Archives For The Modern Church

Hitler Versus C.S. Lewis

December 3, 2013 — 12 Comments

hitler“Meme.” A ubiquitous word among younger generations, but a concept still rather foreign to many who are slightly more “mature.”

The word was introduced by Richard Dawkins in 1976 and means an idea or social behavior that is transmitted by repetition “in a manner analogous to the biological transmission of genes.” Dawkins echoed the sound of “gene,” using the Greek word mimeisthai (to imitate).

Some memes are quite comical. Other quickly grow wearisome (remember the “dancing baby?”).

One I find particularly creative is a scene of Hitler in his bunker during the final days of the Third Reich. The dialog is in German, and the ingenuity is manifest in all of the hilarious subtitles that people create to coincide with the actions of the characters.

I’m sure there are many tasteless examples (to be avoided), but during the last few years I’ve viewed a couple of dozen and found most quite entertaining.

When I discovered a website that allows you to create your own version, I couldn’t resist. And, of course, I could think of no subject better suited to coinciding with Hitler’s demise than the heroic work of C.S. Lewis. In just a moment I’ll share a link to my film “adaptation.”

Lewis, of course, was a patriot who volunteered for the British army and served on the frontlines. He was seriously wounded. (He was not a Christian at the time.)

During the Second World War, Lewis supported the war effort from home. He provided tremendous encouragement to his countrymen via well-received talks broadcast on BBC. And this is the inspiration for my “take” on the Hitler Bunker meme.

His sequel to The Screwtape Letters, “Screwtape Proposes a Toast,” mentions the madman by name. Portraying the demons at the banquet as feasting on the souls of the damned, Screwtape complains:

. . . it would be vain to deny that the human souls on whose anguish we have been feasting tonight were of pretty poor quality. Not all the most skilful cookery of our tormentors could make them better than insipid.

Oh to get one’s teeth again into a Farinata, a Henry VIII, or even a Hitler! There was real crackling there; something to crunch; a rage, an egotism, a cruelty only just less robust than our own. It put up a delicious resistance to being devoured.

Curiously, in English Literature in the Sixteenth Century, Lewis mentioned how Hitler could be viewed in a humorous light.

The mixture of farce and terror would be incredible if we did not remember that boys joked most about flogging under Keate, and men joked most about gallows under the old penal code. It is apparently when terrors are over that they become too terrible to laugh at; while they are regnant they are too terrible to be taken with unrelieved gravity. There is nothing funny about Hitler now.

Lewis’ point, accurate I believe, is that in the terror of the experience itself, humor can provide some relief. Laughing in ridicule at the source of the horror can help to preserve our sanity. Only in the aftermath—once the threat has been dispatched—can we allow the true magnitude of the carnage to be comprehended. And, in that moment, there is nothing at all that is funny.

Of course, years later, when the sights and smells of Dachau are no longer recalled by the living, things shift once again. (Very few of those tragic victims or liberating heroes remain.) When the scarred battlefields have been covered with velvet grass, and it was no longer even “dad’s war,” but now “grandpa’s” or even “great-grandpa’s,” the bitterness has grown stale.

Today, it is natural to scorn and laugh at the tragic dictator who caused so much sorrow. He was a pitiful human being, and without minimizing his crimes, it is fitting that he be ridiculed once again.

History Proves Lewis True

The fact that at a certain point it becomes acceptable to ridicule a monster, is the premise behind the hilarious film “The Producers.” If you’ve never seen it, by all means take a moment to watch the theme song, “Springtime for Hitler.” For a cinematic example of Hitler-ridicule, there may be none finer than that “musical” (overlooking the tasteless burlesque costumes).

Of course, true to Lewis’ maxim, ridicule was also heaped upon the “Bohemian Corporal” during the war itself.

The classic example would be Charlie Chaplin’s celebrated “The Great Dictator.” (In addition to starring in the film, Chaplin wrote, directed and produced the movie. Oh, and he also co-composed the music.) The film was made in 1940, while war already raged, but prior to the entry of the United States.

Chaplin’s movie confirms Lewis’ contention that we should not joke about such matters while the wounds are raw. We learn from Chaplin’s My Autobiography, that in the post-war realization of the depth of Hitler’s evil, he regretted treating him with such levity. “Had I known of the actual horrors of the German concentration camps, I could not have made The Great Dictator, I could not have made fun of the homicidal insanity of the Nazis.”

[Best if viewed in the order presented, beginning with the external link to my parody.]

A Visit to the Cinema

Hitler Versus C.S. Lewis (by Mere Inkling)

Click this link: http://meemsy.com/v/12897

Springtime for Hitler and Germany” from The Producers

Charlie Chaplin’s Version of the German Dictator

The Three Stooges actually beat Chaplin to the screen with their short, “You Nazty Spy!” The sequel, “I’ll Never Heil Again” was released the following year.

