Tag: C. S. Lewis (Page 2 of 2)

Humans are Amphibians

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Humans beings are amphibians.  This is because, as C. S. Lewis says, we are “half spirit and half animal. As spirits [we] belong to the eternal world, but as animals [we] inhabit time.”

Because we are amphibians, we experience two realities–one linked to the physical world and the other to the spiritual.

The Measurable

The material world has the qualities of height and depth and weight and temperature–these are all measurable. To measure is to compare the whole to one of its parts. A can of Coke can be broken down into millilitres, a human body into pounds and inches.

By their very nature material things are can be broken down into parts. This divisibility is closely related to mutability.  All material things are subject to change. If a student puts the apple on my desk on the last day of school in June, I will find the gift greatly altered by the following September. This holds true even if the gift was a diamond, although the time would be considerably longer for the alterations to be noticed.

As human beings, we are aware of the measurable and the mutable–it is part of our identity. We are material; we are animal.

The Immeasurable

But we are aware of something else that is just as essentially part of us as the material elements–an immutable element. Luigi Giussani (The Religious Sense)  identifies idea, judgment, and decision as aspects of the human individual that are unchanging, indivisible and unmeasurable. He offers an example of each:

    • Idea: We have an idea in our head of something we call “goodness.” When I was a child, I thought my mother good. Even after all these years, I use the same criteria to determine that my mother is still good–this idea is unchanging.
    • Judgment: My declaration, “This is a piece of paper” will still be true in a billion years.
    • Decision: The act of deciding that I like a specific person establishes forever the definition of the relationship.

These things do not change on their own, like the diamond or the apple necessarily do. The ideas, judgments, and decisions endure. The decision may be wrong, I may discover the person I liked had betrayed me and now I no longer like them, but this is a new decision. Each is indivisible and unchangeable in itself.

The point of all of this is to recognize that both the measurable and the immeasurable aspects are part of the experience of our “I”.  And we should not reduce our experience to one or the other of these two realities.

The important conclusion one can draw from all this is that the animal (body) and the spiritual (soul) are not reducible to each other.

The Worst Sin

cocoparisienne / Pixabay

It wasn’t very long ago that all the worst sins were the sexual ones — adultery, homosexuality, abortion. These were the activities, it was thought, in which the worst sinners regularly engaged. For many, the term “immorality” has a sexual connotation.

This is a problem. I think our pastors recognize that placing sexual sins at the top of the hierarchy is not Biblical–a distortion of the gospel. I have heard a lot of sermons over the past few years that contextualize the sexual sins — emphasizing that these are no worse than any other sins, like greed or gluttony.

I was fully on board with this leveling of sins until I came across a quote from C.S. Lewis. He reestablishes a hierarchy.

Not only that, he puts sexual sins on the bottom. Here’s the passage:

If anyone thinks that Christians regard unchastity as the supreme vice, he is quite wrong. The sins of the flesh are bad, but they are the least bad of all sins…. According to Christian teachers, the essential vice, the utmost evil, is Pride. Unchastity, anger, greed, drunkenness, and all that, are mere fleabites in comparison: it was through Pride that the devil became the devil. Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind.

This is all very inconvenient.  I was feeling rather proud of my progress against sexual sin.

We've heard it said that all sins are equal. It turns out that this is not the case; there is one that is worse than all the rest. And it's one of mine.Click To Tweet

Was Jesus a vampire?

Photo by KT on Unsplash

Are there vampires in the Bible?

A few of the characters on HBO’s True Blood suggest there are vampires in the Bible. Lazarus, Cain and Eve are presented as possibilities, but then the dim-witted Jason Stackhouse hypothesizes, “Maybe Jesus was the first vampire?” Jason’s evidence for this assertion is that Jesus rose from the dead and he told his followers to drink his blood.

This conversation over a cafeteria lunch wasn’t any deeper than this, but it prompted some of the shows fans to ask the question again here and here.

Silly question? Perhaps, but the answer to this question is far from silly.

Jesus is like Dracula?

Jesus is like Dracula because he could not be contained in the grave. Actually, this comparison doesn’t really work. Although Dracula lived for many centuries, by the end of Bram Stoker’s novel the eponymous anti-hero was dead at the hands of the Crew of Light.

