Monday, April 30, 2012

What I Mean By Legalism: the most prominent mode of thinking (Is It Worth It: The Wedding Ring Discussion continued)

As I have stated already, the response that has unfolded from my original post, The Wedding Ring: Is It Worth It? was not something I anticipated. My intention all along was generated out of sincere concern and a passionate desire to do something about the losses we’re experiencing. My prayer is that each of my readers will be drawn closer to the heart of God through this discussion.

In response to those of you who have insisted loudly that I committed grievous error and therefore should have remained silent, my response is “No, silence is not better.” Private notes, along with the public comments, continue to pour into my email box. It is clear from these that there is much we need to talk about, and how much better it would be if we would talk about things before we part ways.
I’ve been accused of speaking like I know the answers. The ideas I present are not original to me. If it sounds as though I am fully persuaded of them, it is because they have worked in my life. I’m not pretending to have all the answers, and I’m not looking down on anybody. If what is expressed here is helpful, I’m grateful. If not, in all kindness of spirit, I ask you not to continue reading. Many things I share with you have literally changed my life.
Surely, it is clear that there has been confusion over my use of the word legalism. I’m using this word very literally. I do not intend it as a pejorative label or a stereotypical caricature of anyone. I won’t consciously do that.

What I share with you in the rest of this post is based on studies with my local church family over numerous years. Much of it comes from notes taken during those study sessions.

From Webster we have: legalism- “strict adherence to law or prescription.”

In particular, my interest concerns the mode or method of thinking people use to come to the conclusion that something is right or wrong, how they justify behavior to themselves and (of course) to others if questioned.

Think with me for a minute of some of the possibilities. I’m trying to survey them from neutral ground at least initially…

How do humans justify their actions?

One way we might justify our behavior is on the basis of whether it brings us pleasure. We see this expressed in “If it feels good, do it.”  We might even muster a semblance of accountability and ask the empty chairs of our mind, “So what’s wrong with feeling good?” to which is answered, not a word, and so we feel quite justified. (I couldn’t stay neutral very long on that one!) This would be the hedonistic mode.

Another possibility goes like this. “I do what I want when I want because I want to… do you have a problem with that?”  Here, the only thing controlling behavior is my will—there are no other constraints. This would be the despotic mode. (Despot: ruler with absolute unlimited power)

The legalistic mode of behavior justification then is simply: the pattern of thought in which behavior is justified and truth is determined by strict adherence to laws, principles, rules.

Now read the definition again before you go on and ask yourself, “Does this apply to me?”

If after reading this definition you quickly note it says, “strict adherence” and since “I don’t believe in ‘strict adherence’ of rules, it doesn’t apply to me,” you are experiencing the impulse to legalism. You might read the sentence I just wrote and want to respond with “OK, I didn’t even notice it said ‘strict,’ so I am not that way.” Or in that same sentence you might pick out “quickly note,” since you didn’t “quickly” note the word “strict,” this is about someone else.

Legalism is distinguished by a tendency to emphasize the “letter” of the law rather than the intent of the giver. “It says what it says.” There may be considerable discussion of what it says, even interpretation of what it means, but at the end, the result is universal, necessary, and certain… the end of the story.

The tendency to legalistic thinking is natural and strong. It is reinforced by many years of childhood and adolescence in which our conscience is formed and our will is regulated by rules. (There is no avoiding this; of course, a child with no rules quickly develops modes of thinking that are hedonistic or despotic. Sadly, it is one of the “triumphs” of modern psychology that many in society think it wise to celebrate despotic children.)

I have determined to avoid applying the label legalist to persons in this discussion. Rather, I will talk about legalism as a mode of thinking for justifying and defending positions. Whether a legalistic mode of reasoning justifies a label or not, labels don’t promote understanding, so I think if we are to use it at all, it should be reserved for those who willingly endorse legalistic methods as proper.

When I say “I am not a legalist,” I mean “as a follower of Christ, I reject it as a means to understanding God’s will,” which is not the same thing as saying there are no rules in my life.

In case raw definitions are hard to relate to, let me give you an example.

If you have children, you’re surely well-acquainted with what it means to think legalistically. Suppose you tell your son that it is time to clean his room and that you don’t want to see anything left on the floor that doesn’t belong there. After a while, he comes out to announce that he is finished. You go to inspect. Indeed, nothing is on the floor that doesn’t belong there. But then you realize that there are army men in the underwear drawer. There is a combination of unmatched and dirty socks in the toy box. You turn to him; the question on your face is obvious. He says, “But you said, nothing on the floor.” And you know what, he’s right—legalistically. The first time this happens, you might argue, well, children just don’t get it. And so, they might not. But if he were being honest he would readily admit that he knew enough about your intention to know that what you wanted was everything put in its proper place. But he can still say with total literal truth, “I did what you said.” However, he may well not be honest, and so in order for his behavior to be properly molded, you have to modify the laws that he is under. So now the law becomes, clean up your room and put stuff where it belongs. Notice that the behavior will change to match the new law but the heart may or may not change.

Legalistic systems have an intrinsic problem when they are based on a set body of law, because history and technology introduce ever new possibilities for human behavior. What do you do when your belief system is based on a set of laws which is thousands of years old, and now you are dealing with TV,  iPads, Internet, and Virtual reality?

