Wednesday, October 7, 2009

#99 Taking up a pipe at Bible college


American evangelicals conventionally eschew the smoking of anything but an exception is somehow made when a seminary student takes up the inevitable pipe. It makes him feel

Bible college (seminary's inferior cousin) also fosters pipe smokers. Students and faculty who identify as missional/emergent will furtively gather to ponder Kierkegaard and epistemology whilst chomping on pipe stems. From here it is just a short hop onto the hookah train. Next thing you know they're congregating in hookah bars (the married guys must first convince their wives, who are initially horrified) to discuss tobaccos, reformed theology, and IPAs. This makes them feel relevant.

The unorthodoxist's mecca.

This sort of carrying on occurs mostly at seminaries in Canada and on the U.S. coasts where pub culture is more prominent. Old-guard Christian culture decries pubs and drinking of any sort as "of the world" so you'll have to go elsewhere to pretend you're an Inkling.

The old guard knows its heroes Lewis, Tolkien, Spurgeon and the like smoked and frequented pubs yet it holds an understanding that we should not. Thusly, pipes and their smokers are less acceptable at schools in the midwest and the Bible belt, but you can still suss them out.

Only the edgiest and/or butchest girls participate. Most female students of the Bible have zero involvement in any pipe or hookah ventures due to utter lack of interest.

"Jack, you never pack the bloody bowl right."
"Sod off, Tollers."


Becca said...

As a female with a degree in theology I have to tell you that we females joined in heartily while I was in Bible College.

The first bible college I went to didn't allow females to smoke anything, although males could freely join in smoking the lovely cloves so recently banned by our government. Somehow this was permissable because some clever man had managed to convince the dean of men that cloves did not contain any nicotine.

The second bible college banned smoking altogether. So we smoked with our professors in secret.

I've heard it said that you can tell the type of theologian by what he or she smokes.

Conservatives = Pipes
Liberals = Cigars
Heretics = Cigarettes

I am a Heretic.

jeremy said...

Wait until those "electronic cigarettes" or whatever become all the rage.

teleboxnary said...

put that in your pipe and smoke it.

lukeisham said...

What a cool post!

Mark Earngey said...

Yep, spot on. "Pipe-club" is well and truly in full swing by reformed dudes in my year at theological college. Slightly pretentious, but a whole lot of fun! :)

Peter T Chattaway said...

I don't know about Tolkien, but Lewis smoked cigarettes, too. Somehow that one never caught on.

Trev said...

Cigarillos are where it's at my friends. It's funny, now that I think of it...whenever I smoke, a discussion about god usually arises.

Anonymous said...

What about cigars? Are cigars pretentious?

Steve said...

Trev--Is that because someone usually says, "Put that g.d. cigarillo out!"?

Chrissy said...

After missions trips, or a spiritually successful week of Christian camp, the male leaders would sneak off to a remote place, usually after midnight, and share celebratory cigars. Us women folk were left to assure that the teenagers were obeying the camp/mission trip rules. It was exclusive, kinda weird, and it perpetuated the use of the abominable word: "Bro."

La Chamuca said...

I went to a Quaker University, where students and professors weren't allowed to drink, even if we were 21.

Suffice it to say, smoking was seen as a big no-no.

Didn't stop us from buying a pack of cigs and putting them out on the clocktower.

So yeah, I'm one of the heretics Becca was talking about.

Becca said...

I'm not sure that smokeless tobacco would allow you into the theologian club... but then I wouldn't really consider CS Lewis a theologian as much as an apologist if we are getting all technical.

Before Bonhoeffer was martyred, Karl Barth sent him a cigar in the Nazi prison. Smoking makes theology sexy.

spinning in air said...

i really like the caption you wrote for the Lewis/Tolkien pic.

juls said...

guilty as charged. except i hotboxed a VW bus or the cottage outside my parents house. and then in college smoked my pipe in the smoking section outside the dorms, mind you this was a public university and all the surrounding dudes got a big kick out of it.

i was never talking theology BUT i definitely think this was an evangelical thing- like it was ok to smoke a pipe but cigarettes?! never. it all started in church group in high school and just progressed.

later i moved on to cloves and i'm glad to say that habit is now dead.

Uncle Luther said...

I love how you manage to mock both those who smoke pipes and those who refuse to. Artfully done!

RB said...

At my college smoking and drinking were banned, but at the seminary I went to we had the quintessential reformed pipe smoker, aka The Old White Guy, as a prof.

One of my friends who turned me on to cigars, recently gave me a pipe and I must say I love it (talking about theology and the Inklings adds to it). But, I still look down on cigarettes to an extent because of the industry, and because most people that smoke them are of the variety who smoke a pack a day, and would rather die than quit (despite their hacking cough, tainted skin, and depleted finances).

Jamie said...

How DO you do it? I've been following your blog for months, and am often "guilty as charged", even though I'm an American evangelical-turned Canadian Anabaptist living in Africa... you still nail me to the, er... wall.

absolutely love this post about pipe smoke... partly because I got tuned onto pipe smoking in Bible collge (in Canada, of course. God forbid... ummm, no, conservative forbid it would happen in the US!)

Thanks for always making me chuckle.

And yes, I do have a man crush on Bono, and I was the staff person in charge of the jumbo-tron at the biggest warehouse church in Canada.

But I DO NOT play guitar hero (or praise)! Whew!

Keep keeping it real. Love it.

Still Breathing said...

Asthma and frequent chest infections has prevented me smoking for several years and even turned me into vociferous anti smoker. However I do enjoy the rare occasions when I come across the smell of pipe tobacco; I recently came across my pipe (one with a charcoal filter in the stem for a smoother smoke) and reluctantly threw it out. I never smoked cigarettes (apart from behind the bicycle sheds at school) but I did enjoy a pipe and cigars. I don't miss it apart from Christmas day when I used to enjoy a good Havana cigar with the brandy after the turkey and all the trimmings.
If I could still smoke my question would be 'Can I get FairTrade tobacco?'

Unknown said...

wow. this is sooooo spot on it hurts. and now i'm gonna have a cigarette and a shot, because that's what people outside of cc do.

Little Oak Table said...

thanks for the great laugh tonight. you are so. dang. funny. and i love it!

zack said...

I was totally with you until the IPA part. As a beer snob and a Christian I can tell you that beer snobbery is just beer snobbery. And that is a culture all its own.

Now if you would have said 'to discuss the merits of Guiness or a fine black & tan' I think you might have been on to something.

Anthony Jacques said...

Smoking was specifically banned at my AG Bible college. Any tobacco products, alcohol, rated R movies, dancing, rock and roll... yeah.

Anyway, I now enjoy a pipe even though I've since moved out to CA and it's quite unpopular. My old friends are also into IPA's and such.

They're over at, a blog which an angry AG pastor actually chased me away from as a contributor.

Gotta love the AG.

Anonymous said...

Concerning where the men stick each other's pipes at Fuller Seminary, and how the women there smoke cigarettes like the stripper in Emanuelle: I'm thinking my comment in my head.

Andrew said...

Wow, just finished looking over the blog, some of the stuff is pretty correct. But still, what the hell do you think you are doing? I'm a believer but still, are you approaching addressing Christians/"Christians" in a way as to which they will grow from what you are saying or are you just pointing out, sometimes rudely, the inconsistencies in people's lives without saying why this is bad or can be fixed? Paul said I'm the first/greatest among sinners, did you write all this with that attitude? In Christ's love.... oh wait, I just fit the stereotype didn't I? Way to put Christians in a box. 2 points for you.

stephy said...

