A Book Can Change Your Life

A Book Can Change Your Life

 

Like a comet pulled from orbit

As it passes the sun

Like a stream that meets a boulder

Halfway through the wood

 

The song “For Good” from Stephen Schwartz’s popular musical, Wicked, sings to the alteration in one’s life trajectory as a result of meeting another person. I love the imagery the lines create: when a force or the momentum from a chance encounter or collision with an object causes something to travel in a slightly different direction.

 

As much as with people, this phenomenon also happens with books. A single book can open your eyes and make an impact such that you cannot return to who you were before. Your path forward then takes on a different shape.

 

Most recently, my orbit-altering sun was a book titled Just Mercy. Bryan Stevenson was my white rabbit signaling me to the world of the incarcerated, the poor, and the condemned. I followed the trail onward to Michelle Alexander’s book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, Toni Morrison’s Beloved, Harper Lee’s Go Set A Watchman, and other related articles. I was getting an education in the legacy of slavery and racism in our society, and the many shapes it materializes into.

 

Along the way I learned about women, children, and the mentally ill in prison—the vulnerable that tends to be the most defenseless in the case of abuse. I learned about the lack of sanitary pads or tampons for incarcerated women and their monthly humiliation. I learned about the difficulty of re-starting life after prison, where employers avoid those with criminal records, which then can cause people to spiral in debt. Here is a world where being poor can be a crime.

 

Last week, when sorting through stacks of magazines, I wondered if there was an alternative to dropping them off at Goodwill. Maybe I could donate them to a prison library or a juvenile detention facility. I then came across Chicago Books to Women in Prison, whose work does exactly as its name says. Books, women issues, and prison—it seemed like a perfect convergence of what I’ve been learning this year.

 

The timing was perfect because they hold trainings for new volunteers on the last Sunday of each month. So on Sunday, my husband and I went over and volunteered for a few hours. It was a powerful experience.

 

Chicago BWP receives letters from incarcerated women from detention facilities around the country. In them, the women indicate their preferred genres or specific titles, and occasionally, tidbits about themselves. The volunteers then would try to match their requests, find the books from the shelves (not as easy as I expected), add a little note (optional, but recommended), and package them for mail. People would help by taking what they can to the post office. It’s quite a system, and they have many dedicated volunteers.

 

There, they also keep a box of letters from inmates saying how grateful they are for the books they have received. The books are like a light to them…

 

I can’t easily describe the experience, but the human connection from holding the letters in my hand impacts me deeply. I know they were not addressed to me, but somehow, they arrived in my hands. Some of them have dreams to accomplish after their release, some are well read, and some have really nice handwriting. I said a little prayer for each letter I worked on.

 

Books are so important to me as a source of knowledge, insight, pleasure, and relief from the ‘real world’. I’d want to believe they could be those too and much more within prison walls. I know how a book can change my life. I hope that those mailed books may change some lives too, for the better.

 

Needless to say, we will be back to Chicago BWP.

 

Related articles:

Books Kept Me Alive in Prison

Women in New York State Prisons Don’t Have Enough Sanitary Pads, Not to Mention Other Daily Indignities

Prisons that withhold menstrual pads humiliate women and violate basic rights

Image by Edukeralam, Navaneeth Krishnan S (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

The Education of Jesus Christ

The Education of Jesus Christ

Few events in the Bible were as pivotal as the moment humanity first chose to disobey God. I don’t think it’s possible to sufficiently describe the weight of the decision to eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of good and evil. That single decision ultimately turned the universe around. Because of that decision, God the Son came down to earth, became flesh, died as a human being, and would remain a human being forever. That one decision brought a change in the Godhead.

 

One decision changed everything. But since “everything” is so nondescript, it would be useful to focus on one particular change that sin caused. In the book Education, writer Ellen G. White wrote:

Adam and Eve had chosen the knowledge of evil, and if they ever regained the position they had lost they must regain it under the unfavorable conditions they had brought upon themselves. No longer were they to dwell in Eden, for in its perfection it could not teach them the lessons which it was now essential for them to learn. In unutterable sadness they bade farewell to their beautiful surroundings and went forth to dwell upon the earth, where rested the curse of sin. (Emphasis mine)

 

It says that because Adam and Eve chose to sin, they brought upon themselves an unfavorable condition. This condition was not purposeless, however, since it was a means through which they could regain their first position.

 

The second sentence contains what is, for me, a truly groundbreaking concept. It says that because of sin, the perfection of Eden could not teach them the lessons they needed to learn anymore. Is there anything better than perfect?

 

The Ideal Classroom

When I think of the ideal classroom to learn and to study, I naturally think of a perfect environment. By perfect I mean in its totality. No evil, no violence, no suffering, nothing negative at all. In other words, it is something like Eden. Yet in God’s estimation, this perfect place was not suited anymore for the education of Adam and Eve. Perfect wouldn’t do any longer because they sinned, and with sin came a whole nature that was incompatible with how God and the sinless worlds operated.

