The Power, Privilege & Provocations of Washing Feet

“Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you?

You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.

For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.

Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.”

John 13:5, 12-17

I watched a handful of Jesus disciple’s respond to this passage last night at our Thursday Holy Week gathering.

It’s one of the most perplexing and provoking teachings of Jesus in my estimation.

It’s an act that challenges us in ways many other Christian practices do not.

-It pulls us out of our comfort zones.

-It messes with our heads.

-It crosses all kinds of lines.

-It’s dirty and awkwardly, public.

-It’s vulnerable and intimate.

-It’s a cultural tradition that we can’t seem to find an equivalent.

Yet, it’s moving to watch and experience in its genuinely humble simplicity.

There’s a sacred and subversive power that is touched in doing, that invites us to experience Jesus in a manner that helps humanize us in love.

But it cannot be forced, love is freely given and overflows gently and purposefully from one to another.

It’s a sacred act that’s profoundly important in preparing us especially to care for life as it enters the world and exits.

Loving the unlovely, the messy, the stink, the dangerously vulnerable and the dependent is a profoundly Christlike posture.

The servant…is king.

It’s a message and practice we desperately need in our culture, churches, homes and hearts.

Bunnies, Peeps and Pagan Oh My!

Every Easter there’s a need to respond to the folks who have genuine questions about the ‘origins’ of Easter celebrations. Some years I do better than others in addressing those concerns, others I poke fun, either way, I make someone mad.

You are free to believe what you want about Easter, Christmas, Mary, Adam’s Belly Button, Moon landings, the origins of the KKK, the second shooter or the duplicity of marrying “good’ with ‘Friday’ a word that comes from the goddess Frig.

Your scruples matter but they are not gospel and for most of us, they are probably rooted in the notes of a heretical hobbyhorse of some Kook, Crank or Cult, but…that’s for another post or book.

In the spirit of the gentle evangelical side-hugs, youth group backrubs and Junior High shoulder punches, I offer up some of the best advice Paul ever gave to Mr & Mrs. Persnikittey:

“One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind.” -Romans 14:5

With those few words, I offer you my theological and cultural magnum opus on the issue of the pagan roots of Easter, my poem:

The Easter Battle of 733
In 733 the hamlet of Brusselsprout was all astir, church bells clambered with fearful ferocity, the apocalypse’s rumored eve was near, for the nearby village of Dingledort was surely burning!

Hordes of menacing fluffy beasts, stampeding hedges, leaping across porches, scurrying over shuttered rooftops, zigzagging neighing ponies feet!

The night full of screeching and scratching, the battle of ‘aggedon was upon them! Flashes of yellow lightning, over-taking every hollow and hill! Talons and beaks flashing, frantic fluttering scampering, clucking the prophesied doom!

Springtime horror! Diabolical dress! Yellow as bile, green as dragon’s breath!Devilishly sweet to the taste, ancient poison of the soul.
Sister Sauerkraut wielded her broom, like gallant St. George on his steed, fighting the invading hordes hell, the furry and feathered…Mephistopheles!

Before each Easter, the diabolical tale is told, by pulpit and paper, whisper and whimper, of masses driven mad by the devil’s goad, beware the bunnies, chicks, and sweets, heed the warning of this frightening ode!

A Prayer for Missionaries

A prayer for our friends in gospel mission beyond our borders.

Jude 1:20-25
“But you, dear friends, as you build yourselves up in your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting expectantly for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ for eternal life. Have mercy on those who waver; save others by snatching them from the fire; have mercy on others but with fear, hating even the garment defiled by the flesh. Now to him who is able to protect you from stumbling and to make you stand in the presence of his glory, without blemish and with great joy, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, power, and authority before all time, now and forever. Amen.

We pray in the Holy Spirit that our friends serving beyond would be ‘built up’ in their holy faith. That they would be strong to withstand all that discourages, destabilizes and seeks to displace them from their set places of ministry and mission.

May they experience the love of God and may that love keep them in whatever ways they need to be kept, as they wait for the mercy and life of Jesus to unfold in them and through them.

We pray for the wavering among them. You know how difficult life and mission can be and how many times one wants to give up, give in or get out. Grant them stable hearts, heads and hands and feet as they regain the perspective needed to face what is before them at this time.

Grant them the joy of seeing people saved from the fires that consume them. The fires of mind, heart or flesh. The fires that burn uncontrollably and the fires that smolder, yet consume, sometimes unnoticed for a while. Save them from the fires of persecution that can break instead of build up. Save them from the fires of loss, the heart-wrenching attacks or tragedies that take from us that which we love or that which we have spent so much time investing in and building. Save them from fire merciful Lord.

