Friday, October 28, 2016

Two extracts from Imagining the Kingdom

Quite simply, there is no formation without repetition. There is no habituation without being immersed in a practice over and over again… So it is precisely our allergy to repetition in worship that has undercut the counterformative power of Christian worship—because all kinds of secular liturgies shamelessly affirm the good of repetition. We’ve let the devil, so to speak, have all the repetition. And we, as liturgical animals, are only too happy to find our rhythms in such repetition. Unless Christian worship eschews the cult of novelty and embraces the good of faithful repetition, we will constantly be ceding habituation to secular liturgies.  


We need stories like we need food and water: we're built for narrative, nourished by stories, not just as distractions or diversions or entertainments but because we constitute our world narratively. It is from stories that we receive our "character," and those stories in turn become part of our background, the horizons within which we constitute our world and engage in action. I cannot answer the question, what do I love? without (at least implicitly) answering the question what story do I believe? We tell ourselves stories in order to live.
James K.A. Smith, Imagining The Kingdom: How Worship Works

Ongoing patience

The Lord Jesus loves his people so much, that every day he is still doing for them much that is analogous to washing their soiled feet. Their poorest actions he accepts; their deepest sorrow he feels; their slenderest wish he hears, and their every transgression he forgives. He is still their servant as well as their Friend and Master. He not only performs majestic deeds for them, as wearing the mitre on his brow, and the precious jewels glittering on his breastplate, and standing up to plead for them, but humbly, patiently, he yet goes about among his people with the basin and the towel.

He does this when he puts away from us day by day our constant infirmities and sins. Last night, when you bowed the knee, you mournfully confessed that much of your conduct was not worthy of your profession; and even tonight, you must mourn afresh that you have fallen again into the selfsame folly and sin from which special grace delivered you long ago; and yet Jesus will have great patience with you; he will hear your confession of sin; he will say, "I will, be thou clean"; he will again apply the blood of sprinkling, and speak peace to your conscience, and remove every spot. It is a great act of eternal love when Christ once for all absolves the sinner, and puts him into the family of God; but what condescending patience there is when the Saviour with much long-suffering bears the oft recurring follies of his wayward disciple; day by day, and hour by hour, washing away the multiplied transgressions of his erring but yet beloved child!

To dry up a flood of rebellion is something marvellous, but to endure the constant dropping of repeated offences--to bear with a perpetual trying of patience, this is divine indeed! While we find comfort and peace in our Lord's daily cleansing, its legitimate influence upon us will be to increase our watchfulness, and quicken our desire for holiness. Is it so?

From Charles Spurgeon's Evening by Evening, the reading for October the 24th. 

Friday, October 07, 2016

The unmorality of art

The theory of the unmorality of art has established itself firmly in the strictly artistic classes. They are free to produce anything they like. They are free to write a "Paradise Lost" in which Satan shall conquer God. They are free to write a "Divine Comedy" in which heaven shall be under the floor of hell. And what have they done? Have they produced in their universality anything grander or more beautiful than the things uttered by the fierce Ghibbeline Catholic, by the rigid Puritan schoolmaster? We know that they have produced only a few roundels. Milton does not merely beat them at his piety, he beats them at their own irreverence. In all their little books of verse you will not find a finer defiance of God than Satan's. Nor will you find the grandeur of paganism felt as that fiery Christian felt it who described Faranata lifting his head as in disdain of hell. And the reason is very obvious. Blasphemy is an artistic effect, because blasphemy depends upon a philosophical conviction. Blasphemy depends upon belief and is fading with it. If any one doubts this, let him sit down seriously and try to think blasphemous thoughts about Thor. I think his family will find him at the end of the day in a state of some exhaustion.

G K Chesterton: Heretics

Friday, September 30, 2016

Good and evil people

Remember that, as I said, the right direction leads not only to peace but to knowledge. When a man is getting better he understands more and more clearly the evil that is still left in him. When a man is getting worse he understands his own badness less and less. A moderately bad man knows he is not very good: a thoroughly bad man thinks he is all right. This is common sense, really. You understand sleep when you are awake, not while you are sleeping. You can see mistakes in arithmetic when your mind is working properly: while you are making them you cannot see them. You can understand the nature of drunkenness when you are sober, not when you are drunk. Good people know about both good and evil: bad people do not know about either.

