Wednesday, December 17, 2008

At the Kilns: Reading C.S. Lewis

Back in March, I started a blog series entitled, “At the Kilns”. The mantra of this series was “Learning from C.S. Lewis”; the plan was to immerse myself in the writings of C.S. Lewis. As this year draws to a close, I would like to review what I have read and what I still need to read before my yearlong endeavour concludes in March 2009.

At the Kilns: Learning form the Writings of C.S. Lewis
Books read in 2008

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
Prince Caspian
The Great Divorce

The Weight of Glory
God in the Dock
Christian Reflections
(nearly finished)

Christian Life:
The Four Loves
A Grief Observed

selections from They Stand Together: C.S. Lewis to Arthur Greeves
Letters to an American Lady

C.S. Lewis Remembered by H.L. Poe and R. W. Poe
Seeking the Secret Place: The Spiritual Formation of C.S. Lewis by Lyle Dorsett

Books unrelated to C.S. Lewis
Old School by Tobias Wolff
Glory and Honour: The Musical and Artistic Legacy of J.S. Bach by Gregory Wilbur
Iliad by Homer (nearly finished)

On the list for the next three months, I propose the following (based on the recommendations of a well-read Lewis fan):

That Hideous Strength (from The Cosmic Trilogy)
Till We Have Faces

This will take me to March. I may also be able to fit in The Abolition of Man. There is still a sizable corpus of Lewis’ writings I have yet to explore. Most of the books I read this year are among Lewis' shorter texts; nonetheless, I will have a lifetime, Lord willing, to read and re-read more of C.S. Lewis. After March break, however, I will leave the Kilns and begin a series on Francis Schaeffer… “At L’Abri”. The Kilns won't be left behind completely, mind you. Lewis has a way of appearing on my reading list every year.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

God's answer to the Problem of Evil

We live in a dark and evil world. I am stunned every time I open a newspaper and glance over the headlines. Human creativity and ingenuity seems to be equally evident in the extent of our evil endeavours as well as our good endeavours. This is not pessimism; it is reality. Consequently, one of the most common objections to Christianity is the question of evil. “If God is supposedly good,” says the non-Christian, “then why does He allow evil to exist?” The dichotomy that is presented is this: either God is not strong enough to prevent evil or he is strong, but He is not good enough to want to prevent it. This objection is often called the Achilles’ heel of Christianity because it is perceived as a major weak point. There is no easy answer to this objection. Many scholars and theologians have contorted themselves and the Scriptures, often to the destruction of sound doctrine, in order to give an answer to this challenge.

As Christians and non-Christians consider this issue, we need some perspective. Dorothy Sayers, as quoted in A Ready Defence by Josh McDowell, writes
For whatever reason God chose to make man as he is—limited and suffering and subject to sorrows and death—[God] had the honesty and the courage to take his own medicine. He Himself has gone through the whole human experience, from the trivial irritations of family life and the cramping restrictions of hard work and lack of money to the worst horrors of pain and humiliation, defeat, despair and death. When He was a man, He played the man. He was born in poverty and died in disgrace and thought it well worth while” (413).

It is essential to remember in our discussion of evil that God Himself endured His “own medicine” as Sayers puts it. Often times we blame God as though He was aloof from the mess of the world. He suffered the greatest evil. For some reason, He “thought it well worth while.”

As we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ this season, let us remember that God did not leave the problem of evil unanswered. He gave us a saviour.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

The Power of Music: Bach's St. Matthew Passion & Mendelssohn

Recently, I led a five-part study on the “Music and Spirituality of J.S. Bach, Handel and Mendelssohn” for Pilgrim Baptist Fellowship. Although I have a great appreciation for music, I am an amateur on the subject. So, in my preparation for this series, I listened to a number of compositions by these musical geniuses. I was struck by the fact that I rarely “listen” to music; I simply hear it. Most of us “listen” to music as background noise while we do something else. No piece made this point more clear than Bach’s St. Matthew Passion. I was profoundly and deeply astounded by the richness, beauty and power in the music. In fact, I was moved to tears at one point in the piece. Bach’s adept arrangement of music and lyrics was incredibly affecting.
Bach’s St. Matthew Passion was written in German, but I borrowed from the library a copy of the work in English. I was mesmerized by the piece. Up to this point in my foray into classical music, I underestimated the power of music. I think the greatest testimony of the power of music—particularly Bach’s Passion—can be seen in the life of Jakob Ludwig Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy (1809-1847).

When Bach died in 1750, he was all but forgotten as a composer. He was more famous in his day as an organist and musician. Although he remained known among contemporary scholars of music, most considered his compositions far too difficult to play.

A young Jewish composer, Felix Mendelssohn, rediscovered Bach’s St. Matthew Passion about 70 years after Bach’s death. He was moved by the musical and dramatic aspects of the work; eventually, when he conducted an orchestra and choir of 400 to put on the Passion in Berlin in 1829, Mendelssohn was also deeply moved by the presentation of the gospel in the piece.

Mendelssohn’s parents had made a superficial conversion from Judaism to Christianity for economic and political reasons. Mendelssohn yearned for answers to his spiritual questions, but he only began to find direction in the music of J.S. Bach. Ultimately his conversion to Christianity is a direct result of his contact with Christ through the music of J.S. Bach. In a time where Lutheran clergy had abandoned their first love and aligned themselves with the prevailing theological fads, Mendelssohn only had the Bible and Bach. Mendelssohn was anchored firmly in his faith; his subsequent spiritual growth was also aided by studying the life of Martin Luther and by his friendship to a young seminary student named Julius Schubring.

It is encouraging to think of the impact music can have on people’s lives. About the Bible, Mendelssohn wrote that “everything there is fresh and true, and the method of expression always as good and fresh as it could possibly be.” Therefore, Mendelssohn argued, the music inspired by the Word should also be as good and fresh as it could possibly be.

Bach’s St. Matthew Passion in English: Bach Choir and Thames Chamber Orchestra conducted by Sir David Willcocks, (Decca 1979, CD 2008)

Monday, November 24, 2008

Bach and Luther: Theology in Music

Johann Sebastian Bach is noted as the forefather of all Western music; without Bach, we wouldn’t have Mozart, Beethoven or Brahms. He lived in Germany from 1685-1750 during what has now become known as the Baroque period. Ironically, some musicologists suggest that without Martin Luther, the great German Reformer of the previous century, there would have been no Bach. The musical formations of Bach’s day grew out of the theological reformations of Luther’s day. It is not hard to see the connections between these two great men of God.

Bach’s family was incredibly musical; his family lineage shows seven generations of professional musicians. In some parts of Germany, the name “Bach” was synonymous with the word “musician”. But Bach’s family members were also faithful followers of Jesus Christ and they adhered to the reformed faith. Fleeing religious persecution, Bach’s family migrated to the region of Thuringia, a stronghold of reformed faith and a bastion of brilliant ecclesiastic music. This is where Bach grew up and attended school. This is also the region where Martin Luther spent his youth. Both Bach and Luther attended the same Latin School in Eisenach, albeit 200 years apart. Bach also spent his days in the shadows of Wartburg Castle, perched high above Eisenach, where in the previous century, Luther hid from his enemies and where he translated the Greek New Testament into German. These tangible reminders of Luther’s reformation must have left indelible impressions on the young Bach, but more powerful perhaps, was the influence of Luther’s view of church music.

Luther writes, “Next to the Word of God, music deserves the highest praise… I plainly judge, and do not hesitate to affirm, that except for theology, there is no art that could be put on the same level with music…” For Luther, music was an incredibly inspiring and powerful gift from God; however, it was not simply ‘music for music’s sake’. Luther believed that music aided and enhanced the Christian’s worship of the Great and Mighty Creator. “God has cheered our heart and minds through his dear Son, whom he gave us to redeem us from sin, death and the devil. He who believes this cannot be quiet about it. But he must gladly and willingly sing and speak about it so others also may come to hear it. And whoever does not want to sing and speak of it shows that he does not believe…”

Luther sought to apply his ideas about music and worship to actual church music; as a result, he was a prolific hymn writer. Luther’s hymns proved to be a great spiritual and musical inspiration to Bach throughout his life. He perused Luther’s hymns for comfort, theological instruction and for lyrics to articulate his own devotion to God. Bach adapted many of Luther’s hymns when composing his copious cantatas---he wrote over 200 cantatas! Bach was most influenced by Luther’s determination to incorporate music into the life of the church; this is why most of Bach’s church music was designed to be “accessible” to the congregations and why he incorporated vernacular chorales and familiar hymns into his cantatas.

