Monthly Archives: January 2014

Review of “‘The World’s Last Night’ and Other Essays” by C.S. Lewis

My personal copy. I bought it used some years ago. Yes, that is a library sticker on the binding.

My personal copy. I bought it used some years ago. Yes, that is a library sticker on the binding.  It was a library discard.

Lewis, C.S. “The World’s Last Night” and Other Essays. New York: Harcourt, Brace, & World, Inc., 1960.

It’s been a couple weeks since I last posted so I want to get “back on the stick” as we say here in the south.

Recently I decided to begin reading the rest of the unread books in my C.S. Lewis library (which is fairly extensive).  I’ve read all his fiction but not much of his non-fiction.  “The World’s Last Night” and Other Essays was the first book I came to on my shelf so I decided to start there.

This particular publication has been out of print for some years.  I stumbled on the hardback copy pictured above at a local used bookstore over twenty years ago, and since then it has sat on my shelf gathering dust.  Until now.

“The World’s Last Night” and Other Essays is a collection of six magazine articles and one address.   All the material is non-fiction save one piece: “Screwtape Proposes a Toast,” which is sort of a brief sequel to Lewis’ popular book The Screwtape Letters.  This is the most accessible and enjoyable piece of them all, and probably the most well-known at the time of publication.  The non-fiction pieces fit mostly in the genre we would call “apologetics,” which is the attempt to answer challenges to Christian faith using rational arguments.

The 1960 publishing date for the book is three years before Lewis died.  So unlike some other collections of his writings, this one was released during his lifetime.

Now that I’ve read it I can see why this book is no longer in print.  To begin with, the reading level is very high-brow.  The text is replete with cryptic literary allusions and untranslated quotations in Latin, Greek, and other languages-that-are-not-English.  Since our American education is no longer a classical one, these quotes are lost on most of us, including me.  The only thing I had any hope of translating was a word in Greek, and while I was able to transliterate it, I didn’t recognize the word or its meaning, since it was a classical reference and my training is only in koine, the colloquial Greek of the Bible.

However, I was not to be deterred: I expected the internet to be filled with resources that would help me crack the meanings of these quotes, and I was not disappointed.  In fact, to my delight I found a web page devoted exclusively to a book study of “The World’s Last NIght” and Other Essays, which provided not only translations of every foreign-language quote but also helpful historical and literary background to the various articles and allusions.  The page I’m referring to can be found here: http://cslbookclub.com/site/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=59&Itemid=81

A second reason I’m not surprised this book is no longer in print, though, is that the subject matter seems pretty dated.  Where the topics themselves aren’t dated, in many cases the treatment of them is.  Or so I thought anyway.  This is not a book that would speak very well to twenty-first century postmodern readers.  While it is aimed at the highly-educated elite, I suspect its arguments would seem outmoded to that very elite today.

Really the book is an odd collection, too.  The intended audience from piece to piece ranges widely.  Chapters 1 and 7 deal with devotional and theological matters that would most likely be of interest to Christians or at least those with a penchant for theology.  Chapters 2 and 3 are addressed more to skeptical scholarly types.  Chapter 4, the only work of fiction, would have a wider appeal because of its entertainment value.  Chapter 5 is a work of social commentary.  Chapter 6 is aimed at those interested in science and science fiction.  So I can easily see how each essay might not be of interest to every reader.  Those most likely to enjoy the book as a whole would be people of wide-ranging interests, and those like me who are interested simply because it was written by C.S. Lewis.

Nevertheless, throughout, the book reveals a man with an intimate relationship with God and a deep understanding of the Christian life, and for that aspect alone it is a worthwhile and encouraging read.

The book’s first essay, entitled “The Efficacy of Prayer,” initially appeared in a January 1959 edition of The Atlantic Monthly.  For the present-day reader this is probably one of the more interesting and appealing chapters.  Most of its explanation is applicable today.  Yet even here the decidedly modern tone of the book (as opposed to postmodern) is evident.