Grant your workers wisdom as they work with others who are entangled in contagious matters. You know how easily we catch things that others have Lord. In Your mercy protect them from anything that could poison or pollute mind, heart or body.

Holy Spirit, 
Protect them from stumbling. Give them feet like mountain goats, able to climb seemingly unconquerable heights and able to flee trouble with quick, sure-footedness. Protect them from all the small things that seem to catch our feet when we are trying to run after You and Your promises. Keep them upright in all things Lord.

May they stand before You in joy, not perfect, but cleansed and sustained by Your grace that covers our sins, failures, faults, and fantasies and protects them from evil, in others, and in themselves.

May the end of all their lives and labor be an offering that burns eternal to the Sacred Trinity.


The Best Advice Ever…

I’m going to be your nicest buddy right now. What I’m going to do for you should cause you to send me whatever amount of money you consider an evening of your life worth.

You should curtsy to me, kiss my ring and give me the center of every cinnamon roll you ever eat from now on. You should name your next child after me, no, you should rename your current child after me.

My advice is going to be like getting Hillary prosecuted or elected depending on your political madness.

What I’m about to share with you is so important to know it’s worth going without sex for a month or as joyful as finally having it.

Trust me this is such valuable information you’d choose to get a Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tattoo above your butt crack, visible enough to create shock or awe.

Please, stop pooping, pay attention and read this carefully….don’t watch this movie. Ever.

In fact, go to your kid’s room, grab the Lego box go out to a hard floor and pour them on it. Take off your shoes, turn on a song you loathe and dance until you bleed. You need that kind of memory to prevent you from ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever giving up and hour and a half of your most precious life to this terrible movie.

Oh by the beard of Zeus heed my Apocalyptic word and banish the thought from ever coming into your brain meat. I don’t care if you’ve watched every movie available on Netflix…don’t do it. I’m talking like don’t look into the Ark of Indiana Jones level of don’t. Seriously…doooooooon’t!

Barren Wombs and Cold Marriages

Provocative thoughts on Sexuality, Marriage, Childbearing, and Contraception in the writings of C.S. Lewis

I’ve been struck by these provocative passages in the writings of C.S. Lewis regarding marriage, birth, contraception, and chastity. They touch on sensitive subjects, but I think we need to seriously think about in this culture.

In today’s Western culture morality, sexuality, marriage, biology, and gender are being reshaped by Pharoah’s magicians. The Secular State has produced increased economic hurdles to marriage and continues to prescribe anti-creation ideologies and philosophies through the Public Education System that are shaping a generation to embrace non-procreative sexualities.

Sex education is increasingly an anti-marriage, pro-contraception and abortion platform that has normalized a life of indentured servitude to self, sex, success, and money. We are living in a moment when the “civil” masks that Abortion has worn for the last decades are being proudly removed and the hideous reality of its intentions and actions are being celebrated by the deceived and the godless.

This has produced a growing mass of the brainwashed and debt-enslaved among the emerging generations, resulting in a prolonged childhood and adolescence phase going way pass what use to be considered and expected as adulthood. Too many are sidestepping the traditional life stages of maturity that used to force through necessity, men and women to grow up, support themselves and others and devote their lives to the needs and betterment of the next generation.

Colossians 2:8 warns Christians: 
See to it that nobody enslaves you with philosophy and foolish deception, which conform to human traditions and the way the world thinks and acts rather than Christ.

Lewis tackles these ‘philosophies’ in his writings from many different angles. He attempts to challenge the worldly presuppositions and conclusions of these arguments and works to equip thinking Christians with solid reasoning and truth.

We would do well to examine our own thinking regarding marriage, procreation, contraception, and abortion. Making sure that we are not passing along the same type of thinking and actions that build a type of tomorrow that undermines the Biblical values and beliefs we say we believe in.

I understand that there are sins, sorrows, and sufferings connected with many people’s personal stories. Our fears, failures or frustrations are real and require pastoral care and personal growth and healing. But the overall cultural issues must still be addressed and what is wrong or harmful has to be exposed to prevent those we love from following our own paths or falling into the trap of the enemy of their souls. If you are someone who is struggling with infertility, post-abortion trauma, sexual abuse or some other related matter, I want you to discover the healing, grace, and forgiveness of God. To be sustained by His wisdom and comfort through your trials or blossom into a satisfied life that has embraced and submitted to the limitations of His sovereignty.

