Tag Archives: Christ

Love Everybody?

I try to write a Church for Writers post at least every month, and this month I meant to offer some thoughts about the religion of evolution. But then a man entered a nightclub in Florida and killed and wounded almost a hundred people. And the next day, a radio personality commented: “We need to start acting kindly to each other. If everybody did just that, the world would be a safe and happy place. And though we can’t make other people be kind, we can behave kindly ourselves. That much is easy.”

Her comments were quite appropriate, I thought, and right in accord with Christ’s command for us to love our neighbors. And though I was touched by her passion and innocence, I need to note that being kind to everyone is not so easy.

Before I go on, I should point out that in my vocabulary, to love our neighbors and to be kind to people are practically synonymous. Psychologist and author M. Scott Peck defines love as a willingness to sacrifice, which could translate to being kind even if it hurts.

Kindness may be easy when people treat us well and don’t get into our way. But when they attack or demean us or frustrate our plans or desires, being kind to them is hard. It’s something we need to work at. Something most of us need to learn. And kindness to the degree it becomes sacrificial love is, for many if not most of us, mighty hard.

Following my first divorce, I began to detect that I was not good at loving people. So, being an avid reader, I began reading up on the topic of love.

I could recommend quite a few books, but I’ll start with Soren Kierkegaard’s Works of Love . Kierkegaard maintains that when Christ instructs us to love our neighbor, he is issuing a command, not making a suggestion. And Christ clarifies the command with the parable of the good Samaritan. In this context, to love our neighbor means to love without distinction. Everybody. Even those who believe or act in ways we find odious. Even those who may have done us grievous wrongs.

Being truly kind, not just friendly, is hardly easy. But it’s possible, if we put our hearts and minds to it.

Please try to love without distinction, and consider reading a book on love, and pray something like this: “Lord, teach and help me to lover better.”

The rewards of love are many and miraculous.

Please subscribe to this blog and read about them, maybe next month.

State of the Union

I listened to President Obama’s state of the union address.

A wise old friend of mine split the world into two kinds of people — those of good will, and the others. Mister Obama appears to be a person of good will.

But on every issue, what he addressed was essentially the application of Band Aids.

I mean, every woe he hopes to fix or lessen is a symptom, each of them caused by people acting in their own “interest” rather than in the interests of all.

Ebola would not be nearly such a problem if extreme poverty had been eradicated as it should have been long ago.

Global warming would not be an issue if not for our lust after and addiction to extreme luxury and comfort.

Wars, obviously, would not happen if not for our inability or unwillingness to consider our fellow humans as important as ourselves or our families.

Here is Isaiah, in Verse 61, the prophetic passage Jesus later quoted to introduce himself:

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me
1. to proclaim good news to the poor.
2. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
3. to proclaim freedom for the captives
4. and release from darkness for the prisoners,
5. to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
6. and the day of vengeance of our God,
7. to comfort all who mourn,
and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them:
8. a crown of beauty
 instead of ashes,
10. the oil of joy
 instead of mourning,
11. and a garment of praise
 instead of a spirit of despair.

I numbered the challenges for emphasis because I believe we who think of ourselves as Christian writers, or as both writers and Christians, should consider:

If we think writing is our calling, which most of us do; and if we believe that as followers of Christ we should attempt to model our behavior on his, which is what most of us profess; then we ought to base our mission on his, which Isaiah stated clearly and in detail.

Whether or not we’re anointed, as Isaiah claimed to be, is another issue. Still, I’ll suggest that we at least try to live so that if anointing (inspiration) is available, we can grab it and pass it along.

Back to the state of the union: if we who call ourselves Christians had acted in accord with the teachings of Christ, then surely, over 2000 years, we could’ve created a world in which good will would so obviously prevail that there would be little need for Band Aids.

Mahatma Ghandi famously answered a fellow who asked why, since he essentially followed the precepts of Christ, he was not a Christian. His answer was something like, “If I had ever met a Christian (i.e. someone followed the leading of Christ) maybe I would be a Christian.”

