I sent an email yesterday that represented a lot of thoughts and prayers. I actually began the email on that note, while clarifying that the prayers have been made in the name of the LORD who made heaven and earth, not in the name of humanistic empathy theater.
Anyway, the email was an invite for sake of forming a committee to consider starting a Christian liberal arts college in Marysville in the fall of 2020.
It’s exciting. And exhausting. And even more exciting than I said just a moment ago.
The first order of business for said committee is to decide if we have enough good reasons to even try to do this. Of course, if I didn’t already have some reasons of some sort then nobody needs another meeting. If we agree that such an institution of higher ed is called for, and I think we will, and if we agree that the call includes an opening day somewhere around fifteen months from now, then we have even more thoughts and prayers to go.
There aren’t as many written records from those who first came to America because they were busy accomplishing the things that needed to be done. Yet sometimes the writing about things is part of what needs to be done, and hopefully there will be progress to share along the way. Also, we’re not trying to form a(nother) more perfect union, but we are thinking about an alternative to those humanistic empathy theaters called college campuses.
In the meantime, there are a number of articles that lament the current state of college/university education, especially in the government schools, such as this one about poo emoji, I mean, educational BS. The pony in the poop, as my father-in-law might frame it, is that the time is ripe for some “visionary traditionalism and organizational radicalism,” you know, like a new college.
On the Sunday before Jesus was raised from the dead He came into Jerusalem with His disciples. The day is usually called Palm Sunday due to the palm branches that the crowd laid on the road before Jesus.
We also refer to Jesus coming into Jerusalem as the “triumphal entry.” This is really curious for a couple reasons.
First, a Triumph parade was an event familiar throughout the Roman Empire. The Israelites weren’t geographically close to Rome, but at that time they were under Roman governance. Roman Generals had to win a significant victory on foreign soil in order to have a Triumph thrown for their honor. The procession followed a special order through the streets of Rome, including captives and spoils, the soldiers, the sacrifices, and the General himself riding in a four-horse chariot.
But while Jesus entered Jerusalem to acclaim and praise, He rode a humble donkey. His disciples were no impressive army, and there were no captives, no spoils of war. It wasn’t a capital T Triumph.
In fact, that’s the second thing that makes the triumphal entry unique: Jesus had not triumphed; it wasn’t even a lower case t triumph. He had won no war. Many called for blessing on Him who comes in the name of the Lord, but there was no actual accomplishment for a parade to celebrate.
Like we call Good Friday “good” after the fact, so we call the Triumphal Entry “triumphal” after the fact. We know by God’s Word and we receive by faith that Christ entered Jerusalem as King in order to pay the price for the sin of His subjects. Within that week He did triumph over sin and guilt and death, and leads all of us now in His train. Today we remember His triumph in body and blood spent for us.
We’ve been considering how to Make Easter Great Again. There are certainly things we can add into our preparation for and celebration of Christ’s resurrection, but there are also things we can give up. The most important things to give up, however, are things that Christ died for. He didn’t die so that we wouldn’t eat meat, He did die so that we wouldn’t self-righteously judge a brother who does (or doesn’t) eat meat. Give up sin, whether like gluttons, or like Pharisees.
Let me also urge you to give up grudges. We are in the spring season and all kinds of seeds are taking root and starting to grow. Don’t let bitterness be one of the seeds.
[See] that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled (Hebrews 12:15)
Jesus didn’t die so that you can hold on to wrongs done against you, or, for that matter, wrongs you have done against others (though we typically don’t focus on how we’ve caused trouble). Jesus rose again for our freedom from the dungeons of perpetual guilt and of chronic grievances.
This isn’t to say that you have not been sinned against. You most certainly have. But the gospel declares that in three days Jesus took care of the condemnation that was due to every believer who has sinned against us. Eagerly holding on to feelings of ill-will, resentment, envy, or suspicion is like saying that Christ needs to be punished more for that brother’s offense. If the one who sinned against you is not a believer, then Christ says He will deal with them later.
