Archives For Hope

evoraEarth’s days are numbered. Eventually, all scientist agree, she will die . . . and all life on the planet will perish.

Even if this doesn’t occur due to a catastrophic accident like a massive asteroid impact or an alien invasion, it is inevitable. Inevitable.

If nothing else interferes, scientists tell us earth will die in the death throes of its own star. In about 2.8 billion years, the sun will destroy all life here. Before the sun consumes its nuclear fuels and transforms into a “red giant,” it will have scorched the solar system.

It’s a disturbing thought. At least, it can be to those who place their hope in the future of humanity. Christians, in contrast, look forward to the promise of a new creation, a new heaven and a new earth, where even the harmony of the cosmos will be restored.

For those who believe that ultimate meaning can only be found in the continuing evolution of humanity, it is necessary to see an opportunity to continue the race. Until we evolve into pure mind and energy forms (right!) we need to find a place on hospitable worlds where we can survive, prosper and continue to advance.

So, if we assume it’s necessary for humanity to continue to exist, and our days here on earth are numbered, what are we to do?

The answer’s obvious. We must migrate to the stars. Baby steps are already being taken, with planning for our first colonies on Mars and our own moon. Many movies have explored establishing our presence in other solar systems. In fact, it’s become a trope of the scifi genre.

Some writers and directors envision a welcoming universe. Others populate it with hostile environments and competitors.

One of the most disturbing thoughts I have heard in the past few months was voiced by a scientist contemplating this subject. In essence, he said that our observation of nature shows that it is the predators (not their gentle prey) that must become smarter than the rest of the fauna to survive. The presumption being that it is the predator, not the grazer, that would evolve farthest and potentially venture into space.

I grew up influenced by the utopian images of Star Trek. Sure, there were Klingons and other threats out there, but there were also a large number of affable races that were eager to band together and share their knowledge and culture.

Star Trek went a step further. Even our one-time enemies (like the aforementioned Klingons, the Cardassians and the Ferengi) could become our allies. Well, there’s a precedent in that here on Earth (think post-war Germany and Japan). Still, it may be a tad naïve when it comes to interstellar swashbucklers.

Of course, all this presumes that we are no “alone” in the universe. By alone, we mean, the only sentient beings to populate the stars. (That’s figurative language, of course. No one lives on the stars themselves . . . that we know of.)

The prolific writer C.S. Lewis wrote a series of books about humanity’s first encounters with life beyond our planet. The Space Trilogy will be of interest to open-minded fans of science fiction, and to people who enjoy learning more about Lewis’ broad interests.

The first book in the series is called Out of the Silent Planet. In a 1939 letter, he explained to a correspondent one of his reasons for writing the book. [The quotation refers to Professor Weston, who is the novel’s nemesis. One of his goals is to usher in the age of human colonization beyond our own orbit.]

The letter [at the end of Out of the Silent Planet] is pure fiction and the “circumstances which put the book out of date” are merely the way of preparing for a sequel. But the danger of “Westonism” I meant to be real.

What set me about writing the book was the discovery that a pupil of mine took all that dream of interplanetary colonization quite seriously, and the realization that thousands of people in one way and another depend on some hope of perpetuating and improving the human race for the whole meaning of the universe—that a “scientific” hope of defeating death is a real rival to Christianity.

With this, we return to our initial thought. If we are looking to the stars for humanity’s hope, I’m afraid we will ultimately be disappointed.

I don’t know if there is mortal life beyond our planet. If there is, I can’t predict whether it would be friendly, or inimical to us.

Who knows whether we could even communicate? It’s a mystery for now. What isn’t a mystery, is whether or not we need to look beyond this tiny blue globe. After all, it is certain this world’s days are numbered.

_____

Note: The alien at the top of the page is the Regent of the Evora species, a Federation protectorate. I used her image because of the curious marking on the crown of her head. It resembles a tattoo of a cross, but from the lines on the sides of her head I suspect they might all merely be varicose veins.

 

eyechartThe world’s oldest man just died—and I’m not looking forward to ever becoming one of his successors. I mean, I understand the sentiments of non-Christians who quip that any day on this side of the grass is a good one, but I would only be interested in staying around here that long if I still had a keen mind and good health.