Perhaps he hadn’t looked very wide or hard. I mean, even I with my limited experience could point to several true Christ followers. Still, Ghandi’s point is well taken. Most of aren’t likely to be noted for our selfless, sacrificial behavior.

But to quote from a ’60s anthem, “Don’t think it can’t happen just because it hasn’t happened yet.” History aside, if as writers we think of ourselves as Christians, shouldn’t our primary goal be to awaken readers to what Christ stood for? And if that’s our goal, I’ll suggest we take our cue from Isaiah.

Which is why I believe in Perelandra College, whose mission is essentially to help people of good will promote good will in others, by (1) cheering them with good news; (2) offering solace to the hopeless and brokenhearted; (3,4) leading those in all kinds of captivity toward freedom; (5,6) giving our readers a glimpse of eternity and comforting them with glorious visions; (8) creating and sharing beauty; (9, 10) presenting the multitude of reasons for joy and gratitude, and in all ways lobbying against despair.

So, let’s get busy.

The State of the Union

I listened to President Obama’s state of the union address.

A wise old friend of mine split the world into two kinds of people — those of good will, and the others. Mister Obama appears to be a person of good will.

But on every issue, what he addressed was essentially the application of Band-Aids.

I mean, every woe he hopes to fix or lessen is a symptom, each of them caused by people acting in their own “interest” rather than in the interests of all.

Ebola would not be nearly such a problem if extreme poverty had been eradicated as it should have been long ago.

Global warming would not be an issue if not for our lust after and addiction to extreme luxury and comfort.

Wars, obviously, would not happen if not for our inability or unwillingness to consider our fellow humans as important as ourselves or our families.

Here is Isaiah, in Verse 61, the prophetic passage Jesus later quoted to introduce himself:

“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,

because the Lord has anointed me

1. to proclaim good news to the poor.

2. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,

3. to proclaim freedom for the captives

4. and release from darkness for the prisoners,

5. to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor

6. and the day of vengeance of our God,

7. to comfort all who mourn,

8. and provide for those who grieve in Zion—

to bestow on them:

9. a crown of beauty
 instead of ashes,

10. the oil of joy
 instead of mourning,

11. and a garment of praise
 instead of a spirit of despair.”

I numbered the challenges for emphasis because I believe we who think of ourselves as Christian writers, or as both writers and Christians, should consider:

If we even suspect writing is our calling, which most of us do; and if we believe that as followers of Christ we should attempt to model our behavior on his, which is what most of us profess; then we ought to base our mission on his, right? And Isaiah stated Christ’s mission clearly and in detail.

Whether or not we’re anointed, as Isaiah claimed to be, is another issue. Still, I’ll suggest that we at least try to live so that if anointing (inspiration) is available, we can grab it and pass it along.

Back to the state of the union: if we who call ourselves Christians had acted throughout our history in accord with the teachings of Christ, then surely, over 2000 years, we could’ve created a world in which good will would so obviously prevail that there would be little need for Band-Aids.

Mahatma Ghandi famously answered a fellow who asked why, since he essentially followed the precepts of Christ, he was not a Christian. His answer was something like, “If I had ever met a Christian (i.e. someone who obviously followed the leading of Christ) maybe I would be a Christian.”

Perhaps he hadn’t looked very wide or hard. I mean, even I with my limited experience could point to several true Christ followers. Still, Ghandi’s point is well taken. Most of aren’t likely to be noted for our selfless, sacrificial behavior.

But to quote from a ’60s anthem, “Don’t think it can’t happen just because it hasn’t happened yet.” History aside, if as writers we think of ourselves as Christians, shouldn’t our primary goal be to awaken readers to what Christ stood for? And if that’s our goal, I’ll suggest we take our cue from Isaiah.

Which is why I believe in Perelandra College, whose mission is essentially to help people of good will promote good will in others, by (1) cheering them with good news; (2) offering solace to the hopeless and brokenhearted; (3,4) leading those in all kinds of captivity toward freedom; (5,6,7,8) giving our readers a glimpse of eternity and comforting them with glorious visions; (9) creating and sharing beauty; (10,11) presenting the multitude of reasons for joy and gratitude, and in all ways lobbying against despair.

