IMHO: C.S. Lewis is Essential Reading for a Christian

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(Pic: neftali/Shutterstock.com)

My wife is part of a reading group at our church that goes through different books by different Catholic or spiritual authors. Some of it’s fiction, some of it’s not. The latest book they’ve decided to go over is “The Screwtape Letters” by C.S. Lewis. What surprised my wife and me though was that no one in the group had ever seriously read anything by C.S. Lewis.

It shouldn’t have surpried us, really. Now that I’m Catholic, if I’m reading anything, it’s most likely a Catholic book. That’s not because I’m not interested in other stuff, but rather that there is so much good Catholic literature out there to read, and I feel like, as I convert, I’m playing catch-up. 

But still (and I realize and fully admit that I am a nerd when it comes to these things), in my humble opinion, every Christian needs to read C.S. Lewis. Here’s why:

1. He’s a great writer. This kind of goes without saying. So many people have read C.S. Lewis and enjoyed his works because he was so good at what he did. The Chronicles of Narnia are beloved classics. “The Great Divorce”, about a man who travels from purgatory/hell up to heaven, is imaginative and insightful. He was a literary critic and professor at Oxford and Cambridge. He knew his craft.

2. Every Christian I know who has read CS Lewis likes him, and I mean Catholics, charismatics, Anglicans for sure, you name it, it is hard to find a Christian tradition that doesn’t like this guy. He was able to write in a way that speaks to anybody which is his gift. He was an atheist and then converted to Christianity which means he knows how to speak to the larger world and not just in Christian jargon. He was Anglican himself which means he could kind of speak to the Protestant and Catholic crowd. And he focused mostly on those basic Christian teachings that nearly every Christian can get into or at least appreciate.

3. There is almost guaranteed to be something he has written that will appeal to you. Are you into sci-fi? Read “Perelandra” or “Out of the Silent Planet.” Are you into philosophy? Read “The Problem of Pain” or “The Abolition of Man.” Are you in elementary school or junior high? Read the “Chronicles of Narnia.” Apologetics? Read “Mere Christianity.” Theological fiction? “The Screwtape Letters” and “The Great Divorce.” Greek mythology? Read “Till We have Faces.” Are you into blogs where people just write their thoughts on life? Read this blog, and then read “A Grief Observed” – a book where he describes his process of grieving over his wife after she died.

4. He’s probably the most influential Christian writer of the 20th century. This is not because he is as deep as other Christian philosophers, or as witty as other Christian writers. A lot of what he said are things you can find in other books on Christianity, but he had the knack for speaking in a language people could understand – even in his apologetics books.

I find that in my own writing, both in fiction and nonfiction, I pull so heavily from him and his style. I just realized recently, going through the Screwtape letters again, that the book I’m working on now is greatly influenced by the style in which that book was written. I don’t mind at all being so unoriginal when the person I am imitating (or I should say trying to imitate) is someone like him.

If you still aren’t sure whether you want to commit to reading one of his works, try picking up a book of quotes from him to get a feel for how he writes and what he has to say. I hope you’ll find his writings as enjoyable as I did.

Those Verdant Pastures God Keeps Talking About

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I play music for the Mass Saturday evenings at my parish. We’re small enough that some nights, it’s just me at a piano cantoring for the Psalm and leading the hymns. The piano in our sanctuary is off to the side and facing the altar, so it’s almost like I can disappear, which is nice. I don’t feel like it’s the “Jon Show”, if you know what I mean. I’m a congregant with all the other congregants. I just happen to be behind a piano.

But tonight was a little more special for me because my son, Isaac, who is five years old, wanted to come with me. He helped me put the numbers for the hymns up on the board. He danced a bit to the songs I practiced on my instrument in the music director’s room in the back and sang when he knew the words. And he sat next to me, quietly, as I played during the Mass, doing all the right genuflections and crossing of himself he was supposed to do – stuff he’s learned at Catholic school (and maybe from us, too).

I listened to his small, gentle voice which reflects so perfectly his calm, gentle demeanor, and I started choking up. I started crying, which isn’t good when you’re trying to sing. I had to consciously push his voice out of my head and focus on the singing. But the dam burst, and after that, I had to really not think about it.

The “it” that I needed to not think about wasn’t him, though. I mean, it was him – partly him. It was just… all of it. The responsorial Psalm we sang was all about how God is our Shepherd and leads us into green pastures and beside still waters, and I can’t tell you how long I’ve wanted to believe that. Two years ago, my wife was on the verge of committing suicide. Our children weren’t living with us for awhile – and when they were, it was, at most, half the week, because I couldn’t hold down a job and parent for the two of us at the same time. I tried to be optimistic, but deep inside, I wasn’t holding my breath. Three years ago, we were living in a two-bedroom, cockroach-infested apartment, trying to make it work with three kids under four, and doing a horrible job of it, even though it was our best effort. I didn’t feel like I was anywhere near quiet waters. These weren’t the verdant pastures the Psalmist speaks of. I didn’t know what was going to happen. Winston Churchill said, “If you’re walking through Hell, keep walking.” That’s what we did. Just put one foot in front of the other, but we were drowning.