And there's the problem, Andrew. You don't sound nice at all. And then you went and mentioned Christ's love. That is where the disassociation lies between Christians and their culture.

You said a lot of what I said is correct. Isn't that enough to make you think harder about what you say you believe and where the disconnect lies? That's all I'm doing.

Andrea Terry said...

Hey, Stephy. I love love love this blog, but I'm a little disturbed that you claim it as a "scientific" approach to Christian culture. You're actually more of a rhetorical approach, which is equally valid and a lot richer because by using words instead of data, you can create a better picture of what is going on in the disconnect between Christian culture and the message of Christ than facts and tables could ever do.
Anyway, I just wanted to make sure you know that while you're not really "scientific," you are providing a great forum for people to work these things through. You're a rhetorician, girl, so claim it!

And by the way...I'm a rhetoric person, too :)

stephy said...

I'm totally kidding when I say in the sidebar that this is a scientific approach to Christian culture. It's actually what you might consider the opposite of scientific. The Stuff White People Like site which I'm totally ripping off also calls itself a scientific approach to what white people like so that's why I said that in the sidebar. :)

Chrissy said...

Andrew, Stephy did not put Christians in a box. Christians did. She merely points out that there IS a box in which many Christians live. Because you agree with her observations, you are validating the evidence. Many times that box confines us to simplicity. We are not liberated if we believe we must conform ourselves to fit into the box.

When I tried to fit the image that Christian culture presented, I forgot who God created me to be. I was playing a role. I was not free.
Personally, I relate to this blog very much. The entries bring to light the image that Christians are told they should fit. They point out things that distracted me from being content in Christ's righteousness. I was trying to perfect my own righteousness by climbing an elusive spiritual ladder that led nowhere. When it disintegrated, I found I was home, on the ground, with Christ where He comforts the weary.
I assure you, Stephy does not write to deter people from Christ. She writes to expose the trends which distract us from Christ, but are performed in the name of Christ. They are harmful, half-truths that lead to the term "cookie cutter Christian." Christ didn't come to make cookies. He came to free human beings, shedding His blood, and conquering death that we might live. It is "Good News!" If it means I have to conform to the cookie cutter image, the news becomes very average. It means I must not be me.
So, what the hell is Stephy doing? She is "shedding light in hidden places." She uses humor to share the observations that so many of us have experienced. We find kindred spirits here. And we laugh together. Do not condemn us. "Laughter is good medicine." Lord knows we need it! Life is so hard.

The Klentzmans said...

WWJRRD? Brilliant!! Love it.

Andrew said...

Wowowowowow, part of being part of the the body of Christ is being able to rebuke each other in Christ's Love to make each other more into his image. So, nice is in the eye of the beholder. I'm not going to go around acting like butterflys and fuzzy rainbows if there is something that IS wrong. Seeming Nice != Christ's Love.

Chrissy, and then she put them in a box too, saying that this is what defines them. I am Christian, and Christ is my culture, not trying to seem Christ centered. So I end up doing some of these things with a heart for Christ, not just because people are doing them. Shining a light would mean showing what is wrong with..., not just making fun of it. Humor at the expense of other people is not loving them.

And what's up with some (I think just a few) of these things not being bad or dumb?

ben parsons said...

wowowowowowowowow, humor at the expense of other people is awesome. get over it.

Chrissy said...

Andrew, Stephy is showing what is wrong with it, BY making fun of it. You must admit, it's awfully entertaining! And I specifically asked you not to condemn my much needed laughter. I guess you said no.
As for "things not being bad or dumb," you're proving that we're not shamelessly laughing at the expense of others. It's commentary on a specific culture. It's usually pretty funny. Trends don't have to be bad or dumb in order to be worthy of commentary. Christians like a lot of stupid stuff, but they’re not completely retarded. Do YOU think Christians ONLY like bad or dumb things?

If you can survive Christian culture with a "heart for Christ" and not to please yourself or others, you are a more "successful" Christian than me. I was not able to do that. It is a good place for some, but not for all. If it works for you... congratulations?

Don't worry too much about us. God's not threatened by our feeble human attempts to make sense of a confusing world. Say a prayer if you'd like. In the meantime, I encourage you to save your rebukes for people you know. Rebuking others is better received face to face, shared between friends who can lovingly reason with one another. You're not very good at performing them via blog comment. In other words, don't waste your time.
I guess that last statement proves your point: "Seeming nice does not equal Christ's love." That must be why it seems so mean.

Still Breathing said...

Andrew, If you read this blog and only see it as an attack on other Christians you have missed the point. What it does do is show us where we confuse our culture and faith and help us get rid of the baggage that can hinder our ability to live a true Christian life.

Peter said...

If I wasn't in a library, I would laugh out loud.

I am a theology student at a CA university taking a semester at Oxford and I bought a pipe here. Just the other night I smoked the pipe outside the Eagle and Child. I'm not even a big fan of Lewis, its just a good pub. Although I actually am taking a tutorial in Kierkegaard this term. I hate to admit it, but I guess I fall right into this one, even more than the emergents in the states. Normally I get to laugh at familiarity of the stuff in this blog without taking ownership, but I just couldn't resist the urge to be able to come home and say that I smoked a pipe at Oxford. Definitely nailed me.

To be fair, from my experiences with tobacco, I think pipes have the best feel and flavor and IMHO are simply better than all other forms. They just take a little more work.

Anthony Jacques said...

Speaking of the Body...

I honestly think the body of Christ could use some plastic surgery, maybe some lipo.

And then hopefully that new void would allow it to grow a sense of humor.

I grew up being told basically everything was evil. Even the Simpsons, when they poked fun at religion, were of the devil.

I grew into a really annoying person who judged everyone and didn't laugh at anything except when Gays or Jews were the butt of the joke. I was that guy who tried to set everyone straight, especially Christians who didn't believe EXACTLY how I did.

It's been 13 years since then, and I'm glad to say I can have a hearty laugh at my old self.

The Prufroquette said...

Anthony, I'm glad you've gotten to the hearty laughter stage in your spiritual evolution...I'm still in the looking-back-on-my-old-self-and-cringing stage. I hate to think of all the people I hurt, and all the times I misrepresented the love and message of Jesus, by being that judgmental person in high school who thought that following the rules was more important than being in relationship with people. It hurt me a lot, too, to be that person. Thankfully I've come a long way since then...

And Andrew, I find it interesting that a lot of adherents to Christian culture use "rebuke" as a justification for rudeness ("...[love] is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs..."). Where does this doctrine of free rebuke come from in the New Testament? There are plenty of references to how to approach the brother who sins against you, and turning sinners from the error of their ways, but "rebuke" doesn't come into any of that; New Testament rebuke seems to appear almost exclusively in terms of authoritarian (not in a bad way) church discipline.

I do agree with you that "niceness" is a social construct and not a biblical one; however, "kindness" is a biblical principle and a fruit of the Spirit.

Are you worried that this commentary-based forum will anger a lot of Christians? I'm not sure where Stephy's supposed offense lies. What about the Christians who have been badly damaged by the culture on which Stephy comments so brilliantly, who find relief and solace in knowing we aren't alone in reeling from this cultural strangeness? What about the people who hate Christianity because of this culture which has nothing to do with Jesus?

