Monday, April 26, 2004

On My Nightstand 

I’ve been working through The Pilgrim’s Regress by C.S. Lewis, his first “Christian” book (written the year after his conversion.) I’ve always loved it even though I always feel like there is a lot of it that I’m not getting.

It tells about the round trip journey of a boy named John from “Puritania”, where he was taught about the country’s Landlord who was “very, very kind” to let people live in his land but would throw them in a “black hole full of snakes and scorpions” if they broke any of his rules, through the world, where he encounters major philosophies and lifestyles of Lewis’ day (hence some of the obscurity.)

I’ve been reading bits of it with Tim so today I asked him what his journey would look like, and thought about my own. We decided that, on one hand, ours would be very different from John’s because we grew up as “children of the Landlord” under the tutelage of “Mother Kirk” (the Christian church) and never wandered and searched in such confusion. On the other hand, we have known people, or at least known of people, like those John encounters on his journey, so we have weighed our beliefs against theirs. At different times we may have flirted with some of the “Enemy’s” ways, especially the “Northern” pride of intellectualism and the “Southern” pleasures of paganism, but we knew they were empty and destructive and never gave ourselves over to them.

As I thought more about the story, I realized that very soon after John came to understand the truth about the Landlord he crossed the brook of death; the end of his journey took him out of the besieged land. We, however, don’t need a map out of this land, what we need is a guide that shows us how to live in this world, how to see through the Enemy's strategies and how to love those who are blinded by them. For those who are willing to wade through it, The Pilgrim’s Regress does an admirable job of the former.

If you do decide to tackle it remember what Lewis said about allegory, it “is best understood by not trying too hard to understand it. Like loving, going to sleep, or behaving naturally, reading an allegory is done worst when we try hardest.” (Kathryn Lindskoog Finding The Landlord, quoting Lewis from an article he wrote about Edmund Spenser)

And since I’m on Lewis, I have to recommend a nice interview I just came across with his stepson Douglas Gresham. I’ve read a lot about Lewis, but had never heard this particular, much enviable, ability:

He also was a very fast reader, but he had honed the talent and perfected the strange memory that resulted in never forgetting anything he had read. Now he could, he could ask you to pick any book off of his shelves, and you would pick a page and read him a line and he would quote the rest of the page; in fact, quote the rest of the book until you told him to stop. He had this enormous capacity to remember everything he'd ever read.

Friday, April 09, 2004

Our Impotence 

I know that part of the power of a Blog is its ability to point to something beyond itself, so here is a quotable section from a good article by Virginia Stem Owens I found on

Good Friday:

"All week I had been reading the penitential psalms and examining my sins. The exercise had been a satisfying one since my sins were clear and undeniable, and what was required of me to be rid of them was just as clear.
But now it was Good Friday. What did you do after you'd confessed all your sins and cleaned out all your closets? ...

But what else was there to do on Good Friday? ...

Nothing. Quite obviously just nothing. The soldier who confessed, 'Truly this man was the Son of God,' and the one who pierced his Savior's side with the spear, both were equally helpless there, I suddenly saw. Because Good Friday is the day when you can do nothing. Bewailing and lamenting your manifold sins does not in itself make up for them. Scouring your soul in a frenzy of spring cleaning only sterilizes it; it does not give it life. On Good Friday, finally, we are all, mourners and mockers alike, reduced to the same impotence. Someone else is doing the terrible work that gives life to the world. Good Friday is the day we can do nothing at all.

No matter that I repudiated my old transgressions. On Good Friday, all one's fine feelings count for nothing. If there was to be anything new about life after today, it had to come from some source beyond myself. That is why there was nothing more to do on Good Friday ."

Maundy Thursday 

The Maundy Thursday service at our church last night was awful.

The A/V person kept messing up the power point slides so only the people who knew the words to “Christ the Rock of Horeb” could keep singing. Then there was some sort of confusion about the tune or the tempo. At one point the pianist stopped playing and held out her hand to stop the congregation so she could explain whatever we were doing wrong, but we kept right on going acapella, incidentally the moment when the silly song sounded best (after all what does it mean that Jesus is the “Rose of Sharon” and the “Lily of the Valley”?).

