I’ve been reading through my old journals, essays for school, and emails to reflect on how my life has changed over the years. I stumbled upon messages from my professors in London, their British English and advice to us ignorant travelers bringing a smile to my face. I learned and experienced a cornucopia of things as I explored a new culture, and then relearned my own culture after coming back. I reread papers I wrote for my English literature classes in college; sometimes I was impressed with what I had written while other times I wondered what I was talking about. These papers brought back memories of tumultuous nights slaving over multiple assignments at once, praying I would finish everything on time while still maintaining a smidgen of my sanity. And I always got them done, even though it didn’t seem like I would sometimes. My friends and wing mates made everything better. We laughed together, cried together, whined together, and supported each other through those difficult situations, whether it be a large homework assignment we procrastinated to the last minute or an emotional crisis. My journals contain a myriad of experiences: random awkward moments that still make me laugh, moments of spiritual growth that make we realize how much I’ve grown and how great of a community I had in college, times where I felt heartbroken over a love interest that didn’t work out but ultimately was for the best, and periods in my life where I felt completely confused about where my life was going, and later on I found the path I was meant to travel.
I’m glad I kept these writings. In keeping them I can preserve my past, allowing me to relive those times again instead of letting my past crumble as my memory decays with time. As I reflect on these times, I see how blessed I have been throughout my life. Life is a beautiful masterpiece, with all its ups and downs, the lessons learned, and all the little things that bring joy to the heart. I’ve lived a good life so far, and I am grateful for it.
I love reading, and I am always eager to recommend books to people. Here is a list I complied of my top 50 books I’ve read that I would recommend to anyone. It is not in any particular order, and I excluded Shakespeare plays because that would take up half the list.
1) Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
2) Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
3) The Hunchback of Notre-Dame by Victor Hugo
4) Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
5) Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
6) Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
7) Persuasion by Jane Austen
8) The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom
9) The Hole in Our Gospel by Richard Stearns
10) Sacred Pathways by Gary Thomas
11) The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
12) Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
13) Redwall by Brian Jacques
14) Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
15) 1984 by George Orwell
16) Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe
17) The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
18) Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
19) I Capture The Castle by Dodie Smith
20) A Tree Grows In Brooklyn by Betty Smith
21) To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
22) The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
23) One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey
24) Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand
25) Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
26) Dracula by Bram Stoker
27) The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
28) The Two Princesses of Bamarre by Gail Carson Levine (I know this is a kid’s book but I still love it)
29) The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett
30) The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
31) Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton
32) Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
33) Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
34) The Reader by Bernhard Schlink
35) The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux
36) The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien
37) The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells
38) Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
39) Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer
40) The Awakening by Kate Chopin
41) Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
42) Candide by Voltaire
43) Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
44) Authentic Faith by Gary Thomas
45) What’s So Amazing About Grace? by Philip Yancey
46) A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
47) The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli
48) Fearless by Max Lucado
49) Knowing God by J.I. Packer
50) Real Christianity by William Wilberforce
Even though it is important to use your mind and to seek knowledge, it can also be negative. It all depends on your motivation to gain knowledge. In his book Knowing God, J.I. Packer addresses this problem in the first chapter:
If we pursue theological knowledge for its own sake, it is bound to go bad on us. It will make us proud and conceited. The very greatness of the subject matter will intoxicate us, and we shall come to think of ourselves as a cut above other Christians because of our interest in it and grasp of it; and we shall look down on those whose theological ideas seem crude to us and inadequate and dismiss them as very poor specimens.
I know I am guilty of this. I start with good intentions to get to know God and grow in the fruits of the spirit, and then this vision gets distorted as I get caught up in the knowledge I gain, which shifts to being my focus. I have to constantly monitor my motivation to learn; otherwise I am afraid I will lose sight of why I am seeking knowledge and instead morph into an intellectual snob. This is how the virtue of wanting to learn gets twisted: when our focus shifts to knowledge in itself instead of God we no longer see God, and the purpose is lost.
When we truly seek God, acquiring knowledge has the opposite ramification: it makes us humble. Wanting to know the Divine, more than anything else, makes us conscious of our own mortality and smallness. C.H. Spurgeon said “[the Divinity] is a subject so vast, that all our thoughts are lost in its immensity; so deep, that our pride is drowned in its infinity.” When I focus on God, I can’t help but be overwhelmed with humility, and I am affronted with my foolishness to think that I can fully understand God, the history of the universe, and mankind.