Grudges spelled backward is self-pity. But Christ has condemned sin in the flesh so that we cannot be condemned and so that we will not have regrets from condemning others.
You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD. (Leviticus 19:17–18)
This is some next level temptation insight. I don’t like demons, but I do like snark, so there is a lot to enjoy, even to learn from snarky Uncle Screwtape. Lewis is really good at nailing slippery sinful inner inclinations to the wall, and in this book he does so while also making our spiritual enemies look silly.
Why go through religious rituals like baptism or the Lord’s Supper? Why risk comfort and convenience for Christ? Why pursue righteousness when someone is going to give us grief about it? We do all of the above for sake of reward.
In Hebrews we read:
Without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. (Hebrews 11:6)
But when do we get this reward? It is not always, and not even mainly, in this life. So Abraham “was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God” (verse 10). Those like him “desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one” (verse 16). Some through faith “conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises,” (verse 33), and others “were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life” (verse 34).
All these are those “of whom the world was not worthy” (verse 38).
We are called to live by faith, to endure “as seeing him who is invisible” (verse 27). We spend ourselves because of foolproof resurrection; we can mess up spending our lives for Christ but we can’t mess up our lives being resurrected in Christ. We obey because of that resurrection. We will not lose out on the reward because Jesus is risen from the dead.
So come, eat and drink. May your faith be strengthened. And may we all have more of the same mind, the same love, and be in full communion for sake of the Christ Jesus our Lord.
We pick up with our series of exhortations with a view to Make Easter Great Again. As I mentioned last week, the only concentrated preparation for Easter encouraged on a broad scale in church circles relates to Lent, a time to give up things like meat and sex and other “indulgences.” But being tough on the body doesn’t necessarily make anyone more holy (so says Colossians 2:20-23). Instead, if you really want to give up something in order to get ready to celebrate Christ’s resurrection, give up your sin.
I would also exhort you to give up your virtues. Of all the things that keep people out of heaven, self-righteousness is as deadly as unrighteousness. The extra trouble with the self-righteous is that they think they are not in trouble.
Jesus said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17). When Jesus healed the man born blind, He said, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.” When some Pharisees asked if they were blind, “Jesus said to them, ‘If you were blind, you would have no guilt, but now that you say, “We see,” your guilt remains'” (John 9:39-41).
Christians should obey Jesus; we should learn to obey all that He commanded. The Spirit who indwells us is holy, and we are to be holy even as He is holy. But we are still completely dependent on Him to produce any good and holy works through us. He must work and will in us (Philippians 2:13). So if you are getting ready for Easter with spiritual pride in your virtues being better than your brother’s virtues, then you might as well put a polluted garment as the centerpiece on your Easter table (Isaiah 64:6).
Give up your sin, including your self-righteous sin, in order to #mega.
All is a word that is easily taken for granted. All of us, probably, misunderstand it depending on the context. Paul told the Corinthians that at the end of the world, God would be “all in all” (1 Corinthians 15:28). This is the final restoration and consummation of all things in God.
Halfway through his letter to the Ephesians Paul urged them to walk in a manner worthy of their calling, especially to “maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:1-4). Then he reminded them of their shared reality.
There is one body and one Spirit–just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call–one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:4-6)
This is not referring to something waiting to be revealed as in Corinthians but instead to something important to be recognized now.
All of us who believe have one and the same Father. And that Father is over and through and in all. Does “all” mean the persons, or does “all” mean the universe, or does “all” refer to some other specific set of things?
It at least refers to all His children. He rules (over), He energizes (through), and He indwells (in) all of us. And that is true even though all of us are given grace for sake of doing different things (Ephesians 3:7-16).
So we all come to this one Table of communion, and we all have reasons to give thanks not just that we get to come, but also for all of our brothers and sisters in the body that are gentle, and patient, and bearing with us in love.
