Archives For Love

Rescuing Orphans

April 14, 2014 — 17 Comments

orphansWar is a terrible thing. It should be avoided at (nearly) all costs. As C.S. Lewis wrote during Hitler’s atrocities, “If war is ever lawful, then peace is sometimes sinful” (“The Conditions for a Just War”).

I was writing this weekend about one of the sad consequences of war—the creation of orphans. As an adopted child of God, I possess deep compassion for children without parents in this world. Over a decade ago I was privileged to represent the United States Air Force at the dedication of the Korean War Children’s Memorial.

When I contacted the coordinator of that event, Dr. George Drake, he provided me with the photograph above, which shows the speakers that day. Drake appears to the left, and yours truly is in uniform, to the right. The primary speaker was Chaplain Russell Blaisdell, center, who saved the lives of at least a thousand Korean orphans during the war, delivering them from almost certain death as Seoul fell to the Communists. (My next post will reflect on his heroism and humility.)

The war in Korea was horrific. The frontlines swept across the peninsula, leaving desolation and tragedy in their wake. The number of orphans created by the violence was legion. In the cruel ebb and flow of the conflict, many perished. Still, even in the crimson terror there were expressions of mercy and grace.

Chaplains often led the way in reaching out to the children, but their efforts would have accomplished little if the compassion of the common Soldier, Marine, Sailor and Airman had not moved them as well to make sacrifices to care for the children.

Chaplains who serve in Korea today have maintained the strong bonds of support for orphanages that was so vital to the wartime chaplains represented by Blaisdell.

During my year in Taegu (Daegu), I coordinated the ministry of the airmen at Taegu Air Base in partnership with Love and Hope Orphanage. Love and Hope has a unique role, caring for the least of the least . . . children with serious physical and/or mental handicaps. There is little room for them in most societies, and Korea is no exception.

Orphans are made not by war alone, of course, but by a variety of tragic confluences of suffering. Some lose parents to accident or disease. Today, we find the greatest number of orphaned children in various parts of Africa where AIDS has devastated local adult populations. Similarly, following natural disasters such as major earthquakes and tsunamis, many orphans are left alone in the rubble or receding waters.

Some children flee abusive homes, or are rescued from dangerous environments; in one sense these were orphans even before their legal bonds with cruel predators were severed.

Many causes account for the existence of orphans. And, as long as we live in this fallen world, orphans will be among us. This is why we must never forget that, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (James 1:27, ESV).

C.S. Lewis was well acquainted with the sorrow of wartime violence and the shattering of families. A veteran of World War I, he saw many friends perish just as they were embarking on adulthood. After World War II, one of his many correspondents was Don Giovanni Calabria, who operated an orphanage in devastated Italy

In 1951, Lewis sent his friend a newly translated copy of the first book in his Chronicles of Narnia. He invited the priest (who would be canonized by the Roman Catholic Church less than fifty years later) to pass the book on to one of the orphans in his care.

I am sending you my tale recently translated into Italian in which, frankly, I have rather played than worked. I have given my imagination free rein yet not, I hope, without regard for edification—for building up both my neighbour and myself. I do not know whether you will like this kind of trifle. But if you do not, perhaps some boy or girl will like it from among your “good children.”

While I imagine the volume remained close to the future “saint,” I trust that Lewis’ powerful tale delighted many of the young children in his care.

As Chaplain Blaisdell says about caring for innocent children, the act itself provides more than sufficient reward. Formal recognition is not required, and may in fact detract from the intrinsic satisfaction that accompanies the giving of oneself in service. Ninety-nine percent of those who sacrifice for the widow and orphan remain essentially anonymous to all but God, and this is just fine. (You can read more about the Kiddy Car Airlift and who received credit for it here.)

Vampire Poetry

February 19, 2014 — 13 Comments

vpoetryI was afraid to read it. I had just listened to the poem during an online newscast, and it included it so many jarring and disturbing images that I thought I must have misheard it.

