Tuesday, March 27, 2012

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

On November 16, 1963 Lewis writes to Mary Van Deusen:

“Warren tells me that he had a letter from you on 20th October…He I’m glad to say is completely recovered, and as regards myself, I am thank God very much better; but I had a bad time in the summer. I’m…not allowed to go upstairs for one thing, and on a strict diet for another…I am grateful for my condition. I am able to write, and my friends are very good about coming to see me.”

On November 16 he also writes to Mrs. Frank L. Jones:

“…I have great cause for gratitude. I can still write, and my friends are very good about visiting me…”

“I rarely venture further afield than a stroll in the garden. Once a week I attend a reunion of old friends at one of the Oxford taverns. (Beer thank goodness is not on the list of things denied me). Sometimes some kind person takes me out for a run in a car. Otherwise I write, read, and answer letters; one day is like another. But you are not to think me unhappy or bored.”

[All excerpts are from The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, 3Volumes, Walter Hopper, editor. Harper San Francisco.]

This series on Near the Journey’s End will soon be over. I’ve put off doing this post – how many are left in the series? One? Two? I’m reading a letter as if I’m in the room as Lewis writes it; what business is this of mine? What right do I have to intrude? As he pens the letter I know something he doesn’t know, I know Jack will die on November 22.

Did I just call him Jack? I want to highlight the word and delete it, I don’t know him well enough to call him Jack. Yes, I know that when he was about four years old that he announced to his family that he would henceforth not be known as Clive, but as Jacksie – and so it would be – Jacksie, Jacks, and finally Jack; no Clive. But Jack is too familiar for me to call him that, it is presumptuous, why I’ve never had a beer with him, I’ve never sat in his rooms at Oxford or Cambridge and shared a sherry or port or read prose or poetry. Who am I to call him Jack? No, he is Lewis to me, he’ll never be Jack.

He writes, he reads, he welcomes friends; there is the occasional walk in the garden and the occasional ride in a car; he welcomes friends, he reads, he writes. On November 16 he is writing some of his last letters.

The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis are three substantial volumes, this third volume contains 1,645 pages of letters, but are these the most vital of Lewis’s letters? No. The most vital letters of C.S. Lewis are without number. They exist in virtually every language and they span generations, educational, ethnic, and socioeconomic conditions; they live in minds and hearts and imaginations; people read them all the time without knowing they are reading them, for the letters of C.S. Lewis that matter the most are the lives of people who have been enriched and changed through touching Christ through Lewis. Whether it is dialectic reasoning in The Problem of Pain, Miracles, or Mere Christianity; or a visit to Perelandra or Cair Paravel, those who have made the journey seldom return without bringing a piece of the visit home with them – often returning again and again for a visit with Professor Lewis. And those who spend time with the Professor, whether on a walking tour, in a pub, or seated in a lecture hall, soon realize that while Lewis may enjoy our company, and while Lewis prizes friendship above most things in life, that Lewis’s hope for us is that we’ll meet his Best Friend, His Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ – after all, it is all about Aslan’s appearing; the One who first appeared to Lewis on Addison’s Walk and on a motorcycle ride with Warren appears again and again in Lewis’s writing – he writes that Christ might appear to others as He appeared to him. Lewis wants us all to know the joy that surprised him.

Paul tells the Corinthians that you yourselves are our letter…to be known and read by all. C.S. Lewis has written his letters as well; are we writing letters in the lives of others? What will we leave? Will the books we write, the lives we lead, turn to dust at our passing – or will they be written on the hearts of others…and will the theme of our writing be Jesus Christ?

