Commonsense Christianity

Commonsense Christianity

Christians: It’s Time to Read Grown-up Books

posted by Carolyn Henderson

If we know how to read, we have been given a precious gift that only gets better the more we use it. Seaside Story, original oil painting by Steve Henderson, sold; licensed open edition print at Great Big Canvas.

I read very few designated “Christian” books.

As a lover of thoughtful, well-written literature, I read for entertainment as well as for enlightenment, and find fiction to be a sublime means of conveying truth. It’s no accident that Jesus used stories to teach: good stories, told by a master, captivate the audience, and leave them much upon which to reflect.

This isn’t to say that well-written non-fiction (there’s that “well-written” term again) does not teach as well. But within both the Christian and non-Christian publishing camps, there’s a bit too much feel-good, self-help smarm, much of it with the author’s name far more prominent than the title.

Are There Only 50 Christian Authors?

The 31 years that I have been a Christian are long enough to notice changes, trends, and messages, and one thing I observe is that many of the authors who were writing books 31 years ago, are still writing them today.

Which is fine: when you have something to say, you keep saying it, in greater depth as wisdom is acquired. The problem is, many of these authors are saying the same things they said 10, 20, 31, years ago, and it’s not as if it were that splendidly profound the first time around.

By the time I eliminate the smarm (“You have POWER in His Name!” “Affirm the Promises with Authenticity!”) and the charm: (“Sweet, sweet Sister – Jesus sooooooo loves you”), there’s not much left that I can’t pick up myself from reading the Bible, meditating upon what it says, and communing with God in prayer. The Holy Spirit doesn’t need workbooks to teach.

A Story within a Story

The other day I picked up a little volume — by a man who’s been writing for 10, 20, 31–plus years — and gave him another try because 1) his Magnum Opus truly deserves the name and 2) the latest volume made promises about “critical thinking,” “analysis,” “truth,” and “investigative inquiry.”

I was immediately chary because the book is a frame narrative, or story within a story, a literary device that works with The Arabian Nights or The Canterbury Tales, but not as often as it is used. You see, when you wrap information around a fictional story, both the information you present and the fictional story have to be very, very good, and in the increasing number of Christian books — and movies — that employ this device, the fictional story is very, very bad.

As was the one in this book. The characters were shallow, trite, unengaging and one-dimensional, uttering dialogue like,

“Well gosh, Persephone, what does it mean to be a follower of Christ?”

Thank You, God, for Libraries

As a mature reader, however, I knew what I was getting into (which didn’t involve spending money, thank God for libraries), but skimmed through the pathetic story to grasp the scant, salient material that there was. After awhile, I began to think,

Good, well written books transport us to places of beauty, mystery, intrigue, and intellectualism. She Danced by the Light of the Moon, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed open edition print at Great Big Canvas.

“I’ve read this, somewhere, before.”

And I had. In the author’s Magnum Opus, of 30-some years ago. No new wisdom, no additional insight, just a poorly written frame story loosely presenting the same information regurgitated in new and uninspiring ways.

“But he’s making it more accessible to today’s reader!”

If today’s reader, today’s Christian, is a witless, cerebrally-starved insensate who cannot grasp words of more than two syllables, then this is the book — and the type of book — for him. But I refuse to believe that the vast majority of people in society, and especially its Christians, are this intellectually shallow.

Let’s Raise Our Standards

As a society, we have been dumbed down for years through our educational system, our media, and sadly, our religious organizations, to the point that too many people won’t touch Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein (it was a book long before there were movies), Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, or Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, because “the sentences are too long and the words are too big.”

Okay, so go read Hemingway. Or Pearl S. Buck.

If you absolutely can’t read fiction, then advance beyond helping yourself all the time, and seek out thoughtful history, commentary, philosophy, and religion (which you won’t necessarily find in the “Christian” section, so check out different aisles in the library).

But seek out quality, books written with more than sales — based upon the author’s name — in mind and grow in your ability to analyze, investigate, scrutinize, interpret, and think. If you’ll give fiction — good fiction — a chance, you’ll find that it probes truth in ways that force you to ask questions and meditate, the very purpose of Jesus’ parables.