This probably should be a sermon not an exhortation, though I am at least going to roll it into another mini series with the theme: Make Easter Great Again.
We are gathered together to worship as Christians so I’m going to assume that you love Easter, as in, you boast in the resurrection of Christ from the dead. Why, though, does Christmas/the Incarnation tend to get all the good promotion? Even the colors are better, deeper, less pastel-y. As my wife and I recently lamented, how are you supposed to find manly Easter things for your boys?
Many of us have been lengthening our Christmas anticipation for the whole month of December, talking about advent and building anticipation for the big day.
When it comes to preparing for Easter, some parts of the church talk about Lent, a forty-plus day period of fasting, abstinence, self-examination, and feeling bad about your sin in order to remember Christ’s fasting in the wilderness along with His sacrifice. Without saying that Christians shouldn’t ever fast or give things up for sake of Christ, is that really how to make Easter great in our hearts?
Typical Lenten attitude is not even consistent with what the death and resurrection of Christ do for believers. Paul told the Colossians, “if with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world,” then don’t commit yourself to “asceticism and severity to the body” that are “of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh” (Colossians 2:20-23).
And “if…you have been raised with Christ,” then “seek the things that are above,” “set your minds on things above.” But these earthly things to avoid aren’t things that can be touched and tasted, they are “what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness” (Colossians 3:1-5).
My point is, in order to Make Easter Great Again, give up your sin, don’t just give up things that “have an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion” (Colossians 2:23). Don’t give up His gifts, give up your envy of other persons with different gifts. More to come in order to #mega.
Many demons have done well, nephew, but you excel them all. It has been quite some time since I’ve written to you and, as you yourself know, I do not usually give such high and blameworthy compliments. But progress for our Father Below has been delightfully dark and your patient is helping us more than he could imagine in our deceptive work.
We cannot entirely stop the Enemy from giving His so-called blessings. He comforts and helps His creatures because it is His despicable nature. The parties thrown in His name are gross, and I would spit in all their wine glasses if alcohol didn’t also turn some humans to our brand of misery. But even as your patient enjoys some of these blessings he is restricting other blessings to his students, and doing so in the Enemy’s name. What I mean is that he is keeping his Fifth Grade Class from dealing with anything that smells grave. He looks for books with sunny stories about safe things. He’s committed himself, as far as he’s able as a teacher, not to let the kids think about DEATH.
Of course you have encouraged this censorship, and gotten your patient to call it righteous. As you know, DEATH is actually the Enemy’s tool, not our idea; He uses it for punishment and for warning (and in one awful case, atonement). It is our specialty to distract from DEATH. We don’t want humans to deal with it. That will only make them consider what comes after, about what it would be like to see the Enemy’s Son face to face, and perhaps about how to please the Enemy now. Entertainment is your offering and the screen your altar. These numb their fears and sooth any sick feelings that might get them searching, let alone fighting, for what human poets foolishly call noble.
Your efforts to provide a virtually endless stream of vapid comics and cartoons, along with your program to keep the adults too tired to push the off button, will earn you a glorious cup of lukewarm coffee with your praise in gates of hell. I am so impressed with your use of technology that I may write you again via email (another tool, I’m told, which our side has almost entirely claimed for its own).
Your affectionate uncle,
The Burdens of the Battle
For the first three fiction festivals I was the first speaker of the day. In my leadoff position I just needed to get a walk and then depend on the other speakers to do the heavy hitting, not stranding me (and my thoughts about fiction) on base. I am in the fourth spot today not because I’ve become a heavy hitter but because my topic is more heavy. I’m going to talk about The Last Battle, the seventh of the seven Chronicles. Some people find this book harder to digest than a talk immediately following lunch.
How many of you have read The Last Battle? As a kid under 10? As an adult? How many of you love it? How many of you hate it? How many of you tolerate it?
