You guys! Uncle Phil–known off the Jenn Stories as Phil Madeira, who has been pretty busy with some other awesome musical projects since I last regularly blogged here–you should google–is coming out with an instrumental CD. Sounds pretty good so far! Like…not crickets. You might want to be a part of it:
You’ve met Oscar before. He’s that cute little guy sitting there with me in my current Gravatar.
Here–just in case I change it again at some point and you read this long after I’ve written it.
He’s a sweet, gentle, quiet boy, and I guess he didn’t have the greatest of beginnings, because when I got him as a rescue six years ago, he had some pretty severe anxiety issues. He hasn’t ever really lost them, but being loved by people and socialised by Shemp helped a lot to make him internally relaxed and a little more “opened up.” Quirky for sure, but he’s my dog, so that’s probably a foregone conclusion, and basically he’s a good dog.
On the other hand, although there are people he likes, and other dogs he’s been friends with, in another sense he’s only ever deeply bonded with me and Shemp. We were pretty worried about how he was going to adjust (or not) to Shemp’s passing, but although he was clearly quite depressed for a while afterwards, with a few minor episodes he really behaved very well. Thing is, he doesn’t do well with changes in routine to begin with, and his canine support who enabled him to navigate them is no longer around.
Normally, Oscar doesn’t snuggle, but you can see how much he loves Shemp by how relaxed he is here.
When I stopped bringing him to work at my former church, Shemp was still around and he adjusted just fine. And by the time Shemp was gone, I had transitioned to my internship and he was used to me leaving at roughly the same time every morning and coming home at the same time every evening. Then we all (including Oscar) went on vacation, and then I worked as a short-term nanny to the small son of one of my Starbucks friends, on a similar schedule.
But last weekend, I went away for four days, for my first Spiritual Direction training retreat. Although he was clearly happy to see me when I returned, Oscar seemed his normal self, but the problem is, this week has been a continuation of “different.” My Paul’s workload has ballooned, and I am suddenly fully unemployed, waiting for my next internship to begin, and trying to find part-time work for income at the same time. (Or working on getting ready to launch my Nonprofit–which is legitimately in process.) This means that I’m home at weird hours, and because Paul is working late a lot, our usual evening routine (frequently involving a ride on the boat) hasn’t been happening either.
All of a sudden yesterday it was as if Oscar had mental break, and he has been incapable of letting me out of his sight. He follows me to the bathroom and lies down outside it against the door. He follows me up the stairs, where he isn’t allowed. He leans against my legs when I’m doing my hair or make-up in the morning. (Today I pointed the running hairdryer at him to see what he would do and he just sat there. He hates loud noises.) He gloms onto my hip when I’m sitting on the couch. It’s weird, and annoying, and a little concerning, because although it’s clear a metaphorical (metaphysical?) switch flipped inside him, I’m not sure how to flip it back.
This week, usually there’s not even this much separation between us.
Paul made the valid point that Shemp went away and never came back, and I just went away for a significant stretch, and so Oscar’s probably fearful that all his pack are deserting him. Honestly, I was just crying about Shemp again the other day myself, so I wouldn’t be surprised if Oscar’s still sustaining some significant grief himself. Our dramatic change in household routine has, I suspect, cemented that idea of potential loss of or abandonment by me in his little nervous doggie skull. So I’m giving him lots of hugs while still maintaining the house rules with him, but so far he does not seem convinced that all is well, and I’m not sure how to help him besides, frankly, to pray for him. Do you have any ideas?
They say death comes in threes, and my Paul and I have each lost an elderly family member in recent days, but neither of us would have predicted the third death would be our beloved dog, Shemp. His death managed to be somehow both sudden and prolonged, unexpected and agonizing, and I hope neither of us ever have to live through a week like last week again. We–and Oscar and Rosie–are trying to find a new normal. It’s only been a few days but still, normal is not coming easily. Sleep has been scarce, tears have been plentiful. Rather than dwell on that, however, I’d like to share the post my Paul wrote about the amazing dog who helped welcome Oscar and me into the Cottage when my Paul and I first met, and who barreled into our hearts forever.
Yesterday we said goodbye to our best friend and favorite stooge. Shemp was an exceptional dog, and a friend to all.
On the hiking trail Shemp was SuperDog from planet Krypton, with a red cape and an S on his chest, blasting through trees and brush, jumping stone walls, diving down hills, then wallowing in every mud puddle to cool down. He’d run back every so often to see what was taking us so long, or he’d stop at the forks in the trail and wait for us to catch up. Once he saw our direction he’d bolt off again, with a look over his shoulder that said “HA! I KNEW YOU WERE GOING THIS WAY!!”
