Tag Archives: C.S. Lewis

Angels

“You’re out of your mind,” they told her. When she kept insisting that it was so, they said, “It must be his angel.”
Acts 12:15 (NIV)

Just over a decade ago there was an original series that premiered on the TNT network. It was called Saving Grace. Wendy and I absolutely loved it. The show centered around a very hard, broken, and flawed police detective named Grace who was expertly played by Holly Hunter. Grace’s life was all sorts of messed up, and in the opening episode we find her on the verge of suicide. That’s when Earl shows up. The scraggly, dumpy-looking Earl is actually an angel sent to help save Grace from herself, hence the title of the show. The show ran for four seasons.

Across the Great Story there are numerous times that angels enter the narrative. Certainly in the life of Jesus and throughout the book of Acts angels play an active role, as in today’s chapter. Dr. Luke describes Peter’s imprisonment by Herod and his being shackled continually between four armed guards. In the middle of the night an angel arrives to arrange for Peter’s “Great Escape.” Peter is rescued and returns to where the fellow believers are staying.

I love that Luke adds the detail about a servant girl named Rhoda who comes to the door when Peter arrives and knocks. The servant girl is so excited to see Peter that she runs to tell the household forgetting to actually unlock the door and let Peter inside. Upon telling the believers that Peter is outside at the door, they insist she is out of her mind, saying “It must be his angel.”

The Greek word Luke used in describing the event was atou which is correctly translated as a personal, possessive pronoun. It is clear that the believers understood that Peter had a personal angel assigned to him, and this verse is among the passages that have led to the popular belief that each of us has a “guardian angel.” (Matt 8:10 and Heb 1:14 are two others).

For the record, I do believe in angels even though I don’t have a great story like Peter’s (which I’m okay with, btw). I find it interesting that Hollywood regularly uses the humorous device of choosing a very  unangelic presence when depicting angels. I think both of the scraggly Earl in Saving Grace and the elderly, diminutive Clarence in It’s a Wonderful Life.

This morning in the quiet I’m thinking about angels. When writing about “fallen angels,” otherwise known as demons, C.S. Lewis wisely wrote that we can make one of two foolish mistakes. One is to waste time thinking too much about them. The second, Lewis said, is to be dismissive of them altogether. I’ve always agreed with Lewis on this, and so I don’t think too much about angels and demons except when I encounter a chapter like today’s. So, this morning I’m allowing myself some creative fun with the notion that every one does have a guardian angel and how my angel might be personified.

I think his name is probably Walter.

By the way, Saving Grace is available to rent through Amazon Prime.

Have a great day, everyone.

photo: by Frank Okenfels; Leon Rippy as Earl

A Grumpy Old Men Adventure

As mentioned in previous posts, my friend Kevin McQ and I are in a production of the one-act play Freud’s Last Session scheduled for October 17-20 (Dates have changed!). The play imagines a meeting between Sigmund Freud (just weeks from his death) and C.S. Lewis.

C.S. Lewis’ desk at the Marion E. Wade Center.

As part of our research of Lewis we became aware of the Marion E. Wade Center on the campus of Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois. The center hosts an archive of Lewis’ writing and correspondence along with a collection of Lewis’ possessions including his desk and his childhood wardrobe.

This prompted an idea for a one-day Grumpy Old Men marathon adventure for Kevin and me. So it was that we departed Pella at 4:00 a.m. this past Friday morning and drove in a cold rain all the way to Wheaton College. We pulled up to the Wade Center at promptly 9:00 a.m. when they opened. My nephew Sam is in grad school at Wheaton and hooked us up with his friend, Aaron, who works at the Center.

J.R.R. Tolkien’s Desk

Aaron gave us a tour of the Wade center. We got to see (and touch) the Wardrobe (For Wendy’s benefit, I checked to see if maybe…) and Lewis’ desk where he penned many of his books. There was also the desk of J.R.R. Tolkien where he wrote The Hobbit and much of The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion. As a lover of writing instruments  I also enjoyed seeing both Lewis’ and Tolkien’s fountain pens. The archive there contains an exhaustive collection of Lewis’ voluminous correspondence. Both Kevin and I wished we’d had more time in the schedule to explore the archive.

Chicago’s Red Line train to Addison.

It was still raining when we caught the 10:55 train from Wheaton to Chicago. We walked in the rain to catch the Red Line to Addison and then walked to Wrigley Field for the Cubs’ 1:20 p.m. game agains the Cincinnati Reds. It was our good fortune that the rain stopped just as we entered Wrigley and held off for the entire game. We watched Alec Mills on the mound for the Northsiders in his MLB debut. He pitched a gem and even notched his first MLB hit. The game also included Daniel Murphy’s first home run as a Cub and the Cubs won the game in the bottom of the 10th with a walk-off homer by David Bote. Stellar afternoon!