Lewis begins by addressing in rational terms the question “Why can’t we prove prayer works?” which is not exactly the kind of question people are asking today.  Most people today aren’t interested in scientific proof for prayer–they either believe in it or they don’t, based on their experiences, and are not looking to be convinced by rational arguments.  For good or ill, folk today rely more on feelings than on intellectual evidence.  So Lewis’ meticulous arguments, while well-stated, seem a bit quaint.

Granted, there might be a point in someone’s life in which they begin to ask the kinds of questions Lewis deals with here, in which case it would be of great value to them.  But otherwise it may not seem to have much applicability.  That said, the piece is still valuable, for in it Lewis addresses a number of common questions about the nature of prayer and does a good job with it.  Most importantly, he points out that prayer is founded on a personal relationship with God, and it must be understood in that light.

Essay #2, titled “On Obstinacy in Belief,” is a paper Lewis read to the Socratic Club at Oxford University, where he was a professor.  This shows the extent to which Lewis sought to engage secular and unbelieving culture, for this was not a Christian group but an academic one.

In the address Lewis responds to a question he infers from the writings of skeptics: “Why do Christians hold on so obstinately to their beliefs when all evidence seems to point to the contrary?”  At first I felt the question itself wasn’t all that relevant today, but as I read on I finally concluded that Lewis makes some very good points.  In the end I concluded this is actually one of the most relevant essays in the whole volume.

Lewis claims most people, Christian or not, choose their beliefs based on factors that seem like good evidence to them at the time.  Likewise, people choose to become Christians because the evidence seems to point in that direction.  Moreover, the evidence for unbelief is not as immune to subjectivity as some would like to believe.

Lewis says Christians don’t place blind faith in God as is sometimes claimed, and that no one expects people to accept Christian faith without reasonable evidence.  However, once a person becomes a Christian they may be very determined in their beliefs, even when there might appear to be a lot of supposed evidence to the contrary (bad circumstances, etc.).  This obstinacy of Christian belief is because at this point the person has already trusted in God based on the evidence before them.  I agree with Lewis on this point.  I won’t explain any more of what he says but instead encourage you to read the article if you are interested.

I found the third essay, “Lilies That Fester,” to be one of the least interesting pieces in the book.  This was because I wasn’t really taken with the topic.  In it Lewis is reacting to those who make being “cultured” an end in itself and look down their noses at those not sufficiently educated in the latest fads of high society.  Along the way he does make some interesting arguments as to why a Christian theocracy would be an undesirable form of government, how modern education is geared toward fostering certain opinions rather than teaching students to think critically, and why artists serve the public and not vice versa.  But I found the main emphasis of the article a bit tiresome, although I am completely sympathetic with the point he is making.

Chapter 4, “Screwtape Proposes a Toast,” which originally appeared in the Saturday Evening Post in December 1959, is certainly the highlight of the book.  It’s a follow-up to The Screwtape Letters, probably Lewis’ most famous work.  Of course, Screwtape is a piece of fiction in which the author supposedly stumbles on a correspondence between a senior devil and his nephew, a tempter-in-training.  Lewis uses the story as a vehicle for exploring the nature of evil and temptation.

Rather than more letters, “Screwtape Proposes a Toast” takes the form of an address given by Screwtape to the Tempters Training College for young Devils.  Here Screwtape waxes more political than religious, and this time Lewis uses the address as a vehicle to examine the pitfalls of democracy (yes, there are some) as well as disturbing trends in education. On both points Lewis is uncannily prescient, predicting pretty much where our society has wound up half a century later.

In the 5th essay, “Good Work and Good Works,” Lewis is disturbingly prophetic again, this time foreseeing the perils of consumerism. Once more he pretty much describes where America in particular has wound up 50+ years later.  Lewis differentiates between gainful employment which serves a useful end and those careers whose sole purpose is the making of money, without providing a worthwhile product or service.  He says this is what happens in a society based on consumerism.  This accounts for “built-in obsolescence” among other problems (and if Lewis already thought it was bad in his day, he would be horrified with the situation now).

