Archive for the ‘ The Christian Spirit ’ Category

Integrity

I talk a lot about principles. After all, look at the title of this blog. The word means a lot to me. It’s the same with a related word: integrity.

integrityHow is integrity defined? I like this definition:

Adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty.

I like that it incorporates principle in the definition and that honesty, morality, and ethical conduct are all included.

This is what God looks for in men and women, especially those who seek to be placed in a position of trust, whether in a marriage, a business, a ministry, or a political office.

book-cover-1When I wrote my book about Ronald Reagan and Whittaker Chambers, it was a joy to do so because my two subjects were men of integrity.

As I point out in the book, their visions of the future differed. Reagan was the eternal optimist, believing that freedom was the wave of the future because men would listen to the promptings of God’s spirit and respond accordingly. Chambers, however, didn’t have much faith in the soundness of character in the general public. He was much more pessimistic about the future.

Yet even though they maintained different expectations, they nevertheless were men who could be trusted. Those who knew them knew they could count on them to be faithful to what they believed and that their word was their bond.

So my book is not primarily a book about politics, but about character. I encourage you to get a copy if you haven’t already and read about men of genuine integrity.

I decided to investigate what the Scriptures have to say about integrity. Some references stand out. Here are some examples:

proverbs-10-9

proverbs-11-3

proverbs-28-6

Shouldn’t this be our guide whenever we are faced with a choice for placing a person in a position of trust? If those who are put forward as our primary choices in a political season are both lacking in this quality, is it integrity on our part to go ahead and vote for one of them anyway?

David, in Psalm 26, makes a plea to the Lord in these words:

Vindicate me, O Lord, for I have walked in my integrity, and I have trusted in the Lord without wavering.

Examine me, O Lord, and try me; test my mind and my heart.

May that be our prayer also. May integrity be paramount for us as we go forward in our lives, and may we never stray from that path.

Seeking God’s Mercy in an Election Year

Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump continue to make news, not all of it very inspiring. Well, hardly any of it inspiring.

On Hillary’s part, the key has been to hide as much bad news as possible, such as the Labor Day weekend dump of the notes made by the FBI when she was interviewed. The hope was that no one would pay attention on a holiday weekend. The word is getting out, though, that she plays fast and loose with the truth on nearly everything.

The Hillary camp’s mantra, though, remains consistent:

Notes

Then there’s the issue of her health. It’s not just anti-Hillary outlets that are now commenting on it. It’s hard to ignore increasing coughing spells that last for minutes.

Happens Every Time

So, naturally, Trump makes an issue of it as well, raising questions about whether she can handle the office. He demands she release her medical records. I agree she should. The other side of the coin, of course, is that 70-year-old Trump should do the same, but he refuses also. Shouldn’t this apply to both equally?

Then there’s the demand from the Clinton camp that Trump needs to release his tax returns. On this point, I am in complete agreement. In the same way that she seeks to hide her health records, he seems bent on letting no one see the truth about his income, charitable deductions, or other questionable things that might come to the surface upon examination.

Hypocrisy abounds for both.

Trump also is making news about his position on immigration—whatever that really might be. It kind of depends on the day and the audience before which he is speaking.

Immigration Position

This election season corresponds with the height of hurricane season. There are similarities:

Two Storms

Never have the two presidential candidates in an election year been so roundly despised by the electorate:

Negative & Negative

This has led to new strategies for voters:

Cancel Out

For my part, I think we lose regardless of who wins. That’s why I will not vote for either one. I’ve covered the ground before for why I have come to that decision, so I won’t repeat it all here.

My hope is that those who claim to be Christians will humble themselves and admit there is no human solution to our problems and cease to promote anyone who doesn’t deserve our support. Perhaps then God will show mercy and do things behind the scenes to lessen the consequences of our foolishness as a nation.

Vanauken: I Loved Lewis Like a Brother

Sheldon VanaukenOne of the strongest friendships C. S. Lewis forged with an American was with Sheldon Vanauken, who studied at Oxford in the early 1950s. Neither he nor his wife, Davy, were Christians when they arrived, but after reading some Lewis, and via letters with that famous author, they both were converted while in residence there.

The connection became more than that of an author and correspondent. They met regularly; Lewis even came to their apartment for fellowship. When their time in Oxford ended, and Vanauken returned to America to a professorship of his own, that relationship didn’t end; in fact, it deepened due to a tragic circumstance.

Just a couple of years later, Davy was diagnosed with a fatal illness that took her life a few months afterward. Lewis’s letters to Vanauken during her illness and afterward helped shape the latter’s thinking toward the trials of life and how to face the death of a loved one.

One of the letters Vanuaken wrote to Lewis seemed to hint at suicide as a possible answer for the pain he was experiencing. Vanauken also confessed in the letter that he and Davy had not sought to have children because they had been concerned that a child would damage their own closeness as a couple.

