Refreshment on the Journey

Pleasant inns

“The settled happiness and security which we all desire, God withholds from us by the very nature of the world: but joy, pleasure, and merriment He has scattered broadcast.  We are never safe, but we have plenty of fun, and some ecstasy.  It is not hard to see why.  The security we crave would teach us to rest our hearts in this world and oppose an obstacle to our return to God: a few moments of happy love, a landscape, a symphony, a merry meeting with friends, a bathe or a football match, have no such tendency.  Our Father refreshes us on the journey with some pleasant inns, but will not encourage us to mistake them for home.” CS Lewis The Problem of Pain

I read this quote earlier this week and I am struck by its truth. No matter what moments of pleasure are a part of our journey, they will never replace our deep desire for belonging, for “settled happiness and security.” That deep desire belongs to God alone, he is jealous for it. And though there are times when I may make the mistake of believing true ‘belonging’ is attainable outside of God, I am always brought back to the reality that it is in him alone where I rest.

As one of my readers commented “Everyone experiences loss and yearning, we are all travelers far from home.” 

More and more I see those who are aware of this longing as a gift in our world. Because this is what makes us human. This is what can connect us to each other. When we are fully at home and secure we are unaware of the journey of others. We can ignore the lonely, walk by the homeless without a thought, have no heart for the refugee, dismiss the one who is ‘other’.”* But when we are in tune with this human yearning, we can reach out to others with compassion and grace. We can be those who offer refreshment on the journey.

And so I continue learning every day what it is to live well in a place where I don’t truly belong – and, though I don’t want to admit it, that is a gift. Today I will enjoy the “pleasant inns” along the way, refreshment for the journey, and hope you do as well.

*from An Unappeased Yearning to Return

The Beaver’s Whisper

spring - Aslan quote

“They say Aslan is on the move—perhaps he has already landed,” [said Beaver].

And now a very curious thing happened. None of the children knew who Aslan was any more than you do; but the moment the Beaver had spoken these words everyone felt quite different…. At the name of Aslan each one of the children felt something jump in its inside. Edmund felt a sensation of mysterious horror. Peter felt suddenly brave and adventurous. Susan felt as if some delicious smell or some delightful strain of music had just floated by her. And Lucy got the feeling you have when you wake up in the morning and realize that it is the beginning of the holidays or the beginning of summerC.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

In the beloved children’s book, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, children from our world happen upon another world: The world of Narnia. And Narnians are tired. The land has been under the spell of an evil witch, where it is always winter and never Christmas. A place where there is fear and sadness, and little hope that anything will ever change. A world where what you say can be held against you, where betrayal is rampant, where faithful friends and family seem few.

If you’re like me, you probably have days like Narnia under the spell of the White Witch. Days when you are tired and where it seems like nothing will ever change. Days where you feel like faithful friends and family are far away or non-existent. It’s on these days when I take comfort from the words of a fictional character in a fictional land; specifically a talking beaver.

Because today I need to know that “Aslan is on the Move!”  

“Have confidence in the compassion of our Creator. Reflect well on what you are now doing, and keep before you the things you have done. Lift up your eyes to the overflowing compassion of heaven, and while He waits for you, draw near in tears to our merciful Judge. Having before your mind that He is a Just Judge, do not take your sins lightly; and having also in mind that He is compassionate, do not despair. The God-Man gives man confidence before God.” from St. Gregory the Great

Photo Credit: http://pixabay.com/en/flowers-spring-white-yellow-plums-291902/ Word Art by Marilyn R. Gardner

“Come Further Up, Come Further In!”

“If you’ve been up all night and cried till you have no more tears left in you – you will know that there comes in the end a sort of quietness. You feel as if nothing was ever going to happen again.”
C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

It’s a hard week. I am feeling the weight of a world marred by sin, a world that is not as it should be. I am feeling frustrated with a world that quickly loses interest in the latest catastrophe, moving on to something easier, more controversial, perhaps more fun.