Jesus, on the other hand, is not dead; he is seated at the right hand of God, ruling for all eternity. I suppose Jason’s mistake is understandable given that it’s not likely he’s read either Dracula or the book of Revelation.

Another way Dracula is like Jesus is that they were both thought to be human, but really weren’t. Oh, wait; this isn’t true either. Jesus was fully human. Born like a human, ate and drank like a human, died like a human. Dracula, on the other hand, is not very human at all. He could turn himself into various animals and even smoke. He didn’t come to be like a human, he didn’t eat or drink like a human and he didn’t die like a human.

Then there’s the whole blood thing that Jason brought up. Dracula drinks blood; Jesus doesn’t drink blood. I’m not sure how this is a positive comparison.

The Main Difference between Jesus and a Vampire

This is actually the essential difference between the vampire and Jesus. Jesus gives his innocent blood for the sake of the guilty; the vampire is guilty of taking innocent blood for his own sake.

The essential difference between the vampire and Jesus: Jesus gives his innocent blood for the sake of the guilty; the vampire is guilty of taking innocent blood for his own sake. Click To Tweet

Jesus fills the empty with his blood; Dracula drains the full of their blood.

Christ’s giving of his blood is symbolically enacted in the Eucharist, where believers symbolically partake of the blood of Christ. Again, what is rehearsed in this ritual is Christ’s giving his blood for the sake of humanity. When Dracula drinks the blood, usually of a young maiden, he is rejuvenated–it is the secret to his immortality.   As Jesus gives up his blood, he dies. This is the secret to our immortality.

How Jesus is like a Vampire

There is a small but signficant way that the way of Jesus is like that of Dracula.

Once bitten, Dracula’s victims become like him.  Once the true believer accepts Christ’s sacrifice on his behalf, the true believer becomes more like Christ.

[tweetshare tweet=”Once bitten, Dracula’s victims become like him.  Once the true believer accepts Christ’s sacrifice on his behalf, the true believer becomes more like Christ. #vampireJesus #vampire #Dracula #Jesus” username=”Dryb0nz”]

But that’s where the similarity ends.  Because the vampire is all about the taking of blood, innocence, life, purity, his victims become the same–they take. Jesus is all about the giving of blood, giving life, so the behaviour of the true disciple will be very different–they give. This is one of the marks of a true follower of Christ–the giving.

Importantly, Dracula absorbs the will of his victims. The vampire has the power to mesmerize his victims as they surrender their will and become passively complicit to its attack. The product of Dracula’s blood taking will be creatures whose lives are qualitatively like his own because he has consumed their selfhood, their freedom, their autonomy. Their identity has become vampire, absorbed into and indistinct–a creature that must take to live.

Christ, on the other hand, desires a people whose wills are freely conformed to his–united with him, but still distinct. The essential difference between the Christian identity and that of the vampire is that behind Jesus’ desire is a perfect love and the result of submission to this love is, paradoxically, perfect freedom.

Although he’s not talking about vampires per se, as Lewis’ Screwtape beautifully articulates the vampiric view of life:

The whole philosophy of Hell rests on recognition of the axiom that one thing is not another thing, and, specifically, that one self is not another self. My good is my good and your good is yours. What one gains another loses. Even and inanimate object is what it is by excluding all other objects from space it occupies; if it expands, it does so by thrusting other objects aside or by absorbing them. A self does the same. With beasts the absorption takes the form of eating; for us, it means the sucking of will and freedom out of a weaker self into a stronger. ‘To be’ means ‘to be in competition.’ Screwtape, in The Screwtape Letters (C. S. Lewis 92)

The vampire is profoundly selfish and exploitative and will refuse to respect the autonomy of others. They use people to satisfy their own needs and desires.

The way of Christ is the exact opposite; in John 15:12-13 Jesus said:

My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

 

I Think the Bible is True

Most liberals like parts of the Bible–they usually like what Jesus said, but there are other parts of the Bible that they reject outright.

I am not like most liberals because I believe that the Bible is the Word of God and, as such, it’s true and it’s relevant, and it’s also authoritative.

