Seek Joy in Literature

A few years ago, I had to choose my major between my two favorite subjects: physics and literature, and despite the clear monetary advantage in studying physics, I choose to study literature. Reading simply gave me more joy and I felt that I had a calling in the humanities. My story is fairly uncommon, but we all make that same kind of choice between utility and imagination every day.  Every time we pick up a book (or watch a new movie or show), we’re investing our time and energy in an imaginative work that could be spent somewhere else. So why do we do it?

Often our motivation is for simple entertainment, but my best advice to Christian readers is to do it for more than that and read for the joy of literature. In his essay “Different Tastes in Literature” C. S. Lewis described his own discovery of the “joy in the arts,” by writing that “[it was] as if a food one had enjoyed for the taste proved one day to enable you (like dragon’s blood) to understand the speech of birds: as if water, besides quenching your thirst, suddenly became an intoxicant.”

Christians have unique hope in regards to literature because they can recognize that they are a dim reflection of God’s redemptive plan for the world—that Jesus Christ has overcome death will come again in the final conclusion that all readers of stories ultimately long for. J. R. R. Tolkien, in his essay “On Fairy-Stories,” states that “[the joy of the happy ending] is a sudden and miraculous grace. . . it denies (in the face of much evidence, if you will) universal final defeat and in so far is evangelium, giving a fleeting glimpse of Joy, Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief.” We have more choices today than ever before, and choosing to read comes the cost of a hundred other uses of our time, but if we can catch a glimpse of God’s glory and experience the joy of stories, then we can gain so much more than just entertainment.

-Emily D.

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Give Yourself Permission to Turn It Off

There’s always a new TV show. We get a lot of media recommendations from friends, family, coworkers, TV itself. “Try this! You’ll love it!”

So what happens when we don’t love it?

Sometimes we keep watching because our friend is super-excited about a show and wants someone to watch with. Other times we keep watching because we don’t want to be judgmental or legalistic. Maybe it’s the cool new thing.

I’m definitely guilty. I have a lot of friends who are in love with Supernatural, a TV show where two brothers hunt all kinds of supernatural monsters. It sounded interesting, so I watched the first four seasons.

And Supernatural was fun. The brothers’ love for each other is compelling. The side characters are hilarious. But I felt dirty whenever I finished an episode. There was too much darkness for me to handle. I felt like a wimp for giving up so far into, but it wasn’t healthy to keep watching.

So I turned it off.

We talk a lot about not discounting media choices out of reflex. We’ve also had a few posts on being careful about what we chose to watch (here and here.)

Sometimes that moment doesn’t come until a few episodes or seasons in. It’s easy to think, “I’ve already invested sixteen hours into this show. I can’t turn it off now.” But you are the one who has to live with what you watch or listen to, and some of it can be hard to forget. If you ask me which Supernatural episode bothered me the most, I can recount the whole thing in excruciating detail.

Knowing and accepting our own tolerance makes seeing beauty in media easier. It’s easier to see hope and love if I’m not completely distracted and disgusted by other content.

So try that new show or movie. Enjoy media, but don’t feel obligated to keep watching even if you’re in season eight. Give yourself permission to turn it off.

-Josie K.

How Can We Worship God through Secular Music?

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Have you ever found yourself singing along to a song on the radio while you’re in your car, and suddenly, you realize that what you’re singing could very well be used to worship God, even though it may not be a “Christian” song? This may not happen all that often, but there have certainly been times in my life when God has spoken to me through secular music. So what exactly can we, as Christians, do with this when it comes to worship? Is there a way we can truly worship God while listening to or singing along with secular music? I believe there is. Here are three M’s to help give you something to think about and remember:

  1. Mindfulness

I think first of all, we need to remember that most popular music is written through the lens of what society values, which often does not run parallel with the Bible. With this in mind, we can get a better understanding of where the song is coming from and if the lyrics behind it are actually revealing any of God’s truths or not.

  1. Meaning

Similar to mindfulness, it is important that we look at the overall meaning behind the song. We should also think about what it means for us in our own walk with Christ. Is this song encouraging us in our faith? Is it revealing genuine emotions and struggles? Many songs are relatable because they deal with difficult circumstances and feelings, but does the song also offer any kind of hope?

  1. Motivation

Overall, what is our motivation for worship, anyway? This is something that we should take a step back and think about. Is it centered around us or are we focused on God? Often times, we think of worship as a feeling and something we need to be in the mood for, when really, it is an action in response to God’s goodness and mercy.

Hopefully, this will inspire you to go out and find some secular music that reveals God’s truths. Let us know what you find!

-Emily H.

Reading to Beat the Winter Blues

black-and-white-woman-girl-sitting-largeGuess what? It’s almost the end of February. I think that no matter where you live, this can be such a difficult time of year. Whether it’s feeling caught in your mundane routine, dealing with large amounts of homework, dreary weather, or all three, feeling down and depressed can sometimes be nearly inevitable. So where are some places you can turn when you need to take a break and refuel? Most of the time, Netflix and social media can become our escape. Both are fine in moderation, but do those things really help refuel us?