I get it. We have only so much capacity to feel before we go numb, before we succumb to compassion fatigue. And we all have our own stuff. Perhaps it’s not tragic but it can be difficult never the less. The car breaks down, the kids have tantrums, we feel we can’t cope, our work load is too overwhelming. Not tragedies but things that can distract us and lead to frustration and misunderstandings.

It’s times like this that I curl up with something that brings hope and joy. With stories that are redemptive.

One set of stories that fit in that category are the beloved children’s books by CS Lewis – the Narnia series. Set in the imaginary land of Narnia each book takes the reader into a journey of good and evil, of hope and sorrow, of human mistakes and sins that are redeemed and repaired  There is always hope, always redemption. Good triumphs. Good cannot die. Good wins — it always wins.

I need to know this. I need to know this deep in my bones. I need to know that the broken world I witness daily is not all there is. I need to know that Good wins. I need to know that one day I will be able to come further up and further in.

“I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now…Come further up, come further in!”― C.S. LewisThe Last Battle

To Love is to Hurt

to love is to hurt

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.” CS Lewis – The Four Loves

*************

It’s Sunday night and the house is dark and quiet. A cool breeze is coming in from the open window and watchful cats curl up on the window ledge, nocturnal beasts carefully observing an outside that they will never reach.

It has been a full weekend. Reconnecting with friends through visiting, playing games, and a long walk by the rocky coast. A Pentecost service, remembering that day so many years ago when the Holy Spirit, like tongues of fire, came down. My dad’s 88th birthday and me absent from this momentous occasion, the result of a life lived far away from those you love. A manuscript delivered in the mail on Friday evening, opened today, and reviewed with fear and trembling. And a long talk with two of our children, both home from college for the summer.

It all crashed down on me well after I was supposed to be in bed and asleep. Despite the full, glorious weekend, I’m caught in a vice-like grip of worry for those I love. Crashing against a tired body was a tired heart, a heart lost in tears that quickly dried in the cool breeze, only to come again with more force.

And it came to me again, like it has thousands of times in the past, to love is to hurt. To love my kids is to hurt for their pain, to rage at some of their choices, to delight in their successes, to weep at their tragedies. To love my adopted country means to weep that a group of terrorists brutally attacked the airport, killing and wounding many. To love means to get tired from caring, to feel weary from listening. To love is to hurt.

But I have known in the past what an ice-cold heart feels like, the numb apathy that accompanies it, and I will pick this pain any time, every time. Because this pain is proof that my heart is alive, alive with God-given feeling. This pain is proof that my life is full, full of people and places that I love. This pain is proof that I desperately need God, God to reach through pain and worry with a promise of redemption. Because to love is to hurt.


Stacy is away from Dubai this week, visiting Houston. She says this about today’s muffins: “I’ve made cinnamon and brown sugar muffins for tomorrow’s post, using buttermilk and melted butter, so they are extra moist and delicious. Bonus: The house smells terrific!” Head here for the recipe for Cinnamon Brown Sugar Buttermilk Muffins. To love is to make people muffins!

Picture Credit – http://pixabay.com/en/mourning-woman-sculpture-360500/

 

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“A Happiness Whose Other Name is Home”

Doors 2 with quote on home

If you had a few weeks to live, where would you go? Roger Cohen asks this question in a recent opinion piece in the New York Times called “In Search of Home.” He talks about the “landscape of childhood” that place of “unfiltered experience, of things felt rather than thought through, of the world in its beauty absorbed before it is understood, of patterns and sounds that lodge themselves in some indelible place in the psyche and call out across the years.”(op-ed April 3,20014 NYTimes)

While the question is hypothetical, Cohen surmises that it is a good question. A way to get beyond all that fills our lives, drilling down to what is truly important.

In the piece he describes what another writer, James Wood, calls “contemporary homelessness.” He says it is perhaps the issue of our time, the state of our world of constant movement, where the immigrant, the refugee, the expat, the third culture kid, the military kid, the military family, the diplomat, the person who moves coast to coast and back again in the same country all live in a place where home is hard to define, harder to feel.