Lewis took Vanauken to task on both of those points. How did Vanuaken know that his wife, after her conversion, still maintained the attitude of not having children, he queried. Perhaps he had denied her something she truly desired. As for the question of suicide, he was adamant that it would be folly to think he would be reunited with her in that way: “You might be digging an eternally unbridgeable chasm. Disobedience is not the way to get nearer to the obedient,” he admonished.

Severe MercyThat letter also is the source of a phrase that Vanauken later used as the title for his book: a severe mercy. Here’s how Lewis put it, in context:

One way or another the thing had to die. Perpetual springtime is not allowed. You were not cutting the wood of life according to the grain. . . . You have been treated with a severe mercy.

You have been brought to see . . . that you were jealous of God. And from us you have been led back to us and God: it remains to go on to God and us.

Vanauken did not recoil from Lewis’s honesty; rather, he embraced it. The quote I have used at the beginning of my new book, America Discovers C. S. Lewis, that I thought best epitomized Lewis’s American relationships comes from Vanuaken’s response to this letter in his own book:

It was a very deep friendship on my part: no man ever did so much to shape my mind, quite aside from Christianity, which of course shaped my whole life. I have never loved a man more. And I must believe, from things he said and wrote to me, that he felt both friendship and affection for me. . . . After this severe and splendid letter, I loved Lewis like a brother. A brother and father combined.

Lewis was like a brother and/or a father to many of his American correspondents. Reading through his letters is like feasting on a rare combination of honesty, wisdom, and humility.

Reflections of a Natural Introvert

I’m an introvert. Really, I am. Whenever I inform students of that fact, they have a hard time believing it because I’m animated when I teach and love to interact with humor.

But I am an introvert.

BooksMy natural inclination is to sit in my recliner in my study, surrounded by books, and devote myself to them. Let the world go away. Give me my peace and solitude. That, and a cup of coffee, is a pleasurable way to pass the time.

I’m constantly reading. Here’s what I have going right now on my reading schedule: C. S. Lewis’s The Allegory of Love (slow going for someone who is not well versed in medieval writings); Paradise Lost (taking up a challenge because I’ve never read it and I would like to understand Lewis’s preface to it—another future reading); Jonah Goldberg’s The Tyranny of Clichés (honing my cultural analysis); Os Guinness’s new book, Impossible People (a clarion call for Christians to be thorough Christians in our culture); and another Stephen Lawhead novel (because I just love his writing).

Yes, I’m reading all of those simultaneously. When classes begin again, I’m not going to get quite as much reading done as I am now.

That natural inclination to withdraw and enjoy my own little world comes into conflict with the urge within me, planted by God, I believe, to break out of the cocoon and speak His truth.

That’s why I teach, and that’s why I write this blog. Personally, I would love to avoid all controversies. I would relish leaving politics behind, especially this year when I see no viable option for the presidency.

Yet there is this “calling.” I’ve mentioned the prophet Jeremiah before, the one who cried out to God that he didn’t want to speak anymore because he kept getting bad reactions to his words. I understand.

Take My YokeThis is what God does to (and for) us, though. He pushes us out of that place of comfort. He tells us to take up His cross and be His disciples. He never promised that we would sail through life without burdens to bear.

I know that. Some days I embrace it; other days I utter the Jeremiah complaint.

The Lord allows us to withdraw at times; Jesus did the same in His ministry. But all withdrawals are for one purpose: regaining the strength to continue the calling. Withdrawals, if done properly, are the times we draw on His reservoir of grace so that we will be the most effective witnesses of His truth that we can be.

All of my reading is part of the preparation to be what God wants me to be in that world out there. As long as I keep that perspective, and not make an idol out of those relaxed times of peace, He will be able to use me for His ongoing purposes.

That’s my reflection for today. I thank God for the time to reflect. It steels me for whatever lies ahead.

Trump’s Non-Apology

Donald Trump has taken a rather unique approach to campaigning throughout his run for the presidency. He has been a no-holds-barred barroom brawler (the closest analogy I can find) who uses insults and innuendoes continuously. What has disturbed Republicans the most is that, even after officially getting the nomination, he has made Republicans his target as often, or more often, than Hillary Clinton.

Trump has never let up on his criticisms of those within the Republican party who oppose his candidacy, or who simply can’t bring themselves to hop on his bandwagon. He never seems to forget anything he considers a personal slight and directs his fire accordingly.

The hiring of a new “team” to conduct the rest of the campaign is supposed to signal a new direction:

Donzilla

However, the new head man, Steve Bannon, who runs the Breitbart site, is known to be someone with a personality much like Trump’s, so is this really going to make much of a difference?

