Tag Archives: Christianity

Coming Home At Last

eng_LB_1st_amerFifty years ago today (November 22, 1963) C. S. Lewis died. In the week leading up to this anniversary, I’ve written a series of posts related to what I consider (if I may be permitted to characterize seven volumes as a single work) his magnum opus, the inimitable Chronicles of NarniaIn these seven posts, I have commemorated his life and work.

The final volume in Lewis’s stories for children, The Last Battle, begins in the land of Narnia with two characters. The first one Lewis introduces is Shift, an ape who disavows his species, insisting instead:  “I’m a Man.”

Shift’s “friend” (who was “more like Shift’s servant”) is a dull but well-meaning donkey named Puzzle. The author’s choice in naming these two characters portends the ominous shift occurring in Narnia itself, a shift that confounds (puzzles) true Narnians. Continue Reading →

Few Return to Sunlit Lands

eng_SC_1st_amerAs The Voyage of the Dawn Treader concludes (see previous post), Lucy, Edmund and Eustace catch a view of a range of mountains so high, they recognize immediately they’re seeing into “Aslan’s country.” When the fourth volume of the Chronicles of Narnia begins, Aslan has summoned Eustace Clarence Scrubb and his schoolmate, Jill Pole, back to a precipice on the edge of those mountains … and into the Lion’s presence. Eustace is only on the mountain momentarily; Jill (who hasn’t previously been to Narnia) must first be instructed by Aslan before she is transported into Narnia.

The Silver Chair introduces us to a Narnian world many years later than when Eustace reluctantly (kicking and screaming actually) joined the sea voyage of the Dawn Treader. Eustace’s initial travels in Narnia have stood him in good stead; though he still has an occasional lapse into self-absorption, even Jill acknowledges Scrubb is “different” than last term. His encounter with the Lion has been transformative.

Once more, Lewis brings his characters in The Silver Chair to a quest, singular and quite specific:  rescuing Prince Rilian, son of Caspian X who has grown quite old since he and Eustace parted in Dawn Treader. Rilian has been missing ten years and all efforts to find him have been for naught. With Caspian’s impending demise, Aslan tasks Eustace and Jill to bring the young prince home. Continue Reading →

Looking Along the Sunbeams

eng_VDT_1st_amerAn adventure! Such a romp of the first order! C. S. Lewis’s third book in the Chronicles of Narnia series, The Voyage of the Dawn Treaderushers readers into an exciting (and sometimes perilous) sea voyage. Pevensie siblings Peter and Susan aren’t present in this volume, having been told in Prince Caspian they will not return to Narnia. Lucy and Edmund are joined in this adventure by their insufferable cousin, Eustace Clarence Scrubb.

The adventure commences almost immediately as Lucy, Edmund and Eustace gaze at a picture hung on the wall of the bedroom, while Eustace insists “it’s a rotten picture.” Suddenly the wind picks up, blowing objects around the room, and quickly, the sea spray has drenched them from head to toe, sweeping them off their feet and down into the sea!

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This Narnia installment brings the return of an older, more seasoned Caspian (from the previous volume Prince Caspian). Within a few paragraphs, we’re also introduced to “the most valiant of all the Talking Beasts of Narnia,” the Chief Mouse Reepicheep. Of course, finicky Eustace thinks this “performing animal” is disgusting (“silly and vulgar” he says). He wants nothing to do with the mouse. Ever the valiant beast (and loyal knight), Reepicheep will somehow tolerate − for the sake of this “glorious venture” − the far more beastly, though human, Eustace.

Throughout Dawn Treader, Lewis uses delightful images of ever-increasing light, both in the world of Narnia and in the character enlightenment that takes place. The ship is sailing east on a quest to find seven Lords, friends of Caspian’s deceased father. (The seven men were sent out beyond the Eastern Seas by the usurper Miraz.) Caspian seeks to determine if they’re still alive or dead. Continue Reading →

Powers: “It’s true. It’s completely true.”

