Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Language – Purity of Thought, Purity of Word: VI

Tapping Into the Power of the Holy Spirit?

There’s a book out titled Spirit Rising – Tapping into the Power of the Holy Spirit. The promo language includes, “[the authors] show why devotions, preaching, worship…aren’t enough without a vital, joy-giving connection to God’s agent on earth.”

Does language matter? Consider:

What image is portrayed by the words tapping into the power of the Holy Spirit? I see a plumber tapping into a water line to run water from the line to a faucet; I see an electrician tapping into a power grid to supply energy to a house; I see an oil exploration drill tapping into oil deposits deep beneath the earth’s surface. Whether it’s water or electricity or oil it is a resource, a commodity; it is something I use; not a Person I worship and submit to. Whether it is oil or water or electricity it is something that I control, not a Person who controls me. Does language matter?

Then we have the promotional language that tells us that the Holy Spirit is God’s agent on earth. Really? If the Holy Spirit is God’s agent then the Holy Spirit is not God, for an agent represents a principal and therefore is not the same as the principal. When Paul, in 2 Corinthians Chapter Five, styles himself an ambassador he makes it clear that he and his coworkers are representatives of God, they do not purport to be God. An ambassador is an agent of a country, a sovereign – an ambassador is not the sovereign.

If the Holy Spirit is but an agent of God, then the Holy Spirit is not God. Yet, as historic Christianity has affirmed for 2,000 years, the Holy Spirit is God. A fair reading of John Chapters 14 – 17, among others, with Jesus referring to the Holy Spirit as a Person, demonstrates that He is not an “it”, a resource that can be tapped into the way we tap into water, electricity or oil. An “it” can hardly teach us all things.

And if he is not an He but an agent, then he is not God and not being God he is not sovereign, and while we may owe him respect and obedience, it is no more than we owe any other messenger from God, whether it is an angel or Paul the Apostle. We certainly don’t owe an agent worship – that would be idolatry.

Ah, but He is God the Holy Spirit; and while we may not understand the mystery of the Trinity we can experience the mystery and live in the mystery.

Does language matter? For good or ill language shapes us, whether it causes us to be clearly defined in our lives, speech and thinking; or whether it turns us into jelly fish or chameleons…well, that is another matter.

(In my next post I’ll pick back up on the thread of profane language, but I had to get this out of my system.)

Monday, February 27, 2012

C.S. Lewis: Near the Journey’s End – XV

On October 26, 1963 Lewis writes to Nancy Warner:

“Thank you for your most kind letter. I feel like purring!

“Please remember me to your third son…He is not only a promising scholar but the best mannered man of his generation I have ever met.

“I suppose your philosopher son…means the chapter in which Puddleglum puts out the fire with his foot. He must thank Anselm and Descartes for it, not me. I have simply put the ‘Ontological Proof’ in a form suitable for children. And even that is not so remarkable a feat as you might think.”

After reading the above letter I opened The Silver Chair, turned to Chapter 12, which Lewis refers to above, and found that I had heavily marked and annotated this chapter in previous readings. My dear friend Bruce Harrison frequently quotes from this chapter; I’ll get to Bruce’s favorite part below. While Anselm, Descartes, Lewis, and Pascal used the ontological argument; many philosophers are unimpressed by it; however, on a gut level the ontological argument has a force that appeals to our raw nature – that is, it goes beyond the intellectual and speaks to the depth of our personhood. This is why the argument takes the form of a deep-seated cry from Puddleglum, a protest against the Queen of Underland, a rebellion against the notion that the only things real are the physical things we can see and touch.

