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There’s an impulse in the human heart that makes us want to belong, to be on the inside. We want to be justified in our own eyes and in the eyes of others.  When it comes down to it we crave acceptance, don’t we? There’s just about nothing we enjoy more than the value and significance that comes from being welcomed by others. This desire for acceptance exists within every person. It’s part of the “make-up” of being human.

It’s also what C.S. Lewis called the desire for the Inner Ring. The way this desire plays out is that we identify a group or individual within a community of people and say to ourselves, “If I could only make it into the good graces of that group or person then I will feel like I belong. Then I won’t be a bum. I will feel better about my life because I will be able to look at those on the outside, and relish in the fact that I’m in and they’re not.” Lewis claimed that one of the most dominant drives in life is to be on the inside of the Ring. We feel pleasure when we get inside, but great anguish when we’re excluded. We base our identity, our very lives, on whether we’re in or not.

I’m not saying that the desire for acceptance is bad in itself. What I’m saying is that it’s bad when our value and worth depend on our acceptance by others. Because here’s the thing: “The quest for the Inner Ring,” writes C.S. Lewis, “will break your heart unless you break it.” He explains why:

The Ring cannot have from within the charm it had from outside. By the very act of admitting you it has lost its magic. Once the first novelty is worn off, the members of this circle will be no more interesting than your old friends.

Lewis is saying that soon after entering the Inner Ring we grow bored. It doesn’t satisfy us or serve our identity after a while. There comes a time when we’re rejected, or when the elation of acceptance wears off and we’re forced to move on and identify a new Inner Ring. This goes on and on. We’re never ultimately fulfilled. The real acceptance and belonging we’re after is elusive. We think we’ve found it each time, only to be disappointed in the end. When acceptance by others is a driving motivation in life we become enslaved and distorted.  We do whatever it takes to gain that acceptance even though it never delivers on what it appears to promise. When we experience rejection we’re inflicted with deep wounds that linger and shape our lives dramatically.

Franz Kafka’s novel, The Trial, contains a parable called The Gatekeeper in which a man from the country comes before a gatekeeper requesting to be admitted before the “law.” The gatekeeper denies access, but implies that admission might be granted later. The man is tantalized since he can peer through the gateway into the interior whenever the gatekeeper steps to the side. He wants so badly to know what’s on the other side. The gatekeeper assures him, however, that unless permission is granted by him there’s no way in.

The man is given a stool upon which he waits and waits, and waits for years. He persistently requests access, only to be denied. Over time, he gives his possessions away, attempting to entice the gatekeeper to change his mind. The gatekeeper gladly accepts the bribes, but refuses entrance. Early in the process the man from the country curses his luck, openly and loudly. Later in life he simply becomes bitter and grumbles to himself. As an old man, he is but a child, unable to think about anything other then entering into the presence of the “law.” Darkness surrounds him in his later years, and in his darkness he see’s a light radiating from the gateway of the law. He’s grown obsessed. He must get inside. Time is running out. Before his death, unable to move, he gathers himself enough to formulate one final question. He wants to know why, if everyone strives to reach the law, is he the only one who begged for admittance all these years? The parable concludes with the reply of the gatekeeper: “No one else could ever be admitted here, since this gate was made only for you. And now, I am going to shut it.”

Wow, those existentialists were real uppers, huh? Avoid reading Kafka when you’re depressed – or happy for that matter. There is something powerful, however, about Kafka’s parable. He captures the desire within every person to be on the inside, to be welcomed and invited in. Kafka’s parable, as do our feeble efforts to be welcomed and accepted, ends disappointingly. Kafka’s saying that the ultimate welcome and invitation we’re after is elusive. It’s unattainable. It doesn’t exist.

But what if it does? What if our striving for acceptance points to our need for welcome and acceptance on a cosmic level? What if our chasing after the Inner Rings of life, and their inability to provide ultimate security, is meant to show us that what we’re really after is God’s welcome. Lewis is able to get at how the drive for the Inner Ring is broken: “Until you conquer the fear of being an outsider, an ousider you will remain.” The good news of what God has done for in Jesus Christ uniquely addresses this fear. The biblical story tells us that we find acceptance with God, not based on who we are or what we do, but on who Jesus is and what he’s done. Therefore, as we lean on Jesus and entrust ourselves to him, our identity is firmly rooted. We have been reconciled to God through Christ and have no reason to chase after the acceptance of others because we have been embraced by God. In the ultimate sense, we are no longer outsiders. We belong. Philip Yancey talks about how sociologists have a theory of the looking-glass self. The idea is that you become what the most important person in your life thinks you are. What if we really believed that God has accepted us in Christ? How would that change the way we live? How would that change the amount of power we allow others to have over us? Acceptance by God through Jesus has the power to drive out our fear of being an outsider. Jesus became an outsider for us so that we don’t have to. God looks at us in all our guilt, shame, and woundedness and yet still embraces in Christ. We are known intimately (a scary thought) yet still belong.

C.S. Lewis writes in his essay The Weight of Glory:

Apparently, then, our lifelong nostalgia, our longing to be reunited with something in the universe from which we now feel cut off, to be on the inside of some door which we have always seen from the outside, is no mere neurotic fancy, but the truest index of our real situation. And to be at last summoned inside would be both glory and honour beyond all our merits and also the healing of that old ache.