These issues are discussed not to shame or exalt a reality of living that you may or may not be able to experience at this time, but are intended to equip us to escape error and thrive in life as the flourishing people God intends us to become in soul, home and community.

That Hideous Strength by C.S. Lewis:
“The Stranger mused for a few seconds; then, speaking in a slightly sing-song voice, as though he repeated an old lesson, he asked, in two Latin hexameters, the following question:

“Who is called Sulva? What road does she walk? Why is the womb barren on one side? Where are the cold marriages?”

Ransom replied, “Sulva is she whom mortals call the Moon. She walks in the lowest sphere. The rim of the world that was wasted goes through her. Half of her orb is turned toward us and shares our curse. Her other half looks to Deep Heaven; happy would be he who could cross that frontier and see the fields on her further side. On this side, the womb is barren and the marriages are cold. There dwell an accursed people, full of pride and lust. There when a young man takes a maiden in marriage, they do not lie together, but each lies with a cunningly fashioned image of the other, made to move and to be warm by devilish arts, for real flesh will not please them, they are so dainty (delicati) in their dreams of lust. Their real children they fabricate by vile arts in a secret place.”

Shortly after this, when the others in the house meet Merlin, the following discourse occurs:

… the Stranger [Merlin] was speaking and pointing at her [Jane] as he spoke.

She did not understand the words; but Dimble did, and heard Merlin saying in what seemed to him a rather strange kind of Latin:

“Sir, you have in your house the falsest lady of any at this time alive.”

And Dimble heard the Director answer him in the same language:

“Sir, you are mistaken. She is doubtless like all of us a sinner; but the woman is chaste.”

“Sir,” said Merlin, “know well that she has done in Logres [England] a thing of which no less sorrow shall come than came of ‘the stroke that Balinus struck’. For, Sir, it was the purpose of God that she and her lord should between them have begotten a child by whom the enemies should have been put out of Logres for a thousand years.”

“She is but lately married,” said Ransom. “The child may yet be born.”

“Sir,” said Merlin, “be assured that the child will never be born, for the hour of its begetting is passed. Of their own will they are barren: I did not know till now that the usages of Sulva were so common among you. For a hundred generations in two lines the begetting of this child was prepared; and unless God should rip up the work of time, such seed, and such an hour, in such a land, shall never be again.”

“Enough said,” answered Ransom. “The woman perceives that we are speaking of her.”

“It would be great charity,” said Merlin, “if you gave order that her head should be cut from her shoulders; for it is a weariness to look at her.”

…[Dimble] thrust Jane behind him and called out,

“Ransom! What in Heaven’s name is the meaning of this?”

“…And his appalling bloodthirstiness.”

“I have been startled by it myself,” said Ransom. “But after all we had no right to expect that his penal code would be that of the Nineteenth Century.”

…”The Pendragon tells me,” [Merlin] said in his unmoved voice, ” that you accuse me for a fierce and cruel man. It is a charge I never heard before. A third part of my substance I gave to widows and poor men. I never sought the death of any but felons and heathen Saxons. As for the woman, she may live for me. I am not Master in this house. But would it be such a great matter if her head were struck off?”

Two chapters later, Merlin is asking if they can’t enlist the Christian kings and knights of the day in their fight against “That Hideous Strength,” and Ransom informs him, quite prophetically, of our present reality:

Ransom shook his head. “You do not understand,” he said, “The poison was brewed in these West lands but it has spat itself everywhere by now. However far you went you would find the machines, the crowded cities, the empty thrones, the false writings, the barren beds; men maddened with false promises and soured with true miseries, worshipping the iron works of their own hands, cut off from the Earth their mother and from the Father in Heaven. You might go East so far that East become West and you returned to Britain across the great Ocean, but even so you would not have come out anywhere into the light. The shadow of one dark wing is over all Tellus.”

“Is it then the end?” asked Merlin.

The Pilgrim’s Regress by C.S. Lewis:
Mr. Sensible:
“That wild impulse must be tasted, not obeyed. The bees have stings, but we rob them of their honey. To hold all that urgent sweetness to our lips in the cup of one perfect moment, missing no faintest ingredient in the flavour of its µονόχρονος ἡδονή(fleeting pleasure), yet ourselves, in a sense, unmoved—this is the true art. This tames in the service of the reasonable life even those pleasures whose loss might seem to be the heaviest, yet necessary, price we paid for rationality. Is it an audacity to hint that for the corrected palate the taste of the draught even owes its last sweetness to the knowledge that we have wrested it from an unwilling source? To cut off pleasures from the consequences and conditions which they have by nature, detaching, as it were, the precious phrase from its irrelevant context, is what distinguishes the man from the brute and the citizen from the savage.