I’m not sure most of the people who eventually earn those titles have either. This gentleman was 111, and in the picture of him receiving his Guinness certificate, he actually looks like he had already expired. I mean, no offense, just a statement of simple fact.

As for his state of mind, I’m a bit more optimistic. Apparently when asked a while ago how he had lived so long, he responded, “because I haven’t died yet.” Assuming that was tongue in cheek (I recognize that is merely an assumption), he had retained his sense of humor. A good sign.

I don’t think ultra-long longevity is all it’s cracked up to be. I remember my 92 year old grandmother (my only relative who lived to be “elderly”) telling me that she was ready to go to heaven. She was in a nursing home, but not in pain, and still witty.

She said, “Robbie, I’ll miss you and everyone who is still here, but if you live long enough, more of the people you love are already in heaven than remaining here.” She had been widowed for three decades. And, unbeknownst to us at the time, three of her four children would follow her within three years of her own passing.

I am not eager to die, of course. And, unlike Polycarp, the bishop of second-century Smyrna, I’m certainly not zealous about the possibility of someday being martyred.

Still, God-willing, when I’ve come to the end of my appointed days I will make that transition peacefully, as is appropriate for a child of God who has been blessed with a full life.

When death is seen as a dark end—a soundless void—it’s understandable that many would resist it to the “bitter” end. That theme has been common in literature and cinema.

In a comic light, a character on Parks and Recreation exhibits the desire to live as long as humanly possible. He exercises without pause and takes every vitamin that exists in horse-pill doses. Soon after Chris Traeger was introduced to the show, he shared his view of life:

I take care of my body above all else. Diet, exercise, supplements, positive thinking. Scientists believe that the first human being who will live 150 years has already been born. I believe I am that human being.

Humorous. And, a respectable goal perhaps, if not driven by deep fear.

I don’t share Traeger’s goal of being the first human to reach 150. Nor, as we considered at the outset of our discussion, do I long to gain the title of World’s Oldest Man.

And I take comfort that I find myself, once again, in the comfortable camp of C.S. Lewis. In his essay “Is Progress Possible?” Lewis wrote:

Progress means movement in a desired direction, and we do not all desire the same things for our species. In “Possible Worlds” Professor Haldane pictured a future in which Man, foreseeing that Earth would soon be uninhabitable, adapted himself for migration to Venus by drastically modifying his physiology and abandoning justice, pity and happiness.

The desire here is for mere survival. Now I care far more how humanity lives than how long. Progress, for me, means increasing goodness and happiness of individual lives. For the species, as for each man, mere longevity seems to me a contemptible ideal.

More important, we believe, is the quality than the quantity, of our lives.

Impromptu Poetry

May 8, 2014 — 2 Comments

eyeI had to endure a to and fro transcontinental trip this week. Endure is the right word, when flying miles above what would otherwise be a scenic, albeit lengthy, journey.

One positive thing about flying is that I have time to catch up on some of my “pleasure” reading. This week it included an article about cinquains.

A quintain is a poem with five verses. A cinquain is a specific form which has the following number of syllables in each of the lines: two, four, six, eight, and two.

I took a break from my reading and drafted a few of these small poems. I found it quite simple, and it’s likely you may as well.

I make no promises about the quality of my verse, but perhaps you’ll find one or more of them interesting. Or, at least they may inspire you to write some of your own.

Springtime

Narnian hope

Delayed by the White Witch

Borne by Aslan’s Resurrection

New dawn

Pilgrim

Traveling through

This world is not my home

Destined for a new creation

With Christ

True hope

He died for us

Emancipation now

Washed clean by the blood of the Lamb

New life

Inklings

Lewis, Tolkien

Friends rounded out the group

Imaginations unfettered

Wonder

A Song has Ended

January 13, 2014 — 60 Comments

lyric christmasSix months of life with someone you love, is too brief. Far too brief.

Only last June I invited you to share our joy with the adoption into our family of Lyric, a border collie mix.

Tragically, last night the precious girl passed away. And our family is now dealing with the shock and grief that are such a painful (but inescapable) part of loving the pets who join our families.

After Lyric had been with us for several months, we saw evidence (excessive salivation and frantic, happy racing around the house) of a health concern. When we later witnessed a seizure that lasted just a minute or two, it was nearly as traumatic to us as it was to her. That feeling of helplessness is horrible, isn’t it?