But whatever you do, reach up, intellectually, and demand food for the mind that nourishes, not Cheezy Wheezies that are easy to pop mindlessly into your mouth. We all know what a diet of Cheezy Wheezies looks like on our bodies, and in our lives.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity. I seek out, and encourage readers who want a real, deeper relationship with Christ than what they are finding in today’s pop evangelical culture.

I’m not famous; I’m not particularly well known, but I pray before I publish each article that the people who need to read the article, will. So if you’re with me on this page today, you are an answer to prayer. Believe — that God is real, that He is Who He says He is, and that He cares about you. By seeking Him earnestly — and not relying upon others to do this for you — you will grow closer to Him and find the joy we all seek.

“Come near to God, and He will come near to you.” (James 4: 8)

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This Article Really Isn’t about Sex

posted by Carolyn Henderson

This is a nice, neutral image for an article that isn’t about sex. That is, until you start to wonder — where are the people in the boats? And what are they doing? Picnicking, my friend. Is sex all that you think about? Shore Leave, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed open edition print from Great Big Canvas

Let’s talk about sex!

Oh, don’t shudder, or salivate, depending upon how the word — and the concept — affect you. Sex is a gift God gave us, and we’ve obviously used it, given the 7 billion of us wandering around on the planet.

Like any good thing, sex can be, and is, misused. To say that all sex, any way we want it, is fine, just fine, and that the Apostle Paul, when he talks about sexual immorality, is really talking about something else, is denial.

You’ll notice that I successfully manage to avoid specifics: I don’t want a firestorm descending upon my head, not so much because I dislike confrontation (although I do dislike it, actually) but because this article really isn’t about sex.

Dang.

It’s about money.

Cool.

Slapping People around with 1 Corinthians 6:9

Through the week, I read a good many Christian blogs that span the gamut from truly excellent to the wretchedly atrocious, and I know that at least once in a week, I will run across this verse from 1 Corinthians 6:9:

“Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”

It’s a given that the verse will be aimed, straight at the heart, to people participating in numbers 1, 4, and 5 in the list of activities (out of 10, incidentally), and generally the tone is one of hostility and confrontation, which, as any highly paid business consultant instructs the crowded room of seminar participants, is not the best way to get people to listen to your message.

Number 7

But let’s drop numbers 1, 4, and 5 for now and look at number 7, which is easy to eclipse because it’s mixed in the muddle, and more importantly, because it’s something that many of us in highly materialistic countries like mine, the United States, don’t necessarily see as a problem, much less a sin:

In our short, brief life, we can bring beauty and joy to others, when we follow Christ and listen to His words. Purple Iris, original oil painting by Steve Henderson.

Greed. It’s right there, in the same list and the same room, with the big H-word, and that’s not the only place where the two snuggle up together. Ephesians 5:3 admonishes believers to exhibit not even a hint of “sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed,” and Colossians 3: 5 tells us to put to death “sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.”

If you’re into classifying sins (which is a dreadful habit, really), you’d have to say that Greed is worse than Sexual Immorality because violates Exodus 20: 3-4 — and 17 — much longer passages than Exodus 20:14 (I’m using the New International Version).

Parsing Sin

Parsing sin, however, is a fruitless mental activity — with repercussions that lead to pointing the finger at others while we assiduously refrain from looking at our own activities. We can, and many of us do, say,

I don’t go into brothels,” but very, very few of us announce,

I don’t desire more than having my needs met. I don’t take more cake at the table than I could possibly eat. I don’t think about God far, far less than I do about a brand new car.”

It’s so much harder to see, which makes it more insidious, actually, because we can practice greed — idolatry — without anyone really seeing or noticing. And if they do, they’ll praise us for our acumen, cleverness, and cunning — words which imply deceit more than they do hard work and perseverance. This is not the way God wants us to be.

Something on the List for All of Us

Go back to 1  Corinthians 6: 9: it is a list of sins that God wants us to stop. For some of us, some of these will be easy to stop because we never started them in the first place: it’s pretty hard to call any woman a male prostitute.

But because there are 10 items, all of us can find at least one that applies — numbers 2, 7, and 9 look pretty universal — and before we use selective aspects as a whip on another person’s back, we might stop and be grateful that God works with us, patiently, when we push aside the person just in front of us so that we can grab the last loss-leader electronic device at the Black Friday sale.