There is probably no system of legalism more fully developed than Rabbinic Judaism, the dominant form or Judaism since the time of Christ. For the Rabbi’s, no detail of Jewish life is beyond the reach of Jewish law. For them, law is a dynamic living thing. When history and technology change the issues, they simply adapt and reinterpret. Something seemingly as remote as whether it is lawful to ride an elevator on the Sabbath is an issue of concern because to start the elevator you push a switch which creates a small spark which could be considered equivalent to kindling a fire on the Sabbath, and kindling a fire on the Sabbath is prohibited.

Now, at first to us this would seem to be a horribly restrictive way to live. But actually there are elements of this approach which we human beings find very attractive once we see the deeper issues. At first glance you might ask, why would anybody submit to that? But suppose you are an earnest follower of God. Have you ever felt a yearning deep in your heart to please God in every part of your life? Have you ever wondered, “Why doesn’t the Bible just spell everything out so I can know exactly what I’m supposed to do?” Imagine if you could know at every moment of every day exactly what is lawful.

You see, legalism does have an appeal. However, Christianity reveals that a legal mode of thinking cannot bring a person to a place of being just before God. “...the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ...but...we are no longer under a schoolmaster.” “...therefore by the deeds of the law shall no flesh be justified in His sight...” “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness...”

If you read all that Paul writes about law, you begin to realize that he rejects not just the law of the Jews but law as a category, law as a mode of thinking, thinking which says, “I am justified because I did everything you told me to do.” Paul offers a distinct alternative to this type of thinking.

Now, there is an incredible thing that happens when you reintroduce legalism into Christianity. Remember with Judaism you’re never in doubt because law is reinterpreted to cover everything? But in Christianity, which isn’t a legal system, you constantly have issues for which there is no law, especially as technology and culture change. Those who insist on forcing legalism on Christianity usually try to make it work by doing one of two things. Either they create law where there is none, or they take the position that since there is not certain and specific law on an issue, we are free to do as we please.

Free to do as we please?! Who would ever have dreamed that law-mindedness could lead a Christian (one who is like Christ) to feel justified in insisting that the only input of any weight on an issue had to come in the form of a command, otherwise, we are under no constraint at all.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

A Still Small Voice

I’m reminded of the story of Elijah in the cave.

“he came thither…and lodged there; and, behold, the word of the LORD came to him,…And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the LORD. And, behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the LORD; but the LORD was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the LORD was not in the earthquake: And after the earthquake a fire; but the LORD was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice.
 (1Ki 19:9-12)   

What emerges from all the comments over this past week is a still small truth. Not only can we not agree on the answer, we cannot even agree on the question. Have you ever noticed the power of a question? Have you ever noticed that the question itself exerts a kind of influence over the answer?

The very same words can lead to distinct answers depending on how they are framed in your mind.

Have we not seen this here?

In this discussion, much of the debate has centered around “What do you mean, ‘it is worth it?’" and “is that the right question anyway?” Some insist the question is “is it worth it to walk away from narrow-minded people so that you can do great things for God among open-minded people?” It would be hard to answer no to that. I have framed it, “Is it worth it to dissolve a lifetime of relationships and influence in order to enjoy my personal freedom?” It would be hard to answer yes to that. Others have framed it “Is it worth it to even bring this question up considering how much havoc you’ve caused?” At the moment, it would be hard to answer yes to that.

I feel indicted. Not as an individual, for I think I understand where my critics are coming from. In fact, if I engaged in the thought processes they use, I would criticize me too. No, I feel indicted as a human being. We make such a mess of things. We create havoc in God’s world and yet stand justified in our minds.

But I am cheered by the words of a song,

Turn your eyes upon Jesus
Look full in His wonderful face
And the things of (this world) will look strangely dim
In the light of His glory and grace.

Is He not the way out of the maze? Everyone in this discussion will, no doubt, agree that “Jesus is the Answer.” But is it possible that we can learn from Him what is the right question?

Everyone wants to claim the propitious benefits of His death, but do we trust in the example of His life?

For those of you who insist I render it a legal opinion, I have nothing that you will consider new. But I do offer the words of the Apostle Paul as a tool to understanding the questions. “All things are lawful to me but all things are not expedient…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling...” and “whatsoever is not of faith is sin.” So how do these verses combine to create a means of thinking about behavior? Any decision I make, I must ask myself: am I willing to stand before God and give an account for this? Am I willing to take full responsibility there for my actions? Which means I cannot say I have a right to do it because there was no law against it. Further, can I honestly say, “Father, I am choosing what I am choosing with the example of Jesus in view. I humbly acknowledge that my judgment or execution could be faulty. I am at your mercy in this regard and will gladly make amends if You show me I need to. But from my heart, I embrace the example of Jesus, ‘not my will but Thine be done’ ”?

From this mindset, there is no issue which is not an issue.

Friday, April 27, 2012

The Wedding Ring: Is It Worth It? #7


Thank you for being willing to allow this discussion on your blog. I realize that it may seem that some of us have attacked you in our comments. While I cannot speak for everyone, I know that that was not my intention in the least. (I am the anonymous that "insisted" that you answer my question.)

While I agree with Sherilyn that you "continue to avoid stating your true position" on this matter, I would like to say that I appreciate the way that you have conducted yourself overall during this discussion. I also appreciate your willingness to take down some of the comments that you have posted.