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Hunger Games and Freedom Riders

This week I watched a PBS American Experience presentation titled The Freedom Riders. It chronicled the 1961 attempt by Americans to desegregate interstate buses and terminals serving interstate buses. The film primarily consisted of interviews and archival film footage; it was intense and heartbreaking to the point that I had to turn it off the first night over concern that I wouldn’t sleep. The violence perpetrated on Americans by Americans, on humans by humans, on the nonviolent by the violent, is something of which we are too little aware. But the greater story, and one which I have great admiration for, is the courage of the Freedom Riders and others in the nonviolent Civil Rights Movement. I marvel at men and women who do not strike back when being beaten to a pulp; who while inside a bus that has been set on fire do not curse and attack their tormentors; I marvel at a group of college students from Fisk University who leave school in the midst of final exams to buttress the nonviolent protest on the brink of defeat – students who go to prison in lieu of playing it safe. What does this have to do with Hunger Games?

I’ve been reading reviews of the movie and book by professing Christians, so far every review I’ve read has endorsed the movie. A theme in all of the reviews is that the movie and book are statements against violence; the idea is that to protest violence you make a movie about violence. This was the same argument I read concerning Pulp Fiction and The Unforgiven. While I did not see Pulp Fiction I did see The Unforgiven; I would not see it again.

The logic that to protest violence one produces a movie with violence would lead us to protest pornography by making a movie with pornography, etc. This thinking also ignores the reality that people do not think critically about what they read and watch. Violence begets violence, and exposure to violence in entertainment desensitizes us to violence, just as exposure to adultery and sex outside of marriage desensitizes us to those sins. Furthermore, let’s not forget that movies are made to make money – they are entertainment; when people are being entertained their cognitive processes are passive.

Christ calls us to be holy as He is holy, He calls us to live pure lives. In my recent series on Purity of Thought and Purity of Word I considered the importance of the words and images we use – profane words and images affect us and to think otherwise is to exalt ourselves and our thinking above God and His Word; as Paul writes in Romans 16: “…I want you to be wise in what is good and innocent in what is evil.” We cannot expose ourselves to violence, to sexual images, to profane language in its many forms with impunity.

If we want to protest violence then let us look to examples of violence being perpetrated on the nonviolent, on the saints of history, on Christians suffering and dying for their faith and on behalf of others. If we want to protest violence then let us refrain from endorsing entertainment that is akin to the Roman Coliseum. And if we really want to watch something that shows the hideousness of violence, the hatred that propels violence, and the courage that sustains those who choose to be the objects of violence…well then I recommend PBS’s The Freedom Riders.  

Monday, March 19, 2012

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

On November 7, 1963, Lewis writes to Bonamy Dobre:

“Thanks, I am, as you say, being ‘very good’. But so far I rather like it. It was lovely to feel that I need not read Rowse on the Sonnets! Instead I re-read The Iliad, the Daisy Chain, Bleak House and In Memoriam: a good balanced diet.”

Lewis didn’t travel far during his life. Other than serving in France during WWI, I don’t recall that he travelled to France, though he may well have – I’m relying on memory. While Lewis and his wife Joy toured Greece, I don’t recall Lewis visiting any other countries outside the UK other than Ireland on his many visits to Ulster.

Lewis’s vacations consisted of two types that he reveled in; walking tours in Britain and visits to Ulster and Ireland. The former were taken with combinations of friends and his brother throughout his life, the latter were coordinated and enjoyed with his lifelong friend Arthur Greeves. While to the observer in Oxford or Cambridge Professor Lewis might appear an “indoor” man, he loved the outdoors and he loved enjoying the outdoors with friends. But of course Lewis also loved books and books are to be found indoors. Outside Lewis read and enjoyed the book of creation, inside Lewis enjoyed literary creations.

While Lewis didn’t physically travel to the far corners of the globe, he spanned the latitudes and longitudes of the globe through reading, returning again and again to his favorite places, including The Iliad and Paradise Lost. Long before physical space travel Lewis ventured beyond Earth’s gravity in his reading; he also led others into space through his Space Trilogy and short stories. Despite appearances Professor Lewis was a well-travelled man.   

If re-reading is re-experiencing the pleasure of a book, and if re-reading is discovering previously unobserved vistas and nuances, and if re-reading is akin to our favorite comfort foods – then it is no surprise that those who love reading and literature return again and again to their favorite books. Lewis the invalid was Lewis the world traveler, Lewis the invalid was Lewis the time traveler, Lewis the invalid was Lewis the space traveler. Lewis began his life reading, he lived his life reading, and as we see from the above letter, Lewis concludes his life reading.