“ “Narnia?” she [the queen/witch] said. “Narnia? I have often heard your Lordship utter that name in your ravings. Dear Prince, you are very sick. There is no land called Narnia.” ”

“ “Tell us…[the witch talking] where is this other world? What ships and chariots go between it and ours?” ”

“She [Jill, one of the protagonists] found herself saying… “No. I suppose that other world must be all a dream.” ”

“For the last few minutes Jill had been feeling that there was something she must remember at all costs. And now she did. But it was dreadfully hard to say it. She felt as if huge weights were laid on her lips. At last, with an effort that seemed to take all the good out of her she said: “There’s Aslan.” ”

Throughout Chapter 12 the Queen/Witch tries to make Puddleglum and the children believe that Aslan and Narnia are dreams, myths; that they aren’t real. She has a counterargument for everything they bring up, trying to lure them into a sleep that will allow her to imprison them. She casts doubt upon every memory they have of Narnia, of Aslan, of the sun, the moon, the stars; she is relentless. And then we come to Bruce’s oft-quoted passage, perhaps the most stirring passage in the Narniad, and it comes from, of all people, Puddleglum – a curmudgeonly character as gloomy as Reepicheep (Prince Caspian and the Voyage of the Dawn Treader) is vibrant and upbeat.

“ “One word, Ma’am,” he said, coming back from the fire; limping because of the pain. “One word. All you’ve been saying is quite right, I shouldn’t wonder. I’m a chap who always liked to know the worst and then put the best face I can on it. So I won’t deny any of what you said. But there’s one thing more to be said, even so. Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things – trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that’s a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We’re just babies making up a game, if you’re right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow. That’s why I’m going to stand by the play-world. I’m on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it. I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia…” ” [Bold print mine].

Shades of Daniel’s three friends in the furnace.

One of my marginal notes in Chapter 12 is, “How do you know something?” There isn’t just the ontological argument here, there is also the issue of epistemology – how do we know what we know? Puddleglum and the children knew the witch’s world was not the real world, they knew Aslan was real, they knew Narnia was real.

The world is hollow indeed if we are accidents looking for a place to happen. Pascal tells us that our dogs never want to be lions or tigers or bears, and our cats never wake up wanting to be elephants, but we know there are greater and more meaningful things than what we can see and touch and taste – we know, we know – we know there is a contradiction in mankind – we can be like angels one minute and like ravenous beasts the next – we have a sense of an ideal of perfection and a corresponding sense that things aren’t right – that they aren’t the way they were meant to be.

And there are times, just like Puddleglum, we need to say to the world’s nihilistic philosophies: Enough is enough. I know there is more!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Language - Purity of Thought, Purity of Word: V

Many Christians are bilingual. They have a language of purity and a language of profanity. Can we have a language of purity while maintaining a language of profanity? Can we be fluent in purity while engaging in profanity? Do we think in the language of purity or the language of profanity?

Manifestations of the language of profanity include “spin” and passivity, which have been touched on in previous posts. Two other manifestations are the language of human anger and the language of common profanity. By common profanity I mean that group of words that once was commonly recognized as “profanity” as well as combinations of words that conjure profane word pictures.

As I’ve written before, an ethos of anger is a grave danger to the American church. The world lives in the chaos of perpetual anger, and that anger has been welcomed into a significant segment of the professing church. As James writes, “…the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.” James associates anger with filthiness and wickedness (see James Chapter One). We excuse our anger and insist that it is righteous anger; is it? Is it over the poor and the needy, the disenfranchised and downcast? Is Christ, the Prince of Peace, the source of our anger? That is, is Christ animating our anger? If so, it is reasonable to expect that anger to be expressed through us in humility, love for those with whom we disagree, no matter how wide the chasm of disagreement; sacrificial living, and a denial of self interest.

Popular media feeds anger; not reflection. Popular media perpetuates confrontation; not thoughtful dialogue. Imbibing the waters of popular media is not drinking at the still waters of our Good Shepherd. We become what we gaze upon, we become what our soul partakes of, and listening to and watching perpetually angry people is the antithesis of allowing the peace of God to rule in our hearts (see Colossians 3:15; James 3:17). There are also angry churches, churches that preach continually what they are against rather than preach what they’re for; rather than preach Jesus Christ. This is a profanation of language in thought and word.    