Although we may not agree, (assuming that you do not feel that "it was worth it") I do not feel that this discussion has been in vain. It has proven to me that there are many others, like myself, who are coming to terms with the fact that we have been following a lot of man-made traditions and that we must each decide what we are going to do about those traditions. Every one of us must do our best to live according to the teachings of God's Word. We are responsible to pray and seek His face concerning what to do with these man-made traditions. There will never be a time when we all see "eye to eye" on everything, but I trust we can allow the Lord to help us to disagree agreeably.

Dear Anonymous,

Thank you for your comment.

My "answer" is coming. I am working on a post which I hope to have completed before the day ends. 

My difficulty in expressing my position fully is that we are barely speaking the same language.

This process has been enlightening to me.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Wedding Ring: Is It Worth It? #6

Friends, certainly you understand that when a blogger gets this many comments, time alone will not permit him or her to respond to every comment.

“Biscuit” gives us a kind, thoughtful, rational comment. Thank you, Biscuit. I will respond in red, so all can clearly follow.


I really appreciate the civility you keep, and inspire, and also your willingness to hear both amen's and perhaps disagreements.

I have been "CHM" for almost 62 years, so have seen quite a few changes over the years of what is acceptable, fashionable, etc, in this culture.

I was in one of the stricter groups, but have changed some of my views on what is Biblical and what is not.

I do think I see your main point, "is it worth it"? You are looking at it from a standpoint of is it worth it to cast aside some things.

Let me clarify: My point is a little bit more than that. I am asking, when you have a platform, an influence, when you have convinced people that you are on the same page with them and they have grown to trust and admire you, and you choose to walk away from that and embrace instead your freedom over an issue of the flesh that really doesn’t matter, is it worth it? Do you see the subtle difference? My concern is not that you are casting aside "a tradition of questionable legality" but that you are embracing "a tradition of questionable legality" and casting away what really is valuable.

I look at it from the standpoint of is it worth it to continue retaining certain "standards", if you will, that continually drive the numbers that ANYONE can reach, down the tubes.

Please note, while there’s no virtue in being small, it’s certainly not a principle of Christianity that we should just do things for the numbers.

On the other hand, my friend, people don’t care whether or not I have a wedding ring on. Not wearing one doesn’t hurt my influence. My attitude (based on how I think) about the issue is everything. If I do not think as a legalist, people sense that.

My college years were spent on a university campus.  My fellow students respected me. One lesbian friend even asked me to pray with her. My choice of attire did not affect my influence negatively. To the contrary, it caused people to pause and think and question, “Why? What does she value?” It took them to the questions of eternity, of what matters, of God. I also have many Christian friends from many backgrounds. I have been told numerous times that they appreciate my attitude.

The CHM has touted "Christian education" as the solution for saving our kids, but it seems that many who have been through the system, when hit by adulthood and having to engage with the rest of the world, in fact, don't see much from their past worth holding onto.  (For those who have trouble processing honest observations, this is not an attack on Christian education or a promotion of public schools, it is a concern that we have oversimplified the problems and the solutions.)

I saw my own denomination nosedive over the video issue in the 1980's, and then the Internet issue ever since then.

Was it worth it, to lose membership, attendance, and thus, the "reachable", to keep such legalistic stances on some things that are not Biblical stances (although I agree that the sins one can get involved in by any media are indeed valid issues)?

My posts clearly do not affirm a legalistic mindset. I am not suggesting that there are not major problems in the CHM. My first post stated, “There is much confusion in our midst...”

I fear we all pick and choose things we hold dear.

I think you are a very wonderful person, by your attitude and desire to truly be a child of God, and influence others for good, and God.

But (there is always a "but" :) ), what about "things pertaining to men"? When I was growing up, only men wore bill Dad wore one all day, and even on the way to and from church...but he left it in the car! Now, women in the CHM wear them outside, to garden, play ball, picnic, etc. I see you are wearing one in your profile picture.

Do I think they pertain to men? No.

Friend, let me tell you my first response, based on a non-legalistic mindset, based on a Christ-like perspective—as best I understand it. When you mentioned the bill cap, my first thought was, “Oh, my, I never dreamed that was an issue. If that offends someone, I don’t have to wear those. Maybe I should change that picture. Bill caps certainly don’t matter in the light of eternity.”

Of course, we could go crazy trying to make sure we don’t offend anyone on every issue, so I have to balance that heart response with logic and a rational understanding of the Bible. Given my place in life, I have to in faith say, “Father, would it be best for me not to wear bill caps?”

As a follower of Christ, as a person who trusts Him and is seeking to walk in His steps, I am willing to question myself about anything. I have died to my right to anything. I die moment by moment to my flesh and its desires.

But do you see the shift?

Not meaning to ignore your question, for I certainly recognize that over the years accepted attire goes through changes. That just isn't my point in these posts.

My concern is that issues are divisive, when scripture is not clear on certain things, rings and jewelry being one issue.

I know, the rightness or wrongness of jewelry is not your point, but "is it worth it"?

I would ask the CHM, of which I am still a part, "Is it worth it, to hold on to certain standards that can only be traced back a few dozen decades, or less, when they become the separating point, removing people from the influence of real salvation and holy living, by setting standards that are very hard to argue, from a Biblical standpoint.