Most notably, the mantra of the Reformation, “Sola Deo Gloria”, served as the basis of Bach’s conception of music; Bach writes, “The aim and final end of all music should be none other than the glory of God and the refreshment of the soul.” For all the spiritual and theological benefits the Christian Church has reaped from God’s working through Martin Luther and the Reformation, we can thank God for the musical legacy of the Reformation as well. As we thank God for Luther, let us also thank God for Bach.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

At the Kilns: Letters to an American Lady, grading papers and rediscovering Horatio

One of the things I have learned while reading C.S. Lewis is that grading papers is always a burden, no matter how much of a genius or master teacher one is. Perhaps, it is more of a burden for those who are geniuses and master teachers…

This point became clear after reading a short little book called Letters to an American Lady. It is a collection of letters C.S. Lewis wrote to an American woman over the course of a decade. She wrote to Lewis---at times incessantly---and Lewis responded faithfully to almost every single letter she wrote to him. During the course of years, academic terms and increasing illness on both their parts, Lewis recounts the demands on his time. Most prominent is grading papers.

I was encouraged, not by the fact that Lewis felt burdened by grading, but that I was not the only one who seemed to be feeling the pangs of poorly written prose. There is no easy way out of marking. It simply has to be waded through. During each stint of examinations, Lewis faithful trudged on despite his time being far more precious and valuable than mine. The other encouraging thing for me is that since Lewis inevitably finishes grading and is able to move on to other things he enjoys, so can I.

All this being said, I recently read a student essay that brought me some delight. I am currently wading through 80 essays on Hamlet… and I have encountered the usual themes of death, revenge and death-resulting-from-revenge and death-resulting-in-revenge sort of essays… This essay stood out because it focused on Horatio. My student writes, “readers have a tendency to direct much of their energy towards the main characters. However, secondary characters in a work should never be overlooked…” True enough. He goes on to write, “In a play full of deception, betrayal, revenge and strong passion, it is very important for the audience to be able to rely on a voice of reason and truth.” Very true. He continues, “In Hamlet, Horatio is this truth teller; he is an observer of action and a commentator. Horatio is the one character in the play who can be trusted not only by Hamlet but by the audience.” I was gripped. In teaching Hamlet, I address Horatio’s importance only in relation to how he functions in advancing the plot shedding certain light on Hamlet. I had never really considered Horatio for Horatio’s sake. When all other human beings in the play betray all forms of human relationships, Horatio is the steadfast and faithful one. He is the hope that remains after Pandora’s Box is opened and a torrent of death and mayhem are unleashed in the closing scene of the play.

Anyway, it was great to read something inspiring. Although it is making the rest of my marking more challenging. Revenge and death, death and revenge. Oh, the carnage of words, paper and Shakespeare. As I tread through the battlefields of intellectual promise and academic potential, I long for a truth teller, someone who can be trusted… I need another dose of Horatio.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Johann Sebastian Bach 1685-1750

When describing the foundations of Western music, some music scholars refer to the three B’s—Bach, Beethoven and Brahms—while others would simply say, there was Bach… and then everyone else. Bach was a prolific composer, brilliant organist and an inventive musical genius. His ability to act both as a conservator and innovator of music is what places him at the top of the list of musical giants. In his works, he excelled at traditional forms of music while expanding and transforming the forms to new heights, achieving “summa”—highest realised potential—in nearly every style of music known in Bach’s day.

When Mozart first encountered Bach’s music, he was “entranced” by it. According to Harold Schronberg, Mozart studied Bach’s compositions, “arranged some music, and was strongly influenced by Bachian counterpoint.” Beethoven and Brahms were also influenced by Bach. Brahms said, “Study Bach: there you will find everything.” Mozart said about Bach’s music, “Now there is music from which a man can learn something.” After hearing a performance of Bach’s music, Richard Wagner described it as “the most stupendous miracle in all music.” German poet, Goethe, described Bach’s music “as though eternal harmony were conversing with itself, as it may have happened in God’s bosom shortly before He created the world.” Robert Schuman writes, “Playing and studying Bach convinces us that we are all numbskulls.”

With such praise, it is surprising to discover that this musical giant was a humble and gracious man who devoted his life and talents to the glory of God. Over three quarters of his (astonishing) one thousand compositions consisted of music composed for worship in the church. Many scholars balk at the notion that Bach’s perceived Christianity had anything to do with his music; J.S. Bach, however, states plainly that “The aim and final end of all music should be none other than the glory of God and the refreshment of the soul.” Soli Deo Gloria—To God Alone be the Glory. The letters S.D.G. were inscribed on many of Bach’s compositions; he meant this Latin phrase as a testimony to those who would perform his music and to generations to come, that this music was for God’s glory, not Bach’s. He strove to live by Paul’s words: “Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” Even on much of Bach’s “secular” compositions, we find inscribed the letters J.J., for Jesu, Juva (Jesus, help) or I.N.J., which stands for In Nomine Jesu (In the name of Jesus).

The life, music and legacy of J.S. Bach is a reminder to all Christians to use the gifts and talents God has given us for the Glory of God and the building up of His Church. For Bach, there was no dichotomy between secular and sacred. Whatever he did, for whatever purpose, he did for his Heavenly Father. To God Alone be the Glory.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

The Wandering Blogger Posts Again...

As of late, I have been engaged with the start-up of the academic year. I am teaching Hamlet to my English students, The Odyssey to my Classical Civilization students and I am teaching about Roman poet Horace to my Latin students. I am delighted to say that I have a wonderful “batch” of students to work with this year.

In addition to school start-up, I am undergoing a crash course in music education. I have been busy researching and preparing a five-week study on the Spirituality and Music of J.S. Bach and George Handel for my church. Over the month of October, I will be presenting this series during the Wednesday Prayer meetings.

As a result, I have put my C.S. Lewis education on hold. My current foray into the world of music is incredibly illuminating. I am certain Lewis wouldn’t mind the short deviation from studying at the Kilns.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

'blogspotting' blog of the week

Caroline Gill's blog Caroline at Coastguard has listed Galumphing as its "blogspotting" blog of the week. Thanks for the nod, Caroline!

Monday, August 25, 2008

Teaching Shakespeare as Literature

Shakespeare originally wrote his plays to be performed before a mostly uneducated and illiterate audience. Writing plays was Shakespeare’s “job”---he earned a modest living from writing and producing plays. He was not writing for “art’s sake” but for “food’s sake”. The old adage, “necessity is the father of invention” is particularly true in Shakespeare’s case. The point here is that Shakespeare’s plays were written to be performed on stage. Most of his plays did not appear in print until well after his death. For this reason, many gurus of education are arguing for a performance-based approach to teaching Shakespeare. If the plays were written for the stage, then they should be taught on a “stage”.

Peggy O’Brien from the Folger Library (one of the largest and most significant Shakespeare research centre in the world) writes, “Performing a Shakespearean scene or scenes is the single most important part of a student’s Shakespeare education. Period.” She may be right, but there is too much pressure on educators to use Shakespeare primarily as a drama unit rather than literature unit. The dramatic aspect of Shakespeare lends itself well to a performance-based approach. However, his plays run deep, much deeper than the average audience-goer would understand. This is the reason why Shakespeare can be, and should be, taught as literature. A student’s exposure to Shakespeare needs to be more than simply “working towards performance”.

Had Shakespeare been writing three hundred years later than his own time in history, he may have chosen to write novels as opposed to plays. His characters have a psychological complexity and depth that surpass most theatrical characters in Elizabethan drama; some of his characters are unsurpassed by present-day drama. Essentially, Shakespeare wrote his plays “deeper” than required for successful stage performance. In fact, I argue that some of Shakespeare’s plays “read” better than they are “performed”. So much of the “drama” in the play Macbeth, for example, is so internal and psychological that I have rarely watched a great on-stage performance of it (no fault to the performers or directors). It is a play, I believe, that is better read than watched. In some ways, Shakespeare is like a novelist trapped in a playwright’s body.

That being said, Shakespeare still works well on stage. The plays were as popular in Elizabethan England (for the most part) as they are now (if not more so). However, I find that my enjoyment of “Shakespeare performed” is different from “Shakespeare read”. Sometimes, my enjoyment of Shakespeare performed is, in part, due to the fact that I have read the play beforehand. As educators, it is important that we expose our students to both performance enjoyment and the enjoyment of a close reading. Why did Shakespeare include so much symbolism and metaphor in his plays, when so much of it would be lost on his audiences? Perhaps there is a bit of “art for art’s sake” in Shakespeare after all.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Three Days with the Bard

This week I was in Stratford (Ontario) attending a teacher conference at the Shakespeare Festival. The Stratford Shakespeare Festival is considered by theatre aficionados as North America’s premiere classical theatre. But, as they say, familiarity breeds contempt. While I was a student at the University of Western Ontario in London (ON), I took full advantage of the student rate ($20 at the time), and I saw numerous plays at the Festival. Now as a teacher, I catch a play or two every year with my students. I began to take the theatre for granted. I live and work next door to Stratford. This attitude of ingratitude, however, has changed this week for two reasons.

The first reason was the opportunity I had to work with teachers who came from places as far as Rochester NY, North Bay and New Brunswick! These teachers were thrilled to be in Stratford. I saw Stratford through their eyes. Would I drive six or eight hours to catch a Stratford play? Would I fly from New Brunswick? A different perspective on what you “have” makes all the difference.