Then again, it was written by a successful Hollywood star, so it certainly must be worthy of publication.

So, motivated by two impulses, I sought out the text. My first reason was that I did not wish to misjudge the writer, based on my shallow initial impression. The second was that I really did want to discover if it was as odd as I perceived it to be.

It is from the heart and pen of Kristen Stewart, who played the leading role in the Twilight series. It is described as a “love poem,” which is helpful to know in advance . . . since that might not be how one might inadvisably approach it.

I reared digital moonlight

You read its clock, scrawled neon across that black

Kismetly . . . ubiquitously crest fallen

Thrown down to strafe your foothills

. . . I’ll suck the bones pretty.

Your nature perforated the abrasive organ pumps

Spray painted everything known to man,

Stream rushed through and all out into

Something Whilst the crackling stare down sun snuck

Through our windows boarded up

He hit your flint face and it sparked.

And I bellowed and you parked

We reached Marfa.

One honest day up on this freedom pole

Devils not done digging

He’s speaking in tongues all along the pan handle

And this pining erosion is getting dust in

My eyes

And I’m drunk on your morsels

And so I look down the line

Your every twitch hand drum salute

Salutes mine . . .

Overwhelming. I was actually tempted to use the word “pretentious,” until I read the following note about the magazine interview during which she shared the verse.

Before reading the poem, Kristen told the mag, “I don’t want to sound so f—ing utterly pretentious…but after I write something, I go, ‘Holy f—, that’s crazy.’ It’s the same thing with acting: If I do a good scene, I’m always like, ‘Whoa, that’s really dope.’”

After seeing that comment, with its sadly limited vocabulary, I can picture her composing her poetry dictionary and thesaurus in hand.

The poem’s significance takes a moment to sink into one’s mind . . . even if our brains are not clouded by being drunk on someone’s morsels. The poem is, in fact, so rich in meaning that it required two distinct titles: “Freedom Pole” and “My Heart is a Wiffle Ball.”

I dabble in poetry, but don’t consider myself a poet. So, I’m probably not the one to judge.

I would be curious to know what the newest addition to the Poet’s Corner at Westminster Abbey would think of Stewart’s work. C.S. Lewis wrote poetry himself, of course, although he is much better known for his other literary contributions.

In English Literature in the Sixteenth Century, Lewis describes the poetry of Samuel Daniel. “Though Daniel’s poetry is often uninspired, sometimes obscure, and not seldom simply bad, he has two strong claims on our respect.” I wonder if Lewis’ gracious nature might lead him to discern two strengths in Stewart’s poetic corpus.

In contrast to the previous evaluation, Lewis considered the poetry of Dante Alighieri to be masterful. In Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Literature, Lewis writes:

I think Dante’s poetry, on the whole, the greatest of all the poetry I have read: yet when it is at its highest pitch of excellence, I hardly feel that Dante has very much to do. . . . I draw the conclusion that the highest reach of the whole poetic art turns out to be a kind of abdication, and is attained when the whole image of the world the poet sees has entered so deeply into his mind that henceforth he has only to get himself out of the way, to let the seas roll and the mountains shake their leaves or the light shine and the spheres revolve, and all this will be poetry, not things you write poetry about.

Dare I confess that after Dante even Shakespeare seems to me a little factitious? It almost sounds as if he were “just making it up.” But one cannot feel that about Dante even when one has stopped reading him.

That’s the sort of verse that poets should always strive for—“the highest reach of the whole poetic art [which] turns out to be a kind of abdication.” Word dabblers such as myself are unlikely to ever attain such a lofty goal.

It may be that Stewart has kismetly attained these heights. But then again, perhaps she still has a little farther to travel before she reaches Marfa.

A Song has Ended

January 13, 2014 — 61 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.

Clay Hearts

November 18, 2013 — 6 Comments

clay heartHonesty compels us to admit that we have clay feet. We are merely mortal, and our origin from the clay of the earth is a reminder that we are imperfect.

