Chesterton on Marriage

"I could never mix in the common murmur of that rising generation against monogamy, because no restriction on sex seemed as odd and unexpected as sex itself. To be allowed, like Endymion, to make love to the moon and then to complain that Jupiter kept his own moons in a harem seemed to me (bred on fairy tales like Endymion's) a vulgar anti-climax. Keeping to one woman is a small price for so much as seeing one woman. To complain that I could only be married once was like complaining that I had only been born once. It was incommensurate with the terrible excitement of which one was talking. It showed, not an exaggerated sensibility to sex, but a curious insensibility to it. A man is a fool who complains that he cannot enter Eden by five gates at once. Polygamy is a lack of the realization of sex; it is like a man plucking five pears in mere absence of mind. The aesthetes touched the last insane limits of language in their eulogy on lovely things. The thistledown made them weep; a burnished beetle brought them to their knees. Yet their emotion never impressed me for an instant, for this reason, that it never occurred to them to pay for their pleasure in any sort of symbolic sacrifice. Men (I felt) might fast forty days for the sake of hearing a blackbird sing. Men might go through fire to find a cowslip. Yet these lovers of beauty could not even keep sober for the blackbird. They would not go through common Christian marriage by way of recompense to the cowslip. Surely one might pay for extraordinary joy in ordinary morals."
- G.K. Chetserton, Orthodoxy

Chesterton is not here focused on marriage. It is, instead, one ethical instance offered as an illustration of his ethics of elfland. The larger point he makes is that we take much for granted, pretend to understand more than we do, and in so doing we lose much that is essential: joy, surprise, wonder, and the ability to submit to the wild in-sensibilities of life. Marriage, it seems to me, is the perfect example. I pray that I will never lose this sense of wonder over the gift of one amazing woman in my life. 


Chesterton on Humility

"Humility was largely meant as a restraint upon the arrogance and infinity of the appetites of man. He was always outstripping his mercies with his own newly invented needs. His very power of enjoyment destroyed half his joys. By asking for pleasure, he lost his chief pleasures; for the chief pleasure is surprise. Hence it became evident that if a man would make his world large, he must be always making himself small. Even the haughty visions, the tall cities, and the toppling pinnacles are the creations of humility. Giants that tread down forests like grass are the creations of humility. Towers that vanish upwards above the loneliest start the creations of humility. For towers are not tall unless we look up at them; and giants are not giants unless they are larger than we. All this gigantesque imagination, which is, perhaps, the mightiest of the pleasures of man, is at bottom entirely humble. It is impossible without humility to enjoy anything - even pride. 

But what we suffer from today is humility in the wrong place. Modesty has moved from the organ of ambition. Modesty has settled upon the organ of conviction; where it was never meant to be. A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth; this has been exactly reversed. Nowadays the part of a man that a man does assert is exactly the part he ought not to assert - himself. The part he doubts is exactly the part he ought not to doubt - the Divine Reason. Huxley preached a humility content to learn from Nature. But the new skeptic is so humble that he doubts if he can even learn. Thus we should be wrong if we had said hastily that there is no humility typical of our time. The truth is that there is a real humility typical of our time; but it so happens that it is practically a more poisonous humility than the wildest prostrations of the ascetic. The old humility was a spur that prevented a man from stopping; not a nail in his boot that prevented him from going on. For the old humility made a man doubtful about his efforts, which might make him work harder. But the new humility makes a man doubtful about his aims, which will make him stop working altogether."

Every year I make a point of reading one, or several, of G.K. Chesterton's books. Every year, I am surprised anew. Chesterton's words on humility, from "Orthodoxy" are well worth pondering. 

It should be noted that Chesterton speaks of humility in the specific context of belief. Humility, as the author of The Cloud of Unknowing notes, is the true knowledge and experience of yourself as you are. Chesterton asserts the same in the context of knowing that we are, if anything, doubtful and therefore we ought to doubt ourselves. 