The second reason was the fact that I really enjoyed the shows I watched this week. Part of the Teachers’ Conference included complimentary tickets to three Shakespearean plays. I also had the opportunity to workshop with some of the actors from the plays, most notably, Adrienne Gould, who plays Ophelia in Hamlet. The plays I saw were Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet and Taming of the Shrew. The best of the plays was Hamlet.

I have watched Hamlet on stage a few times, once previously at Stratford (starring Paul Gross in 2000). This particular stage production of Hamlet was great. Award winning Canadian actor Ben Carlson shines as Hamlet. Gould’s Ophelia is also the best I have seen on stage. I thoroughly enjoyed the performance. I was more than awake; I was engaged. Admittedly, there are odd bits in the production. One strange set piece is a gigantic pool table that miraculously appears after a blackout on stage. It is humongous. What made this especially odd is the fact that this huge table had little purpose. In the Kenneth Branagh film version of Hamlet (1996), there is also a pool table (I think?) in the identical scene. Claudius is---symbolically---a “pool shark”. He manipulates the situation, lures Laertes into his schemes and creates the ultimate set up. The symbol works well in the movie. On stage, the table is simply a colossal distraction---albeit a dazzlingly magnificent piece of furniture. The point is, the actors and the scene are lost behind the gorgeous oak pool table. Another reason making the table odd on-stage was the fact that Laertes, who just tragically lost both his father and his sister, and who almost raised a revolution in Denmark and nearly committed regicide, is in the next scene, playing snooker… In Branagh’s film it seems to work. Claudius is manipulating Laertes, distracting him from his rage. On stage, I couldn’t help but wonder how much that table cost, how did they get it on stage so fast and what are they going to do with it after the show is over?

There was also a piano on stage during the whole production. Although used cleverly throughout the performance, I found it a distraction as well. However, not enough of a distraction to cause me to miss Carlson’s Hamlet. He truly embodied Shakespeare’s most celebrated tragic hero. It was a risky manoeuvre, but Carlson’s and Gould’s performances redeem the show of all its flaws.
So, I appreciate Stratford a little more these days. I am looking forward to bringing my 90 Grade 12 English students to Stratford in order to see Hamlet. I feel confident this performance will not turn my students off the bard. It may do just the opposite. If you are in the neighbourhood, take advantage of Stratford’s Shakespeare Festival.

Monday, August 18, 2008

The Annotated Hobbit

Even though I have dedicated my reading time to C.S. Lewis over the course of this year, I have indulged in the occasional, “non-Lewis” reading material this summer. One of the books is The Annotated Hobbit. It is a beautifully annotated edition of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. I have looked at this book on numerous occasions while perusing Chapters bookstore, but I have not purchased the book (…it costs $60!). I recently found the book at our local library.

I am a big fan of reading annotation, particularly on a book I have re-read. There is much controversy among hard-line readers as to whether one should read annotations. I feel that they are useful to provide context or background information which I do not possess. Reading annotations provides a rich experience. This is especially true when reading ancient or historic literature. In addition, I always read with a pen, and the margins of my books are littered with my own comments, questions and reactions… my own informal annotations. I would feel like a hypocrite if I complained about annotations while writing my own!

This particular edition of The Hobbit provides rich commentary and cross references on all aspects of the story. It is very interesting and illuminating reading. For example, the annotator (Douglas Anderson) cites a hypothesis that Tolkien invented the name Baggins from the Lancashire English word “bagging”, a term that the Oxford English Dictionary defines as eating food “between regular meals”. In use, the word would be pronounced “baggin”, dropping the terminal “–g”. Tolkien was a philologist, and his interest and knowledge in language is crucial to his development of his Middle Earth mythology. The hypothesis about the origins of Baggins is given further weight by the citation Anderson provides from Walter E. Haigh’s A New Glossary of the Dialect of the Huddersfield (1928), which Tolkien himself “wrote an appreciative forward”. Haigh deifnes baggin as “a meal, now usually ‘tea,’ but formerly any meal; a bagging. Probably so called because workers generally carried their meals to work in a bag of some kind”.
Such is the nature of the annotations provided on Tolkien’s The Hobbit. The book also includes illustrations from various editions over the years, as well as references to the publishing history of the book. In short, it is a delightful book. If you can afford it, then buy it. If it is in your library, then borrow it.

The opening inscription in the book cites Horace: “What we read with pleasure, we read again with pleasure.” Reading The Annotated Hobbit is very pleasurable indeed!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Narnia Illustrator Pauline Baynes (1922-2008)

Pauline Baynes passed away earlier this month. She is best known for her illustrations of C.S. Lewis's The Chronicles of Narnia. She had previously worked with J.R. R. Tolkien on Farmer Giles of Ham, and it was through Tolkien that Baynes was introduced to C.S. Lewis. Amazingly, Baynes only met Lewis twice over the course of illustrating the seven novels. Without a doubt, her artwork is a memorable part of the Narnia world. Lewis, however, was not totally satisfied with Baynes work; he noted in a letter to a friend that Baynes was unable to draw lions properly. Aslan, the principal character in the Narnia series, is, of course, a lion! I must admit that Baynes's illustration of the Lion is odd looking... Nevertheless, Lewis never made his concern public and the Baynes's lion will "forever" be part of Narnia folklore.

For an obituary on Pauline Baynes, click here.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Esther 4: "For such a time as this..."

Last Sunday (July 27th), I had the opportunity to preach on Esther 4 at West London Alliance Church in London, ON. The sermon title was, “For such a time as this”. The central question that framed the message was, “How do we live as Christians in a world that is opposed to us?”

This is not an easy question to answer. What I hoped to do was draw three main truths from the text to help us answer this question on a personal level. There is no “play-by-play” handbook on how to deal with specific situations we encounter in our lives. All we know, is that “all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim 3:12).

Like us, Esther was an outsider—an alien—who sought to live out her faith in a culture that was hostile to her faith and her God. The people of God, the Israelites, were a displaced nation, dispersed throughout the Persian Empire. In our own “post-Christian” culture, it often feels like we are a displaced people group. By looking at Esther’s example, we can glean three central truths to help us live lives worthy of the cross of Jesus Christ.

The first point is that God made Esther “for such a time as this.” She was unique in physical appearance and in character (Esther 2:7,9). She was “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:13-16) for a purpose; the Lord designed her to be what he wanted her to be for his purpose and plan. Like her, we are also made for this time and place. We have been given gifts “for such a time as this.” God has a plan for each of us. Paul tells us in Ephesians 2:10, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” God doesn’t call you to be who you are not, but who you are—who He made you to be, for the plan He intends for you. This is a great truth. It is easy to lose hope and despair when we feel inadequate for the challenges of living out our faith in this world. We need to remind ourselves that God has made each of us and He has placed each of us in our current situation (time and place).

The second point is that God prepared Esther and her circumstances for such a time as this. Esther was made Queen not only because of who she was and how she was made, but because God had engineered the circumstances and orchestrated details of her life. Mordecai, Esther’s cousin tells her, “who knows whether you have not attained royalty for such a time as this?” The “such a time as this” Mordecai was referring to was a royal edict that called for the death of all the Jews living in Persia. Esther had been placed in a perfect position to help save her people. Likewise, God has placed us—our job, school, neighbourhood, family, church—for such a time as this; we are where we are to serve the kingdom of God.

Thirdly, with these truths square in our minds, what should we do? Esther asks Mordecai and all the Jews to “fast for me”. She goes on to say, “I and my maidens also will fast in the same way” (Esther 4:16). Esther is “waiting on the Lord” and “seeking His guidance and strength”. We ought to do the same when faced with persecution and trouble: pray and ask others to pray for us. God will guide and empower us for such a time as this (Psalm 31:3; 2 Timothy 1:7; Isaiah 58:11).

What has God gifted you to do? Are you doing it?
Where has God placed you? Are you serving Him there?
What has God called you to do? Are you seeking His guidance and power?

An mp3 audio version of the sermon is available by clicking here or by browsing the West London Alliance online sermons (scroll down for Sunday, July 27, 2008).

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

A kid's odyssey: Homer's The Odyssey for young readers

For two years, I have been teaching Homer’s The Odyssey to Grade 12 Classical Civilization students. My students (those who actually read the epic poem…), are absolutely thrilled by the story. I am thrilled myself. It is a great story. I am planning on teaching it again in the Fall.

Recently, my second son, Nate (7 yrs) also discovered the excitement and thrill of the Odyssey… dangerous voyages, meddling gods and goddesses, escaping an inhospitable Cyclops, outwitting bewitching nymphs, battling self-serving and usurping nobles…

He isn’t reading Homer (per se)… Rather, he is reading a 6-part series of chapter books retelling the famous story. The series, called Tales from The Odyssey, is written by Mary Pope Osborne (the author of the bestselling Magic Tree House series). She retains the bulk of the narrative, including the sordid moments (albeit appropriately diluted for young readers). She also uses the Greek names of gods and goddesses, heroes and monsters and she provides a pronunciation guide at the back of each book.

