Tag Archives: Around the World Reading Challenge

Nothing “Mere” About It



C.S. Lewis, the beloved Oxford and Cambridge professor who wrote The Chronicles of Narnia, was a staunch atheist—until he encountered Christ.

I started reading Mere Christianity many years ago, and gave up after about four chapters. It is not a quick and easy read. However, so many people (including my own son) have told me it helped clarify and advance them in their faith that I thought I should give it another chance. I’m so glad I did. I chose it as my selection for the continent of Europe for the Around the World Reading Challenge.


During World War II, the British Broadcasting Corporation invited Lewis to record a series of ten-minute talks about the basics of the Christian faith. Those talks were eventually collected into what became Mere Christianity.

The beginning of the book seemed pedantic, simple, and boring to me. I really struggled with it, and felt tempted to abandon it. But I stuck with it, and it’s a good thing I did. The beginning sets the groundwork for the rest of the book.

In it, Lewis tackles subjects like free will, predestination, the God-man Jesus, salvation, morality, hope, and eternity, concepts that flummox even long-time Christians. When I was present with him (I had to reread passages over and over; my brain would wander away), his explanations were crystal clear. For example, here is how he begins to explain how God’s omniscience differs from Man’s limitations, and still does not compromise our free will:

Everyone who believes in God at all believes that He knows what you and I are going to do tomorrow. But if He knows I am going to do so-and-so, how can I be free to do otherwise? Well, here once again the difficulty comes from thinking that God is progressing along the Time-line like us: the only difference being that He can see ahead and we cannot. Well, if that were true, if God foresaw our acts, it would be very hard to understand how we could be free not to do them. But suppose God is outside and above the Time-line. In that case, what we call ‘tomorrow’ is visible to Him in just the same way as what we call ‘today’. All the days are ‘Now’ for Him.

While I was reading the book, I often thought I would understand the words so much better if I could just hear Lewis say them with his own inflection. Sadly, only one tape remains—all the rest were recycled during the war effort. Yet, through the magic of the internet, you can hear that one remaining broadcast on YouTube:

How cool is that? The beginning of this talk appears in book 4, Chapter 3, Time and Beyond Time (the same chapter from which I took the above excerpt). The salt illustration and some of the thoughts about personality are included in Chapter 11, The New Men. This makes me think it was part of another tape–the clip is fifteen minutes long, and the voice changes at one point.

As I got to the last chapters of this book, I was touched to the point of tears, and excited about the journey ahead of me in my faith. At my advanced age, I am finally ready to rely only on God.

I recommend this book with one caveat—it’s simple, but it’s not easy. And it is so worth rereading.

This is my third installment in the Around the World Reading Challenge sponsored by the blog Booking It (click here). For my other installments, please see What is My Calling? and Can Your Story Change the WorldDisclaimer: I don’t think I’m going to be able to finish the Challenge before the end of the year–I haven’t yet chosen my books from Africa, Australia, or South America.

Can Your Story Change the World?

Can Your Story Change the World?

“We have no problems.” That’s what my husband, Greg, and I say to each other while watching the news on TV. The turmoil and suffering we see around the world make our own challenges and frustrations miniscule in comparison.

As my selection from Asia for the Around the World Reading Challenge, I chose I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and was Shot by the Taliban. Malala Yousafzai is Pakistani, though her co-author, journalist Christina Lamb, is British. Malala is, of course, the 2014 winner of the Nobel Peace Prize for her activism on behalf of education.

This book humbled me. The descriptions of the hardships that the people of Pakistan face on a daily basis brought me to tears, as did the efforts of this young girl and her father to provide solutions through education.

In a culture where women are of little consequence, Malala’s father, Ziauddin Yousafzai, is atypical in that he unabashedly loves and respects his wife and daughter, so much so that he solicits and reflects on their opinions and advice. A teacher with a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in English, he advocated for education, especially of girls, before his own daughter was even born. He built the school Malala attended and served as its administrator.

Pakistan has had more than its share of natural disasters, such as a massive earthquake in 2005 that killed more than 73,000 people. In 2010, floods killed 2,000 people, affecting 14,000,000 people and destroying homes and 7,000 schools. The Pakistani government did little to help its people after these catastrophes; most aid came from Islamic organizations including TSNM, the Taliban of Swat, the region where Malala’s family lived. When the Taliban began moving into the area and expanding their influence, people remembered their assistance and felt obliged to support them. (There is a lesson here for the entire world.)