So, let’s get busy.

Church for Writers: Peace Etc.

Since I am trying to raise issues most churches appear reluctant to touch, I should explain my motive. It’s not that I think I’m smarter than them or that I hold a grudge against the church. I believe the church has done an extraordinary job of carrying out the great commission to take the gospel worldwide.

Only I’m troubled by the performance of the church as a whole, and of most individual churches, on another task they have the authority and range of influence to tackle, and which the Bible assigns them.

I mean the task of peacemaking.

What I see is a church most often aligned with a culture that seeks its own, largely regardless of the cost to others.

Recently Zoe and I watched the film Divergent. My verdict: well written, well acted, and remarkably similar in theme to “The Grand Inquisitor”, a story included in Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov.

You can find the story in several formats at Project Gutenberg. It’s not an easy read, and since I’ve read it often, I’ll offer a brief guide.

Ivan Karamazov, a skeptic, challenges his saintly brother Alyosha with a tale in which Christ visits Spain during the height of the Inquisition. He performs a few miracles and is arrested.

The Grand Inquisitor sentences Christ to be burned. His crime: condemning people to misery by considering them to be wiser and braver than all but a few actually are.

The Inquisitor argues that humanity wants no part of the freedom Christ offers. Rather, people want bread (freedom from privation); authority (freedom from responsibility); and miracles so blatant they will unify us all (freedom from alienation).

The Inquisitor maintains that Christ’s gift of intellectual and spiritual freedom — which he bestowed upon us when he resisted the temptations offered by the dread and wise spirit in the wilderness — only delivered people into terrifying confusion.

Dostoyevsky was a devoted Christian, yet in his novels, he didn’t play favorites. When assuming the role of a character of any stripe, he advocated for that character. So while the deeper theme of Ivan’s story justifies Christ, its surface argument reveals disturbing truth about humanity.

Ivan is correct in his assertion that few of us prefer to think independently. And no matter our protests to the contrary, most of us are less concerned with goodness than with our own wellbeing. Consequently, if we churchgoers only learn in the abstract to follow the message of Christ, we are in danger of entrapment by those who, like the Grand Inquisitor, have accepted the devil’s bargain.

When the church fails to teach us how to effectively aid and defend the oppressed or impoverished or how to bring our communities and our world closer to peace, many of us turn for answers to those who profit at the expense of the oppressed or impoverished or by promoting and waging war.

When a partner and I owned a used bookstore, a regular customer, a state assemblyman, attended the same church I did. At first, I recommended books from our Christian section. He showed no interest and only chose books about politics and advice about making friends and influencing people.

My point is, if the church (perhaps for sound reasons) won’t teach us how reason from the abstractions it preaches, it leaves many of us vulnerable to being hoodwinked by marketers, swindlers of every persuasion, and politicians and their allies with agendas that overrule integrity.

Who then can teach us to reason and act in accord with the message of Christ and the freedom he gave us?

Maybe storytellers? Artists? Writers.

So let’s get busy.

Peace Etc.

Since I am trying to raise issues most churches appear reluctant to touch, I should explain my motive. It’s not that I think I’m smarter than them or that I hold a grudge against the church. I believe the church has done an extraordinary job of carrying out the great commission to take the gospel worldwide.

Only I’m troubled by the performance of the church as a whole, and of most individual churches, on another task they have the authority and range of influence to tackle, and which the Bible assigns them.

I mean the task of peacemaking.

What I see is a church most often aligned with a culture that seeks its own, largely regardless of the cost to others.

Recently Zoe and I watched the film Divergent. My verdict: well written, well acted, and remarkably similar in theme to “The Grand Inquisitor”, a story included in Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov.

You can find the story in several formats at Project Gutenberg. It’s not an easy read, and since I’ve read it often, I’ll offer a brief guide.

Ivan Karamazov, a skeptic, challenges his saintly brother Alyosha with a tale in which Christ visits Spain during the height of the Inquisition. He performs a few miracles and is arrested.

The Grand Inquisitor sentences Christ to be burned. His crime: condemning people to misery by considering them to be wiser and braver than all but a few actually are.