Monday, March 12, 2012

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

On October 31, 1963 Lewis writes to Mr. (?) Young:

“1. I believe in the Virgin Birth in the fullest and most literal sense; that is, I deny that copulation with a man was the cause of the Virgin’s pregnancy.

“2. It is not easy to define what we mean by an ‘essentially human body’. The records show Our Lord’s Risen Body could pass through closed doors, which human bodies can’t: but also that it could eat. We shall know what a glorified body is when we have one ourselves: till then, I think we must acquiesce in mystery.

“3. When Scripture says that Christ died ‘for’ us, I think the word is usually…(on behalf of), not…(instead of). I think the ideas of sacrifice, Ransom, Championship (over Death), Substitution etc. are all images to suggest the reality (not otherwise comprehensible to us) of the Atonement. To fix on any one of them as if it contained and limited the truth like a scientific definition wd. in my opinion be a mistake.”

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

I include the above excerpts because they show Lewis continuing to correspond regarding the Christian faith, setting forth his beliefs, and because they show Lewis’s sense of the mystery of the Gospel.

Lewis’s sense of mystery was born of his sense of the greatness of God, from a sense that the Gospel, God’s Revelation, has layers and depths and nuances and facets that proclaim that God is God and that we are not; that God is to be worshipped in His majesty and mystery, and that on our best days we are children. Adults who do not know that on their best days they are children before the Almighty have a tendency to be presumptuous toward God and others; Lewis knew what it was to be presumptuous, he knew what it was to be hyper-critical of others, and this may have contributed to his insistence that he would articulate and defend Mere Christianity, but beyond that he would give his fellow pilgrims plenty of room.

There are mysteries that we must acquiesce to; we see glimpses, we taste portions, we touch elements; but we just can’t see it all, we can’t eat it all, we can’t get our hands and arms around it all – let alone our minds. Our hearts can experience more than our minds can comprehend – and oh how presumptuous to think that our minds can explain all that is in our hearts. If I can’t fully explain all that is in my heart toward my wife, what a fool I would be to think I can explain all that is in my heart toward God and in God’s heart toward me.

And of all the mysteries associated with Scripture and the Gospel, what greater mystery is there than the Atonement? We can speak of it forensically, we can speak of it biologically and organically, we can speak of it in narrative; but we can never speak of it without mystery if we are true to Scripture, acknowledging our human limitations and God’s Godhood. The Atonement is as greater than our understanding as the cosmos is greater than Earth; and we know that the Atonement is greater still.

When we glimpse how great the Atonement is we see that the idea of meritorious works by men and women is akin to children building sand castles with the idea that they will withstand the high tide. Our works bear no relation to the depth of our sin or the superabundant grace of God, just as the strength of sand castles bears no relation to the mighty ocean.

Perhaps we would be a witnessing people if we were a people bowing in worship, awestruck at the mystery of the Atonement; rather than a people who insist on reducing everything to the explicable and definable. Perhaps we would be an obedient people if we were a people convinced that the mystery of the Gospel exceeds our comprehension and that the greatness of God dwarfs our intellects; when our religion ceases to be transcendent we have no cause for obedience and worship for we have made ourselves functionally equal to that which we profess to worship and profess to obey.

We may sing songs such as “Majesty” and “Now is the Time to Worship” but we sing as if we served a constitutional monarch who reigns at the pleasure of the people – not a Monarch who demands and deserves self-sacrificial obedience.

 Paul writes of “holding the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience”, (1Timothy 3:9); it is an ever-unfolding mystery, both in history and hopefully in our lives. Perhaps we will be surprised to find on That Day when we stand before Him, that rather than having all of our questions answered that the mystery will loom greater than we ever imagined – and with the elders around the Throne (Revelation Chapters 4 & 5) we will find ourselves on our faces before God. Worthy is the Lamb.  