Again, I appreciate your values, sensitivity, and sincerity.

Language is fascinating, is it not?

“Is it worth it” can point in different directions. And so then we have to determine, what is the valid question. I’d like to bring this point up in the future.

Thank you again, Biscuit, for taking the time to share your thoughts kindly.

The Wedding Ring: Is It Worth It? #5

I had no idea that my simple post would generate this kind of energy. I tried to carefully use words to limit my point. I directed it to those who were raised as I was raised. I condemned no one. I haven't even stated unequivocally a legal position on the issue.

I’ve been told this before, but it really comes home now.

The first impulse of most people, including me, is: think emotionally first, and then—as an afterthought—generate some rationale to support what we have already decided.

If we insist on thinking this way, we will all forever be like ships passing in the dark.

One of the nuggets of my heritage is the understanding that if we are to be Christ-like, we cannot freely follow what comes natural, and in order to “possess our vessel unto honor,” (to manage the resources of our will) we must impose discipline on the body and on the mind.

It occurs to me, as a result of this discussion, that while we have been vigorous in our promotion of disciplining the mind on what to think, we have fallen short in the discipline of how to think. Now I don’t mean this like “Hey, I know how to think and you don’t.” I’m not suggesting another standard by which to judge others inferior.

I’m suggesting that if I am to have any confidence in what I hold to be true, I must discipline my mind to not use an irrational path to what I conclude as truth.

Now you say, “That doesn’t sound very spiritual.” Well, if you think “spiritual” = “irrational,” I understand why you say that. But if by spiritual you just refer to those things pertaining to God, I disagree.

God has chosen in history to reveal Himself to us by flesh and by language. Language doesn’t work without logic.

Maybe you, like I, could use a refreshing reminder...

There is a quiet place
Far from the rapid pace
Where God can soothe my troubled mind

Sheltered by tree and flow´r
There in my quiet hour
With Him my cares are left behind

Whether a garden small
Or on a mountain tall

New strength and courage there I find
Then from this quiet place
I go prepared to face
A new day with love for all mankind
~Norman C. Brown

I'll be back.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Wedding Ring: Is It Worth It? #4

You readers are great! I really appreciate that you take the time to read my posts and respond with your various points of view. You keep me digging to refine my understanding! I'm sitting at my computer, working hard to respond to one of the early comments (I've hardly been able to digest all the ones you've written--some of which require me to seek counsel!) when another one comes in! I count it an honor that you care enough to share your thoughts with me.

This comment came on Facebook in response to my first post "The Wedding Ring: Is It Worth It?".

“Is it worth it?"  This is an appropriate question.  Before I can accurately answer this, I have to address the question that has been avoided:  "Is it right or wrong?"  As a mother of 5 kids, I want my answers to life's questions to be rooted in God's Word.  Once this has been established, we can then move on to the question you asked.  If the wedding band is not a matter of right or wrong, but simply a matter of tradition, then I believe this question has to be answered individually according to where God has placed him/her in life.  We do not wear a wedding band because it is against the rules where my husband has been called to minister.  We try to make a distinction between God's commands and man's traditions.  As far as the person you referred to not being used at IHC, I believe God is using him mightily.  There is a possibility that his ministry has expanded since he has not limited himself to the "chm."  If one is obedient to God, He will use him/her, whether in the "chm" or not.  The "chm" is a small percentage of the larger Christian world.  My question is, "Is there ever a time when leaders need to look at their restrictions and re-evaluate their validity?"  I say, "Yes."  Some of our leaders do not believe the wedding ring is wrong, but keep quiet to keep peace.  There will be a time when we have to determine what we value more:  truth or tradition--since they may not always agree."

Friend, you have offered a thoughtful challenge to my post. Thank you. I appreciate you taking the time to give me feedback.

As I read your comment, this is what I see. In the first part of your letter, you carefully lay the legal foundation for your position. You maintain a neutral stance. You say, "If the wedding band is not a matter of right or wrong, but simply a matter of tradition, then I believe this question has to be answered individually according to where God has placed him/her in life." This suggests a concern for more than the raw legality of the issue.  You mention  "...I want my answers to life's questions to be rooted in God's Word."  I would say that is an admirable desire.  In your mind, do you feel the assessment that for Christians there is a category called "tradition" which "...has to be answered individually according to where God has placed him/her in life" is rooted in God's word, or are you just suggesting this is obvious, or perhaps you just chose to believe it?

If your letter had left it there, your position would be much stronger, and I would feel invited to say,“Yes! Let’s discuss this further!”

You next note that your current conduct as regards to this topic is contingent on your husband's work rules, and "We try to make a distinction between God's commands and man's traditions."  This frighteningly echos Rabbinic mindset, and the fact that your behavior is coerced strips it of any moral merit (you didn't chose it as the right thing to do, you were required to do it).

The next part in your response takes a turn... since you believe you know who inspired my post and you believe that the fruits of that person's life will be good... maybe even better than they otherwise would have been, then it must have been worth it.

Please note this amounts to arguing that the end justifies the means.  Arguments of this type are generally considered suspect.

The size of the CHM is irrelevant unless of course you are suggesting that bigger is more valuable.