One thing that I have found helps me get through the winter blues is doing more reading, even if it is something light and easy. Unlike Facebook or watching TV, it engages your mind and imagination. It requires focus and attention. A recent article from Metro discusses some books that may be worth reading during this time of year, especially ones with themes of hope and inspiration in showing how others overcome their obstacles. Stepping into the mind of another character can even give us a new perspective on issues we are dealing with in our own lives. It can be so tempting to spend all of our free time binge watching TV shows, especially those of us who do a lot of reading for school, but what if we read for fun more often? Would it help us to get in the minds of others so we can better understand them? Would our reading comprehension improve? Would we feel more productive than if we had spent our time browsing Pinterest or Instagram? Why not give it a try?

 

 

 

 

 

Kindness: Les Misérables and the Royal Hospital in Edinburgh

Kindness connects people, kindness connects cultures and eras, and kindness connects us to God.

Les Misérables was written by Victor Hugo in 1862, and it is considered one of the greatest novels of the 19th century.

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Hugh Jackman played the role of Jean Valjean in the 2012 film of Les Misérables.

Les Misérables follows the life of Jean Valjean, an ex-convict who is given a chance to live an honest life by a kind bishop. Valjean becomes mayor of a town, employer of many, savior of a prostitute, father to an orphan, and restorer of persons. Although Valjean must spend his life running from authorities who want to punish him for breaking parole, he shows that redemption is possible and mercy overcomes.

Kindness and a life lived for others are some of the main themes of the book, and this emphasis on living for social good continues today.

A few days ago, Mairi Holden and her son Oscar had to stay in the Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Edinburgh for his asthma-related breathing issues. Holden was not expecting to stay overnight, so she parked on a single yellow line outside the hospital. In the morning, she found two parking tickets on her windshield.

However, along with the tickets, she also found the money to pay for both and a note that said, “Pay it then forget it happened.”

Holden was so touched by the kindness of a stranger that she created an online charity to raise money for the hospital that treated her son. She started the charity with a £50 donation of her own, which is double the amount she was given to pay her tickets.

Kindness is a quality that transcends all cultures and every era. Also, it gives us a glimpse into something much bigger than ourselves.

“To love another person is to see the face of God.”—Victor Hugo, Les Misérables.

– Megan R.

Daredevil, Flannery O’Connor, and Violence in Media

Marvel recently released a trailer for Daredevil’s second season, introducing the new anti-heroes Punisher and Elektra. (Warning: Trailer briefly shows a crime scene and fighting throughout.)

Matt Murdock is a blind lawyer who moonlights as a vigilante. In the courtroom or on the streets, he protects innocents who can’t protect themselves. Matt is also one of the most religious characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. With the help of Father Lantom, a Catholic priest, Matt grapples with his motives and his own soul.

The peace of the church is a sharp contrast to the dirt and chaos on the streets. The strongest-stomached viewer will flinch at the gritty picture of Hell’s Kitchen slums. Is the violence justified? Is the harsh picture of evil necessary?

Flannery O’Connor says absolutely. Evil belongs in movies and TV because it’s already in real life. It’s tempting to gloss over the bad, but refusing to acknowledge evil is like pretending it doesn’t exist or will fix itself, which ultimately helps no one. Sin and pain are an inescapable part of reality; the honest writer must confront it with wisdom and careful consideration.

“For the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost blind you draw large and startling figures.”- O’Connor, “The Fiction Writer and His Country”

Daredevil is absolutely a loud and startling figure. It paints humanity with all its rottenness and hope and reminds us that redemption is not cheap.

O’Connor is right. Evil, in media and in life, is inescapable. Without some cause of conflict, story is impossible. Or at least very untrue. But how much of that evil we see, or can stomach, is something each of us must weigh for ourselves.

-Josie K.

 

Television, the Nightly News, and Fear: How Christians Should Respond

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I recently heard a sermon titled “The Kingdom of God and the Culture of Fear” (check it out here). In this sermon, the preacher talks about “peddlers of fear,” people and organizations that actually make a profit on producing fear. This is not the type of fear that a haunted house sells. This fear is the type that we might feel when we hear of natural disasters, violent protests, or random shooting rampages. In fact, just this weekend in Kalamazoo, MI six people were killed by an Uber driver who went on a random shooting rampage. See the news footage – Kalamazoo Shooting Suspect Charged. It is a tragedy that should have never happened. It should break our hearts that these things happen in the world, but it does not mean that we should lock ourselves inside for fear of something like this happening to us.

It is a good thing to be informed. We need to know about what is happening in the world and to be aware of the social issues going on around us. As Christians, however, we are free from being paralyzed by fear when watching the nightly news. As emphasized in the sermon, we have a hope to cling to that conquers all fear – Jesus Christ. Isaiah 41:10 tells us that we are not to be afraid because God is with us. Romans 8:38-39 says that nothing can separate us from the love of God – even random shootings cannot break God’s love for us.

The first ten minutes of most newscasts focus on the stories that elicit fear. I want to challenge you to actively combat this culture of fear. Here are three key points to keep in mind when engaging with current news media:

  1. Pray for protection from fear.
  2. Pray for those dealing with the tragedy or suffering.
  3. Trust and believe that God is sovereign and that will never leave us nor forsake us.