Thursday, February 12, 2009

Coffeegirl Book Club

Chapter 5: Thou Art the King of Glory

“Blessings on you and a hundred thousand welcomes.”

I found this chapter to be an interesting read, somewhat more even keeled than the preceding chapters. I liked the diversity of the topics and found many of them to be thought provoking. I’m looking forward to hearing what captured your attention, and perhaps engaging in some friendly banter about ecumenical topics.

The primary conceptual point that struck me came from Vanauken’s discussion with Lewis about “the Island in the West” from Pilgrim’s Regress, which they describe as

…that something we long for, whether it be an island in the west or the other side of a mountain or perhaps a schooner yacht, long for it in the belief that it will mean joy, which it never fully does: because what we are really longing for is God.

There are so many things that could be qualified as the “island in the west”, but what came to my mind first was the purpose behind the utopian ideals of Van and Davy’s relationship, as well as the reason so many elements of their relationship appealed to me upon first consideration. They represent the striving for total fulfillment being offered and found one another – a desire that is not only unrealistic but misplaced because what we are really longing for is God.

The other story that I enjoyed was the morning that, after a late night and bad start to the day, Van and Davy stood silently while someone knocked on the door until the visitor gave up and went away. It was endearing because it was something I could relate to – I have reached that point of wanting to be alone and shut out the world around me. But what I really loved about this was the closing line of the story: Whoever it was…went away. Probably it was Jesus.

There are many other interesting passages in this chapter, but I’m going to end here and wait to hear about the things that were most meaningful to you. But there are two things I’d like to hear your thoughts on specifically:

1. Near the end of the chapter, Van and Davy are in the pub reflecting on their time at Oxford, returning to one another in solidarity after several years of living in such close community with their friends there, and the implications of Christianity on their longstanding plans. He writes: And we had a curious sense there at the pub, of being poised in a timeless way between two worlds. What do you think this means? Have you ever experienced a sense like that before?

2. A theme that has been presented several times is the ecumenical nature of Van and Davy’s friendships with people of many different Christian faiths – Catholics, Anglicans, Baptists, Lutherans. They note that these friends were united by far more – mere Christianity, as Lewis would put it – than divided them. Because it seems we are often quick to identify the differences between denominations rather than the uniting factor of Christ, I’ve been wondering how much of this unity you experience or even desire within your ministry. I was most intrigued about this idea when reading the several discussions of the Virgin Mary and her role in the Kingdom that are presented in this chapter. Any thoughts on this to share?

Looking forward to hearing from you!


Libby said...

Oh yikes! I'm going first. :}
First, I have totally been in that situation when someone comes to the door and I do NOT want to answer it! Well when I read that last line about "they went away probably it was Jesus"...I just laughed right out loud! I just had to read that to my hubby who was sitting right there. :)

About point #1 you made:
Yes, I have had that feeling of being poised between two worlds several times. Something big happens, a life-changing event and there you are, poised between two wonder when you go back to the "old" world what will happen. It won't be the same, you don't really want it to be the same. But what's going to happen when you, a changed person, steps back into that place?
A mixture of emotions in that moment for sure!

I found their comments about religion to be refreshing. They seemed to scoff at it, seeing it for what it is, an outward thing that is not real. They seemed to really grab hold of what was I would say, Christ working in and through them and the believers they interacted with. Such as C.S.Lewis' comment about going to get a haircut he really didn't need and finding that it was all about encouraging that barber and not about the haircut at all!
Or learning something God had to teach them through intense discussions with those of different denominations and even "a couple of non-Christian there, too, joining in with healthy scepticisim". I was commenting to my husband how I liked that because we often get so stuck in our OWN little Christian world where everyone believes the same and talks the same Christian way. Then when we run into someone (believer or un believer) says something or asks a question and we are offended or shocked or have no answer because we are too stuck in our own little way of doing things. Not to say, throw out truth or spend all your time with a cult, but being questioned is so good to really dig deep and see truths that God wants us to see and understand. And as a result deepening our walk with Him.

One other section in this chapter that stuck out to me was the letters C.S. Lewis sent him in answer to his questions about whether he should change his focus of study to theology. What did you think of his thoughts about "tent-making"? Have you ever felt like as a missionary that you struggle with your personal walk with the Lord because your JOB is so focused on spiritual things? I do!
He says, "sacred things may become profane by becoming matters of the job."
I thought both these letters were very good in addressing this and saying himself that neither job is better:working a job and bringing God into our work life or being in full time ministry. "Each vocation has it's peculiar dangers and peculiar rewards." So true!

And his good-bye with C.S.Lewis...I just cried when he yelled out "Christians NEVER say goodbye!!"
Aren't you so GLAD that's true?!
I really was encouraged by this chapter.

Becky Aguirre said...