The slide for the next song had a glaring spelling error (vever instead of beber) which cracked Tim up and sent Veronica and I off into a gale of giggles.

During the sermon the pastor’s four-year-old daughter, Milka, who was sitting directly behind us, talked incessantly to Nahum and since neither of them knows how to whisper this was quite a distraction. I didn’t say anything to them however because I figured it really didn’t matter, as I was so sleepy I could hardly concentrate.

Then we took communion by tincture. If it had been with unleavened bread, that would have been one thing (I always wonder why we don’t use matzo bread. Its not like it’s impossible to find.) But these were generous strips of whole-wheat wonder bread made soggy by the very sweet grape flavored drink. Ugg. It tasted so awful, I almost gagged.

But at some point I realized that all of this awfulness was homey and reassuring. All this bumbling and stumbling made me feel like one of the original disciples, who were called by grace, not for what they could offer, and who demonstrated the hope and promise that what God can do for and through us does not depend on our capacities to understand clearly or perform flawlessly, but because this “all surpassing power is from God and not from us.”

As I looked around at the faces around me – Veronica’s parents who serve and love so well, Flor’s grandmother clinging to God in her pain and loss (26 yr old Flor died last fall), the teenage girls I’ve never seen before (could they see the glory through the homeliness?) – I knew there was something important about being there together, about suffering through our weaknesses as we assemble to remember what Jesus did that Thursday.

I could prepare a better service at home, at least one more meaningful to me, but then it wouldn’t be church, the body of Christ, it would just be one lone appendage.

Lord, thank you that our salvation and our value to your kingdom don’t depend on us and our abilities. Thank you for your grace, which condescends to use us in all our frailty and imitations and laziness and sinfulness, and for the worth and purpose this gives us.

Thursday, April 08, 2004


I love “Semana Santa” (Holy Week) in Toluca. Being one of only two weeks in the year that everyone has vacation, the city empties out. The streets are quiet and the sky clears up. (I don’t know how much of the grime in the air is blown over the mountains from the 5 million cars in Mexico City and how much is the pollution from local factories and cars, but during Easter vacation there is a noticeable change in the air quality.)

Yesterday we left the house a bit more than normal and we surprised at the appearance of our volcano, El Nevado de Toluca. Even though we’ve lived here for eight years, it was like we had never seen it this way before. It looked so close. We could see so clearly the newly tilled fields, the pine trees (I almost thought I could see individual trees at the tree line), and the gray slag of the peaks accented by creases of snow.

All day we noticed views of the volcano we hadn’t known were there – a full view down a familiar street, the peak rising clearly above the houses behind an empty block. Tim said, “It really dominates the city.”

How can we be so surprised by something that has been in the same place for the eight years we’ve lived here? Ordinarily there is a filter of dust, haze and smog that obscures it so we can only see it dimly, if at all. (Several years ago during a record drought we couldn’t see it at all for six months.)

Which leads me to think about how we humans are so bound by our individual perceptions—and our pride—that we think that what we see is all that’s there, that what we perceive is an accurate perception of reality, when in fact our perception is very limited and quite obscured by the dust of our limitations and the pollution of our sin. I think if that dust and pollution were blown away, reality would surprise us and we would see with clarity the way God dominates the landscape of our lives.

El Nevado gives me a way to remember this truth. When I can’t see it, or it seems far away, it’s not that it has moved but something has come between us. I can’t get rid of, or see through the smog, but I can remember the glimpse I have had of reality at its most accurate and know that the mountain with its fields and trees and peaks is just as close as ever.

This reminds me too that my perception of life is just as flawed as my view of the mountain, which calls for a bit of humility. And it helps me remember that God and His love are the dominating feature of the landscape of my life, even if I can’t see it at the moment.

(Just have to note that the title of this blog is in my mind because of a song on John Mayer's latest CD "Heavier Things" which has some great songs)

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