Kevin and I retraced our tracks back to Wheaton and it was raining again by the time we arrived. We drove back to Pella, arriving just before midnight. A memorable 20 hour adventure!

The Implosion of Evil

The Ammonites and Moabites rose up against the men from Mount Seir to destroy and annihilate them. After they finished slaughtering the men from Seir, they helped to destroy one another. When the men of Judah came to the place that overlooks the desert and looked toward the vast army, they saw only dead bodies lying on the ground; no one had escaped.
2 Chronicles 20:23-34 (NIV)

In our modern, twenty-first century enlightened world we rarely talk about the nature of evil. I find that, even among those who are followers of Jesus, there is a reticence to even think of the concept of evil. Jesus quite regularly referenced evil. The word or variation is used seven times in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.

Over the years Wendy and I have noticed a theme among epic stories regarding the nature of evil: evil eventually destroys itself from within. Sometimes, left to itself, evil naturally implodes. Tolkien used this device multiple times in his stories and it came to mind this morning as I read today’s chapter. As Merry and Pippin are captives of the Orcs it is an internal fight between factions of Orcs and Grishnakh’s lust that ultimately allow for their escape. Likewise, as Frodo and Sam attempt steal their way into Mordor through the stronghold of Cirith Ungol, a massive fight between two companies of Orcs destroy one another and allow the Hobbits to escape.

In today’s chapter we find a similar story from Judah’s history. A coalition of enemy armies are gathered to march against Judah and Jerusalem. King Jehoshaphat assembles all the people to seek the Lord. They pray, they fast, they humble themselves. God speaks through the prophet that the battle belongs to God and He will deliver. The people respond in praise. The coalition of enemy armies turn on each other and destroy one another so that when the army of Judah arrives, they find a field of dead bodies.

This morning in the quiet as I mull these things over I’m reminded of C.S. Lewis’ admonishment about the two mistakes one can make about the exploration of evil. One, he said, is to ignore it. The second is to get too deep and take it too seriously. The people of Judah didn’t ignore the threat facing them but focused their energies on seeking after God, trusting, and following. Before the threat could become a battle, the evil had imploded within. I never want to be naive, ignorant, or blind to the reality of evil that exists in our world. Neither do I want to give into fear or be overwhelmed by it:

This is what the Lord says to you: ‘Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s.

Faith, Strength, and Suffering

After Rehoboam’s position as king was established and he had become strong, he and all Israel with him abandoned the law of the Lord.
2 Chronicles 12:1 (NIV)

I am currently doing character work and studying my lines for a play I’ll be in this October. It’s a brilliant piece of historical fiction called Freud’s Last Session by Mark St. Germain. I play the great 20th century Christian writer and thinker, C.S. Lewis. Lewis pays a visit to fellow 20th century intellectual Sigmund Freud (who will be played by my dear friend, Kevin McQuade) who was a staunch atheist. The play is set in the final weeks of the eminent psychologist’s life. Freud had escaped Nazi Germany and set up his practice in London. Ironically, the battle of world views between these two great thinkers happens to take place on the very day Britain declares war on Germany.

As Lewis and Freud discuss the nature of human suffering, Lewis makes the following observation: “We don’t think of God when we’re motoring in the countryside, only when we’re stuck on the railroad tracks and see the train coming.”

This line came to mind this morning as I read today’s chapter about King Rehoboam. The opening line of the Chronicler’s account states that Rehoboam and the nation abandoned the law of the Lord after “his position had been established and he had become strong.” In other words, Rehoboam clung to the religion of his father, grandfather, and ancestors while he was struggling, when his kingdom was in crisis, when the rebel Jereboam was leading 10 of the 12 Hebrew tribes against him, and when his grip on the throne was in doubt. As soon as his power was shored up and he regained his strength, God was no longer a necessity.

Lewis’ observation is simple, but it captures what I have observed in my own Life journey to be a very human trait. When things are going well and life is easy, when I’m experiencing a runner’s high on the road of life, then it’s easy to trust my own strength and fortune. I don’t feel a particular need for divine connection, intervention, or faith. It’s when the shit hits the proverbial fan and I’m suffering from circumstances that are out of my control that I suddenly feel the need for connection and intervention from divine power that is outside of myself. In the play, Lewis follows the previous text I quoted with his now famous line: “If pleasure is [God’s] whisper, pain is his megaphone.”

