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.”

Jane and the Four Women of Womanhood in ‘That Hideous Strength’ by C.S. Lewis

“When Jane left the hill-top village of St. Anne’s and came down to the station she found that, even down there, the fog had begun to lift. Great windows had opened in it, and as the train carried her on it passed repeatedly through pools of afternoon sunlight.

During this journey, she was so divided against herself that one might say there were three, if not four, Janes in the compartment.

The first was a Jane simply receptive of the Director(spiritual figure), recalling every word and every look, and delighting in them — a Jane taken utterly off her guard, shaken out of the modest little outfit of contemporary ideas which had hitherto made her portion of wisdom, and swept away on the flood tide of an experience which she did not understand and could not control. For she was trying to control it; that was the function of the second Jane.

This second Jane regarded the first with disgust, as the kind of woman, in fact, whom she had always particularly despised. Once, coming out of a cinema, she had heard a little shop girl say to her friend, “Oh, wasn’t he lovely! If he’d looked at me the way he looked at her, I’d have followed him to the end of the world.” A little, tawdry, made-up girl, sucking a peppermint.

Whether the second Jane was right in equating the first Jane with that girl, may be questioned, but she did. And she found her intolerable. To have surrendered without terms at the mere voice and look of this stranger, to have abandoned (without noticing it) that prim little grasp on her own destiny, that perpetual reservation, which she thought essential to her status as a grownup, integrated, intelligent person… the thing was utterly degrading, vulgar, uncivilized.

The third Jane was a new and unexpected visitant. Of the first, there had been traces in girlhood, and the second was what Jane took to be her “real” or normal self. But the third one, this moral Jane, was one whose existence she had never suspected. Risen from some unknown region of grace or heredity, it uttered all sorts of things which Jane had often heard before but which had never, till that moment, seemed to be connected with real life. If it had simply told her that her feelings about the Director were wrong, she would not have been very surprised, and would have discounted it as the voice of tradition.

But it did not. It kept on blaming her for not having similar feelings about Mark(her husband). It kept on pressing into her mind those new feelings about Mark, feelings of guilt and pity, which she had first experienced in the Director’s room. It was Mark who had made the fatal mistake; she must, must, must be “nice” to Mark.

The Director obviously insisted on it. At the very moment when her mind was most filled with another man there arose, clouded with some undefined emotion, a resolution to give Mark much more than she had ever given him before, and a feeling that in so doing she would be really giving it to the Director.

And this produced in her such a confusion of sensations that the whole inner debate became indistinct and flowed over into the larger experience of the fourth Jane, who was Jane herself and dominated all the rest at every moment without effort and even without choice.

This fourth and supreme Jane was simply in the state of joy. The other three had no power upon her, for she was in the sphere of Jove, amid light and music and festal pomp, brimmed with life and radiant in health, jocund and clothed in shining garments. She thought scarcely at all of the curious sensations which had immediately preceded the Director’s dismissal of her and made that dismissal almost a relief. When she tried to, it immediately led her thoughts back to the Director himself.

Whatever she tried to think of led back to the Director himself and, in him, to joy. She saw from the windows of the train the outlined beams of sunlight pouring over stubble or burnished woods and felt that they were like the notes of a trumpet. Her eyes rested on the rabbits and cows as they flitted by and she embraced them in heart with merry, holiday love.

She delighted in the occasional speech of the one wizened old man who shared her compartment and saw, as never before, the beauty of his shrewd and sunny old mind, sweet as a nut and English as a chalk down. She reflected with surprise how long it was since music had played any part in her life, and resolved to listen to many chorales by Bach on the gramophone that evening. Or else — perhaps — she would read a great many Shakespeare sonnets.

She rejoiced also in her hunger and thirst and decided that she would make herself buttered toast for tea — a great deal of buttered toast. And she rejoiced also in the consciousness of her own beauty; for she had the sensation — it may have been false in fact, but it had nothing to do with vanity — that it was growing and expanding like a magic flower with every minute that passed.

In such a mood it was only natural after the old countryman had got out at Cure Hardy, to stand up and look at herself in the mirror which confronted her on the wail of the compartment. Certainly, she was looking well: she was looking unusually well. And, once more, there was little vanity in this. For beauty was made for others.