My son couldn’t put them down. He devoured the books as fast and as ravenously as the six-headed Scylla or the one-eyed Polyphemus devour Odysseus’s men.

Great stories truly stand the test of time. For almost three thousand years, people have been delighted by the adventures of Odysseus and his fated voyage. Thanks to Mary Pope Osborne, the next generation is able to whet their appetite for great---and ancient---storytelling. If you know any Grade 2 students who would love to go on a romping ride of a read, look up Osborne’s Tales for the Odyssey.

NB: For big people interested in The Odyssey, I highly recommend the recent award-winning translation by Robert Fagles. For a great audio version, Ian McKellen, who played Gandalf in Peter Jackson’s recent film adaptation of Lord of the Rings, reads Fagles translation (unabridged) on CD.

Monday, July 28, 2008

At the Kilns: Letters to a Friend

Arthur Greeves
I recently borrowed from the library a collection of letters by C.S. Lewis called They Stand Together: The Letters of C.S. Lewis to Arthur Greeves (1914-1963). Arthur Greeves was one of C.S. Lewis oldest and most cherished of friends. Next to his brother W.H. Lewis or his wife Joy Davidman, I do not think C.S. Lewis had a closer friend in his life. The book contains the nearly all Lewis’s correspondence with Greeves during the course of his lifetime. The book, which is currently out-of-print, runs over 500 pages.

I am sporadically reading through the weighty tome, and I am utterly amazed at Lewis’s intimacy, candidacy, and his fluidity of writing. His gift for communication is clearly evident in even his earliest letters to Greeves.

One of the biographical aspects that struck me was the impression I get that Lewis liked the “look of books” almost as much as the content of the books he read. It seems that he and Arthur purchased and repurchased books in various editions based on their aesthetically pleasing binding (I must admit that I have done the same thing myself...). Most people who are familiar with Lewis are aware that he read copiously. However, it is still astonishing how much Lewis read. He frequently comments to Greeves about his reading such-and-such a book or re-reading such-and-such an author. He read classical literature, he read widely in English literature and European literature, and he read a considerable amount of contemporary literature.

In one letter to Arthur, Lewis describes his present enjoyment while reading Tolstoy’s War and Peace. He recommends that Arthur read the book himself. He writes,

I strongly advise you to try it. Its length, which deters some people, will not frighten you: you will only rejoice, when the right time comes, —say after tea some day next autumn when fires are still a novelty—at that old, delicious feeling of embarkation on a long voyage, which one seldom gets now.
After reading these words, I was struck with a longing for a cool autumn night in order to begin my own “embarkation” into the world of Tolstoy's War and Peace.

All of the letters I have read are compelling reading. It is particularly striking to read about his thoughts on Christianity as they develop from atheism to unshakable faith in Jesus Christ. In one particularly famous letter, we learn about Lewis’s late night “memorable talk” about Christianity while strolling Addison’s walk with Tolkien and Hugo Dyson. In the letter, dated October 1st, 1931, Lewis writes to Greeves,

How deep I am just now beginning to see: for I have just passed on from believing in God to definitely believing in Christ—in Christianity. I will try to explain another time. My long night talk with Dyson and Tolkien had a good deal to do with it.
Hopefully this most fascinating and incredibly valuable collection of letters will find its way back into print. For my present copy of the book, well, it is due back to the library today.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

It's a girl!

I am happy to announce that the Lord blessed our family with a beautiful baby; she arrived safe and sound on July 17th, 2008. Her name is Abigail Adriaana.

Her brothers, Joseph and Nathanael, and her sister, Katherine, are very happy with the new addition. We thank God for His goodness and blessings to our family!

Katie with her new sister, Abby (less than a day old).

What's in a name?

She is named Abigail after the "intelligent and beautiful" woman in 1 Samuel 25:3, whose prudence calmed David's anger and kept him from sinning. David said to Abigail, "Blessed be the LORD God of Israel, who sent you this day to meet me, and blessed be your discernment, and blessed be you, who have kept me this day from bloodshed and from avenging myself by my own hand." (1 Sam 25:32-33). Abby's second name is given in honour of my Opa (her great grandfather), whose middle name was Adriaanus. Opa passed away in May of this year before Abby was born.

Children are a gift of God

"Behold, children are a gift of the LORD, The fruit of the womb is a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, So are the children of one's youth. How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them."
Psalm 127:3-5

Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

"For You formed my inward parts; You wove me in my mother's womb. I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Wonderful are Your works, And my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from You, When I was made in secret, And skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth; Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; And in Your book were all written The days that were ordained for me, When as yet there was not one of them."
Psalm 139:13-16

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Screwtape: The Movie...?!

In February of last year, Walden Media announced that it would be releasing a film adaptation of C.S. Lewis’s Screwtape Letters. Douglas Gresham (Lewis’s “stepson”) will be producing the film. As exciting as this sounds, I have no idea how they are planning on making this adaptation. I don’t think Walden Media really knows either! In April 2008, the website, “The High Calling”, had an interview with Walden Media President, Michael Flaherty. This is—I think—the latest news on the subject.

High Calling: Can you give any news about when Screwtape or Dawn Treader will come out?

Michael Flaherty: The first time I spoke with you, I had just received the first draft of Dawn Treader. Literally as we were speaking it was there on my desk. I hadn’t even opened it up yet. I couldn’t wait to read it, though, because Eustace is one of my favorite characters.
Dawn Treader is moving very well. Michael Apted, who directed Amazing Grace, is directing it. He also directed Coal Miner’s Daughter and a bunch of others. He’s a great director. He’s the president of the Directors Guild.

Screwtape on the other hand is just a really tricky adaptation.

HC: I think a big part of being faithful to that work is keeping it dark in a way that's probably going to bother some people. I don't know how that works with movie profitability, but Screwtape always takes the approach of the demons. They have to be the heroes—even if they're tragic heroes—for it to be faithful to what Lewis did.

MF: We're trying to find that balance between the comedy and the stakes. We’re working hard on the script. One of the questions we're asking is how do you show the real transformation that happens inside a person.

HC: Screwtape keeps encouraging the patient to go through the motions in his daily life and work.

MF: You just nailed the entire paradox of this project. The book is so clever, because Screwtape is saying things like, "Have them write the check out to Unicef." Just have him writing, saying, "Oh boy, this is going to hurt." It goes back to that great Corinthians passage, you can do all of these things, but if you do them without love, it's worthless. We're trying to figure out how to illustrate that. What I love about Screwtape, what I love about the Gospel is all this external behavioural stuff that too often people confuse as central to our faith, is just an element of it. What really matters is the outpouring of love and the reflection of love.

Friday, July 11, 2008

O Canada: Abortion and Rediscovering Authoritative Christianity

This month, on July 1st, the nation celebrated Canada’s 141st birthday. As a family, we sang our national anthem, we flipped through an encyclopaedia entry on Canada and we each prayed and thanked God for this country. The boys were thankful that we live in a wealthy and peaceful land, Katie was thankful that we were free to worship God and Laurie was thankful for the wonderful and beautiful natural resources this country affords... lakes, trees, mountains, forests, wildlife.

Although we have much to be thankful for, sadly, I could not thank God for the spiritual climate in this country. On July 1st this year, I heard on the radio about the Dr. Henry Morgentaler’s nomination to the Order of Canada, the highest honour bestowed on a Canadian citizen. Morgentaler has pioneered legalized abortion in Canada. I grieve over how much we have lost and how quickly we have lost it.

Eminent Canadian philosopher and thinker George Parkin Grant (1918-1988), a professor at McMaster University and a devout Anglican, lamented what he called the “evident fall of western Christianity.” It was his hope as a philosophy and thinker “to try to understand just a small amount of what was at fault in this particular manifestation of Christianity, so that one plays a minute part in something that will take centuries—namely the rediscovery of authoritative Christianity… it has been given truth in a way no other religion has.”

As evidence of the “fall of western Christianity” and the lack of “authoritative Christianity” was the abortion issue in Canada. Grant wrote in the mid-80s, “If tyranny is to come in North America, it will come cosily and on cat’s feet. It will come with the denial of the rights of the unborn and the aged. In fact, it will come to all those who cannot defend themselves.” A proponent of the Right-to-Life Movement, George Parkin Grant wrote and spoke against the Supreme Court decision to strike down the criminal code restrictions on abortion. He stated on CBC, “The Supreme Court decision on abortion fills me with terrible sadness at what lies ahead for our country—an increase in the mass killing of the weakest members of our species.”

The American case that spurred on Canada’s “pro-choice” movement—“Roe vs. Wade”— took place on January 22, 1973. The U.S. Supreme Court granted a young mother (Jane Roe, a pseudonym) the “right of choice” to take the life of the developing child in her womb. “Roe” never aborted her baby, but the landmark case opened the door for the deaths of over 40 million unborn children. It wasn’t until the 1990s when Roe came forward and revealed her true identity in her book I am Roe (1994). In the book, Norma McCorvey—“Roe”—describes herself as a monogamous lesbian living in Dallas. Four years later, McCorvey converted to Christianity and has abandoned her homosexuality. She now advocates for the unborn.