As for pointing out why the things mocked here are bad and suggesting ways to solve the problems, that's not (if you'll forgive the assumption I'm making here, Stephy) the point of this forum. From what I have seen, this forum is designed to raise questions, not answer them. It's difficult enough to raise the question, when so many people react defensively to cultural criticism.

It would be awesome to see people take a look at what is pointed out here, ask questions, and come up with their own answers, instead of expecting a spoon-fed solution. Reform is a corporate effort. One member of the body raises the question, another member of the body comes up with a plan, another member of the body puts the plan into action...

Why should Stephy have to do everything herself? :)

Bill said...

Stephy, we love what you have done here.

Using irony is always dangerous, and you will get people who "fall off" at both ends--those who take it too personally instead of as an opportunity for self-reflection (like Andrew), and those who take it as a license for genuine scoffing. You've done a great job balancing this; my hat is off to you.

To second the "what the hell is Stephy doing": let me reiterate that I (and I'm sure others) are grateful that you (as well as other participants like Chrissy, Christ's pitbull) have created this space for those of us who believe or want to believe but also reject these trappings, to discuss and consider and banter, to relieve the pressure of thinking either we have to participate or have to find some fellowship without having to feel like we are going bat-shit crazy: "to find kindred spirits". Thank you for taking the risk.

Anthony Jacques said...


Oh... I still cringe at my old self, too. I certainly served out my fair share of hurt.

You're not alone. :)

The Prufroquette said...

That's comforting. Thanks. :)

stephy said...

It's comforting to me too. I cringe at my old self a lot and I've done a lot of apologizing to old friends on Facebook.

The Prufroquette said...

Oh, that's a good idea! Finally, a really good use for Facebook...

One of the worst parts for me as I deal with what I used to be is that back then I thought I had to be that judgmental, narrow, boxed-in and boxing-in person, or I wasn't really a Christian, God wouldn't really love me, and I wouldn't be actually saved, because as far as I knew or was taught, there was only one way to be a Christian, and even though it made me uncomfortable to tell people what they should or shouldn't do/say/think/feel/be, I didn't want to go to hell.

Now when I look back I swing around the compass among the points of shame, anger, sorrow and derision. Sometimes there's amusement in there too, but that's like north-northwest.

At least there are a lot of us in recovery; while it's sad that so many of us come from this background of guilt, shame and fear, it fills me with hope that so many of us woke, and are waking, up. It makes me really, for the first time, believe in God's mercy. When I think him for saving me, I thank him for saving me from that.

spinning said...

Sarah - yeah. I'm going through this myself, and appreciate your comments very much.

Mari said...

Bahahaha. I went to Bible College and this absolutely true. Except I was the girl that was teaching my male peers how to smoke...

Unknown said...

Is it me, or does this 'Andrew' character frequent this board to moralise at Stephy? I've seen it in several posts now, and I'm beginning to think that perhaps this person (if its the same one), despite his kind heart, doesn't seem to understand the repeated explanations that satire is perfectly acceptable, and not anti-Christ. In fact, it would appear that satire is, in fact, biblical.

So, Stephy, I thoroughly enjoy your site, and commend you in your sharp wit, and keen sense of observation. Keep it up. I'm a fan.

Oh, and Andrew: Lewis, Chesterton, Williams, Sayers, Eliot, and Belloc were all rabid satirists with beautiful Christian sensibilities. Surely, if we can enjoy their lives as godly people, it would stand to reason that they weren't all sinning by practicing humorous rebuke, were they?

Didn't think so.


stephy said...

That's kind of you Christopher, thanks. I don't think Andrew is the same person as on other posts though, I get so many naysayers that I don't think they could all be the same person. :)

spinning in air said...

i dunno, Stephy - I think Christopher's onto something here. (or that maybe there's more than one "Andrew" commenting, or...)

jaigner said...

I think I avoided ever buying a pipe because there was a permanence about it. Like I was sealing my reputation as a smoker.

Plus my mom might have found it when I took my laundry home at Thanksgiving. That would not have been good.

Oh, and everyone knows good theologians drink Guinness. Good stuff.

Andrew, for the love, chill out. Some of us believers have to laugh about this stuff. It helps with the grief.

Nelson said...

How many times have you ever seen some pompous church ass rebuke some other poor victim "in Christ's love"? Do you like that? Where the f!$#$&%k do learn to write like that? I want to stay as far away as possible from some pretentious clown who feels the need to rebuke my fat ass "in Christ's love".

The Prufroquette said...

If Jesus had lived in Ireland instead of Israel, he'd have turned the water to Guinness (or maybe whiskey...).

@ Spinning -- Thanks. :)

Geosomin said...

When I went there I had a pint.

Scott said...

Andrew -
In the words of Liz Lemon:
"What the what?!?!"

(sorry i didn't use a scripture reference to rebuke you - I suck at memorizing them.)

Tucker said...

I started smoking a pipe while at university - a state institution, but I was living in a Christian mens co-op at the time. I was mostly conservative then too. I still smoke it once in a while and am no longer conservative. I prefer to think of pipe smokers as quietly subversively radical neither conservative or liberal, rather laughing at the world through a serious haze.

spinning in air said...

@ Sarah - de nada!

;) on whiskey.

The Prufroquette said...

@ Spinning: Amen! :)

spinning said...

@ Sarah - Well, I don't drink, but I think it's a very nifty idea! (Besides, doesn't the Gaelic word for it translate as "water of life"?) ;)

E said...

I love this. I do have one suggestion for a post: ironic t-shirts. You can't be a Christian rock musician unless your have a closet full of ironic t-shirts.

It's amazing how they try so hard to keep up a hip image while extolling repressive values like sexism. They must think we're fucking stupid.

Tolkienista said...

As a gay liberal studying for a master of divinity degree (I am thinking that when it is conferred I should be able to control the weather), and who does not smoke a pipe, I must humbly request that you leave Papa Tolkien out of this. He did not ask for these people to emulate him.

C.S. Lewis deserves it, he wrote all those godawful books about the lion and muslimy people being evil.

Tolkienista said...

Also, for Andrew: what makes you think you are the only one permitted to rebuke someone in Christ's name? If you ask me, Stephy's doing a whole lot of top-notch rebuking, and you're the one who's trying to get out of it with a good, old-fashioned "I know you are but what I am I" playground taunt.

Bill said...

Tolkienista: I didn't take this as a slam to Tolkien, or any of the others, really. The weirdness is in middle class American seminarians feeling connected with them via pipe smoking rather than in quality of thought or imagination.

But then, I swung from being taught to mistrust any of them that even once mentioned magic, straight to the heretical cigarette smoker.

Fortunately, I'm over both and now and have come to adore those godawful books about the lion ;).

The Prufroquette said...

@ Spinning: If it doesn't mean "water of life," it should. :)

@ Tolkienista: Awesome comments. Yeah, "master of divinity" sounds very Zeusish, doesn't it?

Have to say though, I do like the lion books...reserving a totally different kind of adulation for our beloved Tolkien and his gorgeously multifaceted typologies. (Although he did consign the dark-skinned southern people to the ranks of Sauron...maybe some of our dear Inklings were as much a product of their time as we are of ours?)