The Inquisitor argues that humanity wants no part of the freedom Christ offers. Rather, people want bread (freedom from privation); authority (freedom from responsibility); and miracles so blatant they will unify us all (freedom from alienation).

The Inquisitor maintains that Christ’s gift of intellectual and spiritual freedom — which he bestowed upon us when he resisted the temptations offered by the dread and wise spirit in the wilderness — only delivered people into terrifying confusion.

Dostoyevsky was a devoted Christian, yet in his novels, he didn’t play favorites. When assuming the role of a character of any stripe, he advocated for that character. So while the deeper theme of Ivan’s story justifies Christ, its surface argument reveals disturbing truth about humanity.

Ivan is correct in his assertion that few of us prefer to think independently. And no matter our protests to the contrary, most of us are less concerned with goodness than with our own wellbeing. Consequently, if we churchgoers only learn in the abstract to follow the message of Christ, we are in danger of entrapment by those who, like the Grand Inquisitor, have accepted the devil’s bargain.

When the church fails to teach us how to effectively aid and defend the oppressed or impoverished or how to bring our communities and our world closer to peace, many of us turn for answers to those who profit at the expense of the oppressed or impoverished or by promoting and waging war.

When a partner and I owned a used bookstore, a regular customer, a state assemblyman, attended the same church I did. At first, I recommended books from our Christian section. He showed no interest and only chose books about politics and advice about making friends and influencing people.

My point is, if the church (perhaps for sound reasons) won’t teach us how reason from the abstractions it preaches, it leaves many of us vulnerable to being hoodwinked by marketers, swindlers of every persuasion, and politicians and their allies with agendas that overrule integrity.

Who then can teach us to reason and act in accord with the message of Christ and the freedom he gave us?

Maybe storytellers? Artists? Writers.

So let’s get busy.

Cracking Up

Ken Kuhlken: At church, a guest speaker urged us toward open-hearted love for others, even the apparently lost. I appreciate this kind of urging, but only if it’s given along with clues that help us to love better. Otherwise, it’s rather as if a doctor says, “You’ve got heart problems, goodbye.”

I doubt we can learn to love much better unless we begin to heal from the despair with which Kierkegaard contends we are all afflicted. And we can’t begin to heal from despair unless we learn about ourselves, how we work. Which can’t begin to happen until we devote ourselves to searching for the truth about ourselves and our human condition and facing what we find no matter how painful. Which we can’t do very well as long as we’re over-busy with achieving career goals and staying in shape and relating with friends and so on and so on. Something’s got to give. Which is why I don’t care for the trend to treat every depression with meds that fix us enough so we don’t crack up. Maybe we all need to crack up.

Dr. Bob Weathers: I love this, Ken: “We all need to crack up.” I’ve been reflecting a lot about the path, laid down by Christ, of crucifixion.  Sounds like a downer topic, but inherent in it is liberation, the peace that surpasses all (ego) understanding.  It is simply not sufficient to cognitively assent to Christ dying for our sins; we are called to a much more radical reformulation of our very selves. Christ’s life, death, and resurrection are God-given templates for our own existence.

What then does it mean to live a life of crucifixion, and resurrection? Kierkegaard provides guidance here.  We must choose to leap into the “abyss”. Otherwise, we are bound to acquiesce into Thoreau’s “lives of quiet desperation.”.”

The ego would separate itself from God; which is as foolish as this morning’s rays of sun, glimmering across the treetops, deciding to separate themselves individually from the sun.

But we do this all the time: forgetting our essential reliance upon the Divine.  One poet observes that God is like the ocean, taking care of each wave till it safely gets to shore.  Do we really believe this?  More crucially: are we daily committing to living this?

As a start then, what does a sanctifying (I prefer that term to “sanctified”) life look like?  How do I live all of this?

This is where crucifixion, as basic blueprint, comes in.  Daily I must be willing to breathe into that which is greater than myself.  Which, to the ego, feels like death.  But only in relationship to that which is greater does the ego have a genuine bearing, a true north star.