Her beauty belonged to the Director. It belonged to him so completely that he could even decide not to keep it for himself but to order that it be given to another, by an act of obedience lower, and therefore higher, more unconditional and therefore more delighting, than if he had demanded it for himself.”

(Art by Michelle Ishihara)

Pro-Abortion Advocates celebrate a victory in New York

“The #ReproductiveHealthAct is now law in New York State. We lit the spire pink to celebrate.” -Mayor Cuomo of New York

More Black Babies in New York City are Killed in Abortions Than Born Alive in New York City. (https://bit.ly/2FZ7nnX)

According to the New York State Department of Health, over 25 percent of pregnancies end in abortion in the state of New York each year.

Unless you’ve had your head in the sand, you’ve probably heard that New York passed a diabolical new pro-Abortion law.

The new law, called the Reproductive Health Act, includes these measures:

  • “Every individual who becomes pregnant has the fundamental right to choose to carry the pregnancy to term, to give birth to a child, or to have an abortion, pursuant to this article.”


• The legalization of abortion after 24 weeks. The law stipulates that third-trimester abortions should only take place for the health of the mother, a broad definition under Supreme Court precedent that applies to almost anything, including emotional health. New York’s previous law criminalized abortion after 24 weeks.

• The legalization of abortions performed by health practitioners other than doctors.

• The removal of abortion entirely from the criminal code. If a health practitioner botched an abortion or injured a woman, he or she would be held liable under the health law rather than the criminal code. A second-degree abortion, where an abortion is performed without the mother’s consent, is removed from the criminal code. That also means that if an abusive man assaulted his pregnant spouse, causing the death of the baby, he would only be held liable for the violence to the mother. Under previous law, someone who murdered a pregnant woman faced homicide charges for both the mother and the baby, which is no longer the case.

• A medical examiner is no longer allowed to investigate a death caused by “suspected criminal abortion.”

• The law defines abortion as a “right,” whereas before it was merely legal in New York.

Much of the news coverage described the law as “codifying Roe v. Wade,” a talking point from pro-abortion groups. Those groups had raised the specter of the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Roe as impetus to pass the bill. But New York legalized abortion in 1970, so it would still be legal in the state if the Supreme Court overturned Roe. This new law goes further by enshrining abortion as a “right.”

-Abortion expansion in New York | WORLD News Group
(https://bit.ly/2CI3tNc)

Pro-Abortion advocates know that the current administration is a threat to their beloved rights to end the lives of babies in the womb.

“We have a president who’s made it very, very clear that he wants to overturn Roe v. Wade,” Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins declared before the vote. “Today, here in New York, we are saying no […] and we’re not just saying no. We’re saying that here in New York, women’s health matters. We’re saying here in New York, women’s lives matter. We’re saying here in New York, women’s decisions matter.”

During the 2016 Election many religious voices and leaders tried to downplay the issues related to Abortion. Those who were voting with this issue in their top five reasons to block a Clinton Administration were ridiculed as narrow voters who couldn’t see the Forest because of all the trees. Pro-life Judicial nominations or potential rulings was a plank that was met with derogatory disdain by anti-Trump voters. The rights and lives of the unborn were not legit enough to vote for a Trump Administration. Watching the news this week has given us a glimpse of what a Clinton Administration would of given us. No Administration is perfect but in my mind and heart…babies lives matter.

Never forget Remember: A fetus was the first to rejoice at the news of Jesus. (Luke 1:41)

Further reading:

This link takes you to the Bill and notice the lines that reference changing the law. Those are the sections that have important consequences, even though they are not mentioned in detail here in the language of the Bill.

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1SFEWXZnOu29ysz1Mtq_Ypn-rVXtcze_SnfTn2CCLsxM

My Pulpit is an Operating Table.

Praying for people after sermons like Sunday’s is brutal.

I confess, I’m not a safe and predictable preacher, I go there…I don’t try to sensationalize or traumatize, but I don’t try to sanitize.

I think the reality of people’s sin and sufferings demands a gospel that touches their horror with hope and healing.

The pulpit is my operating table. It’s raw, rough, bloody and sometime involves life and death procedures.

I’m in the work of saving lives not just inspiring and giving good advise.

I’m in a chaotic and desperate emergency room…not a calm and quiet doctor’s office.

