Hi I am Marie, a military veteran; church musician. Active Lutheran and Conservative Christian; A blend of original and existing poetry (from literature & straight from the Bible) that speaks the Christian message through the idioms of nature.
This Fourth of July month, when Americans especially focus on patriotism, is a good time to look at the writings of celebrated Christian (though British) author, C.S. Lewis. Lewis fought in World War I, then saw the tragedies that befell Europe as a result of Nazism World War II. In fact, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the first book of The Chronicles of Narnia, opens with the Pevensie children being sent to the English countryside to get away from the bombing of London.
Clearly, Lewis knew about the need to fight countries that are committing graver evils than one's own country. Yet Lewis was no fanatic about patriotism. He shows some shadings, some caution about earthly citizenship and a great deal of clarity about our higher citizenship being in heaven. I, myself, rejoice in the many blessings of being an American. But I am always concerned when people want to muddle my heavenly citizenship with my American citizenship. So this month, I will bring forth some ideas and cautions of C.S. Lewis about patriotism.
In a letter dated May 25, 1951, Lewis wrote: “I think love for one’s country means chiefly love for people who have a good deal in common with oneself (language, clothes, institutions) and in that is very like love of one’s family or school: or like love (in a strange place) for anyone who once lived in one’s home town.” Lewis keeps in mind on the higher matter of our citizenship being in heaven. He went on say: “And it is good, because any natural help towards our spiritual duty of loving is good and God seems to build our higher loves round our merely natural impulses — sex, maternity, kinship, old acquaintance etc.” Lewis' 1960 book, The Four Loves, grew out of some 1958 radio talks. The book tucksthe subject of patriotism into the chapter, "Likings and Loves for the Sub-human." [The actual four loves are affection, friendship, eros/romantic love and agape/charity.] So we see right off that he is cautious about patriotism as a primary motivation. He is generally cautious about elevating any of the human loves too high: “We may give our human loves the unconditional allegiance which we owe only to God. They become gods: then they become demons. Then they will destroy us, and also destroy themselves. Human loves that are allowed to become gods do not remain loves. They are still called so, but can become in fact complicated forms of hatred.” Lewis divides patriotism into four "ingredients" or "layers."
First, there is love of home, of the place we grew up in or the places, perhaps many, which have been our homes; and of all places fairly near these and fairly like them; love of old acquaintances, of familiar sights, sounds and smells. Of course, patriotism of this kind is not in the least aggressive. It asks only to be let alone. It becomes militant only to protect what it loves. In any mind which has a pennyworth of imagination, it produces a good attitude towards foreigners. How can I love my home without coming to realize that other men, no less rightly, love theirs? Once you have realized that the Frenchmen like café complet just as we like bacon and eggs why, good luck to them and let them have it. The last thing we want is to make everywhere else just like our own home. It would not be home unless it were different...
With this love for the place, there goes a love for the way of life; for beer and tea and open fires, trains with compartments in them and an unarmed police force and all the rest of it; for the local dialect and (a shade less) for our native language...As [theologian G.K.] Chesterton says, a man’s reasons for not wanting his country to be ruled by foreigners are very like his reasons for not wanting his house to be burned down; because he "could not even begin" to enumerate all the things he would miss.
"The second ingredient" of patriotism, Lewis writes, "is a particular attitude to our country’s past. I mean to that past as it lives in popular imagination; the great deeds of our ancestors. … This feeling has not quite such good credentials as the sheer love of home. The actual history of every country is full of shabby and even shameful doings." Those great stories that live on in our imagination can anchor us and also, "impose an obligation and to hold out an assurance." Lewis says it’s, "possible to be strengthened by the image of the past without being either deceived or puffed up."