One of the things I enjoyed about working in ministry was that it was a great conversation starter. Whenever I met someone they would naturally ask what I did for a living, and I when I said I worked in a ministry office, my response also elicited a reaction. Sometimes it was a positive reaction. There were plenty of times I saw people’s eyes light up, tell me that was a great job opportunity, and proceed to talk about how they loved Christianity. Sometimes it was a negative reaction; this usually consisted of the look of displeasure. I recall one particular time when I was talking amicably with a lady while waiting at the train station, and when I said I worked in ministry suddenly her attitude toward me changed. She stiffened, eyed me distastefully, and didn’t speak to me for a little while, although I imagined her inner dialogue had the word “hypocrite” in it among other criticisms. And other times I got the skeptical response. People would outright tell me they’re not religious and/or admit doubts they have about religion, particularly Christianity, which, as strange as it sounds, was my favorite response. This was because I loved probing into their minds and hearing their stories they usually keep locked up inside them.
Something fascinating I’ve discovered about people is how everyone has thoughts about spirituality. I’ve met people several times who state they’re not interested in religion and don’t have much to do with it, but when I start asking questions about their spiritual background a whole other side of them blossoms. A wealth of theological knowledge flows out of their mouth, and they share deep biblical concerns and questions they’re wrestling with. This never ceases to impress me.
These people just want someone to listen to them, and when they find someone who cares they’re willing and eager to open up. In fact, oftentimes they become so invested in the conversation they don’t want to leave. One guy I was conversing with in a coffee shop, who originally claimed he wasn’t religious, ended up peppering me with questions about apologetics for two hours, and later apologized for taking up so much of my time. Another time someone came into my office, intending to pit stop in for something, and once we started discussing theology, he positioned himself near my desk, leaning against it as he voiced things he had been pondering about concerning the trinity. I think the only reason he left was because my boss came back from a meeting, and he felt uncomfortable.
People build up walls because they’re afraid of being judged, which is understandable. No one likes to show vulnerability and get attacked for it. I by no means have all the answers to theological questions people ask me, but I do my best. I think the main thing people value is a listening ear and a caring heart. If people who are struggling with their faith knew they wouldn’t be assailed for their doubts and questions, they might be more willing to acknowledge them and invest time into understanding their faith. Let people know they don’t need to construct walls around their souls, and they don’t need to be ashamed of their faith journey. Everyone has a story, and by listening to it you may help them more than you realize and in turn learn something yourself.
Hello friends and readers!
I’ve thought about starting a blog for over a year now, and I’ve finally decided to do it. This decision was made in a part because of various people suggesting I should do it, and also because I need an outlet for my random intellectual thoughts. For the past year my outlet has been pestering my housemates as I sat at the kitchen counter reading my Bible in the morning, forgetting that everyone else is not as enthusiastic as I am to discuss Leviticus or the Sermon on the Mount at 7:00 am, and asking questions as I read novels and theology books in the living room. Now I’ve moved to where I feel more isolated, and I am still eager to engage in intellectual conversations with people. I would love to read your thoughts!
I think it is important to keep your brain active and to think about deep questions because otherwise you spend your life half asleep. Life is beautiful, intricate, complicated, and a bit strange. To just go through the motions is waste if you don’t take the time to think about why you are doing what you are doing in the first place. Socrates expressed this idea well when he wrote, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Using your brain is particularly important when it comes to spirituality and religion, as your thoughts about them define your morals and what you believe about the afterlife. As a Christian, it can be easy to get caught up in the emotional aspect of spirituality because of the focus on worshiping through music and feeling God’s presence throughout your life, forgetting about the intellectual aspect. We are not supposed to be ignorant of why we have faith; otherwise we might end up blindly following something that isn’t true or even make sense. Nothing brings this into the light more than when someone asks you about your faith and you don’t know what to say or you have a weak argument. The New Testament says, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” 1 Peter 3:15 (NIV). So that I am seeking to do: to understand life and my faith more fully in order to live meaningfully while building relationships with others.