Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Spiritual Coffee: Why Read Chesterton? - Challenging Hollywood for Despising Disabilities - How to Spend Your Life on What Matters Most

Here are the top three things that impressed me as worth your thoughts and reflection from the past couple of days. I put some extra thought into summarizing and quoting some of the main ideas and gems because these topics were so interesting. There were several more I came across while out of town, which I'll catch up on posting later this week. In the meantime, past collections of useful links are under Spiritual Coffee.

Why You Should Read G.K. Chesterton (Even When It's Hard), Matt Nelson (Word on Fire blog)
This is the 80th anniversary of Chesterton's death in 1936. Matt Nelson has a nice and simple set of reasons that Chesterton is desirable reading for anyone (especially any Christian), and some good suggestions for how to stick to it even when he may be difficult to grasp. He also links to the American Chesterton Society, which is a goldmine of resources and help for finding a place to start with Chesterton and understanding his ideas. Here are two suggestions of my own for enjoying Chesterton without getting discouraged:
1) There is a sensory expansion that comes by reading Chesterton. You don't have to "get" everything he is saying in order to grow in your awareness. Like learning to recognize certain scents or colors by experience, you can learn to see wisdom even without fully understanding the logic behind it. Chesterton has an extraordinary gift for turning the world around you into a painting or a fairy tale so that you simply see with different eyes. Some of this is just absorbed from spending time in his mind, so that you begin to notice things you didn't observe before. There is even more value, and some protection, in understanding the logic as well, but it's surely worthwhile to get the wisdom even if the logic trails along afterwards. You have to start seeing before you can understand. I wouldn't say this about any writer, but knowing there's so much solidity and brilliance to Chesterton's thinking makes me very comfortable telling people: "Yes, this is definitely the fountain you want to drink from. Trust me on this one."
2) My second encouragement is to simply enjoy Chesterton. Don't feel pressured to work through the meaning of every single thing he is saying. Feel free to just delight in his prose and wit and the wonder of his imagination. He is a giant among storytellers, so by all means just sit and listen to the story. Chesterton's work often refreshes your soul even when you don't work your way through the intellectual ideas, simply because he pours beauty and wonder out of his pen into everything he writes. On some occasions the best use of a work of art is just to admire it and be moved by it, instead of trying to understand it. Feel free to take what comes freely from Chesterton, and at other times ponder over the parts that make you think. Both are full of grace and truth.
[Nelson:] Nonetheless remembering that “angels can fly because they take themselves lightly”, this larger than life apostle of common sense also took himself lightly because he took his faith seriously. He came to know God but he came to know himself better; which made him a better man. He was—to summarize—a joyfully serious thinker and wordsmith whom people loved (and love).Chestertonian scholar, Dale Ahlquist, writes:“There’s a goodness that just exuded from him...The biographical accounts of Chesterton always portray him as being very joyful, and humble, and good, so that everyone was just drawn to that, including his intellectual and philosophical enemies. The people who violently disagreed with Chesterton on the issues were drawn to him as a person because of his charity.” 
Remember that good physical nutrition presupposes “good chewing” to ensure good digestion. Good intellectual nutrition thus also presupposes “good chewing” to ensure good digestion. Chesterton’s words are like steak, not pudding. Hard work will make your head work, and reading Chesterton is hard head work. Hard work in a Culture Of Convenience might seem inconvenient, but adventuring with Chesterton is worth the rigour. As Chesterton himself says:“An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered.” (from “On Running After Ones Hat”)