Essay #6 carries the intriguing title “Religion and Rocketry.”  This is an interesting piece because it deals more directly with some of the themes that were likely in Lewis’ mind when he wrote his celebrated “space trilogy,” an early and respected work of science fiction.  In this essay he addresses various objections to Christianity supposedly raised by scientific speculation about space travel and life on other planets. Lewis does a good job of revealing the flaws in these criticisms.  However, once again I felt Lewis was answering objections no longer being made today, or at least not being made on the same grounds.

However, his main point is worth considering, which is that space travel and the possibility of life on other planets don’t negate the story of Christ coming on earth.  The words of Christian singer Larry Norman in his song “U.F.O.” from the 1970s capture pretty well the point Lewis makes in the essay:

If there’s life on other planets
Then I’m sure that He must know
And He’s been there once already
And has died to save their souls….

In the final chapter, from which the book draws its name, Lewis shares some reflections on the second coming of Christ.  Once again he is in apologetics mode, as his stated purpose is “to deal with some of the thoughts that may deter modern men from a firm belief in, or due attention to, the return or Second Coming of the Saviour”–a worthwhile goal for sure.  However, I am uncertain whether the specific objections Lewis attempts to address are necessarily the same ones that would be raised by skeptics today.  Maybe they are, I don’t know, since I’m not a skeptic.

The objections Lewis addresses are two: First, Jesus and his disciples believed his return was imminent, and so the fact that he did not return in the first century calls the belief itself into question.  Lewis does well in answering this objection, and if you’re interested in knowing his argument I encourage you to read the book.

Secondly, Lewis claims that modern people shy away from the idea of Christ’s sudden return because it doesn’t seem to square with evolutionary theory.  I’ve never heard anyone raise that specific criticism.  Rather I perceive modern people have a much bigger hurdle to overcome: a worldview which excludes any heaven or afterlife from which Jesus might come back to begin with.

Well, that is a brief summary of the topics covered in the book.  In places Lewis is nothing less than prophetic regarding the times in which we live, but in other sections the book seems dated by a modernistic perspective that has been replaced today with postmodernism.  Nevertheless, I think spiritual seekers in our day might still find ideas here that will address some of their questions.  And I have no doubt Lewis fans and aficionados will find the book an enjoyable and profitable read.

My Reaction to the “Hunger Games” Trilogy

(This is not a review, nor is it a plot summary.  There are plenty of those to be found all over the internet, I’m sure.  This is just my unadulterated response to reading the Hunger Games trilogy [The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins].  This will probably only make sense if you’ve read the books, or at least seen the movies.  [Warning, if you haven’t read all three books, there will be some spoilers below.])

Hunger GamesAfter seeing Catching Fire, the second Hunger Games movie that just came out, I became interested in the story of Panem and decided to read the books. I just finished the trilogy. Yes, I know.  As usual, I am way late to the party.  As I recently posted on Facebook, I tend to live my life on the trailing edge.  But that’s a topic for another blog post.  At any rate, my initial reaction after reading this trilogy was: That’s $25 and multiple hours of my time (not to mention my sense of emotional well-being) I’ll never get back.

Actually, my response is mixed. It is a gripping, page-turning story. I could hardly stop reading until I had finished the whole thing. However, it’s also very unsatisfying. The only resolution comes in the all-too-brief Epilogue. The only hints of redemption in the story are there and are merely alluded to in passing. The overall message of the book seems to be that there’s no real, unquestionable good in the world, and hope is elusive.

However, I read (on Wikipedia) that one of the themes Collins’ writes about in her works is the effects of war on children, and if the story is seen from that perspective then maybe it’s a little more understandable. Nevertheless, the outlook of the trilogy as a whole is very bleak.