America has her myths: Paul Revere’s ride, peaceful cooperation with Native Americans, the Christianity of many of our Founding Fathers. Some of these myths may have some truth to them, but none tell the whole story, the "shabby and shameful" parts. Any country’s history is dotted with good and smeared with evil. Yet Still, he warns: "What does seem to me poisonous, what breeds a type of patriotism that is pernicious if it lasts but not likely to last long in an educated adult, is the perfectly serious indoctrination of the young in knowably false or biased history—the heroic legend drably disguised as text-book fact. With this creeps in the tacit assumption that other nations have not equally their heroes; perhaps even the belief—surely it is very bad biology—that we can literally 'inherit' a tradition." "The third thing", or strand of patriotism is probably the most recognized. Lewis calls it, “a firm, even prosaic belief that our own nation, in sober fact, has long been, and still is markedly superior to all others.” This is certainly a form of patriotism that can steer us wrong over time, so to lose our judgment.
I once ventured to say to an old clergyman who was voicing this sort of patriotism, “But, sir, aren’t we told that every people thinks its own men the bravest and its own women the fairest in the world?” He replied with total gravity he could not have been graver if he had been saying the Creed at the altar “Yes, but in England it’s true.” To be sure, this conviction had not made my friend (God rest his soul) a villain; only an extremely lovable old ass. It can, however, produce asses that kick and bite. On the lunatic fringe, it may shade off into that popular racialism which Christianity and science equally forbid....If our nation is really so much better than others it may be held to have either the duties or the rights of a superior being towards them...If our nation is really so much better than others it may be held to have either the duties or the rights of a superior being towards them. In the nineteenth century the English became very conscious of such duties: the "white man's burden." What we called natives were our wards and we their self-appointed guardians...our habit of talking as if England's motives for acquiring an empire...had been mainly altruistic nauseated the world. And yet this showed the sense of superiority working at its best. Some nations who have also felt it have stressed the rights, not the duties...to them, some foreigners were so bad that one had the right to exterminate them. Others, fitted only to be hewers of wood and drawers of water to the chosen people, had better be made to get on with their hewing and drawing. He writes of broken treaties with Native Americans, extermination of Australian aborigines, Apartheid in South Africa and Nazi gas-chambers. “On the lunatic fringe it may shade off into that popular Racialism which Christianity and science equally forbid...” Ignoring the achievements and perspectives of other nations and cultures can lead to a sense of superiority that justifies the mistreatment and exploitation of others. There's a point at which patriotism can even breed lawlessness, the fourth ingredient. "When natural loves become lawless," Lewis writes, "they do not merely do harm to other loves; they themselves cease to be the loves they were--to be loves at all." "We know now that this love becomes a demon when it becomes a god." In this fourth aspect, patriotism can have the ingredient of alleged "duty" toward other countries, but from a position of power, not out of kindness. Patriotism reaching this demonic form unconsciously denies patriotism itself. “No man,” said one of the Greeks, “loves his city because it is great, but because it is his,” A man who really loves his country will love her in her ruin and degeneration “England, with all thy faults, I love thee still.” She will be to him “a poor thing but mine own.” He may think her good and great, when she is not, because he loves her; the delusion is up to a point pardonable...I may without self-righteousness or hypocrisy think it just to defend my house by force against a burglar; but if I start pretending that I blacked his eye purely on moral grounds wholly indifferent to the fact that the house in question was mine I become insufferable. The pretense that when England’s cause is just we are on England’s side as some neutral Don Quixote might be for that reason alone, is equally spurious. And nonsense draws evil after it. If our country’s cause is the cause of God, wars must be wars of annihilation. A false transcendence is given to things which are very much of this world. Lewis is not arguing that there is no right side nor wrong side. He is cautioning against seeing your own country as always and only on the right side of morality. This false thinking keeps the citizenry from acknowledging its mistakes. When you equate your movements with God's movings, then you grant your country the status of being beyond questioning. As Lewis says, if any country has this, then they feel they have the right and even the "responsibility" to annhiliate any and all enemies because the nation cannot be wrong. Even act is seen as moral because of the sense that the nation is sacred. Every decision is right because of the country which made it. This is the the demonic patriotism because the nation has become a god.
Lewis also had some interesting thoughts on patriotism in The Screwtape Letters. Here is an excerpt from an elder demon telling his nephew about leading a man away from God: "Let him begin by treating Patriotism or the Pacifism as a part of his religion. Then let him, under the influence of the partisan spirit, come to regard it as the most important part. Then quietly and gradually nurse him on to the stage at which religion merely becomes part of the 'Cause'...Once you have made the World an end, and Faith a means, you have almost won your man, and it makes very little difference what kind of worldly end he is pursuing."
