What You Believe About God Matters

What you believe about God matters.
Is He malleable, pliable, well-intentioned, but out of touch?
A bit like you, only ever-so-much-more-so?
Can you embrace the reality of a transcendent, crucified God who preceded matter
and interrupted the natural order “to save mankind in the awful shape of man?” (217)

What you believe about humanity matters.
Are we ever-improving, well-intentioned, but weak of heart?
A bit like God, only fatally subject to “common nonsense?” (212)

Far from the stuff of ivory towers,
my answer to these questions
flows like blood in the veins of my concept of morality,
stands like bones in the framework of my convictions on the boundaries of liberty and the nature of progress.

Orthodoxy reads the red letters of social justice alongside the venom of the angry psalms and the stories of Old Testament genocide and worships at the feet of God, incomprehensible.

Orthodoxy celebrates the boundaries of law as a “wall round the cliff’s edge” that shields God’s children from the “naked peril of the precipice.” (216) The orthodox dance with abandon inside the freedom of that wall of safety, singing and rejoicing within pleasure’s open-handed framework.

Orthodoxy is the exhale from newborn lungs, sweet and fragrant with contagious life, relieved to have left choking dogma behind in exchange for evidence that miracles actually do happen.

Orthodoxy is not deceived by the pull of lesser gods, but has discerned by grace that “just as the sun and the moon looked the same size” at first glance, a right understanding of the universe soon reveals that “the sun is immeasurably our master, and the small moon only our satellite.” (229)

The orthodox heart lives in anticipation, “always expecting to see some truth that she has never seen before” and always seeking “the fixed meaning” of everything, which will be revealed either in this life or the next. (231) She looks at the utilitarian rake and imagines fruition and flowers, at original sin and finds empathy. She embraces sorrow and mourning as part of being human, because underneath all of creation lies the truth that “joy . . . is the gigantic secret of the Christian.” (238)


And thus ends our journey through all nine chapters and 200 plus pages of G.K. Chesterton’s thoughts on  Orthodoxy!

I am grateful for your partnership in this adventure. Be sure to share your own thoughts in the comments below, and if you have written a blog post about the book, leave a link so we can continue the conversation at your place.

Because what we think about God matters,

michele signature rose[1]
If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular content delivered to your inbox. Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging communities on a regular basis. They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week. I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

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It’s Time to Stop Comparing and Start Rejoicing

I am, by nature, a do-er, but one of my favorite, long-time friends can “squander” an entire afternoon over tea and conversation without batting a remorseful eyelash. When we were both in the trenches of parenting toddlers, we twirled long phone cords, and I heard her sleep-deprived voice say, “Sometimes I just sit on the couch and watch the kids play.”

Really?

Thunderstruck, I’m sure I must have added “Sit on couch. Watch kids play.” to my list for the next day, but I will never naturally live in the moment like that dear friend does.

Then, there’s my friend with the beautifully decorated and perpetually spotless house. I dearly love her and her glistening floors, but I am, by nature, oblivious. Once I have walked by a sock beside the coffee table three times, it magically disappears. From her, I am learning the joy of grabbing the sock on the first pass and using it to swipe dust off the piano on my way to the laundry room.

And yes, there are also giraffes, and platypuses, and the wild hyenas of the Serengeti, but I ask you, ladies and gentlemen:  Is there anything in all of God’s glorious creation that demonstrates His creativity and imagination more outrageously than human personality? God delights in our humanity, and He invites us to delight in His God-ness.

Rejoice in the Many Expressions of Orthodoxy

Why, then, are we so reluctant to celebrate the richness of orthodoxy in all its many expressions? Maybe your church (like ours) enjoys the musical gifts of both Charles Wesley AND the Gettys on a Sunday morning–or maybe you lift your voices together to psalms sung in unison. In Chapter 8 of Orthodoxy, G.K. Chesterton shouts “Vive la Différence!”. . . as well could be expected from a posh British intellectual:

“All modern philosophies are chains which connect and fetter; Christianity is a sword which separates and sets free. No other philosophy makes God actually rejoice in the separation of the universe into living souls.” (198)

This is an invitation to rejoice in the rich diversity of “living souls” that abound even within the walls of our own homes, which sure beats complaining about the ways in which our differences irritate and provoke.