I cannot join with those moralists who inveigh(vigorously denounce) against the Roman emetics* in their banquets: still less with those who would forbid the even more beneficent contraceptive devices of our later times. That man who can eat as taste, not nature, prompts him and yet fear no aching belly, or who can indulge in Venus and fear no impertinent bastard, is a civilized man. In him I recognize Urbanity—the note of the centre.’

[Roman emetics: It has been traditionally believed that the Romans would eat to excess, purge themselves, and then eat again. By approving of Roman emetics and modern contraceptives, Mr. Sensible suggests that one may seek physical pleasure without bearing the natural consequences.]

Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis, p. 49:
“Chastity is the most unpopular of the Christian virtues. There is no getting away from it: the old 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. But I have other reasons for thinking so. The biological purpose of sex is children, just as the biological purpose of eating is to repair the body. Now if we eat whenever we feel inclined and just as much as we want, it is quite true that most of us will eat too much: but not terrifically too much. One man may eat enough for two, but he does not eat enough for ten. The appetite goes a little beyond its biological purpose, but not enormously. But if a healthy young man indulged his sexual appetite whenever he felt inclined, and if each act produced a baby, then in ten years he might easily populate a small village. This appetite is in ludicrous and preposterous excess of its function.”

So Who was “Balinus” and what was “the stroke that Balinus struck?Balinus (Balin) was a would-be knight of King Arthur’s Court. At one point in the legend, he sets out to avenge a man slain by an invisible knight traveling under his protection. The villain turns out to be the brother of the Grail King Pellam, and Balin kills him at a feast in Pellam’s castle. Pellam goes to avenge his brother, shattering one of Balin’s swords. Balin then goes from room to room in the castle to find another weapon. Though a voice warns him not to, he enters the room where the Holy Grail and the lance used to pierce our Lord was kept. Balin seizes the lance and runs the weapon through both of Pellam’s thighs. This “Dolorous Stroke” maims Pellam, and turns the Grail kingdom of Logres into a barren land for years to come – the curse for using this sacred spear as a weapon.

Charles Spurgeon on Salt vs Honey Preachers

Leviticus 2:11-13

“Do not use yeast in preparing any of the grain offerings you present to the Lord, because no yeast or honey may be burned as a special gift presented to the Lord. You may add yeast and honey to an offering of the first crops of your harvest, but these must never be offered on the altar as a pleasing aroma to the Lord. Season all your grain offerings with salt to remind you of God’s eternal covenant. Never forget to add salt to your grain offerings.”

I bade you note that you were not allowed to present honey before the Lord. I really wish that some of our brethren who are over-done with honey would notice that.

There is a kind of molasses godliness which I can never stomach. It is always, “Dear this,” and “Dear that,” and “Dear the other” and “This dear man,” and “That dear woman.”

There is also a kind of honey-drop talk in which a person never speaks the plain truth. He speaks as familiarly as if he knew all about you, and would lay down his life for you, though he has never set eyes on you before, and would not give you a halfpenny to save your life.

These people avoid rebuking sin, for that is “unkind.” They avoid denouncing error, they say, “This dear brother’s views differ slightly from mine.” A man says that black is white, and I say that it is not so. But it is not kind to say, “It is not so.” You should say, “Perhaps you are right, dear brother, though I hardly think so.”

In this style some men think that our sacrifice is to be offered. If they hear a sermon that cuts at the roots of sin, and deals honestly with error, they say, “That man is very narrow-minded.”

Well, I have been so accustomed to be called a bigot that I by no means deny the charge. I feel no horror because of the accusation. To tell a man that, if he goes on in his sin, he will be lost forever, and to preach to him the hell which God denounces against the impenitent, is no unkindness. It is the truest kindness to deal honestly with men.

If the surgeon knows very well that a person has a disease about him that requires the knife, and he only says, “It is a mere trifle: I dare say that with a little medicine and a pill or two we may cure you,” a simpleton may say, “What a dear kind man!”

But a wise man judges otherwise. He is not kind, for he is a liar. If, instead of that, he says “My dear friend, I am very sorry, but I must tell you that this mischief must be taken out by the roots, and painful as the operation is, I beg you to summon courage to undergo it, for it must be done if your life is to be saved.”

That is a very unpleasant kind of person, and a very narrow-minded and bigoted person, but he is the man for us.

He uses salt, and God accepts him, the other man uses honey, and God will have nothing to do with him. When honey comes to the fire, it turns sour.