But then everything changed, almost miraculously. My wife courageously fought her demons and grew by leaps and bounds, with help from a mix of therapy, meds, and a really good priest. Our kids came back with us full-time. We moved far away from where I work, which means I have a long commute, but it’s also far enough that we can actually afford to live in a real house with a real lawn and nice neighbors. We’re even able to send our kids to an amazing Catholic school – all three of them – where they come home and proceed to school me on how to be Catholic. We have a prayer table now because my oldest son, Jack, came home and said we needed one, and it’s been a spiritually enriching addition to the home. I could not have imagined this kind of life being at all a possibility. I didn’t even pray for some of these things because they seemed so far-fetched.

I thought tonight about all the anxious thoughts I have on a daily basis, almost like emotional reflexes. I thought about how much I complain, even now. But my family is together. My children are learning about the Catholic faith not only from me and my wife, but from the sisters and teachers at their school. We have this home that’s not so big we can all retreat from each other and not so small that we’re in each other’s business 24/7. And it took a three-year wilderness to get here. But God found us a place with quiet streams and green pastures. And to boot, my son who, at five years old, ought to be about as excited about Mass as he is about watching paint dry, wanted to be with me tonight to worship God. As though God hadn’t given me enough.

I know that these moments don’t last. I know not to put my faith in a circumstance. Life could fall apart just as quickly as it’s come together. But for the first time in a long time, I’m not just faking optimism. I think of Psalm 126:1: “When the Lord brought back the captives of Zion, we thought we were dreaming.” But the dream is real.

I know writing this, there are a lot of people who aren’t “living the dream.” And I’m incredibly wary of the whole “prosperity Gospel” thing going around. But when God does something in your life – hands you a gift you didn’t earn and didn’t even think you were capable of getting – you have to write a blog post about it with a big “thank you” sticker for Jesus.


On a different note, I’m working on a book now expanding on the characters I wrote about in the last three posts, which means, I won’t continue that story on this blog. The last post was pretty depressing – it won’t end there. But for whoever follows this blog, I’ll keep you posted about when you can get the book on Amazon or what not. I’m hoping to at least get it done by the end of summer. And if you feel like it, pray for me about it. 

God and Gracie – Part 3 (Fiction)

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Gracie walked into the café quietly, her curly hair tied like a bundle of yarn above her head. She was dressed in brown cargo pants and a tank top. It was hot in Manila, and if it were the social convention, she might have spent the day in her underwear.
She walked up to the man at the front table, looking around the small place.

“Is God here?” she asked.

The man at the podium looked around the café, a little confused. It wasn’t hard to see that there was a lull in the place, and there were literally no patrons sitting at any table.

“Ummm…. I don’t think I see anyone, Miss. Maybe you have the wrong restaurant?”

“No, this is the right one. ”

Gracie looked around again just to confirm what she and the man could both clearly see.

“It’s OK,” said Gracie, with a look of resignation. “I would still like to stay. May I sit by the window over there? ”

“Certainly.”

She sat down at a nearby table, and proceeded to pull the bands out of her hair, letting it fall like a cascade down on her shoulders. She scratched her head and pulled at some knots in her thick hair. She hadn’t showered for a few days. The water was down at the orphanage.
“But it’s raining outside,” she thought, “and this is advantageous for at least three reasons. 1. I can at least feel clean walking down the street even if I’m not actually getting clean. 2. If it doesn’t let up, it’s only a matter of time before I can get a bucket bath, and 3. if I close my eyes, the drip-dropping of the rain will remind me of home.”

“Lord, thank you for the rain,” she said out loud. “Thank you for how it washes everything and makes the world new. For how the sky looks so much clearer when it’s done, a little piece of heaven looking down on us.”

She kept talking, “Angelo is so close to staying with us. He’s been hanging out with the other boys at the compound and even slept a few nights. He shows up for almost every meal. Please pray that he stays longer and that, ultimately, we could find a good family for him and all the children.”

It was difficult to get street kids to stay in one place. They were so used to life on the streets that being in an environment like the one at the orphanage was too boring, too routine. Still, some stayed. And some of those who stayed were able to find homes either in the States, or in Europe, or, if they could, in the Philippines. Sometimes they could even find relatives in nearby towns or villages. The internet was making everything a little bit easier when it came to tracking people down. But still, the children couldn’t find a home, couldn’t be given an education, couldn’t be well-fed if they didn’t stay off the streets.

“Gabriela is getting older and almost ready to leave. Please find her a job where she can take care of herself and her brother. You know the job market is not good at all right now.”

Gracie went on like this for awhile, bringing up, one by one, the names of the 46 children at the orphanage and the various children she saw often who liked to hang out near the place. She prayed for Sister Bernadette who was sick in a hospital in the downtown area. She prayed for her parents, her friends, and anyone else she could think of, asking every now and then if she missed anybody, and then praying some more.

But after awhile, the names stopped coming to her and she stared out the window. She saw her reflection in it and wondered if that was all she was really doing: speaking to her reflection.