That language of common profanity, as defined above, is a secondary language that much of the professing church engages in with increasing comfort. It is a language that has polluted pure language; can pure language be pure with impurities?

Can a holy people watch unholy actions for entertainment with impunity? Can a holy people invite unholy images into their hearts and minds for entertainment and remain holy? Can a holy people listen to unholy language for entertainment without consequences? Was ancient Israel able to introduce idols into the Temple with impunity? Were there no consequences when they setup idols on hills and street corners and brought them into their homes?

When we stand before our Lord Jesus will we say, “But Lord, surely you must excuse my indulgence in profanity; after all Lord, everyone was doing it, and entertainment is an inalienable right.”

“What’s that Lord? You had thoughts for me to think? You wanted to fellowship with me? You wanted me in relationship with others for our mutual blessing? You actually wanted me to talk to my wife on a daily basis? I was supposed to spend time with my children? I was really supposed to live a life of prayer?”

“Oh no! You mean what Paul wrote about being the Temple of the Holy Spirit was true? I actually did bring idols into Your Temple? You really wanted me to be Your Presence in my family, neighborhood, and vocation?”

“Lord, is there anyway I can do it over again?”

To be continued…

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Language - Purity of Thought, Purity of Word: IV

For those of you who aren’t into collegiate athletics, there are three schools in the process of leaving the Big East Conference in order to join other conferences where the money is better – (who is kidding who about amateur collegiate athletics?) Universities who are members of athletic conferences have contractual agreements with their respective conferences that set forth stipulations for leaving the conferences. Two typical stipulations (contractual obligations) are the payment of a fee to leave and a “notice requirement” that is often from one – three years. The notice requirement is in place to enable the conference in question to adjust its scheduling and to recruit a replacement school to take the place of the one that is leaving.

As is often the case when schools leave conferences, the contractual obligations mean nothing to at least one of the three schools leaving the Big East. This university’s attitude is, “We’re leaving and we’ll deal with it in court if we can’t arrive at an agreement.”

Here we have an academic institution that has entered into an agreement with other academic institutions, and when the agreement is no long to its liking it simply ignores its obligations and says, “Either negotiate with us or sue us.” Now I could write, “Is this how its English Faculty teaches students to interact with a text of literature?” but if I write that I have to acknowledge that the faculty may well have a “reader response” approach to literature, in which case the feelings of the students mean more than the text – certainly the university’s feelings, wants, and needs take precedent over any moral or ethical obligation to honor the text of it contract. The university reminds me of some of the pastors I mentioned in the previous post, forget the text and go with the pragmatic, go with what works.

I used to think that the legal system was the last bastion of textual integrity; but it is so no longer. In my business vocation I see again and again not only businesses ignore contracts, but courts ignoring the texts of contracts and imposing their own thoughts on the words that two contractual competent parties agreed to. Because this is the ethos of our judicial system, more and more people and businesses are willing to break contracts, not fulfilling their obligations because they know they have a chance in court to convince the court to ignore the words of the contract. And in any case, the expense of litigation is such that many parties would rather settle out-of-court; ethical and moral obligations no longer matter – it is a matter of getting the best deal that you can.

In a world in which words no longer matter, whether written or spoken, it is all the more important for professing followers of Jesus Christ to treat the Biblical text with integrity as opposed to using it for an existential joyride. Just because people don’t say what they mean doesn’t mean that the Bible doesn’t say what God means. And isn’t that how we descended into this abyss? “Has God really said you are not to eat of this tree? You surely will not die! For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

Do we really think that fidelity to the Word of God, to the text of Scripture is not important? Not critical? What would Adam and Eve say?

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Language - Purity of Thought, Purity of Word: III

This morning (February 19, 2012), I read the following:

“When we become passive, we lose our freedom. Freedom is something active and alive. And it means standing up and opposing the fads and fashions that would sweep us away. As Chesterton says, “A dead thing can go with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it.” [Common Sense 101 – Lessons from G.K. Chesterton, by Dale Ahlquist, Ignatius].