A Scene from Nazty Spy

A Brief Clip from I’ll Never Heil Again

And finally, returning full circle to the original meme in which I participated, I was surprised to discover a version of it in which Hitler views the trailer for the 2012 Three Stooges movie. (Apparently, despite their rather disrespectful treatment of him, according to this meme der fuhrer was a fan!) And with that, today’s Hitler cinema will close.

Misspelling Jesus

November 12, 2013 — 16 Comments

LesusTalk about embarrassing. In a nation that considers God to be its sovereign ruler, it seems rather inexcusable to misspell the name of Jesus.

And yet, that’s precisely what the Vatican has done.

Even more humbling, the error occurred on a very public medium—the principality’s coinage. And, if that was not enough to generate finger-pointing within the Curia, the coins bearing the defective spelling were minted to celebrate the first anniversary of Francis’ assumption of the papal throne.

Having collected coins since I was a young boy, I’m quite familiar with the frequency of minting errors. Typically they are caused by mistakes at the mint itself, where there is a mis-strike or a flaw in one of the dies. (I own a couple of ancient Roman “mules” where the mint workers accidentally used the mismatched obverses and reverses when they struck a particular piece.)

The legend (text) on the aforementioned medallions incorrectly reads “Lesus.” It seems to me that Western sources have mistakenly perceived this as the incorrect substitution of an “L” for the “J.”

The truth is . . . the inscription is in Latin, in which case it is actually an “I” that should appear in place of the “L.” If this is correct, Jesus’ name would be rendered IESUS.*

In actuality, the magnitude of this error was less significant than initially reported. It affected an anniversary medallion, rather than common, everyday coinage that would find its way into the hands of the masses. Also, the mistake was discovered early enough that only a handful of the medals were released; the “lucky” recipients are sure to see the worth of these treasures increase many times over, as their rarity causes the value of the medals to escalate.

Unlike Islam, which forbids images of Allah and Muhammad, Christianity has found iconography related to Jesus to be inspirational, throughout its two millennia history.

The Lord’s face has appeared on numerous coins throughout the years, and there is an entire series of Byzantine issues that cannot be specifically attributed to individual rulers because they did not include their own likeness or name, preferring to yield their place of honor to Christ.

In a 1942 letter to a nun with whom he corresponded, C.S. Lewis shared a poem he had written. I relate it here because of the exquisite reference to religious portraiture on coinage.

From all my lame defeats and oh! much more

From all the victories I have seemed to score;

From cleverness shot forth in Thy behalf,

At which, while angels weep, the audience laugh;

From all my proofs of Thy divinity,

Thou, who would’st give no sign, deliver me.

Thoughts are but coins. Let me not trust, instead

Of Thee, the thumb-worn image of Thy head;

From every thought, even from my thoughts of Thee,

Oh thou fair Silence! fall and set me free.

Lord of the straight way and the needle’s eye,

Take from me all my trumpery lest I die.

A Thought for Writers

Everyone who has ever written something read by others understands the importance of proofreading. This is true for digital media such as emails. It’s even more true for print publications that cannot be easily amended.

That said, we can consider ourselves fortunate that our typographical mistakes are not inscribed for all time on precious metals.

_____

* Iesus in the nominative case. It’s more commonly seen as Iesu, and my Latin is too rusty to know how it should correctly be rendered in this inscription.

Books C.S. Lewis Loved

April 23, 2013 — 21 Comments

csl booksThose of us who admire C.S. Lewis respect his words on many subjects, not least of which would include literary matters. He was, after all, both a gifted writer and a professor teaching related subjects at two of the world’s most prestigious universities.

In 1962 The Christian Century asked him to list the ten titles most influential in his professional and philosophical life. (Most of these are available as free downloads on the internet.)

1. Phantastes by George MacDonald

2. The Everlasting Man by G. K. Chesterton.

3. The Aeneid by Virgil

4. The Temple by George Herbert

5. The Prelude by William Wordsworth

6. The Idea of the Holy by Rudolf Otto

7. The Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius

8. Life of Samuel Johnson by James Boswell

9. Descent into Hell by Charles Williams

10. Theism and Humanism by Arthur James Balfour

The following year Lewis was interviewed by Sherwood Wirt, longtime editor of Decision magazine. (Decision is published by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, and you can learn more about the publication here.)

During his interview, Wirt focused on spiritual rather than professional benefits from books Lewis had found beneficial.

Sherwood Wirt: What Christian writers have helped you?

C.S. Lewis: The contemporary book that has helped me the most is Chesterton’s The Everlasting Man. Others are Edwyn Bevan’s book, Symbolism and Belief, and Rudolf Otto’s The Idea of the Holy, and the plays of Dorothy Sayers.

Fortunately all of these titles are readily available for those who would like to explore works that influenced Lewis’ conversion and Christian growth. Let’s briefly consider them in the order Lewis cited them.