Shemp was Eddie Haskell with a healthy dose of Beetlejuice, and no one got away without him sticking his nose in an inappropriate place. He was a rescue, and I traveled to get him. It was a long ride, and when we got home I rushed to the bathroom. I must not have shut the door, because as I was standing at the toilet answering nature’s call, I heard the sound of water pouring in stereo. I turned to see Shemp squatting behind me, because “this must be the place to go, right?” When he’d visit his cousins Zonka the Rottweiler and Frankie the bulldog/spaniel mix, they’d play until they were tired. He’d then gather every one of their bones and chew toys into a pile in the middle of the yard, and lie on them for a nap. Once on the trail I saw him up ahead rolling in something. Rolling was never good. I rushed up there to see him on his back, doing the Limbo inside the rib cage of a dead deer. I yelled at him to get out of there, and he came over with his head down and a sheepish look to tell me that I was looking lovely today, Mrs. Cleaver.
To Shemp everyone new, human, canine, or feline, was an old and dear friend that he just hadn’t met yet. He was the Mayor at the Independence Day parade, shaking hands and kissing babies. His attitude was “You have to love me, I’m ME!” Rosie the cat would let him lick the side of her head, and he was adored by his CockaPoo brother, Oscar. At the dog park he was Joe Cool, and he would gently greet all of the little dogs, then wade into the wrestling game with the big dogs and kick butt.
Shemp was Belushi in the Animal House scene where Bluto tries to cheer up Flounder after they wreck the Lincoln.
He didn’t just lean against you, he burrowed into you. His nicknames were “Hammer”, “Meat”, and Uncle John’s favorite, “Stinky Pete.” He was 80 lbs of muscle, a four legged bad breathed barrel chested beer keg who dreamed he was a lap dog. He single-mindedly pursued his ultimate goal of a never ending belly rub.
“If there are no dogs in Heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went.” said Will Rogers, and Samuel Clemens reckoned that “Heaven goes by favor. If it went by merit, you would stay out and your dog would go in.” Dogs are some of God’s finest creations, full of fun and mischief and unconditional love. It seems impossible to me that our dogs aren’t waiting for us in the next life. When the day comes and I open my eyes in that world, I expect to see Shemp, his tail furiously doing its trademarked helicopter wag, probably to the point where his ass is lifting off the ground. Until then I will sorely and grievously miss him, and I will love him forever.
I have been traveling intermittently since I was two, and I like to think I’m pretty good at it.
I got especially good at it after my five week trip to India in college. I went with a group of nine people through an organisation that arranges trips like that one, and before we left, said organisation gave us a list of things to pack. This was in the early ’90’s, so let’s acknowledge that luggage technology was not as advanced as it is now. As far as I’m aware, the fact that my American Tourister suitcase (which had been purchased for me as a high school graduation present and sported my then-favourite-colour, “Dusty Rose”) had a pair of disproportionately tiny wheels, and a handle for dragging it on them, was a relative novelty and considered quite an asset. Unfortunately, it was hard-sided and already weighed plenty when there was nothing in it. The up side was that I guess if we ran into any ill-behaved simians in the jungles of the subcontinent, they wouldn’t be able to break into it. (We did see some monkeys in the trees, but they left our luggage alone. We didn’t see the tigers we were looking for at all.)
After I packed every item on the Recommended Items to Pack list, however (including a travel iron, because I had a travel iron and had never had a reason to travel with it before–and still didn’t, let’s be honest), the suitcase weighed so much that it crushed the wheel bearings and the wheels never rolled again. Which was a problem when trying to rush with eight other people across the length and breadth, as well as up and down the stairs, of a New Delhi train station in an attempt to get to the Indian state of Maharashtra. We ended up in Mumbai (when it was still called Bombay) at the end of the trip, and I guess, if the more recent commercial is any indication, even a soft-sided American Tourister suitcase would’ve sufficed. Bummer.
Anyway, after that I decided to up my travel game, which proved to be a good thing when I moved to London and spent the next five and a half years gallivanting around Europe. One of the things that I learned pretty early on was the importance of informing myself on the upcoming weather of whatever location I was headed for. I developed certain techniques for packing light, no matter the weather, but since cold weather clothes are usually bulkier than warm weather ones, it was important for the success of all the rest of my travel hacks that I have some idea what sort of meteorological state I was about to enter. It used to be trickier to find this out; often I had to make a phone call to a person living in my destination, particularly during the days when I couldn’t afford an internet connection that actually allowed me to search the internet, but only one that allowed me to quickly send and receive emails. But I was always able to find out the information I needed to know. Now it’s so much easier.