“I don’t know what’s happened, Lord. I used to feel your presence so close to me. I feel so alone here. I mean, I have the nuns, and the kids. And I came here for them. But ultimately, I came here for you, and I don’t know where you are anymore. I confess my sins, and I don’t feel forgiven. It’s like the priest might as well be quoting Winnie the Pooh as absolving me. I wake up every day with this chain on me that I can’t explain – like my body is carrying some extra weight. I think I’m beginning to understand what mom meant when she said there were days she couldn’t get out of bed. But I can’t afford to do that. There’s so much to do here, and I’m drowning.
The sisters tell me I glow with the presence of Christ when I’m around. IT’s like a cruel joke. If they only knew…”

She started crying, and quickly wiped the tears away when they started coming down.

“I don’t feel anything. And I can’t express how hard it’s been. I used to find so much joy in talking to you. I remember being 7 years old and telling you about what I learned in science – how volcanoes work and what the water cycle is. I told you everything. You meant everything to me. I don’t know where you are now.”

She looked around the room, as though trying to find God somewhere she hadn’t looked.

“The sisters talk about their spiritual experiences, how they feel your love for them or what great new thing they’re learning. I read the Bible and it’s… ok, I guess. It just doesn’t move me anymore. Yes, David killed Goliath. And yes, that means we can slay our metaphorical giants. I’ve heard the stories a thousand times. I think I get the point.”

She looked down at a thread unraveling on her tank top. She wrapped and unwrapped the thread around her finger.

“I love these children. I want so badly for them to have the kind of life I had – two parents who loved them. I want them to know you. But it’s hard to give them what I don’t have myself. And no matter how often I come to the Eucharist, or in prayer, or in the Word, I just feel dead inside.”

She sat there waiting for some kind of response, but she had come to this cafe for years now, and it was always the same. No God. Just her sitting at an empty table.

What was so frustrating was that her darkness came upon her just as she started her ministry in Manila 11 years ago. Up till then, her spiritual life had had its ups and downs, but she had a strength and depth to her that many of her peers did not have. During her time in the Philippines, she cried more than she had ever cried before. She wept for the children and for the poverty she saw around her. She laughed more than she had ever laughed before, feeling the love and pride in the many children who were able to rise above their circumstances. But in all of it she felt abandoned, like a wife waiting for her husband to come home, but he never does. And her ache was so deep, some days she felt almost unable to bear it. But there was one thing she could always hold onto that woke her up in the morning and pulled her through the day.

“I know one thing is for sure: you brought me here. I know without a doubt that this is where I need to be. And I don’t know for how much longer I’m going to feel the way I do. Maybe this will never go away. But I don’t need to feel you to be your hands and feet in the world.”

She straightened her back and ended her monologue with the same petition she had spoken for years since coming to Manila:

“Give me grace for today, and it is enough.”

She quietly got up from the table and walked towards the door, giving one last look toward the place she was sitting, hoping that maybe she would get a glimpse of him after all.

She saw nothing.

God and Jean – Part 2 (Fiction)

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The woman walked into the café and up to the lady at the front podium. She was college-aged, with black curly hair that sat like the end of a mop on her head. It fell about halfway down her ear and was even all around, covering her face slightly.

“How many in your party?”

“Oh, it’s just me. I’m meeting someone here. but I don’t know what he looks like. ”

“Blind date?” she said, with a wry smile.

“You could call it that.”

God, who was sitting at a table by the window, started waving towards the woman at the podium.

“I think that might be your man,” she said looking over at him.

The woman remembered the description Tom gave her, and he seemed to be the only one in the room who fit it. So she tentatively walked over.

“Jean! I’m so glad to finally have met you, “said God.

“Hi. Me, too.”

She didn’t sound as sure as God did, but she sat down nonetheless. Things were getting serious with Tom, and she knew this meeting had to happen at some point. He was religious – and I mean really religious. He was going to Mass every day and would talk about abstract theological points that made almost no sense to her. But Tom was kind, and he actually cared about her and that was a welcome change from the guys she’d been with before. If getting coffee with this guy was what she had to do to keep him around a little longer, it wasn’t too much to ask.

They sat there awkwardly for a moment – God looking at her and smiling, and she kind of looking at him and kind of smiling, rocking back-and-forth a bit.

“How are you?” said God. “How are things with Tom?”

“They’re good. He’s a good man.”

“Yes, he’s a good man. Or at least he’s trying to be, and that’s all we can ask of anybody, right?”

“I suppose so.”

“How are you guys doing staying pure? Is he keeping his hands off you?”

“Yes, unfortunately.”

Jean realized immediately what she had just said. “Oh my God! I mean… shit, I just said ‘God.’.”

“Fantastic Jean,” she thought. “First five minutes and you’ve already managed to swear, take God’s name in vain, and let him know you wish Tom would just fornicate with you already.” This was not the impression she wanted to make with the Almighty. Her mind started wandering, and she began to think about what Tom would say after hearing how this conversation went. She imagined him telling her in that sanctimonious voice he pulled out whenever he started talking about the Bible that he felt like God wanted them to break up. But before she could think about it for too long, she noticed God shaking a bit in his chair.

He was actually laughing. “I am so glad Tom knows you.”

“Me? Why?”

“Tom knows a lot about doctrine, but he doesn’t know much about life. Head in the clouds, and feet nowhere near the ground.”

“I don’t know what Tom sees in me. I’m sure there are tons of girls at his Catholic college he could go for who would be better.”

