Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Wasted Wednesday's: Faith and Books

"What is life kept to ourselves? Careful words composed. It's a book upon the shelf, the story never told. Pages turn and then unfold to show us where we've been. As the signs along the road, to lead us home again." - Growing Pains, Deas Vail
Faith and books?  God and Jodie Picoult?  Jesus and Jane Austen? Has anyone ever thought about how important books are when it comes to learning and strengthening in faith?  It isn't a very prominent topic that seems to be blogged about...in fact I've never seen anyone blog about this, but for the past few weeks I have come across this idea that there is a reason why I feel such a connection to my faith when I read books.

To start off this blog, I decided to make a ven diagram comparing faith and books (below).  In the diagram, I wrote down my thoughts as well as thoughts others might add.  I put question marks at certain points that I feel could be elaborated on but won't be elaborated on during this blog.

In Faith's section I have listed - the bible (where all guidance can be found as well as a connection with God), a way of life, Non-Fiction (referring to the bible), Church (something that goes along with faith but doesn't define one as a good Christian), Seriousness (we Christian's know how to make the Gospel fun while also focusing on it's serious message), God's word, and rules (religion has rules...but we aren't talking about religion now, are we?). For books I listed - literature (though the bible could be argued to be literature which I believe it is), school (since we read a lot of novels for English class), fun (not all people like to read), recreation, Fiction, written by regular people, and sin (yes, lots of novels consist of events that involve with sin but the same can also be said about the bible since the bible started with Adam and Eve).  As I look at this list I see that while on the surface these things seem different they are actually quite similar.  After all, books can be serious and the bible can be fun.  The bible can be read in (certain) schools just like literature.  And the holy bible contains many stories featuring sin just like in most novels.  The biggest difference I see here is God's word vs. written by regular people.  After all, how can the mere words we humans write compare to the words sent down by God?

Now, let's look at the similarities I wanted to talk about.  I made them straight and simple.  The first - LESSONS!  Boy do books teach us lessons (except Twilight...and no, neither does Fifty Shades of Grey!).  I truly believe with all of my heart that God uses us as tools to help spread love around the world and He often times uses random things to help us see not with our eyes but with faith in Him.  To back up this statement, I have chosen three of my favorite books to talk about and discuss how they have helped me on my journey in faith.  I have also come across a blog written by a man named Jefferson Bethke, who is one of my favorite poets, titled "Why cooking meals is just as Christian as praying".  In this blog, Jeff uses a very important verse from the bible.

“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” - 1st Corinthians 10:31

It says "all the glory"...not partial glory, all. God truly does work in mysterious ways and He most certainly works through books to reach people these days.  The problem is, people only read on the surface.  They read the words on the page but don't sit down and let them soak through their skins until the story feels like it truly happened to them.
I look for faith in every piece of literature I pick up.  It is a habit.  I always wonder what a character's spiritual background is and what their beliefs are in the present day story.  One of my favorite books, The Lovely Bones, holds many truths about faith.  I think the most important aspect that I learned was letting go.  In the story, Susie is raped and murderer by a neighbor and journey's to the in between, watching life go on without her in it.  By the end of the story, we see Susie finally letting go of life on earth and going to heaven where she is happier.  This can be compared to claiming Jesus as your savior and not your religion.  When we let go of all our earthly possessions and "needs" and accept Jesus as all that we need, we are happier just like Susie let go of life and found happiness in heaven.

In another one of my favorite books, My Sister lives on the Mantelpiece, the main character's sister is killed in a terrorist attack and his family falls apart because of it.  Jamie (the main character) soon meets a girl named Sunya who is Muslim just like the terrorists who killed his sister.  Jamie's father has always told him that Muslim's are evil but Sunya is quite the opposite and Jamie must make sense of the situation - that Sunya can't be blamed for his sister's death just because she is a Muslim.  This idea speaks many truths to Christians.  A lot of Christians shun people who are different, whether is be because of their skin color or because of stereotypes or because a couple had sex before marriage.  It's obvious that the church and religion has frightened people away while Jesus is waiting there with open arms.  After all, and I quote Jeff Bethke,
"[Church is] not a museum for good people, it's a hospital for the broken". 
While this quote doesn't qualify for all cases, it certainly helps put things into perspective.  We as Christians shouldn't shun people because they are different.  We should show people that we love and aren't full of hatred.  Just because someone shares different beliefs doesn't mean they are a bad person.

I have a friend who had a bad experience with relationships and because of this, she blames every guy for her problems.  If a guy does something stupid, she says it's because of his sex.  This is a stereotype - for you can't judge all guys by the mistakes that a few guys made.  This goes for every person that is alive and breathing on this planet.  Jesus never judged, He loved.  That's all.  This book truly teaches us to accept one another like Jesus did.