For the record, Freud responds to Lewis by arguing the opposite. He views his sufferings (and all suffering in the world) are reason to doubt and discredit any notions of God and faith. It’s a fascinating play. You should come see it ;-).

This morning I’m thinking about my current stretch on Life’s road. I’m looking back at my own experiences in both times of strength and times of suffering. Is there a contrast in my own faith during those contrasting stretches of the journey? Does my faith wane when I’m cruising along on Life’s road experiencing runner’s high? Is my faith only intense in proportion to the intensity of suffering I’m feeling in the moment? I’d like to think not. Jesus said that the sun shines and the rain falls on both the righteous and the unrighteous. Times of strength and times of suffering are common to every person. My faith is central to either circumstance. It’s my sunscreen on life’s beach, my umbrella in life’s storm.

Note: Freud’s Last Session is a private production sponsored by the theatre department of Central College in Pella, Iowa. Performances will be October 24-27, 2018 at 7:30 p.m.

Power of the Art of Acting

I have observed along my life journey that acting is largely misunderstood and under appreciated as an art. To many who have asked me about my experiences on stage, acting is perceived to be nothing more than adults engaged in a child’s game of make believe. That notion certainly contains a nugget of truth, as good actors tap into a child-like sense of play and imagination. It does, however, fall short of the whole truth. One might equally say that a painter is simply “coloring” or a composer is simply “making up songs.” In every one of these examples the notion falls far short of understanding both the art form and the work of the artist.

Acting, to steal a term used by Tolkien and Lewis with regard to their writing, is a form of sub-creation. It is the art of creating an individual being, from the inside out, in all of his or her (or its) infinite complexities. Think how intricately layered each one of us are in our unique experiences, gifts, talents, intentions, thoughts, feelings, desires, quirks, flaws, handicaps,  strengths, and idiosyncrasies. What a Herculean task to start with nothing more than words in a script and attempt the creation of a living, breathing, believably real human being on stage. Even more challenging is the fact that the actor must fulfill this task utilizing his or her own existing body and voice. Imagine a composer being asked to take exactly the same notes, key, and time signature that exist in one piece of music and rearrange them to make a uniquely different work.

An actor’s task is made even more difficult when his or her creation must interact with others on stage whom they do not control.  Your creation, in all his or her uniqueness, must react and respond to others in the moment without the assurance of knowing exactly what will happen or be said (or not said) in that moment. Like all other artists actors put their creation out there for all the world to see. It is a courageous act fraught with the risk. Unlike artists in other mediums, actors are, themselves, the canvas, the composition, the sculpture, the sonnet. When actors step on stage they present their own flesh and blood as part and parcel of the art itself. The risk is more personal and more public than almost any other art form.

In the process of creating this living, breathing creation on stage, the actor becomes psychologist, historian, private investigator, sociologist, theologian, and priest. Actors become among the world’s most accepting and empathetic inhabitants because they are required to find understanding and empathy for some of literature and history’s most heinous villains. In this pursuit of the embodiment of a real person on stage, an actor comes to embody love and grace that believes, hopes, and endures even for the most tragic of characters.

As with all art mediums, there exists in this wide world of actors a diverse panacea of education, talent, experience and ability. You may not find Olivier, Hoffman, Streep, or Theron at your local high school, college, or community center. You may, however, be pleasantly surprised if you take the risk of venturing out and buying a ticket. You will find courageous actor-artists stepping into a real world created on the other side of the fourth wall. They will transport you to another time in another place. You may just find yourself swept up in a story that not only entertains, but also causes you to think, laugh, weep, and feel. Your disbelief may be suspended just long enough for you to care, truly care, about these characters, these persons, these living, breathing, real creations and their stories. That is the power of the art of acting.

Related Posts

10 Ways Being a Theatre Major Prepared Me for Success
Preparing for a Role: Digging into the Past
Preparing for a Role: Digging into the Script
Preparing for a Role: The First Rehearsal
Preparing for a Role: Digging into the Character
Preparing for a Role: The Rehearsal Process
Preparing for a Role: How Do You Memorize All Those Lines?
Preparing for a Role: Bits and Moments in the Grind
Preparing for a Role: Production Week
Preparing for a Role: Keeping Focus When Siri Joins You on Stage
Preparing for a Role: Ready for Performance
Theatre is Ultimate Fitness for Your Brain!

 

Photo: Arvin Van Zante, Wendy Vander Well, and Karl Deakyne rehearse a scene from Ham Buns and Potato Salad. Pella, Iowa.

The Ultimate Question

The church I attended every week as a child.
The church I attended every week as a child.