One of the “streams” that is disturbing to me is the manipulation of the Biblical text by professing-Christian leaders and teachers. It’s one thing to work with a text, to do your best to submit yourself to it, and to come out someplace other than where the author intended; it is another to superimpose yourself on the text and to perform plastic surgery on it so that no one looking for the text can recognize it.

A friend recently asked me about a popular book (it’s become a franchise) for men that’s been around for a few years; I told him it was heresy. That’s not a word I often use. There are many doctrines that I disagree with, some of which have little Biblical foundation, that I do not call heresy; but this particular book (actually a series of books – I think they have “his” and “her” books now) – I consider heresy because of the way it treats the Biblical text. It is one thing to arrive at a wrong doctrine or understanding even though you work through the text as best you can; it is another to wrongly use the Bible. The Biblical story used in this “franchise” of books and conferences does not correspond with the Biblical text; and since the franchise begins with creation and with Adam in an unbiblical storyline – it can go nowhere but astray.

My problem is that the franchise is not only unfaithful to the Biblical account; it is that it teaches its adherents to disregard the text of Scripture in favor of a storyline that sounds new, exciting, and (apparently) plausible. Were the franchise not popular I wouldn’t care, nor would I have read the franchise’s cornerstone book; but it is popular and I must care when people I shepherd and have relationships with are exposed to the manipulation of Scripture and endorse and emulate the manipulation.

People passively read, when they do read; they passively listen (if you can call such a thing listening); and they tend to accept whatever they’re told as long as the presentation is not offensive. Give me a man or woman engaged in the text of Scripture over the course of a lifetime, who approaches the Bible in reverent submission to Christ, and I’ll show you a person who can go down a few rabbit trails in life and eventually return to the main highway – because God is faithful and the Bible provides a center of gravity when we allow the Word to speak to us and transform us – rather than attempting to transform the Word into our image.

There is a popular series of DVDs that I have the same issue with – the presenter of these DVDs is fast and loose with the message of the Bible – but no matter, the ambiance of the DVDs and “production values” are seductive to the point that why would a viewer take the time to actually filter the message through the Biblical text? A seductive presenter will seduce a passive listener just about every time.

The sad thing about the above is that many pastors don’t care whether a book or series of books is faithful to the Biblical text, or whether a series of DVDs is Biblical. Does their preaching and teaching reflect this low view of Scripture? Of course, they’d be the first to say that they have a high view of Scripture, for I’m referring to folks who consider themselves well within the pale of Evangelical Christianity; I don’t understand this.

The response I usually get when I question them is: “Well, look at all the good this book does.” The pragmatic is never warrant for unfaithfulness to the Word of God, to the text of Scripture. 

I’m not advocating a preoccupation with heretical teaching; I am advocating constant teaching and modeling of what it means to be faithful to the text of the Bible – and using popular books and DVDs, books and DVDs which many parishioners are exposed to, to demonstrate what unfaithfulness to the text and Gospel of Christ looks like is a shepherding method as old at the Bible. We profane the Biblical text when we recreate it in our own image; it is analogous to ancient Israel placing idols in the Temple; Israel profaned the sanctuary, we profane the text.

Monday, February 20, 2012

C.S. Lewis: Near the Journey’s End: XIV

On October 17, 1963 Lewis writes to Mary Willis Shelburne:

“Perhaps I might be able to make up what is lacking of your hospital coverage. How much wd. it be?”

On October 17 he also wrote to Thomas Congdon:

“I’d like to have a try at that article but I must warn you I may fail.”

“It wd. be impossible to discuss the ‘right to happiness’ without discussing a formula that is rather sacred to Americans about the ‘right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.’”

On October 18 Lewis writes to Colin Bailey:

“Thanks for your kind words. Perelandra is my favourite too”

[All excerpts from letters taken from The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Walter Hooper editor, Harper San Francisco.]