Gilbert Keith Chesterton (1874-1936) was a prolific English writer. Just how prolific, one might ask. Well, he wrote approximately eighty books, hundreds of poems, hundreds of short stories and about 4,000 essays. His works continue to inspire many today, and merit contemporary reading.

Chesterton shared many of the same values as Lewis, and preferred calling himself an “orthodox” Christian rather than adhering to denominational labels. (In this he foreshadows Lewis’ invaluable emphasis on “mere” Christianity.)

The Everlasting Man was published in 1925 and ponders the universal significance of Jesus Christ. It was composed in reaction to The Outline of History, in which H.G. Wells paints Jesus as just one more political agitator in a political backwater of the Roman empire. Honestly, he does describe him as being remarkable, but mostly in terms of having a charismatic persona.

Lewis said that Chesterton’s Everlasting Man “baptised” his intellect, which is no small expression of praise.

You can purchase The Everlasting Man through normal channels or download a free text format version at this site. If you enjoy listening to audiobooks, you can obtain a free audio copy of the volume here.

Edwyn Robert Bevan (1870-1943) was an English philosopher and historian who specialized in the Hellenistic world.

In Symbolism and Belief, based on a series of lectures presented in 1933-34, Bevan discusses major religious symbols and metaphors. He illustrates how figurative language is best capable of describing spiritual truth. He argues that the greater precision offered by philosophical terminology is actually counterproductive in this quest.

The volume offers insight into the rationality of religious faith, although it concludes with his conviction that it ultimately boils down to a genuine encounter with God—“what actually causes anyone to believe in God is direct perception of the Divine.”

Symbolism and Belief is available for free download in a variety of formats at this site.

Rudolf Otto (1869-1937) was a German Lutheran theologian. He spent most of his ministry teaching at one of the most prominent seminaries in the world, the University of Marburg Divinity School.

In The Idea of the Holy Otto espoused the concept that the things of God were “numinous.” He defined this as a “non-rational, non-sensory experience or feeling whose primary and immediate object is outside the self.” The word itself was derived from the Latin numen which refers to divine power.

Otto explains how the numinous is a mystery (mysterium) that is simultaneously terrifying (tremendum) and fascinating (fascinans). C.S. Lewis found the notion of the numinous particularly useful in his book, The Problem of Pain.

The Idea of the Holy: an Inquiry into the Non-rational Factor in the Idea of the Divine and Its Relation to the Rational is available in multiple formats here.

Dorothy Leigh Sayers (1893-1957) was a personal friend of C.S. Lewis. In a 1963 letter he wrote: “She was the first person of importance whoever wrote me a fan letter. I liked her, originally, because she liked me; later, for the extraordinary zest and edge of her conversation—as I like a high wind. She was a friend, not an ally.”

Sayers was an extremely successful English writer. Her versatility allowed her renown to grow as a poet, playwright, essayist and as a writer of popular detective mysteries. She was also a classicist, and regarded her translation of Dante’s Divine Comedy as her finest work.

Fortunately, four of her plays are available in a collection available here. They include “The Zeal of Thy House,” “The Devil to Pay,” “He That Should Come,” and “The Just Vengeance.” And, although you can’t download the file, if you would like to stream the recording, an audio version of her famous “The Man Born to be King” is available here.

Sinister Initiations

March 25, 2013 — 58 Comments

fumieSomething unbelievable just happened in America. Something offensive, abusive, and utterly intolerant.

At Florida Atlantic University, one of the professors taught a lesson so distasteful that, had it maligned any faith other than Christianity, it would have led to his dismissal. Instead, the student who challenged it was suspended from the course.

The class is entitled “Intercultural Communication,” and the instructor happens to be the county vice-chair of one America’s major political parties.

So, what was the malicious class exercise? The students were instructed to write the name “Jesus” in large letters on a piece of paper which they laid on the floor in front of them. Then, they were directed to stomp—yes, stomp—on the name of the person millions of people throughout the world regard as their Savior.

It’s difficult to comprehend anyone would design such an offensive “lesson,” let alone that they would actually attempt to implement it. And, since lessons are created to teach someone, one wonders precisely what Deandre Poole wanted his students to learn by encouraging their blasphemy . . .

C.S. Lewis would not be surprised by this event. He foresaw precisely where the wholesale rejection of God within academia would lead. There is a passage in his book That Hideous Strength that seems almost prescient. In this scene the protagonist, a sociology professor named Mark Studdock, is being initiated into an elite and secretive inner circle at the Institute where he has come to work. The organization has global plans and great influence. Studdock is a confirmed agnostic, yet he is disturbed by something his mentors describe as a “minor” portion of the initiation process.

Meanwhile, in the Objective Room [where candidates are taught to think properly], something like a crisis had developed between Mark and Professor Frost. As soon as they arrived there Mark saw that the table had been drawn back. On the floor lay a large crucifix, almost life size, a work of art in the Spanish tradition, ghastly and realistic.

“We have half an hour to pursue our exercises,” said Frost looking at his watch. Then he instructed Mark to trample on it and insult it in other ways.

