The Limits of a Biblical Worldview

One of my reading goals has been tackling James K. A. Smith’s Desiring the Kingdom, the first in his three-volume Cultural Liturgies. The “It-read” of OC 2012, the book arrived on my shelf years ago, and I am finally doing it justice.

In the book, Smith champions a Christian education that is not merely the dispensation of a Christian worldview, because, as he argues, humans are more than thinking machines, and the most important parts of human existence are not heady, intellectual affairs (we at Shasta’s Fog imagine that they nearly are) but rather the habits and loves of whole-bodied persons. He therefore reimagines humanity as “desiring animals” rather than “thinking things.”


Professor at Calvin College (*cough* theological alliances made clear), Smith writes to a seemingly Protestant audience, one that he finds doctrinally bloated (Ye lucky Reformed brethren! Ye of the orthodoxy!), evidenced by his gentle questions:

“What if education wasn’t first and foremost about what we know, but about what we love?” (18).

Some worldview definitions reduce “Christian faith primarily to a set of ideas, principles, claims, and propositions that are known and believed. The goal of all this is ‘correct’ thinking. But this makes it sound as if we are essentially the sorts of things that Descartes described us to be: thinking things that are containers for ideas. What if that is actually only small slice of what we are? And what if that’s not even the most important part? In the rationalist picture, we are not only reduced to primarily thinking things; we are also seen as things whose bodies are nonessential (and rather regrettable) containers for our minds… But what if our bodies are essential to our identities?… What if the core of our identity is located more in the body than the mind?” (32)

Smith proves this nature in a creative anthropological study of the American shopping mall (reminiscent of Horace Miner’s “Nacirema” essay) to represent that all embodied humans are religious, chapel or no chapel, and that our behavior rises from a certain vision that we have of the good life, a vision which, cyclically, is reaffirmed through habits and practices. In short, “what defines us is what we love,” not what we believe (25). Humans, then, are creatures of desire. Or as Smith states,

“Human persons are intentional creatures whose fundamental way of ‘intending’ the world is love or desire. This love or desire—which is unconscious or noncognitive—is always aimed at some vision of the good life, some particular articulation of the kingdom. What primes us to be so oriented—and act accordingly—is a set of habits or dispositions that are formed in us through affective, bodily means, especially bodily practices, routines, or rituals that grab hold of our hearts through our imagination, which is closely linked to our bodily sense” (63).

And so we read Smith’s presentation of the “new,” which rejects humans as merely “believers,” for he questions the capability of worldview, as we understand it, to explain our behavior. “For most people,” Smith points out, “religious devotion is rarely a matter of theory” (69).

(Which, I think, is a *very important* distinction for those of us trying to make sense of [what I would call] forceful contemporary Anabaptist orthopraxy.)

Without worldview as a conceptual framework, Smith must offer us another explanation of reality, and he borrows Charles Taylor’s “social imaginary,” conceivably because “Taylor intuits that what we ‘think about’ is just the tip of the iceberg and cannot fully or even adequately account for how and why we make our way in the world” (65). Convinced of the limits of worldview, Smith then fully explains this social imaginary as a “noncognitive director of our actions and our entire comportment to the world… It is a way of intending the world meaningfully—giving it significance—but in a way that is not cognitive or propositional” (66). Smith notes how Taylor insists that “‘it can never be adequately expressed in the form of explicit doctrines’” (66). Which means, that the social imaginary must have different means of transmitting itself—through images, stories, and legends.

I want to take a break here and, first, point out how much SENSE the social imaginary makes to one needing an explanation of the “success” of contemporary Anabaptism. How can a denomination self-perpetuate so successfully, for so long, in a seemingly “doctrine-less” context of practice? But that is what Taylor exactly expects: “If the understanding makes the practice possible, it is also true that it is the practice that largely carries the understanding” (67). Which explains the incredulous looks I receive when I question whether Mennonites really know what they believe. Passionate adherents immediately begin listing “beliefs” that are nothing more than ordinances, practices. Which, as we have learned, carry certain understandings about “who I am,” an understanding rarely put into words, but powerful nonetheless.

Second, Smith develops a rich argument for the viability and strength of social imaginary being perpetuated through “images,” images that powerfully (yet subtly) develop a particular vision of the good life. My one fleeting thought (I cannot help myself): what if we went further than shopping mall behavior and assessed the liturgical practice of incessant scrolling? How does this practice/habit/behavior both reflect and refine our vision of life? What does the social media scrolling practice say about what we love? How does it sculpt our loves? How does it redefine them? If the “social imaginary” is conceptually true, then our media habits hold powerful sway in creating and sculpting our loves, for they powerfully captivate our imaginations, compounding in time to drive a stake, claiming our loves.

Since I’m only one-third of the way through the book, I imagine Smith will do several things: (1) more fully work out how the social imaginary is different than “worldview” as we know it, and (2) offer suggestions for how the church must necessarily shift away from thinking worldview-ishly, and begin offering embodied alternatives.