I aim to convince you that, at the least, the series would not be complete without it, and not merely because “Last” is in the title. But I also aim to persuade you that it is the most needed of the seven books for our day. While not sufficient all by itself, it is the crucial consummation of the series.
A number of people don’t like this book at all and they have their reasons. I’ve talked to some of them, I’ve read some of their reviews. They don’t think that TLB is consistent with the previous books, either in its tone or its message of salvation or even how it is that a talking animal in Narnia has become so bad so quickly. They don’t think it is enjoyable to read even if they end up liking Lewis’ picture of heaven. A few readers name it as their favorite, but those people are usually weird, and they’re usually adults.
Admittedly I often prefer things that aren’t as popular. When I told Mo a couple months ago that I was considering talking about why this is the best Chronicle, I unexpectedly launched us into a multi-hour back and forth. I had only read it once before that conversation, but since then I’ve read it a couple more times and I am even more excited to consider it’s weaknesses and it’s strategy with you.
What I am most burdened to answer about The Last Battle are these two questions: 1) Why did Lewis write this book? In other words, what agenda did he have? 2) Is this book really a children’s book? Should we accept it in the series, but only give it to our kids when they are older?
Who in Heaven’s Name?
Before answering those, let’s admit that there are a few bona fide problems in the book. Two of them relate to presence and absence in the afterlife, and one is about whether the afterlife should be part of the plot at all.
Emeth, the Calormene, is in heaven. Susan, one of the two Queens of Narnia, is not.
I hope to post something more detailed in the future about Emeth in particular. Emeth believed in Tash, not Aslan. He knew of Aslan, and hated him. He worshiped Tash, served Tash faithfully, and was willing to die in order to see Tash. But at the end Emeth is in heaven, and Aslan explains that Emeth’s faithful service was really for Aslan because Tash doesn’t do faithfulness. I recently read a lengthy argument that this corresponds to a biblical truth, that there could be true believers in God who are ignorant about God’s name. That is bologna. Lewis confirmed in this-world letters that he personally believed in the category of “ignorant Christian,” those who were ignorant that what they believed made them Christians. Lewis had been giving an otherwise orthodox view of salvation through atonement by grace in the previous six Chronicles. Emeth’s salvation is wrong, not only soteriologically but also in terms of the plot, as I’ll mention below. The sympathy the royal Narnians feel for Emeth is part of Lewis’ own sentimental leftovers, something he usually destroys.
Missing from heaven is Susan Pevensie. In this case I think that there is no need throw the lamppost. TLB ends when Susan is not yet dead. Peter, Edmund, and Lucy are dead, and Peter does say that Susan is “no longer a friend of Narnia,” and Jill says that Susan is distracted with the things of this world. If we take Peter’s words finally, it’s not good. If we liken Susan’s concerns to the cares of this world choking out the growth of the gospel seed (Matthew 13:22), it’s also not good. But Aslan himself crowned Peter, Susan, Edmond, and Lucy and said, “Once a king or queen in Narnia, always a king or queen,” (The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, 167) and so I’m satisfied leaving time for Susan to repent.
But isn’t this really quite something, to be talking about so much death? In his book Planet Narnia Michael Ward observes that this is a bold move on Lewis’ part for a “children’s book” because [SPOILER!:] every character who starts the story in The Last Battle Lewis kills (Planet Narnia, 198). The verbs “to die, to kill, and to murder (and cognate nouns and adjectives)” appear once every 2.67 pages (ibid., 202). This is a story about the last battle, and for every key person (except Susan) it concerns their last breath, whether in England or Narnia.
How does all this fit Lewis’ agenda? There are three ways it fits his agenda.