“Well, to be honest, part of the reason he likes you so much is because you aren’t like all of the Catholic college girls. You are… looser – little more rebellious, and he kind of likes that.”

Jean smirked a bit.

God went on: “And that’s not a good thing.”

The smirk disappeared. Jean looked down and to the left, so that her hair entirely covered her eyes.

“But that’s not the main reason he likes you. Mostly, it’s all the little things about you that pull together and make you Jean. But I don’t want to talk about Tom the whole time. Tell me about yourself.”

Jean looked up, “What do you want to know?”

Everything.”

The way he said it – slow and deliberate – made her realize this conversation was going to be a confession, but she felt – after meeting him now and hearing him laugh and not scold her for her slip of the tongue – that God was not like Tom. Something in her told her that she was safe. So she resigned herself to the fact that God was no good at smalltalk and dove in.

“Everything… OK. But, please, could you keep this to yourself? Tom hasn’t heard everything about me yet. I’ll tell him, I promise. I just don’t know if we’ve been together long enough for him to handle my history. I am not ready to share all of this with him.”

“I understand. That’s fine. ”

She let out a deep sigh, collected her thoughts, and spoke, looking out the window.

“I grew up in LA. My mom was… amazing. She is kind, strong and everything I want to be. My dad was an asshole.”

“How so?”

“He was abusive. I remember him yelling a lot growing up.”

“Is he in your life now?”

Jean looked at him directly. “No, thank God. I mean, thank you. I haven’t talked to him in years, and he hasn’t made any attempt to contact me.”

“It must have made life really hard – him being like that. Were you happy growing up?”

“I guess. It’s not like he was bad every minute of every day. And when I got older, me and my friends could just get in the car and leave when he was.”

“What were your friends like?”

“Oh, you know how it is in high school… friends by happenstance, mostly. Pot probably bonded us together more than anything else, but a few of them stuck. One of them, Stacia, has a little boy and lives up in Oregon. I talk to her almost every week.”

“I guess more than pot bonded you together.”

“I guess so.” She smiled and got lost in memory.

“Tom told me you are going through the RCIA program.”

“Huh? Oh, oh yes, I am. ”

“How are you liking it? ”

“It’s all right.” she said in the most unconvincing way.

“So you are not liking it? ”

“No! I like it. It’s just hard to understand Deacon Mark. We were talking about Jesus dying on the cross last week, and he went on and on about the different theories of atonement. I don’t even know what ‘atonement’ means. I told one of the helpers afterwards, and she explained that it means you died for us so that we could go to heaven. I thought, well geez, why didn’t he just say that? ”

Jean started warming up and ran with it. “You know, Tom is the same way. He starts talking about some passage that correlates to the Greek in some other passage and I don’t know what to say. I feel stupid. ”

“Why don’t you tell him you don’t understand? Tell him to explain it better? ”

“And give him one more reason to dump me? I already know I can’t measure up to the good little Christian girls that go to his parish.”

“But he didn’t choose one of those Christian girls. He chose you. ”

This didn’t seem to cheer up Jean any. She sat there, looking down at a piece of string coming off her sweater that she was wrapping and unwrapping around her finger. She began to feel this meeting was a bad idea.

“Did you hear me, Jean? ”

“Yes, I heard you,” she said, still looking down at the fray on her sweater.

“And that doesn’t mean anything to you? ”

Jean gazed steadily at the man sitting across from her. “Do you really want the truth?”

“Of course. ”

“The reason Tom is still with me is because he doesn’t know me.”

“I know the boy. He’s not going to dump you because you don’t know Greek. ”

“No, it’s not that. I’ve done things.”

“Like what?”

Jean hesitated, and stared down again. “Why did I say that?” she thought. She wanted to open up, but she also didn’t. In her own heart, closed in, she was safe. No prying eyes. No gossiping old ladies. No catty friends who pretend they care and then rip you to shreds when you’re gone. She didn’t want to open herself up again – not in front of Tom, and certainly not in front of God. But she knew there was no other way to her boyfriend. And something about the person sitting across from her gently tugged at her. She could end the conversation now and remain safe and alone, or she could invite God into the space she had walled off.

Finally she spoke. “If Tom’s family and friends knew where I’ve been and what I’ve done, they would force him to break up with me. I’ve slept with I don’t know how many guys. And I’ve done harder drugs than pot, that’s for sure.”

Now, if she had been thinking more defensively, she might have stopped at this point. She knew how to tell just enough to people to give them an answer that satisfied them without actually answering their question. But telling God about herself – fissures and all – felt freeing. She knew he wouldn’t tell Tom, and if anyone ought to know her inside and out, she figured it might as well be God. So she didn’t end there, and what she said was something more like a stream of consciousness. To start from the beginning:
“If Tom’s family and friends knew where I’ve been and what I’ve done, they would force him to break up with me. I’ve slept with I don’t know how many guys, and i’ve done harder drugs than pot, that’s for sure. I’m still trying to get over them. I’ve been sober for a year now, but I still feel the urge. In high school, I was suicidal. I’m on meds now and I’ve got a good therapist, but… you know, when things get difficult, I can spiral down pretty quickly. I don’t want to get out of bed – sometimes I literally can’t. And I’m not easy to deal with, either. There were some old boyfriends I chose to leave because they were mean and cruel. Other guys left me because can be mean and cruel.”