In her new book, Won By Love, (1998) she writes, “I had to face up to the awful reality. Abortion wasn’t about ‘products of conception.’ It wasn’t about ‘missed periods.’ It was about children being killed in their mother’s wombs. All those years I was wrong. Signing that affidavit, I was wrong. Working in an abortion clinic, I was wrong. No more of this first trimester, second trimester, third trimester stuff. Abortion—at any point—was wrong. It was so clear. Painfully clear.”

After 30 years of abortions in North America, women have not gained true freedom with the decimalization of abortion and the unborn certainly hasn’t gained any freedom. Dr. James Dobson writes, “research reveals that an alarming number of women are coerced to have abortions by their husbands, boyfriends, parents and most notably, by abortion clinic ‘counselors.’” In the U.S., abortion is a multimillion dollar industry. Many women feel—ironically—that they have no choice BUT to abort an “unplanned” pregnancy. Little is explained about the dangers involved. Dobson goes on to write, “The truth is that abortion is far deadlier to women than childbirth; it is linked to a 30 to 50 percent increase in breast cancer; it is related to high rates of abuse, suicide and death; and it causes many women to suffer for the rest of their lives with the physical and emotional scars of Post Abortion Syndrome. And, most importantly, it is an affront to the great heart of the Creator.”

All is not lost. There is still hope to make change in this country. A recent online poll by the Globe and Mail showed that 92% of the participants stated that Morgentaler should not receive the honour. If only Canadians would be more vocal about the actual abortion issue! I am hoping the fervour over Morgentaler receiving the Order of Canada will cause Canadians to stop ignoring the horrible reality of “mass killing” in this country.

In this country, people have fought for the closures of residential schools, the ending of forced sterilization of mentally challenged people, the “persons case” where women earned rights as legal “persons”, and the abolishment of slavery. It took effort, determination and sacrifice. As we sing the line, “God keep our land, glorious and free”, let us ask ourselves how God wants to use US to “keep our land glorious and free”, for all Canadians, born and unborn.

How can we, in the words of George Parkin Grant, resist “tyranny” and rediscover “authoritative Christianity”? Let us wait on the Lord, pray sincerely and speak up for truth. Let us not be ambivalent to the issue.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

A Teacher in July...

I am sitting outside in my Muskoka chair… right now… as I write this.

So… I listen to the gentle hum of the air conditioner, as it cools the inside of my house… I am enjoying the sound of the peaceful breeze rustling the leaves of our mighty beech tree and “tinging” and “clinking” of my wife’s wind chimes. I watch as moths and butterflies flutter over my yard and I gaze at the quietly swaying tire-swing. Ah, summer. (It would be a lie to say that this was not the best time of the year to be a teacher.)

I lamented to a friend how the summer is just not long enough... how quickly it goes by...

I was met with sarcasm with a hint of disdain.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Binge Reading

I recently purchased a Muskoka chair made of Eon (an indestructible wood-like product). I am able to sit in this chair for hours without incurring back pain. Consequently, I have been “binge reading” for the past two weeks… hence the lack of posts on my blog.

I love to read, and during the academic year, my love for reading is often stifled by reading “last minute” student essays, hammered out in the wee hours of the morning. Actually, “hammered out” is too strong of a phrase. It implies craftsmanship (e.g., blacksmithing or something). “Spewing on paper” is perhaps too crass, but more accurate. Anyway, now that I am free of the manacles of poorly written academic prose, I have been imbibing—heavily—of sweet literary nectar.

In the meantime, I have been thinking of writing a number of blogs. I have discovered that by reading—taking it all in—isn’t completely satisfying. I feel intellectually bloated. I have gorged my mind on too much turkey and cranberry sauce. I need to talk and write about what I am reading. I need to do some “spewing” of my own.

Here is the plan. First, I hope to blog a little about what I have read. Secondly, I also hope to start a journal for jotting, reflecting and private musings. Thirdly, I hope to connect with a reading partner for regular reflection, discussion and friendly chit-chat about a commonly read text. This third activity may also involve imbibing of more “earthly” nectar and enjoying “Hornblower Longbottom leaf”.

Friday, June 13, 2008

At the Kilns: The need to be needed

The first of the “four loves” C.S. Lewis writes about in his book The Four Loves is “Affection”. Affection is the broadest and most inclusive of loves, the sort of love between parents and children, teachers and students, masters and pets, so on and so forth. In his discussion of this sort of love, he details the associated pitfalls. And, like all beautiful gifts of God, given to fallen man, there are many pitfalls.

One pitfall in particular struck me. He described the “terrible need to be needed” and he cited, as example, the over-protective mother, who labours to ensure an ever-dependent mindset in her children. Lewis describes the “ravenous need to be needed” that will “gratify itself either by keeping its objects needy or by inventing for them imaginary needs”. This abuse of affection, however, is not limited to mothers. Lewis goes on to cite a literary example from Jane Austen’s Emma. I have not read the book, but I have watched the film version. I recall Emma’s controlling affection for Harriet Smith.

What struck me in all this was not that I am an over-protective mother (or father…) nor am I the sort of sort person who interferes with the happiness of my friends. What struck me was Lewis third example—the teacher. He writes,

My own profession—that of a university teacher—is in this way dangerous. If we are any good we must always be working towards the moment at which our pupils are fit to become our critics and rivals. We should be delighted when it arrives, as a fencing master is delighted when his pupil can pink and disarm him.
I must confess that—at times—I delight too much in the reciprocated affection from my pupils. I must remind myself that educators “must aim” at making ourselves “superfluous…” It is a stern warning for all educators. C.S. Lewis writes, “The hour when we can say, ‘They need me no longer’ should be our reward”. A truly great reward indeed.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Why I should retire from teaching (at the ripe old age of 32)

As the school year draws to a close, as exams are graded, marks are calculated, comments and reports are generated... as my students walk across the stage in great pomp and ceremony... I am beginning to plan for next year. What texts will I teach next year? What assignments shall I give? How can I rearrange my classroom to maximize student learning? What is WRONG with me?! I am having a baby (or my wife is having our baby) in a month's time while I... instead of building cribs and doing pre-baby stuff... I am starting to plan my courses for next year! Technically this school year hasn't even finished yet.

I was warned by a veteran teacher that this might happen. Two months vacation in the summer becoming two months of "prep" time... time devoted to the overhauling of courses and preparations for the following academic year. This veteran teacher told me it was time to retire when that happened. So, I am announcing my retirement from teaching. I think my retirement plan will offer a nickle a month until I reach 2059. Then it goes to a dime. In the meantime, I may go into educational consulting and spend my summer planning someone else's upcoming school year.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

At the Kilns: On Reading Lewis and Watching Star Wars

I am reading C.S. Lewis’s The Four Loves. It is an unparalleled example of Lewis’s insightful and ingenious way of writing; he makes many poignant and perceptive observations about human nature and the world. The commentary he offers is rooted in a well-considered and broad perspective of all reality. Real truth for a real world, a world that includes the physical and spiritual.

As I was considering my plan to immerse myself in the writings of C.S. Lewis this year, it has occurred to me that I should have mapped out my reading list chronologically. That is, according to the order that Lewis wrote/published his works. I have already begun to see parallels in the ideas Lewis presents as I read his works. It would have been profitable to discover Lewis’s train of thought as it surfaces through his publications. No one ever arrives at all knowledge and wisdom, and then proceeds to write it all down. There is a process of growing and gathering. By reading his works in the order that he wrote them would give me a better idea of how Lewis fostered his worldview. I am not talking about fundamental changes in his thinking; I am interested in minor advancements in his thinking, shifts in perspective, refinement, new discoveries and so on. How did he envision life as a 35 year old (say in, Pilgrim’s Regress 1933) as opposed to a 58 year old (say in, Till We Have Faces 1956)?

If I ever do this sort of thing again, then I will certainly begin at the beginning. As I look ahead to future reading, I am becoming increasingly interested in Francis Schaeffer. I may start reading his works in the order of publication.

On a related note, I also recommend that new readers coming to “Narnia” enjoy the books as they were published, not according to Narnian chronology. Lewis recommends---albeit whimsically---that people should read the Chronicles of Narnia chronologically. This is why the publishers number the books beginning with The Magician’s Nephew. This book was actually the sixth book he wrote. In spite of Lewis’s recommendation, I must disagree with him on this point. I am convinced that readers should begin with The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. The main reason is the fact that The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is a much better book than The Magician’s Nephew. It is a better story. I have heard many people confess that they started to read the Chronicles of Narnia but “never got into the series…” I proceed to ask what book they started with: the answer, The Magician’s Nephew. It is the “Genesis” of Narnia, it explains the origin of the Narnian world. However, I believe this book’s value to readers comes only after readers have fallen in love with the world Lewis created. How did the lamp post get into Narnia? We only ask that question once we come to cherish that first magical image of the lamp post on the other of the wardrobe… along with an umbrella wielding Faun carrying packages on a snowy day. I am so glad I began my own personal journey into Narnia with the snow covered lamp post. For me, this image is unforgettable. My brother, who gave me the books as a gift many years ago, recommended that order of reading. Thanks, bro.

