Saturday, June 26, 2010

On the Problem with Fashion Magazines

[Quick note: I will be gone for about a week, so I will miss Wednesday for blog-writing, but should be back to regularly scheduled bloggery next Saturday.]

Ryan looked derisively at my stack of unread magazines, a stack comprised mostly of Vogue and Elle. "Are these edifying?" he asked.

At the time, I had an idea what the word meant, but it was a very nebulous idea and I could not answer his query. Months later, I ran across it in my dictionary: edify, v.t. (-fiable). Improve morally. (Pocket Oxford Dictionary, 1940)

Oh. Well no, they don't do that, to be sure.

In fact, after picking one up yesterday for the first time in a while (and the first time since Youth Camp recalibrated my spiritual compass), I realized that they probably do the opposite. It's a subtle thing, to be sure. Fashion magazines don't generally make you think it's a good idea to shun God and kill people. The problem with fashion magazines is simply their utter selfishness.

"Does my hair look good? Is my makeup in style? I hate my wardrobe and I need more shoes." It easily focuses your attention on you. If it gets you thinking about other people, it's thoughts of "Gwyneth Paltrow is so elegant, I want to be like her! Zooey Deschanel dresses the best, I should match my outfits to hers. Jessica Alba has the best hair. I should take this picture to my hairdresser." So, it is still selfishness, with a bonus of idolatry.

They do, occasionally, point in the direction of charity. Glorious benefit dinners, celebrities going to other countries, Michelle Obama doing whatever it is Michelle Obama does...they make charity look glamorous. They also make it all from the perspective of the person doing the charity. "Oh, I feel so bad for these poor people in New Orleans, so I'm going to throw money in their direction." Vogue thinks you are awesome and will do a three-page article on you! But don't talk to Anna Wintour about actually showing the people receiving the charity, or their gratitude or their plight. That will appear in a paragraph of the spread on the person who did the charity. After all, are the people reading Elle actually interested in helping people, or are they interested in people like Jennifer Aniston who sometimes help people? Philanthropy is, to these magazines, a lovely idea and a tax write-off. I don't know how many of these people actually care about people who aren't themselves.

But, maybe some of the articles are good. Maybe some of the articles are edifying. Though, when I see an article written by a woman who dates married men, trying to justify her position, I really have to wonder.

The problem with fashion magazines is that they teach you to put yourself first. Everyone else can take a back seat, and God isn't even invited.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

On the Fiction of C. S. Lewis

If you know me decently well, you know I am a big fan of C. S. Lewis. Most folks just seem to know him for The Chronicles of Narnia, but he has written far more than just that. I've read most of his fiction (including the Chronicles, his Space Trilogy, The Great Divorce, The Screwtape Letters, and Till We Have Faces), and hope to delve into his letters and his apologetics at a later date.

Sometimes I meet people who understand this love, completely. Other times, I meet people who don't understand at all. So here, I shall try to explain.

I suppose the first things I love about his writings are the most basic, obvious sorts of things. His descriptions are so full, so vivid, that I may as well be watching it on film, or walking about the book myself. The characters have character. The plot has suspense without relying on it, so that you may read the books over and over again. The good humans have their human flaws, and the bad ones are perfectly despicable.

This despicable quality is the next thing that I so appreciate in his books. Lewis did not write the sort of bad guys that anyone wants to emulate. They are foolish and horrid and at times perfectly disgusting, and almost always quite pitiable. You want them gone, to be sure, for they pose a real danger, and yet you pity them and their miserable states. In his life, Lewis wrote each work purely for the side of good, and he allowed no mistake, no question in that.

So of course, I very much enjoy the goodness of his writings. I like the holiness of the heavenly characters. I like the freshness of Narnia, of Perelandra and Malacandra, of the Heaven in The Great Divorce. I like the portraits he paints of virtuous people, like Psyche and Dr. Ransom. When he wrote these things, he had a clear distinction in his mind between what is good and what is unholy, and every book is a portrait, a verbal portrait, of that distinction. As you read it, he works it into your mind, weaving this tapestry without you noticing it is being woven until it is almost complete.

Perhaps the thing I like best about his works is this portrait-painting. Where the Bible is straightforward in giving you a class on goodness, listing things like the Fruit of the Spirit and the sorts of actions that God despises, Lewis shows these things instead of telling them. He hints at it, meanders through its gardens and leads you by the hand, as you look about you in wonder and realize, "This is what they meant." The Psalms and the prophets proclaim the glory of God, and Lewis, with the verbal paintbrush that God handed him, shows the glory of God to us small, childlike, foolish people, who forget to see the wonder in the setting sun, and who never before could see the things the Psalmists could see.