The last section of your letter sheds much light on which direction you lean but at the same time leaves me puzzled about what you really believe.  Gone is any vestige of neutral language... we are now dealing with merely a restriction that may need to be re-evaluated.  And yet, "There will be a time when we have to determine what we value more: truth or tradition...."  From your earlier formulation, how can there be a conflict between truth and tradition, since tradition is what we are left with when something is not right or wrong?  And if it is a matter of truth, how could we justify before God "keeping quiet to keep peace?"

Does "walking by faith" ever enter your calculations?

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Wedding Ring: Is It Worth It? #3

Oh, the essentials we adults miss sometimes...
I am working on responses to several different comments from the two previous posts. In case you don't follow the comment box, this comment came on post #2. I will continue to post long responses to comments as new posts so they are easier to follow.

"Laura, I believe you are avoiding some important issues here.  If you are so concerned about throwing away the CHM heritage and severing relationships over a little wedding band, then why doesn't it concern you that some of the CHM movement (not all of them, mind you)throw away their heritage concerning other issues - namely, divorce and remarriage, working on Sunday, etc.?  What concerns me is that some of the CHM (most all of them, I'm sad to say), pick and choose which preferences, (which, by the way, they've made mandatory) they want to enforce, and ignore others that we all know were upheld by their forefathers. 

If you truly believe that this heritage should be kept, then I believe you should reconsider lengthening you dresses, wearing closed in shoes only, etc.  Somewhere along the line someone "trashed relationships", because your forefathers (not mine) definitely held a strong opinion against TV, coloring, trimming, and perming hair as well as wearing wedding rings.  Some of them even had major problems with the radio - surely with Rush and his foul language!  My question is, who decided how far back into the CHM heritage line to go to start enforcing nonessential rules? God created us as individual human beings, not robots that need to be controlled by some group.  I realize that you want to conserve what the CHM once had - it is your mark of identity.  But, you must agree - that identity is long gone.  There are very few that really, really uphold what was once the true CHM. If you want to create what you would call your own CHM identity, then that's your priviledge - but please don't consider it as the true CHM - it is not.

I'm not being harsh here.  Just as you are greatly hurt and saddened by the changes in some CHMs, I also am saddened that people can get so caught up in their own little ideas of how they think God wants others to live, that they lose sight of why we are really in this world.  Bickering and nitpicking over nonessentials will never win anyone to Christ.  I doubt if the drunkard or drug addict cares at all if there's a wedding ring on the finger of the person that is witnessing or helping him. My desire is to reach the lost, NOT be wrapped up in CHM peer pressure.  What bondage!!

Thank God for a personal relationship with Him!  My desire is to please Him, and win others to Christ.  I believe I can do that as I wear my wedding ring."


Thank you for making me think. Thank you for making me examine myself. It’s good for me.

It’s apparent from your comment that you have judged me to be inconsistent. Believe me, if that’s true, it’s a serious problem I want to fix. However, your judgment seems to assume that there has been a single, fixed, universal standard in the CHM which you have insight into but which perhaps I lack. This of course is a mistaken assumption. Human behavior, including that of the CHM, is not that simplistic. You suggest that in order to fix my problem I must change the things I now do which don’t match this original CHM standard. You make the claim that you know what the essentials are and that the things the CHM has stood for are nonessentials. You say that I am seeking an identity through the CHM and that if I want the true CHM identity, I must go back to what they believed at their inception.

Your comment causes me to honestly ask myself; am I being inconsistent? Have I written anything that would cause you to make this judgment?  Is it true that I want my identity rooted in the CHM, that I am promoting a return to some former glory?  Other questions come to my mind: What are the essentials? Who decides what they are? Is it true that “reach[ing] the lost, NOT be[ing] wrapped up in CHM peer pressure,” being free from that “bondage!!” is what is essential? You express a “desire to reach the lost.” The question comes to mind, do you have any love for the poor lost folks in the CHM who don’t know what the essentials are? Would you be willing to adapt yourself, in order for them to relate to you, so as to win them to the truth?

But your questions first:

Am I being inconsistent? As I was coming into adulthood, trying to figure out what it really was to be a Christian, there were certainly things I allowed in my life which I don’t allow now, and I remain open to change anything that is not consistent with what I understand as inconsistent with my Heavenly Father’s will. My will is set to do His. I totally trust Jesus Christ and am in a pursuit of understanding what He taught, because I am convinced He is my only hope of sanity and eternal life.

Is it true that I want my identity rooted in the CHM and that I “want to conserve what the CHM once had?” You have not understood me if you think I am seeking my identity in the CHM. While I value the relationships that formed and molded me from childhood, while I value the discipline which demands that I say no to the flesh, and while I value the consistent call to seek God seriously with all my being, I seek my identity in Jesus. I want His spirit to be the very essence of my life. My allegiance is to where His values and the values of the CHM coincide.

Did the CHM ever have a unified identity on every one of these issues? I submit, they did not. My point in all of this discussion is that you don’t gain anything by walking away from what is truly valuable here.  You don’t gain anything by giving up the disciplines that are essential for creating a careful walk with God.