I found the telling of the story entirely from Katniss’ perspective to be frustrating as well. You don’t get a more objective sense of what’s happening. Everything’s filtered through her viewpoint, which is incredibly subjective and uncertain. So at the end of Mockingjay (book three) we never know for sure whether Coin really ordered the destruction of the Capitol children (including Prim) or if Snow was just playing with Katniss’ head one more time when he told her that.  In this and many other ways The Hunger Games is a very post-modern story, since the perspective is so subjective and cynical.

I have to admit overall Collins does a great job with the characters, especially that of Katniss.  She is very believable as an impulsive, complex teen heroine.  Yet I found Katniss’ untethered impulsiveness to be maddening after a while. She’s completely at the mercy of her current whim and never able to step back and see a larger perspective. Maybe that’s just the life of a teenage girl, especially one who’s been emotionally scarred beyond reason. But it makes for a very chaotic story in the end. I’m sure Collins had her reasons for sticking to this approach. But the ending was so random that it almost made me wonder if the author grew tired of writing and just wrapped up the ending quickly in order to be done with it.

Newsflash: I find it disturbing that this story was targeted for teenagers. The violence and evil in it are so unrelenting, and there is so little of any redemptive nature, that I find myself wondering what Collins hoped to gain by telling this story in this way for a teen audience.

The first book is largely the story of all the mayhem, horror, and death in the arena, ending with the Capital’s anger toward Katniss for defying them. The Hunger Games (book 1)  was the first book I ever read where my stomach was literally tied up in knots at the end–a truly unpleasant feeling.  There is no resolution at all, and no break from the tension.  The sheer terror of the mutts and Cato’s gory end remove any sense of relief or satisfaction over Katniss and Peeta’s survival in the arena, especially since we know the Capitol is infuriated with Katniss’ defiance and that her life is still in danger.  I almost didn’t read any further, since I already knew how Catching Fire turns out from seeing the movie.  But in the end my curiosity about how the story ends won out.

The second book is a lot more of the same (more mayhem, horror, and death in the arena), with only the growing rebellion to offer any sense of satisfaction for the reader–at least the good guys are getting so sick of being oppressed that they begin to fight back. But in Mockingjay (book 3) even this is thwarted by–you guessed it–more mayhem, horror, and death, and by Katniss’ refusal or inability to see any convincing good in what the Rebels are trying to do. Everyone is evil, everyone’s motives are questionable, no one can be trusted, so it’s every man for himself, you are always at the mercy of evil.

Honestly I didn’t feel president Coin and her Rebels were portrayed as being so terribly evil in comparison to Snow, unless it’s true that Coin ordered the destruction of Prim and the children to bring a speedy end to the war (it occurs to me now that maybe this is intended to call to mind the atom bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which brought a speedy end to WW2?). However, it’s never clear that this is what happened, since we only have Snow’s word on it. Yet in spite of this vagueness Katniss (again impulsively) kills Coin and allows Snow to live, who somehow still inexplicably dies (what a lame, unsatisfying, and random turn of events). I guess Coin’s supposed bombing of the children and the proposal of one last Hunger Games are intended to convey the idea that even the good guys get tainted by the very evil they are trying to fight.  But because we don’t really know for sure what happened, we’re just left to wonder.

Throughout the story Katniss has trouble really holding onto the idea that Snow is truly evil. In spite of all he’s done against her and everyone else, she continues to be tempted to mollify him. I guess this could be seen as a depiction of how someone would think when all they’ve known is an evil totalitarian government.

I found it interesting to think about the story from a Christian perspective.  The books make no mention of God or any sort of religion or spirituality, so in a sense Panem is a godless society.  As I read the story I found myself feeling thankful that I know God and would have Him and His people to look to if I ever had to go through something as terrible as that.  I also thought about the comfort the Christian has in the face of death, which these characters don’t have.

