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.