Posted by: gmscan | June 3, 2010

How I came to Christ, Part Three

Okay, so I am an avid reader. Naturally, that is what God used to reach me. For other people it might be music, or television, or rainbows and waterfalls, or the experiences of friends and family. Is this ridiculous? That God would bother reaching out to someone like me? Scripture answered that a very long time ago with Jesus’ parable of the lost sheep. He said a shepherd will leave behind ninety-nine sheep to go find the one that is lost. Not only find it, but rejoice in finding it.

—-

I was still not looking for anything religious. I was still reading just for entertainment. But I got smacked between the eyes during a trip to Chicago. On the way home, I stopped into the bookstore at Midway for the flight home. I asked the clerk if she could recommend anything, and she told me a lot of people had bought “The Shack” lately. Okay. It turns out that The Shack by William Paul Young is a story that speaks directly to a lot of us who have become indifferent to faith. This is not meant to be a book review, so I won’t go into detail, other than to say it presents the Holy Trinity in very contemporary terms and answers our questions about God’s seeming tolerance of cruelty.

—-

Then on to one of the things I’ve been meaning to tackle for a long time – Winston Churchill’s massive History of the English Speaking Peoples. About the turn of the millennium there was some discussion of who was the most important person of the Second Millennium, and without being an historian, it seemed to me hands down that it was Queen Elizabeth I.  She stabilized the English throne and church, cultivated English literature (notably Shakespeare and Marlowe), and laid the foundations for English commercial and military dominance by defeating the Spanish Armada and encouraging exploration and eventual colonization throughout the world.

This colonial influence led to the most successful (and English-speaking) countries in every part of the globe. These include the U.S., Australia, Canada, India, Singapore, Hong Kong, and New Zealand. They are all characterized by republican government, civil service based on meritocracy, capitalistic economies, and education systems largely based on an English model. As long as they follow this model they succeed, when they deviate they fail, as happened in Zimbabwe (formerly Rhodesia.)  The Elizabethan Era laid the groundwork for all of this.

Churchill’s book was unexpected for its emphasis on Christianity as the foundation of England’s role in the world, beginning with the establishment of the church and civic infrastructure under the Romans and the peace and relative prosperity of those times. This all changed in the late fourth and early fifth centuries with the Saxon invasion. . He writes, “Britannia … had been Christian, now it was heathen.” He says the people lost the art of writing, of well-planned cities, of craftsmanship and commerce. Christianity was relegated to the western parts of Ireland where St. Patrick saved it from extinction.

The rest of the book certainly deals with military, commercial, and cultural matters, but underlying the entire English experience was Christianity and conflict over what type of Christianity would prevail. This is what animated all of the growth of the nation. I wonder what he would think today with the simultaneous decline of Christianity and influence in the British Isles?

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Now, time again for some light reading. I was in an antique store looking at old post cards and books and came across Left Behind by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins. I had heard of it but didn’t know much about it. At $2.50 for a first edition in good condition it seemed like a deal, so I picked it up. Again to my surprise, it was a novel based on the End Times and the Rapture, bringing to life what always seemed like fantastical prophesies and in ways that seemed pretty plausible these days.

—-

But the clincher was Girls Like Us by Sheila Weller. This one had absolutely nothing to do with Christianity. It is a biography of Carole King, Joni Mitchell and Carly Simon, three enormously talented women who had a profound impact on American music and culture. Their talent brought them fantastic wealth and fame, yet the entire book is about their unhappiness. It is a tale of drug abuse, compulsive sex, mental illness, suicide attempts, insecurity and loneliness. Despite these dysfunctions, they were also arrogant and contemptuous of the rest of America.

What went wrong? They were poisoned by their very talent. They forgot that such ability is a gift from God. Rather than being humbled and grateful for the gift, they were narcissistic about it. As I said, missing from the book, and from the lives of these women, was any kind of religious grounding and the result was a life, not of joy, but of misery.

This was a profound lesson for me because I know that I, too, can be arrogant and feel superior to others. But I also know that whenever I feel that way I am headed for trouble. That is exactly when the floor falls out – every time.

That lesson is what finally made me put all this together, and reach out to accept what Christ was offering me.

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Responses

  1. I have my students read “The Shack” just so they can vicariously experience the paradigm shift of the protagonist (and because it offers answers to the age old question of why bad things happen to good people). They generally like it and find it helpful. Though it isn’t going to win any prizes for literature, it is good theology (in spite of all the attacks on it from Christian pundits).

    Rodney Stark argues, like Churchill, that Christianity was responsible for the rise of Western Europe and the Enlightenment and the Age of Science because it emphasized logic over mystery, unlike most other religions. I wonder what the decline of Christianity will mean for logic and reason in the West?

  2. Greg:
    Introducing God into the equation also introduces humility.
    Much of our hymns in synagogue speak of God’s awesomeness and wonder.
    Almost instinctively, I start to feel insignificant compared to the size of our universe and the power of our God.
    Strangely, though, Greg, once I get in touch with my insignificance, I start to feel important, as if I have a mission to pursue holiness, which invarialy leads to a sense of contentment, and even an occasional happiness flare-up.
    Moses was one of the greatest Jews who ever lived.
    But, he was also one of the most humble.
    Humility is merely the flip side of greatness.
    Shalom,
    Don Levit

  3. Greg,

    Your comments about ‘Girls Like Us’ really gets to the heart of the matter. It is absurd to think we’ve been given – GIVEN – amazing gifts and we clutch them like Golum did the ring in Lord Of the Rings. So the talents we’re given can become idols or “Counterfeit Gods” as Tim Keller titled his book. Keller points out the first commandment was made the first because you can’t break any of the others without breaking the first. He says there are surface idols (like $) and deep idols. Its devastating when we get behind surface idols what we must confess. Not sure how prayer is going for you, but I can suggest ACTS: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication to increase intimacy with the creator and be able to walk best in this wicked world. It is best to first rejoice in the good news of Jesus, admit our disobedience and weakness, and express how grateful we are that our eyes have been opened. Only then can we cry out in our need.

    The book I want to suggest to you is called “Valley of Vision”. I love the blog and will enjoy commenting again in the future.

    -Steve

    • Thanks, Steve.

      That’s exactly right, and more than anything else, that is what turned me. Obviously, everything in nature is a gift from God- every tree, every blade of grass. But the idea that our talents are also gifts from God — Mozart being perhaps the best example — means that everything we we have is also a gift. I’m a pretty good writer, but I have always been a good writer. I did nothing to deserve that talent. I am a terrible auto mechanic. I have tried to work on cars and i just can’t do it. I don’t have that gift.

      That means everything I touch or hear or smell or eat is a gift. This desk I am sitting at is made of wood from a tree that was crafted by someone with carpentry talents from God. This computer was made by people with their own talents — all given to them by God. The wonder of this is breathtaking to me.

      Greg

  4. Hey Greg,
    Loved being included in your story…and being able to watch you move from behind your ‘watchful dragons’…may grace continue to touch you in the deep and precious places.
    There are Three who sing your name,
    Paul

    • Paul,

      I can’t tell you what an honor it is that you would put a post on my little blog. The blessings I receive every day just amaze me. Thank you.
      Greg


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