Yay heretics. I had to cease being one myself, but when I was a heretic, I LOVED my heresy.

spinning said...

Yikes - my typos. I meant "Baynes."

Ah well... btw, over on, there's a piece on Tolkien that deals with the "Numenoreans of pure blood" thing. I owe the idea to that writer, whose name I've forgotten.

Still Breathing said...

Spinning, I think you hit the nail on the head with "when Lewis was growing up" - it easy to judge our forebears by our standards when I'm not sure what they would make of all of ours.
Still the beatification of Lewis by evangelicals has often puzzled me.

Steve said...

@ Still Breathing:

"Still the beatification of Lewis by evangelicals has often puzzled me."

Same here. I've always found him shallow, at least in his theological writings. But he, like Tolkien, was one heck of a medieval scholar. I think he should have stayed with that.

Bill said...

I agree that it is best to let these fathers live in their own times...the deification is what makes us demand they live live up to both their standards and ours. Making sense of "all of ours" is hard enough to do in the midst of it!

As a post-evangelical admirer of Lewis (and Tolkien for that matter), I would have to agree with Becca that Lewis was more apologist than theologian, and I think even he would have characterized himself as that. Evangelicals love smart people who endorse orthodoxy, and the beautification might be as simple as that.

Rather than his "theological writings", I believe Lewis's fiction is his most compelling (religious) work. I think it shows pretty clearly that his Christianity was much more relational than it was theological, and so of course was a much better medium to explore that kind of thought.

stephy said...

I named one of my children after a Narnia character. I should write a post about that.

spinning said...

I should write a post about that.

Go for it!

I don't get the adulation so many American evangelicals feel re. Tolkien and Lewis, and I kind of doubt either of them would feel comfortable with it, or the beliefs of most of them, for that matter. ;-)

Bill said...

Ha ha! Stephy, as a lit degree holder, I can tell you that is nothing to be ashamed of. It seems a good deal of my friends have children named after authors or characters. (Though the best I can do is a dog named after a John Lee Hooker song.)

Spinning, I'm sure at the least they would be appalled at the anti-intellectualism that seems to have gripped popular conservative religion in America today!

spinning in air said...

@ Bill - I don't think they'd understand *anything* about "popular conservative religion in America," to tell you the truth. (Seriously.)

The Prufroquette said...

And if they'd be mystified and possibly sad about how they're adulated by an incomprehensible culture which uses their thoughts to bizarre relationship-avoiding busywork ends, I wonder how Jesus must feel...

Miguel said...

Hey Stephy,

Haha, newbie here. Just discovered the site thanks to Gina at

I really like your style. I'm from Chicago but live in Tulsa, OK (part of the Bible belt, right?). So, I'm sorry to disappoint but I'm no pipe smoker. :)

I majored in Bib Lit: New Testament at ORU. Now I'm working on a Masters in Judaic Christian studies. I'm seen these folk... some my friends, others from popular reformed groups. Haha, they make me laugh!

Looks like I have some reading to catch up on, you got yourself another reader! Cheers!

stephy said...

Haha, thanks, you know that ORU is kind of a phenomenon all on its own. :)

brackman said...

the next one should be "not halloween". awesome site!

stephy said...

There is one on fall festivals...

massminuteman said...

I don't get the adulation so many American evangelicals feel re. Tolkien and Lewis, and I kind of doubt either of them would feel comfortable with it, or the beliefs of most of them, for that matter. ;-)

Oh, American evangelicals love Lewis because he wrote the kind of apologetics that tells people who feel themselves to be lost and losers in the world that they're the winners and entitled. In language that seems sophisticated. He's modern enough to relate to contemporary dilemmas but old enough that his bad arguments and the many weaknesses to his better arguments can be glossed over.

Tolkien would have a good laugh. American Christians keep on trying to jam the big square peg that is TLOTR into the narrow little round holes of conservative Christian theology. TLOTR is actually an allegorical telling of the inner/spiritual journey of the mystic. Which is on a different, higher, level.

The Prufroquette said...

Awesome comment, massminuteman.

And the big square peg is made so big and square in no small part due to Tolkien's Catholicism and Catholic imagination -- which religious identiy often comes as (distressing) news to a lot of Christian culture.

Tolkien's work is so beautifully complex partly because of his distaste for allegory and his love of typology and complex sign and symbol. One thing can have many meanings, and many things can have similar meanings, or present different facets of the same meaning (try picking out an Aslan in TLOTR, for instance).

Tolkien scorned the lion books precisely because he saw them as too allegorical/monologic. And it's so hard for Christian culture to boil TLOTR down to symbols with a one-to-one ratio. (Not that they don't keep on trying.)

I'm extraordinarily fond of Lewis' fiction (Till We Have Faces is so achingly beautiful -- and how do you pronounce your daughter's name, Stephy? I've heard so many debates), and am glad finally to find some justification in thinking little of his apologetic works, which have never appealed to me.

Tolkien, though...Tolkien is pure STORY. And it's beautiful.

spinning in air said...

And the big square peg is made so big and square in no small part due to Tolkien's Catholicism and Catholic imagination -- which religious identiy often comes as (distressing) news to a lot of Christian culture.

Exactly, Sarah! (I was hinting around at this earlier...)

The Prufroquette said...

Haha, awesome, Spinning. :)

So maybe if I start telling my parents' friends from church that I "went Tolkien" they won't be so dismayed...

Steve said...

Stephy, here's another one for you, too good to pass up:

e2c said...

So maybe if I start telling my parents' friends from church that I "went Tolkien" they won't be so dismayed...
Err... is that code for "I drink whiskey and smoke a pipe" or - maybe - "I swam the Tiber," or both/all of the above? ;-)

The Prufroquette said...

LOL. I meant "became Catholic," but I'll leave the rest a mystery...

spinning in air said...

"became Catholic" = "swam the Tiber." ;) (In England, at least.)

Bill said...

It's funny, Sarah, you should bring up Till We Have Faces. I remember reading it as a student, a lightning flash in my darkened fundamentalist's mind. I have meant to read it again, but have had trouble finding it locally and never bothered ordering it.

Narnia, monologic or not, made a lot more sense (I mean was more meaningful) to me after, as an adult, I decided to forget everything everything I thought I knew or had been taught about Narnia and read it through the lens of TWHF, which seems to me to be Lewis's apex.

Suddenly, the imposition of didacticism over Narnia seemed paler, and the books as stories of encounters with the Divine rose to the surface.

Critically speaking, you still kind of have to get past The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, which is the most uneven in my opinion.

And Narnia is still infused with an unmistakably Protestant sensibility, so there's that.

stephy said...

The Great Divorce and Letters to Children are my favorite Lewis books.
That's neither here nor there, just piping up. :)

Peter T Chattaway said...

"Piping" up. So to speak. (Nice turn of phrase, given this thread's headline. :) )

My own favorites are probably The Screwtape Letters (easily the book I have read most often, ever, with the possible exception of certain biblical books) and Till We Have Faces.

Bill, just wondering, in light of Michael Ward's persuasive (IMHO) theory that the Narnia books reflect a medieval cosmology -- with each book representing a different astrological "planet" -- how "Protestant" can we say they really are? It would not surprise me to find that the books were very Anglican, reflecting a British view of church and culture etc. ... but there are Anglicans and then there are Anglicans. Lewis is much beloved by many of the low-church evangelical types, but I think his own sensibilities pointed a little higher than that, at least some of the time.

