Either / Or..it’s mere Christianity

“And out of that hopeless attempt has come nearly all that we call human history—money,
poverty, ambition, war, prostitution, classes, empires,
slavery—the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God
which will make him happy.”

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

“My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust.
But how had I got this idea of just and unjust?
A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line.
What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust?”

― C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

According to our friends at Wikipedia,
Mere Christianity is a theological book by
C. S. Lewis, adapted from a series of BBC radio talks made between 1941 and 1944,
while Lewis was at Oxford during the Second World War.
Considered a classic of Christian apologetics, the transcripts of the broadcasts
originally appeared in print as three separate pamphlets:
The Case for Christianity (Broadcast Talks in the UK) (1942),
Christian Behaviour (1943), and Beyond Personality (1944).
Lewis was invited to give the talks by the Reverend James Welch, the BBC Director of Religious Broadcasting, who had read his 1940 book, The Problem of Pain.

Growing up as an Episcopalian, under the umbrella of the Anglican Church, I was first
introduced to C.S.Lewis when I was in about the 8th or 9th grade or so…
Our Sunday School class was assigned a book to read as part
of our Sunday School “curriculum.”

The book was The Screwtape Letters.

A book first published in 1942.
A time when Great Britain was in the throes of some of her darkest days…the midst of WWII.

This was a paperback book we were given and the cover actually scared me.
I made a point of always putting the book facedown when reading it.
I was not a huge fan of devils nor Satan for that matter…no fan of demonic images…
and with The Exorcist movie making its debut just about the same time,
I wasn’t having anything affiliated with Satan too close for my sense of comfort.

For you see, even early on in my life I knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that we were
living in a fallen world.
And in that fallen world we were (are) actually living in the middle of a massive
spiritual war…a war that was, and is, raging all around us.

Satan is very much real and will very much do what he can to thwart his mortal Enemy
who just so happens to be the Creator of both dark and light and of life and even of death…
And yet death with this Creator of ours is not a permanent predicament—

So in all of this, that being Spiritual war, there will naturally be casualties.
Casualties of a fallenness, a brokenness, a darkness and a sinfulness…in turn marking those
casualties prisoners of war.

The problem in all of this is that once captured and the battle finally ends with the Victor
coming again in triumph…the prisoners who fall to the whims of the dark enemy are then at the
point of being forever lost.

There is a narrow window in which one can choose which side of the battle one wants to be…
and sadly many have, as well as continue, to choose the wrong side.

If you scoff at such a notion…that’s fine.
But don’t ever say you weren’t informed.

And no that’s not Christianity being all about the big, the bad and the scary with a skewed
psychological tactic of punishment as its basis…it’s actually a matter of that being
exactly what it is—-that being the facts behind the story.

And so our Wikipedia friends once again explain that…
“The Screwtape Letters is a Christian apologetic novel by C. S. Lewis and dedicated to
J. R. R. Tolkien.
It is written in a satirical, epistolary style and while it is fictional in format,
the plot and characters are used to address Christian theological issues,
primarily those to do with temptation and resistance to it.”

First published in February 1942,
the story takes the form of a series of letters from a senior Demon Screwtape to his
nephew Wormwood, a Junior Tempter.
The uncle’s mentorship pertains to the nephew’s responsibility in securing the damnation of a
British man known only as “the Patient”.

Funny that most young folks learn of Lewis from his Chronicles of Narnia and with me,
I actually learn of him from the writings of devils.

There’s something to be said for that…and I think its because God always knew that I would
need to pass the allegorical early on, cutting straight to the chase.

Life has been that way for me.

However is wasn’t until when I was an adult that Lewis really came alive for me.
It was when I watched the 1993 movie Shadowlands…
a movie starring Anthony Hopkins and Debra Winger.
I’ve written about the movie before and if you’ve never seen it…
it is worth tracking down.

The movie is based on true events in Lewis’ life…such that I came away knowing that he totally
“got” this thing we call life.

Life with all of its curve balls…Curveballs that it loves to throw at those who call
themselves Christians as well as to the nonbelievers…it’s just that most folks scrutinize the
Christians when the bad things come—gauging their responses and reactions…
Nonbelievers like to mock and scoff Christians who suffer and hurt…sneering “where is your
God now?!”

But Life does not discriminate.
Life is hard.
It is not fair.
It often hurts and it can tempt us until we actually go practically mad.

And note that I say Life….not God, not Jesus…but rather simply Life…

For God nor Jesus torment.
Nor do they tempt or threaten or wreak havoc in our worlds…
That is merely the role Life plays in our lives.
Think back to what I said about living in a fallen world…

So when I read this latest quote by Lewis…I thought here is a man who despite speaking to us
from the depths of days long past…a man who spoke during a raging world war…
his observations are still very much current.