Visits to the vet resulted in the suspicion that it may have been caused by the mushrooms that grow abundantly in the Pacific Northwest forest where we live. (This has been a particularly favorable year to all forms of fungi, and this is a fairly common cause of canine seizures.)

We took precautions to minimize her exposure to that source, but she had several more seizures, weeks apart. Our two vets said that if she experienced a “cluster” of seizures, there were some drugs we could try. However, we never saw any indications of that, so we remained in a monitoring status.

Tragically, late last night, while lying beside me as I was writing, she began what became a relentless series of attacks on her system. She briefly stabilized between each seizure, but they grew longer and more severe. Finally, her strong heart (mercifully) surrendered, and she was gone.

C.S. Lewis was writing about the death (and resurrection) of human beings in his essay “Some Thoughts,” but his words about the alien nature of death resonate with what I am feeling today.

Of all men, we hope most of death [as in, not being the end of all, but a passage to an even more real life]; yet nothing will reconcile us to—well, its unnaturalness. We know that we were not made for it; we know how it crept into our destiny as an intruder; and we know Who has defeated it.

Because Our Lord is risen we know that on one level it is an enemy already disarmed; but because we know that the natural level also is God’s creation we cannot cease to fight against the death which mars it, as against all those other blemishes upon it, against pain and poverty, barbarism and ignorance. Because we love something else more than this world we love even this world better than those who know no other.

Animals, of course, don’t share humanity’s souls. But when you gaze into those love-filled, adoring eyes of your dog, only someone spiritually blind would fail to recognize there is a precious spark within.

I have written in the past about the possibility of God restoring our pets to us in heaven. I won’t belabor that possibility here. After all, it’s merely conjecture. But, in these moments of grief, many find some small comfort in the possibility of God restoring to life these beloved, and innocent, victims of humanity’s disobedience in the Garden.

I began my first post about Lyric with these words:

Last night a new member joined our family. Her name is musical. We didn’t choose it; her previous family did. But we think it fits and she’ll live up to it.

It was for far too short a time, but Lyric definitely did live up to the beauty of her name.

Face to Face with God

October 28, 2013 — 14 Comments

Jesus with animalsA recent letter to the editor of Lutheran Witness includes a delightful example of the wondrous glory of childhood simplicity.

When our four-year-old son . . . saw a bird outside the window, he commented “I wish I were a bird with wings so I could fly up to heaven and talk to Jesus.” [His parents] asked what he would say to Jesus if he were a bird. His simple reply . . . “Tweet, tweet.”

How gloriously innocent. So unpretentious and joyously pure. I think this captures the essence of what Jesus was referring to when he said “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3-4, ESV).

C.S. Lewis discussed the innocence of children in his essay “The Abolition of Man.” He is discussing the monolithic power of society, or government, in reshaping what it means to be human. God preserve us from those who would redefine and eradicate the very qualities of humanity Jesus praised.

Human nature will be the last part of Nature to surrender to Man. The battle will then be won. . . . But who, precisely, will have won it? For the power of Man to make himself what he pleases means, as we have seen, the power of some men to make other men what they please. . . .

Hitherto the plans of educationalists have achieved very little of what they attempted and indeed, when we read them—how Plato would have every infant “a bastard nursed in a bureau,” and Elyot would have the boy see no men before the age of seven and, after that, no women, and how Locke wants children to have leaky shoes and no turn for poetry—we may well thank the beneficent obstinacy of real mothers, real nurses, and (above all) real children for preserving the human race in such sanity as it still possesses.

But the man-moulders of the new age will be armed with the powers of an omnicompetent state and an irresistible scientific technique: we shall get at last a race of conditioners who really can cut out all posterity in what shape they please.

When you and I stand in the presence of God, our adult words will vary. We’ll all drop to our knees—some in adoration, others perhaps in fear—but what will we say?

I can imagine some of the words that will come to our lips.

“Thank you.”

“Why did you allow . . ?”

“I love you.”

“I despise you because . . ?”

“Hallelujah.”

Or, perhaps, “Why did you delay so long?”*

I suspect we will probably be speechless. Certainly, at first. There’s a song that captures well the mystery that awaits us when we find ourselves face to face with our Creator. It’s more in spirit with the response of the young child who simply tweeted out his greeting to God.

Surrounded by Your Glory, what will my heart feel?

Will I dance for you, Jesus? Or in awe of You, be still?