The Prufroquette said...

@Spinning -- Heh, it's the same in certain areas of the U.S. as well...

@Bill -- Fantastic observation. Yes, the less interested in didacticism I become, the more the Narnian "encounters with the divine," as you aptly put it, become the focus of the stories. It's like watching the dross burn off from the surface of molten metal. I do agree with you that The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe gives Tolkien's accusations of unartistic allegory the most fuel; the rest of the books, however, contain tales that don't match up in absolute directness with any biblical stories, and many of those encounters are enthralling and lovely.

And actually, one of my dearest friends, who is skeptical of Christianity, loves the Chronicles of Narnia. Which I find absolutely beautiful.

@Peter -- I heard Michael Ward speak at my college around the time of his book's release, and found his new interpretation of the Chronicles in light of planetary settings fascinating. It is, however, only one interpretation, and there are many, many ways to reach each work; one can never accurately say that Ward's perspective is THE definitive interpretive approach.

And one of those many modes of interpretation is the obvious lens of Lewis' Protestantism. (I'm not equating "Protestant" with "low church evangelical"; I'm equating Protestant with "not Catholic," as it is traditionally defined. Anglican IS Protestant.) There's nothing wrong with this, of course; I'm only stating that the difference between the stories of Lewis and Tolkien is most generally the difference between the Protestant and Catholic approaches to art. And in this light the Chronicles are very Protestant.


The Prufroquette said...

By this I mean that Lewis' stories are clearly aligned with Christianity. You can point to Aslan and say, "There's Jesus," and you can point to incidents in the Chronicles and say, "This is symbol of this or that Christian doctrine or experience" (e.g. Eustace's painful transformation from dragon back to human in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader symbolizes the conversion experience and baptism). In a similar vein to The Pilgrim's Progress (the epitome of the Protestant approach to art), The Chronicles of Narnia are meant to utilize stories to drive home a point about the divine, or strengthen the reader's understanding of and ties to Christianity and its tenets. The story is a vehicle, not an end in itself.

The Catholic approach to art, while containing obvious allusions to Christianity, tends to be less apologetic (and by that I mean "explanatory" and not "expressing remorse"). In the works of Flannery O'Connor, Walker Percy, Graham Greene and Evelyn Waugh, for example, you get a sense in the story of some connection to the divine, but it's much more diffused into the text of the work and much more difficult to boil down into tropes and reflections of individual doctrinal teachings. Tolkien is an even more perfect example -- if you only read TLOTR, without the background knowledge of The Silmarillion, you wouldn't know that Middle-Earth is based on monotheism, or really any kind of theism at all. And you can't point to any one character and say, "There's Jesus"; instead, you have many characters portraying varying types of Jesus: the resurrected person of power, the returning king, the suffering servant, the man bearing a burden that is not his in order to save the world. But these characters all have their own distinctive personalities, internal realities, individualities and purposes, and to reduce them merely to the type they represent does violence to the richness of the story.

Tolkien deliberately left out of TLOTR any direct references to Christianity or even monotheism; first, as a purist of story, it would have offended his sensibilities to force these characters, born in an entirely different world, to have any experience with a faith that comes from our world. More importantly, though, he operated from the deep artistic conviction that the unspoken, the alluded-to, is immeasurably more powerful than the spoken; that the mystery contains more truth than that which is carefully explained; that the question points more directly to the answer than the answer ever could in openly declaring itself. He purposefully uses intransitive verbs in the few moments in the story that point vaguely to divinity, in order to preserve that deeper reference to God that says more through saying almost nothing. "You were meant to have the ring," Gandalf tells Frodo, which contains infinitely more mystery and allure than, "Someone who is in control of all of this meant you to have the ring," which then leads to all sorts of out-of-place theological debates like theodicy and the origin of suffering, which aren't the point of the tale.

From the Catholic perspective toward art (which is what first drew me to Catholicism), the story is an end in itself, and any references to the divine tend to be inferred and mysterious, leaving the reader to draw his or her own conclusions; the story is the point, the beauty of the tale. TLOTR absolutely fulfills this. From the more Protestant sensibility, the story has a discipling purpose that tends to be directly related to what we understand of the Christian faith. The Chronicles of Narnia are beautiful and eye-opening, and also tend to be more directly relatable to the self's experience of God.

Sorry to make this so long. (Once an English major in Narnia...)

Still Breathing said...

Sarah, As a dyslexic you lost me at 'intransitive verb' - to me that means it's in the post.

The Prufroquette said...

I'm sorry, Still Breathing, I didn't quite understand...but admittedly I don't know a whole lot about dyslexia.

Um...does "passive voice" make any more sense? That's more accurate, actually, to what I meant to say. "You were meant to have [the Ring]" is passive voice, which says so much more through inference than active voice (e.g. "[God-figure-character] meant you to have [the Ring]") does through directness. Stating instead of implying is reductive of truth; allowing something to have more possibilities through mystery is, in Tolkien's opinion, a better approach to the divine.

Bill said...

Sarah, that was simply lovely.

When I typed that statement, my own thesis started from the text and worked outward, as I think the worldviews inside each of the stories themselves may reflect Protestant vs Catholic sensibilities. However, the theses are complementary, mine is probably more myopic, and I am happy to defer ;).

Sarah, I wonder if there isn't one step further we could take it, and which relates pretty directly to Stephy's blog. Could we break "Protestant literature" into parts that are "Protestants writing about faith" vs "Protestants writing about anything else"? You would be much more informed about this view than me, but it seems to me that Protestants spend a lot of time defining the divide between sacred and secular, whereas for Catholics (and perhaps high-church Protestants), that view of culture is seen as contrived. They simply don't accept a distinction like this.

(Otherwise, a few comments: I would add Joyce to your list; I'm not sure I would agree that Greene really supports the thesis, as his religion-talk can be pretty direct; and I wonder how well it extends well to poets, though they are by nature more cagey and attuned to artifice.)

In comparing the two, another axis that should not be overlooked (and for all I know is well-established; I don't read criticism for fun these days) is the influence the relative areas of expertise had on the writers. Besides philology, LOTR has obvious debts to the Heroic mode Tolkien was expert in; likewise, elements of the Medieval and Renaissance are present in Narnia (I don't believe it likely that cosmology is the only example), not to mention Sydney's nearly-imperative "delight and instruct".

Finally, speaking critically of the text, I would like to add: Aslan is not Jesus. I know Sarah, that you meant it hypothetically, not as your own belief, but I just feel like it keeps needing to be said. Aslan is Aslan, and does in fact work in a framework internal to Narnia. It can seem like it must be, but seriously everyone, it is not allegory. If it were allegory, it would very poor allegory. For instance, Aslan is nowhere presented as Incarnation in the Christian sense, and there is not a clear doctrine of original sin, alienation, and redemption that would be theologically correct in orthodox Christianity. All of that, and probably more, would need to be there for it to be real allegory, IMHO. I suspect this over-easy identification for his audience (especially after being warned) probably smarted, and that is why Lewis was a lot more careful in the rest of the books. (And this in no way undermines your thesis, Sarah; I think you are right about the story and the metaphor not being an end in itself, it is meant to point past the art.)