The order Lewis actually wrote the books is as follows (the publishers numbering according to Narnian chronology is in parentheses):

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2)
Prince Caspian (4)
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (5)
The Silver Chair (6)
The Horse and his boy (3)
The Magician’s Nephew (1)
The Last Battle (7)

On a (mostly) unrelated note, I also recommend that first-time viewers of the Star Wars franchise watch the films in order of production, not in order of Star Wars chronology.

Star Wars IV: A New Hope (1977)
Star Wars V: Empire Strikes Back (1980)
Star Wars VI: Return of the Jedi (1983)
Star Wars I: Phantom Menace (1999)
Star Wars II: Attack of the Clones (2002)
Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith (2005)

I just hope Lucas doesn’t get any more “pre-quel” ideas with the Indiana Jones franchise…

Thursday, June 05, 2008

At the Kilns: On Death

I recently read C.S. Lewis’s book The Great Divorce. It tells the story of the narrator’s journey from Hell to Heaven on a magic bus. The work is entirely imaginative in that Lewis does not make any attempts to seriously speculate what Hell or Heaven is really like. What he does accomplish, though, is a powerful allegory of salvation and humanity’s determined resistance to the gift of JOY found only in Christ.

It is a strange tale, I must admit. Nevertheless, I found it powerful, especially in portraying our folly as humans. Visitors from Hell encounter--in the “foothills” of Heaven---redeemed saints who they once knew in life. These redeemed saints seek to persuade the condemned--one last time--to turn to Christ. The petty and self-centred sinful nature of humanity is revealed to be so ridiculous and so pathetic (at times) when contrasted with the setting of Heaven, which is vividly portrayed as a fantastical and imaginative landscape. In light of eternity, in light of Heaven, in light of the God of all creation, anything and everything that separates us from Christ should be immediately discarded. Lewis portrays this plainly and forcefully. Frequently during the short read, I pondered my own life and wondered how much I valued Christ and the salvation of souls over my career, my family, my life, my possessions, my “anything” and “everything.”

The book also caused me to ponder death. This became especially potent in light of my Opa’s recent passing. In Shakespeare’s play, Hamlet is told by his mother that death is common.

Do not for ever with thy vailed lids
Seek for thy noble father in the dust:
Thou know'st 'tis common; all that lives must die,
Passing through nature to eternity. (Act I Scene 2)

Death afflicts us all, but it is not “common” in the colloquial sense of the word, that is, mundane or ordinary. We were not created to endure death or the separation that death brings. The fact that we do manage to endure the passing of our loved ones is due to the grace of God. Death itself is not natural, in that we were not created to die. We were created to live eternally in fellowship with God and man.

In A Grief Observed, C.S. Lewis writes candidly about his own grief after the death of his wife, Joy Davidman. It is an incredibly revealing account of Lewis’s private thoughts and his pain. Lewis had experienced the death of his mother (when he was 10 years old), the death of his father, the death of fellow soldier Paddy Moore, and the death of his close friend, Charles Williams. Yet, he never seemed to fully accept the “commonness” of death. Originally, A Grief Observed was published under the pseudonym, N.W. Clerk, to hide the fact that the great apologist C.S. Lewis doubted the goodness of God while he was in mourning (N.W. Clerk is short for “I know not what scholar” in Old English). On death, C.S. Lewis writes,

It is hard to have patience with people who say ‘There is no death’ or ‘Death doesn’t matter.’ There is death. And whatever is matters. And whatever happens has consequences, and it and they are irrevocable and irreversible. You might as well say that birth doesn’t matter. I look up at the night sky. Is anything more certain than that in all those vast times and spaces, if I were allowed to search them, I should nowhere find her face, her voice, her touch? She died. She is dead. Is the word so difficult to learn?
Death IS difficult to handle and impossible to truly understand. Even though death has lost its sting, it still hurts. Coping with death does not come naturally. So much else in life does come naturally… Take for example a mother loving her wrinkly, purplish, alien-like newborn baby. She even calls it beautiful! But maternal love is natural. God made fathers and mothers to love their children. But accepting death... that is not natural nor easily done, despite the obvious and universally known fact that "all that lives must die." As Lewis puts it, one gets “over” the death of a loved one the same way a one-legged man gets “over” loosing his leg. He gets “by” not “over.”

Death is a consequence of sin. Christians have hope in death, but Christians also have hurt in death. Death has no sting for the departed in Christ, but for those left behind, death stings like any other consequence of the great fall of man.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

My Opa...

Hilbertus Albertus Adriaanus Vanderklok
February 24, 1923 - May 19th, 2008

A couple weeks ago, my Opa went home to be with the Lord. I was honoured with the opportunity to give the eulogy at his memorial service. As I prepared the eulogy, I discovered how difficult a task it is to publicly honour a loved one who has died. Was I speaking on behalf of myself… what Opa meant to me? Was I speaking on behalf of his children, grandchildren, friends? I was painfully aware of the mourning of others as well as myself.

In the end, I spoke about what my Opa meant to me. I wanted to speak the truth; what I knew to be true is what he meant to me personally.

He was, above all, a spiritual mentor to me. This was the most challenging aspect of the eulogy. I have many relatives who do not know the Lord. Initially, I confess that I was afraid of offending them with "religious" talk. I almost scrapped my whole eulogy the night before the service. Oh, what a foolish thing to fear! Ironically, my Opa was not squeamish about sharing his faith in Jesus Christ. In the end, I knew that I had to honour Christ if I were to truly honour my grandfather. By the grace of God, I shared his life of faith and what that faith meant to me. Here are two areas of my Opa’s Christian walk that meant a great deal to me.

He was a man of prayer. He prayed daily for his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Daily. My Opa would not go to medical appointments before 9 o’clock in the morning because he was “still meeting with the Lord.” He got out of bed at 5 o’clock in the morning every day and he spent over three hours in prayer. When my father was clearing out Opa’s desk, he was amazed at the lists of people and organizations my Opa was praying for before his death.

My Opa also loved the Word. He read the Bible cover to cover hundreds of times since his conversion in 1963. At the plant where my Opa worked, he would spend every lunch break reading his Bible. On the tool box, by the machine he operated, sat his Bible. He was not ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ. His testimony at work resulted in the conversion of at least one of his co-workers, a man who has also become spiritual mentor to me, a man who is eternally grateful for my grandfather’s bold devotion to the Word of God.

What a legacy! What a gift my Opa was to my soul! By his example, he taught me to pray, to love the Word and to live my faith “always” and “everywhere.”

Before he died, my Opa filled out a form indicating his preferences regarding his funeral arrangements. In addition to which hymns he wanted sung and which Scripture passages he wanted read, my Opa was asked, “What message would you like to give to those left behind?” His response was this (paraphrased): “I hope to see everyone again someday, joining me kneeling at the throne of Jesus.” When the dead speak, the living listen.

Oh, that I would leave such a legacy for my children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Oh that I would be so bold in my Christian walk, to pray so fervently and to drink in the Word so faithfully. May my life and my death exult Christ as did my grandfather’s life and death!

Monday, June 02, 2008

At the Kilns: Lewis on Predestination

In Doug Wilson’s article, “Was C.S. Lewis Reformed?” he addresses C.S. Lewis’s understanding of the seemingly contradictory tension between “predestination” and “man’s responsibility” apparent in the Scriptures. Wilson writes that “[C.S. Lewis] refused to set one truth against another.” Wilson goes on, quoting Lewis on the subject: “Of course reality must be self-consistent; but till (if ever) we can see the consistency it is better to hold two inconsistent views than to ignore one side of the evidence . . . It is plain from Scripture that, in whatever sense the Pauline doctrine is true, it is not true in any sense which excludes its (apparent) opposite.” Although Lewis wasn't "reformed" per se, Doug Wilson comments, “It is important here to note how Lewis named the doctrine of predestination under discussion—the ‘Pauline doctrine.’ And he assumed it was true in some sense which would make people think it might exclude its apparent opposite—the genuine freedom of men and women. But of course, because God cannot lie, no truths contradict at the ultimate level. God is sovereign and the creature is free.”

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

It was, like, an awesome speech, actually

This morning on CBC Radio 2, I heard about the commencement address given by Pulitzer Prize winning author David McCullough to graduates at Boston College. He said, “Please, please do what you can to cure the verbal virus that seems increasingly rampant among your generation.” He cited the “relentless, wearisome use of words,” such as “like,” “awesome” and “actually.”

As an example, McCullough said, “Just imagine if in his inaugural address John F. Kennedy had said, ‘Ask not what your country can, you know, do for you, but what you can, like, do for your country actually.’”

Monday, May 19, 2008

At the Kilns: a grief experienced

Tonight, my Opa went home to be with his Lord and Saviour.

"Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord---for we walk by faith, not by sight---we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord." (2 Co 5:6-8)

My heart lept for joy.

Friday, May 16, 2008

At the Kilns: A Defense of C.S. Lewis

When I was at Bible college in Alberta, a dear friend of mine saw me reading Mere Christianity. Even though C.S. Lewis was not on any of the course reading lists for that year, I was simply reading it for the edification of my soul. The effect Lewis’s writing had on me was nothing short of transforming. So, like anyone who enjoys something, I enthusiastically told my friend what I was learning. To my surprise, my friend responded that I should be cautious reading C.S. Lewis. Apparently Lewis held some strange beliefs. Well, I kept reading Lewis… for the edification of my soul. And, I later discovered, Lewis did hold to some strange beliefs, which become apparent when scrutinizing his lesser known works and the occasional private correspondence. Nevertheless, I have (and continue to be) tremendously blessed through the writings of C.S. Lewis… and so have millions of people around the world.

Without doubt, Lewis was a born-again believer in the Lord Jesus Christ. Did he have all his theological ducks in a row? No. Do I? Probably not. Do you?

The fact that Lewis’s life has undergone so much scrutiny, I am surprised there is not more so called “dirt” that is discovered. On the contrary, the testimony of those who knew him is consistent with his public confession as a believer in Jesus Christ. The resounding affirmation of real and sincere Christianity lived out in his life comes from fellow believers and unbelievers alike—close friends, acquaintances, students, colleagues and correspondents (Lewis wrote over 3400 personal letters to people around the world).

Part of the alarm and concern about Lewis is the overwhelming acceptance and popularity of his writings among evangelicals and non-evangelicals, Papists and Mormons. The problem with this line of argument is that we would have to disregard the Apostle Paul's writings as well.

Some critics accuse Lewis of going too far in his orthodox convictions. When C.S. Lewis was featured on the cover of Time magazine in 1947, the accompanying article records that Lewis “is one of a growing band of 'heretics' among modern intellectuals: an intellectual who believes in God… not a mild and vague belief, for he accepts ‘all the articles of the Christian faith.’” On the otherhand, some "hardliners" accuse Lewis of not going far enough is expounding Christian orthodoxy. However, I think what they really mean is, Lewis does not expound their preferrential doctrinal nuances as gospel truth. Explaining his role as an apologist, Lewis states: “We are defending Christianity; not ‘my religion.’ When we mention our personal opinions we must always make quite clear the difference between them and the Faith itself.” The proof is in the pudding. The simple fact is that Lewis's writing has pointed many to Christ, not the Church of England.

Recently when I came across harsh criticism and condemnation of Lewis, I felt a pang of hurt in my soul. Here is an excerpt of what I read: Mary Van Nattan, who, in her article, “C.S. Lewis: The Devil’s Wisest Fool,” writes, “John F. Kennedy, C.S. Lewis, and Aldous Huxley all died on the same day. They all went to the same place”—i.e., “hell.”

Reflecting on this sensation of hurt, I wondered why I would react to criticism of Lewis. The answer, in Lewis’s words, is “The Church is the Bride of Christ. We are members of one another.” We are members of one body, Christ’s body. To read a “damning” article or hearing a harshly critical report about a fellow believer in Christ should cause all of us who believe in Christ to feel a sense of pain and disappointment. We are called to “build one another up” (1 Th 5:11) and we are warned not to “judge” (cf. Mt 7:1ff, Ro 14:4-10ff).

The BBC described to Lewis “the sharp division [he produces in his] audience: they either regard [him] as the cat’s whiskers, or as beneath contempt.” C.S. Lewis’s response was simple: “The two views you report aren’t very illuminating about me perhaps. About my subject matter it is an old story, isn’t it? They love or hate.”

The Apostle Paul writes in 2 Timothy 4:8, “In the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.” I thank God for being the righteous Judge and I thank God for C.S. Lewis, who sincerely and wholeheartedly loved “His appearing.”

Monday, May 12, 2008

At the Kilns: "The Spirituality of C.S. Lewis"

This past Sunday night saw the conclusion of the four part series, "The Christian and Literature." The last instalment is entitled "The Spirituality of C. S. Lewis." I disuss four areas of Lewis's life that set him as an example to the church of a sincere and effective life for Christ.

I. C.S. Lewis understood his calling and gifts and he used them imaginatively for the Glory of God.

II. C.S. Lewis understood his calling and gifts and he used them sacrificially for the Glory of God.

III. C.S. Lewis had a burden for the lost and a sincere love for fellow man.

IV. C.S. Lewis sought to glorify God sincerely in his daily life and work.

In spite of his fame during his lifetime, he remained an ordinary Christian man. He never quit his day job; he never became a full time theologian, apologist or pastor. However, he laboured for the Kingdom of Christ, building up the church and drawing the lost to Jesus.

Without a doubt, C.S. Lewis used his original and creative imagination powerfully to advance the kingdom of God and glorify Christ. The church can learn much from his example.

The last message, "The Spirituality of C.S. Lewis," is available on Sermon Audio.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

At the Kilns: Still Learning from Lewis

I have taken a brief hiatus from my blogging series "At the Kilns." Things are very hectic at home: my wife is pregnant, my children are finishing their home schooling year, my school year wraps up and I am finishing my speaking series “The Christian and Literature” at my home church. Nevertheless, C.S. Lewis has been a staple for me during this speaking series and he is the subject of my last message, “C.S. Lewis and the Christian Imagination.”

As for my most recent Lewis reading… my children and I are on to Prince Caspian having finished The L., W. & W.. My plan is to take the boys to see the new film (if it turns out to be suitable for my young lads). I am also reading Lewis’s The Great Divorce, which is a fascinating (albeit unusual) similitude of the after life. I also plan to read a recent spiritual biography of Lewis called Seeking the Secret Place: The Spiritual Formation of C.S. Lewis by Dr. Lyle Dorsett. Dorsett is the former director of the Marion E. Wade Centre (an archive housing the world's largest collection of “Lewisania” and the premiere C. S. Lewis research hub in the world) and he is notably one of the foremost experts on the life and writings of Lewis. I have already begun perusing the book in preparation for this Sunday’s message. Dorsett focuses on the journey of sanctification and spiritual growth of C.S. Lewis after his conversion. In the introduction, Dorsett comments on the vast amount of excellent biographies that focus on Lewis’s conversion to Christianity or his mature years with Joy Davidman. Very little addresses Lewis’s growth from early convert to the colossal giant of the faith he is known as. This book is Dorsett's attempt to rectify this gap in Lewis scholarship and, most importantly, to edify and encourage the saints in their own spiritual formation.

Also over the course of the next month, I hope to read Lewis’s The Four Loves, which was the first C. S. Lewis book I ever read (12 years ago!). I still have a lot more Lewis books I would like to read this year and I am nearly five months in! Where did the time go?

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

uncharted waters...

This coming Sunday night I will conclude my foray into the subject of the Christians and Literature. This subject is not new to the church at large. There have been many wise and highly intelligent people who have already written and spoke on this subject: scholars like C.S. Lewis, Francis Schaeffer and Dorothy Sayers. However, the subject is new to many 21st century Christians in the evangelical church. The subject is also new to me... as a subject to speak about from the pulpit. As a Christian student and teacher of literature, I have spent considerable time developing a Christian perspective and theory of literary study. What I have begun to realise during this series I am presenting is the need for Christians to develop their understanding of literature. The messages are available on This is uncharted waters for both my church and for me. It is less like preaching, more like teaching. Nevertheless, the congregation has received the messages enthusiastically and positively. I am grateful for their interest and support. As we move forward in this study, I am becoming increasingly convinced by John Piper’s assertion: “imagination is not merely a device for writers, it is a duty for all Christians. We must exercise it or be disobedient.”

These four messages merely scratch the surface of the Christian Imagination. We have lost much ground over the course of the last century. This series, I hope, is a start in the right direction.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Shakespeare: The Gifted Observer

This Sunday night, I will present Session 3 in the series, “The Christian and Literature.” Sunday's message is “Shakespeare: The Gifted Observer.” The value of Shakespeare for the Christian is Shakespeare’s application of a decidedly Christian worldview in his plays.

Whether he was a Christian or not is unclear. Some scholars argue that Shakespeare was a Puritan, and others suggest he was Anglican; some put forward the idea he was Catholic while others further propose he was an unbeliever. The mystery about Shakespeare’s personal spirituality remains a mystery simply because we know very little about the man behind the works.

My case this Sunday night will not be the spirituality of Shakespeare, but the spirituality of his works. George Macdonald writes, “Truth is truth, whether it's spoken by the lips of Jesus or Balaam's donkey.” It doesn’t matter---per se---if he was a Christian or not; what Shakespeare shows us is truth. He is a keen observer of God’s creation, in particular, the human being. We have much to learn from his insights into the human experience. The events in his plays unfold in a world baptised by the Christian imagination, taking place in a universe ruled by a Sovereign God.