I’m a medic on the frontlines, arms deep in violence and gore trying to do work among skull shattering bullets, the ear deafening roar of the enemies opposition, and the heart breaking sobs to mama and pleas to the God over all this savage hell.

When did the churches of Jesus stop becoming places where men with devils shriek and wail and hemorrhaging women grab on to the Savior for dear life?

If I told you the confessions from the altar you’d weep and beat your chest in repentance from ever settling for pious and predictable sanctuaries.

Chesterton on Dickens: The 3 Notes of Christmas

GK Chesterton, one of Christendom’s most gifted writers, explores three ‘notes of Christmas’ in his essay: ‘Christmas Boods” in it he reflects on ‘A Christmas Caroll’ by famed author Charles Dickens. In this essay, he highlights three qualities of the story that particularly rings true to the gospel carol that gets played out in Dicken’s tale.
 
1. The first quality is what may be called the dramatic quality.
 
The happiness is not a state; it is a crisis.
All the old customs surrounding the celebration of the birth of Christ are made by human instinct so as to insist and re-insist upon this crucial quality. Everything is so arranged that the whole household may feel, if possible, as a household does when a child is actually being born in it. The thing is a vigil and a vigil with a definite limit. People sit up at night until they hear the bells ring. Or they try to sleep at night in order to see their presents the next morning. Everywhere there is a limitation, a restraint; at one moment the door is shut, at the moment after it is opened. The hour has come or it has not come; the parcels are undone or they are not undone; there is no evolution of Christmas presents. This sharp and theatrical quality in pleasure, which human instinct and the mother wit of the world has wisely put into the popular celebrations of Christmas, is also a quality which is essential in such romantic literature as Dickens wrote. In romantic literature, the hero and heroine must indeed be happy, but they must also be unexpectedly happy. This is the first connecting link between literature and the old religious feast; this is the first connecting link between Dickens and Christmas.
 
2. The Second Note is that Christmas occurs in the winter.
 
The second element to be found in all such festivity and all such romance is the element which is represented as well as it could be represented by the mere fact that Christmas occurs in the winter.
It is the element not merely of contrast, but actually of antagonism. It preserves everything that was best in the merely primitive or pagan view of such ceremonies or such banquets. If we are carousing, at least we are warriors carousing. We hang above us, as it were, the shields and battle-axes with which we must do battle with the giants of the snow and hail.
 
All comfort must be based on discomfort. Man chooses when he wishes to be most joyful the very moment when the whole material universe is most sad. It is this contradiction and mystical defiance which gives a quality of manliness and reality to the old winter feasts which is not characteristic of the sunny felicities of the Earthly Paradise. And this curious element has been carried out even in all the trivial jokes and tasks that have always surrounded such occasions as these. The object of the jovial customs was not to make everything artificially easy: on the contrary, it was rather to make everything artificially difficult.
 
Idealism is not only expressed by shooting an arrow at the stars; the fundamental principle of idealism is also expressed by putting a leg of mutton at the top of a greasy pole. There is in all such observances a quality which can be called only the quality of divine obstruction. For instance, in the game of snapdragon (that admirable occupation), the conception is that raisins taste much nicer if they are brands saved from the burning.
 
About all Christmas things, there is something a little nobler, if only nobler in form and theory, than mere comfort; even holly is prickly. It is not hard to see the connection of this kind of historic instinct with a romantic writer like Dickens. The healthy novelist must always play snapdragon with his principal characters; he must always be snatching the hero and heroine like raisins out of the fire.
 
3. The third great Christmas Note is the element of the grotesque.
 
The grotesque is the natural expression of joy; and all the Utopias and new Edens of the poets fail to give a real impression of enjoyment, very largely because they leave out the grotesque. A man in most modern Utopias cannot really be happy; he is too dignified. A man in Morris’s Earthly Paradise cannot really be enjoying himself; he is too decorative. When real human beings have real delights they tend to express them entirely in grotesques — I might almost say entirely in goblins. On Christmas Eve one may talk about ghosts so long as they are turnip ghosts. But one would not be allowed (I hope, in any decent family) to talk on Christmas Eve about astral bodies. The boar’s head of old Yule-time was as grotesque as the donkey’s head of Bottom the Weaver. But there is only one set of goblins quite wild enough to express the wild goodwill of Christmas. Those goblins are the characters of Dickens.
 
