“My Dear Wormwood – Our most reliable reality is still securely in place: Humans have been given a way to face their problem, to turn away from it and live beyond it – but most, to our aid, simply will not embrace the gift. And our most important task – whether we urge them to reject it, counterfeit it, or abuse it, is to see to it that they never see that gift for all it truly is.”
– Screwtape, a contemporary devilish supervisor, observing to his demon apprentice1
First here, a note to my dedicated readers: Thank you for considering – and thinking…. After a time of silence with blogging, I hope I have learned something of how shutting up and listening for a while is a good spiritual discipline for a white person to do in a white-dominated society. Now also, as with many writers as I have heard, one best writes not when it is comfortable but because there is something uncomfortably important that must be given a voice.
Thanks specifically here to some friends who read an earlier draft of this reflection, gave me some challenging and encouraging feedback that moved me to read the Screwtape Letters again, and helped me get to sharing this outward – though they are not responsible for any shortcomings of this post.
Here then is “one small” retrospective parable on America’s last-four-years affair with H- (perhaps, too, something of a little commentary on Ezekiel)…
Please also note that references in parentheses (-) refer to books of the Bible unless otherwise specified.
I have no idea how the various elements of this reflection first came together into the story I tell here. The fact that they have, might say something of just how much space a human mind can travel to connect stars like sparkling dots in a very big dipper. Or maybe it’s because, upon my struggling to get motivated to write over a plate of walnuts with Bree cheese, my wife suggested I write this blog as a journal, like “I’m just wondering… and what do you think?” Then I’m reminded of how a close brother encouraged this blogging thing most by affirming what I most write from the heart. So this post is an imaginative exploration in doing my best to write true from my heart.
Beware: many will come even in my name, claiming, “I am your Messiah, your Savior – and, of course, also your Lord!” They will lead many astray. As a result, many will hate one another. Many self-claimed but false prophets also will arise (around their false “kings”) and lead many astray. So the love of many will grow cold. But the one who perseveres in my way of love to the end will be saved from that holocaust. Meanwhile, the good news of God’s renewing kingdom reality will be proclaimed always throughout the world as a witness to my true hope for all human cultures.
– Jesus: Matt 24-25; and see 1 Kings 17-22, Matt 5-7, 28, and Revel 17-18 (my pregnant paraphrase; also see NRSV, NIV)
As a child, I was enthralled with the mission to the moon. I still am – especially with a mission. I still love dreaming of the surreal journey of our silent planet among the stars. Watching Neal Armstrong step onto the moon, through a tiny old television set of an ancient elder of our clan in a small town on the Dakota plains (now a most dangerous place on earth), I walked to the window and looked out at the moon. There it was; there he was – somehow, we all were.
Since I’m telling this story, I’m going to take a little poetic license and voice one question (which I suspect troubles many good angels, and is haunted by too many others): Why in the vast stretches of time would anyone undertake a colossal mission to fly to a small chunk of rock out there, call all that a giant leap for humanity (which is what he meant) – and which has to mean in any language, ALL human beings – and then commemorate the achievement with the flag of only one nation, just one culture, merely one group, one small society, one imperfect government? I think this comes to mind also due to a fragment of troubling correspondence recently come to my attention, in which a devilish supervisor, “Screwtape” (though I cannot prove this to be Lewis’ earlier “acquaintance”), observes to his apprentice demon: “…you see, my dear Wormwood, most humans, especially when engrossed in group-think, are always (we hope forever) insisting on thinking too small.”
A couple years after Apollo 11, one of my favorite aunts exerted real effort to take me to Houston Control. We walked the grounds of NASA where we received the message from the moon: “That’s one small step…” I looked through the observation window upon the consoles of computers and monitors and lights. I was in that room, where we also received the message from Apollo 13, “Houston, we have a problem.” Years later, my space-fascinated mind experienced that story through the movie featuring the acting of Tom Hanks. I am deeply moved by this story which testifies there is yet hope deeper and greater than planting one national flag. In that time, the world cared for three people lost in space with hope for bringing them home (and there is a deeper parable in that). The real miracle of the Apollo space program is that we did – with great faith, sheer courage, and determined human care.
For my birthday last year, my wife treated me to a concert at the Hollywood Bowl, another of our favorite experience places on earth, complete with a moon-lit picnic of Spanish wine, honey-roasted pistachios, and Bree cheese. An evening of this artist’s live music struck a deep motivating chord in me. Yes, it might have been the wine; I know it was the love of my life holding my hand under a starry night. It was something more, too.
I was impressed how this artist gave us her heart’s music for two straight hours, being real right there in front of thousands, though admittedly intimidated by a large Los Angeles audience at this world-class venue, still brashly telling it like it is, of how people today are wondering if anyone cares, how we can find ourselves fighting through the pain, how friends are gifts life surprises us with, and all this is worth meditating on for seeking hope. Her recent statement song declares: I’m not giving up on love, not today. This experience renewed a stirring conviction in me. With honest anger, She acknowledged we struggle through chaos in today’s world. And right here, through a defiant fusion of jazz strings, funky keyboarding, rock rifts, and soft balladry, she hit a pure high note. She wrote into a song (an anthem really) a love letter to a dear friend in deep need: I want to see you be brave – speak the truth of love…
Mount of Olives
That brings me to Jesus, the real Jesus – because, as my long journey of studying the Gospels to know him better as best I can convicts me as well: Jesus is all about love, which his actions spelled as compassion for people. This Jesus tells a most troubling story, late in his career from another hilltop, his favorite Mount of Olives, on his death’s very doorstep, an apocalyptic vision of a tale this time, and a love letter for those with a heart for it. You can read his whole vision yourself in Matthew 24-25. Below I simply pass on a letter from a demon-apprentice, Wormwood, with utter concern for his telling reference to Jesus’ warning against false Messiahs.