All this pretended sweetness, when it comes to the test, turns sour, there is no real love in it. But the salt, which is sharp, and when it gets into the wound makes it tingle, nevertheless does sound service.”

On the Heaviness of Words

As a pastor these days there’s such a strong temptation to provide only the tickle and never the terror from the pulpit. To be serious or impassioned in any manner that doesn’t produce ease, laughter or a general sense of wellbeing when exiting church, leaves one vulnerable to the charge of being too hard, harsh or heavy.

To be ‘un’-loving…is one of the worst accusations today, it is the postmodern’s anathema and I see people bowing to its emotional inquisition all around me from pulpit to pew.

Sometimes I grow weary of the weight of His words within me. I would wish at times to trade the terror for the tickle if I could. To quench the fires within that burn hot to a reality of fire looming on the edges of eternity but as of yet, by God’s grace, I can’t.

I stand as an outsider, not willingly, not wishfully, not out of pleasure, but out of the conviction of a truth that the times are infusing a soul-numbing, cultural chloroform, rendering on the masses a powerful delusion that exalts the Self as Jehovah and Christ as Beelzebub.

The aversion to any manner of witness that deviates from the smooth jazz of this present darkness is audible in the growl and bark of the agitated assembly.

The Pulpit as forge has been replaced with the Massage therapist’s couch. The fire has been cooled, the hammer silent, the anvil no longer sparks and the quality of steel is evident by the conquered of Christendom.

In the theater of today’s churchianity I am prone to think I am in a fever of my own making, lulled to lighten the mood, brighten the lights and replace the drum for the harp, until…I hear the voices of the dead.

Thank God for the pen that writes with Lazarus ink, it’s words blow away the clouds of confusion, conformity, and complacency and in its fresh breeze, I am brought back to my senses.

On the Heaviness of Words…from Homily 6 on Philippians by John Chrysostom (349-407)

“I know that many hear me say these things with pain, and indeed it is not without pain I say them. But why need I say these things? I could wish the things concerning the kingdom to be ever my discourse, of the rest, of the waters of rest, of the green pastures, as the Scripture says, He makes me to lie down in green pastures, He leads me beside the still waters Psalm 23:2, there He makes me to dwell.

I could wish to speak of the place, whence sorrow and sighing shall flee away. Isaiah 51:11, I could wish to discourse of the pleasures of being with Christ, though they pass all expression and all understanding. Yet would I speak of these things according to my power.

But what shall I do? It is not possible to speak concerning a kingdom to one that is diseased and in fever; then we must needs speak of health. It is not possible to speak of honor to one that is brought to trial, for at that time his desire is that he be freed from judgment, and penalty, and punishment. If this be not effected, how shall the other be?

It is for this cause that I am continually speaking of these things, that we may the sooner pass over to those other. For this cause does God threaten hell, that none may fall into hell, that we all may obtain the kingdom; for this cause we too make mention continually of hell, that we may thrust you onward towards the kingdom, that when we have softened your minds by fear, we may bring you to act worthily of the kingdom.

Be not then displeased at the heaviness of our words, for the heaviness of these words lightens our souls from sin. Iron is heavy, and the hammer is heavy, but it forms vessels fit for use, both of gold and silver, and straightens things which are crooked; and if it were not heavy, it would have no power to straighten the distorted substance.

Thus too our heavy speech has power to bring the soul into its proper tone. Let us not then flee from heaviness of speech, nor the strokes it gives; the stroke is not given that it may break in pieces or tear the soul, but to straighten it.

We know how we strike, how by the grace of God we inflict the stroke, so as not to crush the vessel, but to polish it, to render it straight, and meet for the Master’s use, to offer it glittering in soundness, skillfully wrought against that Day of the river of fire, to offer it having no need of that burning pile.”

True & False Love

William Vanstone wrote a book, now out of print, that included an interesting chapter called “The Phenomenology of Love.” All human beings, he says—even people who from childhood were deprived of love—know the difference between false and true love, fake and authentic love.

Here’s the difference, Vanstone says. In false love your aim is to use the other person to fulfill your happiness. Your love is conditional: You give it only as long as the person is affirming you and meeting your needs. And it’s nonvulnerable: You hold back so that you can cut your losses if necessary.

But in true love, your aim is to spend yourself and use yourself for the happiness of the other, because your greatest joy is that person’s joy. Therefore your affection is unconditional: You give it regardless of whether your loved one is meeting your needs. And it’s radically vulnerable: You spend everything, hold nothing back, give it all away.

