The Legion of Decency

People who know me well know that I’m a bit of a cinephile, a film buff. Although I’m not completely sure where my love of film came from, I know that I’ve passed it on to my kids, for better or worse. I may or may not have been a little more liberal in my permission of what my kids have seen than my own parents were for me.

The other evening, my boys and I were watching Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. Unprompted, my oldest announces to me, “These filmmakers are better Christian filmmakers than Christian filmmakers are. People playing God and paying the price.”

It was a moment of pride for me. He’s obviously picked up on my disdain for sanitized storytelling in the form of the Christian market. I’m convinced that Christians have a tendency to whitewash things and offer storybook versions of reality rather than embracing the difficulties and challenges of life. I’m all into fantastic storytelling, but when those fantasies are depicted as reality, I struggle.

Maybe it’s because I’ve had some challenges in my life. Maybe it’s because I like to call the elephants out in the room. Maybe it’s because I’m tired of false prophets portraying the Christian life as easy and full of rainbows and unicorns. Whatever it is, I’m tired of that sanitized storytelling.

When I was a teenager, I was a big Stephen King fan. My fandom has been tempered in my adulthood, mostly because I haven’t had the bandwidth to read very many 500+ page books. His book “On Writing” made an impression on me in my own writing and how I look at art. He comes to a place in that book where he speaks of the Legion of Decency and how some writers, for the sake of said league, sanitize their dialogue at the sacrifice of realism. In fact, he writes, “The point is to let each character speak freely, without regard to what the Legion of Decency or the Christian Ladies’ Reading Circle may approve of. To do otherwise would be cowardly as well as dishonest….”

When I read those words, something clicked within me and I realized why I had struggled with so much of what had been labeled “Christian fiction” or “Christian film.” While I struggled with the storytelling a little, I struggled more with the lack of three dimensional characters. As King says, when your character hits his thumb with a hammer, he probably doesn’t shout, “Oh, sugar!” There may be certain characters that do, but if we’re honest, that’s not really being honest.

I’m not advocating for letting kids watch movies with objectionable material just because those films let their characters be true. Parents can choose what’s appropriate for their kids to watch. As my mom always used to say, I don’t have to subject myself to that kind of language.

I agree, Mom, but I also don’t have to pretend that language doesn’t exist. Sometimes people swear. Sometimes those people happen to be Christian, too.

I recently read a book, a tribute to Madeleine L’Engle. It was such a fascinating read to me because people just didn’t know what to do with her. To Christians, she was too secular. To secularists, she was too Christian. She wasn’t a fan of the line between sacred and secular and so she chose to not adhere to that line. She blurred that line, not in an irreverent way, but in a real and honest sort of way. Her faith came through in her books, but she didn’t sacrifice her characters or her storytelling simply because of her faith.

I guess that’s kind of the heart of what frustrates me. Can’t we just have storytellers who happen to be Christians? Can’t we have musicians who happen to love Jesus? Why do we have to throw the Christian label on everything so that it can be approved by the Legion of Decency?

Frankly, the Legion of Decency has never done me any favors. It didn’t change the fact that my mom got cancer that killed her and my dad died of a broken heart, both literally and figuratively. It didn’t change the fact that my heart was impacted by a virus I had when I was in high school. It didn’t change the fact that one of my best friends lost his little boy at six months to cancer or that a relative delivered their first child stillborn. So, whether the Legion of Decency likes it or not, I honestly say that those things all suck.

That’s why I hold on to hope in something other than what I see around me. But just because I have that hope doesn’t mean that I have to sanitize everything else. The less sanitized that we admit things are, the more awesome that hope comes across. And I really think that hope is awesome, something far beyond anything I could conjure up on my own, and if we’re really honest, the story of how we gain that hope might fly in the face of the Legion of Decency.

 

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Above Reproach

I was at the gym this morning and one of the other patrons lamented the further allegations that have come out against Supreme Court judge nominee, Brett Kavanaugh. The words that were uttered were, “This will set precedent for everything.”

It was one of those moments in life when I tried my best not to show what I was feeling inside. I really didn’t want to get into it there in the gym. The words that kept playing over and over in my head were, “But what if?” What if the allegations are true?

Most of us, if we are honest, can probably recount at least a story or two of incidents in high school or college that we wish could be wiped out of our memory and the memory of those around us. We’ve had our share of indiscretions that we would just as soon forget. But our desire to forget them doesn’t wipe them out of our memory or the memory of those who were involved.

Some of those incidents may have involved alcohol or drugs. Some may have involved behavior that we were guilty of when under the influence of those things. Our regret over that behavior and those choices doesn’t change the fact that what we did still happened, no matter how much we might want to wipe the slate clean.