The good news of the Christian faith is that we have been summoned inside by God himself. We are treated with glory and honor and given all the value and significane we need. Can you actually believe this? Do you believe it?

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LOST goes James Bond on us with Ben traveling the world on secret missions. The last few minutes in particular gave the show a different feel of suspense, at least for me. I loved the showdown between Ben and Widmore at the end of the episode. I’m looking forward to how their competition plays out. Who will win? Will Ben find and kill Penelope first, or will Widmore find the island first? Game on. This newly added twist should make things interesting. Can you imagine if Desmond learns of Ben’s ambition. By the way, did we witness Ben time traveling/teleporting throughout this episode? Read this article for more. Towards the beginning of the episode Ben appears in the middle of the Saharan desert dressed for cold weather. Has he just telported? His jacket bears the name of Dr. Halliwax’s, the scientist that has gone by several names in the various Dharma videos.

What do you make of the frieghter doc washing up on shore and someone from the frieghter later in the episode informing the beach camp that everyone is okay? Is the freighter member lying? Or is the island ahead of the freighter in time, and the folks on the island are seeing what happens in the future while the doctor has yet to have his throat slashed on the freighter? Intriguing, huh? Don’t forget Faraday’s line: “When is a relative term.”

We enounter Smokey the monster on sterioids this episode, indicating that Ben witheld the truth (surprise, surprise) from Locke when asked if he knew anything about the monster earlier this season. Where exactly did Ben go and what precisely did he do behind the door with all the hieroglyphics? Did you notice he came back dirty? Based on what happened next it appears that he arranged for Smokey to engulf the soldiers threatening the camp. Is Smokey controlled or is it autonomous? What are your thoughts on Ben and his ability to summon Smokey?

Overall, I was definitely a fan of the first episode back from hiatus. It was intense and set up the storyline for the remaining weeks. It’s funny how I keep thinking I have it all figured out as to how the Oceanic Six will get off the island, and then stuff happens to prove me wrong. I definitely didn’t think Alex would be killed. I really thought Claire was a goner as well. It’s hard to believe she survived the explosion isn’t it? I kind of thought that would serve as the explanation for how she gets separated from Aaron. It makes me wonder if she will die. I mean, if she survives a big explosion, why would they keep her alive only to kill her off some other way? Maybe she’s not separated from Aaron as a result of her death. Maybe he’s kidnapped by Kate or something.

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LOST is back tonight at a new time of 10 pm. The last five episodes this season should be entertaining. I can’t wait to see where this season leaves us. Enjoy!

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Click here to watch Keller’s lecture at Penn from his The Reason For God speaking tour.

Click here to watch the question and answer time that followed the lecture. I don’t think the Q&A was as good as it was in some other places where he lectured.

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This Sunday evening, in conjuction with the evening worship service at my church, Faith Presbyterian, there will be an art exhibition featuring work from students at the Delaware College of Art & Design as well as from some young adults in our church. Be sure to come and check it out if you’re in the area! The worship service begins at 6:00 pm.

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In chapter two, “How Could A Good God Allow Suffering?” Keller claims that just because you can’t discern a good reason why God might allow suffering doesn’t mean there isn’t one. He argues that the problem of suffering is a problem for both believers and nonbelievers alike, but perhaps an even greater problem for nobelievers. He cites the example of C.S. Lewis. Lewis initially rejected the idea of God because of the injustice and suffering in the world. Eventually though, he realized his response to suffering actually provided a better explanation for God’s existence. After all, where was he getting his idea of what is just and unjust? Why the instinctual response to suffering? How can one know a line is crooked without a concept of a straight line? Lewis’ reaction against the presence of evil and suffering in the world proved too problematic for his atheism. Keller, therefore, argues that the nonbeliever doesn’t have a good basis for being outraged at injustice. Recognizing what is wrong or unjust in the world implies that there is standard – one that must be supernatural since natural selection depends on death, destruction, and violence of the strong against the weak.

What Keller is ultimately getting at is that the problem of evil and suffering is a problem for everyone – theists and atheists alike. He then argues that while Christianity doesn’t provide exact reasons for every experience of pain, it does provide deep resources for facing suffering with hope. One thing Christians know for sure is that the reason we experience pain and suffering is not that God doesn’t love us, or that he is in some way detached and distant from the human plight. Christianity tells us that God actually came into the world to take our misery and suffering on himself at the cross. Furthermore, the resurrection of Christ points to the eventual restoration of all things when the earth will be healed and repaired and all suffering will be undone, making the glory and joy even greater.

The relationship between suffering and belief in God is intensely personal for me as a few years ago in seminary my faith was severely tested as I wrestled through this topic both personally and intellectually. I eventually came to the same conclusions Keller does in this chapter by praying, reading, and talking with others. My faith was restored as I drank deeply from the resources of the Christian gospel. If you’re interested in checking out some of C.S. Lewis’ stuff on suffering I recommend The Problem of Pain and A Grief Observed. Other books I found helpful were Making Sense out of Suffering by Peter Kreeft and Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be by Cornelius Plantigna.

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For those of you around Wilmington, join us this Saturday evening for a discussion on the The Darjeeling Limited. We’ll start the movie at approximately 7:15 and have a time of discussion afterwards. My friend Brad is hosting at his house in Wilmington so let me know if you’re interested and I’ll get you directions. Our rationale behind doing film discussions is to look deeply into the movies that impact us and investigate both the statements they make and the influences that make them effective (content and style).

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April 2008
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