Then Vanstone says, surprisingly, that our real problem is that nobody is actually fully capable of giving true love. We want it desperately, but we can’t give it. He doesn’t say we can’t give any kind of real love at all, but he’s saying that nobody is fully capable of true love.

All of our love is somewhat fake. How so? Because we need to be loved like we need air and water. We can’t live without love. That means there’s a certain mercenary quality to our relationships. We look for people whose love would really affirm us. We invest our love only where we know we’ll get a good return. Of course when we do that, our love is conditional and nonvulnerable, because we’re not loving the person simply for himself or herself; we’re loving the person partly for the love we’re getting.

Obviously there are healthy people and unhealthy people; some are more able to love than others. But at the core Vanstone is right: Nobody can give anyone else the kind or amount of love they’re starved for. In the end we’re all alike, groping for true love and incapable of fully giving it. What we need is someone to love us who doesn’t need us at all. Someone who loves us radically, unconditionally, vulnerably.

Someone who loves us just for our sake. If we received that kind of love, that would so assure us of our value, it would so fill us up, that maybe we could start to give love like that too. Who can give love with no need? Jesus.

Keller, Timothy. Jesus the King: Understanding the Life and Death of the Son of God (pp. 106-107). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

What Does Jesus Mean By Losing Ourselves?

Mark 8:34-35

“And Jesus summoned the crowd with His disciples, and said to them, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it.”

C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity, chapter 11

To become new men means losing what we now call “ourselves.” Out of ourselves, into Christ, we must go. His will is to become ours and we are to think His thoughts, to “have the mind of Christ” as the Bible says. And if Christ is one, and if He is thus to be “in” us all, shall we not be exactly the same? It certainly sounds like it; but in fact it is not so.

Suppose a person who knew nothing about salt. You give him a pinch to taste and he experiences a particular strong, sharp taste. You then tell him that in your country people use salt in all their cookery.

Might he not reply “In that case I suppose all your dishes taste exactly the same: because the taste of that stuff you have just given me is so strong that it will kill the taste of everything else.

But you and I know that the real effect of salt is exactly the opposite. So far from killing the taste of the egg and the tripe and the cabbage, it actually brings it out. They do not show their real taste till you have added the salt. (Of course, as I warned you, this is not really a very good illustration, because you can, after all, kill the other tastes by putting in too much salt, whereas you cannot kill the taste of a human personality by putting in too much Christ. I am doing the best I can.)

It is something like that with Christ and us. The more we get what we now call “ourselves” out of the way and let Him take us over, the more truly ourselves we become. There is so much of Him that millions and millions of “little Christs,” all different, will still be too few to express Him fully. He made them all. He invented — as an author invents characters in a novel — all the different men that you and I were intended to be.

In that sense, our real selves are all waiting for us in Him. It is no good trying to “be myself ” without Him. The more I resist Him and try to live on my own, the more I become dominated by my own heredity and upbringing and surroundings and natural desires. In fact what I so proudly call “Myself” becomes merely the meeting place for trains of events which I never started and which I cannot stop. What I call “My wishes” become merely the desires thrown up by my physical organism or pumped into me by other men’s thoughts or even suggested to me by devils….

I am not, in my natural state, nearly so much of a person as I like to believe: most of what I call “me” can be very easily explained. It is when I turn to Christ, when I give myself up to His Personality, that I first begin to have a real personality of my own.

At the beginning, I said there were Personalities in God. I will go further now. There are no real personalities anywhere else. Until you have given up your self to Him you will not have a real self. Sameness is to be found most among the most “natural” men, not among those who surrender to Christ.

But there must be a real giving up of the self. You must throw it away “blindly” so to speak. Christ will indeed give you a real personality: but you must not go to Him for the sake of that. As long as your own personality is what you are bothering about you are not going to Him at all. The very first step is to try to forget about the self altogether. Your real, new self (which is Christ’s and also yours, and yours just because it is His) will not come as long as you are looking for it. It will come when you are looking for Him.

Give up your self, and you will find your real self. Lose your life and you will save it. Submit to death, death of your ambitions and favorite wishes every day and death of your whole body in the end: submit with every fiber of your being, and you will find eternal life. Keep back nothing.

Nothing that you have not given away will ever be really yours. Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him, everything else thrown in.”

A Defence of Penny-Dreadfuls By G.K. Chesterton (1901)

[Penny dreadfuls were cheap popular serial literature produced during the nineteenth century in the United Kingdom. The pejorative term is roughly interchangeable with penny horrible, penny awful, and penny blood. The term typically referred to a story published in weekly parts, each costing one penny.]