Stumbling due to our feet of mud is one thing. Far worse, we earthen vessels also have hearts of clay. Our affections are fickle, and too often we fail to fulfill our vows to those who have made themselves vulnerable by entrusting to us their own love.

I doubt any of us have been untouched by the pain of transient love. The ideal we long for . . . the vision we dream about . . . and the lasting intimacy we pray for often seem so very fleeting.

Saddest, to me, are those relationships that have lasted many years, where the once glowing light has dimmed and the comforting warmth has dissipated.

That is the story of a remarkable, Oscar-nominated animation I would like to commend to you. Head Over Heels is a unique 10-minute claymation film about a broken marriage and how it comes “unbroken.”

C.S. Lewis did not marry until late in life. The personal experience of marriage, of course, modified some of his bachelor perceptions about the holy estate.

Nevertheless, having been married for thirty-seven years myself, I continue to be amazed by just how perceptive Lewis was throughout his writing life. Consider the following from The Four Loves.

Lewis discusses the importance and glory of passion consecrated by marital vows, but he does not pretend that it does not wax and wane. Nor does he imagine that even between wife and husband, a focus on the passion in their relationship is without potential hazards.

Discussing erotic love (one of the four he describes), Lewis warns:

But Eros, honoured without reservation and obeyed unconditionally, becomes a demon. And this is just how he claims to be honoured and obeyed. . . . Of all loves he is, at his height, most god-like; therefore most prone to demand our worship. Of himself he always tends to turn “being in love” into a sort of religion.

Theologians have often feared, in this love, a danger of idolatry. I think they meant by this that the lovers might idolise one another. That does not seem to me to be the real danger; certainly not in marriage. The deliciously plain prose and businesslike intimacy of married life render it absurd. So does the Affection in which Eros is almost invariably clothed.

Even in courtship I question whether anyone who has felt the thirst for the Uncreated, or even dreamed of feeling it, ever supposed that the Beloved could satisfy it. As a fellow-pilgrim pierced with the very same desire, that is, as a Friend, the Beloved may be gloriously and helpfully relevant; but as an object for it—well (I would not be rude), ridiculous. The real danger seems to me not that the lovers will idolise each other but that they will idolise Eros himself.

I believe Lewis has identified something profound here. The utter familiarity, the nakedness of our souls, that is part of any genuine marriage precludes anyone sane person from idolizing their partner. We, after all, are more familiar than any other human being with their feet of clay.

However, if we succumb to the snares of Eros, cast wide across television, literature, cinema and internet, we doom ourselves. True love will not cohabit with this counterfeit.

An uncritical attention to the physical seldom results in happiness. As Lewis so accurately says, “For Eros may unite the most unsuitable yokefellows; many unhappy, and predictably unhappy, marriages were love-matches.”

The good news, celebrated by Head Over Heels, is that even when love fades away, there is still hope. Just as clay-footed human beings can experience resurrection, so too our clay-hearted relationships can be restored and blaze with renewed joy.

lyricLast 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.

Her name is Lyric.

We adopted Lyric through the agency of DRAW Rescue.

The picture above shows black and white Lyric at her first meeting with her new sister, Foxy. (We didn’t name Foxy either; she joined our family when we “rescued” her from a California shelter six years ago.)

The two girls are getting along quite well their first full day together, but those of you with more than one pet know that it takes a little bit of time to sort things out when a new member joins the family.

Lyric is our third consecutive rescue pet. Although she’s younger than the others who came to us in the past, adopting a rescue dog isn’t the same thing as getting a puppy. You don’t enjoy the same cuddly acceptance. Many rescued dogs are quite wary of human beings—especially men.

It takes time and patience to bond. To let them know that they’re safe and they are now in their “forever home.” Some, like Lyric, benefit from interim stays with gracious foster parents. But their move to your home is still just part of their unstable life until the day when they “forget” about all the previous transitions and just know they are home.

