Today’s Sermon

I was preaching in church today (and translating myself at the same time, since there were a lot of Americans at the service). I thought I’d share what I said here, since it touches on the Superversive Literary Movement.

Colossians 3: 22-24:

Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to curry their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.

In this passage the overall principle is clear, and we in the West are far better off than slaves, even though on a particularly bad day we might briefly forget it. We have even more reason to obey this commandment, and less reason to complain. This doesn’t make it any easier to obey, but it helps to keep things in perspective when we realise who this commandment was originally given to. If slaves are to obey their masters sincerely and in reverence for the Lord, how much more are we to do so, knowing the heavenly as well as often earthly rewards we will receive for our efforts?

It can often seem that we are toiling and toiling away at something with no positive results to show for it, or we see results, but fail to see how what we are producing is of any value, of any wider spiritual benefit. At those times it can be easy to lose hope and just go through the motions. I’d like to look at this issue from a slightly different angle, beginning with a quote from the ever-awesome C.S. Lewis:

While we are on the subject of science, let me digress or a moment. I believe that any Christian who is qualified to write a good popular book on any science may do much more by that than by any directly apologetic work. The difficulty we are up against is this. We can make people (often) attend to the Christian point of view for half an hour or so; but the moment they have gone away from our lecture or laid down our article, they are plunged back into a world where the opposite position is taken for granted. As long as that situation exists, widespread success is simply impossible. We must attack the enemy’s line of communication.

What we want is not more little books about Christianity, but more little books by Christians on other subjects — with their Christianity latent.   You can see this most easily if you look at it the other way round. Our Faith is not very likely to be shaken by any book on Hinduism. But if whenever we read an elementary book on Geology, Botany, Politics, or Astronomy, we found that its implications were Hindu, that would shake us. It is not the books written in direct defence of Materialism that make the modern man a materialist; it is the materialistic assumptions in all the other books. In the same way, it is not books on Christianity that will really trouble him. But he would be troubled if, whenever he wanted a cheap popular introduction to some science, the best work on the market was always by a Christian. The first step to the re-conversion of this country is a series, produced by Christians, which can beat the Penguin and the Thinkers Library on their own ground. Its Christianity would have to be latent, not explicit: and of course its science perfectly honest. Science twisted in the interests of apologetics would be sin and folly.

This is what I try to do as a writer, to create works that stand on their own merits alongside other books by people with very different worldviews (I leave it to the readers to decide how successful I am in that regard), while at the same time as a member of the Superversive Literary Movement to tell stories that encourage people to build rather than tear down, to persevere rather than give in to despair, to notice, value and be grateful for the beauty we see all around us in all its forms and provide glimpses of the great truths behind this universe.

This principle not only applies to books, but to every kind of useful work, every productive industry. What if whenever someone wanted to find a good handyman, a good lawyer, a good engineer, a good doctor, a good researcher, the best options available to him, the most capable, the most trustworthy, were always Christians? What effect would that have on that someone, on the society as a whole? Wouldn’t it open up tremendous new opportunities for the Good News to spread? This is the context of Peter’s instruction to the believers in his first epistle:

1 Peter 3:13-16

Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.” But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.

In the culture in which this was written, pure altruism was unheard of. If you helped someone in some way, they were then literally in your debt, since honour and shame was a much more powerful motivating force than it is today. This sometimes made people reluctant to accept help, since they didn’t know what sort of return favour would be asked of them. So when a Christian helped a stranger and didn’t want anything in return, as Jesus commanded, the recipient of that help would be suspicious. They’d think, ‘Oh, they must be holding out for something really big from me’, and this would be the opportunity for the Christian to explain that they were expecting a heavenly rather than earthly reward for their efforts. It opened up a door to share that hope.

The two greatest commandments are to love the Lord with all of our heart, soul, mind, strength and love our neighbour as ourselves. With all of our strength and our mind includes the work that we do, so it would be appropriate to say that we should love the Lord with all of our work. So let’s work on ourselves, educate ourselves, improve, become the best we can be at what we do. Let’s honour God, make his world a better place and bless others through our work.

