Friday, January 24, 2014


     On Sunday, we took a look at one of Chesterton's most well-known stories; "the Lamp Post", from his book, Heretics. In the introduction to The Everlasting Man, we encounter two more tales: "the boy who leaves home to find a giant" and "man meets horse." All of these stories are about perspective and how we see the world, especially how Christians should see the world or, as the Apostle John put it, the cosmos. ("The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever." 1John 2:17)
     The main premise of The Everlasting Man is that the world, as well as many who claim to be Christians, do not see the Church correctly, and therefore do not understand it or follow it, because they are viewing it from the wrong perspective. He writes, "The point of this book, in other words, is that the next best thing to being really inside Christendom is to be really outside it." (p. 9) And to illustrate this he tells a little tale about a boy who leaves his family farm on the hillside in search of "something, such as the effigy and grave of some giant." Having traveled far and long, he turns around to catch one last glimpse of home, only to see a gigantic figure carved in the hillside above the farm. The traces of the giant had been with him all the time; he had been to close to them to see it. Chesterton is telling us that, in order to get a firm grip on what Christianity is and what it means, we must every so often step back from it and see it from a perspective that is far removed from it or what it has become. Then we well see the faith with a renewed clarity -- we will dive again into the wonder of all the things we have yet to know, learn and experience.
     To further illustrate this point, Chesterton remarks that perhaps we should look at Christianity from some sort of alien viewpoint, say, that of a "Confucian." He is so sufficiently different from a Christian that his line of thinking on our faith will open up new vistas of understanding for us; he will, quite innocently, help us to see the Cross, "towering over the wrecks of time." Several years ago, when I was teaching a high school Bible class, I had an experience that illustrates this perfectly. In an attempt to get my students to see Jesus as the unique person who he truly is, I showed them clips from the movie Godspell. The music from this work had greatly influenced me as at teenager, when it opened my eyes to the greater world of Christianity beyond my rigid Baptist upbringing. ("All good gifts around us, are sent from heaven above -- So praise the Lord, Oh, praise the Lord, for all his love.) But when my students saw it, they laughed, nervously, really, because it was so unlike any  mundane Sunday School story of Jesus they had ever heard. They weren't ready to sing and dance and wear the colorful clothes of what redemption really is and to know the Christ who invites us into his unending joy.
      And herein lies Chesterton's most important point -- most of us are neither too close nor far enough way in our view of Christianity. We "...cannot get out of the penumbra of Christian controversy... [we] live in the shadow of the faith and have lost the light of the faith." (p. 10,11) Chesterton linked this to the theological controversies of his day, but this intermediate view, this preoccupation with minor persuasions, has dogged the Church from the beginning and follows us still. Everybody seems to have something fixate upon -- music, money, lifestyle choices, social issues, even the fundamental meaning of the fundamentals themselves. But to see the faith in the clear light of the Gospel, we must travel to a far-off point indeed, one that stands outside of this world, somewhere in the neither-land between here and Heaven.
      We should see this as a great, overwhelming vision of hope; a vision not unlike ancient man seeing a horse for the first time -- a great and powerful beast, looming above his head, yet inviting him to sit upon his back and go for a ride. As the cosmos presses in on us with ever-increasing intensity, we must with equal desire, as our Lord instructed us, "...lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near." If we are looking towards heaven, or taking the view from heaven, we will see life in the proper perspective. To do so is to repossess the hope of Christianity, the certainty of the Kingdom that comes, a treasure "still as new as it is old." (p. 19)
Chesterton, G.K. The Everlasting Man. San Francisco, Ignatius Press, 1993, 2008.  

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

No perfect families

     Someone has remarked that there are no "perfect" families mentioned  in the Bible. When my husband and I heard this, we immediately tried to come up with evidence to the contrary. Jesus' family must have been ideal -- after all, Jesus himself was a most illustrious member of it, and he is the most perfect person who ever lived! But, upon close examination of the text, we learn that his family lived in the backwaters of Israel (Nazareth), his mom and dad mistakenly took off for home and left him in the temple, and his brothers and sisters thought he was crazy and tried to do an intervention to keep him from spouting all that nonsense about God being his real father!
     We also thought of Noah and Mrs. Noah -- they stuck together through difficult and improbable circumstances, and Mrs. Noah heroically put up with her husband's boat-building hobby for all those years, and in the middle of the desert, for heaven's sake... And I thought of Isaiah and his wife (referred to as "the prophetess") who agreed to the crazy names he came up with for their sons -- "Shear-Jashub" and "Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz." (They don't get any better in English: "a remnant will return," and "quick to the plunder, swift to the spoil.")
     The Bible stories are littered with tales of imperfect, less than ideal families. We read about incest, polygamy, arguing, murder (in the very first family!), adultery, wayward children, sickness and sorrow. It seems that every family takes up a cross of some kind; the greatest being in the family of our Lord, for as the elderly sage Simon prophesied to Mary: "a sword will pierce through your own soul also." At the foot of the cross, newly adopted into the disciple John's household, she felt the sword of separation from her firstborn son, who was, at the same time, in the dark agony of separation from God, his Father.
     But, like so many things in the Bible, the point of the stories of imperfect families is not their brokenness, but their restoration, not their sin, but their salvation, not their failures, but their redemption. For Adam and Eve, it is baby Seth, the beginning of a long unbroken line to Christ, for Noah and his family, a second chance at life in this world, for Abraham and Sarah, a child so long-awaited, loved and unexpected that his birth resounds with joyful laughter. In every story, something comes along to wipe away the sorrow, even if it is only the promise of eternal life to come. Even in the story of Jesus's earthly family this rings true -- our last picture of them is found in Acts chapter 1-- "Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers" are gathered with his followers in the upper room, waiting for the Holy Spirit, who, as Jesus said, "will abide with you forever."
     Perhaps the greatest lesson we can learn from the Biblical families is that the child of Bethlehem, when born in our hearts, is the one who brings peace and hope into our chaotic lives. When we become a member of his family, we are born into an eternal oneness with him and partake in the blessed position of sonship with him. "How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called the children of God!" -- John writes with joyful pride. He will never abandon us, or make an unwise decision about our lives, or think of anything else as being of greater importance than his relationship with us. As children of God, we have truly found a forever home.
      And during those dark times, when we look at our own families and despair, for many and complex reasons, we must bear in mind that "there is one God and Father of us all" who "works in all things for our good." He is, in his own and perfect way, working in each life, in each family, with an eternal purpose in mind, for a time when we will all be related and living in true relationship. There is no better description of Heaven than "home," because it illustrates to the fullest degree how God will take the broken, disconnected things of this life and make them perfectly whole. Until then the greatest work of love we can do for our families is to be redemptive in our relationships; to take the things that go wrong and, by the power of God's love and grace, turn them into something touched by goodness, set free to love and be loved.