“One of the strangest examples of the degree to which ordinary life is undervalued is the example of popular literature, the vast mass of which we contentedly describe as vulgar. The boy’s novelette may be ignorant in a literary sense, which is only like saying that modern novel is ignorant in the chemical sense, or the economic sense, or the astronomical sense; but it is not vulgar intrinsically–it is the actual center of a million flaming imaginations.

In former centuries the educated class ignored the ruck of vulgar literature. They ignored, and therefore did not, properly speaking, despise it. Simple ignorance and indifference does not inflate the character with pride. A man does not walk down the street giving a haughty twirl to his mustaches at the thought of his superiority to some variety of deep-sea fishes. The old scholars left the whole underworld of popular compositions in a similar darkness.

Today, however, we have reversed this principle. We do despise vulgar compositions, and we do not ignore them. We are in some danger of becoming petty in our study of pettiness; there is a terrible Circean law in the background that if the soul stoops too ostentatiously to examine anything it never gets up again.

There is no class of vulgar publications about which there is, to my mind, more utterly ridiculous exaggeration and misconception than the current boys’ literature of the lowest stratum. This class of composition has presumably always existed, and must exist. It has no more claim to be good literature than the daily conversation of its readers to be fine oratory, or the lodging-houses and tenements they inhabit to be sublime architecture. But people must have conversation, they must have houses, and they must have stories.

The simple need for some kind of ideal world in which fictitious persons play an unhampered part is infinitely deeper and older than the rules of good art, and much more important. Every one of us in childhood has constructed such an invisible dramatis personae, but it never occurred to our nurses to correct the composition by careful comparison with Balzac.

In the East the professional story-teller goes from village to village with a small carpet; and I wish sincerely that anyone had the moral courage to spread that carpet and sit on it in Ludgate Circus. But it is not probable that all the tales of the carpet-bearer are little gems of original artistic workmanship.

Literature and fiction are two entirely different things. Literature is a luxury; fiction is a necessity.

A work of art can hardly be too short, for its climax is its merit. A story can never be too long, for its conclusion is merely to be deplored, like the last halfpenny or the last pipelight. And so, while the increase of the artistic conscience tends in more ambitious works to brevity and impressionism, voluminous industry still marks the producer of the true romantic trash. There was no end to the ballads of Robin Hood; there is no end to the volumes about Dick Deadshot and the Avenging Nine. These two heroes are deliberately conceived as immortal.

But instead of basing all discussion of the problem upon the common-sense recognition of this fact–that the youth of the lower orders always has had and always must have formless and endless romantic reading of some kind, and then going on to make provision for its wholesomeness– we begin, generally speaking, by fantastic abuse of this reading as a whole and indignant surprise that the errand-boys under discussion do not read The Egoist and The Master Builder.

It is the custom, particularly among magistrates, to attribute half the crimes of the Metropolis to cheap novelettes. If some grimy urchin runs away with an apple, the magistrate shrewdly points out that the child’s knowledge that apples appease hunger is traceable to some curious literary researches. The boys themselves, when penitent, frequently accuse the novelettes with great bitterness, which is only to be expected from young people possessed of no little native humor. If I had forged a will, and could obtain sympathy by tracing the incident to the influence of Mr. George Moore’s novels, I should find the greatest entertainment in the diversion.

At any rate, it is firmly fixed in the minds of most people that gutter-boys, unlike everybody else in the community, find their principal motives for conduct in printed books.

Now it is quite clear that this objection, the objection brought by magistrates, has nothing to do with literary merit. Bad story writing is not a crime. Mr. Hall Caine walks the streets openly, and cannot be put in prison for an anticlimax. The objection rests upon the theory that the tone of the mass of boys’ novelettes is criminal and degraded, appealing to low cupidity and low cruelty. This is the magisterial theory, and this is rubbish.

So far as I have seen them, in connection with the dirtiest book-stalls in the poorest districts, the facts are simply these: the whole bewildering mass of vulgar juvenile literature is concerned with adventures, rambling, disconnected, and endless.

It does not express any passion of any sort, for there is no human character of any sort. It runs eternally in certain grooves of local and historical type: the medieval knight, the eighteenth-century duellist, and the modern cowboy recur with the same stiff simplicity as the conventional human figures in an Oriental pattern. I can quite as easily imagine a human being kindling wild appetites by the contemplation of his Turkey carpet as by such dehumanized and naked narrative as this.