All this to say that I really have no excuse for the fact that I’ve been wearing the same sweatshirt and jeans, and borrowing TheBro’s socks, for the last five days. My first day as a non-employee of My Old Church, I got on a plane bright and early to spend a few days with The BroFam. The BroFam lives in a northerly state which is known for cold winters, but since last year New England’s winter lasted about three months longer than theirs and it was hot there when my Paul and I visited them around this same time, and this year New England got more snow than anyone else in the country including Alaska, I guess I just figured I’d be wearing shorts the whole time. I mean, I did figure that. It’s what I packed. It’s been downright hot in New England lately, and in spite of the fact I had a brief glimmer of a thought, as I dragged my soft-sided suitcase with functioning wheels out of its spot in the closet, that maybe I should check the weather, I … didn’t. The only reason I have a sweatshirt and a pair of jeans with me at all is that I find airplanes chilly.
As with most Jenn Stories (of which this is a quintessential one), please feel free to consider this a public service announcement, meaning: Check the weather before you travel. You’re welcome.
I guess if I had traveled here this coming weekend, I would’ve been okay …
Today is Grandpa M’s birthday. When I was two, the first grandchild on both sides of the family until my brother came along, we were at the M’s that winter, I guess. It must have been shortly before we moved to Honduras or something. My parents had been telling me that Grandpa’s birthday was coming up, so according to Mom and other relatives, one evening at dinner, I got up, toddled around the table, right up to Grandpa’s chair.
“Happy birfday, Grandpa,” I said.
By all accounts, hearts melted.
My mom posted this one on Facebook today
I’ve been doing daily posts this month on my church’s Facebook page myself, “A Carol a Day for Advent.” As I was lining up the seven carols for this week, a tune started going through my head. It was a song that Grandpa and Grandma used to sing together at the Christmas Eve services at the church where he was a pastor for over 30 years. I thought I would quite like to make that song one of the carols for the week, but when I looked for it on YouTube, it was nowhere to be found.
Grandpa got Alzheimer’s in the mid-90’s and he lost a lot, not only of his memory, but also of his personality. But he could still sing–almost right up until the end. At some point maybe midway between his getting the disease and passing away, Grandma had the bright idea to make one last music CD with him. I knew the song I wanted was on the CD. I just didn’t know how to get it from there to YouTube. Thank God for google and a friend who used to attend their church and has some audio-visual skills. Between them all, this happened. (The image is a card I made back in 2002 or so, but the song is the main point).
Here’s an even longer paper from last spring–a class on C.S. Lewis. I meant to post this yesterday, and forgot, but that’s okay, because this post contains memories, w‘s, family stories, and theology, and since it’s super-long, but I haven’t been posting much lately, you can just count it as all the rest of the posts for this month. You’re welcome.
Animals and the Theme of Creation in the Writings of C.S. Lewis
Submitted in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements of HS 772 The Ancient Future Lewis
By Jennifer A. G. Layte
When I was a child we had a black cocker spaniel named Chocolate Chip. He was sweet and stupid, and maybe we were, too, because although we loved him dearly, we didn’t do it very well. Lots of accidental but horrific things happened to Chippy, some of which we couldn’t have prevented, but some of which we probably could. As it was, he didn’t live long. I wonder if he might have lived longer if my family had had a better theology of animals at the time. It wasn’t that we didn’t care—we just didn’t know. C.S. Lewis might have been able to give us some pointers, had we been paying attention to that sort of thing when we read The Chronicles of Narnia.
“And God saw everything that he had made,” said the writer of Genesis, “and behold, it was very good” (Gen. 1:31, ESV). Contrary to prevailing contemporary views that value is completely subjective, a value judgment was placed on creation as soon as it was brought into being, by the very One who made it. God’s speaking the cosmos into existence and declaring truth about it packed creation with meaning—derived from Him. When C. S. Lewis, a philosopher, a writer, and most of all a Christian, wrote worlds into being himself, he was “simply rearranging things that God has already made,” elements that had their own inherent meaning, communicated into them by God’s word. Lewis’ perspective about objective meaning and hierarchy within creation was informed by centuries of earlier Christians’ perspectives. This view gave him the freeing humility to fill his own works with meaning by exploring these inherent meanings by assertion or negation. One of the most powerful ways he disclosed the nature of creation in general, and humanity’s relationship to its Creator in particular, was through his written treatment of animals.