The opinion piece resonated deeply in my soul. Here is a writer who gets it – who understands this dilemma for so many in the modern world. He goes further to say that if you begin to dig deeper into the depression that many experience, so much of it is about not fitting in, not belonging. Again with a gift of words he calls it “displacement anguish.” The essay is similar to what Rachel Pieh Jones expresses in her piece “Saudade – a Song for the Modern Soul.” Rachel quotes from another essay on longing and belonging “I, like many of this era, am a nomad rich with diverse experiences, yet will never be able to collect all of my place and people-specific memories together in one place, in one time.”

Toward the end of the piece, Cohen’s short description of where he would go should he have a few weeks to live had me sitting by a rock pool in an ocean, warm with the sun of Cape Town on my back. He described this place and says there he felt a “Happiness whose other name is home.”

So I ask two questions – where would you go if you had a couple of weeks to live and what do you remember about that place? What beckons you to come and leave the clutter of your life, drilling down to what is truly important?

What is that happiness whose other name is home? Is it the pine trees blowing through Himalayan mountains and the smoke of wood fires at dusk? Is it the dogs barking in the distance and walking on a dusty street when the sound of the call to prayer comes loud across the city? Is it the sound of a lake and voices of children, alive with the joy of innocence? Is it a porch swing, your legs curled up under you, a book in your hand on a lazy summer day? Is it the smell of frying fish as you come back home from a fishing excursion with your grandfather? Is it the lapping of waves on a sandy beach, sand pipers tiptoeing across the sand leaving their distinct marks? Is it a crowded bazaar, where distinct smells and sounds make you feel alive with all the possibilities?

Or is that happiness whose other name is home spiritual? Is is something that can’t be captured in a place? 

What is that happiness whose other name is home? 

“I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now…Come further up, come further in!”― C.S. LewisThe Last Battle

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Inner Rings & Belonging

Crossing the Line

We all know what it feels like. The stomach-knotting knowledge that we weren’t invited, that we don’t belong. Our first memories of being left out usually come early in life and can be as simple as not being invited to a birthday party or as complicated as becoming a part of a blended family, where suddenly we realize the family we thought we belonged to no longer exists.

Just as a yellow police line blocks off a crime scene, only allowing those with authority inside, there is a line and we are not allowed inside that line. 

Belonging. Just saying the word can cause pain in many. What is belonging in all its complexity? What is belonging when you are of a third culture? If you live between worlds, do you belong in no man’s land — that strange, twilight space of ‘not there yet’?

Or how about when you are considered ‘half’ like ‘half’ Asian or ‘half’ black? Do you belong to one half or the other? Are you half of a whole? Will you ever be considered more than half?

In his book, The Weight of Glory, CS Lewis takes a profound look at belonging, more specifically at our desire as humans to belong in a chapter based on a lecture he gave called “The Inner Ring“.  

“I believe that in all men’s lives at certain periods, and in many men’s lives at all periods between infancy and extreme old age, one of the most dominant elements is the desire to be inside the local Ring and the terror of being left outside.” C.S.Lewis

The Inner Ring is that elusive place of belonging that is just beyond our reach, just past our grasp. Because once we have reached that inner ring and we begin to settle, we think we’ve finally found a place to belong, what it feels like, looks likewe realize there is a ring beyond that — and once we’ve gotten to that ring, there’s a ring beyond that still.

In elementary school that inner ring is the group of girls that excludes us. They are a part of Something Special and we don’t belong. It’s that group in middle school that get together every Friday night and we’re not invited, that group in high school that bears the name and reputation ‘cool’ and we do not know cool, no matter how hard we try. And though we’d like it to stop there, it often continues. It’s college, then young adult, then work and getting into that inner, secure, exclusive place. It’s church and those people who are in that inner circle, the circle that seems so Godly and confident, the one that we wish we belonged to. And yet when we get close, there’s something beyond, just out of our grasp.

We constantly look to that place of belonging that seems so secure, that tells us we have ‘arrived, yet it continually eludes us.

This has been a deep struggle at different periods in my life. At times I have faced tremendous insecurity around ‘belonging’. I have had points where I have desperately tried to get to that inner ring, that place where I fully belong, where there are no voices telling me I’m not really a part of the group. I’ve had other times where I think I have arrived at that inner place of belonging only to realize there is something missing — there’s another ring to pass through.

