Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Powerful Literature

I am fascinated with Quantum Change stories. Read my blog post for an explanation.

In last week's post, Our Resourceful God I mention two Russian literary powerhouses, Leo Tolstoy and Fyodor Dostoevsky. Though they never met, they lived and wrote during the same period in the 19th century. Both men had interesting religious conversion experiences, which empowered them to affect spiritual awakening in a dark period into the future, during the Communist Soviet era.

I like the dramatic story of Dostoevsky (1821-1881), whose writings continue to show up on the lists of "top 100" novels of all time. Philip Yancey, best-selling American Christian author calls The Brothers Karamazov the greatest novel ever written. Anyone who has ever attempted, and succeeded, in slogging through the dense material (paragraphs can run on for many pages!) and heavy themes, (and keeping up with all those Russian names and nicknames!) is rewarded by an insight that is potentially life-changing.

What makes Dostoevsky's plot and characters so relevant, more than 130 years after his death?
His literary works delve into the troubled human condition of 19th-century Russia which is not so different from the troubled human condition of any era.

The young intellectual Fyodor was sentenced to eight years of hard labor for attending secret Utopian society meetings which the Czar Nicholas I believed were subversive. A few years into his Siberian imprisonment, he learned that his sentence, along with many other prisoners, had been changed to execution by firing squad. While Dostoevsky waited his turn, three prisoners, clothed in white burial cloaks, were matched in front of the armed men, kissed a cross offered by a priest, tied to a stake, caps pulled down over their eyes, and waited for the guns leveled at them to fire. The prisoners waited in cruel, exaggerated suspense. Then the guns were lowered and the caps removed. It had been a malicious hoax.

Dostoevsky immediately wrote his brother about how the experience had changed him:

"When I look back on my life and think how much time I wasted on nothing, how much time has been lost in futilities, errors, laziness, incapacity to live; how little I appreciated it, how many times I sinned against my heart and soul—then my heart bleeds. Life is a gift . . . I will be reborn for the better."

While still in prison, Dostoevsky was the recipient of a peasant's unwavering friendship. One day the peasant looked at Dostoevsky with overwhelming brotherly love, and another layer of Dostoevsky's soul was peeled away:

"When I got off the plank bed and gazed around, I suddenly felt that I could look on these unfortunates with quite different eyes, and suddenly, as if by a miracle, all hatred and rancor had vanished from my heart."

Dostoevsky went on to write some of the most powerful literature in the history of Russia, awakening a spiritual  yearning in future Russian intellectual heavyweights in the 1970s like Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. Solzhenitsyn was exiled to the United States in 1974 because his writings raised global awareness of injustices in the USSR, for which he had earned the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970.

A great paradox. Out of suffering often comes life-changing insights and victory. One of Jesus' most repeated themes in the Gospels it that one most lose his life to save it, not physical death, but death of "Self," followed by rebirth in the Truth of God.

The most compelling "proof" of God? A changed life.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Our Resourceful God

I have been off my writing schedule lately, and on a speaking one. I will be honest. I much prefer writing, where I can pour out thoughts, edit, cut, paste, save, revise, save, and sleep on it before I hit publish. People listening to me practicing being a speaker probably think I am still following those steps!

One group I had the pleasure and honor of speaking with was a group consisting mostly of young mothers. They had recently finished reading But the Greatest of These is Love as their Bible study book. (The very idea is humbling!) As we sat around a table sharing questions and comments, some expressed their fear in ever studying a book like Henry Blackaby's Experiencing God. I wrote of the power of that study to open my eyes in 2000 and expand my faith exponentially. My new faith came with a high cost—obedience to do the unthinkable—to adopt a Russian orphan in 2002.

My new mom friends found this surrender to God's will as challenging as I had. Small wonder! No one wants a comfortable life disrupted, least of all me, but I cannot deny that the changes were all positive, and the consequences continue to this day. Has it been easy? Never! But it has been life-transforming in surprising and life-affirming ways!

We know that God's plan for us is the best, but we are fearful just how destructive that plan will be to our comfortable lives.

I quelled the fears of the guarded young moms, or maybe not, when I said that if God had not used Blackaby's book, He would have used another. I believe God could have used any means to reveal Himself to me at my time of seeking.

I think back to class assignments from college days, when youth and fear of falling behind in assigned reading prevented me from absorbing the message of two 19th Century Russia novelists. Tolstoy's and Dostoevsky's writing kept popping up on this English major's syllabuses. (Maybe that is why I eventually became an Art major!) As a slow reader, I will admit to using Cliff Notes to slog through the dense material, otherwise, I truly couldn't keep up. I wouldn't learn until decades later how influential these writers were, especially in their own country when it would become the godless Soviet Union.

 Malcolm Muggeridge, British World War II soldier, spy, and journalist, was an early Communist sympathizer. But by the time I was in college in the 1970s he was an outspoken anti-communist. Yet, he was surprised to learn that many Soviet intellectuals, writers, artists, and musicians in the early 1970s were experiencing a spiritual awakening. Muggeridge interviewed Anatoli Kuznetsov, Russian writer and defector to England, asking how this was possible, given the "anti-religious brainwashing job" done on the citizens of the U.S.S.R., and the banning and removal of all Christian literature, including the Bible and the Gospels. Kuztensov's response was memorable—the authorities had failed to remove the works of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, which he called "the most perfect expositions of the Christian faith of modern times."

God could use any means to reveal Himself.

Tolstoy and Dostoevsky both had interesting conversion stories, or Quantum Changes, described in a former post. Their stories deserve a post all their own. One day!

The Power lies not in the words of the authors, no matter how great, but in God Himself! This gives me hope. Grim statistics about the secularization of American paint a dismal picture, as in this article, Atheism to Defeat Religion by 2038. But, as the former, godless Soviet Union can attest, according to  this article, Russia emerges as Europe's most God-believing nation, God cannot be blotted from existence, simply by denying Him.

Our resourceful God is in the business of spiritual awakening.