But let me say that there are certain parts that I am really uncomfortable with as well.

But, I can’t easily reject them for two reasons.

Two Reasons I don’t Reject the Bible

One reason is my experience.

In the past, I have had some major problems with what the Bible says.   Over the years, I often come to a realization that I had been misreading the Bible my whole life.  I’ll be reading something or listening to a sermon and I find a beautiful resolution to these puzzling passages.

Take, for example, the problem of hell–how could a loving God send people to hell.  That really bugged me for a long time, but then I read C. S. Lewis’ “The Great Divorce.”   In it, Lewis postulates that God’s role is not so much sending people to hell as allowing people to walk away from him.  Lewis even suggests that people can leave hell if they want to, but many choose instead to stay.

This idea of God allowing human beings to choose is central to the teachings of the Bible.  The problem of hell is still with me, but I’ve discovered enough through reading the Bible and other folks much smarter than I am that it is not necessarily incompatible with a loving God.  By the time I got to reading Rob Bell’s book, Love Wins, I benefited from his critique on the Christian approach to the idea of hell, without accepting many of his conclusions.

I came across another thought in Dr. John  Patrick’s keynote from last year’s Apologetics Canada Conference.  The idea was this:  It’s not too hard to accept that God is both pure Love and pure Justice.  Just as it is inconceivable that a loving God allows people to be in hell, it is also just as inconceivable that a just God would allow people into heaven, but nobody argues about that.  It is a puzzling paradox, but it makes some sense if God is both living AND just.

It is my experience that puzzling passages will be sorted out in time.  I just need to do more reading and praying and and listening.

There are still passages that puzzle me, or that I just don’t like.  But I am no longer tempted to reject the Bible because of them.  As with past issues, I might be misinterpreting them.  So, I will wait patiently for be blessing of future epiphanies.

The second reason why I don’t reject the Bible . .  .

. .  . just because I don’t like what’s in it.

If the Bible were truly the word of God, then I doubt it would say only things I agreed with.  I doubt it would only say the things that citizens of 21st-century liberal democracies liked either.

If the Bible really were the word of a transcendent God, it is highly doubtful that it would present only those ideas that are palatable us, only here and only now.

If the Bible really were the word of a transcendent God, it is highly doubtful that it would present only those ideas that are palatable us, only here and only now. Click To Tweet

That wouldn’t make any sense, especially since we keep changing our ideas about what is right and wrong every few centuries, or decades, or years.  I haven’t been on this planet for very long, yet in my mere 50 years, I have seen a lot of change.  What was fine 20 years ago is the worst thing imaginable today.  If a perfectly offenseless Bible were written today, it would be deemed offensive in 30 years.  It’s a wonder that a book thousands of years old isn’t a lot more offensive than it is.

One of the arguments in favour of the Bible actually being the word of a transcendent God is that there are parts I am very uncomfortable with.

I understand that a significant barrier to the acceptance of the Bible in (some) African cultures is that it demands we forgive each other.  In North America, we have no problem forgiveness, but apparently, this is as hard for some cultures to accept as, say, sexual constraint is for North Americans.

I think the Bible is true, even though there are some parts that we have a lot of trouble with.

In some cases, we are troubled because we think it’s saying what it actually isn’t.  In others, it’s actually putting its finger on an area where the Creator of the Cosmos is telling us we have strayed from the path of righteousness.

The trick is knowing which we are dealing with.

Sometimes we think the Bible says what it isn't saying. Sometiems it's actually putting its finger on an area where the Creator of the Cosmos is telling us we have strayed from the path of righteousness. The trick is knowing which we are dealing with.Click To Tweet

 

Have you ever experienced a powerful, unaccountable feeling of Joy?

I took this picture in Renne, France.

This feeling of Joy fell upon me.  I was in the medieval part of Renne, France.  It was a sunny summer afternoon.  I was sitting in an outdoor cafe on an ancient street drinking something called Piçon biere.  It’s hard to describe, but I think it was Joy.  It didn’t last long, but I thanked God for it immediately because I knew him to be the source.