She took a deep breath and let it out, and a tear started coming out one eye and down her cheek. It all sounded so much worse saying it out loud and in front of him. “You don’t have to tell me. I know I need to tell him all of this. I know I do. I just know what’s going to happen once I do, and I want to live in this fantasy a little while longer… the one where I’m a beautiful and innocent girl dating a good boy.”

She looked up, finally. She didn’t know what kind of reaction she might get from God. Perhaps he would scold her for not telling Tom all this sooner and leading his child down what was sure to be a path of sin. Perhaps he would ask her never to see him again. This all seemed both reasonable and inevitable to her. The relationship would end with a whimper. And she would retreat to her life – a place that was messy, but at least it was her mess, and only her mess.

“Jean, I want you to really listen to me.”

She wiped her eye, and pulled back the hair from her face. When God knew he had her attention, he gave his verdict:

“Tom is going to ask you to marry him. And I want you to say, ‘yes’.”

At hearing this, Jean shuddered. Shock and fear shot through her body.

“Oh no…. oh no oh no oh no…. You can’t be serious.”

“I am. Completely.”

“I was thinking of a fantasy somewhere between him dumping me and actual marriage. Not the whole marriage thing. I don’t know if I’m ready for that!”

“Do you love him?”

“Yes, of course I do!”

“And he loves you.”

“But, Lord, no. I mean, I’m not good for him.” She tried feverishly to figure out why this conversation suddenly took a wrong turn. “Yes, ok, I know what to do now: I’m going to tell him all about me, and he’ll see it’s completely foolish. I’m sorry… you’ve got me. I see now. He needs to know, and when he knows, he’ll do the right thing and let me go.”

“No, that’s not what I said. I said Tom is going to ask you to marry him, and I want you to say ‘yes’. And there’s no use in telling him what you told me about yourself. It’s not going to change his mind.”

“How? I’ll be descriptive! I’ll paint the most horrible picture of myself!”

“That will only make it worse. I told you, Tom knows his doctrine. And he’s also a hopeless romantic. It’s a potent combination. In an absurdly generous and tragic overture of love, I gave myself for humanity. Tom will only take your confession as a sign that he should do the same for you.”

“But he won’t know what he’s getting into! I’m his first real girlfriend. He’s infatuated. He doesn’t understand what living with a depressed person really means.”

“You’re right. He has no way of knowing where life will take him if he ties himself to someone who can barely do anything when she’s in the throws of another episode. He has no clue what it’s like trying to love a woman who’s grown up with abuse. And you have no idea what it’s like living with a pompous arm-chair theologian who will learn only by the sweat of his brow to talk like a normal person. Nor do you understand the multitude of ways he will let you down. And that’s the point.”

The conversation was getting more confusing by the second for Jean. “I don’t understand.”

“Love is beautiful. It can comfort you and care for you. But love, if it means anything, is always tragic. His burdens will become your own and yours his. And even in the best of circumstances, someone will die in the end. There is no way for any two people to know what mix of beauty and tragedy they’re going to get. That’s what makes the decision to dive in actually love.”

“I don’t deserve him.”

“Which makes the gift all the more sweet.”

Jean was still visibly distraught. Her life before Tom was crazy, but it was a crazy she knew how to live with. When the storm is all you know, the storm is home and the calm is the adventure.

“I could still say ‘no’,” said Jean.

The conversation lapsed into silence. Jean knew what God wanted. And she knew it couldn’t be done. Tornadoes are only good at destroying things, and she was a tornado – fun to see from a healthy distance, but terrifying the closer you get.

God leaned forward, resting his folded arms on the table between them.

“Let me describe two scenarios, and you tell me what you think. Scenario 1: Tom asks you to marry him, and you say ‘no.’ He walks away from the difficult conversation and you stay friends for awhile, but slowly lose touch. He goes on to marry some girl who’s nice, but doesn’t touch him the way you did – doesn’t feel like his closest friend, someone he feels like he’s known since diapers, even though he’d only met her a few months ago. You, for your part, go on alone for years because on the one hand, you still can’t bring yourself to say ‘yes’ to a guy like Tom, but on the other, he’s spoiled you and you can’t put up with the guys you used to. You’re caught in limbo for years until you settle, too.
“That’s scenario 1. Scenario 2 goes like this: Tom asks you to marry him, and you say ‘yes.’ The first few months go by and both of you realize there’s a lot more baggage to deal with than either of you thought – more baggage than most couples have to deal with. But Tom sticks it out because he’s so self-righteous, and you stick it out because you’re pregnant and you don’t know what else you’re going to do. And slowly, painfully, Tom actually turns into the chivalrous, heroic man he always wanted to be, but grounded by his dear wife, and you turn into the kind, strong woman your mother was, only more so. You become the good, innocent girl you always dreamed of being. You become a saint.
One scenario is safe and boring. The other is dangerous and full of life. Which would you rather have?”