In a telling essay called “Why Victoria’s In on the Secret,” Smith highlights how modern advertising campaigns seem understand our embodied nature better than the church. He writes, “On one level, Victoria’s Secret is right just where the church has been wrong. More specifically, I think we should first recognize and admit that the marketing industry—which promises an erotically charged transcendence through media that connects to our heart and imagination—is operating which a better, more creational, more incarnational, more holistic anthropology than much of the (evangelical) church. In other words, I think we must admit that the marketing industry is able to capture, form, and direct our desires precisely because it has rightly discerned that we are embodied desiring creatures” (76). Yet the church seems to be fighting these strong passions and loves with… ideas. And beliefs. In our heads. Which have somehow gotten disconnected from our bodies. Smith writes, “When Hollister and Starbucks haven taken hold of our heart with tangible, material liturgies, Christian schools are ‘fighting back’ by giving young people Christian ideas. We hand young people (and old people) ‘Christian worldview’ and then tell them, ‘There, that should fix it.’ But such strategies are aimed at the head and thus miss the real target: our hearts, our loves, our desires. Christian education as formation needs to be a pedagogy of desire” (33).

(I might note here that Smith uses the term “liturgies” to mean any formative practice, that by repetition, becomes a ritual of identity. Less like brushing your teeth, more like going to Cross-Fit every day or shopping on What does it mean that one goes to Cross-fit every day, and how does that habit or ritual begin to bend back on a person, shaping their desire? What liturgies do we participate in every day? Are there Christian liturgies, and secular liturgies? Smith calls liturgies “secular” when they “capture our hearts by capturing our imaginations and drawing us into ritual practices that ‘teach’ us to love something very different from the kingdom of God” (88).)

Finally, Smith will (3) more fully explain how the new conception of the social imaginary comes to bear in what we call Christian education. I love Smith’s definition of education:

“An education – whether acknowledged or not – is a formation of the desires and imagination that creates a certain kind of person who is part of a certain kind of people. The facts and information learned as part of the process are always situated and embedded in something deeper that is being learned all along: a particular vision of the good life” (29).

The full title of the work is Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation, because it is when education prioritizes worship (whatever that is) that education can begin to expand beyond the limits of worldview-dispensing into an actual education that recognizes and uses our bodies.




Essential Summer Reading for Christian-College-Bound Kids

Got this in my inbox:

“I’m looking at doing hopefully a bunch of reading this summer in preparation for college this fall. As an English teacher, do you have any good book suggestions to read? This could be any genre or style.”

Answered with pleasure! Today’s list happens to be for kids heading off to Christian colleges who have already taken high school lit classes that feature fewer authors of the white male variety than are listed here. (Note: were the student heading to a public uni or nonreligious private university, I’d majorly modify this list as well.) Nevertheless, below I’ve featured some canonical works that we just didn’t get to in my lit classes that I recommend as great summer reading.

Theology Nearly All Thinking Christians Have Read

N.T. Wright’s Surprised by Hope – You need to be reading N.T. Wright because he’s the C.S. Lewis of this century, not to mention a leading New Testament scholar. Most thinking Christians today are intimately familiar with his work. He gives a lot of insight into how the early church thought about the resurrection. Warning: worldview shift ahead.

Wright not so much as presents new topics but instead reminds us what we’ve always known according to the Bible but we sometimes let contemporary society drown out. What happens, for example, after you die? There is a bodily resurrection, and Wright explains why this is so important, and how that changes how we live here on earth. Wright writes his book because he has picked up on an oddity of Christians that even Harper Lee notices. In To Kill a Mockingbird, Lee’s Miss Maudie says, “There are just some kind of men who’re so busy worrying about the next world they’ve never learned to live in this one.” Wright notices the same. Perhaps he is perplexed by separatist Christians jamming fingers in their ears, determined they’re “not listening,” and seeking only to “endure” this life, until they get to the real one, heaven. Wright complicates this, determined to explore the mystery of “Why are we here?” and he does so by “rethinking heaven, the resurrection, and the mission of the church.”

Not a light read, but you may be fooled in the friendly, conversational introduction, which introduces the interesting landscape of British Christianity, which is in fact the viewpoint from which N. T. Wright is writing. Besides being one of the world’s top Bible scholars, he is also a Bishop for the Church of England. (I’ve blogged about Wright’s other writings here.)

C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity – A solid defense and introduction to the Christian faith, this book is an excellent example of Lewis’s direct and accessible style. Read this book if you want a taste for one of the most remarkable apologists of the 20th century.

G.K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy – Chesterton, the Catholic predecessor to C.S Lewis (who indeed inspired many of Lewis’s writings) offers a defense of Christianity as an Anglican, before he converted to Catholicism 14 years later. Interesting reading, considering the amount of influence he ended up having on C.S. Lewis.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn essays – You should probably know about this Russian critic of the Soviet Union and of anti-God communism. A lot of Christian high school students I know have studied his famous Harvard commencement address from 1978 called “A World Split Apart.” Another writer in the same vein, and of equal importance, is Malcolm Muggeridge, who Ravi Zacharias quotes extensively.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship – Read the theological writings of a German pastor caught in the middle of Nazi Germany. What is the responsibility of a Christian in a secular society? (You should know that Bonhoeffer was ultimately accused of an assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler and was executed in a concentration camp.) There is no room for hypothetical Hitler questions here; this man lived to tell about it. (Or did he?)

St. Augustine’s Confessions – an important autobiography (theological in nature), the first of its kind, from A.D. 400.

Classics That You Should Have Read in High School

John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress – The most classic of British classics, a must-read for every Christian.

Image result for pilgrim's progress barnes and noble

George Orwell’s 1984 – An English dystopian novel, published in 1949, that’s all about government surveillance and public manipulation. Nearly everyone in college has read it.

J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy – Read the books or watch the movies. Without question, you should have familiarity with Tolkien’s work.

