Made for Heaven: and Why on Earth It Matters

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I’ll keep this brief, because the book is brief.

Made for Heaven is a C.S. Lewis book for dummies. Kind of like What Christians Believe, this book collects a few essays or chapters from his other writings, puts it in an easy-to-read font and format, and allows you a glimpse into Lewis’s arguments without making you wade through a few hundred pages of high-falutin’ philosophy. This one discusses why Lewis considers human being to be inherently divine, and why we seem to yearn for something greater than this life.

It’s very good. But if you want something complex, skip it and read Lewis’s other stuff. (You’ll get everything from this book in his other stuff, anyway, since this one is just collected from those ones.) ♦

What Christians Believe (C.S. Lewis)

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So, I didn’t realize this when I picked up the book, but all of What Christians Believe is already encompassed in C.S. Lewis’s larger book, Mere Christianity. And, to be honest, if you’re interested in the subject or the author, you should just pick up Mere Christianity.

What Christians Believe is the smaller, easier-to-read, condensed highlights reel. Is it still good? Yes. But all of my favorite parts, including a wonderful analogy of Christ “belonging” to humanity the same way a colony tree belongs to its sister trees, are left out.

(Short) story short: if you’re looking for an abstract of Mere Christianity, pick up What Christians Believe. But if you actually want the meat of the matter, read Mere Christianity. ♦

Life Without Limits

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For those of you who haven’t seen or heard Nick Vujicic speak, you’re missing out. He’s one of the funniest, most optimistic, caring motivational speakers out there. Plus, he has an Australian accent, which everyone knows Americans think are God’s gift to the English language.

Also, he has no limbs.

Nick Vujicic is the perfect example of an underdog. He has no arms, no legs, and he’s still a successful husband, father, Christian missionary, and business owner. He struggled during his early life with the idea that he was worthless, or that God didn’t care about him, and overcame those doubts and fears by serving others and realizing that 1) there were plenty of other people who had it worse off, and 2) maybe God had a purpose for him that he could accomplish even without limbs.

Life Without Limits reads like a motivational speech (I wonder why), so it’s a little repetitive. Having said that, I would recommend this book to anyone who breathes. Especially if you’re depressed. Especially if you’re disabled. Especially if you’re a teenager trying to figure out the transition to adulthood. Especially if you’re struggling with doubts about God.

Seriously, everybody go read this book. But before you do, watch Nick’s movie debut with The Butterfly Circus.

 

Surprised by Joy

I love C.S. Lewis. I loved The Chronicles of Narnia, I loved The Abolition of Man, I loved Mere Christianity, and I picked up his autobiographical conversion story because I love the way he views Christianity – surely, I would love hearing about his conversion.

The book is called Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life, and the version I picked up has some of the weirdest cover art illustrations I think I’ve ever seen (and I work for a bookstore!) But hey – never judge a book by its cover, right?

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Seriously – who designed this?

It started off a little dry, talking a lot about his early childhood, how much he loved solitude and reading, and how hard it was to get along well with his father, who was a well-meaning man but a bad listener. I muscled through.

Then he talked about his boyhood days at a boarding school, which was miserable, and then his teenage days at another boarding school, where apparently they were required to play sports (which he hated) and some of the boys pimped themselves out to those who were most sexually frustrated (which he sees in retrospect as sinful, but apparently isn’t concerned about abuse at all).  I muscled through.

Then things got Classical. Lewis spent a lot of time obsessed with Norse mythology, (about which I know little more than the Avengers has taught me), learning Greek and Latin (I once took a Latin class and nearly failed out of college), and a whole lot of classics I’ve never even touched. Some of them I haven’t even heard of. At this point, Lewis felt “joy” – a kind of beautiful longing for something spiritual – but didn’t really understand it.

Then things got Philosophical. At this point, I completely had no idea what the man was talking about anymore. I feel like I got plunged into a think tank full of classical literature professors – the kind who keep lapsing into medieval Latin phrases and making punny jokes in Greek – and I never got a chance to come up to the surface and breathe.

Here’s the problem: the book is about Lewis’s conversion to Christianity. But his conversion, as far as I understand it, came through a series of classroom experiences where he kept comparing philosophies and realizing they all came short. And I simply haven’t taken the prerequisites to understand this process. And he seems to assume that everyone else has taken the prerequisites.

To be fair, he was educated in Britain in a very Classics-heavy time period, and I was educated in modern American public school. I can type 100 wpm, but don’t ask me about the Aeneid.

Still – the thing was so obscure that I can’t tell you why C.S. Lewis became a Christian. He apparently had some philosophical journey that resulted in a belief in God, then a belief in Christ. Most or all of it was logical. Little to none of it was emotional. My religious experience is completely different from his, because my personality is completely different from his.

The biggest takeaway message I took from this book was this: I love Lewis’s essays. He explains Christianity to others so well it’s ridiculous. But we would not have gotten along on a personal level. In fact, I don’t even know if we would have had a clue what the other was saying.

I highly recommend any other book by C.S. Lewis. But not this one. ♦

The New Testament

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How exactly do you review a religious work? I mean, the New Testament is quite possibly the most influential text ever written. As far as literature goes, I would argue that it’s the best of any scripture I’ve read, because it’s in fairly chronological order and tells a full story – sort of. Except that the story gets told four times, then commented on, and then there’s a slightly related prophecy at the back.