Rejoice in the Sacred Separation

Chesterton goes on to exult in the sacred separation between God and humanity:

“That a man may love God it is necessary that there should be not only a God to be loved, but a man to love him. All those vague theosophical minds for whom the universe is an immense melting-pot are exactly the minds which shrink instinctively from that earthquake saying of our Gospels, which declare the the Son of God came not with peace but with a sundering sword.”  (198)

Jen Wilkin puts it this way in None Like Him:

“Human beings created to bear the image of God instead aspire to become like God. Designed to reflect His glory, we choose instead to rival it. We do so by reaching for those attributes that are true only of God, those suited only to a limitless being. Rather than worship and trust in the omniscience of God, we desire to be all-knowing ourselves. . . Like our father Adam and our mother Eve, we long for that which is intended only for God.”

Even with our smart phones, we are not omnipresent or omniscient. Even with our long days and our overloaded calendars, we are not infinite. Pining for that which has not been given, either in our comparison to God or to one another, is the surest path to ingratitude, discontent, envy–or worse.

Rejoice in the Process of Sanctification

God has graciously invited his much-loved children into the process of sanctification whereby we find ourselves living our way into attributes of God that not only make us more like Him, but also draw us closer to our families, friends, and all those who need our holiness, our faithfulness, and our patience in order to see what God is like.

May we find grace to celebrate humanity, mothering, wife-ing, AND orthodoxy in all their expressions and resist the urge to shoe-horn one another into ill-fitting identities that fall short of expressing all the manifold glory of God, utterly separate and other, and yet closer to us than our next breath.


As usual, your insights on Chesterton’s writing are welcome in the comments below, and if you are also inspired to create your own blog post, be sure to share the link with us so we can continue the conversation over at your place.

This post is part eight in a meandering journey through Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton. If you’re just joining us, you can start here for the rationale behind this project. The journey through Orthodoxy has taken us into topics as diverse as parenting, the irony of free will, the humility of being right, and the miracle of God’s creative genius. In May, we examined Chesterton’s thoughts on patriotism just in time for Memorial Day, and in June we marveled at the “furious opposites” inherent in orthodoxy. Next month, Lord willing, we’ll conclude the series with a discussion of Chapter 9!

Joining you in resisting “the huge syntheses of humbug” (203) and leaning into the glorious freedom of truth,

michele signature rose[1]

Just one more thing:  If, like me, Orthodoxy is one of those books you’ve “always meant to read,” you’ll be glad to know that it’s available in a Kindle edition at a very low price. Amazon prices do fluctuate, but the last time I checked it was under a dollar!

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular content delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

Parenting Rooted in Orthodoxy

“Hey, Mum, a bunch of the kids are going to Moody’s for pie after rehearsal. Okay if I go?”

One prerogative of motherhood is to meet every question with more questions:

  • Who’s going?
  • Who’s driving?
  • Are you going anywhere afterward?
  • Can you remember to let me know if your location changes?

This has become a familiar routine by now, eased by the knowledge that (so far) this youngest son has chosen his friends wisely and well. They’re great kids, but I’ll keep on asking questions, not because I don’t trust this green-eyed boy, but because his life and my life are governed by eternal verities such as “Do not be deceived. Bad company corrupts good morals.”

The Permanent Ideals

Herein lies the challenge of parenting:  The decisions and the forks in the road are always sprung on you like a pop quiz in algebra on a Monday morning. There’s no time for reading up on the topic or for preparing an outline or even to think deeply before responding. Parenting rooted in orthodoxy must rest upon the bedrock of sound theology which supports the more quotidian verities that shape the day-to-day decisions. For example, we could argue all day about how old a child should be when he’s allowed to carry his own cell phone, but it ultimately boils down to the more timeless issue of just exactly whom do you want having unfettered access to your child?

