark. In one exhibit Japheth’s wife (whom they’ve named Rayneh) is troubled by the massive loss of life outside their boat. She ponders these questions as she goes about her daily chores.

If I Ran the Zoo: A Visit To Noah’s Ark Encounter

On our way up I-75 into northern Kentucky I found myself thinking about a Facebook friend, a Christian and a movie critic who works in Hollywood. Heading into a newly released faith-based film, she’ll post a little movie-critic prayer, “Dear Lord, please help it not be cheesy.” We were on the first leg of my Mom’s bucket list trip, headed to the Ark Encounter, a theme park with a Biblically scaled ark.

I’m happy to report this ark is not cheesy. From the outside it’s too big to be cheesy. It looks…epic.

And a little too gleaming?

God told Noah to build the original out of wood and cover it with pitch inside and out. I doubt it looked as impressive as the 300-cubit, three-keeled, silver-timbered ship perched in the Kentucky hills. 

A Mother’s Day Prayer for Women Who Love to Learn and Go Deep

For every thinking Mom who lives in the daily tension between reading Ferdinand the Bull and Philip Yancey, wiping noses and writing articles , running carpool and managing projects, this prayer’s for you:

May you know God’s pleasure as you read widely and think deeply.

Like Eric Liddel, the British Olympic runner who famously said, “I feel God’s pleasure when I run,” may you sense his pleasure when you exercise the intellectual gifts he has given you.

Perhaps you didn’t love school or even make the honor roll. But you love to read and could spend your entire Saturday with a book. Maybe the older you became, the sturdier your reading list grew. Picking up Lewis, Schaeffer or Willard, Tolstoy, MacDonald, or Sayers was like sitting down to a rich banquet.

If you are a Christian woman who loves to think deeply about big ideas, the rich symbolism of metaphors, the cogency of well-reasoned arguments, may you celebrate this gift. It’s part of your beauty.

A Vacation Opportunity to Love God with All Your Heart and Mind

Join me at The C.S. Lewis Foundation’s Oxbridge Summer Institute 2017

punting on the river Cam in Cambridge

Some vacations recharge us with rest and recreation. Some with natural beauty. And if, like me, you love to learn, some vacations renew our souls with a feast of iron-sharpening-iron teaching and discussion.

Maybe you could join me this summer in England for a week (or two) in the company of kindred spirits who delight in Lewis and treasure both his intellect and imagination. Oxford. Cambridge. Days of speakers and panels. Nights of music, dance and drama. And it only happens once every three years. Even if not, I hope you’ll enjoy these pictures.

From the time I first heard of it, Oxbridge went on my bucket list. (Is it a bonafide “list” if you only ever had one item on it?) In 2008 my sweet Mom gifted me with a trip to the Cambridge week, where these pictures were taken. This summer I’m deeply honored to be invited back as a speaker at the Oxford week. Other speakers will include Larry Crabb and Joseph LaConte. Info here.

La La Land Now Streaming: How do we decide between his dreams vs her dreams vs steadfast love?

April 25th DVD release for the Oscar winning movie

If you just watch the first half of La La Land, you’ll find yourself swept into the blue-sky, sunshine, and citrus colors of Hollywood dreams. The opening big production number on the jammed LA freeway introduces us to Mia (Emma Stone) and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), off to a prickly start but eventually falling in love and cheering each other on. He wants to revive the lost art of pure jazz in his own club; she wants to become a famous Hollywood actress.

Just as Silverado tipped its hat to the iconic features of Hollywood westerns, so La La Land pays fresh tribute to the romantic musicals of the past. The film’s editor, Sara Preciado, put together this fascinating 2-minute video showing a side-by-side comparison:

Part one concludes with Seb and Mia’s Boy-Gets-Girl kiss in an iris fade so typical of bygone Hollywood Happy Endings. But, as in life and postmodern stories, the kiss is not the ending. Life and the movie goes on. The cost of pursuing their dreams rises and each one must choose how much to sacrifice for the other–a tension common to most couples, especially to women.

Every Easter in the Prison Visitation Room

Carol Kent’s “Hope and Healing for Families of Prisoners”

While we were weaving flowers into the wire mesh of our Easter cross, singing inspirational hymns, and listening to Jack preach the power of the resurrection, my friends Carol and Gene Kent were standing in line, like they do every Easter, to join their imprisoned son at the “church of the razor wire,” as they call it.

I still remember the day sitting in a Barnes and Noble café, when Carol opened her heart to me: “Late one night we received a call that our son was in county jail,” she said, “charged with first-degree murder. He shot and killed his wife’s ex-husband in a Sweet Tomatoes parking lot in broad daylight.”

What we cannot even imagine about Jesus’ supernatural suffering in Gethsemane

The first time I saw Robert Doares painting of Jesus praying in Gethsemane I was shocked. It was so unlike the image stamped into my imagination–the image at left of Christ kneeling, earnestly entreating his Father to “let this cup pass from me,” one of the most copied images in the world.

