Monday, February 14, 2011

Case of the Shoulds

I have become increasingly aware of how often people, myself included, use the word "should." The word flows freely in our vocabulary of external governance. We are so quick to say what someone "should" or "should not" do.  Sometimes I hear it so frequently from people, I say "they have a case of the shoulds."

It's a form of captivity that we live in and so artfully impose on others. We do not stop to think that we haven't a good reason to tell someone else they should do such and such.  Nor do we know why we tell ourselves we should do this and that.

I find myself questioning should statements, whether my own or someone else's. I trace it back to ascertain if this imperative statement is appropriately placed and usually find it is not. Notwithstanding, people are often looking for advice in the form of a should statement. "What should I do?" comes the question either directly voiced or implied.

It's not that there may not be a good course of action, but it is that if a person needs to be told it by another they are most likely not doing it freely out of a place of love. So when I put my "should" on another person, I rob them of their choice. Sure they can disregard my opinion, but that obligatory should has lodged into their consciousness nagging them to do accordingly. Instead of being self-governed by the heart, they are feeling the weight of external governance imposed on them by an opinionated person.

Many should statements are well intended and come about with one person thinking the other should do this very good thing or stop doing this very bad thing.  However, we often end up keeping people captive, rather than showing them how to get set free.

Many times "shoulds" abound because we want to protect the person we love. We want them to do the right thing. Other times it is not even a matter of right and wrong. The should comes out when you tell your friend they really should go to your favorite restaurant or read your favorite book.  The should creates an imposed obligation that does not bring freedom and life to the recipient. Suddenly their task to go to that restaurant or read that book feels like an unwanted weight upon them, a chore rather than a fun idea.

Certainly we can share our experience with our friends of our fabulous dining experience.  But we may want to do so without using obligatory language.

Once you start to think about it, I imagine, you will be astonished at how often you hear the word should.  How many times do you find yourself saying it? How many times do those around you say it? And how many of those times was it really necessary to make such a declaration? I'm sure there are some necessary occasions worthy of the word.

Notice I refrained from saying one should not make should statements. I only wish to bring our attention to the matter and let people freely choose what they wish to do or not do in response.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Book Review: Letters to Malcolm -- Chiefly on Prayer by C.S. Lewis

C.S. Lewis’ Letters to Malcolm—Chiefly on Prayer is a rare gem amongst his brilliant works. The difference is that these letters are written to a dear friend rather than for public consumption. Reading them gives one a sense of sitting in the living room of the Kilns where Lewis lived within walking distance of Oxford University. It is like pulling up a chair and listening in on an intellectual, yet spiritual, conversation full of candid thoughts and mysterious postulations.

Each letter, building on the last, has something to do with the act of prayer.  The nature of heaven and the mystery of nature are ever present in the discussion.  Some of the foundational questions of this dialog are: What sort of creatures are we? What sort of world do we inhabit? What is the proper role of religion? How will the New Earth be like and yet unlike the old?  How does prayer affect us and how do our prayers affect the world?  Do they affect the Lord or are we their effect?

Lewis makes bold quotable statements throughout such as, “We have no non-religious activities; only religious and irreligious.” Or that “Heaven will display far more variety than Hell.” He speaks to the eternality of man bound by a linear progression of time by saying, “For though we cannot experience our life as an endless present, we are eternal in God’s eyes; that is, in our deepest reality.” He goes on to say that, “. . . our creaturely limitation is that our fundamentally timeless reality can be experienced by us only in the mode of succession.”

One very key component of discussion is the doctrine of the resurrection of the body.  Lewis laments that this is a very key doctrine for we often think that our new bodies will be only spiritual rather than also physical. But he says that this world was made for sense-beings—people who can experience the physical world and process it into our souls creating a “chord in the ultimate music.”  We often think of the “new earth” as something so otherworldly it bears no similitude to our physical world forgetting that it was a physical Eden before the Fall.  To remember that our physical nature is not a product of the fall is imperative to properly thinking of our connection with eternity. There is something special about humans that no other creatures enjoy. 

Interestingly Lewis often comments in these letters that the things he is saying is something he feels free to say because it is in the context of letters between friends.  I count it a joy to be able to peer into those private dialogues and experience a bit of Lewis behind the curtain of his public writings.  “Christianity,” he implores, “essentially involves the supernatural.” The level of mystery and transcendence of which he speaks bears greater depth than my simple understanding of his words. Great truths are buried in these pages waiting for readers to unveil them for a new generation.