Now whereas Jane had abandoned Christianity in early childhood, along with her belief in fairies and Santa Claus, Mark had never believed in it at all.

At this moment, therefore, it crossed his mind for the very first time that there might conceivably be something in it. Frost who was watching him carefully knew perfectly well that this might be the result of the present experiment. He knew it for the very good reason that [he had briefly experienced, and dismissed, the same thought during his own initiation].

“But, look here,” said Mark.

“What is it?” said Frost. “Pray be quick. We have only a limited time at our disposal.”

“This,” said Mark, pointing with an undefined reluctance to the horrible white figure on the cross. “This is all surely a pure superstition.”

“Well?”

“Well, if so, what is there objective about stamping on the face? Isn’t it just as subjective to spit on a thing like this as to worship it? I mean— damn it all— if it’s only a bit of wood, why do anything about it?”

“That is superficial. If you had been brought up in a non-Christian society, you would not be asked to do this. Of course, it is a superstition; but it is that particular superstition which has pressed upon our society for a great many centuries. It can be experimentally shown that it still forms a dominant system in the subconscious of many individuals whose conscious thought appears to be wholly liberated. An explicit action in the reverse direction is therefore a necessary step towards complete objectivity. It is not a question for a priori discussion. We find it in practice that it cannot be dispensed with.”

The parallels are evident. I can readily imagine Dr. Poole justifying his own exercise in similar language. However, that something like this could happen in a civilized land is sobering indeed.

This incident reminded me of powerful scene in the book and miniseries Shogun. [Appended below.]

Christianity had been embraced by a number of provinces early in Japan’s history, but the rising ruler had vowed to extinguish it. The Shogun required that samurai suspected of being “Kirishitan” prove they were not by stepping on holy images of Christ or Mary. The Christians (all Roman Catholic in the seventeenth century) would not abuse holy images and were arrested on the spot. Fumi-e were images created for the sole purpose of desecrating, and some examples (like the tile shown above) have survived to this day.

If the individual failed to recant their faith in Jesus, they would be tortured and ultimately martyred. As recently as 2008, the Roman Catholic Church beatified a new group of 188 Japanese Christians. They joined 45 saints and 395 previously beatified martyrs. They represent only a small segment of the estimated 35,000 believers who accepted death rather than denying their Lord.

The newly beatified include 183 lay people, four priests and one monk. The laity included thirty samurai warriors, as well as farmers, artisans, civil servants, teachers, painters, writers, former slaves, pregnant women and even children as young as three.

If Dr. Poole was historically-informed, he would recognize that the odious ritual he thrust upon his vulnerable students carried a significant deal of baggage. And that’s not to mention the direct affront it poses to those who believe Jesus’ claim that he “is the way, the truth, and the life.” Ultimately, all people of goodwill—believers and atheists alike—will find his behavior repugnant.

Excerpt from Shogun:

In James Clavell’s book, it is the English protagonist who ironically desires to weed the [Roman Catholic] Christians out of his samurai contingent. (Their loyalties rest in a cause other than his own.)

. . .

“Can’t it wait until tomorrow?”

“No, Sire, so sorry.” Uraga was looking up at him in front of the assembled samurai vassals, the Dutch crew gathering into a nervous knot near the quarterdeck railing. “Please excuse me, but it is most important you find out at once. You are their most enemy. Therefore you must know, for your protection. I only wish to protect you. Not take long, neh?”

“Are they all on deck?”

“Yes, Sire.”

Blackthorne went closer to the railing and called out in Japanese, “Is anyone Christian?” There was no answer. “I order any Christian come forward.” No one moved. So he turned back to Uraga. “Set ten deck guards, then dismiss them.”

“With your permission, Anjin-san.” From under his kimono Uraga brought out a small painted icon that he had brought from Yedo and threw it face upward on the deck. Then, deliberately, he stamped on it. Blackthorne and the crew were greatly disquieted by the desecration. Except Jan Roper. “Please. Make every vassal do same,” Uraga said.

“Why?”

“I know Christians.” Uraga’s eyes were half hidden by the brim of his hat. “Please, Sire. Important every man do same. Now, tonight.”

“All right,” Blackthorne agreed reluctantly.

Uraga turned to the assembled vassals. “At my suggestion our Master requires each of us to do this.”

The samurai were grumbling among themselves and one interrupted, “We’ve already said that we’re not Christians, neh? What does stamping on a barbarian god picture prove? Nothing!”

“Christians are our Master’s enemy. Christians are treacherous—but Christians are Christian. Please excuse me, I know Christians—to my shame I forsook our real gods. So sorry, but I believe this is necessary for our Master’s safety.”

At once a samurai in front declared, “In that case, there’s nothing more to be said.” He came forward and stamped on the picture. “I worship no barbarian religion! Come on, the rest of you, do what’s asked!”