This inner ring can be in any area of life…whether it’s around nationality, or academics, or status, or church. We are not born understanding these rings or how to get into them.

At the beginning of the essay, Lewis poses this question: “I will ask only one question—and it is, of course, a rhetorical question which expects no answer. In the whole of your life as you now remember it, has the desire to be on the right side of that invisible line ever prompted you to any act or word on which, in the cold small hours of a wakeful night, you can look back with satisfaction? If so, your case is more fortunate than most.”

To be a part of that inner ring often means acting or speaking in ways that we end up regretting, we forget who we are, we lose our way, all in the quest to get to the inner ring. Sometimes getting to the inner ring involves giving up our integrity, our honesty, and pretending we are someone who we aren’t.

Lewis’ response to this dilemma of the “Inner Ring” is to break the cycle. “The quest of the Inner Ring will break your hearts unless you break it.” If we break this cycle, we will find ourselves still perhaps on the outside, but no longer will this be a burden, no longer will we wear ourselves out by trying so hard to make it inside. Instead we will find our place, sometimes in the most unlikely of circles.

Counter intuitive as it seems, this has been my story. When I finally stopped grasping at success, at confidence, at belonging, I inexplicably found it. It is hard to articulate on paper, even more difficult in person. All I know is that somehow that quest that felt like a burden on my back since boarding school days of popular groups and cliques, has slowly but steadily been broken. In some mysterious way, I belong.

All of this is reminiscent to me of the words in the Gospel of Matthew: “Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.”  Indeed CS Lewis speaks to this as well:

If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.

What about you? Where has the quest to be in the Inner Ring consumed you? Or have you found that the cycle has broken? 

Belong330This post is linked up to SheLoves Magazine through their February theme “Belonging”. Click here or on the picture to see posts from other writers or to add your own.

Image credit: oneinchpunch / 123RF Stock Photo

Change and Permanence – Living Within the Tension

“I have certainly felt that feeling of being rootless, identityless and of the unspoken accusation of treachery, betrayal and of being oddity for not having a ‘normal’ identity as well as the loneliness of not having a home, a city to call my own, a fridge to open and a family to hug when I am struggling on my own thousands of miles away from them. I remember it well. And now, funnily enough as I read your post, I realize I have come to glory in my chameleonicity. I see it as such a huge advantage. I see myself as a planted solidly on a floating iceberg, floating between cultures and countries but oh so secure … And what seemed like a gross disadvantage when I was in my twenties trying to work out who on earth I was, now, that adaptability is prized, valued, rich and precious.”

This comment, posted on “Chameleon, Impostor, or Third Culture Kid” is from Sophie who blogs at Little Gumnut. In her own words, Sophie is “English, grew up in Pakistan but the school that I went to was multicultural and had its own unique culture separate to the Pakistani culture.  In addition, I married a Frenchman and gave birth to children in England, New Zealand and Australia.”  No wonder she has insight on identity and belonging.

Another insightful observation came from my mom by way of email. You can read more about my mom here and here, but I wanted to share her words as I feel they may resonate with many of us.

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The post “Chameleon, Impostor, or Third Culture Kid?” struck a real chord with me.  We were responsible from the human side for bringing up five Third Culture Kids.  In the process we ourselves became what I call Third Culture Adults.  We had strong roots in our families with stable homes, siblings, cousins, and all the other relatives that make up an extended family.  When God called us to live and work in Pakistan, we pulled up those roots.  Returning to the USA for short periods, to my home town, I realized that we didn’t really belong there anymore.

During one of those times when we were living in a rented home, with furniture that didn’t belong to us, I sat talking with a new friend.  She had amazing insights into what I must feel, living like a pilgrim, with the furnishings that belonged to the woman who had owned the house before she died.  She said something that really stuck with me: “I guess you don’t get hung up on things, do you?”  I confess to having often craved some permanence, yet at the same time, if I’m in any one place for a few years, I get the feeling it must be time to move again.