G.K. Chesterton expressed it in this way:  “There must be something eternal if there is to be anything sudden.” (165) What he refers to as a “permanent ideal” sets policy “whether we wish the king’s orders to be promptly executed or whether we only wish the king to be promptly executed” — or whether we are willing to be consistent in enforcing curfews for our teen sons. A parent’s roots need to be sunk deeply into timeless truth in order to do the hard work of justifying family rules and standards.

Teaching Our Children to Work

In Chapter 7 of Orthodoxy, G.K.Chesterton flits from topic to topic, but lands with both feet in a discussion of freedom of thought and the failure of humanity to “imitate its ideal.” (162) He argues for a settled mind, and a thought process based upon the lessons learned from past failures. This implies that, as parents,  we are wise to begin providing occasions for our children to learn the discipline of focused attention:

  • What kind of preparation leads a third grader to start over when a project isn’t going well?
  • How can we train a young piano student to work on one measure of a piece for twenty minutes if that’s what it takes for that piece of music to be recital-ready?

Chesterton takes the question further and deeper:

“How can we make a man always dissatisfied with his work, yet always satisfied with working?”  (163)

Good is Always Good. Sin is Always Sin.

Chronological snobbery prevails, and it urges us to look with scorn upon the customs and conclusions of previous generations. Even so, historical precedent is also used as a justification for all kinds of evil. Chesterton writes this off as lazy thinking, arguing that “man may have had concubines as long as cows have had horns:  still they are not a part of him if they are sinful. Men may have been under oppression ever since fish were under water; still they ought not to be, if oppression is sinful.”

It’s never too late to disengage from sinful patterns and to make a fresh start, but this kind of resolve is rooted in a commitment to truth that runs deeper than convenience. There is a time for apologies and starting over, for choosing to go forward based in timeless truth.

May we find grace to lean into the practical impact of our theological underpinnings even in the day-to-day decisions that govern the way our home functions and they way we shepherd our children’s hearts toward orthodoxy.

As usual, your insights on Chesterton’s writing are welcome in the comments below, and if you are also inspired to create your own blog post, be sure to share the link with us so we can continue the conversation over at your place.

Praying along with you for a deeply rooted orthodoxy that impacts the way our families live and work,

This post is part seven in a meandering journey through Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton. If you’re just joining us, you can start here for the rationale behind this project. The journey through Orthodoxy has taken us into topics as diverse as parenting, the irony of free will, the humility of being right, and the miracle of God’s creative genius. In May, we examined Chesterton’s thoughts on patriotism just in time for Memorial Day, and in June we marveled at the “furious opposites” inherent in orthodoxy.

 

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular content delivered to your inbox. Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging communities on a regular basis. They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week. I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

Photo by Zach Reiner on Unsplash

 

Where Wrath and Love Run Wild

If you Google the phrase “balanced Christian life,” you will find over 2 million results in the blink of an eye. Books, magazines, and sermons will rush to your aid in calibrating the conflicting priorities that characterize this following life. It was no surprise that G.K. Chesterton’s thoughts from Chapter 6 of Orthodoxy were not among the first wave of responses, and that’s likely because he found not balance, but conflict to be the chief virtue of the Christian life.

Theologically, we’re all accustomed to paradox. God’s great rescue plan involved becoming a man while remaining fully God; we live by faith, all the while knowing that works are the evidence of that faith; and we accept the truth that, somehow, God’s foreknowledge does not diminish by one whit my freedom to act according to my own will.  It turns out that making peace with paradox at the theological level is a helpful skill in actually living the “balanced Christian life,” because Christianity finds its balance in the combination of “furious opposites.”  (143)

I invite you to a few moments’ pondering and delight in three “furious opposites” from Chesterton’s viewpoint, and then, from the biblical record:

1. Dignity and Humility

“In so far as I am Man I am the chief of creatures.
In so far as I am a man I am the chief of sinners.”  (142)

“The Lord your God is in your midst,
    a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;
    he will quiet you by his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing.”   (Zephaniah 3:17)

 “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24)