The Noble Beast
Lewis’ view of our relationship to animals is well-nigh sacramental, according to Armstrong’s definition: “Sacramentality is the belief that transcendent spiritual reality manifests itself in and through created material reality, that all creation is in some sense a reflection of the creator, that God is present in and through the world.” Like Francis of Assisi before, him, C.S. Lewis saw the significance of animals in creation as yet one more vehicle through which to “[experience], and [act] extravagantly upon, an overwhelming passion for the person of Jesus.”
In Lewis’ novel That Hideous Strength, Mr. Bultitude the bear and the animals at Belbury are probably the most “realistic” animals in all of Lewis’ fiction. Mr. Bultitude’s described impressions and experiences are decidedly fuzzy, only human insofar as Lewis has to employ words to communicate them to us at all. Nevertheless, the animals in the story gain a sort of nobility beyond that of the pitied abused (at Belbury) or even the beloved pet. “Mr. Bultitude is the last of the Seven Bears of Logres and the hero of the novel, That Hideous Strength, by C.S. Lewis,” proclaims Mr. Bultitude’s Facebook page (only 18 likes), accessed on May 21, 2014. “Mr. Bultitude enjoys eating honey and saving the world.” Such an assertion may be an overstatement, but in Lewis’ tales, even a bearlike bear does indeed have heroic qualities.
The previous two books in The Cosmic Trilogy, of which That Hideous Strength makes the third, contain other sorts of animals—extraterrestrial ones. Perelandra, the book at the center, shows an idyllic, unfallen world in peril, with animals in relationship to the “humans” of Venus (Perelandra) the way Lewis imagines humans and animals related in Paradise:
“The beasts raced forward to greet her . . . She turned as they approached her and welcomed them, and once again the picture was half like many earthly scenes but in its total effect unlike them all. It was not really like a woman making much of a horse, nor yet a child playing with a puppy. There was in her face an authority, in her caresses a condescension, which by taking seriously the inferiority of her adorers made them somehow less inferior . . . “
On Mars (Malacandra) in the very first book of the Trilogy, “dumb animals” exist, but are overshadowed by other animal-like beings which are anything but mute or senseless. For that planet, Lewis imagines hnau, non-human beings who seem to be on the same tier of the hierarchy as humanity. Malacandra has three sorts of hnau, the hrossa, the seroni, and the pfiffiltriggi. Each type is distinct from the other, but each is rational and is able to interact across species and with the supernatural eldila who also more or less inhabit the planet. It is still difficult to imagine these hnau as being other than animals, however. Lewis seems to have anticipated that when he describes the hero Ransom’s impressions:
“It was only many days later that Ransom discovered how to deal with these sudden losses of confidence. They arose when the rationality of the hross tempted you to think of it as a man. Then it became abominable . . . But starting from the other end you had an animal with everything an animal ought to have . . . and added to all these, as though Paradise had never been lost and earliest dreams were true, the charm of speech and reason.”
While it is the Talking Animals of Narnia who are the most renowned examples of what Lewis is describing above, this paragraph from Out of the Silent Planet is, in fact, what really sums up Lewis’ approach to animal life in creation. Lewis does not intend even his most anthropomorphized beasts to be seen as human. However, it is telling that their significance is always relative to human beings. Lewis’ consistent insistence in almost all his writings is that the Incarnation—the entry of the Creator into His own creation as a human being—is “the central miracle asserted by Christians.” Therefore, although humans are not at the top of the hierarchy of creation as understood by the medievals and possibly by Lewis himself, they are uniquely honored in the created order. “Since our Beloved became a man,” says the Green Lady on Perelandra, “how should Reason in any world take on another form?” In other words, since the Word took on earthly, human flesh (John 1:14), He would not take on other. Thus Lewisian animals, in a lower rung of the hierarchy, are ennobled by their closeness or likeness to human beings. Conversely, however, the more Lewis’ human characters take on baser “animal instincts,” the less noble they become.
The Beastly Human
George MacDonald, one of Lewis’ ideological mentors, whose writings famously helped propel Lewis toward the Christian faith, once wrote a story about Curdie, a boy who was given the gift of being able to tell the nature of a person by holding or shaking a person’s hand.
“’Have you ever heard what some philosophers say—that men were all animals once?’” asks the princess in the story, who enabled Curdie’s new gift.
“’It is of no consequence. But there is another thing that is of the greatest consequence—this: that all men, if they do not take care, go down the hill to the animals’ country; that many men are actually, all their lives, going to be beasts. People knew it once, but it is long since they forgot it.’”