Peter, I realize in our English-major-fest we have not addressed your worthy questions about Lewis's work as Anglican and about his perceived low-churchness (which I agree he wasn't, particularly). But my wife calls me to dinner, so we will have to agree to take this up later.

Peter T Chattaway said...

No worries, Bill!

I do, however, want to take issue (at least partially) with one of the points you make. You say that Aslan is not Jesus, and this is true in the sense that fictitious representations of Jesus (in Ben-Hur, or in Left Behind, or in Hal Hartley's The Book of Life, etc.) are essentially fictitious and should not be confused with the Real Person. And yet, within the fictitious context of those stories, the Jesus presented there is meant to be continuous with the Jesus presented in the gospels and in Christian tradition. Lewis may not have created a perfect allegory in the first Narnia book, and he may have been more careful in some ways about the allegorizing in the later books, but in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Aslan drops a very, very strong hint that he is identical to the person known in our world as Jesus -- and Lewis more or less confirms this in Letters to Children. So to the extent that Lewis conceived of Aslan as Jesus in Narnian form, how Lewis depicts Aslan does tell us a lot about how Lewis thought about Jesus.

Still Breathing said...

Sarah, Being dyslexic (word blind) means I struggle with anything to do with language (and adore spellcheckers) so I get as far as verb, noun, adverb, adjective, past, present, future and possessive but no more. Don't try to explain it because my brain isn't wired to receive the information.
One short point; you say 'Anglican IS Protestant' but in view of the recent approach to Anglicans from Rome is this still true?
Finally it is always dangerous to read too much into any allegorical story, particularly the ones in the Bible, as they are a picture and not the truth itself.

The Prufroquette said...

Still Breathing,

Thanks for the explanation. :)

First, yes, for now, Anglican is still Protestant. From what I've read, there are special provisions being made by Rome to Anglicans who want to become fully Catholic and yet maintain elements of their liturgical heritage. "Full reception into the Catholic Church," though, is the key phrase, meaning that these Anglicans who are joining Roman Catholicism will fully accept and submit to Catholic dogma and doctrine, including papal authority and (most distinctively) the transubstantiation of the Host into the literal Body and Blood of Christ. Granted, it's only a small leap from subsubstantiation ("something mystical happens during the Eucharist but we're not sure how precisely to define it") to transubstantiation, but it's a significant leap nonetheless.

Even so, Lewis was writing during a time period before the beginning of discussions of unifying Anglicans and Catholics, and during that time period Anglicans were still pretty definitively Protestant, although very "high church" Protestant. :)

I'm all for unity, though -- I think this new movement is extraordinarily cool.

Second, I'm kind of unclear as to your meanings in your "finally" statements. I think an allegory is only good if it maintains its integrity under rigorous examination from multiple perspectives; if it doesn't, the allegory is shallowly conceived and poorly executed. There are many ways to inquire into a text without doing violence to its intended meaning...although sometimes (speaking of allegories that appear outside the Bible) what wasn't intended to be said holds the greatest weight.

Regardless, I was actually maintaining that Lewis' and Tolkien's stories aren't allegories at all, although Lewis constructs his stories with a much more allegorical flavor than Tolkien. (Fortunately he's far too creative and sensitive to beauty to fall into naming things The Castle Despair and The Giant Fear or whatever Bunyon did.)

For my own "finally," I am curious as to what you mean by "allegorical story," particularly as pertains to the Bible, and whether or not, or how, you differentiate between allegory and other kinds of story in the Bible. I have a whole string of thoughts on story/nonstory, fact/fiction, etc., but they may not be relevant depending on how you define allegorical story and which particular stories in the Bible you qualify as allegorical.

Bill and Peter -- more soon.

Peter T Chattaway said...

FWIW, the Anglican church may be Protestant in the sense that it is a European church that broke off from the Roman church in the 16th century... but there are a number of ways in which it does not fit the typical "Protestant" mold.

In a nutshell, you might say that Anglicans have a "church" -- similar to the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and other churches that all claim apostolic continuity to a time before there were schisms between churches -- whereas most other Protestants simply have "denominations".

Side note: My father was a sort of Anglican and my mother was Mennonite, and as I was growing up, it seemed that neither side wanted to be lumped in with "the Protestants". On the Mennonite side, the point was made that the Mennonites had been "radical Reformers" who were opposed by Martin Luther and the like just as strenuously as they had been opposed by the Catholics.

And if we really want to have fun, we can haggle over whether the Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons should be considered "Protestant", too. :)

The Prufroquette said...

True -- Anglican roots are distinct from the rest of the Protestant Reformation...and, for a little more fun, we could possibly mention that the Church of England was chiefly founded so a king could get a divorce. ;)

Also the differences tend to be pretty big when both factions are trying to kill each other.

Bill said...

What a great conversation! I haven't had this much fun in I don't know how long.

Peter, your point is well made, well said, certainly clearer than mine. One of the statement you made at the end is exactly where I'm trying to get. I have not read Letters To Children, and I regret the strength of my hyperbole. Letters to Children are, though, letters to children, and there are other statements Lewis made about Narnia that exist in other contexts that are not quite so clear-cut. One is that Lewis himself refused the label of allegory for Narnia. Another is a famous quotation, which I would have to look up, where he says Aslan is Christ as he would appear in Narnia. This follows very closely with Lewis's writings about fantasy and how fantasy worlds need their own rules, but still allow for exploration of ideas in a manner outside of Earthly physics.

I believe the best way to think about it is to consider Earth and Narnia (and all the other worlds through the puddles in the Wood Between Worlds) to be parallel, instead of one meant to represent the other. Thus Christ takes the form of Jesus in Earth, and Aslan in Narnia. And as I believe Lewis would say Christ's character is consistent, his interactions with humans in Narnia reflect the same personality and forms as it does in Earth. It is clearly a didactic tool, with the added dimension of story allowing much more relational thinking than Lewis's nonfiction. It is not the literary device of allegory, which as Sarah alludes to, is very constrictive.

In my bludgeoning, I can see how my point loses sight of "how Lewis depicts Aslan does tell us a lot about how Lewis thought about Jesus". I agree with this 100%. That is the crux of it. How Lewis thought about Jesus. Allowing the book to be allegory allows every person to bring their religious baggage to the table, and whatever Lewis is trying to say gets lost in what the reader hopes it says, and allows them to spend their time looking for the next recognizable symbol rather than *listening* to what the story says. It takes a lot of critical discipline to keep this separation, and it becomes more difficult the closer the metaphor is. So in order to hear, we must read the children's stories like children, without too much preformed idea about what Jesus is or meant. By allowing the metaphor to be too close, Lewis may have shot himself in the foot. (And, the whole label or not of allegory is probably irrelevant as that's how it's treated anyway...the baggage comes regardless.)

spinning in air said...

@ Sarah: but yet, much visual art made by 9and for) Roman Catholics is nothing if not overtly religious, either in the subjects depicted (Biblical, Marian, lives of saints) or in allegory.

Things have changed dramatically (in terms of artists and writers being able to do what they want, not just what a patron is paying for) over the past few hundred years.

Even G. Manley Hopkins is pretty overt re. religious imagery...

The Prufroquette said...

@Spinning - you're definitely right about visual art and you and Bill are both right with poetry. Seems that there are different dominations for different genres of art, and really fiction has only taken off in the last few hundred years, as you mentioned.