First, and this is my opinion based on considering Lewis as a character, I think Lewis liked to mess with the church ladies. I can picture him in the back room of The Bird and Baby talking to Tolkien and responding to a hysterical woman: “Oh, you like to have your neat Bible categories? You’d like for your kids to never say the word ‘ass’? You don’t want your kids to have think about what it would be like if terrible things happened to them? Hold my beer.” Lewis is an old-school contrarian, and I at least wonder if he wasn’t going out of his way to make some of it scary for those who like their theological underpants too tidy and boring white (e.g. including Bacchus). The Chronicles are good, not tame.
Second, I buy Michael Ward’s thesis that Lewis wrote seven books in the series around the seven planets known in medieval cosmology. I went to a Wordsmithy conference a few summers ago and Ward was the guest speaker. I wasn’t going because of him, but I figured I’d read his book beforehand. I read it, and then heard him speak about it, and then made Maggie read it, and bought a copy for Jonathan, and still take opportunity to poke at Leila about it as much as possible. Friends of Narnia, get and read Planet Narnia. Analyze Ward’s case, and note how the “feel” of the seventh Chronicle fits the “feel” of the seventh planet.
Saturn is not only the seventh planet, it is the furthest from earth and the final threshold into heaven. Saturn is death. Saturn is cold and bitter and dark like December. Saturn was known to bring about disastrous events, even fatal events. How many times does Tirian’s band make a plan only to have it ruined at the last minute? Dis-aster (aster is the Greek word for star), de-staring, is exactly what happens in the sky, and before that, one bad thing after another happens to our crew of heroes. Saturn is usually associated with Father Time, the great giant who awakens to end the Narnian world (TLB, 83).
Lewis loved pre-Copernican cosmology and lamented the loss of its worldview so much so that he wrote a scholarly treatment of it in his book The Discarded Image. Each of the previous six Chronicles fits with the characteristics of a planet, not to mention how the planets fill the Space Trilogy and much of Lewis’ poetry. It’s not even well hidden that Roonwit says “The stars never lie,” and “I know there are liars on earth; there are none among the stars” (TLB, 8). If you wonder why this book feels different, it’s because Saturn is called Infortuna Major – the greatest unfortunate-maker. The influence of Saturn gives TLB the bad feels.
The Last Lesson for Fortifying Chests
But I’m convinced there is still another reason beyond messin’ with the church ladies and rounding off his cosmology. This is what the cosmology was good for, not just a convenient orbit for the plot.
What was Lewis trying to do in this book? All of the previous books have a central lesson:
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe: atonement
Prince Caspian: authority
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader: repentance and redemption
The Silver Chair: Aslan’s word, spiritual disciplines
The Horse and His Boy: providence
The Magician’s Nephew: creation and fall
The last lesson is given in order to finish fortifying children with chests. The well-known ”men without chests” line comes from Lewis’ strain in The Abolition of Man. In that book Lewis attacks modern education that makes men who have no loves, no affections, no will to fight. They have no chests.
He specifically attributes the problem to a children’s book (with his own made-up title): “The operation of The Green Book and its kind is to produce what may be called Men without Chests” (Abolition, 26). A few paragraphs later he says,
In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful. (ibid., 27)
In The Last Battle Shift, the ape, admits that he has a “weak chest.” Shift is the not-quite-evolved-man who acts like the boss by manipulating others until someone stronger than him comes along. Shift has no backbone, no virtue, no manliness.
We don’t like Shift and that’s an important dislike. Instead, our heroes are those who live for someone other than and bigger than themselves. You don’t have to be an adult to figure this out; the kids know it.
As Scrubb and Pole (which incidentally would be a great name for a detective show) learn about Shift and the Calormenes they want to fight.
In the end Eustace and Jill begged so hard that Tirian said they could come with him and take their chance—or, as he much more sensibly called it, “the adventure that Aslan would send them.” (TLB, 52)
The word adventure 11 occurs times in the story. “Adventure” is what adults call it to kids to make it seem less scary. Perhaps adults should think about it as adventure, too.