From Mere Christianity by C S Lewis

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Dinner party

I wish you well. May your table be graced with lovely women and good men. May you drink well enough to drown the envy of youth in the satisfactions of maturity. May your men wear their weight with pride, secure in the knowledge that they have at last become considerable. May they rejoice that they will never again be taken for callow, black-haired boys. And your women? Ah! Women are like cheese strudels. When first baked, they are crisp and fresh on the outside, but the filling is unsettled and indigestible; in age, the crust may not be so lovely, but the filling comes at last into its own. May you relish them indeed. May we all sit long enough for reserved to give way to ribaldry and for gallantry to grow upon us. May there be singing at our table before the night is done, and old, broad jokes to fling at the stars and tell them we are men.
We are great, my friend; we shall not be saved for trampling that greatness under foot. Ecce tu pulcher es, dilecte mi, et decorus. Lectulus noster floridus. Tigna domorum nostrarum cedrina, laquearia nostra cypressina. Ecce iste venit, saliens in montibus, transilens colles. [Behold, you are beautiful, my love, and fair. Our bed is blooming. The beams of our house are cedar, the ceiling is cypress. Behold, he is coming, leaping over the mountains, jumping across the hills. [From the Song of Solomon) -- Ed]

Come then; leap upon these mountains, skip upon these hills and heights of earth. The road to Heaven does not run from the world, but through it. The longest Session of all is no discontinuation of these sessions here, but a lifting of them all by priestly love. It is a place for men, not ghosts — for the risen gorgeousness of the New Earth and for the glorious earthiness of the True Jerusalem. Eat well then. Between our love and His Priesthood, He makes all things new, Our Last Home will be home indeed.

From Robert Capon's The Supper of the Lamb, in the chapter on staging a dinner party.

Friday, September 16, 2016

The presence of God

And of course the presence of God is not the same as the sense of the presence of God. The latter may be due to imagination; the former may be attended with no “sensible consolation.” The Father was not really absent from the Son when He said “Why hast thou forsaken me?” You see God Himself, as man, submitted to man’s sense of being abandoned. The real parallel on the natural level is one which seems odd for a bachelor to write to a lady, but too illuminating not to be used. The act which engenders a child ought to be, and usually is attended by pleasure. But it is not the pleasure that produces the child. Where there is pleasure there may be sterility: where there is no pleasure the act may be fertile. And in the spiritual marriage of God and the soul it is the same. It is the actual presence, not the sensation of the presence, of the Holy Ghost which begets Christ in us. The sense of the presence is a super-added gift for which we give thanks when it comes, and that’s all about it.

From The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Volume III

Thursday, August 18, 2016

The supreme vice

If anyone thinks that Christians regard unchastity as the supreme vice, he is quite wrong. The sins of the flesh are bad, but they are the least bad of all sins. All the worst pleasures are purely spiritual: the pleasure of putting other people in the wrong, of bossing and patronising and spoiling sport, and back-biting, the pleasures of power, of hatred. For there are two things inside me, competing with the human self which I must try to become. They are the Animal self, and the Diabolical self. The Diabolical self is the worse of the two. That is why a cold, self-righteous prig who goes regularly to church may be far nearer to hell than a prostitute. But, of course, it is better to be neither.

From Mere Christianity by C S Lewis

Monday, August 08, 2016

Living in the present

Jesus said,] "But now tell me, where do you spend most of your time in your mind, in your imagination: in the present, in the past, or in the future?”

Mack thought for a moment before answering. “I suppose I would have to say that I spend very little time in the present. I spend a big piece in the past, but most of the rest of the time, I am trying to figure out the future.” 

“Not unlike most people. When I dwell with you, I do so in the present—I live in the present. Not the past, although much can be remembered and learned by looking back, but only for a visit, not an extended stay. And for sure, I do not dwell in the future you visualize or imagine. Mack, do you realize that your imagination of the future, which is almost always dictated by fear of some kind, rarely, if ever, pictures me there with you?” 

Again Mack stopped and thought. It was true. He spent a lot of time fretting and worrying about the future, and in his imagination it was usually pretty gloomy and depressing, if not outright horrible. And Jesus was also correct in saying that in Mack’s thoughts of the future, God was always absent. “Why do I do that?” asked Mack. 

“It is your desperate attempt to get some control over something you can’t. It is impossible for you to take power over the future because it isn’t even real, nor will it ever be real. You try to play God, imagining the evil that you fear becoming reality, and then you try to make plans and contingencies to avoid what you fear.”

