Everyone’s all up in arms about the “new math” (which isn’t even that new anymore and seriously, if we don’t understand the new math–which I don’t–did we really understand the old?), but what about the New English.
Actually, not that new. The term “staycation” was coined in 2003 and for whatever reason it has bugged me so much that this is the first year I have ever used that term non-ironically…probably because we took one.
Now the new coinage I can’t get behind is “she shed.” She Shed? Why can’t she have a shed that’s just a shed? Why does it need to be distinguished from a shed in order for her to put whatever she wants into it? Why is this necessary.
I’d be okay with a shed, but give me at least 15 years before I start using that term…
Once upon a time I had a different blog. I went through a lot of stuff on that blog. I like to think it was a pretty good blog. But it might have kind of wiped me out. At any rate, I got kind of sick of blogging. I almost stopped blogging altogether, and then some stuff in my life shifted and I got a second wind, but it also seemed like it was time to close out that blog and start a new one.
This was the new one, but it isn’t that new anymore. I’m starting to feel about blogging the way I did at the end of that old blog. Actually, maybe “starting” is the wrong word. I suspect you’ve noticed. There have been long gaps for a long while now.
It’s not that I’m running out of stuff to write about. It’s just that when open up the dashboard, I feel so unmotivated to write any of it. I stare at the widgets on the side. I sigh. I click over to Twitter. Or even read a book. I’ve actually been reading books (not just for my coursework) lately.
I’m not saying goodbye exactly. You might know I’m something of a contrarian, and so maybe now that I’ve said I don’t feel like blogging anymore, I’ll suddenly start blogging prolifically again. But I do think (different) things in my life are shifting once more, and my hunch is that I’ll see this blog out through the end of the year, and then resurface elsewhere on the internet. It’ll probably be mostly theological. My misadventure stories aren’t as fun to write as they used to be, and most of you who are still faithfully hanging around seem to be here for Thursdays, remarkably.
Anyway, I’ll keep you posted, but the ending/new beginning thing feels pretty real right now, and so the only memory coming to mind worth writing about is when this happened in my bloglife before. When I figure out what’s happening next, I’ll tell you. I just wanted to let you know.
Waiting in the stillness . . . for a fish to jump. When the fish jumps, I’ll tell you.
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.
So I was on Twitter for a while, and pretty much hated it, and then I needed to make a Twitter account for Now Church, so I made myself a new one, too, and it was still lame and then suddenly I met a whole lot of awesome and funny people on it and now I spend most evenings making people I don’t know laugh. #Comedienne, anyone?
At some point during this Twittermorphosis, a couple of devout and overt Roman Catholics started following me, which is interesting and maybe kind of flattering–anyway, they’re very nice people with some good things to tweet. Yesterday, a young woman who hopes to become a Sister one day, tweeted,
Now, I don’t know what you think she meant, but I thought she meant that while she was praying, the physical light in her room literally turned off. (And I guess she probably also meant that she thought there was some spiritual significance behind this sudden very localised power outage, which I wouldn’t affirm or deny, but I still thought she was talking about, you know, a light. With a bulb.)
But I guess when you 1) are part of a subculture (as I am) that believes that the spiritual and physical impinge on each other, and 2) are part of a larger culture that misuses the word literally nearly always, it is to be expected that other people started getting concerned thinking that some metaphorical or maybe metaphysical light within herself just suddenly and definitively went out while she was praying.
So then I tweeted
I think we’ve all seen the light now, though. You can decide if it’s literally or figuratively.
What if the power of suggestion was only part of the reason you yawn when you see someone else yawn? What if the other reason was that, because they were expelling more carbon dioxide at once, and you were inhaling it, you needed to yawn both to take in more oxygen and to expel the excess CO2 yourself.
Of course, the fact that you just yawned after looking at this picture kind of negates that possibility.