Would Hollywood Want the Disabled Dead? - John Knight (Desiring God)
Me Before You: Dear Hollywood, Why Do You Want Me Dead? - Ella Frech (Aleteia)
The movie Me Before You, recently released, tells a disappointing and all too familiar tale of a person with a disability who is surrounded by friends who help him make the 'courageous' choice to destroy himself to escape being disabled. Ella Frech, an 11-year-old girl who is paralyzed and in a wheelchair, wrote the most stunningly insightful rebuke of Hollywood's obsession with portraying disabled people as better off dead. Her courage and bluntness, as well as her peace of mind with her life and her clear understanding that there's nothing "wrong" with her, are magnificent. John Knight has some great observations to go along with it, but Ella Frech definitely steals the show here.
"You sit there with your able bodies, and look at people in chairs and think you feel pity for our sad little lives, but the truth is you’re afraid. You don’t want to imagine that you might be one of us one day. You think you can be perfect, and think you’d rather die than have parts that don’t work right. I think that’s sad."
"While you’re sitting in your offices crying about the bravery of this guy who kills himself and leaves everyone else to mourn him, which seems pretty selfish to me, I’m going to be out living the amazing life you didn’t even bother to know was possible. I have friends, and go on sleep-overs, and live a regular life. A life that doesn’t make me want to die. It makes me happy that it’s mine." 
"This could have been a great movie. It could have been the love story of two people and one of them just happens to use a chair. It happens all the time. The people in love don’t think about the chair. It’s the other people who think it’s a big deal."
"You may not believe in God. You don’t have to, and I can’t make you. But I do, and because of that I believe in the value of all people. I believe we are all made in his image and likeness. That’s why I believe all people are worth something. If you believe that people only get their value from each other, then people can take that away. But if our value comes from God, then nobody has the right to say someone who walks is worth more than someone who doesn’t." 
[John Knight:]
Just as interesting are some comments on her article and other articles with the same viewpoint. While the comments for Ella were mostly supportive (who is going to directly attack such an articulate young girl, especially one with a disability?), even her article generated comments that sought to “correct” her perspective. These comments generally fall into one of two camps:
§           * She isn’t qualified to speak on the subject because she has not read the book or watched the movie.
§          * She misses the point about the movie. It isn’t about disability but about “choice.”
Both assertions are absurd. The one who has lived the life doesn’t need to read another book, or watch another movie, to comment on how the culture treats her.
And, of course, the movie is about disability. The whole “choice” argument made by the right-to-die movement is clearly discriminatory against disability. Even the hashtag for the movie (#liveboldly) applies to the lead character who is not disabled, while the one with the disability only gets to die boldly. At least they didn’t have to make up the organization that kills him — that one really exists in Switzerland.

How to Avoid the Worst Form of Failure, Tim Challies (Challies.com)
[Also includes a link to video/audio of his presentation at a Ligonier conference.]
Everyone struggles to keep their time focused on the most valuable tasks instead of the ones that draw away our attention. Smaller, or simpler, or more pleasant tasks that are less important are constantly luring us away from what really matters most. So any help in keeping our discipline is welcome. The quotes below capture why this is such a wise piece of advice. Challies zeroes in on the core of what makes the difference between a productive, or important, task vs. what makes some things less worthy of our time.
Of course, his advice is a general rule of thumb, and sometimes the opposite will be true. But the value of a concept like this is that when we're struggling to decide where our focus should be, it will steer us right most of the time and save us wasted time going in circles or in the wrong direction. That's worth accepting the necessary footnote of figuring out when to make exceptions. 
"Don’t we all live with this fear that we will succeed at the lesser things in life while failing at the greater things? It’s not like those lesser things are always bad things. Some of them are actually very good. It’s just that they are, by definition, lesser things. They are not the matters of first importance. There is an order to life and we all know that sometimes those lesser things can look so attractive. They can be so distracting. They can keep us from giving attention to the things that matter far more." 
"We are so tempted to throw away all the big things to succeed at the lesser things. But we can’t deny it: Succeeding at lesser things at the cost of the greater things is the worst form of failure." 
"The art of productivity is the art of succeeding at things that matter. At its best, productivity is ensuring that you succeed at the things that matter most. It is meant to ensure that you don’t look back over your life someday and realize you’ve only succeeded at the fleeting things, the minor things, the things that just don’t matter." 
"I believe we can read through the Bible and see something like this: Productivity is effectively stewarding your gifts, talents, time, energy, and enthusiasm for the good of others and the glory of God. What matters most in life, what matters most in the universe, what matters most to God, is the glory of God. God calls us to bring glory to him in every way we can in every area of life and especially by doing good to others (see, for example, Matthew 5:16). We do good to others and God gets the glory. That means that the greater things in life are the things we do for others, not the things we do for ourselves. The greater things in life are the things meant to benefit other people. The lesser things are the things meant to benefit ourselves."

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