If we insist that somehow America would never do that, then we are indulging the very pride that increases the likelihood our nation will go down that path. Americans defended slavery for a century. We embraced racial segregation for decades after that. The KKK has seen various resurgencies over the centuries. Besides repression of Blacks, it has bred hostilities towards other vulnerable demographics. Life movements seek to protect other types of vulnerable populations this country that do not have sufficient protections. Whole life movements seek to do this in a broader sense.
As a nation and as individuals, we have and we will make mistakes, often while still insisting how right and righteousness we are. This thinking always has and always will pose a danger for nations and individuals.
******************** Another danger of muddling our two citizenships is the risk of forgetting our primary citizenship is in heaven. Here on earth, we are wanderers and roamers. In fact, we ourselves are even exiles, as St. Peter writes in I Peter 2:11: "Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles." St. Paul writes in Philippians 3:20: "Our citizenship is in heaven." The unknown author of Hebrews describes the heroes of faith "longing for a better country--a heavenly one" (Heb. 11:16). This world is fallen, broken, and we wait for the new creation in heaven, as spoken of in Romans chapter 8 and Revelation 21.
I laughed and mocked as He walked that day, up a hill to redeem my soul. I joined the crowd to spit and jeer, and I watched His sorrow grow. I drove every nail deep in His hands with every sin in my heart. My rebellion shoved the thorns in His head, and my strife tore His robe apart. I used my hatred to give Him a bitter drink, and I glared down on Him with pride. I thought of past disappointments, and with my anger, I pierced His side. I denied His power and ignored His worth and stood waiting for His life to end. I watched the last drop of His blood fall, not knowing my grief would begin. I looked around to find His accusers, but no one was there but me. I looked at my hands; they were stained with blood, and then I began to see.
Conviction slowly entered my heart, and I dropped all my weapons of choice: the pride, the anger, the hatred, the lust, and then I heard His voice. "Forgive her Father, I died for her. I paid the price for her soul, I bore her sickness and all of her pain, and now I have made her whole." He looked down on me with loving eyes. He saw my present, my future, my past. He knew I needed a Savior, and my soul had found Him at last. I looked around to find His accusers, but no one was there but me.
--Fran Peck, 2017
"My name is Fran Peck and I wrote this poem to show how our attitudes and actions of the heart crucify Christ and condemn us until we repent."
…thoughts on the entertainment media... This month, I'm taking a departure from the poetry and the helpful things I find in nature. Sometimes we need directness. So, here's a dose for your New Year.
The other day, my husband & I caught part of a very old Hazel episode in syndication. In fact, it was so old it was in black and white (though colorized versions exist). Harold "Sport" Baxter nearly lost his beloved dog to a little girl. The girl saw how much the dog meant to Harold & let him keep it. The first thing Sport did was run over, kneel down and pray. Hazel joined him. This was done without irony or sarcasm. It was done as a real thing that a real family would do.