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglas* – a memoir from 1845 that was an exceedingly influential piece of abolitionist literature. Features uncomfortable truths about slave life and the “Christian” South.

Booker T. Washington’s Up from Slavery* – one of the most popular African American autobiographies

The Federalist Papers and/or Thomas Paine’s Common Sense – You should probably have some familiarity with these great American political classics. Both will probably be very slow reading, heh heh.

Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov – A very long Russian novel about belief, doubt, mercy, and patricide.

Leo Tolstoy’s War & Peace – An even longer Russian novel about war and humans… broken, beautiful humans. (Be sure to read only the newest translations. I break them down here.)

William Faulkner’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech – The context in which Faulkner gave this speech illuminates its importance.

Shakespeare’s Hamlet – Read this Shakespeare play about a conflicted teenager, caught between doing the right thing and committing suicide. Or, if you can, find any Shakespeare play being performed in a local park this summer, read the Sparknotes ahead of time, invite a girl, and pack some popcorn.

Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations – a good classic to have under your belt, very Dickensian in style, and a little heart-warming. (Though it should be called Denied Expectations. Poor Pip.)

Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin* – the anti-slavery novel that Abraham Lincoln claimed basically started the Civil War

Books for the Lake – Reading That Your Professors Will Not Assign, but Are Nevertheless Helpful

Sheldon Vanauken’s A Severe Mercy – The perfect novel for the lake (or should I say, the cabin). Large glass of sweet tea optional. A true story about a pagan who finds his soul mate, rides an academic high, and becomes friends with C.S. Lewis. A cancer diagnosis means he ultimately must choose between his beloved wife and the Christian faith.

Image result for a severe mercy

Nabeel Qureshi’s Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus* – This riveting personal narrative on Qureshi’s journey out of Ahmadiyya Islam to Christianity includes a glimpse into the importance of inerrancy within Islam. (Christians think THEY’RE Biblicists?) Qureshi’s narrative is gripping, risky, and thought-provoking as he offers a beautiful picture of Islam yet reveals how his allegiance to scholarship and academia ultimately forced him to reject Islam and embrace Christianity and the solidness of its Scriptures. A truly moving testimony.

Charles C. Mann’s 1491 – While the jury’s still out on the academic credibility of Mann’s research, this nonfiction book is nevertheless fun reading. What happened in 1492? Columbus sailed the ocean blue! But what was America like in 1491 before Europeans arrived? Many of our American history books begin with the story of Spanish explorers, and very little space is devoted to the history of indigenous people. This book gives a fuller history of pre-Columbian America along with ground-breaking research that brings into question many of our assumptions about our land before colonization, including assumptions like:

“The New World was relatively unpopulated.”

“Native Americans lived in the wilderness and never touched it.”

“Native Americans were unsophisticated and lived in simple societies compared to Europeans at the time.”

“Cities didn’t exist.”

However, did you know that the Aztec capital Tenochtitlan was larger than any European city at the time and also had running water?! High school students of mine have done book reports on this book, giving it rave reviews.

Donald Miller’s Blue Like Jazz – Irreverent essays about the Christian bubble. Includes Don’s experiences at the secular-of-all-secular colleges, Reed College.

Sonia Nazario’s Enrique’s Journey* – A non-kosher exposé on the plight of illegal immigrants in the U.S. Journalist Nazario records the experiences of a Honduran boy who crosses the Mexican border to find his mother in North Carolina. Not recommended for Republicans.

Kelly Monroe Kullburg’s Finding God Beyond Harvard* – It may be because of the academic landscape described in this book that Sattler College was founded. I review the book here.

Finding God at Harvard* – Again, I briefly describe the book here.

Mary Poplin’s Finding Calcutta: What Mother Teresa Taught Me about Meaningful Work and Service* – The story of American educator Mary Poplin’s experiences volunteering with Mother Teresa in the 90s.

Chaim Potok’s The Chosen – This novel about a conservative Hasidic Jewish community in NYC during the 1930s is as comfortable and enjoyable as your favorite cousin.

Lee Strobel’s A Case for Christ or A Case for Faith – Vanilla and evangelical, but both very readable in style. Strobel comes to faith while working as an investigative journalist for theChicago Tribune.

Rosaria Butterfield’s Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert* – Because you ought to know how some in the homosexual community feel about Christians.

Selected Poetry, Because You’re Not a Caveman

John Milton’s Paradise Lost – You don’t have to read the whole thing (it’s over 10,000 lines long), but you should know that this epic poem exists. Just read a section or two.

Image result for paradise lost barnes and noble

T. S. Eliot poetry, maybe “The Waste Land”– Famous modernist poet despairs after WWI. Finish up with Faulkner’s Nobel prize speech after.

Any poem or poet featured here:


Online Resources (Including News Sites) for Thinking Young People

Veritas Forums on Youtube – The Veritas Forum was founded at Harvard in 1992, and it is an organization which now serves over 50 American and international universities. Veritas hosts forums and speakers on college campuses in order “to inspire the shapers of tomorrow’s culture to connect their hardest questions with the person and story of Jesus Christ.” On Youtube, you can find Veritas Forums featuring (1) TED-talk like content, (2) full debates, or even (3) congenial conversations related to most fields of study in the university. A great resource for skeptics and thinking Christians. In fact, it may have been a Veritas forum that pointed me to Poplin’s book on Mother Teresa.