“(God) is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3: 9)

If that is God’s goal, we can make it ours as well.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where I explore the challenges of living as a Christian — with grace, mercy, love, compassion, firmness, and righteousness — in a world that, rightly or wrongly, considers us a bunch of doofuses.

If we are going to be doofuses (or is it, “doofai”?), let it be for the right reasons — that we follow the wisdom of God which is foolishness to man — as opposed to being foolish ourselves, arrogant, proud, unyielding, and harsh.

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We’re Not All Extroverts — and Introverts Aren’t Abnormal

posted by Carolyn Henderson

She ran and jumped and played and yelled, and afterwards she did math, wrote essays, and read books. Wild Child, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed open edition print at Great Big Canvas.

We live in a society fascinated by psychology, and every week there’s a new mental aberration to add to the list, buy medication for, and wonder if we have. And while actual diseases and issues exist, there are undeniably natural aspects of being a human being that for some reason — money always comes to mind — we are told are abnormal now, and we need to stop.

With four children running about the house, it’s a given that one of them would be more active than the others, and even as homeschoolers we didn’t live under a rock. Like all parents of active children, the Norwegian Artist and I had heard of — and been not so subtly urged to do something about it — ADHD, and what we chose to do after reviewing the information and carefully looking at our child, was to say no to drugs prescribed for behavior that 35 years ago was considered acceptable. (The more complete story is at my article, Learning Disabilities: Does My Child Have One?)

Ultimately, every person is responsible for making the decision best for them and the people in their charge, a little fact that tends to get overlooked in a society of bountifully paid experts.

Abnormally Active and Weirdly Quiet

Highly active behavior amongst people who sit too much isn’t the only thing considered abnormal these days. We were enjoying lunch with a group of dear, long-term friends when one of them commented,’

“I’m rather quiet in large groups of people. I’ve always been shy and introverted.”

Before we pull out the prescription bottles, I’d like to say three things:

1) It’s not abnormal to be quiet in large groups of people. Many individuals find it discomforting when everyone scrapes their chairs back, turns around, and stares; in the silence, we then speak. Other individuals find it challenging to converse, intimately and privately, with one person. Only the first behavior is considered “abnormal” in today’s society.

2) All people find some social situation, somewhere, discomforting. They do not need to label themselves shy, which, if you want to get specific, addresses such a reluctance to interact in social situations that it becomes debilitating.

Some people have a real problem with Quiet, and they solve this by labeling quiet people as weird. On the Horizon, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed open edition print at Great Big Canvas.

3) Introversion is not a mental disease. We are all a combination of introversion and extroversion, and no one way of being is the “right” way.

We Need More Normal People Like This One

(I’ll add a fourth observation that, after years of knowing my friend, I would describe her as sensitive, thoughtful, intellectual, intelligent, caring, and perceptive, one of those highly unusual human beings who actually listens to other people talk, and asks questions that confirm she has been paying attention. If this is abnormal, we need a whole lot more of it.)

For a complete, thoughtful presentation on the concept of introverts, I highly recommend Susan Cain’s book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. I discussed elements of this books years ago in a series of articles for artists, and was amazed at the sheer quantity of people who commented along the lines of:

“I’ve always been quiet, and I’ve always been afraid that I was abnormal.”

Since when did the ability to shut up and not feel compelled to commandeer the attention of everyone in the room become bad behavior?

Everyone Is Different

It shouldn’t come as any surprise that we are all different — we’re constantly nagged to celebrate those differences and be free to be you and me and all that, but when it comes to actually doing so, we have a strong societal opinion about what it means to be truly normal, and most of us don’t fit it. And so we deal with this conundrum:

1) Unless you quietly sit at your desk and fill out workbook sheets, one after another with neat tidy writing, you are hyperactive and need medication

and

2) Unless you get up in front of the crowd and tell one funny story after another, you are abnormally shy and need therapy.

Yep, that’s simplistic, but it’s not inaccurate. Too many people — too many normal people — label themselves as psychological deviants because they’re quiet.

Mary, Martha — Peter, John

In the Bible, Mary was quiet; Martha was not. Jesus loved them both, and there is much to be learned from each of them.

The Apostle John was quieter than the Apostle Peter, but both have their place, their ministry, and their voice. While I’ve always admired Peter’s impetuosity and boldness, I find great wisdom in the deep thoughts of John. I know I am not the only one.