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Ironic Irenic Victory

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:35 – 39.

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your reasonable and spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind…” Romans 12:1 – 2a.

“And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain…” Revelation 5:6a

“And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb.” Revelation 21:22.

“The one who conquerors will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son.” Revelation 21:7.

In Revelation it is the Lamb who conquerors by His death and resurrection; those who follow Him in suffering, in death, also follow Him in resurrection; those who suffer for their identification with God and Christ conquer; those who identify with the irenic Lamb experience ironic victory. The irony is that in the Cross, in apparent defeat, there is certain victory.

And so Paul writes that we are as lambs marked out for slaughter; lambs marked out for sacrifice. Just as there were daily sacrifices in the Levitical Temple, so are there daily sacrifices in the everlasting Temple of God and of the Lamb, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long…” Read the above passage in Romans again, consider the adversities and vicissitudes of life enumerated by Paul – are not these things…sword, famine, death, rulers, tribulation…are they not all described in Revelation? And just as in Revelation those who follow the Lamb and are partakers of Him overcome the chaos of the serpent, so in Romans those who are in the fellowship of the sacrificial Lamb, following Him in sacrificial living, are more than conquerors, more than overcomers. We see the trajectory of sacrificial living extended into Romans 12 – “present your bodies living sacrifices”.

Everyday we who follow Christ are called to follow Christ the Lamb as lambs marked out for slaughter; everyday we are called to take up the Cross, deny ourselves, and follow Jesus. Everyday we are invited to the altar (Colossians 1:24) to share in the fellowship of His sufferings (Philippians 3:10) in order to bear witness to the world of Christ the Lamb. Everyday we are called to allow the peace of God to rule in our hearts (Colossians 3:15).

The primary image of Christ throughout Revelation is that of the Lamb. He is the Lamb from the throne room in Chapter 5 through the New Jerusalem in Chapters 21 and 22. He is not primarily portrayed as a mighty warrior, He is not primarily portrayed as a king or lord, He is not primarily portrayed as a lion; His portrayal as the Lamb towers above all other portrayals in Revelation, it envelopes them all, it absorbs them all. It is the Lamb who has redeemed us, the Lamb who was slain, the Lamb who has loved; and yes, it is the Lamb who judges.

The irony is that it is the Lamb who first conquered that most hideous of enemies, death; the irony is that it is His irenic (peaceful) followers who, also as lambs marked for slaughter, conquer as He conquers; they conquer through peace, through love, through purity, through not loving their lives even unto death.

Revelation is written, in part, to encourage us to follow the Lamb in His sufferings, in His purity, in His uncompromising devotion to the Father – a devotion expressed in sacrificial love and peace toward others. It is written, in part, to warn us not to adopt the methods and ways of the world and the Beast in warfare, in argument, in politics, in world affairs, in economics, in disrespect of authority, in idol worship. Above all it is written that we might see Jesus the Lamb, and that seeing Him we might live securely in Him, following Him all the days of our lives in the certainty that we are more than conquerors.

Monday, March 5, 2012

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

On October 26, 1963 Lewis writes to Jane Douglass:

“I too hope that moderate health will remain to me so that I shall be able to go on writing and do all the things I’ve wanted to do, but been too busy to tackle…I’m encouraged by my doctor’s latest report; he tells me he is quite satisfied with my condition.”

Also on October 26 Lewis writes to Ruth Broady:

“Many thanks for your kind letter, and it was very good of you to write and tell me that you like my books; and what a very good letter you write for your age!

“If you continue to love Jesus, nothing much can go wrong with you, and I hope you may always do so. I’m so thankful that you realized [the] ‘hidden story’ in the Narnian books. It is odd, children nearly always do, grown ups hardly ever.”

[All excerpts are from The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, 3Volumes, Walter Hopper, editor. Harper San Francisco.]

I include the letter to Jane Douglass because it shows Lewis’s understanding of his medical condition; he is encouraged…he doesn’t know he has less than a month to live.