God likes to work through us, to use us to achieve his purposes. Jesus said that he came that we may have life, and have it abundantly. Let’s be part of that abundance that God has planned for others, and through our work give them a little glimpse of the abundance that only he can give. Sometimes this will open up an opportunity to share some of His good news, other times it will be enough to simply be that blessing for others, and give them a tangible foretaste of His kingdom.

This is a great challenge, one not to be taken lightly. I’d like to close with the closing instruction Paul gave to the Phillippian church:

Phillippians 4:8

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

Why is it important to think about such things? Because what we feed our mind on forms our character, transforming us and our behaviour from the inside, so people can watch us and see the Gospel at work. If we can provide true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy things for other people to think about (as the Superversive Literary Movement tries to do), all the better.

If you want to sample some of my efforts in this regard, click on the images below:

all cover_f1_v13_frontsmall

Selected Verse - Heroes and WondersSelected Verse - Faith and Family Beyond the Mist

 

 

 

 

* After the sermon, someone came up to me to ask where I got the C.S. Lewis quote from. I had to explain that I went looking for a Czech translation of God in the Dock, in the end finding one, only to discover that it was a translation of a selection from that essay collection and the passage in question was not included. I ended up translating the passage myself together with my wife in preparation, and handed him the copy I had printed out for the sermon. For my tens of Czech readers, I provide it below:

Když už mluvíme o vědě, udělám malou odbočku. Věřím, že jakýkoliv křesťan, který je kvalifikován napsat dobrou popularni knihu z jakékoli oblasti vědy, tím dosahne daleko více než skrze čistě apologetické dílo.  Problem je v tom, že lidé budou často naslouchat křesťasnskému pohledu na věc třeba půl hodiny – ale jakmile odejdou z naší přednášky nebo odloží náš článek, jsou ponoření zpět do světa, kde se opačný postoj považuje za samozřejmost. Dokud tato situace trvá, nějaký dalekosáhlý úspech je prostě nemožný. Musime napadnout nepřítelovy komunikační kanály.

To, co chceme, není více knížek o křestanství, ale vice knížek křesťanských autorů o jiných předmetech, v nichž je křesťanství skryté, v pozadi. To lze nejlépe pochopit, když na to podivame z druhé strany. Naší vírou těžko otřese nejaká kniha o Hinduismu. Pokud bychom ale četli nějakou základní knihu o geologii, botanice, politice či astronomie, a jeji závěry by poukazovaly k hinduismu, to by námi otřáslo. Moderního člověka nedělají materialistou knihy napsané na obhajobu materialismu, ale základní materialistické předpoklady ve všech ostatnich knihách. Stejně tak nebude nijak zvlášť znepokojen knihami o křesťanství, ale bude zneklidněn, když kdykoliv bude chtít koupit levnou populárně naučnou knihu v nějakém vědním oboru, zjistí, že nejlepší dílo na trhu napsal nějaký křesťan. Prvním krokem k znovuobrácení tohoto národa je série knih napsaných křesťany, které mohou porazit sekularni alternativy na jejich vlastním hřišti. Křesťanstvi těchto knih by muselo být v pozadi, nevyslovené, a věda samozřejmě naprosto poctivá. Překrucovat vědu v zájmu apologetiky by byl hřích a pošetilost.

Superversive Guest Post: Transport and Guides from Hellish to Heavenish

Subversive Literary Movement

Today, we have a guest post by the intrepid S. Dorman

Transport and Guides from Hellish to Heavenish

pilgrimsprogress1

Without a guide, how is one to get from the city of destruction to the celestial city?  During the Middle Ages pilgrims traveled on foot (or hoof).  In John Bunyan’s work, Christian conversed with Apollyon, out of whose “belly came fire and smoke,” and whose look conveyed disdain.  But his intermittent guide was The Evangelist.  Modern characters traveled by comet or a train, and what about drones for post-modern transport? Below are some inklings of how one might be guided afoot, but first some variations on the theme of transport.

Nathaniel Hawthorne used the template of John Bunyan’s footsore progress to send himself comfortably toward his own celestial destination on the railroad. He wrote, “The engine looked more like a sort of mechanical demon that would hurry us to the infernal regions than a laudable contrivance for smoothing our way to the Celestial City.” (Hawthorne, The Celestial Railroad.)  The engineer of Hawthorne’s train is apparently Apollyon, who kept the Castle of Destruction in Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress From This World To That Which Is To Come.