Random speeches on Youtube (or podcasts) by N.T. Wright, John Lennox, and/or Tim Keller, all important authors and apologists with whom you should be familiar.

The New Yorker – a magazine of current events reporting. Snobby academic writing at its finest. Read one online article a week.

First Things – This publication calls itself “America’s Most Influential Journal of Religion & Public Life.” Noticeably Catholic, the online version offers thoughtful (and conservative) social critique. Read one article a week.

BBC app – Skim the headlines of the Top Stories every day. Compare them to the headlines of the Popular Stories.

New York Times app – Once a week, skim the headlines of the Most Popular stories. Read anything interesting. You get access to 10 free articles a month.

NPR, especially the program “the 1A” – A co-worker recently told me that it’s dangerous to listen to NPR because they find that then you have a knowledge base that not everyone else has. In other words, it’s informative.

*books that aren’t written by white males


Laughing at Demons: Why You Should Read The Screwtape Letters

On second page of The Screwtape Letters, C. S. Lewis provides a framework for reading his work—

“The best way to drive out the devil, if he will not yield to texts of Scripture, is to jeer and flout him, for he cannot bear scorn.”—Luther

“The devill . . the prowde spirite . . cannot endure to be mocked.”—Thomas More

C.S. Lewis takes a swipe, however, in his classic satire about an uncle demon instructing his young nephew in the ways of the diabolical. Each chapter is structured as a letter in the Screwtape’s own hand. As a senior demon, he has much advice for the younger novitiate.

Reading this novel is like chewing the best kind of cake. The texture and flavors are unexpected, satisfying, and, even better, you find out AFTER you’ve eaten it that it’s one of those really healthy kind of cakes that’s barely a cake at all, but full of fiber and those natural sugars that someone named Dawn told you about.

So you eat another slice.


Announcement: if you’re opposed to learning, skip this book. I’m learning a lot about my own vices, the enemy’s role in using them, and suddenly I find myself highly on the defensive. Therefore, it’s much too practical for those opposed-to-learning types. Avoid at all costs.

I offer you a brief sample, Letter 10, which hit me, well, like a load of cinder blocks. That is, I identified with it grand ways, and I felt as if I were ogling myself with an awkwardly large magnifying glass. (Do not materialize that image of me in your mind.) (Before or after the cinder blocks, you say.)

In this letter, we are warned of the problems of “pretending;” in this case, the “patient” starts pretending in order to be accepted into a group of intellectual elites. If you, or anyone you know, is a Christian interacting with an intellectual community, you would do well to read this letter. Or, if you are not a part of an intellectual community, but you’ve ever felt tension between Who You Are and Who They Are, and you desperately wish to close that gap, and you find yourself no longer being true to yourself (or your Lord), you, too, ought also to read this letter.

Afterward, I’ve posted a few thoughts, and I welcome your questions.


I was delighted to hear from Triptweeze that your patient has made some very desirable new acquaintances and that you seem to have used this event in a really promising manner. I gather that the middle-aged married couple who called at his office are just the sort of people we want him to know—rich, smart, superficially intellectual, and brightly sceptical about everything in the world. I gather they are even vaguely pacifist, not on moral grounds but from an ingrained habit of belittling anything that concerns the great mass of their fellow men and from a dash of purely fashionable and literary communism. This is excellent. And you seem to have made good use of all his social, sexual, and intellectual vanity. Tell me more. Did he commit himself deeply? I don’t mean in words. There is a subtle play of looks and tones and laughs by which a Mortal can imply that he is of the same party is those to whom he is speaking. That is the kind of betrayal you should specially encourage, because the man does not fully realise it himself; and by the time he does you will have made withdrawal difficult.

No doubt he must very soon realise that his own faith is in direct opposition to the assumptions on which all the conversation of his new friends is based. I don’t think that matters much provided that you can persuade him to postpone any open acknowledgment of the fact, and this, with the aid of shame, pride, modesty and vanity, will be easy to do. As long as the postponement lasts he will be in a false position. He will be silent when he ought to speak and laugh when he ought to be silent. He will assume, at first only by his manner, but presently by his words, all sorts of cynical and sceptical attitudes which are not really his. But if you play him well, they may become his. All mortals tend to turn into the thing they are pretending to be. This is elementary. The real question is how to prepare for the Enemy’s counter attack.

The first thing is to delay as long as possible the moment at which he realises this new pleasure as a temptation. Since the Enemy’s servants have been preaching about “the World” as one of the great standard temptations for two thousand years, this might seem difficult to do. But fortunately they have said very little about it for the last few decades. In modern Christian writings, though I see much (indeed more than I like) about Mammon, I see few of the old warnings about Worldly Vanities, the Choice of Friends, and the Value of Time. All that, your patient would probably classify as “Puritanism”—and may I remark in passing that the value we have given to that word is one of the really solid triumphs of the last hundred years? By it we rescue annually thousands of humans from temperance, chastity, and sobriety of life.