Finally, I ask, how does your comment relate to my original post, “Is it worth it?”  Well, it actually doesn’t. In that original post, I did not argue about the legality of the wedding ring. Neither did I communicate that I sought my identity from the CHM. My post was simply a question which was coming from a heart that seeks to find the path of wisdom Jesus would have me take. As I observed the scenario at the convention, it caused me to contemplate the question I wrote about. I sensed there was a lack of wisdom in walking away from relationships over things like the wedding ring. The wedding ring just happened to be the issue which, at the least, had limited the influence of my former IHC comrades. And I asked myself, would you be willing to make a change like that and lose your ability to potentially be a help to this crowd? What would you gain? And why would you do it anyway?

Just to make sure you understand, my intention (in the original post) was not to convert anyone to the CHM. My post was to those who had accumulated the trust of a great number of people and apparently counted it of little value. This issue is not trivial. This is not a nonessential.

Thanks for your comment. I will redouble my efforts to avoid inconsistency.

Monday, April 23, 2012

The Wedding Ring: Is It Worth It? #2

The comments I have received from my last post have brought me a couple of heart-wrenching sleepless nights and heart-and-head-aching restless days. The perspectives that were shared made me realize even more the severity, the depth and gravity of the problems which are lurking in the shadows of the CHM. I hear pain and confusion and sense repressed frustration.  

There are obviously real problems in the way some have justified various points of a disciplined life.  In too many cases, the CHM has miserably failed in the task of accurately, rationally verbalizing a basis for a form of living that can be instrumental in promoting a holy, examined, fruitful life.   

If you have been a victim of these failures, I am truly sorry. I am deeply grieved by the prevalence of such occurrences. 

Do we have serious problems? Yes.

Can I fix them? No!

Can we fix them? Maybe, but not if our solution is to splinter into individualistic renditions of “my truth” and “my Jesus” and “my reality with God;” not if we abandon the people--who have given us the words of life, have nurtured and raised us--in exchange for… what?; not if we insist on only trivial relationships with one another in order to retain our personal freedom to do what we want; not if we are willing to construe our personal fascination with the traditions of men as issues of truth.  

True Christianity is not an atomizing force, it is a uniting force.

I truly believe that many who have walked away from the CHM have no idea what they have left behind. There are problems, but there are people of character there who care and would do anything in their power to promote and nurture the good.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

The Wedding Ring: Is it Worth It?

~A precious little child at convention. I often look at such and wonder what life holds, what eternity holds for her.
I pray, "God, don't let me do anything that would influence one of your little ones in the wrong way."

I got home last night from a church convention. Called the Interchurch Holiness Convention, it is where several similar denominations come together for a few days of fellowship, inspiration, and corporate worship. Our family helps by running sound and recording all the services as well as producing a printed publication called the Dayton Daily.

This post won't mean much to some of my readers--it might even be confusing. Please understand, it is intended for my fellow CHM friends who have shared a similar heritage and know what has generally been believed and taught over the years in our "conservative holiness" churches. I am happy to answer (as best I can) any questions any reader might have, but I want to make sure you understand my intent.

When I attend these conventions, and as I observe the world of Facebook and blogging--where I'm connected with many CHM friends--I am often put to pondering for days on end over what is happening to the people who have been a part of my heritage. Often, my heart is heavy.

There is much confusion in our midst. Of course, this is true of the world at large, but the bigger world is not my focus here. So, the confusion... there is a slow. melting. away. Many of the youth of yesterday are gone. They have dissolved their relationships with most of the people I saw this week. They have moved into myriad other relationships, organizations, worldviews, and belief systems.

I sat in my chair one service this week when an old man slowly made his way to the platform. He was honored for his years of dedicated service to the cause of Christ. He has children, and though I don't know all of them, I wondered what this old saint was thinking about as he made the long walk to the front to be honored by his fellow believers. I don't believe his children were there. One I know would not be able to minister to the people at this convention anymore. He made a choice that would forever remove his ability to influence or help this crowd of over three thousand souls.

You see, the people from my heritage decided years ago that it would be helpful to them if they took the Apostle Paul's admonition seriously when he told young Timothy to instruct the people under his influence not to adorn themselves with gold and pearls and expensive clothing. So, my people taught generation after generation that this was a valuable admonition. It has become something by which we are identified. It is just one thing that helps us focus on what really matters, the eternal things. (I could say much more about this issue and issues like it, but once again, that is not the focus of this post.)

As I sat watching the scene, tears filled my eyes and dripped down my cheek. A question came to my mind, a question for those who have decided that their parents, their grandparents, and the many leaders of the CHM who taught them values like this were wrong. The question keeps coming back, and it haunts me.

"Was it worth it? Just to have a piece of metal wrapped around one of your fingers? When you get to the end of this short life and you look into forever and into the face of Jesus, do you really think having that piece of metal, at the expense of losing an influence over thousands of needy souls--for we're all needy; we need each other--will you think then that it was worth it?"

Things look so different when we get a glimpse of eternity. A lot of the confusion just falls away. The picture comes into focus and we realize exactly what we need to do.

Please understand my intent here. It is not to hurt anyone or put anyone down. It is to try to get the many who have made choices like this to re-think their decisions. I long to see them regain their place of influence. We need them. We need their gifts and talents, their expertise and motivation. And those who might be considering going the same direction, I pray you will consider, "is it really worth it?"

I pray this helps someone.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

College Visits Begin Again

I enjoyed a few days with my girls (and a close friend of theirs) at Hillsdale this week.
Rachelle was checking out the first place on her list of college options.