The letter to Mary Willis Shelburne is the last letter to her appearing in The Collected Letters. In a previous letter to Shelburne Lewis was struck by Shelburne’s difficulty in obtaining medical treatment due to the lack of a comprehensive health-care system in America.

Lewis’s letter to Thomas Congdon is in response to Congdon’s invitation to write a piece for the Saturday Evening Post addressing whether we have a “right to happiness”. Lewis’s essay, the last article he wrote, appeared in the December 21 – 28 issue of the magazine and is reprinted in God in the Dock. The foil that Lewis uses in the article is sexual fulfillment; a man divorcing his wife because she is no longer attractive to him and a woman divorcing her husband for the same reason. One wonders what Lewis would have thought had he seen what would transpire in the 1960’s; and had his crystal ball provided a glimpse of where we are today not only in terms of sexuality, but in terms of a hedonistic – materialistic society, a society where pleasure is the rationale for decision-making.

I include the short note to Colin Bailey because of its reference to Perelandra.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Language - Purity of Thought; Purity of Word: II

In his classic book, On Writing Well, William Zinsser writes:

“…Americans are unwilling to go out on a limb. A generation ago our leaders told us where they stood and what they believed. Today they perform strenuous verbal feats to escape that fate. Watch them wiggle through TV interviews without committing themselves. I remember President Ford assuring a group of visiting businessmen that his fiscal policies would work. He said: “We see nothing but increasingly brighter clouds every month.” I took this to mean that the clouds were still fairly dark. Ford’s sentence was just vague enough to say nothing and still sedate his constituents.

“Later administrations brought no relief. Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, assessing a Polish crisis in 1984, said: “There’s continuing ground for serious concern and the situation remains serious. The longer it remains serious, the more ground there is for serious concern.” President Bush, questioned about his stand on assault rifles in 1989, said: “There are various groups that think you can ban certain kinds of guns. I am not in that mode. I am in the mode of being deeply concerned.” ”

Zinsser’s all-time favorite was this quote from Elliot Richardson: “And yet, on balance, affirmative action has, I think, been a qualified success.” Zinsser considers the following Richardson statement a close second: “And so, at last, I come to the one firm conviction that I mentioned at the beginning: it is that the subject is too new for final judgments.”

I wonder what Zinsser would say about today’s culture, not only our political culture, but our entire culture?

Zinsser uses the above quotations to illustrate the passive voice, a voice guaranteed to put readers to sleep and to conceal the author’s or speaker’s true thinking. While the passive voice may once have concealed a person’s true thinking, that’s not the general case anymore; the passive voice in our society demonstrates that we communicate passively because we think passively. We are a passive people afraid of critical thinking. Precise thinking means taking a stand, going out on a limb, exposure, and risk. Better to play it safe, to be satiated by entertainment, media, and materialism

Many who still use the active voice in writing and speaking use it simplistically and reactionarily; the obvious examples are talk shows hosts of all stripes – political and religious. The thinking displayed in these arenas is typically a mile wide and an inch deep – after all, it is geared to appeal to the masses.   

I find myself writing in the passive voice even when I know what I think, I find myself hedging my bets, giving myself exits, using the subjunctive mood – and when editing my memos and emails I’m amazed at how often I use the “delete” button, killing off passive and conditional constructions.

When we live, think, and communicate passively we profane the gift of language; language which is part of the mystery of the image of God. When we use language as subterfuge, when we twist language, when we hide behind language; then we are liars and deceivers – proponents of the magic of smoke and mirrors. The witchdoctor has shed his outward garb and accouterments in transformation into the spin doctor – making disciples of us all.

As Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Lion, and the Tin Man (and Toto!) cross the field to the Emerald City they come under a sleeping spell; we are under the spell of passivity and we are asleep – will we wake up? 