Later in the story, Curdie discovers this almost empirically, every time he has contact with another human being’s hand. He is able to feel, at the touch of the hand, whether that person really possesses a a paw, a hoof, or a claw. If the person is a sincere human being, like his mother, for example, he feels a true human hand “just like that of the princess.” It is difficult, after once encountering it, not to see this line of thinking at work in Lewis’ writing as well.
The most famous example in any of Lewis’ fiction of a person degenerating into a beast is, of course, when Eustace Scrubb, the odious cousin of the more heroic Pevensie siblings in the Narnia Chronicles, becomes a dragon. He has been progressively alienating himself from his cousins and the other people on the journey of which he finds himself unwittingly (and unwillingly) a part. After wandering off and taking a nap in a cave, he discovers,
“He had turned into a dragon while he was asleep. Sleeping on a dragon’s hoard with greedy, dragonish thoughts in his heart, he had become a dragon himself . . . But the moment he thought this he realised that he . . . wanted to be friends. He wanted to get back among humans and talk and laugh and share things. He realized that he was a monster cut off from the whole human race. An appalling loneliness came over him.”
Fortunately for Eustace, there is still hope. He still has some vestiges of true human sensibility, and when he meets the lion Aslan, the Lord—and Redeemer (contrary to the statement in Perelandra about the Beloved not needing to take on other flesh)—of Narnia, Aslan “undragons” him. After that, Eustace, having been personally redeemed, becomes a much better human being indeed.
Eustace, however, is not the only character in the Narnia chronicles who is transformed into an animal, and not all of the characters who descend the created hierarchy are brought back. The haughty Prince Rabadash of Calormen, in The Horse and His Boy, is turned by Aslan into a donkey before a large crowd. His restoration is possible but conditional, and only conditionally permanent.
Another notable—and even less hopeful—example of this descent is seen in the story of Ginger the Cat. In The Last Battle, the final book in The Chronicles of Narnia, we first meet Ginger, as a Talking Animal. Talking Animals are really the chief inhabitants of Narnia. (If we were mixing Lewisian constructs across books, we could say that although, after Aslan, humans are always the true rulers of Narnia, Talking Animals are the chief hnau.) Ginger, however, does not appreciate his place even in an exalted animal hierarchy.
Ginger is clever, and arrogant and smug about it. Ginger thinks that because he is aware that the creature posing as Aslan in a stable is false that therefore Aslan and all supernatural beings are fables, and so when he encounters the demon god Tash in the stable, his status as a Talking Animal is downgraded in the shock.
‘“Look, look!’ said the voice of the Bear. ‘It can’t talk. It has forgotten how to talk! It has gone back to being a dumb beast. Look at its face.’
“Everyone saw that it was true. And then the greatest terror of all fell upon those Narnians. For every one of them had been taught—when it was only a chick or a puppy or a cub—how Aslan at the beginning of the world had turned the beasts of Narnia into Talking Beasts and warned them that if they weren’t good they might one day be turned back again and be like the poor witless animals one meets in other countries. ‘And now it is coming upon us,’ they moaned.”
Neither Lewis nor MacDonald appear to see a necessity of arguing for or against the idea that humans evolved from animals. It is interesting to note, however, that the evolutionary theory can actually augment their belief that when people either abdicate or overstep their place in the created order, they become less human, which both men seem to see as a reversion, and not simply a deterioration.
As a final example of Lewis’ understanding of the devolution of humans who reject God and His appointed role for them, we should take note of the self-appointed scientists, sociologists, and other diabolical “men of learning” at Belbury, the Hell-in-the-making of That Hideous Strength. It does not take long for the reader to realize that each one of the men and women of Belbury are already significantly subhuman when we meet them. Each one retains some characteristic of humanity which is totally out of balance and has become a caricature in the absence or corruption of any other human qualities. Among all the characters in any of Lewis’ books (save perhaps Weston, in Perelandra), these have most obviously attempted to usurp God’s role as sovereign over all creation. Not least among their sins is a menagerie of animals they have collected for vivisection. In Lewis’ fiction, the truly rebellious characters always exhibit a lack of respect for others and for the rest of creation, particularly the animal kingdom. The pinnacle—or nadir—of this conception is seen here.