Among these stories there are a certain number which deal sympathetically with the adventures of robbers, outlaws, and pirates, which present in a dignified and romantic light thieves and murderers like Dick Turpin and Claude Duval. That is to say, they do precisely the same thing as Scott’s Ivanhoe, Scott’s Rob Roy, Scott’s Lady of the Lake, Byron’s Corsair, Wordsworth’s Rob Roy’s Grave, Stevenson’s Macaire, Mr. Max Pemberton’s Iron Pirate, and a thousand more works distributed systematically as prizes and Christmas presents.

Nobody imagines that an admiration of Locksley in Ivanhoe will lead a boy to shoot Japanese arrows at the deer in Richmond Park; no one thinks that the incautious opening of Wordsworth at the poem on Rob Roy will set him up for life as a blackmailer. In the case of our own class, we recognize that this wild life is contemplated with pleasure by the young, not because it is like their own life, but because it is different from it. It might at least cross our minds that, for whatever other reason the errand-boy reads The Red Revenge, it really is not because he is dripping with the gore of his own friends and relatives.

In this matter, as in all such matters, we lose our bearings entirely by speaking of the “lower classes” when we mean humanity minus ourselves.

This trivial romantic literature is not especially plebeian: it is simply human. The philanthropist can never forget classes and callings. He says, with a modest swagger, “I have invited twenty-five factory hands to tea.” If he said, “I have invited twenty-five chartered accountants to tea,” every one would see the humor of so simple a classification. But this is what we have done with this lumberland of foolish writing: we have probed, as if it were some monstrous new disease, what is, in fact, nothing but the foolish and valiant heart of man.

Ordinary men will always be sentimentalists: for a sentimentalist is simply a man who has feelings and does not trouble to invent a new way of expressing them.

These common and current publications have nothing essentially evil about them. They express the sanguine and heroic truisms on which civilization is built; for it is clear that unless civilization is built on truisms, it is not built at all. Clearly, there could be no safety for a society in which the remark by the Chief Justice that murder was wrong was regarded as an original and dazzling epigram.

If the authors and publishers of Dick Deadshot, and such remarkable works, were suddenly to make a raid upon the educated class, were to take down the names of every man, however distinguished, who was caught at a University Extension Lecture, were to confiscate all our novels and warn us all to correct our lives, we should he seriously annoyed. Yet they have far more right to do so than we; for they, with all their idiocy, are normal and we are abnormal. It is the modern literature of the educated, not of the uneducated, which is avowedly and aggressively criminal. Books recommending profligacy and pessimism, at which the high-souled errand-boy would shudder, lie upon all our drawing-room tables.

If the dirtiest old owner of the dirtiest old bookstall in Whitechapel dared to display works really recommending polygamy or suicide, his stock would be seized by the police. These things are our luxuries.

And with a hypocrisy so ludicrous as to be almost unparalleled in history, we rate the gutter-boys for their immorality at the very time that we are discussing (with equivocal German professors) whether morality is valid at all.

At the very instant that we curse the Penny Dreadful for encouraging thefts upon property, we canvass the proposition that all property is theft.

At the very instant we accuse it (quite unjustly) of lubricity and indecency, we are cheerfully reading philosophies which glory in lubricity and indecency.

At the very instant that we charge it with encouraging the young to destroy life, we are placidly discussing whether life is worth preserving.

But it is we who are the morbid exceptions; it is we who are the criminal class. This should be our great comfort.

The vast mass of humanity, with their vast mass of idle books and idle words, have never doubted and never will doubt that courage is splendid, that fidelity is noble, that distressed ladies should be rescued, and vanquished enemies spared. There are a large number of cultivated persons who doubt these maxims of daily life, just as there are a large number of persons who believe they are the Prince of Wales; and I am told that both classes of people are entertaining conversationalists.

But the average man or boy writes daily in these great gaudy diaries of his soul, which we call Penny Dreadfuls, a plainer and better gospel than any of those iridescent ethical paradoxes that the fashionable change as often as their bonnets.

It may be a very limited aim in morality to shoot a “many faced and fickle traitor,” but at least it is a better aim than to be a many-faced and fickle traitor, which is a simple summary of a good many modern systems from Mr. d’Annunzio’s downwards.

So long as the coarse and thin texture of mere current popular romance is not touched by a paltry culture it will never be vitally immoral. It is always on the side of life. The poor–the slaves who really stoop under the burden of life– have often been mad, scatter-brained, and cruel, but never hopeless. That is a class privilege, like cigars. Their driveling literature will always be a “blood and thunder” literature, as simple as the thunder of heaven and the blood of men.”