The following came last week from a friend who works in Chad.  She shared how she moves between 2 “homes” there, how she misses her U.S. family and home, especially during Holy Week and Easter, yet loves where she is and what she is doing.  It’s the gift and the burden of becoming a pilgrim and a stranger here on earth, accepting that this world will never be my real home.

“I assume you’re familiar with the concept of The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis? They’re written from the devils’ perspective, so the Enemy is God, but Screwtape has some keen insights into human behavior (though why the Enemy should expend so much effort on loving them is beyond anything he can fathom–the Enemy must have an ulterior motive though all of hell has not been able to figure it out. We of course know that behind God’s love for us is only more and more love and delight and joy.)

Screwtape to Wormwood, his nephew:

‘The humans live in time, and experience reality successively. To experience much of it, therefore, they must experience many different things; in other words, they must experience change. And since they need change, the Enemy (being a hedonist at heart) has made change pleasurable to them . . . But since He does not wish them to make change . . . an end in itself, He has balanced the love of change in them by a love of permanence. . . .  [But permanence poses a danger that the devils can exploit]: Prosperity binds a man to the world. He feels that he is ‘finding his place in it,’ while really it is finding its place in him . . .  a sense of being really at home on Earth . . . The truth is that the Enemy, having oddly destined these mere animals to life in His own eternal world, has guarded them pretty effectively from the danger of feeling at home anywhere else.’ “

Bloggers note: Although I’ve thought a great deal about place, home and identity I have never viewed the change and permanence tension that Screwtape describes as an “effective guard”  against accepting life here as the ultimate goal, the final home.   As one reader put it “It’s being willing to live with a certain level of tension throughout life” – this tension of living on earth but being destined for eternity; of making life on earth count while at the same time recognizing it is not the final authority. While being a third culture kid may make me more aware of this tension and aware of how impermanent life on earth is, it goes beyond this Third Culture Kid identity and speaks to the heart of my faith. As Sophie says it’s about learning to glory in “chameleonicity”

What do you think of the tension between change and permanence? Weigh in through the comments. 

Defying the Pain Scale

The darker the night, the brighter the stars,
The deeper the grief, the closer is God!”
― Fyodor DostoyevskyCrime and Punishment

Pain. All of us have experienced it to varying degrees. In recent years pain has been identified as the fifth vital sign – the first four being blood pressure, pulse, respiratory rate and temperature.  And thankfully we have come to recognize how critically important it is to know how to assess pain.

In western medicine we have something called a “Pain Scale”.  This scale was developed as a tool to help assess pain in patients – whether it be after surgical procedures, during emergencies, and in illness in general. Beyond the verbal assessment where a nurse or medical doctor asks the patient questions like “Are you in pain? Can you tell me where it hurts? Is it a sharp or a dull pain?”  the scale adds a numeric instrument to assess severity:  “On a scale from 1 to 10, can you tell me how severe the pain is?” 10 would be the absolute worst pain that you have ever experienced and 1 would be minimal to no discomfort. The rationale behind this scale is to have a reference point understood by both clinical staff and patient.

To a point this scale is a good, all be it culturally biased, measure.  Because we all have different levels of pain tolerance, it is helpful when the clinician is trying to make sure that the patient is comfortable and has proper pain relief.

But there is some pain that defies the pain scale. Some pain that is so far beyond a scale that using numbers seems ludicrous. Pain that goes beyond the physical and involves the emotions, the soul.

I have a friend whose pain defies the pain scale, whose heart is broken into a million pieces. She is betrayed and wounded and her soul knows pain. Those million pieces are each like jagged shards of glass that keep on wounding over and over. Beyond the pain is the grief…grief for what was, what will never be again; trust and comfort lost and replaced by a false and poor substitute. All the king’s horses and all the king’s men can’t mend her heart. Her pain defies the pain scale and her grief defies the grief scale. Her symptoms include frequent swallowing and an empty feeling, she sits down to a meal and though she is hungry, she can’t eat. She sits vacantly at her desk, unable to function. She  has soul tears that are so deep she can’t cry. It makes the scale a laughable, fallible tool with a limited use.