All simple enough to say; but truly crucifying to live.  What if, for example, I take just today’s suffering—its inevitable frustrations (of ego plans), its physical pain or discomfort—as springboard into deeper fidelity to God?  In other words, could I approach my daily suffering as a cross to be borne; and so as deliverance into that which transcends my preferences, my personal willpower, me? Can I truly I consider it all joy because it reminds me where my real good lies?

According to medieval Persian saying, Someone asked the Master what the essence of faith was.  The Master said, “It’s that feeling of joy when sudden disappointment comes.”

I agree that we first need to understand who we are, and then to undertake self-transformation (powered and enlightened by grace), if ever we are to truly appropriate Christ’s promises of the “kingdom of heaven.”  Yet we habitually ignore his life, and its inexorable calling to us.

Too commonly, our conventional religion allows or even assists us in ignoring God’s call. Our rituals become rote practices, mere husks of faith, offering neither transformation nor the hope of the ultimate salvation we seek.

I certainly don’t mean to advocate creating a more rigorous or puritanical religion grounded in a kind of sublimated form of (ego) willpower.

Rather, as individuals, we drop humbly to our knees and pray to be healed of our very selves, which keep us locked out of a living experience of the Kingdom, and perpetually divided in our allegiances, between the finite (the world’s values) and the infinite (Christ’s values).  This division may well be the cause of religiously inspired bloodshed and atrocity.

Instead, we can take the road less travelled, the path of crucifixion, where we need go no further than today’s allotment of disappointment, sorrow, and reversal of fortune to discover yet another opportunity for faithfully surrendering ourselves to the one who authors us into moment-to-moment existence.

 

Ken Kuhlken writes novels.  Dr. Bob Weathers teaches and practices psychology.

 

 

Making room for the Infinite

Dallas Willard, in The Spirit of the Disciplines, advocates prayer, solitude and silence, meditation upon the life of Christ, sacrifice and service to others. He implies these disciplines will allow us to make room for what Soren Kierkegaard calls the infinite.

Every believer should read the book. But if Kierkegaard had read it, I imagine he would respond that prescriptions are dangerous, and we each need to discover and practice our unique manner and method.

In my case, prayer may not be the most effective means of accessing the infinite. I have a fitfully wandering mind. Even with a prescribed agenda like the Lord’s Prayer, I need to address one thought at a time because each thought sends me off on a tangent. “Our father–” Zoom, off I go into concerns about parenting.

Solitude and silence work for me.  During the time in my life (age fifteen, following the death of my father) when I most needed to feel the presence of the infinite, I spent nearly every day for a year at a golf course amongst oaks and willows alongside the stream. Usually I played alone. The golf course wasn’t Walden Pond or a hermitage in the desert, but it served.

Meditation upon the wisdom and life of Christ has become a vital part of my routine, and also where these reflections of mine usually begin.

Sacrifice and service to others, I suspect, follow naturally from love conceived in the manner Kierkegaard teaches: that we should obey Christ’s command to love (primarily in action) our neighbors (everyone) without distinction.

And I will add to Willard’s list a discipline I find both difficult and imperative, which is denying myself the right to judge.

Long ago, when I first turned to the Bible, a passage that most rang true was Luke 6:37: “Do not judge not and you will not be judged, do not condemn and you will not be condemned, forgive, and you will be forgiven.”

“Do not judge” felt especially relevant, and I have tried to obey as it applied to severe judgments (this guy is a lowdown, worthless jerk, etc.) Only lately, in response to Kierkegaard’s exacting application of Christ’s commands, have I begun to notice the extent to which I go around judging all day long. He isn’t successful since his car is junk, she doesn’t know how to match clothes, he probably eats too much, she has breast implants, he’s an athlete, she is exceedingly beautiful, as would her friend be if she gained about twenty pounds.

All these judgments of mine, according to Kierkegaard, have the effect of delivering judgment upon myself.

Say we are a curious person who wants to know about others, and instead of our critical judgments we look at people with the intention of seeing the goodness, the love in them. Instead of my eyes and thoughts lingering on the beautiful checker at Trader Joe’s, suppose I turn to the heavy-set older fellow she is checking, and attempt to view him with Jesus’ merciful and loving eye. If I succeed, won’t I get blessed with a deeper appreciation of beauty, more in accord with the infinite?