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Language - Purity of Thought; Purity of Word: I

I just posted a short piece on Kaleidoscope about hearing someone say, "There are no absolutes in this life." It is a self-contradictory statement, for the speaker is stating an absolute. There is little purity of thought in language today; that is, we don't actually think about what we say outside the moment in which we speak. That is one reason why our leaders, in all arenas, think nothing of saying one thing at 10:00 AM and saying its opposite at 1:00 PM. That's why we don't think anything of it either - language has become the coin of expediency, serving utilitarian ends - the way we use language to achieve our goals doesn't matter - language is a tool, pure and simple.

When someone makes a statement to me at work and I ask, "What do you mean when you say that?", I nearly always get a surprised look. It's much the same look I get when I say something to one of my staff and then ask, "Do you understand what I mean by that?" Usually I'll get "yes" as an answer, and then I'll say, "Okay, tell me what I mean." Then I'll get the surprised look - often they will not have understood what I said - they will not have followed the logic of my statement because they are unaccustomed to thinking in systemic frameworks - everything is "in the moment".

Enjoying "the moment" and "living in the moment" are two different things. People take "living in the moment" to the extreme of living without broader context, therefore the experience of the moment is unrelated to a broader framework, never mind considering the transcendent. God has given us all things to enjoy, and in that sense enjoying a moment, even a difficult moment, can (and should) be sacramental, it can be a means of receiving God's mercy and grace. 

But society has gone from living in the moment to living in the nano second and words are robbed and denuded of their meaning and etymology (the roots of words may matter more now than ever because we use them rootlessly and we live rootlessly). 

 As I thought about an illustration of "living in the moment" I thought of animals, especially dogs, for it is said that animals "live in the moment". While there is some truth to that, it is not the whole truth and so it is not a good illustration, at least not in one sense; but in another sense perhaps it is, for my dogs have a sense of context and a sense of the past - I'm not sure about a sense of the future - but they have some measure of sense of the past. I know this because I've observed dogs relate people and things to past experiences, call it what you want, instinct or cognitive memory, call it what you want; they do have a sense of the past - they remember. Our society does not remember - it no longer remembers 50 years ago, or 30 years ago, or 10 years ago, let alone last year or 6 months ago. Oh we may have film and video and books about the past, but cognitively we don't incorporate the past into our thinking and decision-making; people who lived through the Depression remembered the past and it informed their present and future; people who lived through tough economic cycles from the 1970's forward appear to have not remembered much at all as evidenced by our current economic climate.And what better example could we find of "living in the existential moment" than world political and economic leaders of all parties during this century? (I use the word "leaders" lightly).

My dogs have context for their lives; it is their family (human and canine), their home, and their yard. They relate activities to this context, when someone or something comes within their context that may not belong there they know it. My dogs have a sense of "place" a sense of belonging. They probably have more instinctual framework for life than society has cognitive framework for life - after all, how can a society with a 20-second attention span have a substantive cognitive framework?

All of this affects language, and reduces language to a utilitarian tool without meaning beyond the moment - just look at advertising and "spin" and political rhetoric. Language is profaned to the point that much communication is profanity with or without four-letter words. The gift of systemic thought and language, for the two are inseparable (the Greek word logos captures this unity), sets humankind apart in creation and is a facet of our original creation in the image of God; the promiscuous use of this gift debases society, families, children, the church and synagogue and mosque. 

"There are no absolutes in this life." How many people, listening to or reading that statement, would have actually heard it?

to be continued...


Wednesday, February 15, 2012

C.S. Lewis: Near the Journey’s End: XIII

On October 3, 1963 Lewis writes to Sister Madeleva:

“I will direct Fabers to send you a copy of the little book, but it may shock your pupils. It is ‘A Grief Observed’ from day to day in all its rawness and sinful reactions and follies. It ends with faith but raises all the blackest doubts en route.

“Since my wife’s death I have been very ill myself…but nella sua voluntade e nostra pace.” [Dante, Paradise, III.85: ‘In His will is our peace’].

