Above One’s Paid Grade

A review that proves everyone is not an expert on spiritual or metaphysical matters. In fact, some of us don’t even ask the right questions. “Hitchens has solved, he thinks, some of the deepest problems in metaphysics and the philosophy of religion—or, at least, he would say he had if he realized that there were deep problems at stake here,” writes Robert Miller in First Things.

Viking blood

Gave blood after work tonight. The venue was the VFW post in Golden Valley, where they’re broadminded enough to accept slightly-less-red blood from non-veterans like me. They also serve sloppy joes (although the sandwiches are smaller now than they used to be. On the other hand, they’re free).

They were busy tonight, so it took longer than I’m used to. Also my draining was delayed when a lady got poked wrong, and they had to summon all hands to apply pressure, cauterize, mop up blood spill, lie to the press, etc.

On the other hand, I got the cute young female tech. I gave her a piece of advice, as an old veteran blood donor—“Bear down with that Betadine swab. When you use pressure, it doesn’t tickle.”

She did not thank me. On the other hand, she didn’t allow me to bleed to death, so it all works out.

Something has been changed every time I give blood. This time they gave us brightly colored plastic balls to roll in our hands to promote blood flow, instead of the pieces of plastic tubing they used to use. I’m not sure if that’s an improvement or not. I’ll have to ponder the positives and negatives before I come to a final conclusion. By which time they’ll have switched to Beanie Babies or something.

No post from me tomorrow, I’m afraid. I’m driving down to Elk Horn, Iowa, again, for the Tivoli Festival. The Danes of Elk Horn have invested in building a genuine Viking house next to their landmark windmill, and I’ve been granted the privilege of sleeping in it.

Also I’ll get to bash and be bashed, which is usually good for my mental health.

If you’ve been reading my posts for a while, you’ve probably guessed I could use some bashing.

I’ll give a full report when I get back. Assuming I do. Maybe pictures too.

It’s not raining wisdom

We’ve been having a dry spell, but that broke today, in the sense that Scotch Highland bulls break china in shops and politicians break promises not to raise taxes.

It had been cloudy for a couple days, but showers had been spotty. So today didn’t look like much of a change. As the day wore on, though, the sky darkened and lowered (that’s not “lowered” as in “got lower,” but “lowered” as in Longfellow’s “…when night is beginning to lower.” It rhymes with “flower”). The darker it got, the more you expected it to be raining when you checked out the window, and the more you were surprised that it wasn’t yet. Obviously a lot of potential energy was building up. You began to expect a plague of frogs or something.

Then the rain came all at once, gusting in on a billow of wind. It rained hard, and then it hailed for a while. The hail stopped but the rain went on.

My African library assistant seemed frightened by the whole thing. I’d had the idea that they get pretty severe weather back where he comes from, but it all seemed new to him.

Which doesn’t have anything at all to do with my subject for today’s post.

I was thinking about being young, and trying to be wise (I know I’m far removed from being young, but I can remember that far back. Also I’m remarkably immature. And I didn’t say “being wise.” I said “trying to be wise”).

I often wonder about the value of sharing wisdom with young people. We all try to do it. It seems a waste to go through all the hard learning experiences we’ve had, if we can’t pass that experience on to the young.

The problem, it seems to me, is that wisdom is a thing you can’t really share.

You heard your elders give you the same advice you want to pass on now, didn’t you, once long ago? Did it help?

Of course not. Because the maxims and bromides and proverbs and aphorisms never mean anything until you’ve bumped up against life and gotten some bruises. Touched a few hot stoves and gotten burned.

It’s only then—only after a few bruises and burns have been collected, that the sayings of your elders suddenly start to make sense.

When I was a kid I made a conscious effort to follow the advice I heard from old people. I did this because I was more cowardly than most people my age, and I wanted any excuse I could wangle to avoid taking risks.

And it didn’t work. I had the words right, but the music was wrong. Wisdom only operates, it seems, in those who are inclined to act foolishly in the first place. For the cautious and prudent, like me, the rules turn out to be kind of counterproductive.