How and why did this media view on Christianity change? I have long believed, and there is some evidence to suggest, that the Moral Majority was the trigger. (Now the Moral Majority has dried up, but there are all kinds of successor movements in the Religious Right.) A lot of these actors, Shirley Booth included, started in vaudeville. Vaudevillians and Hollywood stars didn't necessarily have the lifestyles upheld by Christian middle America. This is not so much a comment on Shirley Booth, but an observation in general. Vivian Vance, who played "Ethel" had been so sleazy (though gorgeous) in Vaudeville that she had some pretty rude nicknames, things we would now decry as "slut-shaming". Elizabeth Montgomery, "Samantha" on "Bewitched" was in & out of a lot of affairs, both before and during her first marriage to William Asher. Asher was the producer of the show and he, too, had affairs. Someone joked "I knew Doris Day before she was a virgin." Hollywood was full of homosexuals; it often wasn't a secret to fellow actors. (Rock Hudson was a big surprise to most, though.) It was so much of a "thing" that when Ronald Reagan was governor of California, prior to getting on the national stage, he avoided passing some laws that were restrictive on them. (There have been gays and lesbians among us for centuries and it often passed without huge comment.) However, actors and producers understood that a lot of Americans had conservative Christian values and produced shows that appealed to them. Hollywood and Broadway didn't feel a need to "stick a finger in the eye" of American Christians. When the Moral Majority pushed their agenda hard, TV and movies decided to push back. Norman Mailer was one of the leaders in this regard. As this was the 70s, there were plenty of other movements in society willing to be complicit in this. America was scarred after Vietnam. A lot of religious leaders had somehow equated supporting the war with being a "true Christian." Deviating from this was suspect. Many younger citizens who had been protesting became "turned off" and drifted from Christianity. The problem with M.M. and similar movements is that they became movements of "law" and "legalism." They certainly, in the spiritual/theological realm sounded much more like they were living by religious law and precepts than by the grace that comes through Christ.
It sounded very self-righteous. In the secular, public, realm, they seemed to work harder at bending public law to suit them than to reach out with kindness to help those who hadn't been able to keep the existing law to turn around. Many of these who drifted did eventually return to church. However, even among many who did, they didn't feel they should raise their children to believe in an absolute truth through the church or the Bible. Successive generations have been drifting more & more. Millennials are just not returning, being disillusioned both by war and by the greed that led to the financial collapse. They have seen their own prospects diminished through these things. To many of these who now identify themselves as "none", they roll it all up into one ball of wax: those older generations who thought it was so important to be Christian were selfish & greedy, lost their social consciences, and left us with a mess. So, when we rail about media that assaults our values (and to be honest, how much of that junk are watching and supporting, anyway) and decrying the difficulty getting or keeping 20- and 30- somethings in the church, maybe it's time to be honest. Some of the problems arose because of choices by people who were "supposed" to be "part of us." (Though early on, I questioned these movements as being all that spiritually appropriate or helpful for the long run.) Like the old comic Pogo once said, "We have met the enemy, and the enemy is us."
THE WORD ". . .became Flesh and so-journed among us. . ." (John 1:14)
THE WORD was spoken at Creation And all things came into being. In the beginning, All Nature resounded with THE joyous WORD.
THE WORD was recorded by the prophets, God's Holy Men of old.
"In the beginning was THE WORD, And THE WORD was with GOD, and THE WORD was God. This One was with God inthe beginning." (John 1:1-2)
THE WORD was spoken to the Virgin Mary, And she received THE WORD by the Spirit's power. She conceived and bore a Son, For in the fullness of time, God sent forth His Son to be born of a woman. She wrapped Him in Infant's clothes And laid Him in a feed trough, For there was no place else for Him. Shepherds heard THE WORD from Angels,
So they themselves came to examine THE WORD for
They gave thanks for THE WORD
and spoke THE WORD to others.
Wise men came to view THE WORD, Led by their star's bright light. THE WORD gives men wisdom, For THE WORD is, itself, WISDOM. (Proverbs 8) The Wise Men gave THE WORD gifts, But THE WORD gave them greater gifts. Though they left Bethlehem, THE WORD never left them.
THE WORD has been handed down now Through countless number of ages. But THE WORD still stays among us, Speaking as plainly to people as ever. So, we, too, have seen His glory, The glory of the One-and-Only-Begotten from the Father, Full of grace and truth. . . "Your WORD is TRUTH." (John 17:17) THE WORD still illumines the walk of the saints, As it has from time immemorial. . . "Your WORD is a Lamp unto my feet And a Light unto my path." (Psalm 119:105) THE WORD brightens and cheers the walk And leads us to Himself.
---C. Marie Byars, 1989 St. Louis, Graduate School (original Bible Translations)
What dost thou here, O soul, Beyond thy own control, Under the strange wild sky? O stars, reach down your hands, And clasp me in your silver bands, I tremble with this mystery!- Flung hither by a chance Of restless circumstance, Thou art but here, and wast not sent; Yet once more mayest thou draw By thy own mystic law To the centre of thy wonderment.