Also, the nation-state of Panem (which Collins reveals is Latin for “bread”) could represent our world, with the Capitol being the U.S., and the districts being other nations, especially the developing world.  Seen in this light, then, the books would be a commentary on America’s perceived injustice toward the developing world. However, if that’s the case then it’s a way overblown caricature because the U.S. is hardly a totalitarian state like Panem that rules the rest of the world with an iron fist.  Nevertheless the outlandish shallowness and triviality of the lives of Capital dwellers over against the poverty of most of the districts does bring to mind the difference between “First World” and “Third World” living in our world.

While I don’t like the unrelenting violence and terror of the Hunger Games books, I’m reminded there are situations in our own world that are equally harrowing.  Africa’s Joseph Kony, who leads a genocidal guerrilla force chillingly named “the Lord’s Resistance Army,” comes to mind.  Kony and his cronies’ M.O. is to capture families and force the children at gunpoint to murder their own parents and siblings and then conscript the children as unwilling soldiers in his army–more frightening than the hunger games, and entirely real.  While Collins’ “muttations” are scarier and more loathsome than any real threat we could encounter in this world, the idea that these killing machines are the invention of humans is not beyond the pale at all in a world which has known the likes of not only Kony, but Hitler and Stalin as well.

I am always looking for clues as to where someone stands spiritually, not in order to judge them, but just to try and understand how they see the world, and what their influences are.  The Wikipedia article on Mockingjay, the third book in the series, says the official promo event for the book’s release in New York City, which was attended by Collins (though it doesn’t say it was planned by her), featured, among other things, tarot card readings (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mockingjay).  This is revealing, for the tarot is an occult practice, and occult practices are antithetical to Christianity.

The Bible forbids the practice of the occult in any form.  One of the key texts on this is Deuteronomy 8: 9-15.  While it doesn’t mention the tarot by name, it does forbid the interpreting of omens, a relatively broad category under which the tarot would fall  This is not merely an ancient arbitrary prohibition either.  The reason is because all forms of the occult originate with satan, the adversary of God.  The occult might actually have some power and the ability to reveal things to people, but its power is rooted in evil, and it enslaves those who dabble in it.

The mention of the tarot readings at the Mockingjay release party doesn’t necessarily mean Collins herself practices the tarot of other forms of the occult, but apparently she at least approves of it if she allowed it at her party.  This is spiritually dangerous stuff and allows satan to gain power over those who get involved with it.

As I read The Hunger Games trilogy I felt it has a certain dark power to it.  The series unrelentingly conveys fear, anxiety, terror, violence, endless nightmares, hatred, hopelessness, and trauma.  Yes, we also see some positive things, like the way in which many of the characters care for one another and sacrifice for each other.  But even Katniss, who is ostensibly a “good” character, has moments when she nonchalantly contemplates killing another character just because the person irritates her (I’m thinking of Johanna in the third book, for example), or takes satisfaction in the death of tributes she despises.  Whatever good there is in The Hunger Games is overshadowed by fear, hatred, evil, and darkness.  Even in the hopeful epilogue we are led to believe that Katniss will live the rest of her life in terror that her children’s safe and idyllic existence will one day be swallowed up in evil once more.

Contrast this to The Lord of the Rings, which seems confident that good is stronger than evil, and that good will eventually overcome evil.  But at the end of The Hunger Games trilogy I was left with a feeling of uneasiness and unrest, as though some dark pallor had been cast over my life.  I just wanted to put the story out of my mind as quickly as possible, because it was all just so horrible.  It left me with a mindset I don’t normally live in as a Christian, and which I don’t want to carry around with me.  That’s not because I don’t have problems and trials in my life, but because I know there is good in the universe, and that in the end good will overcome evil.

I felt like the ultimate impact of The Hunger Games is negative in many ways, and yet the negativity is conveyed with a great deal of power.  This does make me wonder what spiritual well Collins is drawing from, and honestly does make me wonder if she is involved in the occult.  Not only that, but it really floors me that a story so filled with violence, murder, and horror is aimed at teens.  I have to wonder what effect reading something like this has on their impressionable hearts and minds.