The New Testament is one of my favorite books to read, because I’m a Christian. Reading an account of Christ brings a spirit of humility and general goodness into my daily routine, as well as providing an example of the kind of person I want to be. My faith in Christ has made me who I am, and continues to shape me into a better person. I also find it poignant that in the spiritual economy of things, God felt that my salvation was worth the life of a God. So this book influences me deeply. Still, I’m not sure I would recommend it for a book club unless your group of friends is really interested in religion.

I would, however, recommend it to anyone who hasn’t read it at least once, regardless of religious beliefs. (So maybe if your book club hasn’t read it yet, you ought to give it a shot.) People talk about Jesus all the time – trust me, you’ll find opportunity to discuss it. Also, I would recommend the epistles of Paul to most of my LDS friends, because I think sometimes we get so caught up in modern scripture that we forget about them. And they’re some of the best doctrinal commentary I think I’ve ever read.

Jesus Christ is the example we’ve set most of our society on (or claimed to), and I feel like this is a must-read. It builds faith for those seeking faith, and builds understanding for those seeking to understand faith. And if you’re trying to be a good person, I think it does a good job of providing a hero to follow. The King James Version (which I read) is a little dry and Shakespearean, but if you can follow the language, it’s worth it for the poetic effect. If not, pick up a more modern translation. ♥

Mere Christianity

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C.S. Lewis is a theological genius. While I don’t agree with every sentence he ever writes, he’s probably the most agreeable Christian writer I’ve ever encountered, and he’s absolutely spot-on with his descriptions, logic, and overall reasoning with the Christian faith. He began as a staunch Atheist, and then argued his way into a corner before he finally realized it wasn’t any good to fight against a God he was beginning to believe in. From that point, he fought just as hard for Christianity.

Mere Christianity is probably the most well-constructed and inspiring book on Christianity I’ve ever read, outside actual scriptural canon. The book is a collection of shorter essays, originally written for the radio. Lewis presents the need for a religion, the existence of God, the nature of God, and the necessity of absolute morals.

My personal favorite is his treatment of moral relativism – popular in today’s society, in the idea that you find “what’s right for you,” and let others do the same. To some extent, of course, I support this (as does Lewis). America’s Constitution guarantees certain freedom to do what you feel is right. But Lewis argues that you have to be willing to accept some universal truth, or you would never claim that anything was “right” or “wrong”, including your own opinions or behaviors. If you want fair treatment – if there is such a thing as “fair” treatment – you must believe that there is such a thing, and that people ought to live by it.

There’s far too many good quotes in here to cite, even if I only shared the ones I bookmarked. But here’s a personal favorite:

“[Some Christians] were accused of saying, ‘Faith is all that matters. Consequently, if you have faith, it doesn’t matter what you do. Sin away, my lad, and have a good time and Christ will see that it makes no difference in the end.’ The answer to that nonsense is that, if what you call your ‘faith’ in Christ does not involve taking the slightest notice of what He says, then it is not Faith at all – not faith or trust in Him, but only intellectual acceptance of some theory about Him.”

Whether or not you’re a Christian, this book is the best description of Christianity I think I’ve ever read, with the possible exception of the New Testament. Go pick up a copy. ♥

I Have a Dream: the Most Christian Movement America Has Seen

On August 27, 1963, thousands of Americans – Black and White – marched to the nation’s capitol in Washington, D.C. in protest. They were protesting the racial segregation of schools, discrimination in the job market, police brutality, and inferior social treatment of African Americans. It was at this protest that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave the “I Have a Dream” speech that still remains famous today.

This isn’t the most well-known part of this speech, but I’d like to share a part of it here:

“We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protests to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force. The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to distrust all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny.

“They have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone. And as we walk we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back. “

This is my favorite part of this speech – frankly, because I’m White. I was raised with the expectation that anyone of any race should be on level ground already – but I was also raised in Utah, where most of the population is White. So I grew up thinking I was racist, because I didn’t have any Black friends. It wasn’t until later on that I realized I just didn’t know any Black people. It took me, sadly, a few decades of life to figure out that being White doesn’t mean I oppress people like other White people have.

I love this speech because of its obvious, Christian doctrine of forgiveness. The nonviolence of the Civil Rights Movement shaped the minds of White America by showing a love from the Black community that most sheltered white people hadn’t seen before – they hadn’t spent enough time with Black Americans. The nonviolent protest showed the way society was supposed to work, and forgave and welcomed White Americans as soon as they wanted to join forces. There was no backlash or revenge – just a demand for equal treatment.

The purpose of the Civil Rights Movement, including Dr. King’s involvement, was to assume that “sneetches are sneetches, and no kind of sneetch is the best on the beaches.” (to quote Dr. Suess, if I may be so bold.) The movement was one of the finest examples of Christianity the world has ever seen, because it focused not on penance for sins past, but on forgiveness and improvement, offering to turn enemies into best friends. It is to fight hate with love, which is the finest thing humans are capable of. God rest you, Dr. King. ♦

You can read the full text of the speech here.