[All excerpts from letters taken from The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Walter Hooper editor, Harper San Francisco.]

Readers of A Grief Observed and students of Lewis have different takes on the book and on Lewis’s experience as he observed and recorded his grief; in this letter Lewis gives us a few words of his own on the matter.

The other morning at church I had a moment when, approaching the expansive foyer filled with people talking with each other, I wondered if the manner of general conversation was natural and relaxed or formal and religious. When we gather on Sundays are we ourselves or are we in character? I’m sure the answer is complex and mixed, we don’t really know ourselves anymore than we really know other people – only God really knows us – and inordinate introspective leads to narcissism; Lewis recognized this and trusted God to deal with our innards. But I ask the question in this post because if Lewis were concerned about saying the right religious things and acting the right religious way I don’t think he would have written A Grief Observed.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve been in groups of professing Christians and have heard, “You shouldn’t think like that,” or “You shouldn’t feel like that.” The people making such comments might as well say, “Wait here, hold on, you’re getting out of ‘character’, you’re not playing the role the way it was written to be played.”

What would these people have said to Paul had they heard him say in 2 Corinthians that he despaired even of life?

I have a dear friend who laments the fact that pastors are typically not open with each other; holding their cards close to the vest. I’ve thought about his concern a lot over the past few months, and again I’m sure the reasons for this behavior are many and complex – but should things be this way? Paul was transparent not just with his coworkers, but with his various “flocks” beyond what most contemporary church leaders would consider appropriate for themselves or colleagues. What has happened to bring us to this place of opaque relationships?

There is a line between sharing our burdens and experiences with one another and being the equivalent of a talk-show guest who displays all the nitty-gritty of life for all to see and to garner attention – but again, better to let the Lord sort out where the line is for surely the line is relative to the person and situation.

A few years ago I heard what I consider to be an entirely appropriate exclamation “damn!” in church. The context was the conclusion of a Sunday morning service which was the last Sunday morning for a local church prior to a significant number of people leaving to form a new church as a result of congregational conflict. As is often the case, the process was ugly and hurtful. This was also the pastor’s last Sunday at this location.

After the service a woman went up to a grandmother and said, “Well, it’s over, the pastor is leaving, we can have a new start new Sunday and we’ll all be better off.” [Or words to that effect]. The grandma, her teenage granddaughter standing by her side, reacted thusly, “Well damn!” This was a woman who was a picture of Southern gentility. The granddaughter said with surprise, “Grandma!” And the other woman was taken aback – but I don’t know that there could have been a better response.

It was a response to a professing Christian gloating over conflict in the church, thinking that things had gone her way – she was so self-absorbed that she didn’t even know that this grandma and her family were leaving the church – she just assumed that with the pastor gone everyone would stay.

While I’m not advocating the normative use of “damn!” in our vocabulary, nor suggesting we include it in our responsive readings or liturgy, I do think it was a natural and appropriate response in this context – and for sure grandma was not acting a part when she uttered the exclamation.

There is a lot we could learn from each other if we could trust each other; and there is a lot we could give to each other if we knew the burdens and temptations of one another. Lewis was a private person, he was even what we would consider private in his friendships; it was a departure for him to write A Grief Observed, to share his doubts as well as to share his faith in Christ. How quickly we forget the words of Christ to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness,” and Paul’s response, “Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me,”2 Corinthians 12:9.

As Dante wrote, “In His will is our peace.”

Monday, February 13, 2012

C.S. Lewis: Near the Journey’s End: XII

On September 30, 1963, Lewis writes to Jane Douglass:

“Yes, autumn is really the best of the seasons: and I’m not sure that old age isn’t the best part of life. But of course, like Autumn, it doesn’t last!”

Lewis was approaching his 65th birthday (November 29) when he wrote this, hardly what we consider old today – at least hardly what I consider old! Yet, he seems to have felt old. Did the fact he considered himself, in many respects, a 19th Century man (though born in late 1898) contribute to this feeling?