What do we do when our pain defies the scale, defies our human understanding. C.S. Lewis in his beautiful book, “A Grief Observed” tries to get a better grasp of these emotions. Although it is about grief, it resonates on pain as well.

“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.” he says at one point. “I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing. At other times  it feels like being mildly drunk or concussed. There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me. I find it hard to take in what anyone says.” and then “You can’t see anything properly while your eyes are blurred with tears.”

Defying the pain scale is nothing new. The Psalmist David had pain and grief that defied any scale. Job had pain and grief that defied any scale. And surely Mary, as she watched her precious son on the road to Golgotha, surely this was pain and grief like no other.

So I take hope – for when our pain defies the scale, this is when God Himself steps in with his comfort and love. A comfort and love that are stronger than any man-made and laboratory-developed  pain relief; a love of the sort that defies any cliché; a love so strong and a comfort so deep that this alone can speak to the pain that defies a scale.

“But suppose that what you are up against is a surgeon whose intentions are wholly good. The kinder and more conscientious he is, the more inexorably he will go on cutting. If he yielded to your entreaties, if he stopped before the operation was complete, all the pain up to that point would have been useless.” CS Lewis A Grief Observed

Clean Cupboards; Restless Soul

My cupboards are frantically and determinedly ordered. Clutter from the kitchen cupboards is removed and the recycling bin is full. My purse is the same. The junk that has accumulated for weeks, months even, is thrown out or has found another home outside my purse. The laundry is done, save for a few socks and the odd underwear that escaped the machine, mainly because they are on someone’s body. Computer screens have not even escaped my nervous frenzy and they shine back at me in their blue-screened, cyber-spaced glory.

I was walking around the house, my eyes sharply looking for more to dust and clean when I suddenly realized – my house is clean, but my soul is cluttered and restless. As I came to this inner truth, I stopped. How do I redirect myself and pay as much attention to my soul as I am paying to the stuff that doesn’t really matter? The cupboards that will yet again become chaotic and the shelves that will accumulate dust bunnies in a short time?

The more attention I frantically pay to the external, the less I have to think about the wrongs that need to be righted inside, the apologies that need must be voiced, the worry that needs to be confronted, and the “do by self” attitude that has taken over, making me feel like a two-year old that is so determined to do it on her own that she fails to see it’s far more complicated going it alone.

I wonder too, if the analogy can also apply to the soul of a society. The more cluttered,chaotic and restless it becomes, the more there is need to put rules and legislation in place to create order that will never satisfy and never bring about the wanted results.

As I finally sat down and allowed myself to do some difficult self-analysis I looked back on some old journal entries and found some remarkably helpful things. I have listed some of them in the hopes they will resonate with others.

It’s hard to get enough of something that almost satisfies

“Communion with God is replaced by activity for God” ” The voice that calls to us in this place is none other than the voice of God. We cannot hear his voice if we have lost touch with our heart.” (the Sacred Romance)

Put first things first and eventually second things will follow. Put second things first and you lose both. Everything other than intimacy with God is second. – partially CS Lewis

“Life is difficult, God is Merciful, Heaven is Sure” – unknown

They say that the first and hardest step in problem-solving is figuring out what the problem actually is – often what we think is the problem is just a symptom of a bigger issue. As I close this, I think I’ve figured out the first step. It will be followed by tea time and soul-care pondering the words St. Augustine said many years ago:”Our hearts are restless until they find rest in thee, Oh Lord”.

Bloggers Note: John Stott, a true leader in the Evangelical world and a noted Biblical scholar died yesterday at 90 years old. It is a wake-up call for a restless soul and a reminder that soul-care is the most important endeavor in which I can be involved. In 2004 David Brooks of the NY Times wrote a piece titled “Who is John Stott?” It is an excellent piece and can be found here.

It (Stott’s) is a voice that is friendly, courteous and natural. It is humble and self-critical, but also confident, joyful and optimistic…..He is always bringing people back to the concrete reality of Jesus’ life and sacrifice. – David Brooks 2004