Today my Paul and I went to local orchard to get our first cider (not the hard kind, but Europeans, it really is still cider) of the season which, at this particular orchard, you can get for five cents a cup out of a barrel stuck in the wall.
Yet another reason why New England in the autumn is awesome.
You can also buy it in gallon containers, of course, but why would you go anywhere else if you can also get instant gratification like this?
Right next to the spigot was an upright glass refrigerator selling all kinds of cheese, including this one:
We get a little bit confused about our r’s heah in New England.
Armish? Is that like the slightly more warlike cousins of the pacifistic Pennsylvania Dutch? We may never know . . .
On the way home from the orchard with the cider spigot and the Armish blue (not bleu) cheese, we saw a woman dancing her dogs. I mean dancing. She had two dogs on leashes, and earbuds in her ears, and she was literally dancing down the street. My Paul and I both burst out laughing and then remarked to each other how refreshing it was to see an actually happy person acting happy. In public. Which immediately made me wonder what it says about our society when the first reaction at seeing someone acting uninhibitedly happy is to laugh at them. Or is it our society? Or is it just me?
So apparently I couldn’t get Thansgiving out of my head, because on Saturday morning, I woke up from a dream of spelling errors. Also of community service, which I thought about a lot last week because we were doing house projects on vacation and I was wishing for my WorkCamp crew to help us out.
In the dream I, and at least one other person who’s a usual fixture in my life–like, either my Paul or someone I work with from Now Church, though I can’t remember which–had been working with a team of volunteers to accomplish some humanitarian task. At the end of it, the volunteers were so grateful to us for providing them this experience that they decided to thank us by hiring a skywriter to soar a public thank you into the sky.
“What do you want it to say?” asked the skywriter of our volunteers, as if he were decorating a cake, because surely that is how these things work.
“Awesome,” one of the volunteers decided decisively.
So up went the pilot in his little plane, and it was pretty cool to watch a word form in the sky in real life. Someone took a photo. Afterwards, though, when we looked at the photo, we noticed that something was missing.
Actually a WorkCamp photo. It seemed appropriate.
“What?” said someone.
“If you read it out loud it sounds more like something else, kinda,” said someone else.
“You mean, like, ‘You’re an awesoe’?” asked a third person.
I woke up to a discussion of whether that were really what it sounded like, and if it were, was it a Freudian slip on the part of either the volunteer or the pilot? But, alas–because I woke up–I never found out.
Last Friday, because it was the day before vacation started and I was, as I said, getting ready for another Labor Day weekend at Youth Conference, I drove out to Camp with Oscar and poked around the closets in the Lodge to see which of the supplies we had that we need every year. We had most of them, but I have to remember to pick up a bag of tea lights.
Anyway, while I was there I decided that since our theme this year is going to be Prayer, I would make a poster on this giant roll of brown paper we have, highlighting different aspects of prayer. Prayer is, of course, far more fluid than a framework, but I think when you’re first exploring it, or teaching it, it’s helpful to have one, while acknowledging its limitations. There’s an acrostic I learned as a kid which roughly follows the trajectory of the prayer, variously known as the “Lord’s Prayer” or the “Our Father,” which Jesus used to teach His own disciples about prayer. The acrostic is as follows:
I decided to put these words in chalk on my long piece of brown paper.
I had gotten through “Adoration” and “Confession” and “Tha–” and then I remembered that in my efforts to step up my social media game for Now Church, as my job description now includes, I had downloaded an app on my new phone that takes high-speed or low-speed videos. I decided it might be cool to take a video of myself working on part of this poster, so I held the phone up in one hand and wrote with the other.
I had to do a double-take the first time I watched it, and then I spent about two hours laughing hysterically every time I thought of it.
It seems like an appropriate first YouTube submission for a word and spelling snob, to keep me humble. Oh wait. That probably still won’t happen.
