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

written words from a father…

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(an early blog pic / Julie Cook / 2013)

“[you have] demonstrated beyond refutation your slovenly happy-go-lucky harum scraum style of work.
If you cannot prevent yourself from leading the idle useless unprofitable life you have had during your schooldays and later months, you will become a mere social wastrel, one of the hundreds of the public school failures, and you will degenerate into a shabby unhappy and futile existence….”

These words were penned by a distant and aloof man who found no merit or worth in his eldest son.
His son had proved to be a miserable student which was of great embarrassment to the likes of this most well-do-to and one of the day’s most notably recognized politicians.

The boy’s school marks were so low that his father stated that he was “too dimwitted” to peruse a career as a barrister (lawyer), an assumed career path for a boy of his family’s social status, but rather was relegated to following a path towards a military career.
His father hoping for a bit of redemption in the boy, convinced himself that if the boy could succeed as an Infantry officer, all would not be lost.

However the embarrassment and disappointment only continued as the boy scored so low in school and twice failed the entrance exam to the prestigious military academy that his father all but gave up on the boy. On his third and final attempt the boy finally received a passing score, yet it was still considered too low to qualify for the revered infantry training…leaving the boy the only route of choice…. becoming a calvary man, much to the humiliation of his father.

Yet this emotionally harangued young man was undeterred by his father’s lack of affection, obvious disappointment, acknowledgement and support.

The father had always been bigger than life in the eyes of the young boy.
A stranger and hero to be worshiped from afar.

All of this even as the boy pined away homesick in boarding school…
With news that his father had actually come to the same town in which the boarding school was located in order to address a political function, the boy was devastated learning that his father made no attempt to visit or call upon the boy.

Crestfallen the boy wrote immediately to his father—yet rather than showing his very real pain and disappointment as one would expect, the boy merely states that he doesn’t understand why his father couldn’t visit yet in the same breath states that he knows him to be a very important and busy man.

The father, who had become quite sick while the boy was away at boarding school, died rather prematurely at the age of 45.
This sudden death of his father only heightened the boy’s sense of hero worship in a man who had remained distant at best and blatantly detached.

The boy would grow to be a man who always kept his father at the forefront of his thoughts and actions. His life’s goals and ambitions were always focused on following in the footsteps of his father.

One would only think that such words and actions by a man so detached and so vocally dismissive from his son would simply breed a seething loathing within a growing boy…allowing the seeds of resentment and hatred to fester.
Yet within this particular young boy turned man, anything could have been further from the truth.

Sir Winston Spencer Churchill, the particular boy in question, grew to be one of the West’s greatest men to have lived.
He had a long prolific, heroic and stellar career as a soldier, writer, artist, painter, statesman, historian, cabinet member, Prime Minister, world leader, husband and father.
He never cowered at the painful rebuffs of a man he idolized…never allowing the continued hurt and detachment of Lord Randolph Churchill to deter his quest to succeed at the things in which he tried his hand.
He always wanted to make his father proud…
dare we say, he most assuredly did…

Happy Father’s Day to all the men in my life who have overcome the obstacles in their paths in order to forge a life worthy of praise….

this little light of mine…

What is to give light must endure burning.
Viktor Frankl

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(pathway lights, Watercolor Resort / Santa Rosa, Fl / Julie Cook / 2016)

There’s a little flame inside us all
Some shine bright, some shine small
The rains will come and the waters rise
But don’t you ever lose your light
In this life you will know
Love and pain, joy and sorrow
So when it hurts, when times get hard
Don’t forget whose child you are

This little light of mine
I’m gonna let it shine
This little light of mine
I’m gonna let it shine, gonna let it shine


This Little Light of Mine Lyrics
Lyrics by Avis Burgeson Christiansen
tune by Harry Dixon Loss

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When we are born, we come into this world bearing a tiny light…
burning brightly, yet hidden deep within.
It is a light offering hope, offering warmth, offering direction…
And it is a light which we are always to offer to others…
Helping to keep the lights around us burning brightly.

Yet as we live and grow, we are met with all sorts of things that try to extinguish our light.
Sorrow, frustration, illness, loss, failure, heartache…

Whereas our light itself remains…
its flame,
its illumination,
its ability to shine…
can grow weak and dangerously faint.