This isn’t the post I’d planned for today! I was all geared up for a rant, something caustic, something certain to heat up the broadband cable at least as far as the wall and possibly, stretching all the way to the phone pole from whence my cable cometh!

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… But things changed when I sorted through my email and this article immediately caught my attention. A first-person feature relates the faith journey of Kirsten Powers, girl-reporter phenom, political pundit, contributor at USAToday and FoxNews, columnist at The Daily Beast, and now, writing for … Christianity Today!

Powers tells a simple but profound story of detaching herself from boilerplate doubt (about the existence of God) into what she terms an “aggressively secular” mindset, and eventually, much to her consternation, into “indescribable joy” (again, her words) as a confirmed though “reluctant Jesus follower.”

With delightful candor, Powers recounts her contempt for Christians, mentally dismissing them as “anti-intellectual bigots … too weak to face the reality that there is no rhyme or reason to the world.” Based on this CT article, it appears she didn’t actually reject Christ, though she soundly rejected his followers. (Given my own lifelong experiences within religious circles, I sympathize.)

Remarkably, in Powers’ case, her crisis of faith (a subject about which I’ve previously posted) came soon after she acknowledged the presence and power of God in her life. Why? Because she had accepted a secular orthodoxy (yes, I believe the word applies) holding that many … mostall Christians are intellectual dullards and their vapidity results from a nonsensical, robotic belief system.

Not surprisingly, I suggest the opposite is true:  honest intellectual pursuit of all aspects of one’s life (not just one’s religious faith) requires rigorous inquiry. Contrary to Richard Dawkins (who criticizes faith as a “process of active non-thinking”), I consider my Christian faith expands my clear-thinking view of the world. Christian faith offers a view of the Creation that withstands critical examination. But don’t take my word for it.

Consider this account of Paul’s travels in Acts 17. He was in the ancient Macedonian city of Berea, sharing with the people of that city the Good News of Jesus Christ. Yes, they “received the message with great eagerness,” but they also “examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” Do the actions of these Berean Jews resemble Dawkins’ notion of active non-thinking?

Later in this same chapter of Acts, Paul debates a group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers. In turn, these philosophers respect Paul’s view enough to bring him to a meeting of the Areopagus. Recognizing the people of Athens were highly religious, Paul challenged them to weigh the claims of Jesus Christ, asserting Christ was the “unknown God” for whom they already had an altar in place.

Granted, the above references to Acts 17 come from the Bible. You may not like the Bible (have you read it?) or consider it an authoritative source. Nevertheless, the message Paul presented to both the Bereans and the Athenians stands up to scrutiny in every age, including today.

The Good News message is so irrational, yes − why would anyone willingly, knowingly choose to die in another’s place? But the Good News is also utterly rational − the Creator stepped out of eternity to invade Time (as a man) for the express purpose of reclaiming his Creation!

The Powers account reminds me of another one-time atheist, C. S. Lewis. His journey to faith is recounted in a memoir, Surprised by Joy:  The Shape of My Early Life. Instead of robotic religious creed, Powers and Lewis travelled parallel paths and both discovered a robust relationship with Christ that changed everything! Is it any surprise both would describe their journeys with the word Joy? I think not.

Tomorrow, the rant.

My Father’s World

As I get older, I find taking time off on what some folks refer to as “The Lord’s Day” brings me back to the week ahead with renewed vigor. Taking time off doesn’t mean I lie abed all day, but the ordinary tasks that keep my hands and mind far too occupied during a normal week are generally set aside on Sundays. (I know with surety they will be waiting for me on Monday morning!)

In keeping with that practice, today’s post is a brief one. But I hope its substance will offer a moment of quiet worship and/or reflection for you.

I think there’s something about a cappella music that soothes the soul. It’s a challenge for a group of singers to perform without the advantage of instrumental (keyboards, rhythm, etc.) accompaniment. A cappella music focuses on one’s voice as the “instrument.” This kind of performance is exacting but beautiful.