To conclude with something positive I saw in the storyline, purely from an imaginative perspective: I am intrigued by the notion of Panem being the last remains of Western society in North America hundreds, if not a couple thousands, of years in the future (although you get the idea this is all that’s left of humanity, period), and how some things are more primitive than today due to technologies having been lost or destroyed, and yet other things are more advanced.

I also thought the nomenclature of Panem was interesting, how a lot of names and terms are slightly different than ours, just as they would be with the evolution of a language over several centuries; though other names are the same.  For examples morphine has “morphed” into morphling, mutations have become “muttations,” and I assume “Peeta” is a futuristic version of the name we know as Peter.

To conclude, even though the trilogy brings up a number of themes that seem to relate directly to our world, I ultimately found it just too disturbing.  I admit it would be interesting to see more stories set in the world of Panem. But if they’re going to be as unsatisfying as the Hunger Games, then I guess I would pass.

So what’s your reaction to the Hunger Games trilogy or to the movies?

A Spiritual Journey, Conclusion – Reflections on the Last 14 years

This is the final installment of a 5 part series. Part 1 can be found here: https://morgantrotter.wordpress.com/2008/06/05/a-spiritual-journey-1/ .  Parts 2-4 can be found among my recent blog posts.

There’s one thing I haven’t said in these posts that I want to make clear now: I have no complaints about how I was treated by the people in the two churches where I served as a pastor.  Almost without exception everyone was kind, gracious, and patient toward the young, inexperienced pastor I was.  They certainly gave me a lot of grace, and for that I will always be thankful.

I’ve read statistics showing that many former pastors and some currently serving pastors feel poorly treated by the churches they’ve served.  That’s not the case with me.  If anything, the two churches I served treated me better than I deserved.

I just want to make that abundantly clear.  The people in the Presbyterian churches I served, as well as the church I grew up in, were for the most part always kind and loving toward me.  My issue was not with the people, but more with the teachings and practices of the churches and the denomination.  I felt (and still feel) as though the atmosphere in these churches stifles the freedom and expressiveness of the Holy Spirit, and of sound biblical teaching.

I usually don’t tell people I left the ministry.  I believe every Christian is called to ministry in some form or fashion.  Even if someone works a “regular” full-time job, as believers we’re still called to serve as a witness for God in our workplaces, in our families, in our neighborhoods, and to serve those around us.  So instead, I usually say I left “formal ministry” or “paid ministry.”  I think it’s an important distinction.

There were several reasons I stopped being a pastor.  One was because I felt the need to devote more time and energy to my music, which I’ve done since that time.  I’ve served in some capacity as a volunteer worship leader in every church I’ve attended since then.  I’ve even taught guitar lessons at times, though I’m not sure I’m really proficient enough on the guitar to teach anything besides the very beginning basics.  I’ve also recorded some of my original songs (I’ve written or co-written about 80 in all), and have tried to do more to get my songs “out there” for people to hear.  I’m currently playing some of my songs “out” at open mics and songwriter contests in hopes of seeing what I can do with those.  If you’d like to hear some of my original music follow this link to my music page: http://www.reverbnation.com/morgantrotter

Some of the other reasons I left pastoral ministry I’ve already alluded to in previous posts, but one of the chief reasons was something I’ve rarely shared: My motives for becoming a pastor were mixed and complex.  On the one hand I wasn’t interested in any sort of secular work.  I wasn’t the least bit interested in business.  I had considered becoming a counselor but ultimately concluded psychology was such a secular field I wouldn’t be able to do what I wanted to do through it, which was to help people and serve God in my work at the same time.  (That was in the days before Christian psychology became an accepted and popular field.)