As I’ve written previously, I love Lewis’s letters to children, hence the letter to Ruth Broady. Here is this world-renown thinker and writer, able to engage the finest minds of his day, writing gently to children. What joy it must have given him seeing children recognizing who Aslan really is, how it must have warmed his heart.

“If you continue to love Jesus, nothing much can go wrong with you…” This is discipleship in a nutshell, and it is parenting and pastoring and the core of koinonia condensed to its “ground” and foundation – love Jesus. The professing church needs this admonition – love Jesus.

As a pastor I’ve said to parents over and over again, “Teach your children to love Jesus.” As a brother in Christ I want to say to my brothers and sisters, “Teach your children to love Jesus. Teach your teenagers to love Jesus. Demonstrate a joyful love for Jesus in your marriages so that your family will see love for Jesus.”

I love the Narniad for many reasons; one reason is that Jesus is the never-changing focus – the appearing of Aslan is the “Ah ha!” moment of every book. Adults may not see this just as they don’t see this in the Bible or in daily life. We talk about politics or economics or sports or business or self-improvement or music or church growth or world events; it seems we talk about everything and everyone but Jesus. How can this be? The Early Church told the story of Jesus, it shared the Good News of Jesus – it was so in love with Jesus that it couldn’t help telling others, even in the midst of severe opposition.

Lately I’ve been writing about language on this blog, about purity versus profanity; we’d have a lot less profanity if we loved Jesus, a lot less spin, a lot less passivity. How can one be profane, deceptive, or passive in language and in life if one loves Jesus?

How is this for an epithet? “C.S. Lewis – he taught children to love Jesus.”

Friday, March 2, 2012

Language – Purity of Thought, Purity of Word: VII

I am told that the common language of many Christians is the same as that of the age in which we live. This is hard for me to believe; and yet it is not hard for me to believe. It is hard for me to believe in the sense that should someone tell me that a close friend had just robbed a bank, or hijacked a plane, or was found to be married to seven women at the same time; it would be hard for me to believe.

It is not hard to believe when I consider the media, whether news, entertainment, or sports, or music, that Christians expose themselves to; or when I consider that Christians often “go with the flow” of their environments. It is not hard to believe when Christians seldom think of holiness, usually do not read and know the Bible, and typically do not see themselves as on this planet to be God’s Presence for the glory of God and the blessing of others.

Consider Paul’s words: “But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience,” Ephesians Chapter 5. [Italics mine.]

In the above passage, profane language is classified with sexual impurity and idolatry. Do we actually believe that language does not matter and that we can engage in profane language with impunity? Do we believe that our words, being products of our hearts, do not affect our relationship with Christ and others – whether for good or evil?

Solomon writes that life and death are in the power of the tongue. Jesus says that the words He speaks are spirit and life. These statements are not about “name it and claim it”, they are about the gift of language, the power of language, and about us being called to live as sons and daughters of the holy and living God, speaking words of life as He speaks words of life.

Francis Schaeffer said that one reason he read the Bible was to refresh and cleanse his mind from the world/age that he was exposed to on a daily basis; when we engage in profanity, whether in word or image, it is as if we are cleansing our minds from the Bible. In Romans Chapter 12 we are told to be transformed through the renewing of our minds; our minds can hardly be renewed when they invite profanity into the Temple to play the court jester, philosopher, musician, artist, and theater troupe. Nor can our minds be renewed when they are engaged in spin, slander, and anger.

The Apocalypse portrays two groups of people, those with the mark of the Beast and those with the Name of the Father; they are internal, written on minds and hearts; being internal they manifest themselves through two opposing languages, two languages at war with each other. One is a language of light and life; the other a language of deceitful darkness, impurity, and profanity; one a language of transparency; the other of smoke and mirrors. One language hallows the graces, mercies, and gifts of God – such as marriage; the other language flies the banner of desecration, in fact its leading battering-ram word is one which profanes a sacred expression in marriage. How can we think little or nothing of profanity? How can we adopt it?

Which is our mother tongue: the language of the Lamb or the language of the Beast?