Sooner or later, however, the real nature of his new friends must become clear to him, and then your tactics must depend on the patient’s intelligence. If he is a big enough fool you can get him to realise the character of the friends only while they are absent; their presence can be made to sweep away all criticism. If this succeeds, he can be induced to live, as I have known many humans live, for quite long periods, two parallel lives; he will not only appear to be, but actually be, a different man in each of the circles he frequents. Failing this, there is a subtler and more entertaining method. He can be made to take a positive pleasure in the perception that the two sides of his life are inconsistent. This is done by exploiting his vanity. He can be taught to enjoy kneeling beside the grocer on Sunday just because he remembers that the grocer could not possibly understand the urbane and mocking world which he inhabited on Saturday evening; and contrariwise, to enjoy the bawdy and blasphemy over the coffee with these admirable friends all the more because he is aware of a “deeper”, “spiritual” world within him which they cannot understand. You see the idea—the worldly friends touch him on one side and the grocer on the other, and he is the complete, balanced, complex man who sees round them all. Thus, while being permanently treacherous to at least two sets of people, he will feel, instead of shame, a continual undercurrent of self-satisfaction. Finally, if all else fails, you can persuade him, in defiance of conscience, to continue the new acquaintance on the ground that he is, in some unspecified way, doing these people “good” by the mere fact of drinking their cocktails and laughing at their jokes, and that to cease to do so would be “priggish”, “intolerant”, and (of course) “Puritanical”.

Meanwhile you will of course take the obvious precaution of seeing that this new development induces him to spend more than he can afford and to neglect his work and his mother. Her jealousy, and alarm, and his increasing evasiveness or rudeness, will be invaluable for the aggravation of the domestic tension,

Your affectionate uncle

My Meager Thoughts

1. Anyone who has grown up in an insular conservative community and suddenly finds themselves “outside” knows what is that “subtle play of looks and tones and laughs by which a Mortal can imply that he is of the same party is those to whom he is speaking.” We are try-hards.

2. “All mortals tend to turn into the thing they are pretending to be.” This is chilling.

3. The pleasure of belonging can be a temptation—wow, Lewis, you’re really on fire.

4. Embracing the paradox of the two worlds… I’ve done this. You’ve done this. You’re really smart, so contemporary, and you’re very glad that you can so easily dance between both worlds. Strange, isn’t it, that C. S. Lewis just condemns it? Pretending is not an option. He really does poke fun at your little urbane dreamworld.

But C. S. Lewis is talking about a young Christian, maybe or maybe not on a university campus, who is dazzled by the intellectual elites. He is probably not talking about all the identity issues of a leftover female Anabaptist who sometimes feels like a polar bear at a rice convention. (But maybe he is.)

Ah well. Perhaps we all are little devils. Because as C. S. Lewis writes, we soon find that he is sniggering at us. In a helpful uncle-y way.

And as annoying as it is, I’m glad.




Blue Like Jazz: Movie Review

I finally took the time to watch “Blue Like Jazz,” a 2012 independent film based on a book by Donald Miller. My reason for watching this film? The issues in the movie are relevant to my life: it talks about Christian subculture and how Jesus is portrayed, accepted, or rejected in secular liberal arts colleges. (Disclaimer: I did not watch the movie in mindless absorption but rather with a critical mindset. In other words, the language and adult themes of the movie were not drawing points.)

I was expecting to hate it. Or at least be offended.

I wasn’t.


So I would like to discuss the movie a bit here.
One of the reasons I wanted to see the film is because I am somewhat familiar with the work of writer Donald Miller. I’ve read a few of his books (though it’s been quite awhile), and I heard him speak in Wichita, Kansas. So I’m somewhat familiar with his worldview, some of his life goals, and ministry to fatherless boys. I feel like this background knowledge helped me to overlook things in the film which would normally greatly offend me as a Christian viewer. I know that the main character is based on Donald Miller himself, and I understand how the experiences at Reed College greatly changed him for the better. So it was like I was cheering for Don through the whole movie. (Also, I heard him talk about this movie way before it was even a possibility to film it. He joked that if a film was ever made, the he certainly wouldn’t be “played by Kirk Cameron.”) My first point: Don’t watch the movie unless you’ve read some of Miller’s books. The work will be greatly misunderstood by you, and you’ll probably be offended.

We have to be so careful when it comes to separating someone’s words from their actions. There are many things written by Donald Miller that I disagree with, perhaps things that sound nice but are not theologically correct. However, taking someone’s words alone isn’t always the best idea. We have to look at someone’s words followed up by their life. A person’s actions give more weight to their words.
Because I’ve heard him in person, and because I’ve heard about The Mentoring Project, I’m more inclined to give his movie a little more credit. Christians who haven’t had this opportunity (to understand his character) might totally misunderstand him.

I was reminded of this truth of combining character and words by a teacher/pastor from Kansas last weekend when I attended a teacher’s conference. He emphasized (in a most cosmologically Anabaptist way) that our words should not be separated from our actions. He also indicated that we should not put much stock into words that ARE separated from actions or from true lives lived. (So, he was saying: take books with a grain of salt. And facebook posts. And blogs.) So the second point is: This movie should not be separated from the writer who wrote the work and from his post-college ministry.

I say all this because there are plenty of things in the movie to offend Christian audiences, including language, sex jokes, and homosexual characters. Certainly, it could be argued that the movie makers could have produced a Clorox-clean version of a freshman year in college, but they made a different artistic choice. This is always a difficult choice. How will you present sinful realities without reveling in them? There is always a fine line here in the arts. The one thing I would say is that the movie makers, I thought, were sensitive in some areas. They could have over-sexualized the Renn Fayre. But they didn’t. There could have been more reverie, but they were careful to make it peripheral.