Sixty years after Hawthorne’s train ride, Mark Twain sent his first person character to heaven aboard a comet cum steamship.  In Captain Stormfield’s Visit to Heaven readers are traveling through outer space along with Stormfield, hitching a ride on a comet far beyond our solar system.  Twain wrote:

In less than ten seconds that comet was just a blazing cloud of red-hot canvas.  It was piled up into the heavens clean out of sight—the old thing seemed to swell out and occupy all space; the sulphur smoke from the furnaces—oh … nobody can half describe the way it smelt.The captain of the comet had been rousted out, and he stood there in the red glare for’ard, by the mate, in his shirt-sleeves and slippers, his hair all rats’ nests and one suspender hanging, and how sick those two men did look!” Twain’s story carries the type of “backwoods fantastic” fairly even-handedly, balancing it with the comet-like steamship’s 19th C. applied science.

The-Great-Divorce

In C.S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce conveyance from hell to heaven is a flying bus.  The features of its driver, though filled with light, are a far cry from those of Apollyon.  Lewis, the traveller, saw in this driver’s face only competence, authority, and the intension to do his job.  He is one of Lewis’s “solid people” doing the work they’ve got to do. The bus and driver come from heaven itself, not the infernal regions suggested by Hawthorne’s engineer.  In his railway carriage, Hawthorne had seated himself comfortably with Mr. Smooth-it-away for a quasi-guide.  But Lewis was jostled by passengers fancying arrogance on the part of the driver while complaining that his steady competent look was offensive and unnatural.

These engines of transport suggest a progression, yet the personal is highly evident in this progress.  Will some near-future literary journey go a-droning?  No doubt some creative soul might fabricate such a journey.  Would anything be lost in the adventure, if so? The person as pilot is important to me, so it must be an artificially intelligent drone.  Not far off-topic—remember the robass in”The Quest For Saint Aquin” by Anthony Boucher? This artificially intelligent donkey was equipped with both wheels and hooves to aid over various terrains.

In the late 1600s, our first pilgrim began his journey to “The Celestial City” under his own power, on his two feet.  Being told as a dream, Bunyan’s tale of Christian is, as Hawthorne’s story, an allegory, a morality tale with allegorical names. Here now are two Inklings’ accounts of footsore travelers moving through hellish landscapes toward a celestial destination.  In these examples I usurp two stories as allegory for my theme of guides from the underworld towards an eventual celestial destination.

In CS Lewis’s The Silver Chair, Puddleglum is the literal footsore hero, a good guide through Overworld for two children who’ve been assigned by The Lordly Aslan to find Prince Rilian. Puddleglum leads the way and gives advice (albeit with negative commentary), and also becomes a saving figure in sacrificing a bit of his flesh to mesmerizing fire. However, in The Underworld they are guided by another. They’ve fallen under the earth, there encountering one of the lugubrious earthmen who commands them to journey with him, and come before the queen of the underworld. This journey through the underworld is dark with strange objects and living, sleeping things, including the gigantic Father Time. Clearly their guide is deeply melancholy, and the populace, through which they make their way, are all very unhappy.

Puddleglum

Puddleglum, as played by Tom Baker (The 4th Doctor)

One of the guided children, Jill Pole, wishes she could cheer the inhabitants, and with her friend Eustace and Puddleglum’s help, guards against becoming hysterical or unhappy herself. The underworld queen and these experiences echo the narrative of H. Rider Haggard’s novel SHE as its heroes travel to meet her inside the mountainous earth—She, the Queen who must be obeyed. CSL’s lugubrious guide is under the enchantment of the underworld queen, along with all the realm, and cannot believe in the good of anything—because her will is not to be questioned.

Once their mission is complete Puddleglum and the children emerge with the Prince into Narnia in time to witness the passing in death of King Caspian the Seafarer. Caspian had always wanted to go to the end of the world, to Aslan’s Country, but had to oversee the kingdom of Narnia instead. Jill and Eustace are so sad seeing him die that they wish to be home in our world again. But joyfully, in this allegory of traveling to the celestial realm, they find him alive again in the Country of Aslan.