I believe in the grace of God and the forgiveness of sin, but forgiveness doesn’t change the fact that there are still consequences when we make bad decisions. Just because we receive grace doesn’t mean we get a free pass for the consequences. Yes, we are forgiven. No, we can’t pay for that forgiveness, but sometimes, we still have to deal with consequences.

I’m not saying that Kavanaugh is guilty, nor am I saying that he is innocent. I’m saying that we all have to own up to our mistakes, regardless of how long it’s been since those mistakes happened and no matter how much we may have grown and matured since.

I was a resident advisor in college and I witnessed more than my fair share of indiscretions around campus. I had multiple heavy conversations that dealt with sexual assault and I wouldn’t wish those on anyone, especially not the ones who were the victims. My heart broke every time that I looked in the eyes of a victim.

I’ve heard multiple people trumpet Kavanaugh’s innocence because of the time that has elapsed since the alleged incidents. I’ve also heard some of those same people talk about the lack of proof that exists. After all, these are just allegations.

But what do you do with allegations?

The biggest lesson that I learn in all of this is to do my best to live above reproach. Sure, there are still people who will heap accusations at you when you do this, but if you live above reproach, those allegations shouldn’t stick. If further allegations come out, it seems that there are some people who cry, “Conspiracy” rather than entertaining the thought that these allegations may be true.

We aren’t talking about statute of limitations here either. What has been done has been done and like I said before, there are repercussions to our actions. Are we willing to face those repercussions? Are we willing to admit fault and own up to those mistakes?

I could write a whole other post on consistency here, but that diminishes the need for us to live lives above reproach. There’s nothing worse, in my opinion, when someone is accused for that person to say, “But look at him, he did this too!” That’s not the point. The point is individual responsibility and living lives of integrity.

When I’ve made a mistake or wronged someone, I have to own up to that. If there are repercussions of that, I need to face them, regardless of how long it’s been. Yes, what’s happened in the past is in the past, but if there are past indiscretions that have caused longstanding hurt and pain, and if it’s taken a person a long time to finally muster up the courage to talk about it, does that mean that I am absolved of those repercussions? I don’t think so.

I’m not perfect, none of us are, but I can do my best to live that way. When I don’t, there is grace, but grace still doesn’t cover over all the consequences of my actions. Yes, I believe that I have a savior who has paid the price for my sins, but his paying the price still doesn’t change the fact that some of what I’ve done may require an additional payment on my part, will I own up, admit it, and be willing to take responsibility? Will you?

Pressing On, Pressing In

So, I’m learning a ton about myself, a ton about faith, and just a ton in general. There have been multiple times in my life when I’ve felt like I’m drinking from the firehose, this season is certainly one of them.

For anyone who has been following my story, my family and I are launching out and planting a church in the next year. It’s something that’s been on our heart since we left Asheville, North Carolina almost eleven years ago.

There are a number of reasons why it’s taken us this long to do it. To be honest, I think that God had a lot of work that he needed to do in me before I was ready to launch out. And honestly, I still don’t know how ready I am, which is probably a good thing. If I felt completely ready and capable, I would probably be relying on my own strength rather than the strength that God gives me.

Since we made our announcement about the plant, I’ve gone through all kinds of waves of emotion. There have been moments of joy, moments of sorrow, moments of doubt, moments of confidence. One thing that is consistent is my daily realization that I cannot do this alone. Not only as an individual, but also not without God’s help in all of this.

I was educated as an engineer. Two degrees. Some people are tired of hearing me say that, but I bring it up because engineers pride themselves in having the answers. In fact, I always prided myself on having the answers to questions that still hadn’t been asked. But where we are right now, this reliance on things that we can’t see, it’s totally out of my norm, I just don’t usually operate this way. I want answers. I want control. I’m not finding a lot of either right now, and I think I’m okay with that.

But this is a different season. I’m trying my best to press on and to press in. I am doing my best to trust and to have faith. I don’t have all the money that I need for the upcoming year. I don’t have all the particulars of what this church that we are starting will look like. I don’t even know for sure where it is that we will be meeting. And you know what? I’m actually okay with all that, and I think that it’s perfectly acceptable.

It’s actually a big step for me to be where I am and I didn’t get here on my own. Some may think I am being reckless. Some may think I’m hanging on to outdated beliefs. I have seen too much in my life, both good and bad, to not believe.

So, we’re pushing on and I am excited to see what God will do. While I may have some unique strengths and gifts, I know that none of this can happen without God. Like Moses in the wilderness, I stand where I am saying, “If you do not go with us, we will not go from this place.” That’s my sentiment. Exactly.

I’ll keep updating here. I’ll keep hanging on to the faith that I have. After all, faith is the assurance of the things that we hope for, the things that we can’t see. Here’s hoping and here’s faithing!!