Some observers, especially those who desperately want Trump to change his tone, think they see the ever-elusive pivot taking place. After all, in a speech last week, Trump apologized for his past comments. He’s a new man!

Well, let’s look at what Trump actually said:

Sometimes, in the heat of debate, and speaking on a multitude of issues, you don’t choose the right words or you say the wrong thing. I have done that, and believe it or not I regret it.

I do regret it particularly where it may have caused personal pain.

Examine those words carefully. First, he puts his insulting comments in the context of “the heat of debate,” thereby providing an excuse for saying what he did. Then he simply says he chose the wrong words, as if those words don’t flow from a heart that gave birth to them. The emphasis is on the external, not the internal, but it’s the internal—the heart—out of which the mouth speaks. You can check that out; Jesus said it.

He uses the word “regret,” but again notice the context. He says, “believe it or not” with respect to his having regrets. Having regret over anything is not the real Donald Trump. It’s not the way he has lived his life. The wording indicates that.

We’re supposed to believe now that he has suddenly changed?

Then he goes on to say he particularly regrets saying the wrong thing “where it may have caused personal pain.” May have? Is there any doubt?

He ridiculed one political rival by saying her face is ugly. He called another one a child molester. He took on his strongest rival by insinuating he had hidden numerous adulterous affairs (through that organ of national probity, The National Inquirer, while openly boasting about his own numerous adulteries), by lambasting that same rival’s wife, and by linking the rival’s father to the JFK assassination. Now he has the temerity to say he “may” have caused personal pain?

He didn’t use the word “if,” but it’s the same thing. You know, that old “apology” of “if” I have offended you? That doesn’t really admit to anything. It puts the onus instead on the person who was offended. Oh, that bothered you? So sorry.

You also might notice that he didn’t give any examples of using the wrong words. He didn’t publicly express wrongdoing for anything in particular. It was all rather vague, intended to cover a multitude of sins without having to acknowledge any specifically.

This was not a real apology. The problem is that many fall for it as if it’s the real thing.

In that same speech, Trump went on to say, “I will never lie to you.” So he’s now going to begin telling the truth? He also said that his real problem is that he can be “too honest.” Yes, now there’s a real fault.

That’s similar to someone being interviewed for a job, and when asked what faults one might have, the fallback is always something like “well, I probably work too hard.”

This is all so phony. Trump is Trump, and unless there is a genuine conversion based on Biblical truth, we will not see any change.

Trump Unfiltered

Without a true change of heart, he will continue to be his own worst enemy:

Let Trump

Real sorrow for one’s words and actions is grounded on an understanding of repentance. The apostle Paul had written to the Corinthian church about some of the sins they had allowed. They responded properly to his admonition. When he wrote his second letter to them, he put it this way:

I now rejoice, not that you were made sorrowful, but that you were made sorrowful to the point of repentance; for you were made sorrowful according to the will of God, so that you might not suffer loss in anything through us.

For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death.

Judas Iscariot was sorrowful over what he did in his betrayal of Jesus. Peter was sorrowful over his own betrayal of Jesus. Judas committed suicide; Peter repented. Only the second example is true Godly sorrow.

If I see genuine repentance in Donald Trump, I will take back everything I have written in this post today. But until then, I stand by this analysis.

A Baptized Imagination

Chad WalshThe first book to analyze C. S. Lewis and his popularity was written by an American, Chad Walsh, an English professor at Beloit College in Wisconsin. It came out in 1949 with the title C. S. Lewis: Apostle to the Skeptics.

Walsh had Lewis to thank for his own conversion. “In my case there was no childhood faith,” Walsh wrote in an account of how he eventually found the Christian path. “If I ever believed in God as a small child, no memory of the time remains with me. I regarded myself as an atheist from the moment I learned to read—and, indeed, pamphlet editions of Ingersoll, et cetera, were part of my earliest reading.”

At the University of Virginia, Walsh, as a student, found himself free of the dominant Christianity of his small hometown of Marion, Virginia, and flourished as a convinced atheist—at least until world circumstances forced him to think more seriously.

The rise of Hitler in Germany, and the growing awareness of the actions of that regime, forced him to confront the problem of evil in the world. Walsh’s companions in atheism and/or agnosticism, when challenged by Walsh to come up with a response to what Hitler was doing, would provide excuses, albeit excuses that were actually consistent with their worldview.

Walsh recounts, “They agreed with me that the world was a senseless jungle. Very well, they reasoned, if the world is a jungle, it’s absurd to speak of right and wrong. Everything is relative. Hitler thinks he’s doing right to invade Poland and murder the Jews. Very well, it is right for him. It’s all in the way you look at it.” That response shook him. He knew he had to come to grips with the reality of evil.

Coming to grips with evil also meant coming to grips with the whole idea of right and wrong and where the concepts originated. That led him to finally consider not only the existence of God but what his response to this God might entail. In this transition period of his life, Walsh came across some of Lewis’s writings. One, in particular, changed his life forever.