There’s another Inklings’ story dealing with guidance that is worth considering. I had considered using JRRT’s story of Beren and Lúthien’s journey because the pair must go through Angband, the underworld of the First Age. Their journey ended in the beautiful afterlife haven of Mandos before their return to life in Middle-earth. Though Huan was with them, still this episode had no guide. The best hell-land guide in a Tolkien story, I find, is the one in which Gollum guides Frodo and Sam through hellish Mordor, beginning on its outskirts. This pathetic, small and malicious guide, along with their horrendous journey, are so familiar to Tolkien readers that I will not recount it here. The demented Gollum has great stamina, is largely unheroic but not wholly so. Gollum’s hysterical inadvertent culminating success as guide saves him from his torturing obsession, and transforms the journey for his travelers. They are found worthy to transcend Middle-earth in a vessel powered by the Winds of Manwë, gaining life in the (Celestial) West and healing from all hurts of Middle-earth and hell (Mordor).

CS Lewis provides us with the most heroic guides in this thematic grouping. One is simply going about his business in a competent and conscientious manner; the other, though negative and depressing, is nonetheless of the heroic and sacrificial type. But in all these tales, the heroes are those who make the journey.

Links to Fantastic Travelogue: Mark Twain and CS Lewis Talk things over in the hereafter.:

https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/fantastic-travelogue-mark/id499806859?mt=11

http://www.amazon.com/Fantastic-Travelogue-Twain-Things-Hereafter/dp/0557110602/ref=sr_1_4/188-4099058-6361428?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1444486759&sr=1-4

C.S. Lewis and his Space Trilogy

OutOfTheSilentPlanet

io9 asks why C.S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy isn’t held up as one of the great works of the Golden Age of Science Fiction. The article is worth a read.

C.S. Lewis is best known for his Narnia books, and also as one of the most powerful writers of Christian commentary of the 20th century. But he also wrote a beloved space-opera trilogy, beginning with Out of the Silent Planet. And one author argues that this book deserves to be mentioned among the great SF novels.

Over at the Inebriate Me blog at Patheos, Catholic blogger Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry has a reexmination of Lewis’ space trilogy, in which he heaps praise on the first book. “Out of the Silent Planet: this is clearly a masterpiece, and in my view it can only be as a result of prejudice that it’s not mentioned in the same breath as other towering SF classics as Foundation and Dune,” he argues.

In case you think Gobry is just being a raving Lewis fan, he doesn’t much like the Narnia books. And he is pretty scathing about the second book in Lewis’ Space Trilogy, Perelandra. He calls that book “a letdown” and adds, “If I hadn’t read the first book this one would have confirmed my prejudice of Lewis as a middlebrow auteur of thinly-disguised propaganda.”

Read the Rest

I actually love the Space Trilogy, I think all three of the books Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra and That Hideous Strength are some of the best books I have ever read. I have read a lot of C.S. Lewis’ writings, although I have never really been inspired to read The Chronicles of Narnia although I have seen a number of the TV and movie versions of them.

I think one of the reasons the Space Trilogy might not get more love is that it is truly a work deeply Christian Science Fiction and this would likely put a lot of people off. The first of the books Out of the Silent Planet tells the story of a trip to Mars but the locals on Mars call it Malacandra and it is a wonderfully told tale. If you have never read it stop what you are doing! The Audible version is fantastic. The second book, Perelandra is often criticized but I found it fascinating. It tells the story of an unfallen eden, on Venus/Perelandra that is at the crucial choice, to follow the king or fall as Earth/Thulcandra did. The final book That Hideous Strength tells of things coming to head on Earth and the Orwellian named N.I.C.E seeking control. That Hideous Strength contained one of the creepiest scenes I think I have ever read in a book. I’d recommend you read them!

Christian friendly book rating?