"The Lesson of the Moth" by Don Marquis

The Lesson of the Moth

I was talking to a moth
the other evening
he was trying to break into
an electric light bulb
and fry himself on the wires

why do you fellows
pull this stunt I asked him
because it is the conventional
thing for moths or why
if that had been an uncovered
candle instead of an electric
light bulb you would
now be a small unsightly cinder
have you no sense

plenty of it he answered
but at times we get tired
of using it
we get bored with the routine
and crave beauty 
and excitement
fire is beautiful
and we know that if we get
too close it will kill us 
but what does that matter
it is better to be happy
for a moment
and be burned up with beauty
than to live a long time
and be bored all the while 
so we wad all our life up
into one little roll
and then we shoot the roll
that is what life is for
it is better to be a part of beauty
for one instant and then cease to
exist than to exist forever
and never be a part of beauty
our attitude toward life
is come easy go easy
we are like human beings 
used to be before they became
too civilized to enjoy themselves

and before I could argue him
out of his philosophy
he went and immolated himself 
on a patent cigar lighter
I do not agree with him
myself I would rather have
half the happiness and twice
the longevity

but at the same time I wish
there was something I wanted
as badly as he wanted to fry himself
- Don Marquis


"One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich" by Alexander Solzhenitsyn

Alexander Solzhenitsyn. One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. Signet, 1972. 142 pgs. 

I don't know how I made it this long without reading Solzhenitsyn. Somehow. Earlier this year a good friend pointed me to his Nobel prize speech, which is well worth reading. That same friend then lent me this book, which I finally got around to reading. In summary this book is one day in the life of a man sentenced to ten years in a Siberian labor camp. 

The book opens as Ivan wakes up and, being slower than normal, is called forward by a guard to receive his punishment. Ivan experiences a minor victory in that his punishment is merely to mop the guardroom floor. Barely 10 pages into the book and the (no doubt realistic) picture Solzhenitsyn paints of a Siberian labor camp is bleak. No matter how Ivan felt, I was struck again and again by just how terrible this all was. His victories were small highlights which lit the extent of tragedy to my eyes.. As I neared the end of the book and Ivan worked his way into receiving a second bowl of 'soup,' a final victory for his day, I rejoiced with him. Think about the transition I, as the reader, went through in those 140 pages. That is the skill and quality of Solzhenitsyn's writing. 

Conclusion: 5 Stars. Highly recommended. Well worth your time.  


2012.09.07 Worth Visiting

War and Nookd - funny and scary

Of Flying Cars - a long but very interesting look at where we stand now in terms of technology, economics, bureaucracy, and politics.

When are we going to grow up? The Juvenilization of American Christianity - more than enough to think about here.

Please RT  - "soon, if not yet already, it will seem pretentious, elitist, and old-fashioned to write anything, anywhere, with patience and care."

Happyism: The Creepy New Economics of Pleasure  - thoughtful and hilarious.

Thoughts on Penal Substitution - very good

The Trouble with Atheists: A Defence of Faith - So good, I want to read the book :)

Impatience as Digital Virtue - great questions to consider!

The New Furby Review: Absolute Horror - Made me laugh out loud and made me think. 


Looking Foolish

I am a Christian. I am a pastor. I have often experienced the awkward moment in the conversation after someone I have just met asks me what I do for a living... and I answer. Most of the time this is followed by a long pause while the other person visibly tries to sort out what to say next. Have they cursed in our exchange so far? Should this bother them? Do you have a bone to pick with religion, faith, or Christianity? Should they pick it with me? Am I judging them? Should they adjust their behavior accordingly? And on and on. 

There are many objections to Christianity and to faith. Once and a while they come out. More often than not the awkward pause is followed by an embarrassing fizzle as the conversation grinds to a halt. 

I am keenly aware of the point Francis Spufford makes, that the most painful message about Christianity our society gives us that we are embarrassing. This makes sense. I am caught in the embarrassing predicament described well by Simon Tugwell:

"...anyone who, like me, finds himself unaccountably thrown in the deep end, splashing and struggling and hoping that it will turn out to be 'swim' rather than 'sing,' though sometimes rather suspecting that it is going to be 'sink.' Should he find the time to stop and think about it, he will be embarrassingly aware that to a spectator safe on dry ground, his antics will look utterly clownish and unintelligible, but there is nothing that can be done about that. We can only hope that our very foolishness and helplessness draw the God of mercy to our assistance."

Nothing can be done I suppose. But those of you watching from dry ground should know that my own struggle to stay afloat doesn't mean I'm trying to pull you down, with judgement or argument. And I'm sorry if I sometimes try to help in ways you believe are unnecessary. It's just that my position you look like your sinking too. 


August Reflections

Back at the beginning of August this was me:

I'm so excited to be blogging again! Lots to do and good times ahead!

Then I woke up today and realized it was September already:

September already? I hardly blogged at all!
Yeah... a month gone in the twinkling of an eye. And all of 2 blog posts to show for it. What can I say? I've been busy!

So, I make no promises about September, but I still live in hope. Maybe you do to, or maybe you've given up on this blog. Don't worry, I understand. 

Until next time... :)