One thing I want to discuss is a rather abrupt shift in topic, but here goes. Um, so this is me getting all English major-y and everything, but I couldn’t help but notice the homosexual metaphors in the movie. A female college student demands that Don keeps his Christianity “in the closet.” (Ironcially, the student is a lesbian. I could go on for a while here about how this movie speaks into some of the latent hypocrisies of LGBTQ agendas of tolerance and diversity, but I won’t.) Also, Don’s best friend Penny, when describing her new-found faith in Jesus (which did not come from her childhood subculture but rather from her personal study of the Bible in college), declares, “I wasn’t born this way.” Now the metaphor “born this way” does not have to refer to homosexuality, but one cannot miss its significance, especially in a movie filled to the brim with pop philosophy. Curiously, the idea of “coming out” is essential to the movie. I argue that that’s a strange metaphor choice for talking about Christian believers. Why was this metaphor chosen? And what is its effect? I could wax academic and ask if this metaphor is working to build inclusivity for the LGBTQ community within Christian cosmologies, but I’m not really ready to do that. And I doubt that’s what Miller was going for. (Or was it? I mean, he’s not stupid. He was an English major, too.) Maybe I’m reading too much into the movie. I mean, I’m not an expert in Queer Theory or anything (managed to skip that one in college). I’m just wondering why the “coming out” metaphor was chosen. Or borrowed. (Because, I mean, the LGBTQs borrowed “coming out” from the patriarchal American South whose young, upper-class women formally presented themselves to society at a “coming-out ball.”) I would welcome your feedback on this minor observation.

Q: Who would I recommend to watch this movie?
A: Christian college students
On one level, it’s just enjoyable to identify so much with the main character. Watching the movie makes you remember those first college days: of walking around in a fog of architecture and ideas… and then that first know-it-all student who makes you feel so stupid and sheltered… and the first person who hands you condoms on the sidewalk…  My favorite scene is when Don is checking out his college campus, all the while rocking his tucked in polo shirt. Hilarious for those of us in church subculture.

On another level, this movie strikes a chord with Christian college students trying to make sense of a world of conflict. We identify with the antagonism that Don experiences. During college – a  time of intense personal growth – we experience many competing philosophies, ideas, and worldviews, and we encounter so many hurting people that we sometimes begin to doubt many things: ourselves, the church, and God himself. But Don’s character doesn’t descend into the blame game. His tearful apology at the end of the movie is humble and vulnerable. His two-fold realization and admission goes something like this: “I’m ashamed of Jesus.” And: “He’s not like me. I’m sorry.” It’s moving to watch Don admit that his spiritual discontentment has to do with his own shortcomings.

Finally, I also enjoyed seeing how Don interacted with unbelievers. His personality and wit allowed him to get along with a lot of different people. He wasn’t judgmental in his friendships.

Have you watched “Blue Like Jazz”? What did you think?

The Anatomy of the College Essay: A Bare-All Feature

Finals are over!
But since I never give up a chance to write a good paper, here’s one off the books.

Yep, it’s the anatomy of the college essay, dissected for all to see. Exposed below, in one bare-all feature, are (some of) my academic writing secrets.

(I know you’re all so THRILLED.)

Actual Anatomy: the Significance of Cruciality

In college essays, you always start with a good title, preferably one with alliteration. Really good alliteration draws people in to your work; because I mean, that’s what nerds professors say. The next part of the title explains the theme, topic, and title of work that you are analyzing. Then, you introduced the broad topic of your paper in the first few lines (like I’ve just done here), after which you tell them the really technical thesis statement that includes not only the topic (mine is–the structure of essays) and theme (mine is–crucial, life-saving inclusions) but also HOW these things are accomplished (guys, it’s where ya put the stuff). Attention! Upcoming thesis! … (Drumroll.) In this paper, I will attempt to convey the cruciality of popular phrasing and its significance as it relates to essay structure, content, and paper success. (Did ya miss it? Huh? Did ya?)

One of the most important things to remember is that the first paragraph is a great place to say the phrase: “One of the most important things.” People are like, “Ooo, nice. This essay’s Important.” So now that you’ve got that, we’re gonna get down to business. You’ve got your font, margins, name, prof, class, title, and text perfectly aligned. Anyway who doesn’t is: An Absolute English Loser. Honestly. No one should hand in an assignment without the proper format. Buy stock in Bedford, it is your friend, I’m so glad we had that talk. Moving on.

In my thesis, notice that I used the first person “I.” This is an absolute college no-no. The goal here, though, is to break rules. What you wanna do is write really good papers and then break a couple writings rules so that you look really confident and bad-to-the-bone. Professors love this. Some of my favorites are: beginning sentences with coordinating conjunctions. And you just might look a little smarter. Also, throw in one or two “I argue’s” throughout your paper. When you are making a really important point, preface it with “I argue.” For example:  “Blar blar blar blar blar, but I argue: This Really Important Point.” (And who’s gonna disagree with you? It’s black and white, permanent ink, on a page.)

Another thing that I’ve noticed is that when I write, I have this really nasty habit of writing HUGE WONKY paragraphs that professors CAN I GET A DISLIKE ON THAT, SISTER?! AMEN! They don’t like them, okay? So, sometimes I just [Enter, Tab], which works well visually (and sometimes professors don’t even notice this sneaky trick), but if I want to get real smarty-pants, I use the Notonlybutalso. Okay, to do this, you start with:

Not only is this intro phrase tricking you into thinking that I have an additional point to argue (but it’s really just the middle of the above paragraph), but also, you’ve completely forgotten that I didn’t have a conclusion sentence in the previous “paragraph”. [Uncontrollable giggles are in the margins.]