C.S. Lewis talks about this longing for a home in Till We Have Faces. Psyche is describing her desire to find that place where she truly belongs.

Somewhere else there must be more of it. Everything seemed to be saying, Psyche come! But I couldn’t (not yet) come and I didn’t know where I was to come to. It almost hurt me. I felt like a bird in a cage when the other birds of its kind are flying home. . . .”

The sweetest thing in all my life has been the longing— to reach the Mountain, to find the place where all the beauty came from . . . my country, the place where I ought to have been born. Do you think it all meant nothing, all the longing? The longing for home? For indeed it now feels not like going, but like going back.”

Although the myth he’s retelling in this book has nothing to do with adopting pets, the following passage also relates (by dramatic extension) to the situation of “rescued” animals who join you with a legacy of previous relationships (not all of them good).

“Where shall we ever be safe if we’re not safe here? This is my home, Maia. And you won’t understand the wonder and glory of my adventure unless you listen to the bad part.

If you are in a position to share your home with a pet, I probably don’t need to tell you there are many, very many of them who need homes today. If you’re up to the extra challenge of adopting a rescued animal who comes with often unknown “baggage,” just contact one of your local rescue agencies.

These organizations are almost always run by volunteers who are motivated solely by their compassion for these innocent creatures who can no longer be cared for by their owners or—more tragically, have been discarded by those who should have cared for them. (Some, of course, are strays who were never in a human family.) I’m proud to say my nephew and his wife provide a foster home for rescued dogs in Seattle.

Whatever their background . . . the “bad part” of their story, you can be instrumental in “rehabilitating” them. And, trust me, they will reward you with more love than you could ever imagine.

Now, even if you’re not prepared to take in one of these lovely creatures, you can still help. Your local rescue organizations and shelters welcome any contributions you make—either in kind or in cash. You can check your phonebook for local rescues. Or, check out one of these websites which can connect you to many of these groups.

Adopt a Pet

Petfinder

Rescue Me (Dogs)

This column turned into more than I intended it to be. Originally I set out to simply celebrate Lyric’s entrance to our family. Now I realize that her blessing just may encourage the adoption of another cat or dog. And that would be a wonderful thing indeed.

In closing, let’s consider another passage from C.S. Lewis, the creator of Narnia. In a letter he wrote in 1955, he mentions the importance of home.

As Dr. [Samuel] Johnson said, “To be happy at home is the end of all human endeavour.” (1st to be happy to prepare for being happy in our own real home hereafter; 2nd in the meantime to be happy in our houses.)

These words remind us that the happiness we know in our earthly homes is only a foretaste of the joy we can know when we ultimately take our place in the eternal home prepared for us by our Creator.

Perhaps on that day we’ll be welcomed not only by our loved ones who have preceded us, but also by the pets we have loved during this mortal life. That would certainly be a magnificent thing . . . but that’s a discussion for another day.

parentsThere are a variety of reasons for expressing affection and care for one’s parents. Many feel gratitude for the sacrifices their parents made while providing for them. Others treasure memories of never doubting their parents’ love for them. Some enjoyed less idyllic childhoods, but honor their parents out of a sense of duty.

C.S. Lewis described the last type of family in The Four Loves. Rather than giving cause for their children to appreciate them, some parents raise obstacles to their affections.

We hear a great deal about the rudeness of the rising generation. I am an oldster myself and might be expected to take the oldsters’ side, but in fact I have been far more impressed by the bad manners of parents to children than by those of children to parents.

Who has not been the embarrassed guest at family meals where the father or mother treated their grown-up offspring with an incivility which, offered to any other young people, would simply have terminated the acquaintance?

Dogmatic assertions of matters which the children understand and their elders don’t, ruthless interruptions, flat contradictions, ridicule of things the young take seriously—sometimes of their religion—insulting references to their friends, all provide an easy answer to the question “Why are they always out? Why do they like every house better than their home?” Who does not prefer civility to barbarism?