They came forward one by one. Blackthorne watched, despising the ceremony.

Van Nekk said worriedly, “Doesn’t seem right.”

Vinck looked up at the quarterdeck. “Sodding bastards. They’ll all cut our throats with never a thought. You sure you can trust ’em, Pilot?”

“Yes.”

Ginsel said, “No Catholic’d ever do that, eh, Johann? That Uraga-sama’s clever.”

“What’s it matter if those buggers’re Papist or not, they’re all . . . samurai.”

“Yes,” Croocq said.

“Even so, it’s not right to do that,” van Nekk repeated.

The samurai continued to stamp the icon into the deck one by one, and moved into loose groups. It was a tedious affair and Blackthorne was sorry he had agreed to it, for there were more important things to do before dusk. His eyes went to the village and the headlands. Hundreds of the thatch lean-tos of the Musket Regiment camp spotted the foothills. So much to do, he thought, anxious to go ashore, wanting to see the land, glorying in the fief Toranaga had given him which contained Yokohama. Lord God on high, he told himself, I’m lord of one of the greatest harbors in the world.

Abruptly a man bypassed the icon, tore out his sword, and leaped at Blackthorne. A dozen startled samurai jumped courageously in his way, screening the quarterdeck as Blackthorne spun around, a pistol cocked and aimed. Others scattered, shoving, stumbling, milling in the uproar. The samurai skidded to a halt, howling with rage, then changed direction and hacked at Uraga, who somehow managed to avoid the thrust. The man whirled as other samurai lunged at him, fought them off ferociously for a moment, then rushed for the side and threw himself overboard.

Four who could swim dropped their killing swords, put their short stabbing knives in their mouths, and jumped after him, the rest and the Dutchmen crowding the side.

Blackthorne jumped for the gunwale. He could see nothing below; then he caught sight of swirling shadows in the water. A man came up for air and went down again. Soon four heads surfaced. Between them was the corpse, a knife in his throat.

“So sorry, Anjin-san, it was his own knife,” one called up over the roars of the others.

“Uraga-san, tell them to search him, then leave him to the fish.”

The search revealed nothing. When all were back on deck, Blackthorne pointed at the icon with his cocked pistol. “All samurai-once more!” He was obeyed instantly and he made sure that every man passed the test.

Then, because of Uraga, and to praise him, he ordered his crew to do the same.

Compassionate Care

August 11, 2012 — 17 Comments

In my last column I shared how I had been drafted into service as my wife’s nurse.

The duties are not onerous, in part because she’s become quite ambulatory with her crutches . . . but even more, due to the fact that I truly love her. To care for those you love is a natural thing, and it would be the opposite path—to ignore the suffering of those about whom you care—that would be contrary to human nature.

This is why we are also so deeply stunned when we see spouses doing harm to one another, or (far worse) injuring children in their care. These are inhuman acts contrary even to that universal Natural Law which governs even those who take no notice of religious codes.

But, returning to my nursing experience . . . I am not a total stranger to such matters. My first assignment as an Air Force chaplain was in a “Contingency Hospital” which was part of the Reserve. As part of my active duty tours I frequently included hospital visitation and service.

In fact, years ago during a five week Joint military exercise in Thailand, I served for a season as the chaplain of a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital. (Yes, I was an honest to goodness M*A*S*H chaplain!)

Returning to my initial point, caring for my wife is not burdensome. I readily confess I would hardly bring the same enthusiasm and selflessness to caring for a stranger.

But that’s not the man, the disciple of Jesus, I desire to be. And so, I pray for greater compassion, exercise and “stretch” my concern for others, seek forgiveness for my failings . . . and repeat the cycle.

C.S. Lewis writes brilliantly about the great significance of each and every human life. In The Weight of Glory he reminds us that we have the potential to influence their lives either positively or negatively, and assisting them to follow the path to “glory” is central to our reason for being.

It is hardly possible for [us] to think too often or too deeply about [the future destiny] of [our] neighbor. The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbour’s glory should be laid on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken. . . .

All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or the other of these destinations [glorified resurrection in the presence of our Creator or eternal corruption apart from God].  It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never met a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat.  But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendours.

One of my favorite books was written by Calvin Miller. He’s the author of numerous classics, and I most recently enjoyed his The Path of Celtic Prayer. However, because of my interest in the early church, and my affection for keenly wielded wit, it is The Philippian Fragment which ranks in my personal “top ten.” (And, great news, despite being out of print for some time, it’s now available in a Kindle edition!)

The following quotation is from one of the epistles gathered in pseudepigraphical Philippian Fragment. The letters are written by a pastor named Eusebius of Philippi to another shepherd, “Clement, pastor of Coos.” It illustrates precisely the spirit we should have within us. If we were all like Eusebius, this world would be a far more wonderful place.