It is a beautiful campus, and it was such a joy to see LaRae for a few days.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Easter Blessings

We enjoyed a beautiful day of worship and then lunch and sweet fellowship with church family. Took in some of the breathtaking beauty from the front porch for a while, and soon we are off to encourage some dear folks at a Manor for the elderly. How blessed we are.

Happy Easter to you!

Friday, April 6, 2012

Really Look at Him and You Will Understand

I found an old favorite song on YouTube.
I don't care for the artwork on the video,
but the song is worth hearing on this Good Friday.

My prayer is that you have looked, understood, and trusted Him fully!

I Must Remember My Hunger

These have been full and busy days at our house.
I've done a lot of spring cleaning and found myself so caught up in the cares of life,
I haven't had much to blog about.

I was pondering this week why I feel so dry.
One day it hit me that I am not having enough valuable input.
Do I have a daily devotional time? Do I read the Bible?
Do I take in something good--eternally speaking--every day?
Yes, but most of the day I go around the house working like a mad woman,
listening on my head phones to Rush, Sean, Laura, or whoever
happens to be on talk radio.

I had reasoned that an important election is coming up this fall,
and I need to know what's going on.
After several weeks of this, I feel empty, dry, and a little depressed.

You know, sometimes you have the thought that you aren't doing anything "wrong;"
in fact, you are doing something that is very important. Your brain can take a while to register,
"I'm starting to get so caught up in the cares of life--in the here and now--and I'm doing it at the expense of abiding in Christ, at the expense of maintaining my peace."

So, a couple of days ago I shut off the radio and started listening to good music and audio books on my iPhone. I was stunned, amazed at the difference in my frame of mind!
Does all this mean it's wrong to listen to talk radio? Of course not.
I just have to balance my time better.
My hungry soul needs lots of forever food!

Blessings on this wonderful Easter weekend!

Monday, April 2, 2012

Book vs. Movie: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

Many forces shape the life of a child. It's easy to generalize and make statements that don't take into account all that has been at work. I use to think parenting advice could be laid out quite simply, but I've learned life is a bit more complicated. And even though there are some basic truths that must be understood and taken into account, no parent is an island, no child is an island, and there are lots of variables that come into play in our development.

I ponder this reality as I look back over 18 years with our firstborn and 16 with our second. In this post, I don't intend to try to discuss the shaping forces, but as I share a paper our 16-year-old wrote this week for an online AP English course, I am brought to pause and ponder some of those forces that have affected her development into a careful, thoughtful, perceptive, and considerate human being.

As I enjoy her blossoming individuality and her contribution to The Great Conversation, there is a long list of people and numerous resources for which I am deeply grateful and to which I am deeply indebted.

In this paper, Rachelle shows the contrast between the C. S. Lewis book, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader and the movie by the same name. (I've removed her footnotes and bibliography.)


A Sea Change: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader Reinvented

            On viewing a film version of the work of a fellow novelist, C. S. Lewis stated, “It would have been better not to have chosen in the first place a story which could be adapted to the screen only by being ruined.”[1] Ironically, Lewis’s own writings are now being produced as films and drastically changed. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, the recent movie adaptation of the third volume of his Chronicles of Narnia, disappointed Lewis readers who had hoped for a film loyal to the book. While the movie is nominally based on Lewis’s seafaring tale, the themes and the portrayal of the characters Aslan, Reepicheep, and Lucy in the film The Voyage of the Dawn Treader drift a lamentable distance from the Christian messages weaved through Lewis’s story.

            The irreversible death of the White Witch, unquestioned in Lewis’s book, becomes ambiguous in the movie. By repeatedly reintroducing the White Witch, the film denies the fundamental truth that Aslan destroyed the evil Jadis. Appearing as a mist to Edmund in the film, Jadis tells him, “You can never kill me. I’ll always be alive in your mind.”[2] Unfortunately, in doubting Jadis’s death, the film also doubts Aslan’s power; if the White Witch remains in existence, even as a ghost, after Aslan has striven to annihilate her, then Aslan fails. Through the regrettable revival of the White Witch’s spirit in the movie The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, the filmmakers fracture the story by discrediting Aslan’s essential power.

            The movie also weakens Lewis’s Aslan by pushing him behind the scenes and positioning magic and earthly power at center stage, a shift in focus evidenced conspicuously by two particular lines from the film. In the movie, as the crew of the Dawn Treader leaves the Lone Islands, Lord Bern gives the company his sword, one of the seven swords the travelers are seeking, and says, “May it protect you.”[3] Near the end of the film, after King Caspian delivers a brief speech to his men, everyone cries, “For Narnia!”[4] and the crew plunges into the ominous Dark Island. However, in the book, swords cannot guard the travelers from evil, but Aslan can and does. In addition, rather than focusing on Narnia, Caspian and his friends trust in Aslan; in Lewis’s story, the King announces, “And now, in Aslan’s name, forward,”[5] as the ship enters the Dark Island. Though subtle, the changes in the film downplay the importance of the Great Lion.