As this quote is particularly timely for our oh so modern 21st century smug
attitudes towards a no hold bar approach to sexuality.

“Chastity is the most unpopular of the Christian virtues.

There is no getting away from it;
the Christian rule is,
‘Either marriage, with complete faithfulness to your partner,
or else total abstinence.’

Now this is so difficult and so contrary to our instincts,
that obviously either Christianity is wrong or our sexual instinct, as it now is, has gone wrong.
One or the other.
Of course, being a Christian, I think it is the instinct which has gone wrong …
God knows our situation;
He will not judge us as if we had no difficulties to overcome.
What matters is the sincerity and perseverance of our will to overcome them.
Before we can be cured we must want to be cured.
Those who really wish for help will get it;
but for many modern people, even the wish is difficult…
We may, indeed, be sure that perfect chastity—like perfect charity—will not be attained
by any merely human efforts.
You must ask for God’s help.
Even when you have done so, it may seem to you for a long time that no help,
or less help than you need, is being given.
Never mind.
After each failure, ask forgiveness, pick yourself up and try again.
Very often what God first helps us towards is not the virtue itself but just this
power of always trying again.
For however important chastity (or courage, or truthfulness, or any other virtue) may be,
this process trains us in habits of the soul which are more important still.
It cures our illusions about ourselves and teaches us to depend on God.
We learn, on the one hand, that we cannot trust ourselves even in our best moments,
and, on the other, that we need not despair even in our worst, for our failures are forgiven.
The only fatal thing is to sit down content with anything less than perfection.”

— C. S. Lewis, p. 95
An Excerpt From
Mere Christianity

a vision of Lent

“Contrary to what might be expected,
I look back on experiences that at the time seemed especially desolating and painful,
with particular satisfaction.
Indeed, I can say with complete truthfulness that everything I have learned in
my seventy-five years in this world,
everything that has truly enhanced and enlightened my existence,
has been through affliction and not through happiness, whether pursued or attained…
This, of course, is what the Cross signifies.
And it is the Cross, more than anything else,
that has called me inexorably to Christ.”

Malcolm Muggeridge

dscn2555
(Bonaventure Cemetery /Savannah, Ga / Julie Cook 2016)

Lent…
giving up
sacrificing
doing without
fasting
denial
hard
difficult
arduous
abstinence…

But what is it about this Lent…this entering into the desert…
this time of isolation and self denial….
What brings us here?
Why are we here at this crossroads…
Where is it that we are now bound…
What will be the point of this…
longing,
introspection
and intent of focus…

As they were looking on, so we too gaze on his wounds as he hangs.
We see his blood as he dies.
We see the price offered by the redeemer, touch the scars of his resurrection.
He bows his head, as if to kiss you. His heart is made bare open, as it were,
in love to you. His arms are extended that he may embrace you.
His whole body is displayed for your redemption.
Ponder how great these things are. Let all this be rightly weighed in your mind:
as he was once fixed to the cross in every part of his body for you,
so he may now be fixed in every part of your soul.

St. Augustine

img_0373
(detail/ painting by Julie Cook)

a vision of Lent

“Contrary to what might be expected,
I look back on experiences that at the time seemed especially desolating and painful,
with particular satisfaction.
Indeed, I can say with complete truthfulness that everything I have learned in
my seventy-five years in this world,
everything that has truly enhanced and enlightened my existence,
has been through affliction and not through happiness, whether pursued or attained…
This, of course, is what the Cross signifies.
And it is the Cross, more than anything else,
that has called me inexorably to Christ.”
Malcolm Muggeridge

dscn2555
(Bonaventure Cemetery /Savannah, Ga / Julie Cook 2016)

Lent…
giving up
sacrificing
doing without
fasting
denial
hard
difficult
arduous
abstinence…

But what is it about this Lent…this entering into the desert…
this time of isolation and self denial….
What brings us here?
Why are we here at this cross roads…
Where is it that we are now bound…
What will be the point of this…
longing,
introspection
and intent of focus…

As they were looking on, so we too gaze on his wounds as he hangs.
We see his blood as he dies.
We see the price offered by the redeemer, touch the scars of his resurrection.
He bows his head, as if to kiss you. His heart is made bare open, as it were,
in love to you. His arms are extended that he may embrace you.
His whole body is displayed for your redemption.
Ponder how great these things are. Let all this be rightly weighed in your mind:
as he was once fixed to the cross in every part of his body for you,
so he may now be fixed in every part of your soul.

St. Augustine

img_0373
(detail/ painting by Julie Cook)