It is important to notice that many of my paragraphs start out with “It’s important to notice.” This is because good arguments/discussions begin on the pretense of pre-knowledge (before getting to the point). What readers don’t realize is that my “important notices” are really just the main points of my paper. But they are highlighted as if they are background knowledge, so the reader’s like: “Huh? Wait. I never knew that. This is smart.” You can mix it up with “It is important to remember,” or “It is significant to notice.” Significant-to-notice’s are really great. And even “notice” itself. Sometimes I read my papers, and I’m like, “Wow, there’s just a lot of ‘noticing’ going on here.” I mean, yeah, it bugs me, but fresh readers might not notice (heh heh), so it works.

Not only are significant things getting noticed, but they are also becoming “crucial.” You know, a 16 year old atheist Quaker (?) gave me a great writing tip once. He’s like, “I have a favorite word that I just throw in at the end of my papers. … ‘Crucial.’ I always end my papers with ‘crucial.’ Because, I mean, if what I’m saying is crucial, then what are they gonna say to that, you know?” The kid is way too smart for his own good (okay, I was his lab partner in college physics!), and I hated to admit it, but he was absolutely right. ALL THE THINGS get Crucial. It is CRUCIAL to notice the significance of cruciality.

Then. Oh my dear sacred “then.” I used to use “truly.” But I found it to be too trite. “Then” is my transition drug of choice. It would appear, then, that I truly love to use the word “then” as my favorite transition. Bliss. Also, “also” and “additionally” are my next-favorite transitions.(!!) I like them very much, they are like a married couple, or really just happy parallel words.  (Just a note: I broke a rule—comma splice for the win!)

Another important voice in your paper is your research. Every paragraph should have some quoted research by some smartsy-fartsy professor or historian. My advice? Get in, get out. (Ooo, ‘nother comma splice.) And buffer, buffer, buffer. Insulate. Hug. Hug your research. You’ve GOT to use an introduction phrase, a smarty-pants-professor intro phrase, (then the phrase) (oh, and the proper phrase citation), and finally—the explanation of the phrase. All this does is let your reader know that you probably could have published that research if you would have been given the chance. In other words, you TOTES know what they’re talking about. It’s like: “In Esther’s online article ‘Actual Anatomy: the Significance of Cruciality,’ she demonstrates how important quoted research is in academic writing. She suggests, ‘Every paragraph should have some quoted research by some smartsy-fartsy professor or historian’ (Esther 1). Here Esther explains the amount of quoted material necessary for college papers.” See? That wasn’t so hard. Now, do it every time, or I’ll bash your knee-caps in.

One of the final things to remember is that somewhere along the way, in your research, you’ll notice that one of your points doesn’t go with your paper at all, and actually, it totally contradicts everything you are trying to say. Still, put it into your paper, but only after adding a funky “paradoxically,” and once again buffer it with a quotation by some pain-in-the-butt who has already said what you wanted to say, published it, and worded it in a way that makes so much more money that you do. The inclusion of contradictory material brings a nice postmodern ambiguity to your paper. (BeeTeeDoubleYou: “paradoxically” is an A-maker just like: “juxtaposition.” Maybe it has something to do with x’s. … X words. Like, “the crux of this argument is juxtapositioned, paradoxically, between affixation and exploration.” Yesssss. Or, I guess: Yexxxxxx.)

The “we.” Do we? I don’t know. But they don’t know either. So if you make one giant sweeping generalization, begin it with: “We can tend to… at times… usually… depending… sometimes… mostly.” The “we” hooks every reader so that either the reader’s like, “CH! Yeah!” or, “Dude, I don’t feel that way AT ALL. I must be a freak. Hmmm. I should finish reading this paper to figure out more how I can become like the rest of mainstream society and not be like a weirdy toad in a closet.”

What I have outlined for you is how to begin and fill your paper, but now I will talk about the end. The conclusion is an exact restatement of all your main points (except we are smart so we use a lil different phrasing). Then you open it up. Make everything Real Broad. Correlate everything to the world, to society, and to Crucial. Once the last few sentences have truly convinced readers, then, that it is significant to notice the paradoxical juxtapositions of structure with explanation, and now that we know what has not been known, then it is important, because: it was.

Bak 2 Skūl

I don’t usually say things like this, but… I hate (insert insanely large-corporation department store here)! They are always out of everything I need. Today was an especially bad experience. I mean, okay, you can say that it’s my fault that I waited until the middle of August to do back-to-school shopping. But really? They only had ONE color of the kind of folders I wanted. One color! Maroon. Boxes and boxes of folders, and there were only maroon ones.

I begrudgingly bought five.

I and seventeen other kerchiefed Asian women who were rummaging through the remnants of the back-to-school mid-August mania. I commiserated with them. The disorganization in the office section was astounding.

And this corporation wanted me to pay EIGHTY CENTS for filler paper. I can’t believe it! Don’t they know what time of year it is? It’s “Back-to-School”! When paper is 15 cents! And folders are 5 cents! When the whole world is full of happy hyper children who smell like new backpacks and new underwear! Spread the love!

Eighty cents? I think not.

Thankfully, I had a few minutes to drive to another store, which I shall name Pen Kingdom, whereupon I found something I have been searching for for nearly four years.

My favorite pens in the world.