Yes, there are several reasons for honoring our parents, even when they have not “earned” that respect. And now we can add another incentive to do so—because you might be sued in court if you do not honor them! While this statute has not arrived in the Western world, it is a relatively new law in the world’s most populous nation.

The recently revised law requires that adult children visit their parents “often” . . . without defining the specific frequency. Apparently, too many children have become preoccupied with their own concerns. (Shades of Harry Chapin’s “Cats in the Cradle.”)

Traditional Chinese culture is renowned for the value it places on revering elders in general, and parents specifically. In the Analects of the philosopher Confucius, an entire section is devoted to “filial piety.”

58. Confucius said: “When at home, a young man should serve his parents; when away from home, he should be respectful to his elders. He should always be earnest and truthful, express love to all, and follow men of virtue. Then, if he has the time and energy, he should study literature and the arts.” [1.6]

71. Confucius said: “When your father is alive, obey him. When your father has passed on, live as he did. If you do so for [at least] three years after your father’s death, then you are a true son.” [1.11]

72. Tzu Lu asked about the meaning of filial piety. Confucius said: “Nowadays filial piety means being able to support your parents. But we support even our horses and dogs. Without respect, what’s the difference between the two kinds of support?” [2.7]

73. Tzu Hsia asked about filial piety. Confucius said: “What matters is the expression you show on your face. ‘Filial piety’ doesn’t mean merely doing physical tasks for your parents, or merely providing them with food and wine.” [2.8]

74. Confucius said: “In serving your parents, you may disagree with them from time to time and seek to correct them gently. But if they will not go along with you, you must continue to respect and serve them without complaining.” [4.18]

75. Confucius said: “Never ignore your parents’ ages, which are both a source of joy (because they are still living) and a source of anxiety (because their deaths are coming nearer).” [4.21]

The Judeo-Christian tradition, of course, also demands respect for one’s parents. “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you (Exodus 20:12, ESV). And from the Letter to the Church in Ephesus: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘Honor your father and mother’ (this is the first commandment with a promise), “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.”

It is challenging to discern what it means to honor a parent who does not merit gratitude. Indeed, destructive (abusive) parents may well disqualify themselves from receiving honor, since they tacitly reject the very essence of what it means to be a mother or father.

Aside from these extreme cases, where only a biological relationship exists, we must be honest. None of our parents are perfect. But then the corollary is also true—none of their children are, either. It is in these common, shaded cases where our own character is tested.

C.S. Lewis lost his mother at a young age. His father remained distant, and sent his sons to distant boarding schools. During the First World War, Lewis was severely wounded and shipped from the front lines to a London hospital where he recuperated. While a patient he wrote the following to his father in Ireland.

Wherever I am I know that you will come and see me. You know I have some difficulty in talking of the greatest things; it is the fault of our generation and of the English schools. But at least you will believe that I was never before so eager to cling to every bit of our old home life and to see you.

I know I have often been far from what I should be in my relation to you, and have undervalued an affection and generosity which an experience of “other people’s parents” has shown me in a new light. But, please God, I shall do better in the future. Come and see me, I am homesick, that is the long and the short of it.

Sadly, Lewis’ father did not make the trip to visit his son at the hospital. Such is the nature of real life relationships . . . and such is the reason why honoring our parents sometimes needs to assume the form of a law, or even a Commandment.

May it not be so in your family. If your parents still live, I pray God will grant you great joy in honoring them. And, if you have children, I pray that the Lord will fill them with well-deserved affection for you.

_____

If you have never heard the song “Cats in the Cradle,” you owe it to yourself to ponder its powerful message today. You can view it here.

Skillful Turns of Phrase

January 3, 2013 — 14 Comments

frank burnsEveryone loves an exquisite turn of phrase. Those of us who dabble in writing are particularly susceptible to their numinous power.