Once when Jesus was praying in private and his disciples were with him, he asked them, “Who do the crowds say I am?”

They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, that one of the prophets of long ago has come back to life.”

“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
Luke 9:18-20a (NIV)

Growing up, my family attended church regularly. I sang in the children’s choir, put on my robe each week, and walked in processional up the center aisle and into the choir loft. In the summer I went to Vacation Bible School. In the fall I and my went to the church’s Christmas bazaar (usually because my mother was a volunteer). Every Easter week our family attended the Maunday Thursday communion service. Every Christmas week our family attended the Christmas Eve candlelight service. Every year or two I went to the Father/Son banquet with my dad. At the age of twelve I dutifully attended the confirmation class required by our denomination, and at the end of that year I put on my white robe and was accepted as a member of the church. I got a certificate for my pains and a box of envelopes with my name on it for my weekly offerings.

Michael Corleone
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

All of these activities and events made me and my family good, religious people. We observed all of the right things. They did not, however, make us believers in Jesus. Like Michael Corleone standing at the baptismal fount dutifully renouncing Satan while his orders to assassinate all of his enemies was carried out, the rituals and religious trappings had no real relationship with what was going on inside my heart and soul. All of the religious activity really didn’t affect my motives, thoughts, words, or actions on a daily basis.

In today’s chapter, Jesus confronts his followers with two questions:

“Who do the crowds say that I am?”

Simple. There are many answers to this question. We can spend all day going through the options. Some say this, and some say that. Good teacher, Son of God, messiah, prophet, wise man, looney tunes, charlatan, or huckster.

“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

Now that’s a direct question. That’s a very personal question. It’s an important question. In fact, it’s the ultimate question. The answer to that question makes all the difference.  C.S. Lewis famously wrote that there are three logical answers to Jesus’ question:

  1. Liar. Jesus knew He was not God, but told everyone He was. If Jesus lied then He was morally corrupt and a deceiver. In which case, there is no point in believing in Him or following Him.
  2. Lunatic. Jesus claimed to be God, but was not. In which case, despite all of the nice sayings and good deeds, Jesus was actually crazy and should have been locked up in the psych ward with all of the other lunatics claiming to be God. Again, there is no point in giving Him much thought.
  3. Lord. Jesus was, in fact, who He claimed to be, in which case we much choose to accept Him or reject Him.

When I was 14, in a moment that had nothing to do with my family, church, denomination, or confirmation I found my spirit confronted with the ultimate question:

“But what about you?” came the question deep from in my soul“Who do you say I am?”

“I believe you are, indeed, who you say you are,” my spirit replied to His spirit. “Come into my heart, and be Lord of my life.”

And, that made all the difference.

“Freud’s Last Session”

C.S. Lewis
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Sigmund Freud, founder of psychoanalysis, smok...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I will praise the Lord all my life;
    I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.
Psalm 146:2 (NIV)

Wendy and I went to see a wonderful play last night entitled Freud’s Last Session. It is set in the early days of World War II. Sigmund Freud fled Vienna and sought refuge in London. It is 1939 and his death from oral cancer is imminent. The play is a “what if” imagining in which the brilliant psychoanalyst and staunch atheist calls a young Oxford Professor and  Christian apologist, C.S. Lewis, to visit him in his London office.

The two intellectuals spar conversationally for an hour and twenty minutes about life, death, God, religion, history, sex, and family. There is precious little agreement but plenty of humorous jabs and flashes of passionate verbal conflict in-between very poignant human moments. The German Blitz and impending war is a present reality in the room as is Freud’s impending death. Their world views are polar opposites and in conflict with one another, yet under the tense debate between proud, brilliant scholars is a respectful curiosity of the opponent, a delight in the conversation and the desire understand.

There is no “winner” or “loser” in the play. Neither man is convinced or converted. In the final minutes through his coughing up blood, Freud makes his declaratory statement that the truth he sees is that “the end [e.g. death] is the end.” Lewis amicably departs his session with Freud, and each audience member is left to weigh the arguments themselves and carry on the conversation.

I woke up this morning thinking about the play, the men, and their respective world views. As I read the psalmist’s lyric above, I thought of Lewis, the story of his conversion, and his personal faith journey which . I have a story like his, and I closely identified with the faith and world view which molded Lewis’ own life journey for another 34 years after the play’s end. I can’t imagine my life apart from my faith. Like the psalmist, like Lewis, it is a faith journey which I will walk to my grave. At the same time, because of my faith I can’t imagine not loving and respecting those who don’t share it. Even those who passionately disagree with me.

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