Mr. Yousafazai’s outspoken resistance to the Taliban’s restrictions against girls’ education earned threats of retaliation; but when he suggested to his daughter that they temporarily abandon their public outrcry, Malala objected:

“How can we do that?” I replied. “You were the one who said if we believe in something greater than our lives, then our voices will only multiply even if we are dead. We can’t disown our campaign!”

So their work continued, but with a tragic setback. After Malala and two classmates were shot by a Taliban gunman on their school bus, Malala was ultimately airlifted to Birmingham, England, where she was more likely to receive the level of care she needed for her recovery.

Though around the world she is recognized for her valor, in her native country there are those (sympathetic to extremist views, perhaps) who accuse her of using her circumstances to catapult herself into a life of luxury. Malala ignores the criticism, and instead focuses on her goal: universal access to education. Her father shares this objective in his work as the education attaché for the Pakistan consulate in England and as the advisor to the UN for global education.big malala

I Am Malala is a must read. It goes beyond being a nice story about a courageous girl; it challenges the reader to support what is right, even if it leads to one’s own death.

Can your life story change the world?

This is my second installment in the Around the World Reading Challenge sponsored by the blog Booking It (click here). For my first installment, please see What is My Calling?

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What Is My Calling?

What Is My Calling?

If you asked me a few years ago what my calling was, I would tell you I was born to teach. I loved being around elementary school children, seeing the world through their eyes. I taught music, and I loved seeing the kids build skills, learn concepts, and enjoy making music.

Then everything changed. Without going into detail, teaching became a burden rather than a joy. Recognizing that the educational paradigm was shifting, I tried to roll with the changes, telling myself I could hang on until things got better.

They only got worse. Demands increased as resources dwindled. Morale at my school plummeted. My stress level rose. After grieving for three years over my profession’s shift from rewarding labor to drudgery, I resigned in May of 2014. I had to. I couldn’t suffer it one more day.

I immediately underwent an identity crisis. What was I, if no longer a teacher? And what was I going to do with the rest of my life? I was too young to retire, too young for Medicare.

Signing the deal

I returned to Tuesdays Children, the writers’ critique group I was part of a decade before, when as a stay-at-home mom I tried to write for a living. It was my logical fall-back, since I always said I’d return to writing when I wasn’t teaching any more. These wonderful ladies decided to launch a group blog, Doing Life Together, and I wrote a post about my transition from teaching to the unknown. (Click here.)

Jeff Goins

Jeff Goins

When Jeff Goins, a writer whose blog I follow (click here), recently published his book The Art of Work: A Proven Path to Discovering What You Were Meant to Do, I knew I had to read it. And since I am participating in the Around the World Reading Challenge sponsored by the blog Booking It (click here), I am reviewing it here as my entry for North America. (Jeff Goins lives near Nashville, Tennessee.)The Art of Work

In this book, Goins explains that everything that happens in your life is preparation for what is to come. Sometimes when you seem stuck doing something you never wanted to do, you are actually busy acquiring skills you need to accomplish your (as yet undiscovered) mission in life. Most people work at multiple occupations during their lifetimes, and none of those are wasted in the big picture, though it may take the perspective of looking back through decades to be aware of how vital those experiences were to your growth into the person you were always meant to be. In fact, if you think your calling is only one thing, you’re wrong—it will be many things over time. The path isn’t straight, it’s loopy. And what seems like backtracking isn’t necessarily lack of progress.

My favorite chapter of all is 5. Pivot Points: Why Failure Is Your Friend. It made me realize that my time teaching needed to be over because my apprenticeship there was through. Teaching helped me hone two skills I need for my writing—crafting words to make concepts crystal clear, and using design software. (One of the many expectations teachers comply with is maintaining a webpage about what they are teaching in class; another is advising extra-curricular activities. I volunteered to produce the school’s yearbook for three years. Little did I know how much it would help me later in designing my blog.)

After a year of agonizing over what I should be pursuing, praying to the Lord for direction and not discerning any, applying for jobs and not finding a good fit, reading The Art of Work confirmed for me that I am already doing exactly when I was meant to do at this point in my life. A year ago, God immediately answered my prayers by placing me precisely where I needed to be.