2. Wrath and Love

“We must be much more angry with theft than before, and yet much kinder to thieves than before. There was room for wrath and love to run wild. And the more I considered Christianity, the more I found that while it had established a rule and order, the chief aim of that order was to give room for good things to run wild.” (144)

“If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.” (Matthew 5:29,30)

“Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.” (Matthew 18:21,22)

3. Meekness and Madness

“By defining its main doctrine, the Church not only kept seemingly inconsistent things side by side, but, what was more, allowed them to break out in a sort of artistic violence otherwise possible only to anarchists. . . Historic Christianity rose into a high and strange coup de théatre of morality–things that are to virtue what the crimes of Nero are to vice.” (145)

“Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.” (Exodus 20:12)

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26)


The Angle at which We Stand

In our 21st century quest for balance, it’s no wonder we’re knocked off our feet by the demands of a Lamb/Lion God, a Deity “slain from the foundation of the world” who has still retained “His royal ferocity.” And so we teeter first on one foot, and then the other as we take forgiveness with thanksgiving only to sin again within the hour. We recoil in horror over pornography and materialism, and we shed tears over child abuse and human trafficking, and then turn unsteadily to offer the peace of Christ and the welcome of the gospel to the guilty. We pray for grace to show up for the daily routines that mark a life of faithfulness and trust that these are building our faith muscles for “good things to run wild” in and through us.

Dwellers in Narnia soon encountered Aslan and learned that he “is not a tame lion.”  Dwellers of Earth are invited into “the thrilling romance of Orthodoxy” which is not “something heavy, humdrum, and safe. There never was anything so perilous or so exciting as orthodoxy.”

Rejoicing with you in this perilous and exciting following life,

michele signature rose[1]

As usual, your insights on Chesterton’s writing are welcome in the comments below, and if you are also inspired to create your own blog post, be sure to share the link with us so we can continue the conversation over at your place.

This post is part six in a meandering journey through Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton. If you’re just joining us, you can start here for the rationale behind this project. The journey through Orthodoxy has taken us into topics as diverse as parenting, the irony of free will, the humility of being right, and the miracle of God’s creative genius. Last month, we examined Chesterton’s thoughts on patriotism just in time for Memorial Day.

Photo by Meriç Dağlı on Unsplash

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular content delivered to your inbox. Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging communities on a regular basis. They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week. I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

Patriotism, Pessimism, and the Church

Believe it or not, I’ve still got one pillowcase from my husband’s college dorm years. Its red, white, and blue stripes, warm out of the dryer, never fail to take me back to the 1970’s. Every imaginable consumer product from T-shirts and bed sheets to school supplies was available in a stars and stripes motif as the nation put Vietnam behind them and waxed unabashedly patriotic for what seemed like an entire year of my childhood. Against a backdrop of parades, fireworks, and a patriotic color scheme, we celebrated the United States bi-centennial. Patriotic young citizens hung buntings and strung crepe paper in the school gymnasium, learned the words to God Bless America, and spent entire band periods working our way through patriotic medleys.

Predictably, the pendulum has swung its slow arc in another direction, and I’m wondering if there is a role for the patriot, the incurable optimist, in a world of tweeting presidents, heinous school shootings, and online political vitriol. The 70’s were certainly not without their own moments of significant chaos:  the beginning of busing and the end of the draft; unrest on college campuses and pervasive angst at the gas pumps. Even so, as with a certain Dickensian holiday “men and women seem[ed] by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely” just for the sake of the celebration, to love the past and to look toward a better future for the U.S.A.

The Patriot as Irrational Optimist

In his classic work, Orthodoxy, G.K. Chesterton refers to this determination as “irrational optimism,” a love for country that does not falsify or pretty-up its history and reserves the right to criticize, to “safely be a skeptic.”  Rather than living on the sharp edge of “surly contentment,” the irrational optimist operates out of “fiercer delight and a fiercer discontent” that might just lead to meaningful change.

“The man who will improve the place is the man who loves it without a reason.” (106)

Chesterton maintains that a “reasonable optimism” in a man is “likely to ruin the place he loves,” for one danger of devotion is that it leaves one open to “defending the indefensible.”   True patriotism sings, “Land that I love,” allowing the sadness of that land’s failings to lead to a deeper and more active love, a love that seeks resolution.