This week we at Now Church are putting on our second annual Vacation Bible School (VBS) programme. Last year we were in first century Athens with the apostle Paul. This year we’re in the Wilderness with Moses. Moses and Paul must have the same lineage with really strong genes, because they look remarkably similar. And who knew they had glasses all the way back then?
The apostle Paul
This year’s VBS is considerably different than last year’s (apart from the principle actors), I guess, and different again from the ones I participated in as a child, or helped with as a teenager. But that didn’t stop me from reminiscing about those ones.
It’s weird the things you pick up as a kid. I remember a lot of things from a lot of VBSes, but I have two main (and random) VBS memories from my childhood and one from my youth that keep repeating in my head like too much kielbasa. These are they:
1. I was pretty familiar with Bible Stories 1.0 at a young age, but at some point in VBS (probably still a young age, actually), somebody told me that afterOnly-a-Boy-Named-David killed Goliath with the slingshot-launched stone, he then cut off the giant’s head with Goliath’s own sword. This seemed like literal overkill to me. I guess maybe it still does.
2. When I was in fifth or sixth grade or so, we had to memorise the fruit of the Spirit, found in Galatians 5.22-23. I can still rattle them off. See? For the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control. Against such things there is no law. At one point in my adolescence I thought it would be cool to have 9 kids and name them after all of them, although it did occur to me that Self Control might be an odd name for anyone (and it occurs to me now that if a society ever did have laws against such things, maybe it would be Western society against that one). Fortunately that plan was short-lived. Nine kids?? That would test all nine of those “fruits” in my case, methinks. Anyway, what I really want to say is that I’m glad I had to memorise that list back then, because in truth, such things are beautiful to contemplate and worth asking the Spirit to cultivate, and I’ve gone back to those two short verses time and again throughout my life when, say, my attitude needs adjustment or I’m trying to understand how to handle something that’s going on in my life.
3. The first year I was old enough not to be a VBS participant, and instead to be one of the teaching assistants (I guess I was probably 14), I worked with Miss Fran (not to be confused with the Miss Fran at Now Church) with a bunch of kids who had just finished kindergarten. We taught them the spelling song which goes like this:
Even though they were just-done kindergarteners, we had all this written down on a big piece of posterboard, and Miss Fran asked the kids if anyone knew what the different things spelled. They did okay through H-E-A-R-T, and then she asked them about the last line. Her nephew raised his hand. “Yes, Charlie,” she invited. “Do you know what that says?”
So the other day The Oatmeal (which siteI have heard of but don’t frequent–a fact I am now thinking I should probably rectify) posted an article about Irony. Then TheBro shared it with me on Facebook, which was obviously an invitation for me to think about it ever since.
I’m not gonna lie. I’m kind of relieved that The Oatmeal thinks irony is more ambiguous than pretty much anyone else I’ve ever heard pontificate about it since The Alanis Morissette Song About (or Not About) It.
The Song About (or Not About) Irony
A Song About How Alanis Morissette’s Song is Not About Irony
That song came out just before I moved to London, and circumstances later subjected me to a rant by a young Brit who spent at least half an hour denying the ability of Americans truly to understand irony. I had previously formed an opinion of this young man as self-important and obnoxious, but his comments stung nonetheless, and ever since, I have felt very insecure about whether or not I, even I, who received a B.A. in English literature and lived in England itself for over five years, really knew what irony was. I wrote a few Insecure Posts demonstrating my insecurity on my Old Blog.
Guess what? I still feel insecure about it. But, after TheBro shared that article on my wall, I suddenly had A Thought. Guess what else? I’m going to tell it to you:
Imagine if Alanis Morissette was employing the first form of irony (sarcasm) as delineated by The Oatmeal? Imagine if, for 20 years, people have been scorning her for not knowing what irony was, when really this whole time she was being sarcastic and all of the things she singingly claimed were ironic, she really knew weren’t ironic, and she was just being sarcastic and laughing at us the whole time. That’d be pretty ironic, dontcha think?