Jean didn’t know which she would rather have. God hadn’t made the decision any easier for her. But that was the point. He didn’t want to tell her what to do. He wanted her to see all the terror, beauty, and consequence of each path. She sat with her thoughts for a minute, staring at the table. She was scared, but for the first time in a long time, she felt something new: excitement. Excitement that she could really have a new life, not just with Tom, but with God as well. She imagined herself getting married, having kids, and it frightened her. But then she remembered that it would be Tom she was marrying, and Tom with whom these kids would be coming, and a peace filled her heart.

And so, with a sigh, and a roll of the eyes, she said, very unconvincingly, “I guess I’m getting married.”

God and Tom – Part 1 (Fiction)

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This blog is kind of my playground to try different things. This is the first real bit of fiction I’ve posted ever. Let me know what you think if you have an opinion and help me be a better writer. 

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Tom walked into the café and saw God sitting across the room. He approached the quiet, bearded and be-speckled man, and flashed him the kind of wide smile salesmen give you before trying to sell you a vacuum. He shook God’s hand and then proceeded to take his seat on the other side of the little round table that separated them.

“I’m glad you came,” said God.

“Of course! I’m not going to skip a meal with the big man himself,” he said, still smiling.

“I know how busy life is right now. This means a lot to me.”

“Sure.”

God looked down at his notes for a moment, and then kept talking: “I have things I want to talk about, but first, how are you doing? How is life going for you?”

“It’s going great! Never been better. I’m getting more involved in youth ministry, reaching out to the young kids in our parish. I don’t know if you noticed, but a parent who is also helping out in the ministry, complimented me on how moving my talk was the other night. ”

“Yes, I remember that talk. ”

“I feel so fulfilled doing that kind of thing. Like I’m really making an impact.”

Tom’s pace was almost breathless. The words came in quick succession, one right after the other, as though rehearsed.

“How is your family? How are Jean and the kids?”

“It’s… it’s difficult. But we’re doing ok. I think Jean and I have an understanding. We’ve come to accept each other as we are, you know? Not as we want each other to be.”

“That can be good.”

“Yeah… yeah, I think it can. So why did you bring me here?”

At the question, God looked into Tom’s eyes and hesitated for a moment, weighing something in his mind, back and forth.

“I asked you here because of something I’ve been worried about with you.”
Tom shifted in his chair a bit.

“Worried about? What could there be to worry about? Are you ‘firing’ me?”

“No! No, of course not. I know you mean well with everything you’re doing. But… how do I say this?”

God tilted his head slightly, weighing again his thoughts, and then settled on it:
“I don’t think any of this means anything to you.”

Tom was confused. “What do you mean?”

“I mean this whole…. this whole Christian game you’re playing isn’t getting us anywhere. And I’m worried about you.”

“I don’t understand what you’re getting at,” he said slowly, with a quizzical look. “What game? You think this is a game to me?”

God, with a kind of resignation, nodded his head.

Tom leaned forward in his chair. “I grew up in a Christian home. I’m involved in ministry. I’m faithful to my wife despite everything that’s happened. And you’re telling me I’m just playing a game?”

God sighed softly, “Tom, why are you doing all of this? Why the ministry? Why the faithfulness, not just to your wife, but to all of this?”

Tom sat back in his chair. “I do what I do because I’m a Christian. I do it because it’s what you want me to do. It’s what I’m supposed to do.”

“Are you sure about that?”

“Yes. Of course, I am. I do all of this for you.”

“When did I tell you to get into youth ministry?”

Tom was silent in thought. He looked out the window, trying to remember.
God went on: “In your haste to do what I wanted you to do, did you ever ask me if that was what I actually wanted you to do?”

“You must obviously want it, don’t you? I mean, it’s a good Christian thing to do.”

“It also takes you away from your family more than you already are. You have a busy job, working into the evenings, and now you’re taking another day away from them. Why in the world would I want you to dive into another ministry when you already have one back at home waiting for you?”

At this, Tom gently placed his hands on the table, staring at them. Visibly crest-fallen, he looked out the window and spoke calmly and evenly. “I’ll leave the youth ministry then. I’m sure they can find someone else.”

“Yes, they can and they will. I’ll make sure of that.”

Tom made to get up, but God grabbed his hand. “Please, there’s more I wanted to discuss.”

He gave an impatient glance. “Look, I told you I would do what you want me to do. What more is there to talk about?”

“I didn’t bring you here to just tell you what to do.”

“Oh, I forgot. You want to talk about how my entire spirituality is a joke,” Tom said sarcastically. “That means so much more knowing it’s coming from you.”

“I didn’t say that because I’ve given up on you. But you’ve missed something absolutely essential, and you can’t seem to figure out what it is even when it’s staring you in the face.”

“You know, I thought you had brought me here to give me a promotion. To pat me on the back for all my effort – maybe answer prayers I’ve been sending your way to heal Jean. Her disease isn’t just a burden on her. It’s a burden on all of us. Or to maybe help Gracie cheer up a bit. She’s going through this horrible teenage phase where she hates literally everything. I thought you might have seen my hard work and would listen to me.”

God looked down at his clip-board full of papers and leafed through them. “I’ve heard you,” he said, as he scanned his notes. “Yeah… no, it can’t be done. Your wife’s illness is causing spiritual growth in you – and really your entire family – unlike anything you’ve experienced before. I don’t see this Cross going away for at least another decade. You’re much further than you were even two years ago.”