Will I stand in Your presence, or to my knees will I fall?

Will I sing ‘Hallelujah!’? Will I be able to speak at all?

I can only imagine! I can only imagine!

We used to sing this song at chapel services in southwest Asia. I have often thought it would be very meaningful to record this song in my own voice, to be played at my own funeral (should the Lord tarry).

That’s not nearly as morbid as some might think. It’s a song of praise, awe and wonder, in my rendition I would end it with the words “I no longer imagine,” for my faith in God will have given way to sight.

_____
* The answer to that question is actually found in the Scriptures. From the third chapter of Peter’s second epistle:

This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles, knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.

But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.

Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.

The Anguish of Suicide

September 2, 2013 — 21 Comments

suicideI was present at the scene of a suicide last night.

In my capacity as a volunteer chaplain with a local law enforcement agency, I was riding with a police officer. We were the initial first responders to arrive.

At the end of a rather uneventful shift, we received an urgent call to respond to a shooting. Naturally, I can’t reveal any details about the event beyond mentioning it involved a firearm. It was probably terribly similar to how you would imagine it to be.

To see a life so sadly cast aside is too sad for words. Contemplating the days ahead for those who loved the deceased is sobering. Their lives will never be the same, and that is the universal legacy bequeathed to family and friends by those who end their own lives. God have mercy on them.

C.S. Lewis understood how despair could drive a person to contemplate this irreversible choice. In a letter to a deeply grieving husband who had lost his wife, Lewis relates how suicide would never provide a genuine resolution to the pain caused by the loss.

One way or another the thing [romantic love] had to die. Perpetual springtime is not allowed. You were not cutting the wood of life according to the grain. There are various possible ways in which it could have died though both the parties went on living.

You have been treated with a severe mercy. You have been brought to see (how true & how very frequent this is!) that you were jealous of God. So from us you have been led back to us and God; it remains to go on to God and us.

She was further on than you [in Christian faith], and she can help you more where she now is than she could have done on earth.*

You must go on. That is one of the many reasons why suicide is out of the question. (Another is the absence of any ground for believing that death by that route would reunite you with her. Why should it? You might be digging an eternally unbridgeable chasm. Disobedience is not the way to get nearer to the obedient.)

There’s no other man, in such affliction as yours, to whom I’d dare write so plainly. And that, if you can believe me, is the strongest proof of my belief in you and love for you. To fools and weaklings one writes soft things. (A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken)

Vanauken, the recipient of the letter, had this response to Lewis’ challenging words: “After this severe and splendid letter, I loved Lewis like a brother. A brother and father combined.”

He continued by explaining how the letter had dispelled any consideration of suicide. “If I had been tempted at all to break my promise to Davy [his wife] about following her by [his] own act, the temptation vanished after one horrified look at Lewis’s ‘eternally unbridgeable chasm.’”

It will take some time for me to “process” my experience last evening. But, having seen death in the past, I found it less traumatic than many others would have.

And, of course, I never knew the person who chose to no longer breathe . . . or smile . . . or dream. I only became “acquainted” with them as I spoke to their spouse in the hours that followed. Sadly, because of a tragic choice, in this world they are merely a memory now.

Naturally, to those who knew and loved them, the vacuum created by their passing cannot be completely filled. Moreover, the wounds caused by the grim nature of their death by choice, will leave permanent scars.

The fact is that during the course of their lives, many people—quite possibly the majority of human beings—consider the possibility that suicide could end the pain they feel. But we must tirelessly remind them, and ourselves, that suicide is a permanent “solution” to temporary circumstances.**

_____

* Lewis is referring to the concept that the saints (i.e. all believers) currently in the presence of the Lord may have the ability to intercede on behalf of those of us who are still “living.” The best way for Protestants to understand this may be by considering this line of thought: (1) we don’t hesitate to ask our sisters and brothers in Christ to pray for us, (2) we believe that God has already given eternal life to his disciples (meaning that even the departed remain alive), thus (3) it is not illogical that children of God now in his presence would be able to intercede for us in heaven.

Traditional Protestant reticence with this understanding is based in the concept most clearly espoused in I Timothy 2:5. Lewis, of course, was a Protestant himself, but Anglicans are among the minority of Protestants who affirm this practice.

