Archive for November, 2018

Duty or Love?

What do you really believe? I’m not talking about to what you give your intellectual assent, but what you really believe. “In ordinary times,” mused Dorothy Sayers, “we get along surprisingly well, on the whole, without ever discovering what our faith really is.” We tend to shove that question to the background and give ourselves over to activities that help us put off the answer.

The question, “What do we believe?” is the title of one of Sayers’s insightful essays. She challenges us to look beyond the superficial answer and understand that “what we believe is not necessarily the theory we most desire or admire. It is the thing that, consciously or unconsciously, we take for granted and act on.”

You can say you believe in something, yet what you actually do in life tells others what you really believe in. The two may not be the same.

Being a Christian is not merely a duty; in fact, if that is how we view it, we are missing the very heart of the faith. Do we obey God because it is our duty or because we love to do so? There is a profound difference. Sayers points out that difference by dissecting the concept of “sacrifice” in our actions:

Sacrifice is what it looks like to other people, but to that-which-loves I think it does not appear so. When one really cares, the self is forgotten, and the sacrifice becomes only a part of the activity.

Ask yourself: if there is something you supremely want to do, do you count as self-sacrifice the difficulties encountered or the other possible activities cast aside? You do not.

The time when you deliberately say, “I must sacrifice this, that, or the other” is when you do not supremely desire the end in view. At such times you are doing your duty, and that is admirable, but it is not love.

But as soon as your duty becomes your love the self-sacrifice is taken for granted, and, whatever the world calls it, you call it so no longer.

As we examine our Christian walk, we need to clearly grasp this truth: duty is one thing; loving to do your duty is something else entirely.

Our goal is not simply to obey God, but to do so with an active desire to please Him, no longer counting it as some kind of sacrifice, but as a wonderful opportunity to show His love.

If that’s not where we are currently, we are to continue to do our duty. Yet wouldn’t it be much better to do whatever we do out of that heart of love? That is Christian maturity.

Elections & Integrity

Thanksgiving is now past and, thankfully, so are the elections. There was every possibility that in my home state of Florida we might see recounts go on interminably. The counties to blame for that always seem to be the same ones, election after election. There’s certainly nothing wrong with the requirement that integrity be the basis for our elections—and for those who are elected. Is that really too much to ask?

I wonder if there will ever be the kind of accountability that is needed to ensure that the voting is carried out without bias.

While the above political cartoon is fantasy (at least I trust it is), there is ample reason for questioning the integrity of some of those responsible for counting the votes. Democrats are always crying that elections are being stolen. Well, maybe they’re right, only not in the way they think:

Now that the Democrats will control the House of Representatives, a rather weird thing has occurred—Trump has given his support for Nancy Pelosi to be elected Speaker once again. There’s been a lot of head scratching going on over that endorsement.

Of course, his most adamant followers/adoring fans will look upon this as a brilliant move because she is perhaps one of the most polarizing figures on the political scene. I’m not so sure he’s really all that astute. I think he just likes strong people. Witness his affinity for Chinese leaders, Kim Jong Un of North Korea, and the Saudi royal family.

But I digress.

The new Democrat House might make the illegal immigrant crisis even more alarming.

Meanwhile, a lot of Democrat hopefuls are lining up to run for president in 2020. The latest poll of potential Democrat candidates is rather interesting:

Frankly, I don’t look forward to 2020. My distaste for politics grows. That doesn’t mean I’m not interested in what will develop, but my interest is on the governing side—I believe deeply in good government based on Biblical principles and will always be advocating for that.

It’s the seamy politics I’m not fond of. As a historian, I know that seamy politics has been with us in all eras, but all of our new technology—round-the-clock cable news, social media, etc.—while good in itself, has only provided a platform for the seaminess to become more evident.

Oh, for integrity and principles in our politics! When I see someone who models that, I will vote for that person.

The Enemy–He Is Ourselves

I was reminded this morning of some prescient words from Whittaker Chambers—prescient because they clearly foretold what we see today. In a letter he wrote to William F. Buckley in 1954, Chambers offered this analysis of the state of Western civilization:

I no longer believe that political solutions are possible for us. I am baffled by the way people still speak of the West as if it were at least a cultural unity against Communism though it is divided not only by a political, but by an invisible cleavage.