            One specific exchange in the film, absent in the book, sparks a doubt as to the trustworthiness of Aslan. When Gael, a young girl aboard the Dawn Treader, expresses a longing to see her captive mother again and Lucy assures Gael that Aslan will help them find her mother, Gael responds, “But Aslan couldn’t stop her from being taken.” Lucy pauses and says, “We’ll find her. I promise. Somehow.”[6] Although the crew of the Dawn Treader does succeed in rescuing Gael’s mother, the question about Aslan’s ability to have prevented her capture remains unresolved. In a few brief lines, the film manages to challenge Aslan’s claims to dependability and authority.

            Not only is Aslan minimized and doubted in the movie, but several specific Christian allusions from the book are excluded. For instance, Lewis’s description of Eustace bathing in a bubbling pool of water after his restoration to human form clearly resembles the Christian practice of baptism.[7] Moreover, the story Lucy reads in the Magician’s Book about “a cup and a sword and a tree and a green hill”[8] appears to mirror the story of the crucifixion, the cup referring to the Holy Grail, the sword to the blade the disciple Peter used to sever a man’s ear, the tree to the cross upon which Christ died, and the green hill to Calvary.[9] Finally, when Edmund, Lucy, and Eustace reach the world’s end, they encounter a Lamb who gives them fish to eat; the incident parallels the occasion in the New Testament when Christ, known as the Lamb of God, serves his apostles a breakfast of fish.[10] Even though, in the words of Wesley A. Kort, “religious...interests were integral to the...critical work in which [Lewis] engaged,”[11] all three Christian allusions disappear in the film adaptation of Lewis’s story.

            Along with lessening the importance of Aslan and Christianity, the film takes one of the most beloved characters from the book, Reepicheep the noble mouse, and reconstructs him as a humorous swashbuckler. Although the movie retains Reepicheep’s bravery, the mouse’s intense, unfaltering desire for Aslan’s country vanishes in the film. Lewis’s stately Reepicheep wastes no time on foolishness but makes use of every moment to further his life’s purpose; his “goal, his heart’s desire, is to ‘go on into the utter east and never return into the world,’ but instead to live with Aslan in Aslan’s country.”[12] In contrast, the movie’s trivialized Reepicheep jauntily pokes fun at Eustace, calling him “jelly legs” and teasing that Eustace seems “as effervescent as ever.”[13] Doubtless, a wish to see the Great Lion’s country resides in the back of Reepicheep’s mind in the film, but in the book, the quest to unconditionally surrender his life and join Aslan in the utter east dwells perpetually in the front of his mind and defines his actions. While a solemn but passionate mission animates Lewis’s committed Reepicheep, the film’s version of the mouse sinks to the level of a witty daredevil.

            In addition, through the character of Lucy, the filmmakers incorporate into the story the idea that people must believe in themselves. Feeling inferior to Susan, Lucy speaks a spell from the Magician’s Book in hopes of turning herself into her beautiful sister: “Transform my reflection, cast into perfection, lashes, lips, and complexion. Make me she, whom I’d agree, holds more beauty over me.”[14] When the enchantment seems to succeed and Lucy becomes her sister Susan, she realizes how terrible not existing as herself would be. In a flash of light Lucy returns to her old self, and Aslan speaks to her. “You wished yourself away,” he reproaches her. “Don’t run from who you are.”[15] After learning her lesson, Lucy later gives her friend Gael advice that mirrors Aslan’s counsel and summarizes one of the film’s most prominent themes: “You should be just like you.”[16]

            To Lewis, belief in self is mere selfishness. In his story, the enchantment which Lucy is tempted to speak is “an infallible spell to make beautiful her that uttereth it beyond the lot of mortals.”[17] Far from wishing herself away, Lucy longs to strengthen herself and become superior to Susan; Lucy wants to believe in herself. She sees an image of what she could be, lovelier than Susan, fought over by kings, and she desires to be that Lucy. However, “she [has] a strong feeling that she mustn’t”[18] say the spell, and she chooses not to. Lewis’s Christian perspective emerges shortly after, when Lucy hears a noise and turns from the Magician’s Book. “Her face lit up till, for a moment (but of course she didn’t know it) she looked almost as beautiful as that other Lucy in the picture, and she ran forward with a little cry of delight and with her arms stretched out. For what stood in the doorway was Aslan.”[19] Jonathan Rogers explains, “True freedom in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is freedom from the self, freedom to turn one’s attention outward, toward the things that give purpose and meaning to the self.” [20] Lewis implies that beauty and freedom arise not from Lucy’s uniqueness as she looks at herself but from her relationship with Aslan as she looks at Him.

            Sadly, by reinventing characters, excluding Christian allusions, and inserting a hollow theme, the film adaptation of Lewis’s inspiring The Voyage of the Dawn Treader diminishes Christianity and virtue and exalts magic and selfishness. The movie mars Lewis’s most admirable characters by suppressing the parallel between Aslan and Christ, by turning Reepicheep, the “mouse of vision,”[21] into a comical adventurer, and by praising pride and self-absorption in Lucy. In contrast, Lewis’s tale is defined by what Michael Ward called “Christological purposes.”[22] According to Lewis himself, “The whole Narnian story is about Christ.”[23] The soul of his The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is simply and beautifully preserved in the words of Kathryn Ann Lindskoog: “Lord of the Utter East, you know where each of us is on this voyage. Please preserve us from Deathwater curses and Dark Island dreams. Give us the courage to endure through rough storms and dull calms. Keep telling us how to get to your country from our world. And help us to know you better here.”[24]