The Holy Bible is the only true and complete Book of Truth, and Christ is the only One we should strive to emulate. With that warning in mind, I bid you to try the fiction, or the letters, or the apologetics of C. S. Lewis. It is well worth the time.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Things My Father Has Taught Me

In honor of Father's Day, today's blog shall be a sort of Father's Day special, listing some of the advice my dad has given me, directly and indirectly.

The companion Mother's Day blog can be found here. Also, apologies for posting Sunday instead of Saturday...yesterday just ran away from me.

So what has my father taught me? Well...
  • +Never upgrade your computer's OS - or Office software, or your cell phone, or your coffee machine - without waiting to see whether everyone hates it first. In fact, if you can wait two or three (or eight) versions without upgrading, you're totally awesome.
  • +Clutter is sinful.
  • +Classic rock is good.
  • +To save money, keep your thermostat at 77 in the summer and 62 in the winter. Higher than 77, you start to get mildew. Below 62, your family starts to revolt.
  • +Drink coffee.
  • +When everyone else is going crazy, chill out, because there's probably no need to go crazy and you'll start to miss important details.
  • +Being an engineer is exactly like the Dilbert comics make it seem.
  • +When a motorcyclist is near you on the road, imagine the bike is taking up the same amount of space that a car does, and base your passing and following distance on that imaginary size.
  • +Trust in God, for He is good.
  • +Reading is superior to watching television.
  • +Make yourself indispensable, so that nobody may dispense with you.
  • +Motorcyclists are inherently good people.
  • +Even when the Republicans are being stupid, the Democrats are always, always, always twice as stupid.
If you have any Dad-isms of your own to add, please share them in the comments!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Bible Is Not An Oppressive Read

The Holy Bible is not an oppressive read. It is not impossible to get through it, nor impossible to understand. It is not a chore, it is not outdated, and it is not boring. There is no requirement that it be read in the oldest English you can find, nor that you begin at the beginning and go straight through to the end. You may use footnotes, multiple translations, modern translations, Strong's Concordance, and Bible study groups to give you understanding, or you may read through each book purely on your own.

The Bible is not a paperweight. It is not a decoration, a good luck charm, or an object that makes you holier just because you have it. It is not a piece of fiction. It has not lost its meaning over the years. It was not put together by men in an effort to control the church. Its stories are not the same when retold by other people; they are best read straight from the scriptures. It is not simply a book of stories.

The Bible is not a single book by a single man. It is all God-breathed, but it is sixty-six different books and letters, by different people, with different purposes, written at different times and places, with different moods and mindsets. You are not required to read the books in sequence. The books are all intertwined with the others.

The Bible is a book of mystery. The Bible is a book of understanding. The Bible is, above all, the Truth, and anyone seeking the truth, or seeking to destroy the truth, should at once begin with the Holy Bible.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

"Reasonable" Christians

"And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God." --Romans 12:2 (NKJV)

I have returned from Youth Camp, where I was a counselor for the Junior Highers, and I have much to say in the wake of its effects. Fortunately, I will be able to translate that into blog post after blog post for some time (I hope and pray), and I will do so unapologetically. I begin this pseudo-series with some thoughts on the idea of being a "reasonable" Christian, according to members of the world.

I have been called a "reasonable Christian" and similar things by a few atheists whom I know, and I took these things as compliments, if dubious ones. I think that it is not a good thing after all, because what is a "reasonable Christian," to an atheist? It is one who keeps his or her faith relatively private, who seems to condemn little sin, who sins without repenting, who does not quote the Bible, and who seems to be as much a part of the world as the world itself.

We are not supposed to be of this world. We are supposed to be Satan's worst enemies, this side of Heaven. We are not to sin nor approve of sin. "No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier." (2 Timothy 2:4, NKJV) And yet, we fraternize with the enemy, give secular advice, do not fall back on prayer, compare ourselves to the ideals of our friends rather than the Ideal who is Christ, and hide our faith and our opinions. We worry about the "persecution" that takes the form of scoffs and mockery. We want the world to find us "reasonable," when the only reasonable thing is to follow Christ alone and to ignore the world's opinions. We are a gaggle of fools.

P.S. To my atheist, lapsed, agnostic, and differently religious readers, I do realize I have you, probably wondering when my blog turned so preachy. Believe me, there is much to be gained from these writings for you, as well.

P.P.S. I do hope you folks read the context of the verses I have mentioned, on your own. is a good place for this, especially if you do not have your own Bible.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Will Have No Access

Hello, all you happy people.

I am leaving today and will be gone, with limited or no Internet access, for about a week. I haven't got time to write a real blog today, and I probably won't even get to touch a computer on Wednesday.

But, next Saturday, the regularly scheduled bloggery should continue! Hooray!