Why wilt thou stop and start? Draw nearer, oh my heart, And I will question thee most wistfully; Gather thy last clear resolution To look upon thy dissolution.
The great God's life throbs far and free, And thou art but a spark Known only in thy dark, Or a foam-fleck upon the awful ocean, Thyself thy slender dignity, Thy own thy vexing mystery, In the vast change that is not change but motion.
'Tis not so hard as it would seem; Thy life is but a dream- And yet thou hast some thoughts about the past; Let go, let go thy memories, They are not things but wandering cries- Wave them each one a long farewell at last: I hear thee say-'Take them, O tide, And I will turn aside, Gazing with heedlessness, nay, even with laughter! Bind me, ye winds and storms, Among the things that once had forms, And carry me clean out of sight thereafter!'
Thou hast lived long enough To know thy own weak stuff, Laughing thy fondest joys to utter scorn; Give up the idle strife- It is but mockery of life; The fates had need of thee and thou wast born! They are, in sooth, but thou shalt die. O wandering spark! O homeless cry! O empty will, still lacking self-intent! Look up among the autumn trees: The ripened fruits fall through the breeze, And they will shake thee even like these Into the lap of an Accomplishment!
Thou hadst a faith, and voices said:- 'Doubt not that truth, but bend thy head Unto the God who drew thee from the night:' Thou liftedst up thy eyes-and, lo! A host of voices answered-'No; A thousand things as good have seen the light!' Look how the swarms arise From every clod before thy eyes! Are thine the only hopes that fade and fall When to the centre of its action One purpose draws each separate fraction, And nothing but effects are left at all? Aha, thy faith! what is thy faith? The sleep that waits on coming death- A blind delirious swoon that follows pain. 'True to thy nature!'-well! right well! But what that nature is thou canst not tell- It has a thousand voices in thy brain. Danced all the leaflets to and fro? -Thy feet have trod them long ago! Sprung the glad music up the blue? -The hawk hath cut the song in two. All the mountains crumble, All the forests fall, All thy brethren stumble, And rise no more at all! In the dim woods there is a sound When the winds begin to moan; It is not of joy or yet of mirth, But the mournful cry of our mother Earth, As she calleth back her own. Through the rosy air to-night The living creatures play Up and down through the rich faint light- None so happy as they! But the blast is here, and noises fall Like the sound of steps in a ruined hall, An icy touch is upon them all, And they sicken and fade away.
The child awoke with an eye of gladness, With a light on his head and a matchless grace, And laughed at the passing shades of sadness That chased the smiles on his mother's face; And life with its lightsome load of youth Swam like a boat on a shining lake- Freighted with hopes enough, in sooth, But he lived to trample on joy and truth, And change his crown for a murder-stake!
Oh, a ruddy light went through the room, Till the dark ran out to his mother Night! And that little chamber showed through the gloom Like a Noah's ark with its nest of light! Right glad was the maiden there, I wis, With the youth that held her hand in his! Oh, sweet were the words that went and came Through the light and shade of the leaping flame That glowed on the cheerful faces! So human the speech, so sunny and kind, That the darkness danced on the wall behind, And even the wail of the winter wind Sang sweet through the window-cases!
But a mournful wail crept round and round, And a voice cried:-'Come!' with a dreary sound, And the circle wider grew; The light flame sank, and sorrow fell On the faces of those that loved so well; Darker and wilder grew the tone; Fainter and fainter the faces shone; The wild night clasped them, and they were gone- And thou art passing too!
Lo, the morning slowly springs Like a meek white babe from the womb of night! One golden planet sits and stings The shifting gloom with his point of light! Lo, the sun on its throne of flame! -Wouldst thou climb and win a crown?* Oh, many a heart that pants for the same Falls to the earth ere he goes down! Thy heart is a flower with an open cup- Sit and watch, if it pleaseth thee, Till the melting twilight fill it up With a crystal of tender sympathy; So, gently will it tremble The silent midnight through, And flocks of stars assemble By turns in its depths of dew;- But look! oh, look again! After the driving wind and rain! When the day is up and the sun is strong, And the voices of men are loud and long, When the flower hath slunk to its rest again, And love is lost in the strife of men!