I’ve been doing some research on the Father Mulcahy character from M*A*S*H. William Christopher transformed the fictional character from a caricature of military chaplaincy, into a compassionate and respected representative of the Holy. During my research, I’ve been reviewing episodes of the series in which he was featured.

In “Alcoholics Unanimous,” which originally aired in 1974, Mulcahy has been tasked with delivering a lecture on temperance. In an interesting twist he wears full clerical garb and prepares what is essentially a sermon. Since the lecture is a “mandatory formation,” the mess tent (which doubles as the chapel) is filled to capacity.

Sitting in the front row are the hypocritical Majors Burns and Houlihan. (For those unfamiliar with the show, they constantly call for the most rigid of military standards, even as they are all the while breaking the military’s Uniform Code that prohibits adultery.) Major Houlihan’s nickname, in fact, is “Hotlips.”

In the aforementioned episode they have a delightful little exchange that illustrates through its witty banter the skill of the Hollywood writers at their best. As the hospital’s temporary commander, Burns has banned all alcohol and mandated attendance at the lecture. The tent is filled to its limits as Houlihan turns adoring towards her paramour and says:

Houlihan: Frank, what a turnout!

Burns: Lemmings must be directed to the sea.

Houlihan: You’re magic with a phrase!

It requires skill to create a well-crafted turn of phrase. Well, even a fool like Frank Burns can stumble across a clever phrase, but only a master can repeatedly coax them from their ethereal realms.

C.S. Lewis was just such a master. His works abound with profound and captivating language. And he recognized it in the works of others. In “Dante’s Similes,” in Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Literature, he wrote:

[Dante] is the most translatable of the poets—not, probably, that he entrusts less wealth than others to the music of the words and the nuance of the phrase but that he entrusts more than others to the “plain sense.”

In The Four Loves, Lewis reveals just how impoverished much of our language is . . . even when it relates to the most inspiring of matters. Describing the difference between carnal “love” and genuine love, he shows that even impoverished phrases can begin to grasp the truth behind the dynamics of affection and commitment.

We must do the works of Eros when Eros is not present. This all good lovers know, though those who are not reflective or articulate must be able to express it only in a few conventional phrases about “taking the rough along with the smooth,” not “expecting too much,” having “a little common sense,” and the like. And all good Christian lovers know that this programme, modest as it sounds, will not be carried out except by humility, charity and divine grace; that it is indeed the whole Christian life seen from one particular angle.

Surely those who are more articulate can more expressively communicate our love for our spouse. Yet, even in so-called matters of the heart, we frequently utter phrases that are utterly mundane.

The History of the Phrase “Turn of Phrase”

One online dictionary uses these definitions:

a turn of phrase

1. a way of saying something “Significant other,” meaning “partner,” now that’s an interesting turn of phrase.

2. the ability to express yourself well She has a nice turn of phrase which should serve her well in journalism.

The Phrase Finder website provides excellent information about numerous phrases. And, in discussing this idiomatic phrase about phrases, they do not disappoint.

So, a phrase was a style of speaking or writing, and style meant beauty of expression. We can now interpret a fine “turn of phrase” as analogous to a skillfully crafted piece of wood turned on a lathe. John Dryden referred to the “turning” of words in this sense in The Satires of Decimus Junius Juvenalis, 1693: “Had I time, I cou’d enlarge on the Beautiful Turns of Words and Thoughts; which are as requisite in this, as in Heroique Poetry.”

Check out their entire article about turns of phrase at the link above. And, may your own writing be filled with impressive verbal ballets, replete with inspiring leaps and unforgettable pirouettes.

Theological Training

October 31, 2012 — 20 Comments

I’m proud I graduated from a well-respected seminary. And I’m proud of following that Master of Divinity degree with an advanced Master of Theology degree in Patristics. And that’s precisely the problem . . . I’m proud.

