Friday, February 20, 2009

Learning from Lewis & Lincoln

I have been reading bits about C. S. Lewis's life from Alan Jacobs excellent biography, The Narnian and excerpts from Lincoln's letters and speeches in Philip L. Ostergard's The Inspired Wisdom of Abraham Lincoln.

Both Lincoln and Lewis were raised within the Christian faith, went to skepticism in their teens and early twenties, only to come to believe later in life. Both suffered the loss of their mother at an early age. Both had seen the horrors of war and served in the military.

In both cases, these men have reached almost sainthood, being glorified after their death in ways they were not within their lives. In both cases, they were regarded as evil, promoting perverseness and even rejected by their peers, again and again.

Lincoln was attacked by radical abolitionists as well as slave owners. He performed the most amazing act in the history of America, overruling civil liberties in a time of Civil War only to graciously restore them at its conclusion. He cited Christian principles of forgiveness, quoted the Bible extensively and used its wisdom to answer his most difficult situations.
When beginning his inaugural journey from Springfield to Washington, Lincoln said "Without the assistance of that Divine Being, who ever attended [George Washington], I cannot succeed. With that assistance I cannot fail."

- The Inspired Wisdom of Abraham Lincoln, Ostergard, p. 242

Now C. S. Lewis has been over-quoted, but I see why: he is so accessible and did us myth-lovers so much service, that with one cut of his incisive words, he clears the foolishly romantic of some very muddled thinking and replaces it with something just as strong and mythical. He takes away cheap plastic well-wishing Christianity that capitulates before worldliness and inserts golden, strong, active Christian life of mind, heart and spirit. Lincoln upbraided Douglas for twisting words to mean whatever he wanted them to mean. Lewis did the same, constantly.

So I've been thinking about Christian leadership and its cost - the way the world twists and corrupts meanings and how many people think they know Christianity because they went to church or seminary or lived in a Christian home for part of their life. Many think Christianity is primarily a set of "Do"s and "Don't"s. It is rather a spiritual relationship between a sinner who would be a saint and a God who desires the same. Like anything, it does not matter how good or bad you are at it when you begin. It is the end product that matters.

Chesterton, who was famous for his witticisms and quips - the "Mark Twain" of Christian thought if you will - once said "Christianity has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult and left untried."

Evey time I desire to quit the Christian life or hear of another saying how they gave it up, I am reminded of two things:
1) "Anything worth doing is worth doing badly", as Chesterton said. And when asked what was so different about Christianity from other world religions, Lewis promptly replied "Oh - that's easy. Grace!" So I admit I will be and must be a rather bad Christian since I a) have no merit and b) joined a club that will have me as its member (cf. Groucho Marx).

2) There is no place to go that I want to go without Christ. I liked the man from Galilee so much I got close to Him and even put up with his uppity holier-than-thou people so I could hear more about Him. Let me tell you - the second I found out that my liberal-minded self-righteousness was merely a thin veneer of envy, I was too stunned for words. I thought I was doing them a favor by attending services. It was the other way round.

Does God chose to save some and not others? I think He chooses to reveal the same facts to all. But I do know this: I was chosen because I was incompetent. My faith was a downright gift.

Election means God elects you. As C. S. Lewis and Abe Lincoln found out, we mere mortals cannot escape that Divine Hunter if He comes after us.

Men who have seen blood and death wrought by the hands of other men begin to understand that this world cannot be our home, that the only "safe place" must be out of this world.

Lewis taught that. Lincoln expressed it, again and again. Lincoln's last words were "How I would like to see Jerusalem!" Skeptics claim that was added later, but it would have been in line with all he wrote and the oft-told tales of his uncanny premonitional ability.

A week ago we celebrated Lincoln's 200th birthday. Because of the way his life ended, I firmly believe he is dining in heaven with Christ, along with Lewis.

I don't know about you, but I can't wait to see THAT seating arrangement! A black haired, big-bellied Ulster Irishman joking with a tall wiry frontiersman. Man, wouldn't that be a sight to behold?

"As they say in the States, 'funny meeting you here'!"

"Jack - the Divine Comedy only permitted us to meet here! And you are well aware of that fact!"

"I will laugh all the same!"



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