A Light So Lovely – A Book Review

A Light So LovelyIf you have been educated in public schools sometime after 1970, chances are that you are somewhat familiar with the name Madeleine L’Engle. You may have even read her most famous book “A Wrinkle In Time.” But Ms. L’Engle was so much more than an author of this fantasy/science fiction young adult book which garnered so much attention and was most recently made into a movie in 2018.

In her book “A Light So Lovely” Sarah Arthur undertakes a labor of love to take her readers on a journey through this complicated woman whose faith caused her to forge a path that many have been afraid to travel. L’Engle was not afraid to speak and write freely of her faith, incorporating it into the stories that she would write.

As Arthur writes in the introduction, “God uses imperfect people, in every generation, at each unique point in history, to accomplish his purposes.” And that’s just what he did with Madeleine L’Engle, an imperfect person with an imperfect faith but a passion and zeal for expressing that faith beyond her own flaws and imperfections.

Arthur takes her reader on a journey through some of the many books that L’Engle wrote. She also incorporates conversations and interviews that she had with those who knew L’Engle even incorporating her own words. Arthur paints a portrait of a woman who was flawed yet determined to break the mold that many had cast in the area of young adult writing.

But L’engle could not be confined only to young adult fiction as she also ventured into the world of non-fiction, exploring her faith in books like “Walking on Water,” a book that has become a primer for those who embrace faith in Christ and yet also seek to allow the creativity that they have been given to be expressed outside of the norms that have been imposed by the Christian subculture

As I read “A Light So Lovely,” I found myself scanning the internet for the countless books that were mentioned by Arthur. While I knew of some of them, this book opened my eyes to not only the expansive catalogue written by L’Engle, but also to this woman whose creativity and willingness to use it has influenced generation and beyond of Christian artists and writers.

Sarah Arthur’s love for Madeleine L’Engle is evident on every page in this book. She takes her time to explore the many facets of L’Engle, good and bad, willingly revealing her, warts and all. Arthur leaves the reader longing to imagine themselves sitting down to a cup of tea with L’Engle, exploring issues of faith, creativity, science, and beyond.

Whether you are familiar with Madeleine L’Engle or not, this book is a worthy read. To get a glimpse of this complicated woman is worth the time it takes to thumb through these pages. If you have grappled with the tension of the sacred and the secular before and have felt unfulfilled by some of the empty offerings found within some of the writing of the Christian subculture, this may be a book that you want to give a try. You may just find yourself encouraged and inspired, finding hope that others have journeyed along this road less traveled and emerged along the way and at the end with scars and stories worth telling.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Booklook Bloggers. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

Made For These Times – A Book Review

made for these timesIn the introduction to “Made For These Times,” Katelyn Beaty says it well of who Justin Zoradi is and his contribution to society. She writes that Zoradi is, “a living testament to the notion that our lives are not to be hoarded for ourselves, but to be poured out for others to bring life, freedom, and kingdom hope.” She goes on to say that the kind of life that Zoradi promotes is countercultural, and upside down compared to the culture in which we live. It’s a high bar to set as the reader dives into this book, but I think that the praise Beaty gives to Zoradi is well-deserved.

“Made For These Times” is a book about purpose, about calling, about vocation, about eulogy virtues. How do we make a difference? Is it really possible to make a difference? Can we really make a difference while still valuing our relationships with our spouse and children?

Zoradi tells his own story interspersed with the stories of others who have arrived at a similar place that he has. His faith plays a significant part in telling the story as he seeks to make a difference. But he understands his own part in the story and that he is able to do what he does because of who he is in Christ. He also shares that it is impossible to do everything and, in fact, we aren’t supposed to do it all.

As Zoradi writes, “God prefers our efforts to be unfinished because it allows him to bring in others who will pick up where we left off. You cannot do everything.” It’s a significant conclusion to come to for someone as young as Zoradi, especially considering that there are countless stories of others who have sought to do significant work in their lives who paid the price of broken relationships, families, and even personal health.

I am sure that there will be critics of this book who consider all that Zoradi writes to be sensationalized fluff. I would respectfully disagree with anyone who might think that. Having abandoned one successful career to pursue something that was a calling rather than a career, Zoradi’s words resonated with me. In fact, this book was such an encouragement and confirmation for me to continue to pursue those things that are not necessarily successful in the eyes of the world or culture, but that have the potential for making a significant difference in the few people with whom I interact.

If you are sensing that there is something more to life than simply your 9 to 5 job, pick up a copy of this book. Zoradi will inspire you to live beyond yourself, to seek values that contradict those all around you. You may just find that taking that bold step towards the unknown was the best decision of your life because you were truly made for these times, made to make a difference.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Booklook Bloggers. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)