There is much to be disturbed about in the news and in our own neighborhoods and schools. The fate of young immigrants hangs in the balance while politicians wrangle. Public schools languish in a mediocrity fueled by unfunded State mandates; pop culture icons are generally laughable, often pathetic; and even the staunchest glass-half-full-heart struggles to find a foothold for optimism.

As a woman who believingly follows Jesus Christ, I can fall off Luther’s horse in either direction. The marathon horror of #MeToo stories makes me pessimistic about our leadership and the entire world in general. But then, my heart softens as I read the words of–and, also, bear witness up close to the lives–of young men and women who live and interpret the faith with incredible courage and an optimism that is utterly infectious.

The prophet Jeremiah lived in a time that would challenge the most ebullient optimist, and yet God declared himself as eminently present, even as civilization was clearly making its slow spiral down the drain:

“’Am I a God near at hand,’ says the Lord,
‘And not a God afar off?
 Can anyone hide himself in secret places,
So I shall not see him?’ says the Lord;
‘Do I not fill heaven and earth?’ says the Lord.” (Jeremiah 23:23,24 NKJV)

This Memorial Day, I’m challenged to the bone by Chesterton’s pondering on patriotism. Viewing a flawed nation led by deeply flawed individuals, the question is:  “Can we hate it enough to change it, and yet love it enough to think it worth changing?”  (109) Can we find grace to “heartily hate” the weak and the ugly about our past and our present, and at the same time “heartily love” all that is well-intentioned and hopeful about our future? (108)

In these post-crepe-paper-and-bunting years that sometimes feel like something akin to exile, maybe more than ever, we are called to an “irrational” devotion to our nation.

When we embrace our surroundings and let ourselves fall in love with a nation we no longer trust, we join the garden-planting, fruit-harvesting Israelites, carted off to Babylonian soil with instructions to make a life and, thereby, to make a difference. Too often, the church’s response to patriotism and the political food fight in D.C. has been either an off-putting and unexamined flag-waving OR a disinterested shrug–because “we’re citizens of heaven” and we’ll get our “pie-in-the-sky” later.

“And seek the peace of the city where I have caused you to be carried away captive, and pray to the Lord for it; for in its peace you will have peace.” (Jeremiah 29:7 NKJV)

Patriotic holidays are a great excuse for a little “peace seeking,” a perfect opportunity to fly the flag, sing the songs, and practice a little “irrational optimism.” Last year, resisting the tendency to live in a bubble, our church hosted a community picnic on the Sunday before Independence Day.  We passed out invitations to surprised neighbors and welcomed anyone who came, even if they did not attend the service. When we gather our people for hot dogs and potato salad, and then fling the doors wide to those outside the bubble, we foster common life—which can lead to common ground.

Community gardens, turquoise tables, and neighborhood lawn sales are non-political (and non-threatening) meeting places where we can land in peace as the aliens, sojourners, and exiles (I Peter 2:11) that we are. We live in challenging times, but we live in hope, and our lives are under a call to faithfulness, or, in Chesterton’s parlance, a call to “irrational optimism.” When our love for country is formed around a deep belief that God is at work in our circumstances, we are better equipped to look for Him to be at work in our country and in our world.

Patriotism, Pessimism, and the Church, Orthodoxy, G.K. Chesterton, Jeremiah 29

This post is part five in a meandering journey through Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton. If you’re just joining us, you can start here for the rationale behind this project. The journey through Orthodoxy has taken us into topics as diverse as parenting, the irony of free will, the humility of being right, and the miracle of God’s creative genius.

As usual, your insights on Chesterton’s writing are welcome in the comments below, and if you are also inspired to create your own blog post, be sure to share the link with us so we can continue the conversation over at your place.