Their adventure—Tirian and Jewel, Poggin and Puzzle, Eustace and Jill—is fighting to Make Narnia Great Again (#MNGA). And it is through that battle that they reach their greatest joy. Their fight is not to get to heaven, not initially. They get to heaven through fighting, and in this story, by losing the right fight. They lose everything they were fighting for and gain more than they were fighting for.
The last lesson that fortifies children with chests teaches loyalty to Aslan and longing for Aslan’s ways that is so deep they are willing to die for it. And of course, “whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:39).
This is the report Farsight the Eagle gave Tirian about Roonwit:
I was with him in his last hour and he gave me this message to your Majesty: to remember that all worlds draw to an end and that noble death is a treasure which no one is too poor to buy.” (TLB, 50)
Later when Tirian realized they probably could not win, “his only thought now was to sell his life as dearly as he could” (TLB, 72).
Food is good and to be enjoyed, especially in Aslan’s name, but it is not worth stealing from or manipulating other people for it (as Shift did to Puzzle and the squirrels). Castles and commerce are good, but not at the expense of other’s dignity (as the Calormene’s to the Narnians and Talking Horses). And while death is not good in itself, and there are ways to die that are fearful and then damnable, it is possible to fight to the death in a way that Aslan says, “Well done, last of the Kings of Narnia who stood firm at the darkest hour” (TLB, 81)
Lewis makes us sick of selfish economics (Shift’s socialism), sick of selfish religion (the Tarkaan’s “Islam”), and sick of selfish cynicism (the dwarves’ selfishness). He also makes us long for something more desirable than we have ever had satisfying us here in this world, a longing to be really home where we belong. When we are freed from belonging here in a final way we are ready to fight for good for here whether we win it now, or not like we thought.
We don’t know if we will make it better. Maybe our fight will be an example for future fighters. Maybe we are the last generation of fighters. Either way, we fight to win. The battle is not all rousing speeches and shining steel, but also includes gathering wood for a fire, cleaning the blood off swords, stacking chairs, and making another pot of coffee. And when things keep going wrong we can imagine asking, “Aslan, how many more times shall we regroup? Child, regroup until there is no more group.”
Fiction Up and Fiction In
Most people appreciate the last quarter of TLB with its imaginative (and Platonic) view of heaven. Whatever heaven is like, we will love it.
But the main agenda Lewis had for us is to love Aslan and whatever adventure Aslan sends enough to be willing to pay the ultimate cost. We try to protect kids from death, when we should promote love for Aslan and prepare them to fight on his behalf.
This sort of love can’t be stuck on like an “I voted” sticker. This sort of love longs for peace and feasts and work and a kingdom under a good king. This sort of love has hates, recognizes enemies, and is vigilant and bold to defend and fight against those enemies. Emeth was an enemy who would have killed the Pevensies and Eustace and Jill and Tirian in Tash’s name; the children would have fought him, not expected him to be in Aslan’s Country. This sort of love cries at loss, but doesn’t let the tears fall on the bowstrings.
Near his death Lewis wrote a letter to a group of 5th graders: “The only way for us to get to Aslan’s country is through death, as far as I know.” (Omnibus intro essay to The Magician’s Nephew). Lewis lost his mom when he was eight years-old. He wrote to the generation after WWII, those who undoubtedly wondered about battle, about loss and death.
Some adults panic about or pooh-pooh the book and yet modern kids (and adults) need the book. The United States is not Narnia any more than England is, but the lessons of Narnia are for us. Socialism, Islamism, cynicism, abound around us. They are not ways of Christ’s blessing. They bring no peace, no redeemed bacchanalian joy. Regardless of one’s eschatology and millennialistic expectation of the end, it will be better in heaven to the degree we love our place here and now.
We want our kids standing with us in the gates for the last battle. Parents, don’t expect TLB to do your work, but put it to work for you. Like the Narnia air, good fiction such as the Chronicles makes kids stronger, even if they can’t explain it. That’s why we need to get fiction up and fiction in.
And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before. (TLB, 101)