The last example I am going to use is Harry Potter.  I know, seems strange mixing HP with faith...well actually, not to me it isn't.  You see, Harry Potter has always taught me a lot about my faith.  Growing up, I was told by the media that church's hate Harry Potter.  In a documentary called Jesus Camp the campers yell hatred at the Harry Potter books because it is about warlocks.  Notice my wording in the last sentence though - hatred.  Is there really any room for hate in church?  Harry Potter taught me more about my faith than going to CCD every Wednesday night (it's a Catholic thing).  To start easy, one connection I always saw between HP and faith was how much Harry resembled Jesus and Dumbledore resembled God in their actions.  Of course, neither of these characters are perfect like God and Jesus but they do possess qualities that reflect those in the bible very strongly.  Harry gives up his life and rises from the dead!  He saves the wizarding world because of love.  He also holds unmoving faith in Dumbledore and has patience to follow Dumbledore's orders even when he doesn't understand them fully.  Isn't that how God works with us?  We don't always understand where He is leading us but it all becomes clear when we trust Him.  These books also have a very important message - that we always have a choice.  While our choices don't permanently define us, they do show what was important to us on earth and our choices do matter to God (even though he loves us no matter what).  One of my favorite quotes from the series is said by Dumbledore,
"It is not our abilities that show what we truly are, it is our choices."
That was a lot of analyzing!  Just like we sit down and do our bible study, we can also sit down and do a literature study about finding God in the stories we love the most.  He reveals himself in the most awesome ways!  One thing I've noticed when it comes to faith is that it is sort of like a puzzle and every event in my life is like a piece.  The more experience I hold, the more life makes sense and my puzzle progresses.  Whether I go to church or am doing bible study, the themes I learn about always seem to apply to my life and have a clear message.  The same goes for books.  Books contain a message toward us that can apply to our lives and only can we see these messages by studying literature and the bible.  This is why lessons are a huge similarity when it comes to faith and books.

The next similarity goes along with lessons. Both faith and books have symbolism!  I think, for me, that is what appeals to me so much about the two.  This symbolism I can learn and comprehend and use it not only to relate to my own life but learn more about myself and the people around me.  Above, when I discussed some of my favorite novels, shows perfect examples of symbolism!  How awesome is that?! To give an example of symbolism in the bible, just look at the story of Jesus carrying the cross.  The cross symbolizes our sin that He carries on his back.  When He rises from the dead, He is saying that our sins do not define us!  Grace frees us and our spirits will live after death all because Jesus died for our sins!  Wow!  That is some incredible symbolism!  The only different between that story and the ones I talked about above is that Jesus was real while the novels aren't...literally speaking.

Another similarity that I don't really agree with is that faith and books are boring.  I'm not going to take this one too far since I don't believe it but let's face it, a lot of people DO believe this and it's a bit disheartening.  Why do bible study when you can watch a whole marathon of the Vampire Diaries?  Why do bible study when you can go to the church carnival with your buddies?  Why do bible study when you can text your friend?  Why read a book when I can easily watch the movie?  Today's world holds so many distractions.  No one sits down in quiet anymore.  TV's always need to be on to sleep and people can't seem to walk anywhere without their headphones on.  They drain out the world around them instead of listening to silence.  In essence, no one seems to truly THINK much anymore (see my previous Wasted Wednesday blog).  Fast paced life appeals to them because that is what Hollywood and the universe has told them is the way to live.  So yes, boring is a similarity between faith and books but it is only because people are too dumb to try and better themselves.  We live in a world where we love to worship ourselves!

The next similarity I have written down is one I must explain - our own.  There was a quote I once read that says that there is some of us in everything we encounter.  The way I interpret this is that everything that enters our lives changes us and we are never the same person we were a minute before.  It only takes a second for us to learn a new habit.  For example, one day my cat was acting up and went to bite my ankles.  I tried to dodge her but instead slammed my face onto the railing.  It took that moment to teach me to always walk backwards if my cat was in biting mode!  I came out of the situation a slightly different person than I was before.  This same thing goes for faith and novels.  When we finish a book we are a changed person just as much as we are a changed person when we leave church on Sunday.  As humans, we take our experiences and knowledge and absorb new information and apply it to our lives.  When we apply these things to our lives, they teach us things.  I guess this point goes along with lessons so I am sort of repeating myself...novels and faith both tell incredible stories that teach us things and we are always changing for the better after we encounter them.  It is important to read novels with the knowledge of faith to apply concepts of faith toward the novel you just read (re-read that sentence a few times before going on...let it settle in your brain because even I find it complex and I'm the one who typed it, haha). Of course, it isn't just faith and novels that change us. Everything changes us!  But looking at things for the sake of making a point in this blog, it works.

And finally, the last similarity that applies essentially to myself...a way of life!  Obviously I love to read...my blog is all about reading.  I've grown up reading.  Books were always on my shelf and when I finished one, I moved on to another one.  There was always a book in my backpack with me during school in case I got bored.  I always read before bed and still do.  I literally can not imagine a world where there were no PHYSICAL (pun to the stupid kindle) books to read!  What would my life be like without all these stories?  All these stories make up for my lack of personal experience in life.  As George R. R. Martin says,
"A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies.  The man who never reads lives only one.”
These stories taught me how to stand up for what is right and they have helped me dive deep into myself and I have discovered many small things about my life that have shaped who I am today.  But most of all, they have taught me about faith.  I remember when I was only 15 at church camp and the pastor was talking about a song I knew and how it related to the bible and faith and everyday life and he talked about symbolism and I was so mesmerized by his sermon because it rung so true...it seemed that art and faith went hand in hand.  I talked about books in this blog but I believe art in general has the power to connect with faith as well (film, music, theatre, video games, etc.).

To conclude this blog, I find that faith and books go hand in hand because both are complex and thought provoking.  Both are a way of life because books teach us about faith and life while faith influences what we read and how we interpret what we read.  It is a circle.  I will end this blog with a quote...
“It is what you read when you don't have to that determines what you will be when you can't help it.”
― Oscar Wilde

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