By the same token, I wasn’t sure I could cut it in the secular working world.  Almost all the work I’d done up to that point had been church-related.  I’d only worked one secular job before, and that only for a few months.  On top of that I’d been picked on and teased a lot in public school, and had experienced the church as one place in which I felt somewhat more accepted.  I really dreaded experiencing a similar kind of rejection in the secular business world.

So I continued to gravitate towards work in the church. I thought the church would be kinder and more accepting than the business world.  And now having worked a great deal of the last 14 years in the secular marketplace I can say that for the most part I was right.

However, the whole time I was a pastor I was dogged by the awareness I’d avoided secular work out of fear.  So one of several reasons I left formal ministry was because I wanted to finally face that fear.

Still, I had no idea what I wanted to do.  When I made the decision to leave formal ministry, there was no “Plan B.”  My college degree was in Psychology which, along with $1, will buy you a cup of coffee (unless you’re at Starbucks, in which case not even that).  While I do also have a seminary Masters degree, that’s pretty much only valued in the church.  (I’ve since found that a seminary education can actually be a hindrance in getting secular employment, despite the fact that it’s a Masters.)

I won’t bore you with all the details at this point.  After leaving formal ministry, my first couple of jobs were in factories but they each only lasted a couple months because I think it was obvious I was overqualified and not really suited for that type of work.  But I was glad for the experience.

Since that time I’ve mostly worked a series of office jobs, though I did do some warehouse work as well, and one job in construction.  I also taught guitar lessons for a while, too.  The office jobs have been with a phone company, a safety equipment company, and in healthcare.

I have learned a few things along the way.  On the positive side I overcame my fears about working in the secular marketplace.  I’ve done a lot of things I never thought I could do, with no glaring failures.  So I’ve learned I’m capable of a lot more than I ever imagined.

There have been some hard lessons, though, too.  For one thing, I learned it’s harder to change careers than I thought, especially if you don’t have a lot of transferable skills.  The longer you’re in a career the more expertise you have, and I learned there’s really no substitute for that kind of time and experience in a given field.  When you change careers you’re basically starting over again at the entry level, as though you were fresh out of high school or college.  There may be some credit given for life experience, and perhaps that has helped me get the job in a few cases.  But I haven’t seen that life experience matters that much to a lot of employers.  There’s no substitute for longevity in a field.  Ironically, a lot of companies don’t value that kind of longevity anymore, but that’s a topic for another blog post.

One of the most frustrating things has been that since I left formal ministry, I haven’t found my college degree to be of much value.  The sheer fact that I had one might have helped me get a couple of my jobs, but so far I haven’t been able to get a single job that requires a college degree (or pays commensurate with one either).  I’m living proof that a liberal arts degree is of very little value in the business world.

So I wish I could say that the life-changing spiritual experiences I had in the late ’90s solved all my problems, but I really can’t.  I can say this, though: If I hadn’t met Jesus personally in 1998 and been mentored by some Christian men who made a lasting difference in my life, I’m not sure I would be sane or maybe even alive today.  There were some very dark times before my born again experience when I seriously questioned if I was going to lose my sanity.  Getting to know God in a more intimate and personal way through receiving Christ and the Holy Spirit into my heart, and becoming more grounded in the love of God, has made all the difference in my life.

After my born again experience (see Part 1 for more about that; the link for it is at the beginning of this post) I began to be mentored by a non-denominational pastor named David Moore as well as a couple other key men, and this made a huge difference in my life.  David in particular taught me a number of Scripture passages that were largely overlooked in my Presbyterian upbringing and my seminary training.  He encouraged me to steep myself in the books of Ephesians and Colossians, which are all about our identity in Christ, as well as in the gospel of John.

David also called my attention to 2 Peter 1:3-11, really an astounding passage if you consider its true meaning.  Somehow I had never noticed this passage before he pointed it out to me:

3 His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. 4 Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.

5 For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; 6 and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; 7 and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. 8 For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins.

