Chesterton, Children, and the Death of Curiosity

This post has been re-uploaded as part of the Archive Restoration Project.

My brain is constantly coming up with ideas and I can’t get it to stop. I was on the phone one day a few weeks back and I saw a gate. It reminded me of The Secret Garden, a book I read more than five times and loved as a kid.

Nine-year-old me would have been very curious about that gate, which was locked and set in a brick wall covered in vines. But I’m 21, and I knew what was beyond the gate, so I wasn’t at all concerned about the fact that it was locked. I knew I could walk through the house I was staying at and come out on the other side, and find how uninteresting the place beyond it was.

G.K. Chesterton wrote in his book Orthodoxy the phenomenon of storytelling and what impresses children:

“We all like astonishing tales because they touch the nerve of the ancient instinct of astonishment. This is proved by the fact that when we are very young children we do not need fairy tales: we only need tales. Mere life is interesting enough. A child of seven is excited by being told that Tommy opened a door and saw a dragon. But a child of three is excited by being told that Tommy opened a door. Boys like romantic tales; but babies like realistic tales – because they find them romantic. In fact, a baby is about the only person, I should think, to whom a modern realistic novel could be read without boring him.”

I agreed with Chesterton immediately when reading this, but it wasn’t until I looked at the gate, and realized I knew what was beyond it, that adults are less curious. I wasn’t just unimpressed by the idea of opening the gate and finding a dragon, I didn’t care to open the gate at all.

As Lewis wrote in The Magician’s Nephew: “adults are always coming up with uninteresting explanations.”

I saw a door like the Secret Garden, and the child in me wondered of the world beyond, but I realized Chesterton’s analogy was partial: the young child need only hear that a door was opened, the older child must hear of what lies beyond the door, but the adult need not open the door at all to be satisfied and unimpressed with what lies behind it.

Doors that were locked used to be worth unlocking simply because they were locked. I want to be that child again. That’s why I try to listen to the wise words of Randall Munroe:

“Take wrong turns. Talk to strangers. Open unmarked doors, and if you see a group of people in a field, go find out what they’re doing. Do things without always knowing how they’ll turn out. You’re curious and smart and bored, and all you see is the choice between working hard and slacking off. There are so many adventures that you miss because you’re waiting to think of a plan. To find them, look for tiny interesting choices. And remember that you are always making up the future as you go.”

Why Spiritual Highs Scare Me

I’ve been listening to a song lately with a poetic description of something everybody, religious or non-religious, experiences: spiritual highs.

It’s called Rudy by Supertramp, from my favorite of their albums, Crime of the Century. Beginning with the words “Rudy’s on a train to nowhere,” it escalates into Rudy realizing he needs to get his life together.

From a third-person narrative, Rudy goes through a lengthy introspective examination, concluding:

You’d better gain control now
You’d better show’em all now
You’d better make or break now
You’d better give and take now
You’ll have to push and shove now
You’ll have to find some love now
You’d better gain control now.

Those words would seem cliché and/or inspiring if not for the next line, which drops to a lower octave and delivers four last lines:

Now he’s just come out the movie,
Numb of all the pain.
Sad, but in a while he’ll soon be
Back on his train…

Those lines haunt me, because whether I’m experiencing a spiritual high connected to my faith or while watching a great movie, I know the feeling of leaving the theater: the high is gone. All the conviction I may have felt is gone, it’s doesn’t matter afterward. I’ll feel better if I give myself time. It’s easy to discredit my emotions in a moment of excitement and revelation.

I wrote this line in one of my recent poems: “Hear something, and don’t act on it, and you’ll be comfortable in silencing your soul.”

That’s why every time I enter a church and the leader is going for a spiritual high, I get a bit scared. They’re not there to have a lasting change, they’re there for a moment of feeling great, and then they’ll leave the church building, and it will feel to them just like coming out of a good movie. Good stuff, they might say, but it’s like hearing a mere story, not treating conviction as a fable with an applicable moral.

The only way I’ve found to break this viciousness is to act on the things that inspire me. It doesn’t matter what it is, I must at least write it down, pass it on, or in some small way implement it.

Sometimes I look silly when I do this. It means when I realize something and I have to send a message to an old friend, I do it right then. It makes life feel urgent in the midst of everyday schedules. It’s why my priorities look lopsided to everyone around me, and I seem to be distantly connected to a far-off universe.

Comfort comes from silencing my conscience because I can get used to it. My brain gets programmed into hearing and not doing if that’s what I consistently do.