Arcadian poets and Arcadian painters have striven to express happiness by means of beautiful figures. Dickens understood that happiness is best expressed by ugly figures. In beauty, perhaps, there is something allied to sadness; certainly, there is something akin to joy in the grotesque, nay, in the uncouth. There is something mysteriously associated with happiness not only in the corpulence of Falstaff and the corpulence of Tony Weller, but even in the red nose of Bardolph or the red nose of Mr. Stiggins. A thing of beauty is an inspiration forever — a matter of meditation forever. It is rather a thing of ugliness that is strictly a joy forever.”
 
If you have an ear tuned to heaven’s gospel music, you can hear these notes that Chesterton and Dickens play in their great works of art. A Christmas Carol is a revelatory tale of a man forced to face who he is and who he needs to become. It includes the transformative power of an encounter with the world beyond and yet within our world.
 
It includes elements of miracle, mystery, and redemption wrapped up in the everyday happenings of friendships, coworkers, city people of various backgrounds and means, sad narratives, poor ones and striking examples of the grotesque, unkind and cold indifference.

I Still Believe in the Story within the Stories

The Biblical nativity story (Luke 2:1-20) is the rich and nourishing soil from which many of our cultural traditions have their roots. We are a people of the story, who’ve sought to Christianize our culture with salt and light. We believe that anything that is good, true and beautiful is at our disposal.

Philippians 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.”

The story of Christ’s birth is packed full of the seeds that have burst out of people’s consciousness in a thousand narratives. The Nativity is a tale of two worlds touching in a marvelous and malevolent cacophony of characters, wonders, miracles, and mysteries.

Through the lens of this gospel story, one can see the truths being told in our Christmas traditions.

In the blessing of our children…we see the miracle and mystery of Mary’s obedience.

In our unexpected choices, left turns, and seeming dead ends…we know of Joseph’s conundrums.

In Rome’s demands…we understand our own displacements, debts, origins and dual citizenship restraints.

In our search for home and place…we understand the humble manger on the margins of society.  

In our songs…we echo the sounds of Heaven that were announced over Bethlehem’s sleeping city, unaware of the earth changing happenings over them.

In our work shifts, late nights and mundane happenings….we identify with the lowly shepherds.

In our world of sin and suffering….we understand Herod’s madness and murder.

In our gift giving…we share in the Magi’s joy.

In our welcome of the return of light to our land…we too embrace the coming age of light of life eternal.

In our feasting, merrymaking and decked out halls….we anticipate the Kingdom of tears wiped away, people reunited and joy unspeakable and full of glory.

In our stockings packed with treasures…we re-enact the overabundance of unmerited gifts of Divine grace lavished on all who anticipate His coming.

In our Characters of Christmas…we remember the Father who always sees us, whoever knows what our heart’s desires may be and visits us wherever we may find ourselves in different chapters of our life.  

These truths are the core convictions of our Christmas celebrations, they provide a meaningful Christian apologetic for practicing our treasured cultural traditions. Don’t let a Herod, Scrooge or the Grinch steal from your heart the wonder, mystery, and joy of Christmas, if you do, you might discover a lump of coal in your stocking this year!

A Defense of All Things Christmas

The great majority of people will go on observing forms that cannot be explained; 
they will keep Christmas Day with Christmas gifts and Christmas benedictions; 
they will continue to do it; and someday suddenly wake up and discover why.
-Chesterton “On Christmas,” Generally Speaking

The Conundrum of American Christmas Lover

American Christians today are caught in some perplexing cultural transitions. On one hand, we are sliding into a more acute post-Christian era and on the other, we are still connected to practices and traditions that arose from our religious ancestors and yet have grown ignorant of the very roots of our past.

The secularists in our day mount a historical criticism game of checkers when they jump over the Christianization of our pagan Anglo-Saxon forefathers, appealing to the practices and beliefs of our pre-Christian past in order to invalidate or discredit our traditions.

Hyper-Christian fundamentalists seek to put an end to Christmas or at least its American forms, in the spirit of the early American Puritans, who made it illegal in order to try to sever protestant pietism from the ‘Christ-Mass’ of Catholicism and it’s customs of unbridled festive revelry.

The Winter Holiday lover who happens to convert to Christianity in adulthood will be surprised to discover they’ve been unintentional devil worshippers. Their cherished childhood remembrances of jolly old Saint Nick will be dashed on the rocks of religious realism that exposes Santa as a relettered version of the word Satan.