I am not sure that I can survive the new hostility I have engendered by missing church merely to pray for a dying man. I was foolish to assume that the church would see the glory of my ministry to Publius and excuse the absence of my sermon. Through pain I have learned that it is still wrong to heal on the sabbath—at least during the eleventh hour. . . . Is the yet-paralyzed Publius worth the cancellation of my morning sermon? I have betrayed a tradition to furnish forth a single act of compassion. Oh, the institutional cankers that do fester when traditions are unserved! . . . It is time for the evening vigil now, and I have just received word that one of the lepers is at death’s door and has called for me to come. Shall I go to tend the dying, or shall I go to church and keep my place?

I had planned to talk tonight about how we must minister to our world before we seek each other’s consolations. I am still unforgiven by most for healing the paralytic. Now I must go to the leper and seal my fate. 26. Grief is seldom convenient to our scheduled worship.

I had a dear mentor, Constantinus, who was shepherd of the congregation in Antioch. His church’s meeting house was near a busy road. One day, five minutes before his well-packed service was to begin, a Roman chariot ran over a beggar and left him dying before the church house. How grieved was the pastor that most of his members stepped over the bleeding man to carry their prayer scrolls on into the sanctuary. Constantinus was a gentle pastor and full of the love of Christ. He scooped up the emaciated old man and carried him to his grieving widow.

In the process of his ministry to this victim of Roman traffic, his hands and togas were fouled with blood. There was no time to go home and change clothes, so he entered his pulpit besmirched by the gore of his own compassion. 31. Clement, many in that congregation never forgave Constantinus his bloody toga. Ministry must ever be willing to face tradition. Somewhere a leper is dying. Tonight I shall act out a sermon. I can preach next week when human suffering is more remote. (Calvin Miller, The Philippian Fragment).

Nursing Those We Love

August 1, 2012 — 13 Comments

This week I became a nurse. No, I didn’t complete a degreed or certificated program, I simply assumed the duties of being my wife’s post-surgical caregiver.

She had very serious knee surgery, which will require her to place no weight at all on her right leg for at least a month and a half. This first week she’s required an escort and assistance for virtually everything. And I’ve offered this service gladly, and lovingly . . . even when it’s interrupted my sleep apnea crippled rest.

Obviously, over three and a half decades of marriage, she has needed modest nursing in the past. But this is more serious. It is sustained. She has seen me through a number of serious illnesses and surgeries, but then she (like so many other women I’ve been privileged to know) is a natural nurse and caregiver.

C.S. Lewis was a man not vastly different from me. He was not terribly comfortable when placed in such a role . . . yet he too discovered great meaning in caring for the needs of his wife during her illness. His precious Joy was dying, so the intensity of his labors, and their corresponding emotional investment dwarf my own. And yet the “framework” of our circumstances bears a marked similarity.

In his wonderful book Lenten Lands, Lewis’ son Douglas Gresham relates how Lewis and his brother Warnie provided exceptional care to his mother during her illness. He writes:

[Lewis] spent most of each day with [Joy] at the hospital, but they both agreed Mother should be brought home to The Kilns to die—in Jack’s home—her husband’s home—with him at her side. The “common room” was converted to a hospital ward, complete with a system of bells by which Mother would summon a nurse, or later Jack, if she needed help, as she often did.

I’ll make a confession. Although most men can adequately perform familial nursing duties when there is no alternative caregiver, most of us are quite content to step aside and let our wives or sisters attend to whatever nursing procedures are called for. Actually, I was quite gifted at removing slivers, but when it comes to bodily discharges, I’m no sexist to admit I and most of my gender display a serious weakness.

And yet, even in these cases, when changing the soiled diaper of an infant (or someone old enough to feel shame for having such needs) . . . even such unpleasant acts are possible for us to do for those we love. So the key to being able to care for others is not to pinch our nose and do it as quickly as humanly possible. The key, instead, is to learn to love those placed in our care.

In our grandparents day, it wasn’t uncommon for an elderly great-grandparent to reside with the family of one of their children. My father, for example, grew up with his blind grandfather as a member of their household. Similarly, my mother enjoyed the daily presence of her grandmother in her own home throughout her life. Not only was it expected that children would “take in” their elderly parents, it was natural. After all, they were family.

But, how does one transfer this familial affection to the stranger? After all, as Jesus said, “If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same” (John 6).

Mother Teresa and the many thousands of saints throughout history who have cared for the leper, the outcasts, and the dying know this truth. They do everything as though they were caring for the Lord himself, just as he asked his disciples to do. Medicines are not their only balms—nor their most important. Their compassionate touch and tender encouragements are often far more healing.

When I compare myself to these caregivers, I realize just how inadequate a nurse I am. As a pastor, a core aspect of my vocation has been to bind the injuries of the sheep entrusted to my care. But I do this in a “spiritual” manner, and it has been rare to ever help one of them replace a bloodied bandage. Spiritual, emotional and social wounds are those that most pastors feel comfortable treating. Providing for the “baser” physical needs of the diseased is quite another matter.