Let the morning break with thoughts of love, And the evening fall with dreams of bliss- So vainly panteth the prisoned dove For the depths of her sweet wilderness; So stoops the eagle in his pride From his rocky nest ere the bow is bent; So sleeps the deer on the mountain-side Ere the howling pack hath caught the scent!
The fire climbs high till its work is done; The stalk falls down when the flower is gone; And the stars of heaven when their course is run Melt silently away! There was a footfall on the snow, A line of light on the ocean-flow, And a billow's dash on the rocks below That stand by the wintry bay:- The snow was gone on the coming night; Another wave arose in his might, Uplifted his foaming breast of white, And died like the rest for aye!
Oh, the stars were bright! and thyself in thee Yearned for an immortality! And the thoughts that drew from thy busy brain Clasped the worlds like an endless chain- When a moon arose, and her moving chime Smote on thy soul, like a word in time, Or a breathless wish, or a thought in rime, And the truth that looked so gloomy and high Leapt to thy arms with a joyful cry! But what wert thou when a soulless Cause Opened the book of its barren laws, And thy spirit that was so glad and free Was caught in the gin of necessity, And a howl arose from the strife of things Vexing each other with scorpion stings? What wert thou but an orphan child Thrust from the door when the night was wild? Or a sailor on the toiling main Looking blindly up through the wind and rain As the hull of the vessel fell in twain!
Seals are on the book of fate, Hands may not unbind it; Eyes may search for truth till late, But will never find it-! Rising on the brow of night Like a portent of dismay, As the worlds in wild affright Track it on its direful way; Resting like a rainbow bar Where the curve and level meet, As the children chase it far O'er the sands with blistered feet; Sadly through the mist of ages Gazing on this life of fear, Doubtful shining on its pages, Only seen to disappear! Sit thee by the sounding shore -Winds and waves of human breath!- Learn a lesson from their roar, Swelling, bursting evermore: Live thy life and die thy death! Die not like the writhing worm, Rise and win thy highest stake; Better perish in the storm Than sit rotting on the lake! Triumph in thy present youth, Pulse of fire and heart of glee; Leap at once into the truth, If there is a truth for thee.
Shapeless thoughts and dull opinions, Slow distinctions and degrees,- Vex not thou thy weary pinions** With such leaden weights as these- Through this mystic jurisdiction Reaching out a hand by chance, Resting on a dull conviction Whetted but by ignorance; Living ever to behold Mournful eyes that watch and weep; Spirit suns that flashed in gold Failing from the vasty deep; Starry lights that glowed like Truth Gazing with unnumbered eyes, Melting from the skies of youth, Swallowed up of mysteries; Cords of love that sweetly bound thee; Faded writing on thy brow; Presences that came around thee; Hands of faith that fail thee now!
Groping hands will ever find thee In the night with loads of chains! Lift thy fetters and unbind thee, Cast thee on the midnight plains: Shapes of vision all-providing- Famished cheeks and hungry cries! Sound of crystal waters sliding- Thirsty lips and bloodshot eyes! Empty forms that send no gleaming Through the mystery of this strife!- Oh, in such a life of seeming, Death were worth an endless life!
Hark the trumpet of the ocean Where glad lands were wont to be! Many voices of commotion Break in tumult over thee! Lo, they climb the frowning ages, Marching o'er their level lands! Far behind the strife that rages Silence sits with clasped hands; Undivided Purpose, freeing His own steps from hindrances, Sending out great floods of being, Bathes thy steps in silentness. Sit thee down in mirth and laughter- One there is that waits for thee; If there is a true hereafter*** He will lend thee eyes to see.
Like a snowflake gently falling On a quiet fountain, Or a weary echo calling From a distant mountain, Drop thy hands in peace,- Fail-falter-cease.
*Christ wins the crown of salvation for us; we don't climb for it **A type of feather for flight; a bird cannot fly if weighed down ***more doubt about the afterlife than I would entertain