Tuesday, September 29, 2015


When men and women get their hands on religion, one of the first things they often do is turn it into an instrument for controlling others, either putting or keeping them “in their place.” The history of such religious manipulation and coercion is long and tedious. It is little wonder that people who have only known religion on such terms experience release or escape from it as freedom. The problem is that the freedom turns out to be short-lived.

Introduction to the Letter to the Galatians, The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language translated by Eugene Peterson. NavPress.

Monday, September 28, 2015

No time for loneliness

When my wife was seriously ill some time ago, people from our church contacted me to ask if we needed anything. When I replied that it was nice of people to offer meals but that Teri’s chief problem was simple loneliness — no one to talk to, as she lay in her sickbed, except a very busy husband — people were, not to put too fine a point on it, shocked. I had said something unexpectedly shameful. One person even commiserated with Teri: how difficult it must have been for her to have a husband who so openly admitted that she had personal needs in her illness. (To be sure, there were also deeply sympathetic friends, though not as many as we had expected to find.)

Of course, this whole situation speaks of more than Stoicism: it speaks perhaps most eloquently of a way of middle-class American life so consistently hectic that the one thing you simply cannot ask from other people is their time. But it was nevertheless clear that what we were supposed to do was to say that we were doing just fine and didn’t need a thing, though under considerable pressure we might consent to receiving a meal or two. To admit that illness is worsened by loneliness was several steps beyond the socially acceptable. So says the Stoic Creed, and most of the time what I say in return is: To hell with it.
Alan Jacobs in My Beef with Stoicism

Wednesday, September 23, 2015


This signature on each soul may be a product of heredity and environment, but that only means that heredity and environment are among the instruments whereby God creates a soul. I am considering not how, but why, He makes each soul unique. If He had no use for all these differences, I do not see why He should have created more souls than one. Be sure that the ins and outs of your individuality are no mystery to Him; and one day they will no longer be a mystery to you. The mould in which a key is made would be a strange thing, if you had never seen a key: and the key itself a strange thing if you had never seen a lock. Your soul has a curious shape because it is a hollow made to fit a particular swelling in the infinite contours of the Divine substance, or a key to unlock one of the doors in the house with many mansions.

For it is not humanity in the abstract that is to be saved, but you—you, the individual reader, John Stubbs or Janet Smith. Blessed and fortunate creature, your eyes shall behold Him and not another’s. All that you are, sins apart, is destined, if you will let God have His good way, to utter satisfaction. The Brocken spectre ‘looked to every man like his first love’, because she was a cheat. But God will look to every soul like its first love because He is its first love. Your place in heaven will seem to be made for you and you alone, because you were made for it—made for it stitch by stitch as a glove is made for a hand.

From The Problem of Pain by C S Lewis

Friday, September 18, 2015

Heaven and earth

I believe, to be sure, that any man who reaches Heaven will find that what he abandoned (even in plucking out his right eye) has not been lost: that the kernel of what he was really seeking even in his most depraved wishes will be there, beyond expectation, waiting for him in ‘the High Countries’. In that sense it will be true for those who have completed the journey (and for no others) to say that good is everything and Heaven everywhere. But we, at this end of the road, must not try to anticipate that retrospective vision. If we do, we are likely to embrace the false and disastrous converse and fancy that everything is good and everywhere is Heaven.

But what, you ask, of earth? Earth, I think, will not be found by anyone to be in the end a very distinct place. I think earth, if chosen instead of Heaven, will turn out to have been, all along, only a region in Hell: and earth, if put second to Heaven, to have been from the beginning a part of Heaven itself.

C S Lewis, in The Great Divorce

Saturday, September 12, 2015

On facing death

Cicero wrote a book called the Tusculan Disputations,  five books on death, pain, depression and related passions, and happiness as a state of mind. In the third book of Robert Harris' trilogy on Cicero, the narrator, 'Dictator', Tiro (Cicero's secretary and right hand man) sums up the last book: 

In the fifth book, Cicero offered his practical prescriptions. A human being can only train for death by leading a life that is morally good; that is - to desire nothing too much; to be content with what one has; to be entirely self-sufficient within oneself, so that whatever one loses, one will still be able to carry on regardless; to do none harm; to realise that it is better to suffer an injury than to inflict one; to accept that life is a loan given by Nature without a due date and that repayment may be demanded at any time; that the most tragic character in the world is a tyrant who has broken all these precepts.

page 249, paperback edition. 