The moral? Go ahead. Tell the kids not to play in the street.

But be prepared to see them get hit by cars anyway.

The consolation is that the survivors will probably listen.

Irony defined

I can’t find a reference in The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, Vol. III right now, but in a couple of the letters Lewis expresses his deep dislike for the “modern” fashion of printing book titles sideways on book spines, so that you have to tilt your head to read them on the shelves.

He likes his titles printed so they’ll read horizontally, straight across.

The current volume of this series features a spine over 2 ½ inches wide. If they’d called the book The Collected and Edited Letters of the Immortal Clive Staples Lewis, Copiously Annotated and Furnished With Supplements Containing Previously Unknown Letters As Well As the Entire Body of the “Great War” Correspondence With His Friend Owen Barfield, they still could have almost fit that title in one line across such a massive spine.

But they print the title sideways, so you have to tilt your head to read it on the shelf.

“There’s glory for you,” as Humpty Dumpty would say. Even if you’re C. S. Lewis, world renowned and up on a pedestal only a little below St. Paul’s level in the eyes of many Christians, you still can’t get a publisher to print your covers the way you want them to.

It seems so simple when I explain it to me that way!

I continue live-blogging my reading of Vol. 3 of The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis.

Just went through the year (1960) when Lewis’ wife, Joy Davidman, dies. One of the most poignant things about this part of the book is the fact that Lewis keeps up his mountainous correspondence almost without a break.

It makes you wonder about the people who wrote to him (especially Mary Willis Shelburne, the “American Lady” of Letters to an American Lady, the quality of whose letters you can only guess based on his replies. But she apparently thought of him as her personal unpaid counselor, a man with nothing in the world to do but advise her on how to pay her bills and get along with her daughter). One thinks of that poor man, himself in bad health, who had for years considered his personal correspondence a sort of hairshirt that he bore for the love of Christ, pushing his arthritic hand across the paper just as he always had, even with his heart broken.

If I’d been in his place, I’m pretty sure I’d have said, “I deserve some personal freedom just now.” I’d have sent form letters to all but my real friends, and I’d have assumed that the real friends would understand a period of silence.

The first letter in the book after Joy’s funeral is one to a lady in Fairbanks, Alaska (not Mrs. Shelburne). She has asked about something Lewis wrote in The Problem of Pain about God’s compassion. She apparently has some trouble reconciling the doctrine of God’s impassivity (the fact that he has no emotions in the human sense) with the biblical picture of God as being loving, angry, jealous, etc.

Lewis’ answer is somewhat philosophical, talking about how God is essentially a Mystery, whom we can never comprehend.

This is true. But I’m going to make so bold as to offer a (partial) explanation. Needless to say, if it’s true someone has doubtless said it before, and you’re free to tell me about it. If it’s original, I’m probably wrong.

But here’s how I see it.

We’re handicapped in thinking about God by the fact that we are singular beings who live in time, while He is a Trinitarian Being who dwells in eternity.

In other words, it seems to me, we can’t understand how someone can be unchanging and yet have emotions, because for us emotions always involve change.

But God is capable of being both loving and angry at the same time. (And when I say “at the same time, I’m obviously speaking from our point of view. From God’s point of view the statement is meaningless.) He has always been loving, and He has always been angry (at the perversion of His creation we call evil; in fact His anger is just a facet of His love). He doesn’t have to switch from one to another. It’s all eternally present with Him.

So now I’ve settled it for you.

You may thank me by buying my books.

I’ll even answer letters, in moderation.

Religious Persecution American Style

An astronomy professor suggests a supreme being may be the first cause of the universe and a religious studies professor circulates a petition to denounce him. The religion guy (with popular opinion) tells the astronomy guy he’s wrong? It reminds me of a line from a British sit-com. “You know I’m right, because you’ve resorted to slander.”

Sometimes I get the impression that on the subject of god, everyone is considered an expert.

Book Reviews, Creative Culture