From The Shack, by William P Young

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Remember the signs

But long before she had got anywhere near the edge, the voice behind her said, “Stand still. In a moment I will blow. But, first, remember, remember, remember the signs. Say them to yourself when you wake in the morning and when you lie down at night, and when you wake in the middle of the night. And whatever strange things may happen to you, let nothing turn your mind from following the signs.

And secondly, I give you a warning. Here on the mountain I have spoken to you clearly: I will not often do so down in Narnia. Here on the mountain, the air is clear and your mind is clear; as you drop down into Narnia, the air will thicken. Take great care that it does not confuse your mind.

And the signs which you have learned here will not look at all as you expect them to look, when you meet them there. That is why it is so important to know them by heart and pay no attention to appearances. Remember the signs and believe the signs. Nothing else matters. And now, daughter of Eve, farewell—”

From The Silver Chair by C S Lewis

Friday, July 29, 2016

Rejoicing over answered prayer

TO MARY WILLIS SHELBURNE: On rejoicing over answered prayer; and on our prayers being God’s prayers.

C. S. Lewis

6 November 1953

Oh I am glad, I am glad. And here’s a thing worth recording. Of course I have been praying for you daily, as always, but latterly have found myself doing so with much more concern and especially about 2 nights ago, with such a strong feeling how very nice it would be, if God willed, to get a letter from you with good news. And then, as if by magic (indeed it is the whitest magic in the world) the letter comes to-day. Not (lest I should indulge in folly) that your relief had not in fact occurred before my prayer, but as if, in tenderness for my puny faith, God moved me to pray with especial earnestness just before He was going to give me the thing. How true that our prayers are really His prayers: He speaks to Himself through us.

I am also most moved at hearing how you were supported through the period of anxiety. For one is sometimes tempted to think that if He wanted us to be as un-anxious as the lilies of the field He really might have given us a constitution more like theirs! But then when the need comes He carries out in us His otherwise impossible instructions. In fact He always has to do all the things—all the prayers, all the virtues. No new doctrine, but newly come home to me.

Friday, July 01, 2016

Speaking of sin

Neither the language of medicine nor of law is adequate substitute for the language of [sin]. Contrary to the medical model, we are not entirely at the mercy of our maladies. The choice is to enter into the practice of repentance. Contrary to the legal model, the essence of sin is not [primarily] the violation of laws but a wrecked relationship with God, one another, and the whole created order. ‘All sins are attempts to fill voids,’ wrote Simone Weil. Because we cannot stand the God-shaped hole inside of us, we try stuffing it full of all sorts of things, but only God may fill [it.] 

Barbara Brown Taylor in Speaking of Sin: the lost language of salvation, pp 57-67

Sunday, June 26, 2016

What temptation means

You may remember I said that the first step towards humility was to realise that one is proud. I want to add now that the next step is to make some serious attempt to practise the Christian virtues. A week is not enough. Things often go swimmingly for the first week. Try six weeks. By that time, having, as far as one can see, fallen back completely or even fallen lower than the point one began from, one will have discovered some truths about oneself. No man knows how bad he is till he has tried very hard to be good.

A silly idea is current that good people do not know what temptation means. This is an obvious lie. Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is. After all, you find out the strength of the German army by fighting against it, not by giving in. You find out the strength of a wind by trying to walk against it, not by lying down. A man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later. That is why bad people, in one sense, know very little about badness. They have lived a sheltered life by always giving in.

We never find out the strength of the evil impulse inside us until we try to fight it: and Christ, because He was the only man who never yielded to temptation, is also the only man who knows to the full what temptation means—the only complete realist.

From Mere Christianity, by C S Lewis

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Why keep swimming

Why do the majority of Christians doubt the literal existence of the Devil? We’re affected by the pervasive skepticism and disenchantment of our “secular age,” but it’s not just that we’re passively affected by our culture. A lot of us are actively searching for an intellectually honest and respectable faith, a faith that prizes scientific knowledge and literacy. From cutting-edge cosmology to genetics to evolutionary theory to particle physics to neuroscience, Christians want to investigate and enjoy the findings of science and integrate them with faith. But this pursuit, one I heartily approve of as a social scientist, can create tensions and raise hard and difficult questions: How does evolution fit with the book of Genesis? Or neuroscience with the belief in an immortal soul? The pursuit of a scientifically literate faith can move you deeper into doubt and increase the pressures of disenchantment.
Many scientifically literate Christians find it hard to believe in ghosts, and this skepticism affects their beliefs in other supernatural beings— angels, demons, and the Devil. Even belief in God is affected. Across the board in this secular age, doubt haunts belief, which is why many believers are drifting toward agnosticism and atheism. The tide of disenchantment is simply too strong, and faith is swept away. 