Cicero was declared a righteous pagan by the Early Church, and therefore many of his works were deemed worthy of preservation.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Faithful in the little things

With quiet sobriety and sober quietness, we shall do our work in this way. We must use our knowledge as it has been given to us to-day. No more can be required of us than is given to us. And like a servant who is faithful in little, we must not be sorrowful about such little. More than this faithfulness is not required of us.

Karl Barth

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Keeping us sane

More people are exploited and abused in the cause of religion than in any other way. Sex, money, and
power all take a backseat to religion as a source of evil. Religion is the most dangerous energy source known to humankind.
The moment a person (or government or religion or organization) is convinced that God is either ordering or sanctioning a cause or project, anything goes. The history, worldwide, of religion-fueled hate, killing, and oppression is staggering. The biblical prophets are in the front line of those doing something about it.
The biblical prophets continue to be the most powerful and effective voices ever heard on this earth for keeping religion honest, humble, and compassionate. Prophets sniff out injustice, especially injustice that is dressed up in religious garb. They sniff it out a mile away. Prophets see through hypocrisy, especially hypocrisy that assumes a religious pose. Prophets are not impressed by position or power or authority. They aren’t taken in by numbers, size, or appearances of success.
They pay little attention to what men and women say about God or do for God. They listen to God and rigorously test all human language and action against what they hear. Among these prophets, Amos towers as defender of the downtrodden poor and accuser of the powerful rich who use God’s name to legitimize their sin.
None of us can be trusted in this business. If we pray and worship God and associate with others who likewise pray and worship God, we absolutely must keep company with these biblical prophets. We are required to submit all our words and acts to their passionate scrutiny to prevent the perversion of our religion into something self-serving. A spiritual life that doesn’t give a large place to the prophet-articulated justice will end up making us worse instead of better, separating us from God’s ways instead of drawing us into them.

From The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language: introduction to the Book of Amos, by Eugene Peterson. 

Friday, September 04, 2015

Mercy and grace

When Dr. [William] Carey was suffering from a dangerous illness, the enquiry was made, "If this sickness should prove fatal, what passage would you select as the text for your funeral sermon?" He replied, "Oh, I feel that such a poor sinful creature is unworthy to have anything said about him; but if a funeral sermon must be preached, let it be from the words, Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness; according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions.'"

In the same spirit of humility he directed in his will that the following inscription and nothing more should be cut on his gravestone:--
William Carey, Born August 17th, 1761: Died - -
"A wretched, poor, and helpless worm
On thy kind arms I fall."

Only on the footing of free grace can the most experienced and most honoured of the saints approach their God. The best of men are conscious above all others that they are men at the best. Empty boats float high, but heavily laden vessels are low in the water; mere professors can boast, but true children of God cry for mercy upon their unprofitableness.

We have need that the Lord should have mercy upon our good works, our prayers, our preachings, our alms-givings, and our holiest things. The blood was not only sprinkled upon the doorposts of Israel's dwelling houses, but upon the sanctuary, the mercy-seat, and the altar, because as sin intrudes into our holiest things, the blood of Jesus is needed to purify them from defilement.

If mercy be needed to be exercised towards our duties, what shall be said of our sins? How sweet the remembrance that inexhaustible mercy is waiting to be gracious to us, to restore our backslidings, and make our broken bones rejoice!

Charles Spurgeon in Morning and Evening Devotions for August 29th. 

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Inexhaustible place

My own experience has shown me that it is possible to live in and attentively study the same small place decade after decade, and find that it ceaselessly evades and exceeds comprehension. There is nothing that it can be reduced to, because "it" is always, and not predictably, changing. It is never the same two days running, and the better one pays attention the more aware one becomes of these differences. Living and working in the place day by day, one is continuously revising one's knowledge of it, continuously being surprised by it and in error about it. And even if the place stayed the same, one would be getting older and growing in memory and experience, and would need for that reason alone to work from revision to revision. One knows one's place, that is to say, only within limits, and the limits are in one's mind, not in the place. This is a description of life in time in the world. A place, apart form our now always possible destruction of it, is inexhaustible. It cannot be altogether known, seen, understood, or appreciated.

Wendell Berry