In an earlier post, I offered a video of an a cappella presentation where all nine parts were recorded (audio and video) by one talented musician. Here’s another one, a rendition of the old hymn, This is My Father’s World, recorded in six-part harmony by musician James Rose.

According to the information provided about the hymn at Wikipedia, atheist Penn Jillette says the hymn was his favorite growing up and he uses the song as intro music on his podcasts.

If I had to choose between the Jillette podcast intro or James Rose’s a cappella performance, I’d choose the latter. Just my opinion. Others may differ.

A Crisis of Faith

In last Thursday’s post, Ever Been to Nando’s, I talked about the refreshingly honest portrayal of Rev. Adam Smallbone’s crisis of faith. A Google search for the term crisis of faith results in a predictably large number of hits, including articles that explore Mother Teresa and John F. Kennedy, both of whom experienced this phenomenon.

In its brief article, Wikipedia explains:  Crisis of faith is a term commonly applied, especially in Western culture, to periods of intense doubt and internal conflict about one’s preconceived beliefs or life decisions.

The most striking phrase in this description − at least for me − is especially in Western culture.” Really? As with the concept of happiness probed in my earlier series of posts, is the concept of a crisis of faith just another cultural creation?

In matters of faith, it seems to me that whatever the culture, doubt inevitably arises. Whether Westerner or not, the one who hasn’t experienced doubt hasn’t actually comprehended faith. A quote attributed to Salman Rushdie says:  “… faith without doubt is addiction.”

Indeed. The beautiful woman doubts her beauty. The truly wise man must occasionally doubt the trustworthiness of some aspect of his knowledge. The athlete confronts doubt (am I good enough to win today?) before every competition. Why should it be any different for a believer to question or doubt the foundations for his/her faith?

Granted, a crisis of faith distinguishes a deeper, more serious affliction from simple, garden-variety doubt. David, King of Israel, wrote many of the Psalms. Some of his Psalms seek help or comfort in times of trouble but others reflect David’s shuddering despair in the midst of serious crisis.

To me, the first half of Psalm 28 reads as a straightforward plea to God for help, and the second half praises the Lord for heeding David’s entreaty. Still, verse one (with a universality that could make it anyone’s prayer) contains a sense of desperation in it:  God, don’t be deaf to me! Don’t be silent!

As I was writing last week about Adam Smallbone’s struggles, I was reminded of the following sonnet written long ago. The poem speaks of a crisis of faith moment in my life, a time when it seemed God was deaf.

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Sonnet: Down To The Pit

For one whose faith is more than addiction, Isaiah 48:10 (ESV) describes being tried/tested “in the furnace of affliction.” On the other side of that affliction, David the psalmist reminds us in the final verses of Psalm 28 (verses 7a, 8b, NIV) that God is “my strength,” “my shield,” “a fortress of salvation for His anointed one.”

Such promises don’t avert a crisis of faith, but they do provide welcome comfort as we stumble through the furnace.

Ever Been To Nando’s?

In the thirty minutes a day I exercise on my elliptical, I watch television to keep my mind somewhat occupied. The majority of programs I’ve chosen lately are British (The Thick of It, Line of Duty), Scottish (The Book Group), and Irish (Single-Handed). If not for closed-captioning, I’d have been lost; oh, they spoke “English” (mostly) but I admit I’ve fine-tuned my ears to understand their pronunciations.

A week ago, my post Jesus Is Awesome! touched briefly on a British television show currently offered by Hulu. Having now watched the first six episodes (a “season” in American television parlance, but the Brits dub it “Series 1”) of Rev., I’ll expand on my initial comments.10180

Rev., thankfully, requires less work, but I still like the closed-captions. Rev. Adam Smallbone, the central character, serves an inner-city East London church that suffers from financial worries including a dingy decaying building and dwindling attendance. The vicar’s wife Alex hardly fits the stereotypical role; she has a career as a solicitor and secrets from her past that complicate the marriage. With her sensible approach and non-hysterical manner, she is long-suffering but will go toe-to-toe with her man when there’s a clash. It’s clear she loves Adam.