On one side are the voiceless masses with their own subdivisions and fractures. On the other side is the enlightened, articulate elite which, to one degree or other, has rejected the religious roots of the civilization—the roots without which it is no longer Western civilization, but a new order of beliefs, attitudes, and mandates.

His first sentence set the tone, and I agree that our ultimate solutions will never come from our politics. Yet, for many, politics has become the be-all and end-all of life. Everything is seen as political. We believe, by and large, that government can handle all of our problems.

How very wrong.

His second point is truly poignant, as he demolishes the illusion that we are still somehow a cultural unity. Most people today at least see the great divide that now exists between the Christian worldview and the secular. Chambers succinctly and accurately describes the self-identified “enlightened” elite who have rejected our religious roots, and who have created “a new order of beliefs, attitudes, and mandates.”

The America of 2018 is only faintly reminiscent of the America I recall from my younger days. And I’m not just some old-timer speaking out of bitterness or nostalgia. My observation is based on a lifetime of analyzing culture from the Biblical worldview that has now been largely rejected.

Chambers is usually known as a pessimist regarding the future of Western civilization. In his final paragraph to Buckley, he begins with this:

The enemy—he is ourselves. That is why it is idle to talk about preventing the wreck of Western civilization. It is already a wreck from within.

Don’t blame outside forces, he counsels. Look within instead. Then he provides, in his own inimitable writing style, what little hope he can look toward:

That is why we can hope to do little more now than snatch a fingernail of a saint from the rack or a handful of ashes from the faggots, and bury them secretly in a flowerpot against the day, ages hence, when a few men begin again to dare to believe that there was once something else, that something else is thinkable, and need some evidence of what it was, and the fortifying knowledge that there were those who, at the great nightfall, took loving thought to preserve the tokens of hope and truth.

Are we of that company—the few—who are willing to keep alive the basis of our civilization? What are we doing to further the truths of God—that Biblical message of sin, repentance, and redemption?

Whittaker Chambers was somewhat of a twentieth-century prophet; he saw the demise that was coming and already had begun in his day. The prophetic mantle has now been placed on the current generation of Christians who need to take the calling seriously.

Will we?

Faith or a House of Cards?

I’m down to the last couple of weeks now for my Southeastern University course on C. S. Lewis. I’ve had the students read many of his most revered books and essays. They’ve worked through—with love, I trust—Surprised by Joy, Mere Christianity, The Screwtape Letters, The Great Divorce, That Hideous Strength, and The Last Battle.

This past week, they read A Grief Observed, Lewis’s most personal little book, a heart cry for the presence of God after suffering the loss of Joy, his wife. I wondered how they would receive it, seeing as how it offers a different side of Lewis—one that’s questioning God’s character and His love before ultimately coming to a resolution that shows how his faith holds in the midst of trial.

They appreciated it deeply, from what I could discern in our discussion of the book.

One might be shaken somewhat by Lewis’s doubts at this time in his life. After all, near the beginning, he complains that when you go to God in desperate need, you find “a door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence.”

He then questions the reality of his own faith. The man who has spent his life strengthening the faith of others seems to fall apart in his distress:

You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life and death to you. It is easy to say you believe a rope to be strong and sound as long as you are merely using it to cord a box. But suppose you had to hang by that rope over a precipice. Wouldn’t you then first discover how much you really trusted it?

As a Christian, Lewis admits that he already knew that death comes to all and that sufferings were part of life. “I would have said that I had taken them into account. I had been warned—I had warned myself—not to reckon on worldly happiness. We were even promised sufferings. They were part of the program.”

Yet when hit by the loss of his wife, he was sent reeling and wondering about his faith:

It is different when the thing happens to oneself, not to others, and in reality, not in imagination. Yes; but should it, for a sane man, make quite such a difference as this? No. . . .

The case is too plain. If my house has collapsed at one blow, that is because it was a house of cards. The faith which “took these things into account” was not faith but imagination.

As Lewis stumbles toward understanding, he sees God as a surgeon with good intentions. Yet those good intentions don’t spare the patient the pain he must endure. “The kinder and more conscientious he is, the more inexorably he will go on cutting. If he yielded to your entreaties, if he stopped before the operation was complete, all the pain up to that point would have been useless.”

Lewis then revisits that bolted door, the one he blamed God for bolting against him.

I have gradually been coming to feel that the door is no longer shut and bolted. Was it my own frantic need that slammed it in my face? The time when there is nothing at all in your soul except a cry for help may be just the time when God can’t give it: you are like the drowning man who can’t be helped because he clutches and grabs. Perhaps your own reiterated cries deafen you to the voice you hoped to hear.