Artist Heinrich Hoffman pictures Jesus late Thursday night after the “Last Supper” looking up, somewhat distressed, his hands in a fretful knot. In the dark quiet before the rapidly approaching storm he has tried to get his disciples to stay awake and pray with him for one hour, but exhausted by the sorrowful news at dinner (One of you will betray me…I’m about to be crucified), they fall asleep. So he leaves the disciples about a stone’s throw behind and prays.

His disciples could not imagine what is coming. Neither, it seems, could Hoffman. Can we? Jesus could. A careful reading of the text paints this far more extreme picture:

What Mike & Karen Pence guard against that we should too

Dangers and signs of social media and emotional affairs & a marriage-saving resource

If every reporter who has savaged (or even snorted at) Vice-President Mike Pence for not dining or working late alone with women other than his wife would simply google “where do affairs happen the most,” they might change their tune.

They would find that anywhere from 38–53 million men in the U.S. have cheated on their wives, touching one in every three couples. And that 65-85% of adulterous affairs begin at work.

They would also find that few consciously decide to start an affair.

I’ll Take Narnia’s Aslan over The Shack’s Papa Any Day: What William P. Young is Missing

This week The Shack is (still) #1 on the New York Times Best-Seller list and, after three weeks, still in the top five at the movie box office. With unforgettable images Young draws a picture of God’s compassion for a bruised reed of a man who has lost his little girl in a crime of unspeakable violence and murder.

The God of all comfort prepares Mack’s favorite food in the kitchen. Skips rocks across the lake with him. Wears old flannel shirts. Young’s story takes us inside Mack’s grief and shows how God’s tender, creative soul-care heals and restores.

Throughout almost thirty years of rheumatoid arthritis, the wanderings of a prodigal, and the inevitable conflicts and rejections of the pastorate, Jesus has lavished me with his tenderness and mercy. Yet in times of deepest sorrow I find the portrait of God that CS Lewis has drawn in Aslan, the lion-King in his fictional world of The Chronicles of Narnia, even more comforting than Papa in The Shack.

When the Weird Christian Becomes the Awesome Hero

2017 Best Picture Nominees Retrospective-Hacksaw Ridge

Do they still make movies with that story line? Yes they do. Even though the stereotype of Christians as weird has become so ingrained in today’s culture that Tracey Ullman can give it a cheeky send-up in this 2-minute sketch, “A Christian’s Job Interview.”

For every Christian who is a bit weary of this not-so-subtle bias, Hacksaw Ridge offers two hours of stand-tall validation of a real believer’s faith and a real God’s faithfulness. And thanks to the superb film-making skills of Director Mel Gibson, it was even nominated for six Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor. Contrast Ullman’s clip with the movie trailer…

4 Ways Lent Can Give You Far More than You Give Up

Growing up, my church didn’t celebrate Lent. But years ago I caught the vision from a friend and I’ve come to value it. Here are four ways Lent can deepen our life with Christ and enrich our celebration of Easter.

Except for my Catholic neighbor getting her forehead smudged on Ash Wednesdays, Lent wasn’t even on my radar. We didn’t celebrate Palm Sunday. Or Good Friday. Much less 40 days of fasting, sacrifice and repentance. But I’ve learned we have so much to gain from observing Lent.

If your church doesn’t observe it, you can embrace it in your own way, just as the church developed its own way over the years, stretching its observance from two to three days to three weeks to 40 days. It doesn’t matter how long we engage with it, the important thing is that, in honor of his inestimable sacrifice for us, we embrace a season of sacrifice of our own for the Lord Jesus. 

3 ways to hang on to Truth in a hostile culture: Lessons from Lewis-The Silver Chair

Plato’s News Cave (courtesy Imgur)

Recently The New York Times launched a new subscription campaign featuring hooks like, “We’re passionate about the truth. Are you?” and “Truth is what we do better” and “Read news that values the truth.”

I know what some of you are thinking: “Ba-ha-ha-ha.”

It is indeed rich that a publication that has long questioned the existence of truth now lays claim to it in their advertising. Long ago the mainstream media relinquished its claim to reporting truth. Instead, at their best, they report “truth” from several different perspectives, weighting the progressive/oppressed perspective the most heavily.

The result has been the loss of truth. Now we see the media caught in its own trap. As Donald Trump exaggerates and equivocates, they desperately try to refute him. But if you don’t believe in a solid ground of truth, how do you have a place to stand from which you can throw rocks at untruth? Isn’t it just another perspective with ”alternate facts”?

How do we hold on to Truth in a hostile culture? CS Lewis shows us in his fourth Chronicle of Narnia: The Silver Chair

Narnia’s crown prince has been missing for ten years. His aged and failing father, King Caspian, while desperate to find him, has banned his knights and citizens from seeking him because too many search parties have disappeared, just like prince Rilian.