Beauty

Is there a purpose in beauty?  Why are we naturally drawn to it, inclined toward it?  Why are we moved by it?  Science has proven that an infant’s eyes linger longer on a more attractive face, long before socialization would play a role in their preference.  In other words, even before we could be “taught” to enjoy beauty, we do.  We inherently do.  Is this a result of sin?  Or is this a part of the image of God stamped on us?  Could it be, as N. T. Wright calls it, an echo of a Voice?  A beckoning within?  Given to us, implanted within us, to draw us toward Something?  These questions matter to me because I think often about the way I respond to beauty, the effect it has on me, my enjoyment of it, and the purpose of it all.  In my opinion, how we answer these questions may seem inconsequential, but in truth has a great impact on the way we live out our faith before the Lord.

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I love these words by N. T. Wright:

“The Christian tradition has said, and indeed sung, that the glory belongs to God the creator.  It is his voice we hear echoing off the crags, murmuring in the sunset.  It is his power we feel in the crashing of the waves and the roar of the lion.  It is his beauty we see reflected in a thousand faces and forms.

And when the cynic reminds us that people fall off crags, get lost after sunset, and are drowned by waves and eaten by lions; when the cynic cautions that faces get old and lined and forms get pudgy and sick–then we Christians do not declare that it was all a mistake.  We do not avail ourselves of Plato’s safety hatch and say that the real world is not a thing of space, time, and matter but another world into which we can escape.  We say that the present world is the real one, and that it’s in bad shape but expecting to be repaired.  We tell, in other words, the story we told in the first chapter: the story of a good Creator longing to put the world back into the good order for which it was designed.  We tell the story of a God who does the two things, which, some of the time at least, we know we all want and need: a God who completes what he has begun, a God who comes to the rescue of those who seem lost and enslaved in the world the way it is now.”

{N. T. Wright, Simply Christian}

What do you think?  Does beauty matter?

ps.  If you haven’t read Simply Christian, it is one book you should definitely read in your lifetime.  Period.  Probably on my list of top ten books I’ve ever read.

Favorite Reads of 2014

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Some of my favorite reads from this past year.  This stack is missing a few that greatly impacted me this past year, such as Eric Metaxes’ “Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prohpet, Spy,” and Jerry Bridges “Transforming Grace.”

I sheepishly admit that I have historically been careful not to venture too far in my book choices into places that would disagree with my firmly held convictions.  I have begun to challenge myself to read some things that might intrigue, provoke, and even irritate me.  To read some things that I think I will probably disagree with.  I have been afraid to do this in the past, not trusting my mind + heart to weed out truth from lie.  As my favorite professor from school once counseled me, we can engage in content that may make us squirm because we can trust that God will separate what is wheat from what is chaff.

The longer I walk with the Lord, the more I see that He continually leads us into more spacious places.  He always leads us on to greater freedom (2 Cor. 3:17), and that He will increase our awareness of the great freedom already won for us in Christ Jesus.

Some books that made me squirm and were out of my comfort zone to read were Sarah Bessey’s “Jesus Feminist” and also Barbara Brown Taylor’s “An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith” (not pictured above).  I have to tell you: I am SO GLAD I picked those two up.  I’m not sure I can tell you that I agree with everything written therein, but I can tell you that I am better off for having read and engaged in those two books.  Well worth the journey and the squirming.  I think I’m finding that when I read things that are outside of my comfort zone, I am reminded of how much bigger God is than I can possibly wrap my arms (or mind) around.  I am reminded that it is in the diversity of the body of Christ that His incredible, unfathomable largeness and otherness is expressed.  No one denomination has a corner on all Truth, and we are wise to remember that.  I am reminded that Christ’s final prayer with His disciples centered around pleading for them to be ONE (John 17).

I have a big stack already waiting for me to dig into in 2015:

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And since I am now reviewing books for fun (pushes nerd glasses up bridge of nose) this stack will definitely grow over the year.  Of course, I will share the best with you here, as I firmly believe in sharing good resources and in reading, reading, reading.  Not just to stuff our heads with knowledge, but because we want to learn, to change, to have a conversation with the community of brothers and sisters of our faith both in the current day and in times past.  What a beautiful privilege that is!

This season of being a mother to little ones has taught me that the best things in life must be fought for.  The path of least resistance is not the way of Jesus.  I have so little time as a momma for reading, and yet I’m passionate about squeezing it in.  There is so much I want to learn and have yet to learn!  This year I am convicted afresh that my focus needs to be on my marriage and my children.  So I’m hoping to fill my shelves (figuratively speaking) with words that build up and strengthen my marriage and my calling as momma first and foremost.