I’d rather be uncomfortable.

I’m Not Ashamed of the Gospel, You’re Just Not Preaching It

This article was republished by the Huffington Post under a different title with some changes.

So this morning I woke up to the following photo on my Facebook feed:

I left a quick comment on both my friend’s post and the original post from Ken Ham. I think Ham deleted my comment on his post because I can’t find it (correct me if you see it – the post is on his page here), but what I said to the small group of friends was this: “This is an awful idea and I’m ashamed that any Christian supports it.”

The first reason I don’t think Christians should support this photo should be obvious. To say “you’re wrong” is unconvincing. It’s also unloving, but while being loving should be first on the list of priorities for people who follow Jesus, my experience with supporters of this kind of thing would say something like “speaking the truth is the most loving thing you can do.”

I’m bothered by three other elements of the billboard campaign, which will land in New York’s Times Square today both on the corner of Chevy’s as shown and playing on the Times Square Digital Board as an animation every 2 minutes for the next month. First, it points to Genesis 1:1 to make its point, which means the argument is between young-earth creationism and evolution. Second, it says “thank God” on it. Third, it calls atheists “our friends,” and proceeds not to treat them in a friendly way.

When I made my comment, more than one person agreed that my expression of shame at this representation of my faith meant I have a heart issue. The reason what I said frustrates other Christians is because we grew up hearing Romans 1:16 and 1 Timothy 2:15, both of which talk about not being ashamed of the Gospel.

I’m not ashamed of the Gospel, but I can say I’m ashamed of this billboard and any Christians who support it because it’s not the Gospel.

The Gospel is not young-earth creationism. There are plenty of people who believe in intelligent design who aren’t Christians, and there are plenty of Christians who don’t believe in a young earth. To say this billboard is an attempt to spread the Gospel is equivocation – the logical fallacy of defending something by placing the wrong label on it.

The reason this seems clever to Christians is because we don’t hear the phrase “thank God” very often to start a catchphrase. To use this phrase is hypocritical for any Christian who thought he was witnessing to an atheist when he called him out for taking the Lord’s name in vain.

I have atheist friends, and I can guarantee that the person who thought it was a good idea to spend millions of dollars on this campaign doesn’t have atheist friends.

It’s guaranteed because my experience with atheists tells me to tell someone they’re wrong, based on an authority they don’t believe in, is the worst way to convince and love people. I’m ashamed of this campaign, because the gospel tells me to love and contend by speaking the truth in love, not come up with a short, hurtful, expensive ad to flash in the faces of the most frequented place in the country.

This needs a response because hundreds of thousands of people will be seeing this, unfortunately. It exemplifies an important principle: don’t think if someone accuses you of being ashamed of the gospel, that what you’re against is really the gospel.

A Moment I Live For

I first found it when working at camps with young children. When I was seventeen, I volunteered at a horse vaulting camp. My group was full of little girls, aged seven and eight, who had to learn how to do tricks while riding horses. One girl in my group suffered from serious phobias, including a fear of heights and being around moving things. Being on top of a horse made her hyperventilate, and it was my job to calm her, because her parents had agreed to send her to this camp.

This little girl – I’ll call her Clara – didn’t think she could ever do something like ride a walking horse and hold her arms out in a salute at the same time. I kept encouraging her and working with her throughout the week, and every time, she got this look of defeat on her face before asking to dismount.

It was the second-to-the-last day of camp when I had a breakthrough with Clara. I told her, as I always did, that I was going to let go of her hand as I walked beside the horse. She didn’t like the idea, but when she was holding up her arms all by herself, a look of pure amazement spread into a smile across her face. She was doing what she had thought she could never do.

It’s happened several times, and I have a vivid image in my head of every face I’ve had the chance to see in this state of realization.

I saw it a couple of years ago, when I coaxed a barely-twelve-year-old into debating, and he knew more about the subject than he thought he did.

I saw it on the face of an anxious Apologetics student when I told him he could own the room he was speaking in if he stretched to his full height and spread his arms, and he tried it.

I saw it on the face of a dear friend who was raised to hate her own body, and she started dancing with self-confidence when I was the DJ for my family’s party this past Saturday.

The look is the same: always the willingness to trust me just enough, and then the girl I’m helping completely forgets me, amazed at herself. I could make comparisons and metaphors out of this experience if I wanted to, but I think the moment is so rare, so innocent, and so beautiful, it should be untainted. It’s worth all the work of investing in people.