This only briefly touches on something I'd been pondering when Bill posed the question, but one of the things I was thinking, particularly with regard to fiction, is the separatist nature of Protestant/evangelical fiction, and how that's not a differentiation that seems to make sense to Catholic writers. (Note to Bill: Yup, I'll totally trade you up Greene for Joyce. You're right about the overt/nonovertness of each.) Walk into any chain bookstore and you'll be hard pressed to find O'Connor, Joyce, Percy, Waugh, and even Greene in the "Christian" or "religious" section of the store. Whereas the Left Behind series, Janette Oke, etc., seem to have no place whatsoever in the "fiction" section with everyone else.

Which says to me that these books can't hold water/have no merit as literature; they're just a safe escape for Christians who want to read horror and romance but still feel "not of the world." Little do they know that they miss out on the good parts of the world in denying themselves access to better literature. Not that all non-evangelical literature is good, of course. But the Bible contains some pretty gruesome and horrific stuff, without mincing on human nature and its capacity for cruelty. Also contains some lovely, and sometimes sexually explicit, romance tales. Shouldn't be all that shocking to deal with the same (in a dealing with it fashion, not for purposes of titillation, which I hate about true crime novels, but that's a different rant for a different day) in other arenas. We can't pad our boxes with cottonballs all the time. Life isn't safe. Good literature works within that frame.

Ack! Where does the time go?

And, OMG, my word verification word is "story." No, really.

That just completely made my day.

spinning in air said...

Sarah - I've done a lot of bookstore work. i think the categorizing that you're talking about is more about "genre fiction" and marketing than anything else. (Like Westerns, romances, sci-fi, mysteries - they're shelved separate from "general fiction," for the most part.)

I've never really real "Christian fiction," but I would love to see some of the better writers break out of the ghetto!

The Prufroquette said...

Well, right, of course...but you still won't find The Chronicles of Narnia under the religious section. (Hm, you might find Till We Have Faces there, though.)

Funny though how a lot of Christians who write genre fiction (other than Christian fiction) or even basic general fiction, avoid the "Christian" market. Same with music, actually, too.

spinning in air said...

Music - oh yes. Bruce Cockburn steadfastly refuses to classify (or maybe I should say "genre-fy"?) himself, and there are others.

As to where things get shelved, it varies from store to store, though most chains are pretty strict about this. Still, chain managers have some leeway (though not a lot) on things like this. (In the chains I worked for, they did, anyway. Indie stores are a whole other world.)

The Prufroquette said...

Ooo now I want to take a survey of indie bookstores. That would be a fascinating classification study. I worked for one of the big chains and there was no freedom. I was also convinced that the higher-ups who determined classifications were illiterate.

spinning in air said...

Hah! (higher-ups.) I hear you on that one.

The thing is, so many independent stores have disappeared over the past 8-10 years. (Well, longer than that, but online buying was the death knell for many of them.)

Much as I love being able to track down elusive titles online, I miss small stores. (Record stores, too.)

Bill said...

Hey all. When I posed the question breaking ""Protestant literature" into parts that are "Protestants writing about faith" vs "Protestants writing about anything else"" I really meant it in a more high-lit kind of way. I appreciate Spinning's observation of genre fiction, and I wasn't referring to Jeanette Oak any more than I was Louis L'Amour. (I guess I'm an elitist bastard sometimes.) I also really meant it as a question...I don't know the answer, and it wasn't a criticism. I grow less well-read by the day, so. (There's also the distinction between "literature by Protestants," which is what I meant, vs "literature [gulp] for (Evangelical) Protestants. Mixing the two up would be like equating John Updike with Tim LaHaye, and...ick.)

Peter, I understand your point about Anglicans and the smudginess of high Anglicans placing themselves in the continuum. I've been following the news from the Vatican with some interest, and feel some for Archbishop Williams, who must feel like he's getting it from all sides. But I'm a low-church American. Right now I feel like I was raised in a denomination that was only one step away from Stephy's link of break-away Baptists burning non-KJV bibles on Halloween (for instance, growing up, Tolkien wasn't something ok to read, and even Narnia was suspect; I read neither until I was adult). I was educated by Presbyterians who at first seemed so liberal and open-minded--you mean I can read Nietzche if I want?--but ultimately their Evangelicalism was also too constraining for me. (I do think, though, that at least in American mainline churches, there are high-church wings who, like Epicopals, feel some sense of apostolic continuity, albeit ultimately through Luther or Calvin.)

(I also really love the story about your parents, btw.)

What I mean with all that is I don't have a good frame of reference to say anything trustworthy about Lewis's liturgical placement (see? I don't even know the word for it). This is especially true in light of my Aslan-ain't-Jesus militancy, which might be a simple inability to read ;).

So here's the part you should feel free to ignore:


Bill said...

So here's the part you should feel free to ignore, cont:

So, Lewis was a scholar of Medieval and Renaissance lit and very well versed in the Greek classics. A bizarre mistrust of intellectuals among contemporary Evangelical circles causes them to downplay how important this was in understanding him (IMHO). For instance, in both his fiction and nonfiction there is a pervasive Platonism (The Great Divorce being its most obvious manifestation) that Lewis does not feel is incompatible with Christian faith and revelation, despite the fact that Plato is outside the Judeo-Christian corridor.

Lewis's "inclusivist" view of salvation (wherein the Calmorene in the Last Battle is saved; I would hesitate to call this "universalist")--and I recall him talking about this in the nonfiction as well--wherein other faiths were a shadow (Plato again) of Christianity but this did not preclude God from moving in them--feels to me to owe a lot to a high-church sense of tradition. Certainly you don't get too many Evangelicals talking like this, but I have heard language like this from Catholics and Episcopals.

Your point about medieval cosmology also plays well to a higher-church sensibility and the intellectuality in his faith. As Lewis was educated and subtle, I feel it likely we his readership can tend to underestimate what he was capable of, given his apparently self-appointed mission of apologist and "middle-aged moralist". I would like to know what else a contemporary medievalist sees in Narnia besides the book on cosmology, given the talking animals, the pastoralness of it, its collapsed sense of time, and the otherwise almost incorporeal aspects of it.

I am admittedly working from memory, not having read it in a long while, a book like Till We Have Faces seems to owe quite a lot to Biblical wisdom literature, and I could believe it shows an appreciate for the Contemplative aspects of Christian tradition. Neither of those seem to be something Evangelicals readily grasp, and I'm certain fundamentalists don't.

Lastly, I also feel (again, not know) that like the higher Church, Lewis would think of many of our "postmodern" dilemmas of thought to be not all that significant, emphasizing instead the continuity of Christ, faith, and the church (and Plato).

OTOH, I have only read excerpts from Letters To Malcolm, but in them there are some very strongly worded anti-Catholic sentiments regarding saints, transubstantiation, etc. So I can't imagine Lewis being the type of Anglican clamoring to rejoin the Catholic Church.

The result would be that for me Lewis is left somewhere mid-church. Certainly higher church than where I first gained my religious frame of reference, and probably higher than the (majority of) Presbyterians who educated me.

Bill said...

@Stephy: BTW, I meant to say earlier, I have not read Letters to Children (obviously!) but remember The Great Divorce also as being a world-view changer for me. But like Till We Have Faces, I can't seem to find it on the shelf, so I haven't read it again recently...