Of course, I’m hoping to squeeze in some fiction as well.  Sometimes a momma just needs to get lost in a good story.

What are you hoping to read this year?  What books would you recommend?

my good reads of 2013

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I believe in the power of words, the written word especially.  Words are highly flammable, explosive.  And I believe in resources.  In fact, I’m somewhat of a resource geek.  I know the power of a good book at the right time, words that can wake up the dead, words that can be used of God to heal, to transform.  I have a passion to connect others with good resources, because when you’ve been set free, when you’ve been transformed, when you’ve been brought to life, you can’t help but share it.  It burns in you to be told, and it’s a crazy dizzy happiness in you that must bubble out.

I also believe that reading is a discipline we must continue to cultivate.  Since God gave us His Word in written form, I believe even for those of us who find reading dull or difficult, we must continue to teach ourselves, discipline ourselves, to read.  It was eleven years ago that I read J.P. Moreland’s wonderful book Love Your God With All Your Mind and I believe that reading God’s Word and good books is a part of how we do that.  The Christian faith is not a mindless, reasonless faith.  The Bible has satisfied some of the greatest minds in history, and continues to today.

With that said, I believe in sharing here in this little quiet space of the internet my humble finds.  The books that are speaking to my soul, the truths that are ministering to me.  I hope that it can be helpful to you in some way.

This stack of books were some of my very favorites from this past year, the ones I just couldn’t {and still can’t} stop thinking about and flipping back through.  The ones I know I will read over and over again.

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Anything by Jennie Allen
This one rocked me and gave words to a restlessness that I have been struggling with for a solid year.  {I will have more to say on it in a separate post.}  Jennie Allen wrote this book to describe her & her husband’s experience of leaving behind the Christianized pursuit of the American dream.  She writes of becoming restless with worship of a small “plastic” god and finally surrendering to the one true God.  They prayed a prayer, a one-word prayer that forever changed everything:  “Anything.”  Whatever You want God, wherever You would have us go.  You can have us for anything.  This book is the story of how that little prayer exploded in their lives and led them on the adventure of a lifetime.  An incredible read, I flew through it in a few days.

“God builds our lives whether we give him permission or not.  It is the fight for control that has us all tied up, while it’s really an illusion anyway.  We control because we are afraid of what may happen if we let go.  Do we really think we are better captains of our lives than a God who sees everything and deeply loves us?…He calls the shots on what happens to us in this short stint here.  He calls them, whether we want to let him or not.  Our faith must remain greater than our pain and our fears.” (Allen)

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Weakness is the Way by J. I. Packer
Ever since doing Priscilla Shirer’s recent study on Gideon earlier this year, I have been deeply affected in the way I view weaknesses, my own in particular.  Why are we trying to present a shiny veneer to the watching world?  Why are we trying to craft a pinterest-perfect life?  It is natural for us to want to cover our ugliness, our weak areas, of course.  But what if all our posturing and pretending serves only to suffocate us, to stir up pride when we gain other’s much-sought-after approval, or to further isolate us from others who find us too “perfect” to be approachable or real?  What if all our pretending-perfect only makes others feel like less?  Is that really the goal?  What would happen if we let the guard down and let our weaknesses show?  What if we stopped trying to be sufficient on our own and let our weakness drive us to Jesus?  What if we stopped resenting our limitations and instead let the one whose strength is perfected in weakness perfect His strength in those limitations?  This is essentially what Packer is reflecting on in this little book, as he unpacks truths from 2 Corinthians.

“When the world tells us, as it does, that everyone has a right to a life that is easy, comfortable, and relatively pain-free, a life that enables us to discover, display, and deploy all the strengths that are latent within us, the world twists the truth right out of shape.  That was not the quality of life to which Christ’s calling led him, nor was it Paul’s calling, nor is it what we are called to in the twenty-first century.  For all Christians, the likelihood is rather that as our discipleship continues, God will make us increasingly weakness-conscious and pain-aware, so that we may learn with Paul that when we are conscious of being weak, then–and only then–may we become truly strong in the Lord.  And should we want it any other way?” (Packer)