It is actually in and during those most trying times that the light which appears almost to be exhausted, is actually kindled.
Kindled by the light of the One who offers the brightest light of all…

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(Immaculate Heart of Jesus)

In the same way, let your light shine before others,
that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

Matthew 5:16

We all have them…

“Our vision is so limited we can hardly imagine a love that does not show itself in protection from suffering…. The love of God did not protect His own Son…. He will not necessarily protect us – not from anything it takes to make us like His Son. A lot of hammering and chiseling and purifying by fire will have to go into the process.”
Elisabeth Elliot

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(Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II / image borrowed from the web)

Elizabeth has had them….
She’s actually had what she referenced as an annus horribilis
An entire bad year…

Churchill had them…
just mention the word Gallipoli

Eddison had them…
think electric chair

David had them…
think plotting to have someone killed just to cover up your own bad choices…
As it just seems to get worse and worse…..

Joseph had them…
think betrayal by your own brothers…

Paul had them…
as it took three days of blindness to figure it out that raging murderous ways were not
the best use of ones talents.

Peter had them…
something about crowing roosters

Einstein had them…
A Nobel Prize winner actually failed his college entrance exam

Louis Zamperini had them…
think plane crash, 47 days in a life raft and over 2 years as a POW

FDR had them…
one word…polio

Indeed, we’ve all had them…
bad days,
bad weeks,
bad months,
bad years,
bad turns,
bad runs,
bad lives…

Times we would just rather forget.
Times we wish we could ask for the re-do or the re-start
Times we found unbearable, insurmountable and devastating…
Times we thought we’d not survive…

The thing is we will all face them…
bad times,
hard days,
difficult periods in our lives.

Some will seem endless as others will seem to be the end of us…

It will not be a matter of when they come…
because they will come whether or not we are ready, prepared or armed…

The important thing will not be what they do to us,
But rather what we do in spite of them…

Will we be beaten?
Giving up,
Lying down,
Rolling over,
Giving in…
growing bitter
resentful
resigned
hateful…

Or will we come out of it…
better,
stronger,
wiser,
kinder
even more courageous than before….

Unknown

Have I not commanded you?
Be strong and courageous.
Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged,
for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

Joshua 1:9

The Journey

“Sometimes it’s the journey that is more important than the end result—“
quote by Julie Cook and countless others who have voiced a similar observation

“Be of good cheer. Do not think of today’s failures, but of the success that may come tomorrow. You have set yourselves a difficult task, but you will succeed if you persevere; and you will find a joy in overcoming obstacles. Remember, no effort that we make to attain something beautiful is ever lost.”
― Helen Keller

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(McKenzie Pass Lava flow Oregon / Julie Cook / 2012)

(I’ve written about our son before and of his struggles in school.
Today my thoughts are of him as well as with him on this particular Saturday and of a potentially life changing test.
Today I am transported back to a life, many years ago, and to what it has taken to get us all to this particular day. . .)

I have had, in the back of my mind, the intention of writing a certain post one day. . .a post in the not so distant future. . .a post that is to come most likely, hopefully, in a couple of months, a little later down the road. . .
. . .and yet. . .
It is today in which these thoughts seem to be percolating up to the surface and laying claim to both my thoughts and my heart.

One thing I’ve learned during the course of my life is that if you’re thinking and or feeling things–those internal nudgings, pushing’s and tiny alarms which sound deep in the recesses of heart and soul, it’s best not to put them off, not to push them aside until there seems to be sufficient “time” in which to address them—it is important, perhaps even dire, to address, examine, act and embrace such thoughts now, today. . .

Come December, our son will turn 26.
That in itself is difficult for my aging mind to comprehend.

He arrived in this world a week earlier than predicted—thankfully.
“They” had given me a due date of Christmas day. At the time the thought of having a baby born on Christmas was overwhelming for all sorts of reasons. I certainly didn’t want to be in a hospital on Christmas, I wanted to be home. My mom had passed away three years prior so I was a bit afraid of entering motherhood all on my own with little to no advice or direction. My husband owned a retail business. Christmas was his busiest time of the year. Would he even be able to enjoy the birth of his first born (and unbeknownst to us at the time, our only born). I certainly didn’t want our child’s birth to be overshadowed by business, nor by the madness known as the marketing of, by our consumer driven Society, of Christmas.