C. S. Lewis was Surprised by Joy

In his spiritual autobiography, Surprised by Joy, C. S. Lewis describes something similar.  Of these moments Lewis says, “the central story of my life is about nothing else.”   Lewis’ recounts three such episodes in his childhood.  The first occurred while the young Lewis, looking at a blooming currant bush, remembered a toy garden he had built in a biscuit tin.  A powerful sensation came over him which he describes as an intense desire.  Lewis senses this to be a supernatural encounter in that, following this brief glimpse, “the world turned commonplace again.”  The second event was through Squirrel Nutkin by Beatrix Potter when Lewis experienced a “trouble” which pointed toward “the Idea of Autumn”; he became “enamored of a season.”  The experience was again, one of intense desire.  The last glimpse occurred through the poetry of Longfellow’s Saga of King Olaf.  Common to each of these experiences is the feeling of “unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any satisfaction.”  He called this sensation Joy.

His description of these encounters implies that this was a meeting with the transcendent for they came “without warning, and as if from a depth not of years but of centuries” (20).

Later, Joy reprises its invitation.  Lewis uses the imagery of a sudden spring to describe the second summons of Joy.  The encounter came with a quote from and an illustration of Siegfried and the Twilight of the Gods which produces the feeling of “pure Northernness,” a deliberately ambiguous term describing the feeling derived from “a vision of huge, clear spaces hanging above the Atlantic in the endless twilight of the Northern summer, remoteness and severity . . . .”  This feeling awakens and fuses with the memory of Joy to create an “unendurable sense of desire and loss.”  He characterizes the feeling as “incomparably more important than anything else in [his] experience.”  From this point in his life, Lewis pursues Joy; he is on a quest to find its source.

What do encounters with Joy mean?

A clearer idea of what these experiences may mean was suggested to me at a recent teacher’s convention.  Syd Hielema was talking about looking at our lives using the Creation-Fall-Redemption-Fulfillment paradigm.  I’ve looked at a lot of things with this template, from coffee to zombies, why not myself?

Here are Hielema’s questions:

  • Creation: How am I wired? What are my gifts? What gives me joy? In what situations in my past have I felt most fully “myself”? (Read Psalm 139:13-14)
  • Fall: In what ways do sin and fear affect me?  In what ways do I pretend to be someone I’m not?  What interferes with me loving God and loving others?  How do the wounds I’ve received from the brokenness of life affect me? (Read Jeremiah 17:9)
  • Redemption: Where have I seen God in my life? What helps me and what hinders me in terms of walking with him?  What am I quite clear about and what am I quite confused about?  Are there particular events or people that stand out on my road to Redemption? (Read Isaiah 43:1-2)
  • Fulfillment:  What might I be like when God has finished his refining work in me?  What might his universe be like?  How might I live anticipating that completion as a new creation?

It’s not very difficult to find creational goodness in ourselves, nor is it very difficult to see how we are distorted by sin.  The movements of redemption are also apparent when we look for them.  But the Fulfillment piece was something I figured was out of my experience–we get that when Christ returns.  But Hielema suggests that we might have the occasional glimpse by which we can extrapolate who we will be when God has finished his work.  And what it will feel like.

I instantly thought of my moment of Joy in medieval Renne. Are those moments that Lewis called encounters with Joy, a small sip of what it will be like when I am made new?

If they are, oh, I’m looking forward to it!

 

 

What do Kraft Dinner and Premarital Sex have in common?

Photo by Ronaldo de Oliveira on Unsplash

Kraft Dinner is an abomination.  If you don’t think so, it’s because you’ve fallen victim to a lie, one that demeans both you and cheese.

I used to eat KD.  When we first moved off campus, my college roommates and I ate it a lot.  The convenience of the stuff eclipsed all other considerations—taste for instance. We did eventually tire of it, so we attempted to gussy it up a little by adding a dollop of mustard or diced onions.   If it was a special meal, we’d add cut up hot dogs.  These attempts did not really redeem the meal because the core element didn’t change; it was still Kraft Dinner.

I haven’t eaten KD for over 30 years.  The reason is that I like cheese.  Why would I eat a powdered cheese when I can eat real cheese?