PerelandraIt was in either 1944 or 1945, he recalls, on a short vacation to Vermont, that a friend enthusiastically lent him a book she had just finished reading; she just knew he would love it. That book was Perelandra, the second in Lewis’s Space Trilogy in which the protagonist, Elwin Ransom, is transported to Venus to save an innocent world from falling into sin.

Walsh was transported as well: “I quickly consumed it from cover to cover. I was struck first of all by the sheer beauty of the book. It transported me into a kind of Elysian Fields—or better yet, an unspoiled Eden, inhabited by the innocent and unfallen.”

A second revelation was that, even though he had always been a science fiction fan, he had never read any science fiction like this, where it could be used as a “vehicle of great philosophic and psychological myth.” The third revelation, though, was the greatest of all:

Finally, and most importantly, in Perelandra I found my imagination being baptized. At the time I was slowly thinking, feeling, and fumbling my way towards the Christian faith and had reached the point where I was more than half convinced that it was true. This conviction, however, was a thing more of the mind than of the imagination and heart.

In Perelandra I got the taste and smell of Christian truth. My senses as well as my soul were baptized. It was as though an intellectual abstraction or speculation had become flesh and dwelt in its solid bodily glory among us.

As Walsh looked back on this event years later, he came to the realization that the way he found Lewis was quite typical. A person reads something by Lewis, becomes so enthused that he/she lends the book to a friend, who in turn catches that enthusiasm and passes it on to others.

For Walsh, “The result was that I began buying everything else by him that was available in America and also passed along word of the discovery to other friends. It was as though I had discovered a new ingredient in my intellectual, emotional, and spiritual diet that I had unconsciously desired but had not previously found. I think many others, coming on Lewis for the first time, felt the same way.”

As you might guess, the above is excerpted from my new book, America Discovers C. S. Lewis, which will be available in a few short weeks.

Lewis’s Attitude Toward America

C. S. Lewis 4My upcoming book, America Discovers C. S. Lewis, deals with that famous author’s interactions with Americans and his attitude toward America as well. Early in his life, judging by comments in his letters, he had some prejudices against America and its citizens, but once he began exchanging views with American academics and receiving an abundance of letters from Americans who loved his books, one can see a decided shift in attitude.

While he did critique some aspects of American society and government, one cannot truly evaluate a person’s views of another nation in a vacuum. Comparisons are necessary. What better way to evaluate Lewis’s views on America than to look also at his views on the Britain of his day?

If he entertained a low opinion of British government and culture, would we say he was anti-British? Or would he merely be pointing out the problems that needed to be corrected? In fact, Lewis’s comments on his native country appear to be far harsher than anything he said about America.

When American university professor Nathan Comfort Starr sought to bring Lewis to America and Lewis had to decline, he did invite Starr to Britain, but not with a sterling recommendation, referring to Britain as “this luckless country.”

In offering the same invitation to Warfield Firor, a famous surgeon at Johns Hopkins, the image of Britain he used in the letter was “this bleak island,” and he wondered why Firor would even want to visit it.

Why the bleak state of affairs? For Lewis, the blame fell on the Labour government and its socialist policies, which not only ruined the nation economically but was siphoning off its liberties and making Britain a less-than-stellar partner for the United States. As he explained to Firor, the government always seemed to be thinking of ways to take more liberties from the people. “Try not to judge us by our rulers,” he pleaded.

C. S. Lewis 5By 1954, rationing in Britain finally came to an end, thanks to the new Conservative government. He informed Vera Gebbert, another regular American correspondent, that he wouldn’t be needing her gifts anymore, but there was a possibility, if she really missed sending him all those items, that she might be able to begin anew, noting that if the Socialists ever regained the majority, she could once again show her kindness “by supplying us, not with little luxuries, but with the necessities of life!”

He continued to sound the warning, such as when Gebbert was thinking of moving permanently to Britain. While they would be glad to welcome her, she needed to know the truth: there would always be the threat of a revival of a government ruled by the Socialists, “which would finish us off completely.”

When Mary Van Deusen wrote to ask him what he thought of the concept of loving one’s own country, his reply indicates a man striving to find the balance between nations and individuals. Love of country, he theorized, was primarily love for those with whom one had a lot in common.

He cautioned, “Mind you, I’m in considerable doubt about the whole thing. My mind tends to move in a world of individuals not of societies.” That tendency in Lewis’s mind to “move in a world of individuals” and “not of societies,” would also lend itself to a tendency not to wed oneself to stereotypes, whether of good traits in a people group or less-admirable ones. Whatever prejudices he may have had at the outset were set aside as he came to know more Americans.

If you find this subject of interest, there is more in my book. I’ll be sure to let you know when it is available.