** This is not to belittle the intense agony caused by chronic emotional suffering, but I believe there is a path that leads not to death, but to healing and life. If you have suicidal feelings, I strongly encourage you to seek out a skilled Christian counselor. (Not all clergy possess the necessary training, or the faith itself, to provide an adequate lifeline in these situations.)

If you’re unable to find a pastor in your local area, you can contact me at chaplainstroud at mereinkling dot com and I will attempt to get you in touch with a compassionate minister in your local community.

stfrancisMy brother, sister and I have nearly finished the somber task of going through my father’s possessions. We distributed many items to various family members, but the local charities have probably benefited most, as we cleared out the three bedroom home.

Sadly, my mother died nearly twenty years ago. My sister inherited her cedar chest, but had left it in our father’s house. As she prepared to take it home, we discovered some interesting items, including forty pictures my father had sent home during his 1967-68 tour in Vietnam.

We also found a Bible my mother had used when she attended studies. She was born in the generation which would never dare to highlight passages or scribble in the margins. Thus, the Bible bears no evidence it ever belonged to her . . . aside from some inspiring bookmarks, and a few newspaper clippings she had found meaningful.

One of the quotations that I too found particularly edifying, came from the pen of a Roman Catholic priest named Francis de Sales:

Do not look forward to what might happen tomorrow; the same everlasting Father who cares for you today will take care of you tomorrow and every day. Either He will shield you from suffering or he will give you the unfailing strength to bear it. Be at peace, then, and put aside all anxious thoughts and imaginations.

Francis was a post-Reformation Bishop of Geneva who was noted for his gentle approach toward religious divisions—in an era when such moderation was extremely rare. He is known for writings on spiritual growth (in Roman Catholic parlance, “spiritual formation”).

Although I have not read it, his book Introduction to the Devout Life comes highly recommended, and is available for free download here. I suspect even agnostics could enjoy it for its historical value.

By all accounts, Francis led a chaste and humble life, much like his namesake, Francis of Assisi. (Both men were canonized by their Church.)

Speaking of the first St. Francis, I have always wondered why no Pope ever honored his legacy by assuming his name. I suppose this is because his most prominent characteristics are not those most Popes seek to emulate. The assumption of Francis’ name by the new Pope, I believe, bodes well for his papacy. If he follows in the footsteps of Francis of Assisi, he cannot stray too far afield.

C.S. Lewis appreciated the thirteenth-century saint who began life as a self-indulged soldier and ended it living under a strict vow of poverty. Francis’ celebrated affection for animals—he is considered their “patron saint”—could not help but endear the monk to the creator of Narnia. Each year, many Christians participate in Roman Catholic and Anglican ceremonies for the blessing of animals on Saint Francis’ feast day.

In The Four Loves, Lewis discusses the nature of our physical body. He notes that there are several competing perspectives about our corporeal constitution, with the extremes either demeaning or glorifying humanity’s material nature. Lewis suggests that a metaphor created by Saint Francis provides a more biblical view.

Man has held three views of his body. First there is that of those ascetic Pagans who called it the prison or the “tomb” of the soul, and of Christians like Fisher to whom it was a “sack of dung,” food for worms, filthy, shameful, a source of nothing but temptation to bad men and humiliation to good ones. Then there are the Neo-Pagans (they seldom know Greek), the nudists and the sufferers from Dark Gods, to whom the body is glorious.

But thirdly we have the view which St. Francis expressed by calling his body “Brother Ass.” All three may be—I am not sure—defensible; but give me St. Francis for my money. Ass is exquisitely right because no one in his senses can either revere or hate a donkey. It is a useful, sturdy, lazy, obstinate, patient, lovable and infuriating beast; deserving now the stick and now a carrot; both pathetically and absurdly beautiful. So the body. There’s no living with it till we recognise that one of its functions in our lives is to play the part of buffoon.

Yes, I have to live for a while yet in this donkey of a shell, which illustrates daily the wisdom of the Apostle Paul who wrote that the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak . . . and short-sighted . . . and lazy . . . and stubborn . . .

This body, my flesh, argues that I should spend my day worrying about tomorrow. But the Holy Spirit speaks a more hopeful word. A promise. As God inspired Francis de Sales to eloquently proclaim: “Do not look forward to what might happen tomorrow; the same everlasting Father who cares for you today will take care of you tomorrow and every day.”