As a Christian, I recognize that pride is one of the most destructive and insidious sins. As a pastor and chaplain, I have seen all too frequently how pride expressly targets members of the clergy. Our vulnerability to the temptation to be proud is one of the common chinks in the armor of the ordained.

C.S. Lewis recognized this fact. In A Severe Mercy, he wrote:

I think there is a great deal to be said for having one’s deepest spiritual interest distinct from one’s ordinary duty as a student or professional man. St. Paul’s job was tent-making. When the two coincide I shd. have thought there was a danger lest the natural interest in one’s job and the pleasures of gratified ambition might be mistaken for spiritual progress and spiritual consolation; and I think clergymen sometimes fall into this trap. . . .

In fact, the change [to a Christian ministry] might do good or harm. I’ve always been glad myself that Theology is not the thing I earn my living by. On the whole, I’d advise you to get on with your tent-making. The performance of a duty will probably teach you quite as much about God as academic Theology wd. do. Mind, I’m not certain: but that is the view I incline to.

Lewis understood that “advancement” in ecclesiastical contexts can mask the inner heart and be mistaken as a form of holiness when it is in actuality vanity. I was reminded of this weakness in clerical armor recently, when I read a tribute to a Chinese Christian whose name is little known beyond his homeland. Dr. Sun Yi-yin, known in America as “Freddie Sun,” died in August at the age of 76. A professor of Geology, he lost his faculty position for failing to deny Christ.

Like thousands of other Christians living under the atheist regime, he was imprisoned for his work in establishing churches and Bible schools. He raised the funds to start no fewer than 154 of these training centers, and was key to the equipping of approximately 60,000 underground pastors and teachers. The “underground” Church in China is distinguished from the government-controlled “Three-Self Patriotic Movement.”

For his labors, Sun endured a decade in a Chinese labor camp. (His wife, Dorothy Chang, was also imprisoned. Rather than reducing his faith, during his sojourn in the harshest of conditions, Sun experienced a personal revival and his zeal increased.

His story is amazing, but here is the aspect that hit the mark in the center of my conscience. In his autobiography, The Man in the Fiery Furnace, Sun described his imprisonment as his “seminary” experience: “Instead of learning homiletics, hermeneutics, Greek, and Hebrew, I was being taught the greater lessons of obedience, submission, forgiveness, love, endurance, and patience.”

Now, I am grateful that God has preserved me from the “fiery furnace,” but I do long to experience the fruit of the spirit that Sun so richly harvested in prison. While not dismissing the importance of the classical subjects of homiletics and hermeneutics, as the Apostle says, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.” (I Corinthians 13:1-3, ESV).

In The Problem of Pain, Lewis’ treatise on suffering, he addresses how God can redeem terrible things such as unjust punishments. For those desiring to understand how an omnipotent God can allow evil to occur, Lewis’ presentation is quite helpful. And, the life example of Dr. Sun provides a superb example of its validity.

I advance six propositions necessary to complete our account of human suffering which do not arise out of one another and must therefore be given in an arbitrary order. 1. There is a paradox about tribulation in Christianity. Blessed are the poor, but by ‘judgement’ (i.e., social justice) and alms we are to remove poverty wherever possible. Blessed are we when persecuted, but we may avoid persecution by flying from city to city, and may pray to be spared it, as Our Lord prayed in Gethsemane.

But if suffering is good, ought it not to be pursued rather than avoided? I answer that suffering is not good in itself. What is good in any painful experience is, for the sufferer, his submission to the will of God, and, for the spectators, the compassion aroused and the acts of mercy to which it leads. In the fallen and partially redeemed universe we may distinguish (1) the simple good descending from God, (2) the simple evil produced by rebellious creatures, and (3) the exploitation of that evil by God for His redemptive purpose, which produces (4) the complex good to which accepted suffering and repented sin contribute.