Our son was born with a slight case of jaundice which later was oddly attributed to being breast fed.
He also had a difficult time keeping any nourishment down without vomiting.
By 3 months he was admitted to Eggleston Children’s Hospital for extensive tests.
From the onslaught of constantly vomiting, he had developed internal bleeding and an ulcerated esophagus.
He was prescribed medication along with a specialized formula that was thickened with oatmeal in order to help “keep it all down”

His eating habits, to this day, are picky at best.
Other than those early struggles with nourishment and being on the low end of the growth chart, he appeared happy and relatively healthy.

By the time he was a year old, he had developed those growing life skills parents thankfully tick off on the long list of growing accomplishments.
He smiled.
He cooed.
He laughed.
He rolled over.
He sat up.
He cut teeth.
He uttered little words (“da da” was the first word—why that is, after all the work done by the mother, the first word is “da da” is beyond my soul, but I digress)
He crawled, fist on his belly, then up on all fours–
However those precarious teetering first steps to walking were yet to be seen.

We fretted when he didn’t walk until he was 15 months old.
Naturally we were concerned because all the other babies his age had been walking, many, for several months. Yet thankfully that skill eventually came to fruition much to our relief.

All seemed well.
He attended preschool seemingly happy to be with other children, as he was an only child.
He was sweet with a gentle spirit accented by a vivid imagination. I think children who have no siblings and do not live in a neighborhood alongside constant playmates tend to develop a wonderful sense of creativity and keen imagination.

It was’t until he entered kindergarten that a red flag was hoisted up the pole of a parent’s fear.
His teacher called us in for a meeting as she wanted to let us know that she had some concerns—
She had decided that there was one or two things going on. . .either our child was “gifted” as his vocabulary and verbal skills were off the charts— yet, he wasn’t reading, his writing was not on par with his peers nor was his ability to spell simple words— she therefore sensed something was a rye.
She recommended we have him tested.

We took our son to a child psychologist for a battery of tests. Time will not permit me to elaborate on the worries which clouded our world during this time. The short of this long story is that he was diagnosed with a learning disability in written expression, a slight case of dyslexia coupled by ADD with the area of contention being an inability to stay “focused”. Plus his fine motor skills were slightly impaired.

As the psychologist explained, she did not think our son would ever be able to participate successfully in team sports due to the trouble with his fine motor skills, my husband had tears streaming down his cheeks–not because he was disappointed that his only son would most likely not ever follow in the steps of his own athletic prowess, but rather that he felt his son would perhaps miss out on so much of what it means to be a part of something bigger than himself, that of a team working toward a unified and single goal.

Yet it was for our own small team, our small family of three, to work toward the goal of getting him reading plus finding a place of success in school.

I racked my brain over what I had or had not done when I was pregnant. What had I perhaps done inadvertently to our child? Lots of unfounded guilt coupled with lots of worry for an unknown future engulfed us for many years.

The struggle and climb were both long and arduous.
There was the summer spent driving back and forth daily to a special school in Atlanta that worked specially with kids who had dyslexia and learning disabilities.
There were the countless tutors, the endless meetings with teachers, the tears, the frustrations, the long nights working for tiny and minuscule gains, the isolation of working day after day, night after night, alone all under the worried and weary eyes of a mom and dad.

Our son had to pour all energies into his studies, there was little time for anything but school. No fun after school with friends, no time for sports, no time for leisure. . .there wasn’t much time for the building of close bonds and friendships.
He grew tired, overwhelmed, frustrated and burned out.
We too grew weary and frustrated, yet we continued working and pushing–often moving 2 steps forward and 5 steps back.
This all before entering high school.
Exhausting.

Yet he continued to have goals.
He had dreams.
He had aspirations.
Those things, thankfully, never waned.

Even though I was an educator who was realistic, I was also a parent who was determined that he should be given every opportunity, just like everyone else who dreams of a successful future, of being afforded the things necessary to make him successful.
Success to us was simply to pass.
We rejoiced over C’s.
We cried.
We often felt defeated.
We got angry.
We worried.
We made ourselves sick.
We grew tired.