Kierkegaard has been accused of drawing from Eastern thought, perhaps because of his vision of God echoing our behavior with his behavior toward us. Without exception, Kierkegaard teaches, God’s attitude toward us literally reflects our attitude toward others.

No doubt this will offend many believers, as it seems almost mechanical, more like karma than like the ways of the anthropomorphic God they imagine.

Still, the notion of God’s behavior reflecting ours is an idea worth much consideration, as it may hold a key to the infinite.

Reasons to Believe

Sometime back, Tim Hardin came out with “Reason to Believe”.

Here’s the beginning, and the song’s premise:

“If I listened long enough to you
I’d find a way to believe that it’s all true,
Knowing that you lied straight-faced while I cried.
Still I look to find a reason to believe.”

Perhaps that lyric resonates with me because I feel in it the truth that belief is a choice, and that for a multitude of reasons, each of us would choose to believe in an idea or a cause, or in somebody, if we could find a reason to make the choice feel valid.

Everyone who believes in God has at least one reason, and our reasons are crucial to the integrity of our faith and its working out in practice.

Kierkegaard holds that the Christianity of many people is tainted because it is grounded in impure reasons, such as: the quest for personal salvation; the need to feel forgiven; a conviction that faith will deliver prosperity; or the vision of heavenly rewards in return for our earthly sacrifices.

In Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing, he contends that the only worthy reason to believe, and the only one that will guide us toward integrity and an effective faith, is simply to will the good. He would have us will the good for no other reason than because it is the good, and to recognize that following Christ is the best and perhaps only way we can recognize what the good is.

On our way to Tucson for Thanksgiving, my son Cody and I talked about happiness and how it results most naturally from the setting aside of ego when we turn our concerns toward the well-being of others.

Some years ago, I spent a summer in a cabin in the mountains above Chico, California. I had a great job, a lovely environment, but my kids were a thousand miles away. My marriage of seventeen years had disintegrated. I felt as if a tumor the size of a softball had taken root in my stomach, except whenever my thoughts turned from my plight to somebody else’s. Then the tumor would shrink, only to grow again when I returned to brooding about me.

Later, I spent several days in Tijuana taking notes for an article about Mother Teresa’s seminarians. These folks had forsaken all their possessions to live on handout food, in the barracks-like quarters of a former elementary school located in a polluted barrio of families living in shacks and tool sheds. The seminarians had taken a vow of “poverty, chastity, obedience and wholehearted and free service to the poorest of the poor”. Yet (or consequently) they appeared to be the happiest of all people.

Cody, a high school teacher, mentioned that many teachers want to help others but get discouraged because students and parents aren’t demonstrably appreciative. So, eventually, they give up sacrificing for their students.

When Cody wondered aloud if it’s possible to continue pursuing the good of others if we don’t feel compelled by our faith, I thought of a theme that drove Feodor Dostoyevski’s novels: without God there is no reason to follow any moral system.

I suspect even believers who do good for the sake of reward such as the desire to get thanked, to find peace, or to achieve heavenly bliss, are doomed to discouragement, because their motive is essentially selfish. In Christian terms, blessings don’t follow from sinful (i.e. selfish) motives.

According to Kierkegaard, we are called to find in our hearts or spirits the will to choose (and act for the sake of) the good regardless of personal benefit. To ask ourselves: will I pursue the good if all I ever get in return is mockery and punishment on earth followed by eternal oblivion? Can I believe that strongly in the good, which essentially is love?

Take a look at Ken Kuhlken’s books  Midheaven and Reading Brother Lawrence, both gripping and thoughtful stories.

Kierkegaard and Good Ol’ Charlie Brown

Even during the rare times when my mind is able to fully engage, I might read a paragraph or page of Soren Kierkegaard and find my only reaction is “Huh?” I might read the page over again and again and at last give up, wondering if the translator was suffering from dementia.  But, if I put down the book and ask myself to translate subjectively, beginning with the premise of the section or chapter and asking how could this premise, in my experience, possibly prove true, usually an answer comes.