And this brings us to the end of today’s reflection. When next I write, I’ll carry this final thought a bit farther forward.

I edit a free online journal for military chaplains. Articles have been contributed by clergy from most of the world’s continents, sharing their experiences and opinions. Much of the material will be of interest to anyone interested in the nature of ministry within the armed forces.

The current issue was “published” at the end of June, and includes one article that may be of particular interest to the readers of Mere Inkling.

On page fifty-seven you’ll find the preface to a series of six letters. They are collected under the same title as this post, “Screwtape Goes to War.” It is available via this link: Curtana: Sword of Mercy.

Those familiar with C.S. Lewis’ masterpiece of diabolical correspondence will require no introduction. Here’s an excerpt from one of the six epistles gathered in this modest collection. Remember, it is from the pen of a senior demon advising a junior Tempter on how to corrupt his “patient” (in this case a chaplain).

While preaching can in theory be used by the Enemy to draw his servants closer to himself, it’s equally possible to use the pulpit to drive a wedge between the Enemy and those ordained to serve him. In fact, there is something uniquely satisfying about using a chaplain’s own preaching to immunize him to the disgusting message of hope and forgiveness.

There are so many tactics to undermining the effectiveness of your chaplain’s sermons . . . where to begin? I have found the following methods to be most useful.

1. Encourage him to subscribe to all sorts of periodicals and keep him as far away from the Enemy’s book as possible. Tell him that by this means he “will remain in touch with the culture” to which he is preaching. We do not want him opening the Scriptures. It’s not too challenging persuading many clergy today that they’ll bore and alienate their audience by citing passages from that archaic text. Let him explore all sorts of publications so he discovers ones he honestly enjoys. That will make the choice easier when he looks on his desk at a tempting contemporary publication lying next to that black book.

Not all journals are created equal, of course. Some actually contribute to the knowledge and comprehension of the Enemy’s book. Avoid these. Secular publications are usually safe, the more so when they celebrate selfishness, man’s favorite religion. The most precious, however, are those published by “religious” presses. You know those to which I refer. The ones penned by our allies who where wear the garb of the Enemy but live with either themselves or some other idol on the throne of their souls. Those who may praise him with their lips but deny him access to their hearts. Mind you, these documents need to be chosen with great care. But if you can find some which appeal to him, it will aid you immeasurably in bringing about his demise. . . .

Curtana discusses both historical matters and contemporary issues. It is interfaith and international in scope. The website includes a “subscription” form for those who wish to be notified whenever a new issue of the journal is published.

Don’t be confused when you see the date on the current issue. Like many minimally-staffed, free publications, we’ve fallen slightly “behind schedule.” Thus, the current issue is dated Fall & Winter 2011. (I promise this is due not merely to procrastination, but also to the editor’s chronic propensity for terribly over-extending himself.) At any rate, Curtana 3.1 is indeed the issue which includes the afore-described article.

Compassion Fatigue

April 1, 2012 — 6 Comments

Jesus at GethsemaneI just returned from a weeklong gathering with a group of armed forces chaplains. They represented all the branches—Army, Navy & Air Force. (The Navy provides the chaplains for the Marine Corps and the Coast Guard in the United States.)

I retired four years ago, after nearly a quarter century as a chaplain in the Air Force. I miss the people, the esprit de corps, and the awareness of doing something truly important.

On the other hand, I miss neither the innumerable meetings nor the rank consciousness of some chaplains. (Sadly, to some chaplains their rank insignia is more important than the religious symbol they bear.)

I’ve been privileged, in my semi-retirement, to serve my denomination on our national Ministry to the Armed Forces committee. We determine which of our pastors should be allowed to serve as military chaplains. It was in that capacity I attended our annual conference for “our” chaplains.

As always, we offered a first-class program. This one was conducted by Doxology and our speakers were a veteran pastor and a gifted psychologist. They covered a lot of ground during the week, but one of the subjects they began with was helping us assess our own degrees of “compassion fatigue.”

Compassion fatigue is experienced by many people in the so-called helping professions. Medical personnel, first responders and (especially) those in the ministry give so much of themselves without adequate replenishment, that they often end up spiritually exhausted.

It’s easy for critics to judge someone who is genuinely fatigued, because they can become impatient and irritable. People may accuse them of trying to do everything “in their own strength,” rather than relying on God’s grace and anointing.

In his famous prayer, Francis of Assisi asked, “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace . . .” This is precisely how most clergy view themselves. But, to more precisely focus the petition, we might pray, “Lord, make me a conduit of your grace.”

If you understand the distinction . . . you can see how even regarding ourselves as God’s instruments or hands or voice in the world, can compel those in the ministry to serve until they drop. So much for the Puritan work ethic. Few of us pause adequately for the rest and renewal we require.

C.S. Lewis described just how costly this love for others can be.

To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one. . . . It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell. (The Four Loves.)