None of these evil people in That Hideous Strength turn into literal brute animals as they might have if they were transported to Narnia. They are, however, overcome by the animals they have abused. It is in this context that Mr. Bultitude becomes unwittingly heroic, as part of the animal mass which ultimately finishes off Belbury. He is not, however, the animal that leads the charge or wreaks the most havoc. In fact, first of all, the human inmates of Belbury who think they have so much control, lose the ability to speak intelligibly, just like Ginger the Cat. It is only after this that the animals are let lose among them—by a man who has not lost his paradisical ability to communicate with them:
“Suddenly, the confusion of cries ran all together into one thin long-drawn noise of terror . . . Something had darted very quickly across the floor between the two long tables and disappeared under one of them. Those who had seen it clearly could not tell the others: they could only point and scream meaningless syllables. But Mark had recognized it. It was a tiger.”
The tiger is not the only animal that has its way with the humans at Belbury. More and more of the escaping menagerie descend on the nightmarish banquet, culminating in the arrival of an elephant, which tramples humans under its feet. This seems a not-so-coincidental reversal of that poem in praise to God and in wonder of humanity, Psalm 8, where King David says of man,
“Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
and crowned him with glory and honor.
You have given him dominion over the works of your hands;
you have put all things under his feet,
all sheep and oxen,
and also the beasts of the field . . . “ (Psalm 8:5-7).
This scene of the confounding of words (the vehicle of meaning since God created the cosmos) and the uprising of the animals is the most logical conclusion and effective illustration of Lewis’ views regarding the rejection of created meaning and order, and regarding humanity within that meaning and order. Conversely, his closing scenes in that same book, where the animals are reunited “each according to its kind” (Genesis 1:25), and where the humans are, too—almost like Adam and Eve in the Garden, but a restored Garden—is the logical conclusion and illustration of the fulfillment of the meaning God spoke into creation at the beginning of time.
Unleashed—The Theology of Animals in Life and Ministry
At the very least, the preceding observations provide an interesting study for the Christian animal lover. Lewis’ belief in “man’s lost prerogative to ennoble beasts” is clear after only a brief survey of his writings. At a minimum—or perhaps it is the maximum—this study has provided me with devotional material such that, even as I have been writing about the role of animals in God’s creation (and Lewis’ writing), the underlying thought in my head is a wondering, “What is man that You are mindful of him?” (Psalm 8:4). I suspect that was at least part of Lewis’ intention whenever animals entered his art.
However, this study also has implications beyond my devotional edification, for ministry in general and for the specific ministry in which I am personally involved. Vigilance is necessary to keep any sort of teaching or focus on animals in the church from turning into a twisted idolatry or sentimentality. Yet I believe some kind of teaching about creation in general, with a more specific focus on humans and animals and their relation to each other within that creation, could be an important corrective both to that sentimentality and directionless outrage that comes from animal rescue videos, and to the disregard for animal life as unimportant which can still be found in some pockets of society (deplorably, sometimes both in scientific and Evangelical communities). A truer appreciation within a Christian ministry context of the created role of animals may also help to diminish both animal abuse and the abuse of people. Contemporary wisdom states that harming an animal is frequently the first step on the trajectory toward harming a human. Not only does this seem plausible to me, but if Belbury is any indication, Lewis’ would agree.
Some churches have special services in which they bless the animals. I have never been to such an event, and I suspect its value differs from church to church. However, the fact that I have worked in churches at all corners of the theological grid and never have encountered such a service in person is only one indication that maybe the church at large today needs a stronger theology of animals. We would do well to inquire of Christians of past eras as Lewis did—perhaps of Francis of Assisi, William Wilberforce, or even C.S. Lewis himself.
My own experience with animals, combined with this study of their role in Lewis’ writings, confirms my view that animals can be a vital part of ministry here and now. In 2009, I completed a regimen of radiation therapy for breast cancer, and was soon afterward also promoted to a full-time position at the church where I still work. The change in employment status enabled me to cease shift work at Starbucks, and so as something of a reward for all of these positive developments, as well as possibly a little penance for the ill-fated Chippy of my childhood, I adopted a timid little black cockapoo from a pet rescue organization. Because I was single at the time and still worked long hours, I sought and obtained permission from the church to bring him with me to work each day.
Not only did Oscar and I benefit each other, but he has become a source of pleasure and joy to the people who come into the church during the week, and to the children and youth with whom I work. He is still timid, but he is and always has been gentle with children, and has served to bring many a child more timid than himself into community with the rest of the youth group, camp, or Sunday school.
He also provides me with excellent object lessons, since I lack children of my own to use as illustrations. Yesterday a young woman I mentor was asking me about the Good Shepherd passage in John 10. She didn’t understand it. But she knows Oscar.