During the last decade of his life he had known the highest of highs in his marriage to Joy Davidman and the lowest of lows in her death; he traveled through A Grief Observed, and in that journey while his heart was both broken and healed, his body was broken and was not to be healed.

Regarding autumn being the best part of life, it’s too bad Western society doesn’t celebrate that fact; it’s too bad the church doesn’t celebrate that fact. I am finding Lewis’s observation to be true – the journey has never been better – the Sun never stronger – the breeze from the east never sweeter – the well of life in Christ never deeper or more refreshing – the land where the Emperor (The Voyage of the Dawn Treader) lives beyond the sea never surer.

[All excerpts from letters taken from The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Walter Hooper editor, Harper San Francisco.]

Monday, February 6, 2012

C.S. Lewis: Near the Journey’s Near: XI (on Higher Criticism)

On September 12, 1963, Francis Anderson of the United States writes to Lewis regarding The Lord of the Rings and Narnia. Anderson wrote in part:

“But the nagging question is – What is the connection between the two series? And, more disturbing, who borrowed from who? With all the books on my shelves telling me how the Old Testament was written, I am ready to exculpate you both from plagiarism with some theory about common source. Is Tolkien also a lover of George MacDonald? Did Lewis make use of parts of the Red Book left over when Tolkien had finished with it?

Lewis responds on September 23, 1963:

“I don’t think Tolkien influenced me, and I am certain I didn’t influence him. That is, I didn’t influence “what” he wrote. My continual encouragement, carried to the point of nagging, influenced him v. much to write at all with that gravity and at that length. In other words I acted as a midwife and not as a father.

“The relevance of your problem to “Higher Criticism” is extremely important. Reviewers of his books and mine, both friendly and hostile, constantly put forth imaginary histories of their composition. I do not think that any one of these has ever borne the slightest resemblance to the real history (e.g. they think his deadly Ring is a symbol of the atom-bomb. Actually his myth was developed long before the atom bomb had been heard of).

“You see the moral. These critics, in dealing with us, have every advantage which modern scholars lack in dealing with Scripture. They are dealing with authors who have the same mother tongue, the same education, and inhabit the same social & political world as their own, and inherit the same literary traditions. In spite of this, when they tell us how the books were written they are all wildly wrong! After that, what chance can there be that any modern scholar can determine how Isaiah or the Fourth Gospel – and I’d add Piers Plowman – came into existence?...I suspect that a few centuries hence the whole art of Higher Criticism will seem as strange an aberration of the human mind as Astrology.”

I have chosen excerpts from this letter because:

Lewis shares about his relationship with Tolkien.

It provides an illustration of the shifting sand of “higher criticism”. That is, if Lewis’s and Tolkien’s contemporaries could be so wrong about them (both their admirers and detractors) what is the likelihood that “scholars” living twenty centuries and more after the fact can reasonably be correct in attributing non-existent source documents to Biblical authors, or in attributing multiple authors to single Biblical books which purport to have one author? And, I might add, what is the likelihood that these “scholars” know more about these subjects than scholars who lived much closer to the time the Biblical books were written? With respect to the NT, do we really think that the historical accuracy and scholarship of the Church Fathers is of a lower order across the board than 19th, 20th, and 21st century “scholars” who purport to demonstrate that the Biblical books are suspect? Oh, and by the way, consider that “higher critics” have an a priori assumption against the supernatural, while the Church Fathers were willing to die for their faith. The higher critics in the comfort of academic and ecclesiastical rose gardens promulgate a fantasy that gives men an excuse not to die for a belief but to live as they wish; the Church Fathers affirm a faith delivered from the Apostles and Apostolic Fathers sealed with the blood of martyrs. If there were two airplanes on the tarmac, one piloted by higher critics and the other by the Church Fathers, and your life and the lives of your loved ones depended on one of the two irreconcilable destinations charted by the pilots – which plane would you choose?