John C. Wright has an interesting post up that looks at the idea of a Christian friendly book rating, how suitable a book is for Christian kids, that sort of thing. I’m not really sure what I make of such an idea, especially as a formal rating system would probably not work particularly well. The suggested rating system looks something like the following

Let’s consider some possible point factors, beginning with those that would likely be more or less acceptable to most Christian parents, but are potentially indicative of religious or ideological problems:

  • contains no genuine and explicit Christian element +1
  • exhibits unconventional Christian theology +1
  • characters demonstrate disrespect for peers or parents +1
  • an animal or major character dies +1
  • contains suggestions of physical violence +1

Then there are the elements that will be objectionable to the more conservative families:

  • contains squishy Disney-style “moral” messages +2
  • contains direct descriptions of physical violence +2
  • features indirect sexual themes +2
  • contains egregious or saintly minority characters +2
  • features aggressively “pro-science” themes +2
  • contains euphemistic swearing +2

Followed by those elements to which most parents will not want to expose their children:

  • contains openly atheist characters +3
  • contains detailed and gleeful portrayals of physical violence +3
  • features PG-13 sex scenes +3
  • advocates left-liberal political or ideological positions +3
  • contains light and occasional swearing +3
  • Features emotionally devastating scene +3

And then the completely unacceptable:

  • contains openly atheist or anti-theist messages +5
  • mocks Christianity +5
  • sadistic horror and physical violence +5
  • features pornographic sex scenes or romanticizes adultery +5
  • features homosexual and other sexually deviant characters +5
  • contains a considerable quantity of vulgarities and obscenities +5

Now, it is important to keep in mind that a novel can contain absolutely every element here and still be a Christian novel. What makes a novel Christian or not depends upon its intrinsic recognition that Jesus Christ (or some fictional facsimile therein), is the Lord and Savior of Mankind.

I’m not sure this is a very good idea, and i’m surprised nobody has mocked it yet by going through the Old Testament and rating the various accounts in there. It isn’t really a good idea. I know they are trying to rate things for “kid friendliness” but it seems a somewhat bad idea to try to shield kids from everything. They will encounter this stuff eventually and better to read it with them, or read it and discuss it with them than let them read it on their own.

I’d also be interested to see how some of my favorite works by C.S Lewis stacked up on such a list like The Screwtape Letters with its correspondences between two devils and their tempting work, The Great Divorce, with its trip to hell and heaven and The Pilgrim’s Regress, with its mild sex and violence.

Have you read Mere Christianity?

Mere Christianity
by C.S. Lewis is one of those must read books, it is an excellent presentation of the basics of Christianity, cutting right to the core of what it claims and making a rigorous defense of those ideas. It is is one of those books by Lewis along with The Great Divorce and The Screwtape Letters that I read through every so often.

Mere Christianity was originally a series of radio talks that C.S Lewis delivered on the BBC during World War II. Here is a video with an accompanying doodle of the start of Mere Christianity for your viewing pleasure.

 C.S. Lewis on Transhumanism

“It is not the greatest of modern scientists who feel most sure that the object, stripped of its qualitative properties and reduced to mere quantity, is wholly real. Little scientists, and little unscientific followers of science, may think so. The great minds know very well that the object, so treated, is an artificial abstraction, that something of its reality has been lost.

From this point of view the conquest of Nature appears in a new light. We reduce things to mere Nature in order that we may ‘conquer’ them. We are always conquering Nature, because ‘Nature’ is the name for what we have, to some extent, conquered. The price of conquest is to treat a thing as mere Nature. Every conquest over Nature increases her domain. The stars do not become Nature till we can weigh and measure them: the soul does not become Nature till we can psychoanalyse her. The wresting of powers from Nature is also the surrendering of things to Nature. As long as this process stops short of the final stage we may well hold that the gain outweighs the loss. But as soon as we take the final step of reducing our own species to the level of mere Nature, the whole process is stultified, for this time the being who stood to gain and the being who has been sacrificed are one and the same.

“It is the magician’s bargain: give up our soul; get power in return.  But once our souls, that is, our selves have been given up, the power thus conferred will not belong to us.  We shall in fact be the slaves and puppets of that to which we have given our souls.

“The real objection is that if man chooses to treat himself as raw material, raw material he will be: not raw material to be manipulated, as he fondly imagined, by himself, but by mere appetite, that is, mere Nature, in the person of his de-humanized Conditioners.”

C. S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man