Now the fact that God can make complex good out of simple evil does not excuse—though by mercy it may save—those who do the simple evil. And this distinction is central. Offences must come, but woe to those by whom they come; sins do cause grace to abound, but we must not make that an excuse for continuing to sin. The crucifixion itself is the best, as well as the worst, of all historical events, but the role of Judas remains simply evil.

I thank God for the life and testimony of Sun. I pray God will reap an abundance of believers in China, and elsewhere, due to his faithfulness. And I thank God for using Sun’s words to cause me to stop in the midst of my busy activities and take the time to examine my own heart and motives.

Storge, noun: Parental affection; the instinctive affection which animals have for their young.

Some of you will recall when I wrote about attending my wife as her nurse while she recuperated from surgery this past summer. Well, I just completed a remotely similar familial duty with my daughter and her husband the past two weeks.

We’ve all been anticipating the arrival of their fourth child and Grandpa is the on call childcare provider of choice. Well, Grandma is actually first choice . . . but since she’s a teacher, that’s not feasible. (She’ll be down here for a week to help out soon, while her husband is home recuperating from two exhausting but wonderful weeks with our inexhaustible grandchildren!)

A few days ago, our newest granddaughter breathed her first breath. I contemplated writing “entered the world,” but far less accurate. She’s beautiful, of course. And we’ll continue to pray that her inner and spiritual beauty, rather than her external appearance, will define her life.

This has gotten me thinking about C.S. Lewis’ wonderful book, The Four Loves. The following passage describes humanity’s natural love for family.

I begin with the humblest and most widely diffused of loves, the love in which our experience seems to differ least from that of the animals. Let me add at once that I do not on that account give it a lower value. Nothing in Man is either worse or better for being shared with the beasts. When we blame a man for being ‘a mere animal’, we mean not that he displays animal characteristics (we all do) but that he displays these, and only these, on occasions where the specifically human was demanded. (When we call him ‘brutal’ we usually mean that he commits cruelties impossible to most real brutes; they’re not clever enough.)

The Greeks called this love storge (two syllables and the g is ‘hard’). I shall here call it simply Affection. My Greek Lexicon defines storge as ‘affection, especially of parents to offspring’; but also of offspring to parents. And that, I have no doubt, is the original form of the thing as well as the central meaning of the word. The image we must start with is that of a mother nursing a baby, a [dog] or a cat with a basketful of puppies or kittens; all in a squeaking, nuzzling heap together; purrings, lickings, baby-talk, milk, warmth, the smell of young life.

The importance of this image is that it presents us at the very outset with a certain paradox. The Need and Need-love of the young is obvious; so is the Gift-love of the mother. She gives birth, gives suck, gives protection. On the other hand, she must give birth or die. She must give suck or suffer. That way, her Affection too is a Need-love. There is the paradox. It is a Need-love but what it needs is to give. It is a Gift-love but it needs to be needed.

As Lewis says, this storge love is a natural affection, instilled within the entire animal kingdom. That is what makes reports of people’s crimes against their own children so terribly shocking. These barbaric acts go against natural law itself. They are inhuman in the absolute sense. And witnessing them among humanity and various animal species reminds us of just how far we have fallen.

By God’s grace, such outrageous acts are the rare exception. Storge is so deeply engrained in nature’s order that we see it in nearly every direction we look. No family is perfect, but most of us are blessed with parents, siblings or other relatives who love us by virtue of our innate bonds.

However, if you are one of the unfortunates who were not loved by your father or mother . . . if you were rejected by your family, I am praying for you. Praying that you will come to know storge in its wonderful fullness through surrogate parents and siblings. After all, it’s not blood that forges these bonds—it is love. Storge is something we readily share with our spouses and our intimate friends. It is a sort of “kinship by choice.”

As I thank God for the most recent addition to our family’s number, I encourage you to thank the Lord as well for the storge love he allows you to give, and receive.

The painting above was created by Samuel De Wilde (1751-1832). And for you cat lovers who were disappointed by my selection of an image of puppies, enjoy this fine portrait of feline storge.

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).