The Prufroquette said...

Bill, I think you deserve far more credit than you're giving yourself. Growing up without the childhood experience of the literature in question (I'm so sorry -- I had my own childhood and adolescent traumas to endure from the Christianity in which I was raised, but at least I could flee to Middle-Earth and Narnia for refuge; my parents blessed fantastical works of imagination) has no negative impact on your insights into them now, even as regards church structure and Lewis' preference within the spectrum (I don't know that there actually is a word for "liturgical placement," but then, I was raised Baptist as well and a lot of casual Catholic terminology is still beyond my familiarity. I spend a lot of time mumbling, "Um, what...does that mean?" and desperately hoping I don't sound stupid).

I love what you have to say about Lewis' medieval and Tolkien's linguistic passions and how those passions infused their writing. Further, I really like your points regarding Lewis' Platonism, and the ability this gave him to perceive Christ in areas that were not directly "Christian" ("inclusivist" is an excellent word). You're right; I've heard inclusivist language and ideas rather frequently in Anglican/Episcopal and Catholic circles (which was when I really knew I was "home"; I raised points about inclusivist salvation that were horrific according to my background, expecting rebuke, and instead heard, "Oh, yeah, obviously." It was one of those shining breakthrough moments).

Thanks too for clarifying your meaning about Aslan's identity -- I was actually going to bring up the same quote (about Lewis' terming the Narnia narrative a "supposal" -- "Suppose Christ appeared in another world: What would he look like?" -- and Aslan therefore being Christ as he appears in Narnia) but I like your fresher interpretation, that Aslan isn't the Jesus who appeared in our world, but he is Christ in a Narnian framework. Which ties in beautifully to thoughts of how this glorious, omnipotent God so habitually tailors himself to what we can bear and to what we need, "world without end, Amen."

I also wanted to clarify -- in talking about Christian fiction and genre fiction with Spinning, I certainly meant to be critical of Christian self-isolationist trends, which seem to me to defeat the purpose of the Gospel and furthermore to encourage weaker, waterier art (not that I would qualify Louis L'Amour or James Patterson or Madeline Hunter as "artists" -- if you're an elitist bastard, I'm an elitist bitch) but I also have to tip my hat to the necessity of religious printing presses for works that are more religiophilosophical or marketed toward Christians ("works for Evangelical Protestants," as you said). I also didn't think you were being critical; I was just happy to throw in my critical four cents, because Christianity's overarching separatism (which smacks of a strange commingling of superiority and shame) really bothers me.

I just wish there were some way for good religious writers to do what good religious musicians/singers/songwriters/composers do -- go indie. (Annie Dillard seems to have done this, but I can't think of others at the moment.) Breaking out of genre molding would be better entirely -- the more labeled something is, the more easily it's reduced into something that really it's not (marketing and the nature of the publishing world don't make this an easy proposition). Jesus didn't have a name for his mission or his followers; it wasn't till Antioch, some time after the resurrection and ascension, that his disciples were called "Christians" (and that in a pejorative sense). The more something is codified (as opposed to explored) the more difficult it is for that something to break out of the mold people have assigned it and be itself (this goes for people as well as institutions, philosophies and schools of thought).

Also, spiraling back to favorite Lewis works, A Grief Observed saved my faith some years back.

Bill said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bill said...

Sarah, thank you for your kind words. Parts of my childhood faith were good, but SCCL helps bring some of the anger about the rest of it to the surface. And maybe that's one reason I am so overprotective of Narnia--even late discovered, it reverberates backward to a healthier childhood imagination, freer of religion-inspired fearfulness.

I loved the "strange commingling of superiority and shame" line.

Very excellent point about the "necessity of religious printing presses for works that are more religiophilosophical or marketed toward Christians". I actually feel just the same way about the CCM environment. "Indie" was not big enough to matter (and did not have the Internet) when I came of age. The Christian labels (probably a misnomer these days), despite producing quite a lot of trite crap, do fulfill a need (at least for me) for the devotional in popular-styled music. Like reading, I don't believe consumption should be limited by abstract principle alone, and that works both ways.

I'm not very familiar with contemporary prose writers. Ever since Annie Dillard helped put it on the map, the narrative essay/fictional biography/journal/memoir type genres have taken off, and there might very well be some writers you and I don't know about. I can say that in the poetry world, movement between the spiritual and nonspiritual (if you can get a poet to acknowledge such a distinction) is much more tolerated in the mainstream. If your tastes run to contemporary poetry, I will be happy to ask my wife (who as a lit professor and publishing poet has some insight into that world) for recommendations that might suit you, in regard to a Dillardesque sense of the temporal and the divine.

This post seems to leave a lot I wanted to explore, but is long enough, so a quick anecdote: I am anticipating a long trip soon, so stopped by a quasi-local chain bookstore. Parts of Lewis were all over the place: Christian Living, Novels, Science Fiction (I didn't check Children's). To my satisfaction, Till We Have Faces was in "Classics". (Also bought the Silmarillion, which I have never read.)

Thanks again for taking such time to read and write.

"World without end, Amen."

David said...

Bill wrote, "(I do think, though, that at least in American mainline churches, there are high-church wings who, like Epicopals, feel some sense of apostolic continuity, albeit ultimately through Luther or Calvin.)"

Just to pick a few nits: We are "Episcopalians," "Episcopal" is a adjective, not a noun ;)

And no, we don't get our apostolic continuity thru Calvin or Luther - we're not Presbyterians or Lutherans, or any sort of Protestant denomination* for that matter. I suppose you might consider Thomas Cranmer, Henry VIII's Archbishop of Canterbury and editor & co-author of the first and second Books of Common Prayer, to be a more reasonable answer for that (see entries on the "English Reformation" on Wikipedia, or in your favorite church history textbook, for more details).

*We've always considered ourselves catholic, just not Roman Catholic.

Bill said...

David, thanks for the Episcopalian correction. They both seem like adjectives to me, and "Episcopalian" is harder to say :).

I didn't mean to imply that Anglicans/Episcopalians acknowledge Luther or Calvin as links in the apostolic chain. I did mean specifically Lutherans and Presbyterians, etc. I can see how my syntax could be read that way. I meant only to respond to an earlier comment that seemed to me to imply that mainline Protestants don't have a sense of historical continuity when in fact they do. I probably shouldn't have called it apostolic, either, but they do for instance, consider Aquinas and Augustine their fathers, also. Higher-church-minded Presbyterians and Lutherans also seem to have a healthy respect for other forms continuous revelation (which I perhaps oversimplify in my own thinking as "tradition") that are not exactly sola scriptura in my opinion.

Episcopalians seem to be having a PR problem if everyone considers them Protestant but themselves ;). But being the low-church type, at least for the moment, I'm all about self-determination in that arena.

spinning in air said...

Well, "Episcopalian" has different definitions, depending on who you're talking to. (Seriously.) David seems to be coming from the Anglo-Catholic side, but there are other povs out there.

Best to all,

Bill said...

Spinning (and Peter and Still Breathing and Sarah and David and Stephy!), I appreciate your corrections and conversation. Someday I will learn to be fewer worded instead of spewing my half-formed thoughts into the ether! But not today.

And Spinning, if you ever start a new blog, I think you should call it "(Seriously.)". Love it!


e2c said...

@ Bill: thanks - and I like your idea!