“What?! A decade? This will go on for years?”

Tom got up from his chair and paced in the small space between his table and the one next to him. “I… I don’t know what to say…. I thought… I thought that there was some kind of exchange here. I give myself to you and you bless my life. I’ve been putting a lot of extra hours into this job. Where the Hell is the blessing?!”

“What?” said God in disbelief. “What are you talking about? You think this is some kind of business transaction between you and me? You scratch my back, and I scratch yours?”

Tom was silent.

“Please, sit down.”

Tom took his seat again.

“Listen. Let me cut to the point: for all the years you’ve tried to follow me, I have been happy to have you, and please, know that your reward is safe and sound. I know how hard especially these last few years have been. I know the struggle you’ve been going through. But you don’t love me. And you don’t love the kids in your youth group. And you don’t love your family – certainly not Jean. At least not anymore.”

“Love is action,” Tom retorted. “I’m around. Doesn’t that mean anything? I do things. I do good things. I do them because you tell me to. Why isn’t that enough?”

“Action can be legalism, too. Without love, what you do means nothing.”

Tom let the words sink in. Nothing. It all meant nothing.

God continued: “You know as well as I do that you took on that ministry because you didn’t want to be home. You were not running to responsibilities. You were running away from them. Tom the father gets yelled at. Tom the husband isn’t enough for his wife. But Tom the youth leader gets complimented on being so smart and so Spirit-filled. And don’t think I don’t know who it is that compliments you.”

At this, Tom blushed a little. His fingers fidgeted in his lap and he stared at the button on God’s shirt.

“Where has your heart been, Tom?”

“You don’t understand,” he replied, seething behind his tightened face. “And I’ve done nothing wrong. I know guys in my parish who watch porn on a weekly basis and can’t kick the habit. Getting on my case about Sherry is unfair.”

“Is it? I ask again: where is your heart?”

He asked with such a tender demeanor. His eyes weren’t angry. They were pleading. And Tom melted. Just a little.

“You don’t know what it’s like. I’m not attracted to Sherry. It’s not like we’ve done anything behind the scenes. But to talk to someone, to a woman, who is just… happy. I can pretend, for a moment, that I don’t have the life I have now. I can get for once instead of constantly having to be the one who gives.”

“I was always here for you to talk to. Why didn’t you talk to me?”

“I did! I asked you all the time to help me out!”

“Not like this. You never confessed this sin to me.”

“Sin?” Tom was infuriated again. “Seriously, why are you picking on me about this? You have a million prodigal sons out there doing shit way worse than anything I’ve done, or would ever do. And you ask me to meet you here so you can tell me I’ve sinned for daydreaming a little?”

“I’m not downplaying what anyone else does. But that’s not your concern. I’m here to talk about you. We need to deal with this. You’ve been letting your heart get carried away from the places it needs to return to: to your wife and children. To me.”

“It’s not that big a deal. I’m your best worker. I do everything you tell me to. My mind wanders sometimes. Why should it matter so much?”

God stared intently at Tom. “You don’t get it, do you.”

“Don’t get what?”

“If the only person to ever sin was you, and the only sin you committed was this daydreaming, as you call it, I would have still had to come down to earth and die on a cross to save you. That’s how bad sin is – even the small ones.”

As his words sank deeper into Tom, he could feel himself recoiling. The words began to push deeper and deeper into him and he tried to run from them, further and further away. But soon, he couldn’t bring himself to even look up.

“Is that really the way it is?” Tom asked.

“You know it is.”

Resolve began to build in his heart. “I’ll pay you back. I’ll figure out some way to make it up to you.”

“You can’t. Your sin means my brutal death on a Cross. My death means your eternal life. How are you going to repay that?”

“I just…. I don’t know. But I’ll try.”

“I don’t want you to try. I want you to believe that I love you. I want you to accept my forgiveness. And I want you to submit yourself to this process I started in you, years ago, when you were baptized.”

Tom didn’t hear his words. His mind went racing and the dots began connecting in his mind. “This is too much for you to give. This is far, far too much. What do you get out of this? What could your motive possibly be to do all this for me?”

God replied quietly, almost silently: “I get you. I get your heart. I get a relationship with you.”

This last statement frightened Tom more than anything God had said. He knew what “relationship” meant. It meant a quagmire you couldn’t get out of. It meant he was forever in God’s debt – not in a financial sense, a kind of indentured servitude. That he could deal with. But this? He knew all too well where this was going.

“Look,” Tom said, his voice quivering just slightly, “I give you nearly everything I have. I give you my obedience. I give you my 10% in the collection plate. I do whatever you ask me to do. And please, don’t get me wrong: I appreciate what you’ve done. The job is great! I come to Mass each week and feel warm and supported. I get that spiritual high that pulls me through the week. And you’ve been a great help to Jean. But I think there are some healthy boundaries that need to be drawn here. I mean, we have a good working relationship. I don’t see why we need to rock this boat.”

They sat in silence for almost a minute. Tom’s eyes were the ones pleading now – waiting, hoping for some positive response.

Then God finally spoke: “I knew a boy once no older than ten, who wept in his room, telling me he wanted to give everything to me for the love I had given him.”