“Oscar,” I said, “is, as you know, really a one-person dog. He is absolutely, one hundred percent at all times in tune with where I am and what I am doing. He could appear to be passed out on the couch, but if I rustle a piece of paper, he perks his head up immediately to see if I’m going somewhere and if he can come, too.” I could have reminded her that at our summer camp, if I left the premises for half an hour and returned into the middle of a bustle of teens and said something, he would perk up his ears and come running. But I didn’t need to. She understood me and could fill in other illustrative details because she knows Oscar.
“Oscar knows my voice,” I said. “That’s the kind of thing Jesus the Good Shepherd wants from His sheep.” The young woman understood that, too.
I think Oscar’s relationship with me really is a picture of what Jesus wants of us humans. I think that kind of relationship between humans and animals is what Lewis thought was so important, precisely because it was meant to be a kind of mirror of our relationship with God. Like a reflection, a restored relationship with God engenders an improved relationship with His creation. Conversely, I think Lewis might have surmised that a genuinely restored relationship with creation had the potential to re-open a relationship with God, too.
Armstrong, Chris R. “Getting Earthy—Creation’s Glory and Sacredness.” Unpublished chapter, 2014.
Armstrong, Chris R. “Getting Passionate—Heart Religion.” Unpublished chapter, 2014.
Barkman, Adam. C.S. Lewis & Philosophy as a Way of Life. Allentown: Zossima Press, 2009.
Lewis, C.S. The Chronicles of Narnia, sig. ed. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2005.
Lewis, C.S. The Cosmic Trilogy. comp. ed. London: The Bodley Head Ltd and Pan Books Ltd, 1989.
Lewis, C.S. The Discarded Image, Canto ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013.
Lewis, C.S. Miracles, HarperCollins ed., New York: HarperCollins, 2001.
MacDonald, George. The Complete Works of George MacDonald: The Princess and the Goblin, The Princess And Curdie, Lilith, Phantastes, Parables, Far Above Rubies and More (73 Books With Active Table of Contents). Kindle Edition, undated.
 Chris R. Armstrong, “Getting Earthy—Creation’s Glory and Sacredness” (unpublished chapter, 2014), 2.
 Adam Barkman, C.S. Lewis & Philosophy as a Way of Life (Allentown: Zossima Press, 2009), 513.
 George MacDonald, The Complete Works of George MacDonald: The Princess and the Goblin, The Princess And Curdie, Lilith, Phantastes, Parables, Far Above Rubies and More (73 Books With Active Table of Contents), Kindle Edition, undated. loc. 239822-239827.
Sometimes you just gotta get back to your roots, I guess.
This morning, after having Uncle Phil and the Girl Cousins–as well as Mom and Dad–over last evening, my Paul and I went to Mom and Dad’s to join the whole crew for plätter (Swedish pancakes) for breakfast. Grandma was always the extended-family-gathering plätter maker, but she’s not doing as well as she used to, so Mom’s carrying on the tradition, much to our delight.
Grandma can still play the piano and sing, though, as you can plainly see. This hymn is one to which Uncle Phil wrote the words.
Now we know where he got it in the first place. (Grandpa could also sing.)
Grandma was pretty happy to have her youngest son and all her granddaughters with her today.
Grandmother and granddaughters
She kept saying what a nice surprise it was. “This might be the best time I’ve ever had in my whole life,” she said. “Except, I suppose, the day I got married.” Let’s admit that her memory isn’t the best anymore, but still–she didn’t even say one word about having been to Sweden, so it must have been a pretty good day.
It WAS a good day.
Afterwards I went back to my usual environs and had supper with five of my classmates from my Small Christian School. Some of us have not seen each other for (ahem!) 24 years. We are planning our first class reunion ever for, you know, next year when the length of time we haven’t seen each other is more five-ish.
Because it was a Small Christian School, we share a lot of memories, and some of them go back long before high school. It was fun blending stories of things we all remembered (or had forgotten we remembered) with stories of things we’re doing now. It seemed inordinately wonderful to see each other again. Our graduating class only had 24 kids in it, and it seems like we’ve all been through kind of a lot, but that things are settling down for most of us these days. We laughed a lot.
Impromptu reunion “committee.”
Sometimes, I guess, you just gotta get back to your roots.
It’s kind of too bad Friday doesn’t begin with a D. Or that Domestic doesn’t begin with an F. Because it seems that most of my Friday posts have to do with domesticity more than family, per se–plus I can talk about courgettes or zucchini, for example, without telling tales or offending anyone. But Domestic Friday doesn’t alliterate, and ever since I discovered what alliteration was, as an approximately four-year-old, I have had a need for things to alliterate. Particularly titles. (It might also be genetic–pastors are known to alliterate their main sermon points, and I have a lot of pastors in my family.)