Consequently, a large part of being a scientifically engaged and literate Christian is swimming against this tide of doubt and disenchantment, and that’s exhausting. Some days it seems like it would just be easier to stop struggling, to let the tide of disenchantment take you and drift into unbelief. 

So why keep swimming? 

Because the secular age isn’t wholly characterized by disenchantment. Here and there in the secular, we encounter the transcendent, the holy, and the sacred. We encounter beauty and ugliness, love and meaning. We are skeptics, but we are also haunted by the sense that there is something more. 

As [Charles] Taylor describes it, the secular age is characterized by two cross-pressures. On the one hand is the downward pressure of skepticism and disenchantment, where the enchanted world is emptied out and all that is left is the flat, horizontal drama of human action and interaction. This is the trajectory of a Scooby-Doo episode, the journey to discover that, in the end, there are no ghosts or gods or devils. In the final analysis, at the end of the thirty-minute adventure, there are only human beings. 

But here and there in this secular age we also experience updrafts of transcendence, a pull toward the heavens. We’re interrupted by wonder and awe. We’re surprised by joy. We experience a deep-seated ache and yearning, a feeling of restlessness, a longing for home. Even in an age of particle physics and brain scans, we still bump into the magic from time to time, still experience the enchantment of the world. We’re skeptical and scientific people, yes, but we’re also haunted by the suspicion that the universe is more than the sum of its subatomic parts. 

Doubting and disenchanted Christians live at the center of these cross-pressures. We are skeptics, but we are also haunted in ways that agnostics or atheists are not. And that haunting keeps us swimming against the tide of disenchantment, keeps us tethered to faith through a restlessness and dissatisfaction with a thoroughly disenchanted world, a world ruled by the iron and deterministic laws of cause-and-effect.

From Reviving Old Scratch: Demons and the Devil for Doubters and the Disenchanted, by Richard Beck. 

Thursday, June 16, 2016

If God had willed it....

If God had willed it, each of us might have entered heaven at the moment of conversion. It was not absolutely necessary for our preparation for immortality that we should tarry here. It is possible for a man to be taken to heaven, and to be found meet to be a partaker of the inheritance of the saints in light, though he has but just believed in Jesus.

It is true that our sanctification is a long and continued process, and we shall not be perfected till we lay aside our bodies and enter within the veil; but nevertheless, had the Lord so willed it, he might have changed us from imperfection to perfection, and have taken us to heaven at once. Why then are we here? Would God keep his children out of paradise a single moment longer than was necessary? Why is the army of the living God still on the battle-field when one charge might give them the victory? Why are his children still wandering hither and thither through a maze, when a solitary word from his lips would bring them into the centre of their hopes in heaven?

The answer is--they are here that they may "live unto the Lord," and may bring others to know his love. We remain on earth as sowers to scatter good seed; as ploughmen to break up the fallow ground; as heralds publishing salvation. We are here as the "salt of the earth," to be a blessing to the world. We are here to glorify Christ in our daily life. We are here as workers for him, and as "workers together with him." Let us see that our life answereth its end. Let us live earnest, useful, holy lives, to "the praise of the glory of his grace." Meanwhile we long to be with him, and daily sing--

"My heart is with him on his throne,
And ill can brook delay;
Each moment listening for the voice,
Rise up, and come away.'"

Charles Spurgeon in Morning and Evening, from the June 10th Morning entry

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Birthday cards from God

It is quite right that you should feel that “something terrific” has happened to you (It has) and be “all glowy.” Accept these sensations with thankfulness as birthday cards from God, but remember that they are only greetings, not the real gift. I mean, it is not the sensations that are the real thing. The real thing is the gift of the Holy Spirit which can’t usually be—perhaps not ever—experienced as a sensation or emotion. The sensations are merely the response of your nervous system. Don’t depend on them. Otherwise when they go and you are once more emotionally flat (as you certainly will be quite soon), you might think that the real thing had gone too. But it won’t. It will be there when you can’t feel it. May even be most operative when you can feel it least.