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A Million Little Ways by Emily P. Freeman
O
h gosh.  I don’t know how not to write an entire blog post on this one.  I’ve mentioned it a couple times on the blog already, but I don’t think this blog would even be here apart from this book.  We continue to live in a day where the age-old dualism between the sacred and secular abounds {to learn more about this false dualism, I highly recommend this book}.  Where we either don’t realize or live like Christ’s redemption extends beyond just our souls.  I could go on, but that’s another blog post for another day.  Emily Freeman writes to show that all of life can be lived to the glory of God, not just the time we spend reading the Bible or praying.  All of life lived for His glory, even the small and mundane tasks of our day, can be the art that we offer to the world to the glory of God.  You may not see yourself as an artist, I certainly didn’t before reading this book.  But she argues from scripture how God made each of us a work of art, and each of us have an art to offer.  Whether its washing dishes, decorating homes, hammering nails or hammering words on the keys, God is not so small that He is only glorified in what we typically call “spiritual” activities.  He wants to be revealed and glorified in all that we do.  These words are words I will read again probably every year.  She is an incredible writer, and her words set me free and brought so. much. joy.  {As an added bonus, there are videos that accompany each chapter with the author discussing here.}

“Exploring desire might be uncomfortable for you.  In one way, it almost seems cruel to ask you to access this part of your soul, because really, on earth, there can never be complete satisfaction of our deepest desires.  To imply that there can be is unfair and untrue.  But hope does not disappoint.  When we recognize the place where our desire runs parallel to that of Christ’s, then we will live in the midst of the now-but-not-quite-yet with a peace that goes beyond our ability to understand.  When we rescue the dreams of our childhood and respect the hope of things to come, we are agreeing with the Trinity: I am an image bearer.  I have a job to do.  We trust he knew what he was doing when he made us as we are.  We accept ourselves because of the work of Christ, and we accept his invitation to us to enter the world as co-creators with him.” (Freeman)

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Your Beautiful Purpose by Susie Larson
Such a beautiful and practical read.  I loved this one from cover to cover and slowly went through the study material, soaking it all in.  Larson’s writing is scripture-saturated and Christ-exalting.  This book encourages you to uncover God’s purpose for you and helps with practical things like when to move forward, how to wait on God’s timing or discern His voice, how to walk in your own calling and not coveting another’s, what to do with being criticized, etc.  So very good and helpful and encouraging.  I will return to this one often!

Who we are and what we possess.  These are the two targets the enemy aims for again and again.  If he can get us to doubt, he can trip us up.  If he can get us thinking we’re poor though we’re really rich, we’ll scratch and claw our way through life; and we’ll live anxious and afraid, like we’re without hope.  And if he can convince us we lack something good, he’ll be able to tempt us to live frantic and hurried lives, never satisfied, always wanting more.  We’ll skim life’s surfaces and miss its depths.  We’ll live jealous, me-focused lives and forsake the whole reason we’re blessed: because God loves to love us, and He loves to love through us.  Jesus promises that those who trust Him lack no good thing (Ps.34:10).  These aging earthen vessels carry the treasure of heaven within.  Ponder the significance of that truth every single day.” (Larson)

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Simply Christian by N. T. Wright
One of my very favorite bible professors from college tells me if there were one great mind she could learn under for such a time as this, it would be N. T. Wright.  I wholeheartedly agree!  This book makes sense of Christianity and the basics of what we believe.  It is easily readable for someone who is interested in understanding Christianity but has no current background with the faith.  It helps one understand the longings and basic desires of humanity, the longings we have for justice, for beauty, for relationship with others, for spirituality, and how God designed us to long for these things so that we would seek and find Him.  So that He could fulfill those longings.  He beautifully weaves together the overarching themes and purpose of the Old and New Testaments so that one can see the whole of the story God was writing and our place in it.  The truths and foundations of our faith revisited in this book brought solid joy, bolstered my faith and gave me much to chew on.  I found his final chapter on “New Creation, Starting Now” especially compelling.  His constant upholding of the full redemptive work of Christ made my soul sing.

“A great many arguments about God–God’s existence, God’s nature, God’s actions in the world–run the risk of being like pointing a flashlight toward the sky to see if the sun is shining.  It is all too easy to make the mistake of speaking and thinking as though God (if there is a God) might be a being, an entity, within our world, accessible to interested study in the same sort of way we might study music or mathematics, open to our investigation by the same sort of techniques we use for objects and entities within our world.  When Yuri Gagarin, the first Soviet cosmonaut, landed after orbiting the earth a few times, he declared that he had disproved the existence of God.  He had been up there, he said, and had seen no sign of him.  Some Christians pointed out that Gagarin had seen plenty of signs of God, if only the cosmonaut had known how to interpret them.  The difficulty is that speaking of God in anything like the Christian sense is like staring into the sun.  It’s dazzling.  It’s easier, actually, to look away from the sun itself and to enjoy the fact that, once it’s well and truly risen, you can see everything else clearly.” (Wright)

Happy reading, friends!