At the core of Shakespeare’s writing is the Bible. Out of the 66 books of the Bible books, Shakespeare quoted 57. Shakespeare also presents countless Christian themes in his plays as well as biblical allusions.

Christians should pay attention to Shakespeare, not only as the greatest English-speaking writer in Western literature, but also as the Gifted Observer of God’s world.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

So many poets, so little time...

Last Sunday, I began a seminar series at my church called “The Christian and Literature.” I attempted to make a case for Christians fostering a poetic imagination and viewing the world as “story”—God’s story.

This Sunday, I will continue the series by looking at poetry. John Piper writes, “Imagination is like a muscle. It grows stronger when you flex it. And you must flex it… Imagination is also contagious… So I suggest that you hang out with people (mainly dead poets) who are full of imagination.”

Piper recommends Christians spend time with some dead poets. So, that is the plan. Some dead poets I hope to take a look at are Isaac Watts (who penned over 700 hymns), George Herbert (one of C.S. Lewis’s favourite poets), John Donne, John Keats, William Blake, William Wordsworth, Langston Hughes, Robert Herrick and a handful of others. We may also take a peek at Milton and an excerpt from Beowulf.

There is so much rich and rewarding poetry… where to begin?

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed

A new documentary is being released called Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. The film tackles the one sided approach in academia to the evolution debate.

Ben Stein, who features in the film, said, "I have always assumed that scientists were free to ask any question, to pursue any line of inquiry, without fear of reprisal," Stein tells moviegoers. "But recently I have been alarmed to discover that this is not the case." He asks, "Darwin challenged the consensus view, and that's how we got Darwinism. If Darwin wanted to challenge the consensus today, how would he do it?"

To Focus on the Family, he goes on to say, "Why do we allow, even celebrate, dissent in every other area of society, but not here? I've found that people who are confident in their ideas are not afraid of criticism. So this tells me that Darwinists are afraid. ... Darwin was on to something gigantic. At the very least, he was on to changes within species. But whether there's ever been a provable observation of a new species being created, I don't think there has been. How did the whole thing start? How did the cell get so complex? Who created it all? Where did it come from?"

Check out the complete review on Plugged In.

Fostering a poetic imagination...

“Golly,” said Edmund under his breath. “He's a retired star.”
“Aren't you a star any longer?” asked Lucy.
“I am a star at rest, my daughter,” answered Ramandu…
“In our world,” said Eustace, “a star is a huge ball of flaming gas.”
“Even in your world, my son, that is not what a star is but only what it is made of.”

~ C.S. Lewis, Voyage of the Dawn Treader

This past Sunday, I began a series called, "The Christian and Literature." The first installment focused on the need to foster a Christian (and poetic) imagination. Pastor and writer John Piper boldly states, “Imagination is not merely a device for writers, it is a duty for all Christians. We must exercise it or be disobedient.” We need to foster a poetic imagination for the following reasons:

(I) to widen our perspective of the world

There is more to understanding the world than mere "science"---although few would ever doubt the value and contributions of science in general, we live in a culture that believes truth can only be found in the material world. This is a narrow perspective the universe and it is certainly not Christian. The poetic worldview includes the scientific/literal, but encompasses the whole of human experience. Who can measure courage, love, friendship, beauty, leadership, sacrifice, duty? These things are as real as the leaves on the trees and the air that we breathe, yet they are nonmaterial.

The writer in Hebrews describes faith poetically: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

(II) to begin to understand an infinite and nonmaterial God

In fact, the finite mind can only begin to understand the infinite God through poetic language, through a poetic imagination, an imagination that can comprehend “metaphor”: He is described as “King,” “Father,” “Brother,” “Husband,” “Friend,” “Lover.”

But God is NOT literally any of these things. God does not have a body, yet the Scriptures describe Him as having a face, ears, eyes, nostrils, mouth, hands, arms, fingers, shoulders, back, feet. He sits, stands, marches, rides, shoots arrows; his voice is like thunder.

(III) to grasp the mysteries of the gospel

Jesus chastises His disciples when they fail to understand His poetic language, confusing the "leaven" of the Pharisees with the literal leaven of bread (Matt 16-6-12); Nicodemus cannot comprehend being "born again" (John 3:3ff) and the Jewish people mistake the spiritual kingdom Jesus came to establish with a literal kingdom (John 6). These are just three examples where the people who walked with Jesus and heard His messages failed to understand the poetry of His statements.

(IV) to live out “The Golden Rule”

We need a poetic imagination to obey the golden rule: Douglas Jones points out, “In the case of morality, many thinkers have pointed to the fact that moral judgments involve the imaginative act of placing yourself in the other person’s place, the act of sympathy. Even the simplest, yet most profound commands—‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself’ (Mt. 22:39) and ‘love one another as I have loved you’ (Jn. 15:12)—require us to imagine one person as another, one situation in terms of another, Christ as us. That involves a profound and imaginative metaphorical transfer. And that has to be learned; the implications are very subtle.”

(V) to communicate God’s glory anew

Cliche kills the imagination. Cliches are stale. They lack potency. They are old expressions, old images, old ways of saying truths. When original, they were powerful. When a phrase becomes commonplace, it losses it's ability to convey a full meaning. Christians should endeavour to break away from cliche and present the glorious truth of the God of all creation in new, powerful ways, ways that are worthy of the great God we serve. Francis Schaeffer writes, “The Christian is the one whose imagination should fly beyond the stars.”

C.S. Lewis wrote the Chronicles of Narnia in order to present the glorious truth of the gospel in a new way, without “stained glass and Sunday school associations.”

John Piper, in his essay, “God is not boring,” writes, “Imagination is the key to killing boredom. We must imagine ways to see great truths for what they really are. And they are not boring. God’s world—all of it—rings with wonders. The imagination call up new words, new images, new analogies, new metaphors, new illustrations, new connections to say old, glorious truth. Imagination is the faculty of the mind that God has given us to make the communication of His beauty beautiful… [and] helps us show the world’s horror as horrible.”

Christians must foster a poetic imagination, in order to “labor to say an old truth in awakening ways. God is worthy. ‘Oh sing to the Lord a new song”—or picture, or poem, or figure of speech.”

Friday, April 18, 2008

The Christian and Literature

Starting this Sunday night, I will present a four part series on "The Christian and Literature" to my local church. The first session will deal with poetry.

At the heart of this series is my hope to adequately answer the question, "Why should Christians read literature?" In short, literature fosters "imagination"---true imagination, God honouring imagination. Pastor and author John Piper writes, "imagination is not merely a device for writers, it is a duty for all Christians. We must exercise it or be disobedient."

Over the course of the four sessions, I hope to show the truth of this statement. I also hope to post some of what I will be saying in these sessions on my blog. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

"...the hills are alive with the Sound of Music!"

...and I am barely alive...

I am in the middle of directing my school production of The Sound of Music. Or perhaps I should say, "the muddle of directing..." The show opens this Thursday night and runs until the Saturday matinee. THIS Thursday.

It should be a great show... there is only about three or four more months worth of work to be done. I only have two days...

I fear my wife and children have forgotten I still exist. I do! I do!

Monday, March 31, 2008

Changing the world, one blog at a time

I am teaching a unit on media to my Grade 12 English students. We have been looking at a number of media-related topics, including “blogging”. On Friday, I came across this article in the Hamilton Spectator about the influence one blogger had on AOL. (Click here for “Got a beef? Your blog can make a company tremble.”)

According to the article, there are 35 million blogs on the Internet; there are even more blog readers. As a blogger myself, I wonder how useful, illuminating or informative my blog actually is. In the past month and a half, my blog has been viewed over 600 times. A handful of those visitors are friends and family; the bulk of visitors are people looking for information on a range of topics posted on my blog. Most of those visitors come from Google searches; for example, type in “Why study Shakespeare” in the Google search window. Today (March 31st, 2008) , my blog, galumphing, is the sixth hit on the Google search out of 449,000 hits. I think what I have to say about Shakespeare is worth saying, and worth reading. I am a professional educator, so my ideas about literature are peer reviewed by my department as well as by my colleagues and substantiated by my formal education. However, when someone blogs, there is no guarantee that he really know what he is talking about. I also blog with distinctly Christian worldview and perspective; to some, that would undermine what I have to say.

The daunting reality is that anyone (and their dog, it seems) can create a blog. There is no peer review, there is no formal training required, and there is no overt ethical screening. The individual “blogger” is the only one who reviews, sensors and ultimately decides what appears online to the thousands of Internet surfers. The individual reader is left to discern truth from fiction, detect bias and evaluate the relevance of the posts. This is disconcerting, given the steadily declining level of analytical literacy among average university undergraduates, much less the average reader.

Twenty years ago, the hot-under-the-collar, ranting person found an audience with a handful of friends at the local Tim Horton’s. If the rant turned ugly, then the manager would probably turn you out. Today, that hot-under-the-collar rant is published worldwide.

Ultimately, people need to be extra cautious what they say: we need to think before we “write.” The irony is, this caution comes at a time when people rarely think before they do anything.