Tom relaxed just slightly. His face, tightened and stressed till now, began to soften. He stared off again, holding in his hands the weight of what God was asking.

“That boy was naive,” said Tom.

The two sat in silence again – Tom staring at the table and God gazing on him. God’s face took on a desperate look. Words formed on his tongue, wanting to be spoken, wanting to pull Tom in. If only….. But he let go of them, returning them to a place in his heart Tom would never see.

“Is that how you want this to be?” God asked.

Tom looked up again and his face quickly formed the same smile he walked in with.”I think that would be best for everybody.”

“Thank you for meeting with me,” God said, extending his hand.

Tom shook it and stood up. “You have a good morning, now.”

God nodded his head, and Tom left a little more quickly than he came in.

The waiter at the café walked up and stood next to God, watching as Tom exited.

“That man is going to have a lot to deal with in purgatory,” he said.

“Yes,” replied God. “If he ever gets there.”

An Insightful Comic

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I stumbled on this site of an insightful comic writer, and was really touched by this particular one he put up. All his stuff is interesting, but this one is about how we run to sin often because it’s the only thing feel soothes our hurts, and we need to keep that in mind as we tell people to “just get over it” or “just let it go.” Check it out here:

https://nickelboygraphics.wordpress.com/2017/02/24/its-not-about-giving-up-teddy-bears/

Why Catholic?: Big Encounters

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I grew up in a Christian home, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t questioned God. In fact, probably most kids who grew up in a Christian home have questioned their faith, and a very large portion of them have decided to leave it. I remember asking a friend in community college (who had also grown up in a Christian home) whether she had ever doubted God. She blissfully responded that she never had, and I thought, “Wow… people like you exist.” I couldn’t relate…. not in the least.

College is probably when most kids start questioning the faith they grew up with – or any cultural beliefs they grew up with. And I was no exception. I felt like so many voices were calling to me from every side, claiming to be the truth. I remember days when I felt like all I had to offer God was my doubt. What He did with it, if He was even there, was His business because I knew I couldn’t bring myself any further than that.

But what touched me more than anything – what kept me a Christian – were miracle stories. And, again, this is the point at which I feel the eye-rolling on the other side of the screen. But, well… yeah, miracles. And specifically the miracles that came into the life of George Müller.

George Müller was a pastor in Bristol, England in the 1800’s. And he had a dilemma: he tried to preach about how people ought to be moral and put their faith in God, but he would hear from men in the business world that, however much they would like to be meek and mild like Jesus was, it just wasn’t practical. If they wanted to get ahead or keep their companies afloat, they said they had to cut corners. They had to be cut-throat.

Tired of hearing this, he prayed about it and decided the most reasonable thing to do was start an orphanage. But he didn’t just start an orphanage. He started it and maintained it the rest of his life without asking anyone for money and never even telling anyone the needs of the institution, aside from his fellow workers. Instead, what he and his staff did was essentially pray the place into existence.

In his autobiography, he recorded one circumstance after another in which, at just the right time, food or supplies were provided. A baker in town woke up in the night and told his workers to bake bread for the children at the orphanage because he couldn’t fall asleep otherwise. A milk wagon broke down right in front of the orphanage, and the man told Müller, “You might as well take it all, otherwise it will spoil.” There were years they were going hand to mouth, but the children never had to wait more than a half an hour for any meal in all the years it was running. By the end of his own life, Müller had cared for over 10,000 orphans and established 117 schools which gave a Christian education to around 120,000 children.

I suppose Müller’s story hits me so hard because one of the hardest things for me to trust God with is money. I’ve continually wondered if He’d really take care of us. We’re in a much better place now as far as finances go, but for years, it wasn’t that way. And it’s one thing when you’re a bachelor who can live in a studio apartment, and survive off of coffee, ramen noodles, and Netflix. But when your wife and three little lives are depending on you, you start biting your nails. I’ve constantly had to remind myself that Jesus promised to give us our daily bread – not monthly bread, or yearly bread, or lifetime supply of bread.

God finds all sorts of avenues to people’s hearts. This was the avenue to mine. I had days when I didn’t feel God’s presence. I had days when nothing about being a Christian made sense and it would have been easy to chuck it. But then there was George Müller. Maybe I could explain an invisible deity away as fiction, but how was I going to explain away a real man who died only recently, who wrote an autobiography anyone can read who’s organization still exists today functioning the same way it always has: on prayer?

Take his story and multiply it by thousands and you have the lives of the Catholic saints – both ancient and much more recent. Müller’s story isn’t even the most extravagant – even among the more contemporary tales. I could go through so many of them in this post, but I wanted to zero in on this one because it’s the one that touched me when I most needed it to. Which is kind of the point of a miracle, or any encounter with God. It’s a moment when God comes down and touches your life. It’s not just that they show us that there is a God. It’s not just that they show us that God has some cosmic plan for our lives. It’s that they show us that God actually cares. He’s involved. He has a deep interest in making sure we’re going to be ok. As Jesus said,

“Are not two sparrows sold for a small coin? Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father’s knowledge. Even all the hairs of your head are counted. So do not be afraid. You are worth more than many sparrows.” (Matt. 10:29-31)

In other words, God loves us.