You are who you are — quiet, noisy, thoughtful, brash, reflective, exuberant — and you are not just one thing: you are a complex, complicated, intricately designed human being. Only you can do the tasks God has set out for you, because only you are . . . you.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity. We get attacked a lot, in this world, for being who and what we are, and my writings encourage you to go directly to your Maker and ask Him for the usage and care instructions.

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Nasty, Biting — Unintentional — Things We Say

posted by Carolyn Henderson

Be there for people. Support them, encourage them, speak up for them when they are too defenseless to do it for themselves. Afternoon Tea, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed open edition print at Great Big Canvas.

Want to make a positive change in your world, today?

It’s fast, it’s easy — okay, so it’s not necessarily socially convivial — but it involves nothing more than saying a simple sentence, along the lines of,

“Wow. That was an insensitive, hurtful comment. My mother always taught me not to make pointed statements about a person’s physical appearance, because that’s the way they’re born and there’s nothing they can do about it.”

I just finished a phone conversation with someone meaningful in my life who mentioned that, at work the other day, her manager blurted out,

“Your nose has a funny crook to it. It makes you look like an elf.”

And because this was the victim’s employer, the person meaningful to me couldn’t defend herself without, well, losing her job.

Straight Shooters, Shooting off Their Mouths

Through the years, I’ve encountered people like this, who pride themselves on being honest, open, straight-shooters who speak the truth without fear, but quite frankly, the only shooting involved has to do with their mouth, which, if you’ll pardon my making a personal observation, is far, far too big.

When they call themselves Christians, it’s worse, because not only do they put a spiritual spin on the uncontrolled outbursts of their tongue, they rarely get attacked back, because the people to whom they speak the truth in lack of love are often Christians themselves, who for the oddest reason feel it would be rude, insensitive, and un-Christian to speak out.

A little thought, prior to speaking, is never amiss. Thoughtful, licensed open edition print by Steve Henderson available at Amazon.com, Great Big Canvas. Art.com, and other online venues.

But my friends, when we don’t speak out, these people smash forward into other’s lives, causing collateral damage of the soul, and no matter how many times you invoke the name of Jesus, it doesn’t mitigate the harm done by saying,

“Someone with legs your size could be a runner — that is muscle, isn’t it? Or is it fat? I guess if it’s fat, you could lose weight and then you’d be in real shape.”

People Say Dumb Things

Don’t scoff — people say the dumbest things, and that they don’t mean to isn’t justification for not letting them know that they’ve been insensitive, insulting, boorish, and scurrilous — whether or not it’s against us, or someone else.

Indeed, when the insult is directed to another person, it would be kind, on our part, to stand up and for the afflicted party, who may be standing, tongue tied, and not quite knowing what to say. We could step in and comment,

“That statement sounds hurtful. Perhaps you didn’t mean it that way, but it’s unkind.” and see what the offending, and offensive, person, does.

“We all stumble in many ways,” James tells us in James 3: 2. “If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check.”

We Don’t Mean to Be Hurtful, but . . .

I understand this. I’ve said dumb things, thoughtless things, cruel things, nasty things, impatient things — and sometimes I’ve been called out on it, and other times I’ve realized, to my horror hours later, what I had done. And undoubtedly there are too many times when somebody didn’t say something, but grieved, lacerated by my insensitivity. I would much prefer that they, or another, had confronted me, and my mouth.

Intentional or not, what we say affects how people feel, and in a society that degenerates into increasing discourtesy, it is time that we speak up. It is not counter to Christianity to point out to someone that what they just said is inappropriate.

“With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be.” (James 3: 9-10)

James is discussing deliberately harmful language here, but I’m going to stretch the point and say three things:

1) If you have a tendency to speak without thinking, work on this. NEVER make personal comments about factors over which the listener has no control.

2) If someone says hurtful things to you, consider not letting them get away with it. It is not rude to stand up for yourself.

3) If someone says hurtful things to other people, Speak up. You may be defending one of the least of these.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where I write about living real life as a Christian.

More than anyone, Christians should be free to seek out, explore, and speak the truth. Ideally, wherever Christians gather, this should be a safe place for any person to walk into, and no one should feel obligated to don a mask so that they can fit in.

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