In 2007 our son graduated high school.
That was a wonderful day.
He didn’t wear cords or medals around his neck.
He didn’t have stoles draped over his shoulders.
He wasn’t highly ranked nor did his name bear any honors.
Yet he was standing on a stage, receiving a piece of paper many thought he’d never hold.

College, which was indeed in his plans, would not be easy.
Nor has it been.
He is in his final semester–we hope.
Others his age have long since graduated, some with multiple degrees.
They are working, making their way in their careers and life.
Our son is weary.
He has felt discouraged.
He has suffered multiple setbacks.
At times he’s been his own worst enemy.
He is stubborn.
He is hard headed.
Sometimes I think unrealistic.

However I am not the one who has been told time and time again that I couldn’t do something I’ve always dreamed of doing. There is a certain determination in constantly being told “no” or “never”. . .
Our son, thankfully, has always possessed certain inner strengths which have worked to compensate and offset the heavy deficiencies.

Today, after several miscues, he finally took a long anticipated test.
He took the LSAT.
That in-depth lengthy test those aspiring to attend Law School must first successfully pass before moving forward.
There’s a lot riding on the results of this test.
He’s been in school for the majority of his life.
It has taken a grave toll on him physically.
We want / need for him to work toward financial independence.
His well being wants him to be finally independent.
His new wife worries.
The future is still uncertain.

And yet, the mere fact that my child has actually arrived at this very day, the day of simply taking a test, is monumental.
I know he will be most anxious over the results.
I, on the other hand, have no angst over results.
It is quite to the contrary— I have an odd sense of peaceful satisfaction.
There was a time when colleagues and friends thought we were unrealistic in our aspirations for our son. There was a time when we all wondered if we had not bitten off more than we or he could chew.
I’m sure we will still have those days.
But for today, I may exhale.
I think he may actually exhale.

So whether or not he does or does not eventually attend Law School. . .
Whether or not he clears this latest hurdle or stumbles. . .
Whether or not he puts this goal aside and works toward a different goal, a Plan B goal. . .
It is, to this one mom, the mere fact that her child has actually made it to this day—this actual day which has witnessed his carrying a single admittance ticket through a door, to finding his place once again at yet one more classroom desk, to the taking of one more test in the long list of tests, all taken during the course of a long hard fought career spent in school–it is to this day, a day of an amazing accomplishment, that I can finally see a glimmer of peace.

It is therefore my heartfelt belief that it is not so much the end of a journey which matters in this thing we call life but rather it is the path along the long and arduous journey which matters most. There will always be the bumps and curves, the mountains and cliffs which we will happen upon during the course of the journey which will work in tandem for and against us, all helping to form the “real” person which resides within each of us–as we are all tried by the fires and furnace of life.
My son is testament to such a journey.

“Success is not to be measured by the position someone has reached in life, but the obstacles he has overcome while trying to succeed.”
― Booker T. Washington

The courage to continue….

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”
Winston Churchill

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Beautiful Stain Glass Rose window from Sainte Chapelle / Paris, France / Julie Cook / 2011

Merriam-Webster defines courage as: mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty

Courage is not what we see depicted from Hollywood. Courage is not the professional athletes we laud over on the playing field. Courage is not physical prowess. Courage is not bravado. Courage is not belittling. Courage is not loud. Courage is not easy. Courage is not glamorous.

Courage is silence when others scream. Courage is for the tears shed alone. Courage is a smile when one is overcome by despair. Courage is going forward when others turn away. Courage is standing when sitting feels better. Courage is letting go when holding on is all one yearns to do. Courage teaches. Courage is quiet. Courage is lonely.

Courage is rooted in a mental decision to make a choice—it’s an either or with no time provided to weigh ones’ options. It’s a just do it mentality without the Nike swoosh. No glitz, no glamour, no pats on the back. It’s hard, difficult, dirty and even painful. But it’s the right thing–not the popular thing. It’s a moral thing not a trendy thing.

Our world needs more who are willing to act, to live, to choose courage.
It’s not easy, but it’s necessary.
Your choice.