Kraft Dinner is evidence that human beings are willing to exchange great pleasure for a degraded experience in the worship of any number of false idols. #kraftdinner #premaritalsex #monogamy #marriage Click To Tweet

Degraded Pleasures

Obviously, human beings can be manipulated to exchange great pleasure for degraded experiences.

As evidence, I give you

  • Hostess Twinkies–over 500 million degraded pastries sold each year,
  • M&Ms–over 400 million degraded chocolate candies produced each day,
  • Folger’s Coffee–degraded coffee sold for less than $7 for a two pound can,
  • Coor’s Lite–over 100 million cases of degraded beer,
  • and Kraft Dinner.

There are 7 million Kraft Dinners sold per week.  Canadians eat an average of 3.2 boxes each year.   What can explain these disturbing numbers?

Minions of hell, of course.

C. S. Lewis gives us an imaginative explanation as he explores the hellish view of pleasure in The Screwtape Letters.  An experienced tempter, Screwtape, offers advice to his nephew, a novice, on the uses of pleasure to ensnare a human soul.  Screwtape laments that despite their best efforts, Hell has not been able to produce a single pleasure, but pleasure can still be useful if properly degraded.  He tells his nephew,

You must always try to work away from the natural condition of any pleasure, to that in which it is least natural, least redolent of its Maker, and least pleasurable

for when dealing with any pleasure in its

healthy and normal and satisfying form we are, in a sense, on the Enemy’s ground.

Let’s use beer as an example of how the demonic is at work in degrading pleasures.

Beer is a pleasure–a good gift from God.  One of the best beers I ever had was in Rennes, France. The label said it was Picon Biere and it tasted like oranges.  I was sitting outdoors in the warm sun at around 3 o’clock in the afternoon.  I had nowhere to go and nothing to do.  The street was cobbled. Across the street was a row of 16th-century buildings. It was one of those incredible moments of joy.  I think this experience was close to what God had in mind when he invented hops and barley and yeast.

There is a lot of beer consumed in a way that offers nothing like the pleasure of a pint from your local microbrewery.  The mass-produced lagers are the beer of choice for those who want to want to express their freedom through the “fun” afforded by alcohol.  They don’t drink one or even two, but many of these cheap beers.    The taste of each individual beer is unremarkable, so they are not really enjoyed and the cumulative effect is far from the pleasurable, particularly the next day.

This is how the devils take a good gift from God and suck most of the pleasure out of it.  The same is done to the pleasures of sex.

Kraft Dinner and Sex

There’s KD sex, and there’s sex the way it was meant to be.  Many people reject the Christian ideal of sex within marriage because it is too restrictive.   All good things have limits.  Just as you can’t make a good tasting cup of coffee with Robusta beans, you can’t experience all the pleasures of sex outside of marriage.

All good things have limits. Just as you can't make a good cup of coffee with Robusta beans, you can't experience all the pleasures of sex outside of marriage. Click To Tweet

In his book, Orthodoxy, C. K. Chesterton is puzzled by “the common murmur . . . against monogamy.”  Baffled he asks why people would gripe over the restriction of “keeping to one woman” and overlook the privilege of being able to love even one.

I heard of a conversation in which some young people were having an honest discussion about marriage and sex with an older Christian.  One of the young people asked the adult, “How does it take . . . how long does it take to make love.” The wise answer was, “Years.”

Is Biblical morality really opposed to pleasure?
Is one Picon Biere really inferior to a dozen Coors Lights?
Is the long love to one marriage partner really inferior to many short-term relationships?

Biblical morality is opposed to pleasure if one craft beer is inferior to a dozen Coors Lights, if long love to one marriage partner inferior to multiple, short-term relationships. Click To Tweet

Seafood Mac and Cheese

The ingredients for Seafood Macaroni and Cheese are:

  • olive oil
  • large shrimp
  • chopped onion
  • chopped peeled carrots
  • chopped celery
  • garlic cloves, peeled, flattened
  • Turkish bay leaf
  • tomato paste
  • Cognac or brandy
  • butter
  • flour
  • whipping cream
  • Fontina cheese
  • gemelli pasta
  • fresh crabmeat
  • chopped fresh chives

These, properly blended and prepared, have echoes of heaven.

 

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