10 Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fall, 11 and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

These verses say some amazing things: God has already given us everything we need for life and godliness through knowing Christ, and if we trust in His great and precious promises we will actually participate in the divine nature (!) and be enabled to escape the corruption of the world.  Remarkable!!

A few other key passages David called to my attention: Ephesians  2:6-8 ~

6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.

Colossians 3:1-3 ~

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God

Heb 12:28-29

28 Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, 29 for our “God is a consuming fire.”

Those verses all talk about our position in Christ.

There are many other verses I could list which David showed me and helped me better understand.  He also pointed me to a lot of great books that helped ground me in Christ and also bring healing to my emotional wounds.  Some authors I came to appreciate based on his recommendation are John Eldredge, Leanne Payne, Henri Nouwen, Eugene Peterson, and Calvin Miller, not to mention a number of lesser known but equally helpful ones.  More than any of that, though, David also invested his time and friendship in my life, and for those gifts I will always be grateful.

I also ought to say something about my involvement in church ever since I left formal ministry.  In the year 2000, after I left the church I had pastored, I never regularly attended another Presbyterian congregation.  Instead I began to attend Hope church, a small non-denominational church pastored by David Moore whom I mentioned above.  In 2004 I finally decided to give up my ordination in the Presbyterian Church (USA) so I could officially cut ties with that denomination and join Hope church.  Hope taught a mix of evangelical and charismatic beliefs.  The people of the church are just great, and became very dear to me.

I was actively involved there for about 8 years, after which time for a variety of reasons I sensed God releasing me to leave Hope.  Among other things, there were few unmarried people like me there and I had come to miss the fellowship of other singles.  I had previously been involved in the singles ministry of a large Evangelical Free church in town so I decided to visit there again. I wound up attending that E-V-Free church from 2009 until I moved back to Huntsville in 2011, and made many great and supportive friends there as well.

All those years I felt like I had only been flirting with the charismatic movement.  When I moved back to Huntsville I decided it was time for me to “jump in the river” as they say, so I decided to seek out a charismatic church to attend.  Over time God seemed to lead me to the church I currently attend, a small non-denominational charismatic church I’ve gone to for the last two years.  The people there are wonderful and have welcome this old traditionalist with open arms.

I won’t deny that it’s kind of hard in the church as a single person.  I’ve never married–not for lack of desire, but it’s just never seemed to work out for me to do so.  I’m probably too picky, and also I suspect I’m a bit of an acquired taste (lol).

I also won’t deny that since I left the safety and security of the traditional church I’ve had a hard time finding my niche in the church.  I’m too charismatic for the traditional church, and probably a bit too old-fashioned and traditional for the charismatic church as well.  I also find I’m too charismatic for the evangelicals and a little too evangelical for the charismatics.  Please understand, though–I’m not blaming anyone else–the problem is probably with me rather than anyone else.

I now live back in the city I was raised in, and my dad still goes to the Presbyterian church I grew up in, so sometimes I attend with him, especially on holidays and the like.  They still receive me very warmly, like one of their kids has come back home. They’ve been very supportive and appreciative of my music, and have even invited me a couple times to lead worship for their contemporary service.  I’m grateful to still have those ties and relationships after all these years, and after all the water that’s passed under the bridge.

So–I don’t claim to have all the answers or that the experiences I had 15 years ago solved all my problems.  But I can say with confidence that those experiences were a turning point in my life for the better that took me out of the place of trying to live the Christian life by personal effort (which is impossible) and into the place of beginning to allow Christ himself to be my life.  If there’s anything I learned from my time with David Moore and Hope church (and I learned a lot), it’s that being a Christian is not something I do, it has to be something I allow Christ and the Holy Spirit to do in me.  The only hope we have of living as God would have us live is by allowing Him to live through us.  It’s His effort, not mine. My job is simply to cooperate with Him and obey His leading.  A very different approach from trying to perform in my own strength.

There is much more I could share, but I will end it here.  Thank you for taking the time to read this series.