I have been searching for this special multi-pack for forever! They seriously did not exist. Until today. At Pen Kingdom. Which was organized in the strictest fashion. THEY sure knew what time of year it is. I know this because their filler paper wasn’t 80 cents. It was free. Yep, free. Anyone who spent $5 got five free packs of filler paper. Thank you, I will.

My pens will do nicely with my expensive Moleskine budget-friendly notepads.

This is my little celebration purchase for my senior year as an English major at university.

But don’t worry. Just when you think I’ve gone all writer-snob on you, remember my playful Hello Kitty stickers with which I decorate planner every year.

Yes, I’m getting to be an old pro at this. I’ve done this shopping trip seventeen times, and it never gets old.

To all my student friends: Happy Back-to-School!

A Strange Connection to the Light

Does God exist?

Is faith logical?

If Christianity is true, then why do so many people stink at living it out?

Is my relationship to God only a figment of my emotions?

Do I just want Christianity to be true?

Why can’t I feel God?

What’s the big deal with evolution?

Is creation true?

Why do creationists teach an uninformed perspective of evolution?

What about the authority of Scripture? Did the Hebrews write the Torah simply because other civilizations around them at the time were forming their own histories and they wanted to be just like them?

How do we know that the Bible is true?

Why do I have so many doubts?


These are only a few of the serious questions that fly through a college student’s mind in a day. Typically, they don’t have time to research answers, because, well… there are papers to write, appointments to attend, work to do, groceries to buy, sleep to catch up on, and a hundred thousand other things to start.

But these really important questions! You might say.

Yes, they are.

Unfortunately, sometimes the college life is all about survival. Actual physical survival. Surviving the next couple of hours. Staying awake until class is over. Making it until the next deadline is over. And then crashing. During that crash period, it takes a strong person to wake up, put life on pause, and deal with the intense intellectual turmoil of the past few days.

That is why the college years are so serious. The intellectual struggle, I have found, is intense. Textbooks are especially dangerous because they are a constant, subtle whisper of blasphemy in the believer’s mind.

Add to that our (post)-postmodern cynicism. And there you have it. A nice recipe for intellectual suicide.

I was out late the other night. I was driving home. It was dark. The moon was high over a somber field. Gray-white clouds, long and thin, floated past so that the moonlight dimmed and faded. Hmmm, I mused. How perfectly appropriate. These melancholy shadows… a picture of our questionings and doubt.

Immediately a song came to mind. It’s a hymn that I don’t even particularly like (if you can imagine).(The harmony is rather drony). But this song came to me. That evening I had been discussing a lot of these questions. We had been talking about origins of the earth, the holy “society” of the Trinity, and who God is to us personally, doubts that we face, and ways that God has physically provided for us. And then, this song came to me as I drove home at night.

“Great is Thy faithfulness, Oh God…   …my Father. There IS no SHADOW of turning with THEE. THOU changest not. Thy compassions, they fail not. As Thou HAST BEEN, Thou FOREVER wilt be.

Summer and winter and springtime and harvest… Sun, moon, and stars, in their courses above, join with all nature in manifold witness to THY great faithfulness, mercy, and love.

Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth… Thine own dear presence to cheer, and to guide… Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow… [These] blessings [are] all mine, with ten thousand beside!”

There IS NO SHADOW of turning.

I was tempted to compare life to the melancholy, to the shadowy clouds and the moon. But unlike the dark night, which is so utterly depressing, full of wandering and confusion… God brings us light in the morning. He IS the light. He refers to Himself as “the bright Morning Star” (Revelation 22:16).

“Morning by morning, new mercies I see. All I have needed, THY hand hath provided. Great is Thy faithfulness… Lord… unto… ME.”

In thinking about God’s provision for us as the spiritual “Light,” I am reminded of the encounter of the two men with Jesus on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24. This occurrence illustrates how Jesus becomes our Light… our Morning Star.

The two men were completely aware of the good things Jesus had done. They had heard about his miracles and his powerful teaching. They were convinced that He was the one who would redeem Israel. And yet, there they were, walking along, not three days after his crucifixion.

So what were they supposed to do then? Where was their hope then? It says that their faces were downcast. And they were additionally trying to figure out the most recent news: that some women were out claiming that Jesus’ body was missing from the tomb and that Jesus was alive.

So Jesus approached these men (they were kept from recognizing him) and asked what they were discussing. After they explained, Jesus said, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken!” (25). And it says that “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself” (27). When Jesus was about to leave them, (and they still did not recognize him), it says that the travelers “urged him strongly, ‘Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.’” (28). And so Jesus stayed with them.

This is a most beautiful picture of what God does to us. In our questioning, in our doubts, in our confusion of the night, Jesus comes and “stays with us.” He explains to us who He is.

He meets with us. He, the holy God, communes with us.  The Scripture says that that evening, “when he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?’” (30-32).

Isn’t this the work of the Holy Spirit? Isn’t this how Jesus is? He meets us where we are. He shows us who He is. He communes with us.

I find it interesting that Jesus stayed with these men at evening. And in the midst of their “intellectual” night, he revealed to them who He is.


“O sacrum convivium!

in quo Christus sumitur:

recolitur memoria passionis eius:

mens impletur gratia:

et futurae gloriae nobis pignus datur.


O sacred banquet!

in which Christ is received,

the memory of his Passion is renewed,

the mind is filled with grace,

and a pledge of future glory to us is given.


Bleib bei uns, denn es will Abend werden, und der Tag hat sich geneiget.

Bide with us, for evening shadows darken, and the day will soon be over.