The Works of Love chapter, “Love Believes All Things” maintains that (in my translation) we who aim to follow Christ should believe that Lucy won’t pull the football away just as Charlie Brown kicks at it. Even if she pulls it away seventy times seven times, we are required to believe that next time she won’t.

What’s more, Kierkegaard has the audacity to argue that if we believe all things, even that Lucy could change, we will never be deceived. “Huh?” I muttered, then laid the book down and wondered how could this be true?

I don’t know whether Charles Shultz read Kierkegaard, but I imagine he knew of St. Paul’s description of love in 1 Corinthian’s 13:7. “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

Without claiming Charlie Brown as a Christ figure, I will submit that Charlie is no dupe, that he remembers quite well what Lucy has done in the past and realizes what she may do again. Yet he also recognizes that no matter the number of times Lucy has snatched the football, the next time she might either snatch it or hold it still. After all, she is human, and humans grow and change. So he chooses to believe in Lucy.

Either at some point in his development or in accord with his nature, Charlie has chosen to love. On account of that choice, love has become part of him. So he believes all things. And he is not deceived. He knows he may turn a flip and land on his back. She may laugh and berate him. But he would rather suffer pain and humiliation than risk forsaking love, which chooses to believe. Sure, he could walk away, but he is neither a quitter nor a coward, and Lucy has offered him a chance to believe, to act out of love. I applaud Charlie Brown.

So would Kierkegaard, who writes: “… knowledge does not defile a man; it is mistrust which defiles a man’s knowledge just as love purifies it.”

Ken Kuhlken’s Reading Brother Lawrence, the account of a trip to the Kingdom of Heaven, recently came out as an ebook.

Coach Kierkegaard

Kierkegaard cautioned believers to stay as far as possible from the Danish clergy, whose religion was “just about as genuine as tea made from a bit of paper which once lay in a drawer beside another bit of paper which had once been used to wrap up a few dried tea leaves from which tea had already been made three times.”

The man didn’t mince words. It might be fair to say that an aspect of his genius was the ability to rant and reason at the same time. Even if I didn’t sense truth in his convictions, I might read his work just to get a rise from his rabid enthusiasm. His words are so charged with emotion that I, a rather careful fellow, get awestruck by his wild indulgence, especially in analogy and metaphor.

Not only does the passion endear him to me, it gives me perspective, so that when he informs us that God requires our perfect obedience, I don’t feel condemned for falling way short but rather feel cheered on, as if a crew of girls in tutus are leaping up and down on the sidelines and a coach is screaming for us to give 110 percent.

A golfing buddy told me that Anika Sorenstam, one of the game’s legends, recommends that golfers approach each game with the intention of shooting 54. For those who don’t play, that means one under par for each hole on a standard course. On a par four hole, it means one drive, one shot onto the green, and one putt.

I don’t know that Anika, or anybody, has ever accomplished this essentially perfect score. But the idea of setting the goal has merit, much like Kierkegaard reporting that God requires us to live, act, and think according to Jesus’ prescriptions and commands.

The author of Zen Golf suggests a strikingly different goal. He reasons that if we are, say, bogey golfers (one over par per hole, on average), we should set our sights on bogeys, in order to relieve the pressure that causes tension and so restricts the freedom of our swing.

I find both suggestions valid, but for golfers with different intentions. Those who would be touring pros, and so are willing to devote their best efforts most every day of their lives, can wisely and legitimately go for birdies. The rest of us are more likely to suffer than to benefit from such a lofty goal.

Kierkegaard maintains that devoting ourselves to seeking God’s will, and obeying what we are given or discern, is the route to fullness of joy. So he cheers us on to that end, while warning that running the race will require our full dedication.

I don’t sense him condemning us bogey Christians, unless we happen, like the Danish clergy, to be leading others along our mediocre way. Rather, he appears to anguish over our failure to seek and win the highest joy. Like a parent who lies awake fretting over his prodigal children.

Ken Kuhlken writes historical crime novels and teaches online at Perelandra College.