I believe the turning point for Lewis came when he realized that he had been focusing on himself—allowing his hurts, his internal angst, his needs—to drive his thinking. The order was him first, Joy second, and God last. “The order and the proportions exactly what they ought not to have been.”

It’s only when we get out of ourselves that we can see clearly once more. As his thoughts turn back to God first, he questions his motives: is he coming back to Him only as a way to reconnect with his wife eventually? Clarity returns with these words:

I know perfectly well that He can’t be used as a road. If you’re approaching Him not as the goal but as a road, not as the end but as a means, you’re not really approaching Him at all.

That’s what was really wrong with all those popular pictures of happy reunions “on the further shore”; not the simple-minded and very earthly images, but the fact that they make an End of what we can get only as a by-product of the true End.

So Lewis returned, and his letters in those final three years of his life attest to his vibrant faith. He walked through the valley of the shadow of death and emerged not with a house of cards, but with that proverbial house built on the Rock.

Florida in the Limelight . . . Again

I didn’t live in Florida in 2000 when the nation was focused on the presidential recount. I was one of many who found it simultaneously concerning and amusing. There was a photoshopped meme at the time that I still use in class.

Along with that one, I share this:

It’s funny, but now that I live in Florida, I would really like to see my state not be the focal point once more when it comes to election miseries. Unfortunately, that’s not the case.

Of course, not all of Florida can be blamed for this. My county apparently knows how to count votes. Broward County? Well, not so much. And the supervisor there, Brenda Snipes, can credibly be accused of having what one might call a “slight” slant toward Democrat hopefuls.

Oh, I believe in counting every vote—every legitimate vote. I hope I, and countless others, can be excused for wondering how legitimate this current recount really is.

Gov. Rick Scott, seeking to be the next senator, seemed to have a clear victory over incumbent Bill Nelson, but this recount has narrowed his lead from 50,000+ to less than 15,000. For the record, such a drastic change is unprecedented in recount history, leading to a strong charge of some kind of fraud being perpetrated. Knowing what I do about Democrat tactics, please allow me to be one of those who has, shall we say, grave suspicions about the integrity of this recount.

All that is not to say that Democrats haven’t made gains nationally this time around. They now will control the House of Representatives. While not exactly an overall Blue Wave, to say this is negligible is to deny reality.

Are there any other optimistic signs?

What might this portend for 2020?

I’m being facetious, as I think cartoonist Ramirez is also. Yet I do believe that Republicans need to take seriously what this election means. Many suburban voters abandoned the party, allowing the House to fall to Democrats. Races that should have been won going away were extremely close. There is reason to believe a major factor is perception of the man who currently sits atop the Republican establishment.

The Greatest Drama Ever Staged

Official Christianity, of late years, has been having what is known as a bad press. We are constantly assured that the churches are empty because preachers insist too much upon doctrine—dull dogma as people call it. The fact is the precise opposite.

It is the neglect of dogma that makes for dullness. The Christian faith is the most exciting drama that ever staggered the imagination of man—and the dogma is the drama.

Those bold words come from Dorothy Sayers, contemporary and friend of C. S. Lewis, fiction writer in her early years, turning to specifically Christian apologetics and imaginative plays afterward. She also made a name for herself near the end of her life doing a new translation of Dante’s The Divine Comedy.

Although raised in a clergyman’s home, Sayers’s early life didn’t reflect a serious commitment to the faith. Maturity, though, seemed to draw her back and turned her into one of the most stalwart Anglicans of her time.

The above quote comes from an essay called “The Greatest Drama Ever Staged,” which posits that Christianity is exciting, not in the least boring. Take the drama of Christ’s life, for instance:

He [God] had the honesty and the courage to take his own medicine. Whatever game he is playing with his creation, he has kept his own rules and played fair. He can exact nothing from man that he has not exacted from himself.

What does she mean?

He has himself gone through the whole of human experience, from the trivial irritations of family life and the cramping restrictions of hard work and lack of money to the worst horrors of pain and humiliation, defeat, despair, and death. When he was a man, he played the man.

The Christian story, and the “dogma” attached to it is “the tale of the time when God was the underdog and got beaten.” He came to men—those he had made—as a man, “and the men he had made broke him and killed him.” This is not dull, Sayers cries; rather, it is a “terrifying drama of which God is the victim and hero.”