“I have a problem for which I urgently need advice from your many experiences in applying the darkest magic. I know I say that every time I write, but this time it’s more urgent than ever – given the apparent signs of these times. I speak of the vision of he-whom-we- dare-not-name in which he exposed our deepest secret: the substitute-messiah myth. I nearly now despair that my pupil just does not buy it, this myth upon which I realize all our despairs depend.
“I still draw brash despair from how our recent successes so emboldingly echo those early old days which so quickly led to such chaos: thrilling terrors experimented upon the most vulnerable, penetrating ideas reduced to ashes by paranoid bonfires, encampments for those most undesirables to breathe their deaths. I do try to screw up my best sly smile for how most humans again so easily notice so little of our repeatedly devious plots to render them all Les Miserables in the end. And I would not wish to interrupt the newest iteration of wallowing by all of you down there in our favorite nothing’s-ever-new dirges.
“’I’m just sayin’, if my pupil is any indication, however rare we may wish, we have more work to do up here. I know the devious efforts of your exclusive team exceed my amateur struggles by far, and my outbursts fall far short of all you deserve. I marvel at how underwhelmingly the past-few-years’ campaign of Central Control has bitterly iced so many hearts into our latest adulterous alliance, encasing even the religious majority (as they so gleefully have misconstrued their hope). They, at least, seem to be drinking the Kool-Aid of believing our myth: Our recently reigning candidate tweeting them every day for lunch on how he would not actually save them in all the ways they so fleetingly wished. And his very own wave of false prophets, who enthroned him so eloquently for us, have spun our web so expertly it will take decades for discerning Puddleglums to undo. Many of my colleagues are jealous for how they have so well-done our dark arts for us by making he-whom-we-dare-not-name so irrelevant in this time. On many of these bad days, I have iced my dead heart on how well our man has strutted again his hour upon the stage, waving the colors of our ever-dying ideological flag. (By the way, when this latest spirit of Sauron again takes on a new dictatorial shape, will he stick with bent cross-bars on blood-red, or is there a new scheme in mind for this one?)
“The problem is, though, my pupil has decided not to give up on love, she’s singing it around in public as if she thinks other humans will listen, and worst of all, a lot of them do. I need some new dark tactics immediately. It seems she has become immune to your recent recommendations of propaganda, she seems to see through false politics (and once again it seems a myriad of other not-counted-on votes do, too, judging by how so many of us apprentices here just can’t seem to stop them when they get on an activist kick), she has too many friends to be fooled by our old stand-by of disillusionment, and now our most tried strategy of turning love cold in their very hearts is the one thing she is determined to avoid.
“Honestly, though I fear your wrath with me for these many failures, I begin to become more fearful still my pupil may actually become ‘one who perseveres in love’ – and believe me, I am more mindful than ever of what befalls demons who let that happen to their pupils. I draw discouragement, however, from your obviously-rewarded experience with such things. To that end, please send me some new darkest-ever trick, before this love thing grows beyond our reach. In fact, judging by the general cloud of smoky anxiety over this city steaming up unavoidably from us frustrated apprentices, we’ve all burned out all our whit. There is, no doubt you’ve already heard, a growing gnashing with well-ground teeth for a blanket-fix memo, NOW!
-“Always your reluctant slave – Wormwood”
Such is the letter I am compelled to relate, for whomever also hears the conviction it burns in me. And this yet I will say here. In pondering these far-flung experiences. I am determined to live and speak by the way in which one friend chimed in with this reflection: to cause more problems for Hell than they can handle. I seek to be that guy, who will compel Wormwood to keep writing quite literally to whatever demonizing devil every day: “Hell, we have a problem – there are actually people here who still believe, in the reality of that true Messiah, and for the reality he lived and died for, LOVE.”
1C. S. Lewis’ provocative prophecy, The Screwtape Letters, relates correspondence from the under-devil, Screwtape, advising his apprentice demon, Wormwood, for misleading his unsuspecting human pupil. I have recently unexpectedly come across a few similar fragments, mostly of such a Wormwood seeking such assistance. Similarly to Mr. Lewis’ preface, I can give no further explanation as to the origin of these new fragments, and I cannot say how Professor Lewis feels about this new discovery. Admittedly, the style of these contemporary pieces is not so eloquently crafted as in Lewis’ collection; but that could simply be due to their being penned by one who is not yet as experienced in such writing. It strikes me, though, these fragments express a troublingly similar train of thought. And I remind us, for those who will understand the weighty significance of this in the light for the current evil spirits among us, Mr. Lewis first dedicated that sarcastic collection of troubling letters to his friend, J. R. R. Tolkien.
Readers are also encouraged to explore other posts in this series: Culture Contact
God so loved the world… God is love!
Then I saw a new heaven and new earth…
and the tree of life…
at the middle of the great street of the city…
and the leaves of the tree
are for the healing of the cultures.
John 3; 1 John 4; Revelation 21, 22