 

That decision to disobey God was more than just a wrongful deed. It transformed the entire nature of how we, human beings, learned. The whole mechanism for us to go from not knowing to knowing, unlearned to learned, changed. Before sin, a perfect environment like Eden was the ideal venue for learning. But that perfection became unfitted for sinful men.

 

But couldn’t we see the truth in that statement? Don’t we say this a lot: suffering, struggles, and failures teach us the most? Yes, happy moments teach us too, but when it comes to an accelerated track to learning and gaining wisdom, we get our curriculum from the school of suffering.

 

And so Adam and Eve moved to dwell on earth, which by implication was now the fitted classroom to their sinful nature. God seemed to have a lesson for them, for humanity to learn, and He was adamant that this lesson was learned. Before sin, Eden’s perfection was the means to learning this lesson. But as a Good Teacher, He didn’t impose the same method categorically. When His students changed, He too changed His classroom, His approach.

 

The Education of Jesus Christ

Given this backdrop, ponder with me the import of this verse in Hebrews:

“Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered.” Hebrews 5:8.

Jesus Christ learned through suffering.

 

First, Jesus Christ learned. “Though he were a Son,” the Omniscient God the Son, he learned. When Jesus put on the garb of humanity, He did not access that omniscience. Instead, He humbled himself to not know everything, and after a season of time, to learn and know them, just like we all do.

 

Second, the way that He learned, in particular the lesson of obedience (the lesson that God wanted Adam and Eve to learn in the beginning), was through the things that he suffered.

word_education

 

Here’s the marvelous thing. Because Jesus did not sin, He did not have to get on this education track that required suffering as textbooks. He was perfect. In other words, perfection like the one in Eden was the ideal classroom for Him to learn.

 

But when Jesus came down to earth and put on the garb of humanity, He set aside that first education track and adopted the one that we, sinful human beings, had to be on. Why? Hebrews 5:9 says, “And being made perfect,” through obedience, and before that, through suffering, “he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him.” He did this so that we could obey and follow His example.

 

O to marvel at the incarnation of Christ…

All the world’s a classroom is my personal slogan. But such is the nature of this classroom: glorious at times and horrendous at others. Its history has bright and dark periods, and noble and despicable characters in it. But in the divine arrangement, this is to be so for now so that I can learn what I need to learn, until one day, I can transfer to the heavenly classroom. On that one day, I will be changed, so that I will not have to learn through suffering anymore.

 

Yet even more beautiful is the fact that God himself joined me in this imperfect classroom and went through the education that I have to go through, at the very least, so that I know that he is a High Priest that can “be touched with the feeling of our infirmities.” (Hebrews 4:15) What a marvelous God.

 

But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man. For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings. For both he that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one: for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren. Hebrews 2:9-11

The Highest Education

The Highest Education

This Is My Story, part 6

In the pursuit of higher education, I have been very fortunate to enroll in two amazing institutions. And I wasn’t even one who dreamed ambitiously about getting a piece of these prestigious names.

 

But the highest education available to mankind is not contained within the perimeters of the Ivy League schools or any other institutions, inaccessible to most. The highest education is in the communion with the Greatest Teacher incomparable to any being in the universe, and is available everywhere, every moment, and for everyone.

 

The mind of man is brought into communion with the mind of God, the finite with the Infinite. The effect of such communion on body and mind and soul is beyond estimate. Education, p. 14.

 

That quote is taken from my favorite book of all time, Education by Ellen Gould White. It’s not about education as in classroom/teaching situation; it’s about the philosophy of life and learning. Such an absolutely amazing book. This first paragraph of the book blows my mind every single time I read it.

 

Our ideas of education take too narrow and too low a range. There is need of a broader scope, a higher aim. True education means more than the pursual of a certain course of study. It means more than a preparation for the life that now is. It has to do with the whole being, and with the whole period of existence possible to man. It is the harmonious development of the physical, the mental, and the spiritual powers. It prepares the student for the joy of service in this world and for the higher joy of wider service in the world to come. p. 13

 

It’s saying that the relevance of true education expands wide in space and time. It will be good and useful for this life and the life to come, and for this world and the world to come. It doesn’t focus on the intellectual development in expense of mental, physical, and spiritual developments. It concerns the whole being, the character of a person.

 

And I totally buy this idea.

 

In the school of Christ, every experience is a teacher, every personal encounter a lesson book, and all the world’s a classroom. Every knowledge and skill gained is placed in the context of who God wants me to be. To serve is to find joy. There is no vacation, nor would you want vacation from this school. And the most awesome part is that there is no graduation as well.

 

Heaven is a school; its field of study, the universe; its teacher, the Infinite One… There every power will be developed, every capability increased. The grandest enterprises will be carried forward, the loftiest aspirations will be reached, the highest ambitions realized. And still there will arise new heights to surmount, new wonders to admire, new truths to comprehend, fresh objects to call forth the power of body and mind and soul. p. 301, 307

 

Need I say more.

 

When I gained Christ, I enrolled in the grandest school of all time and I gained the One who has all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, as my personal Teacher. Crazy.

 

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