You may well be on the verge of compassion fatigue yourself, assuming you care deeply about the suffering of others. If you are, I encourage you to join me in identifying times and places to pause and rest in the presence of God. Scheduling opportunities to meditate on his word and listen for his still small voice as we communicate with him in prayer, will refresh and strengthen each of us.

These precious moments won’t occur accidentally. We need to be intentional in carving them out of our too-busy schedules. But, when we do so, we are spared the pain and numbness of compassion fatigue. We can continue to love others, despite the vulnerability, and still remain healthy and whole.

I was surfing wordpress sites the other day and came across one that linked to a fascinating collection of distinctive church buildings. I’ll include the link at the end of this column (so you don’t get too distracted, and fail to finish reading my impressions).

Many of the edifices are intriguing. Most are unique. A handful are truly inspiring.

One of the “unique” designs is found in the architecture of Saint Joseph Ukrainian Catholic Church in Chicago. For some viewers, the structure suggests minarets. Others see it as a contemporary version of Moscow’s Cathedral of Saint Basil. For me, it evokes a rather more martial memory.

In the early 1990s I was stationed at RAF Greenham Common where we were part of the nuclear deterrence mission. We supported the GLCM (ground launched cruise). We actually accomplished our national goal, in persuading the Soviet Union to mutually disarm through the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. That was a significant accomplishment.

As part of the process, NATO and the Soviets dispatched Verification Teams to ensure that each was following through with the reduction and ultimate elimination of the missiles. After all of ours had been removed, I was privileged to serve as a Soviet Escort Officer during one such visit. It was interesting to watch how the highlight for the Soviets was their visit to our base exchange. (They were shocked by the diverse offerings of everyday capitalism and suspected that we depleted other stores to stock this one in a manner that would impress them.)

While they were visiting, they conducted pro forma inspections of all the locations where a missile could be hidden, including under regular manhole covers, as I recall.

Perhaps by now you understand why the Saint Joseph building reminds me of that tour of duty?

I am probably the only person whose first thought upon viewing this building is: what an amazing disguise for missile silos! Of course, one factor for my reaction is the clearly Russian/Ukrainian shape of the entire structure. A peculiar response to the picture, right? And yet . . . without inspecting the tubes, who can say with certainty whether or not my first reaction may have been accurate?

Here’s the link to the 50 Most Extraordinary Churches.

Jesus & Gandalf

February 19, 2012 — 10 Comments

Today Christians celebrated our Lord’s Transfiguration. (If you attend a church that doesn’t follow the historic “Church Year,” ask your pastor about it. It can be a healthy and educational spiritual discipline.)

The Transfiguration took place on a mountaintop where God the Father brought Moses and Elijah to speak with Jesus. During this encounter, Jesus and his garments shined with a pure, clear light that dazzled the eyes.

It was quite likely the Transfiguration that inspired J.R.R. Tolkien to include one powerful image in his Lord of the Rings tale. (The Lord of the Rings is often referred to as a trilogy, although it is actually a single intricate novel which consists of six “books” plus appendices.)

In the Middle Earth myth, the heroic Gandalf dies in battle with a champion of evil . . . only to be resurrected with even greater power and focus. In this point, the two events differ, since Jesus’ nature never changed. He was incarnate and born as both God and human being. The Transfiguration merely revealed momentarily a portion of his divine identity which was masked, in a sense, by his human flesh.

The aspect in which the accounts are similar comes in the appearance of the glorified Savior and the resurrected Wizard . . . they exude a holy radiance so powerful it even affects their garb.

Thus, Tolkien’s beloved Gandalf the Grey is transformed into the triumphant Gandalf the White.

The Transfiguration of Jesus was one small piece of evidence that he was who he claimed to be. It wasn’t given to the disciples to persuade them of his divinity; in fact, those who witnessed it were enjoined not to share the miracle with others until much later.

Ultimately, what one believes about Jesus does not come down to adding up his miracles and weighing them against the claims of other faiths. Jesus claimed to be the Son of God, the promised Messiah, and humanity’s Savior. If he wasn’t exactly that, he should be condemned and his memory forgotten. As the brilliant C.S. Lewis wrote:

Christians believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God because He said so. The other evidence about Him has convinced them that He was neither a lunatic nor a quack. (C.S. Lewis, “The Language of Religion”)

Those familiar with Lewis’ writings may recognize how this quotation echoes others where he discusses his divine trilemma.

The world is full of hypocrites who want to force Jesus into their warped pantheons as a “prophet” or “teacher.” Jesus doesn’t allow himself to be embraced as anything other than who he is—God’s Son. Since he made that claim so clearly, he is either precisely that, or he is a liar. Or, it’s possible as Lewis points out, that he may have been insane. In which case he also falls short of being someone who should be followed.

For those who do not presently know Christ, simply pray in humility that God would open your eyes in a personal epiphany. God desires that no one would remain separated from him. And then, one day we can all look forward to seeing our Lord in the fullness of his glory.