The newly converted will be forced to endure hours of anti-Christmas sermons, pages of anti-holiday pontifications in print and pious, icy yuletide polemics. The sensitive Christian conscience is forced to confess why they hold dear any of the supposed irrefutable proofs of the devilish roots of Christmas trees, candles, holiday hams and the nefarious practices of gift giving, eggnog drinking and heavens forbid anyone believes in talking snowmen, toy making elves or goblin-like Grinches in green!

The Triumph of Christ over Odin

We are a people with historical religious amnesia. We have forgotten that Christ’s gospel conquered Odin, Thor, and Freya and that all the practices of their religion were struck down, swallowed up, purged or reimagined in Christian witness and worship. We forget that the death of God’s Son put an end to the perpetual human sacrifice system. The Prince of Peace quenched the warrior’s raids that compelled them to try to earn their way into Valhalla through violence, battle, and blood.

Instead, we’ve been duped by persnickety, conscience-binding legalists that demand that all the saints should bow to the scruples and trifles of the churchmen overlords.

We have allowed the great achievements of the past martyrs and missionaries of Christ to be denigrated, dismissed and denounced without a rigorous and righteous rebuttal by men and women who understand that the shadows of truth have been visible among all people. God intends…“that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us (Acts 17:27).

Christ is the great Light of Heaven that has cast His glory across the ages of time in the minds and hearts of humanity no matter what religious attempts have been made to understand, worship and connect with the God or gods, whom the heart perceives are behind all that we see, hear and experience.

We are the heralds of the good news that brings Great Joy! Christians come to explain the truth, to reveal what has been fully revealed, to connect the dots and fill in the gaps. We are bridge builders who seek to help people come to God. We believe that He has been at work in a people or a person before we ever arrive. We are introducing the worshipper of the idol to their unknown god, to the One whom they have yet to come to know.

It is in this spirit that our ancestors sought to connect or retell the stories of people to the great story that makes sense of all others.

What Story Will You Tell?

A truth that the old ‘Boar’s Head Carol and Feasts’ spoke of:

Then the grim boar’s head frowned on high, 
Crested with bays and rosemary.
Who lists may in the mumming see 
Traces of ancient mystery.

This Christmas, I hope that you and your family will commit to discovering the Story within the stories. That you will experience the joy of the good news in all your merriment with family, friends and those you welcome around your table and heart.

I pray that you will be a people that can share the stories of the past and the present within the greatest story ever told. That your homes will be candles set in dark rooms, like cities of light on hills for all to see and stream towards in search of all that is true, good and beautiful.

May the Gospel story of Jesus inform, enchant and encompass all that you do for those you love and those who need to be loved in these desperate and lonely times. Let your lives be ones that witness to the saving joy of a Scrooge turned to a Saint and may the Star of the Son of David never cease shining over your welcoming, feasting, generous, song-filled and tale-telling…Christan homes.

G.K. Chesterton on Santa Claus:

“What has happened to me has been the very reverse of what appears to be the experience of most of my friends. Instead of dwindling to a point, Santa Claus has grown larger and larger in my life until he fills almost the whole of it. It happened in this way.

As a child, I was faced with a phenomenon requiring explanation. I hung up at the end of my bed an empty stocking, which in the morning became a full stocking. I had done nothing to produce the things that filled it. I had not worked for them, or made them or helped to make them. I had not even been good – far from it.

And the explanation was that a certain being whom people called Santa Claus was benevolently disposed toward me. . . . What we believed was that a certain benevolent agency did give us those toys for nothing. And, as I say, I believe it still. I have merely extended the idea.

Then I only wondered who put the toys in the stocking; now I wonder who put the stocking by the bed, and the bed in the room, and the room in the house, and the house on the planet, and the great planet in the void.

Once I only thanked Santa Claus for a few dollars and crackers. Now, I thank him for stars and street faces, and wine and the great sea. Once I thought it delightful and astonishing to find a present so big that it only went halfway into the stocking. Now I am delighted and astonished every morning to find a present so big that it takes two stockings to hold it, and then leaves a great deal outside; it is the large and preposterous present of myself, as to the origin of which I can offer no suggestion except that Santa Claus gave it to me in a fit of peculiarly fantastic goodwill.”