The supporting cast supplies adequate challenges that are easily recognizable for almost anyone who has attended church. The people are imperfect creatures; they represent the gamut of chronically lonely, intrusive, conniving, outright liars, poseurs and self-important schemers. Adam, whose own shortcomings don’t get glossed over, deals with each situation and manages to cope. The show mixes humor, a decent story line, and honest characters and questions.

ASIDE:  For Downton Abbey fans, there’s a surprise appearance of Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville) in episode four. The actor plays rival vicar Roland Wise, whose media persona causes Adam to feel envious. But Adam learns all is not what it seems, and Lord Grantham’s normal stiff-upper-lip stolidity vanishes. Oh, the humanity!

The sixth episode should not have surprised me, but it did. For anyone who has suffered a crisis of faith, Rev. displayed the comedic side as well as the despair with equal effect. An anonymous poster on a Christian website has graded Adam’s most recent sermon with a minus-one on a ten-point scale, noting the sermon (that ran about 2 minutes) was at least 3 minutes too long. Everyone (except Adam of course) has viewed the scathing review and Adam only finds out about it when his supervisor delivers the news in person. (This troublesome, arrogant Archdeacon periodically comes around for the sole purpose to remind Adam of his deficiencies.)

We watch Adam descend into quiet despondency. Initially, he tries to shrug it off − it’s only one comment, he reminds himself. But the hurt is real … and God doesn’t seem to be listening or responding to the vicar’s lament. (I don’t want to spoil it for you. Suffice to warn, if you’re not comfortable seeing a drunken priest at his worst, don’t watch the episode. Also, doctrinal purists might want to steer clear.)

In the 22-minute episode, the vicar’s downward spiral escalates quickly. First, he bares his soul to a friend and the friend responds with predictable pap:  “Be real, be yourself.” Adam agrees, immediately informing his friend just what he thinks of him. Naturally, the friend is incensed and leaves with hurt feelings.

Soon thereafter, Adam leers at his wife’s attractive friend, inviting her to have lunch with him at Nando’s. He implies he hopes to turn lunch into an amorous encounter. When she demurs, he backs away, but later directly propositions her.

Adam lashes out, acts out, buries his feelings of inadequacy in a bottle. He curses his level-headed wife (whom he’s never taken to Nando’s).

despondentAll the while, we see (I see) the palpable tension weighing him down because he can’t shake the call of God on his life. He’d reject that calling, cast a middle finger towards Heaven, but he can’t.

I’ve been there. Maybe it was my personal experience empathizing, but Adam’s honest portrayal moved me, called up intense memories deep within my soul. I could not help but appreciate a genuine and unreserved truth-telling. Both writers and actors took a risk. This is a “comedy” after all.

Series 2 (with seven episodes) follows. A third series of six episodes will air in 2014. I’m looking forward to viewing the next episodes, hopeful the program will maintain a similar level of integrity to what I’ve watched so far.

And if ever I discover a restaurant named Nando’s, I’ll be sure to give it a try. (Wanna meet me there?)

Dignity / Humanity

grim_reaper.600Death isn’t a subject most people are eager to discuss, but death by one’s own hand fits the template of today’s “pro-choice” culture. Several states have adopted measures whereby terminally-ill individuals have the “right” to lawfully end their lives. One website says “death with dignity” offers “options for the dying to control their own end-of-life care.

I’ve asked myself whether “dying with dignity” is even possible. If one means to control the way one dies or the setting in which it happens or seeks to promote the conceit that embracing death somehow makes it more palatable, these nuanced “dignity” claims are laughable!

We first need a definition of dignity. In my view, indignity is easier to define, but I’m not persuaded it’s the inverse of dignity. Attempting to avoid or bypass life’s indignities (by self-administering a lethal dose of drugs) suggests cowardice, inconsistent with dignity.

Death is indignity! It is the ultimate and final insult humanity delivers, a constant reminder of life’s temporality. No fountain of youth provides an antidote. Whatever our age or station, none of us is immune. Continue Reading →

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