Anyway. Today I mostly just wanted to update you on the state of the garden. Every year we have some crops that are dismal failures (usually because other animals enjoy them at less mature stages than we do, and so we don’t get to them before they have been gnawed into nonexistence–but sometimes because that crop and our soil just can’t seem to get along), and some crops that provide a delightful but fairly unmanageable overabundance. It’s kind of like a surprise party every summer, because, while there are one or two things we persist in trying every year which never really take off (onions, mostly), usually the failures and successes are different every year. This means we never know ahead of time what we’re going to end up buying at the supermarket after all (onions, mostly), and what we’re going to have to find creative ways to preserve and/or offload share. For example, last year, you may recall, we had a table-full of bell peppers (also known as capsicums). And carrots (pretty much universally known in English as carrots). This year we have one carrot, and the peppers have all but died . . . although our first attempt at cayennes appears successful.
After that first garlic disappointment, I went online (because why would you take the advice of a garlic farmer in front of you when you can get it off the internet?) and learned that it might be better to harvest in July rather than in June, so when all the travels and visits in July were over, I pulled the rest of the garlic out of the ground, and what do you know? We got some!
Garlic on pallet. We also have a pretty enormous pallet harvest this year, but that, as you may recall, is because of the turtles.
Actually, I think I picked it on the day we had our big 12-hour family cookout, which didn’t exactly lend itself to garlic braiding, so I did that about two weeks later.
Probably not THE most beautiful garlic braid you (or I) ever saw, but considering I had no idea what I was doing, it’s not so bad.
I thought it was going to take us forever to go through that much garlic, because we don’t usually, but I wasn’t counting on the cucumbers.
I also wasn’t counting, since I am new to preserving and this was the first year that cucumbers were our bumper crop, on the fact that pickles often require garlic. I was very proud that my first batch of dill pickles were made with cucumbers, garlic, and dill from our very own garden. Then I made a batch of bread and butter pickles. Then I made another half batch of dill. (That time we had to buy dill seed from the store, because although our homegrown dill did very well, there wasn’t a lot of it.) In total I made 32 jars of pickles.
We have also eaten many cucumber salads, fried cucumbers, tossed salad with cucumbers . . . I’m getting ready to experiment with cucumber parmesan, and I was kind of wishing for the opportunity to dump some Hollandaise sauce on the cucumbers so I could say we had a Benedict Cucumberbatch.
Last week I messed up my iPhoto (I mean, I guess it was me) and had to rebuild it, which returned a whole bunch of extra photos I had once supposedly deleted, so you would think I would have a whole lot of memories to write about this Monday, but for some reason nothing was really grabbing me. Until I tried to open the package of brie that my Paul had kindly purchased.
Favourite. It’s the rind. Don’t ask me.
It was a wedge of brie and it came from the supermarket so not only did it have a rind, but it was wrapped in cling-film. This particular cling-film was very difficult to open. It withstood attempts to unwrap, to tear and almost a pair of kitchen scissors–though the latter prevailed eventually.
“Who wrapped this?” I exclaimed. “My dad?”
This question is legitimate, because my dad is a cling-film wrapping ninja. (I’m pretty sure the term ninja doesn’t actually apply in this case, but I like the way it sounds.) When TheBro and I were kids, our small Christian school didn’t have a cafeteria, and therefore school lunches were a weird sort of special occasion thing which maybe happened once a quarter and which we ate in our classrooms.
Of the many mundane “traumas” a child can experience in school, this one was not among mine.
This meant that all the rest of the time, all of us kids brought our own lunches to school.
We lived in the days before insulated lunch bags. We went through a lot of these.
My parents were kind enough to make our lunches for the duration of our pre-college school-lives, but my dad had this System for employing the cling-film which made it really difficult to eat lunch. I would take my sandwich out of my bag and turn it over and over and over, searching for that elusive fourth corner that I knew was somewhere, but which it usually took me half of lunchtime to find. There was always a side of the sandwich where the film converged, thickly and wrinkly, and then a side that was clear as a window. It took me years to figure out that even though it looked like the lose end would be mixed up where the majority of the cling-film was, in reality it was nearly perfectly camouflaged against the clear, smooth side, and once I found it, I could unwrap the sandwich with ease. It was a thing of beauty, really, once I could just get beyond the frustration of not being able to eat my lunch.
So when I approached that brie this evening, I thought I could find the sneaky hidden loose end, no problem. I never did, though. Thus the scissors. So I guess it couldn’t have been my dad who wrapped it after all.