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular content delivered to your inbox. Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging communities on a regular basis. They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week. I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

Image courtesy of Kevin Morris via Unsplash

The Miracle of Humanity (and Fairy Tales for Grown Ups)

She assumed a humble expression, but the look in her eyes said plenty.
This was a great accomplishment.
A moment.
She held my gaze, and then allowed the smile in her blue eyes to spread to her entire face as she did it again:
My granddaughter stood up in my lap.

In Chapter 4 of Orthodoxy, G.K. Chesterton matches me awe for awe with his vivid “sense of the miracle of humanity.” He would be amazed–not merely that my granddaughter stood up, but that she has legs! He would be transfixed not merely by her adorable pug nose, but with the wonder that any of us has a nose at all.

“The mere man [or blue-eyed granddaughter] on two legs, as such, should be felt as something more heart breaking than any music and more startling than any caricature.” (72)

Chesterton sees more wonder in one ordinary encounter with creation than most of us would see in a lifetime of miracles. Even the sunrise, by his reckoning, is not merely a happy confluence of planet-tilt and celestial orbit, but rather a delighted God proclaiming, “Do it again!

The More You Were Made For

We are part of that much-loved creation, and without diminishing His dignity one iota, God is positively smitten with us — with you! He waits to be gracious to you. He rejoices over you with singing.

Chesterton’s Path to Orthodoxy

In his pre-Christian life, Chesterton worked to frame a personal philosophy or a “natural religion” (75) that would express his thinking about some of the fundamentals of life.

Imagine his surprise in finding that (1) the essence of all he had “discovered” was already embedded in Christianity; (2) his thinking about the world had been shaped by his reading of fairy tales.

C.S. Lewis would have whole-heartedly agreed, pronouncing:

“When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty, I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.”

According to Lewis, fairy tales, “say best what needs to be said,” and awaken the desire for “something beyond,” a something that heightens appreciation of the real world and gives it new depth. “He does not despise real woods because he has read of enchanted woods: the reading makes all real woods a little enchanted.”

Delighting in the enchanted woods of “Elfland,” Chesterton gained “a certain way of looking at life” through reading fairy tales, but then learned that the perceptions gained through his reading were actually confirmed by his observations of real life. He invites his readers to delight in the imaginative cause and effect of “blow the horn and the ogre’s castle will fall.” (79) No fairy tale character would call this a “law,” but a scientific explanation of the process of metamorphosis (and even of the beginning of human life) reads more like magic and miracle than pure science.

The Astonishment of Real Life

“Someday you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.”  ~C.S. Lewis

As much as Chesterton enjoyed “astonishing tales,” (82) he noted that very young children do not need to be astonished in order to enjoy a story.

“A child of seven is excited by being told that Tommy opened a door and saw a dragon. But a child of three is excited by being told that Tommy opened a door.”

I experimented with this notion, because all the home spun tales I told my own kids involved heroism and pirate ships and the continuing saga of their ventriloquist dummies on a crazy, impulsive road trip. Sure enough, when I told my grandson a story that featured his brown fuzzy slippers, his dog Ruby, and a glass of juice for breakfast, his response was, “Again!” along with a big smile. Because he was three, every day life was astonishing enough.

The Purpose and Plan of the Storyteller

We are made to love and to respond to story, and Chesterton began to perceive, through story, “that this world of ours has some purpose; and if there is a purpose, there is a person. I had always felt life first as a story: and if there is a story there is a story-teller.” (93)

Before Chesterton had “even thought of Christian theology,” he had laid down five “ultimate attitudes toward life”:

  1. This world does not explain itself.
  2. The magic of the universe must have meaning, and “meaning must have someone to mean it.” (98)
  3. The design is both purposeful and beautiful (in spite of the dragons).
  4. The right response to this beauty is “humility and restraint” (99) in our use of it, along with obedience to its maker.
  5. All that we see that is good is a “remnant to be stored and held sacred out of some primordial ruin.”

Clearly, Chesterton’s ponderings set him on a course of rescue, and this encourages me as a parent and as a teacher. When we share stories with our children, we are seeding in them the ability to find and appreciate bigger truths than the entertaining plots we all enjoy on the surface.

Too, in God’s rejoicing over us and in His waiting to extend grace, there are cords of love, drawing us ever closer to the Truth of His existence and His right to rule over His creation.