She continues,

If this is dull, then what, in Heaven’s name, is worthy to be called exciting? The people who hanged Christ never, to do them justice, accused him of being a bore—on the contrary, they thought him too dynamic to be safe. It has been left for later generations to muffle up that shattering personality and surround him with an atmosphere of tedium.

We have very efficiently pared the claws of the Lion of Judah, certified him “meek and mild,” and recommended him as a fitting household pet for pale curates and pious old ladies.

And then there was that Resurrection. How does one top that for drama?

One is free to disbelieve the entire story and the dogma attached to it, Sayers admits, but “if we are going to disbelieve a thing, it seems on the whole to be desirable that we should first find out what, exactly, we are disbelieving.”

As you can tell, Sayers is not one to mince words. Near the end of the essay, she summarizes succinctly:

Now, we may call that doctrine exhilarating, or we may call it devastating; we may call it revelation, or we may call it rubbish; but if we call it dull, then words have no meaning at all.

That God should play the tyrant over man is a dismal story of unrelieved oppression; that man should play the tyrant over man is the usual dreary record of human futility; but that man should play the tyrant over God and find him a better man than himself is an astonishing drama indeed.

Any journalist, hearing of it for the first time, would recognize it as news; those who did hear it for the first time actually called it news, and good news at that; though we are likely to forget that the word Gospel ever meant anything so sensational.

If your concept of Christian faith is that it is dull, boring, and static, you need to investigate further. This is the greatest drama of all ages, and it has eternal consequences. That is pure dynamism.

From Slave to Free Man to Missionary: The Story of Lott Cary

LOTT CARY was born a slave in Virginia and died a missionary in Liberia. His birth took place around 1780, about thirty miles south of Richmond, Virginia. Although his father was a respected Baptist, Cary was a profane alcoholic. However, in 1807 his ears were opened to the gospel. He converted to Christianity and joined a Baptist church. A sermon he heard on John 3 left him eager to know more about Nicodemus. As a result, he learned to read.

Cary became an efficient and faithful worker, able to handle clerical duties at the tobacco firm where his master hired him out. He was able to study Scripture as well. Merchants frequently tipped him and he sold leftover tobacco to build his savings. Consequently, he was able to purchase freedom for himself and his children. After gaining his freedom, Cary preached to slaves around Richmond. Whites who also attended his sermons said they were among the most moving they ever heard.

In 1813 an African-American preacher named William Crane settled in Richmond. Crane and Cary organized a society for African missions. This was the first world mission founded by African Americans. Eventually the society chose Lott Cary and Colin Teague, both free blacks, as its first missionaries. In commissioning him for the task, his board urged him “to dwell much on the doctrine of the cross, a doctrine which has been found in every age of the church of Christ the power of God.”

The tobacco firm offered Cary a large raise to stay, but Cary turned it down. Selling his farm to support himself, he sailed for Africa and reached Monrovia, Liberia, in 1822. His labors included preaching several times a week, instructing native children and settlers, and operating a charity school with his own money. He also fended off armed attacks by local Africans. Unfortunately, Cary got sucked into politics. Free blacks in Liberia were unhappy with colonial agent Jehudi Ashmun’s redistribution of their land and Cary headed their resistance. The United States investigated and stood by Ashmun, who forbade Cary to preach any more until he apologized.

By 1824, Cary and Ashmun had settled their differences and the colony granted its settlers full participation in the government. From then on, Ashmun spoke of Cary with high praise as a selfless man. Cary became vice-agent with enormous responsibilities. He doctored the settlers with remedies he had learned while he himself was suffering from tropical diseases. He also experimented successfully with raising rice and coffee, which became staples of the Liberian economy.

When Ashmun returned to America, he left Liberia in Cary’s hands and recommended him as permanent agent for the colony. However, Cary was mortally wounded before anything came of it. On 8 November 1828, he was helping prepare cartridges for the protection of the settlers when someone overturned a candle. All the ammunition exploded. Six people died on the 9th. Cary and another victim of the accident lingered until 10 November.

Cary’s story came to me from the Christian History Institute’s daily e-mail on November 10. I wanted to share it because I was so impressed with his character and Christian commitment. I’m glad to add to my knowledge of another strong African American Christian during this time period in American history. I hope you appreciate it as well.