How does this land on your heart today?

If you are praying for a prodigal, I would be privileged to pray along with you. If you are a tired mum, reading the same story book for the tenth time this week, kick it surreptitiously under the couch and spin a tale for your tiny person in which he is the main character who eats toast for breakfast and then goes outside to play in the sunshine.

How has God led you in your path toward Orthodoxy?

I look forward to hearing from you in the comments below, and, as ever, thank you for your eyes here and for your faithful encouragement,


Oh, and one more thing:  My persevering friend Linda has written an insightful post about this chapter of Orthodoxy as well, and I invite you to click on over to her place for more thoughts on Chesterton’s Elfland.

Photo in the featured image by Jeremy Thomas on Unsplash

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular content delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

 

The Freedom of Limitations

On my left hand, I wear the symbol of a choice I made 29 years ago. When I said yes to the union that was forged between my husband and me on that day of satin and lace, I was also saying no to a thousand other things, and this is the nature of choice. By making any choice, I accept the limitations that go with it.

Heroes of the faith like Wycliffe and Bonhoeffer made costly decisions to pursue the will of God even though it clashed (and ultimately collided) with the power structures of their times. More recently, civil rights activists who willed themselves into identity with a minority were prepared to accept the limitations imposed upon them:  ridicule, social censure, jail time, or even death.

In Chapter 3 of Orthodoxy, G.K. Chesterton defines human will or volition as the act of “choosing one course as better than another.” (62) He meanders into the matter of choice in the context of his ongoing disagreements with H.G. Wells and George Bernard Shaw and their kin, but the alarm and scorn he directs toward their exaltation of the human will seems wildly relevant a hundred years later.

Isak Dinesen described a man (in Out of Africa) who would not “strive toward a happiness or comfort which may be irrelevant to God’s idea of him.” When an individual’s will becomes an end in itself, it becomes an idol. Chesterton referred to this as the “worship of will,” and, apparently his adversaries had overlooked the limitations that come with freedom, for “when you choose anything, you reject everything else.” (63)

Early 20th-century will-worshipers may have purposefully sidestepped the notion that it was God who conceived of freedom of the will for humanity in the first place. When He granted “the dignity of causality” (Pascal’s phrase, not Chesterton’s), this was in keeping with our creation in His glorious likeness. Then, the entire narrative arc of Scripture follows as a record of God’s working His divine will through the exercise of the free will of a rag-tag assortment of men and women who, at times, gave every indication that they had not an inkling of “God’s idea of them.”

If “every act of the will is an act of self-limitation,” (63) this rings true even for the Almighty. God’s sovereign choice to confer upon us the gift of free will set limits around His own freedom:

  • He chose not to coerce;
  • He stoops to ask for our cooperation;
  • He waits for us to participate in the fulfillment of His plans.

Even in the flesh, Jesus worked miracles through acts of human collaboration at His request:  fill up a water pot, extend a hand, distribute a torn up loaf of bread. He despaired over the faithlessness of whole communities and let their unbelief turn the holy spigot of blessing to the off position.

When I’m tempted to lament my own unwise choices or to fear the gift of free will in the hands of the inexperienced young men I love, let me first remember that the claustrophobia of limitation is only a corollary to the glorious freedom that is ours in the first place: We are free to make mistakes and to learn from them, to sin and be forgiven and then to start over.

Second, may I live toward a boldness that, in Chesterton’s words, is able to “choose a path and go down it like a thunderbolt.” (69) This was the way of Christ when He aligned His power of choosing with the Father so that, in maturity of faith, He was able to choose the cross, and in despising the shame, to accept the limitations of that choice without regret.


Thank you all for reading along,

P.S. Linda, my friend and fellow reader in this year of Orthodoxy, has written a great post on Chesterton’s response to this question: “Well, if a man is not to believe in himself, in what is he to believe?”  Chesterton’s thoughts on self-confidence may be even more relevant today than ever. Click here to enjoy Linda’s summary and her own visceral response to his words.

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I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.