Hey! Not too many comments here yet...btw, I did get to go to the Beth Moore conference, posted the notes (awesome!) and pictures and a link to the picture/video on my blog This and That. It was a very, very challenging message and of course, Beth delivers it like no other! She is so dynamic, it's hard NOT to get thrilled about God and His Word! Miguel and the kids did okay, but not great. They were still kinda sick when I got back. Jkaile (1 1/2) is still getting his system back to order, still been having diarrhea and low-energy. I think today has been a turning point for him, PTL. Everyone else seems to be doing pretty well. Thanks for asking!

I really enjoyed this chapter, too, thought it was refreshing, like Libby said. I like how they tried to avoid so-called "religion" and just enjoy and seek God. As far as the references to the Virgin Mary...I think that sometimes we see truths that other religions have taken and maybe distorted, so we avoid it so as not to appear as if we believe that way also? Somewhat like throwing the baby out with the bathwater? Mary is such a special part of the story of the birth of Christ, how can we NOT celebrate her? She was THE woman chosen to birth the Son of God! How amazing and awesome is that??!! And yet we seem to hear so rarely about her role, as if we are afraid to focus any attention on her at all...

I laughed, too, about the not answering the door that one time. I'm amazed that it was only once! ha! But anyway, his description was priceless...and then that "it was probably Jesus". :)

Okay, could probably write more, but will stop for now...

amyinbj said...

Agreed! This is a rich chapter. Two other points I'd like to toss into the ring :)

1. "Lew and Mary Ann expressed it one night by saying: 'This, you know, is a time of taking in -- taking in friendship, conversation, gaiety, wisdom, knowledge, beauty, holiness -- and later, well, there'll be a time of giving out." I, too, have experienced different seasons where I knew that I was experiencing a time of taking in and storing up so that I could give in the future. Currently I'm in more of a 'pouring out' time which is good and right. Have any of you read the children's book about Fredrick the mouse who stored up memories for the winter when they couldn't go outside? This passage reminded me of that story.

2. This is in response to CG's second question. I am with an organization that is non-denominational which seems to be one of our strengths. Even though I have worked with some co-workers for over ten years and we have talked about our denom's, I honestly rarely think of them. They aren't a focus of the work we do -- Jesus is. The diversity in background helps us to focus on him. Now, I will say that some of our teams don't always find this easy to live out (there is one in particular this year I know it has come up weekly in team times) -- but I am thankful for the 'otherness' of others to help me major on the majors and minor on the minors.

Ellie said...

We've been guilty of not answering the door a few times. The worst was when we visited some of our family that we really wanted some quality time with, but they had a nosy neighbor who would always come by and stay all evening.

So we opened the bed in the living room, and everyone put on their pjs, and sat in our beds yawning and yawning real early. She got the hint and left, and we gathered on the bed in our pj's for a nice private visit!

1. Often. I often feel like being between two worlds or more. Especially in airports. As if airports are sort of a no-man's-land, a in-between. Memories of goodbyes, hellos, new friends, old. Even when I am not moving, just the sight of planes out windows sends me into a quiet thoughtfulness. I sit and wonder, if I could fly back or forward to any time period or any place where I would go and which "home" would I chose... I never find an answer.

2. I'm back in the West now, and really struggling at times with being put in a group, a denomination. I'm not used to that. I used to being with people who hold different views on some things, and yet we all know we hold the same views on the basics. Yet, worship styles, other beliefs, emphasises are all different. Here people are so united, so closeminded, and for me to hold a slightly different view is sharply criticized. Even to be undecided on some of those beliefs or growing is sharply criticized. There is no right but their right, and it is hard for me. I deeply love people who pray, worship, and act differently, and I have a hard time saying that they are wrong simply because they are different (different in ways that make them still Christians, but different from some other Christians). I feel boxed in, suffocated under such unnecessary divisions, and I am sad when I see missionaries importing them into our country.

Shilo said...

Such a busy week for me...I didn't read this chapter with quite the critical eye that I would have liked, but I did read it! :)
I love seeing Van's friendship with Lewis and hearing about their conversations. My favorite line of the chapter was Van's description of our deep down longing for God and the fullness of His presence.
Also touching is the incredible hospitality of Van and Davy. Isn't it fun to have a full house? And yet, amazing that they could keep that pace up for such an extended length of time.
CG, thanks for asking, praying and understanding - we leave my family March 5th for the East Coast where we will be with Brad's family until June 15th when we fly to Paraguay!

Coffeegirl said...

Hello friends - I'm sorry to say it's Wednesday night again before I've had a sane moment to respond to the wonderful comments you've been sharing this week. I have loved reading them as they come in and I continually wait for a peaceful moment to respond. I'm slowly realizing that peaceful moment doesn't come around often, so I should just post in the moment! This is probably a topic for a separate post, so let's get on to the REAL stuff!

Libby - I loved your intro: "Oh yikes! I'm going first." Great thoughts, and I'm glad to see so many of you laughed and shared the draw to the line about "it was probably Jesus." I had similar feelings about their comments on religion, particularly the healthy skepticism that we can become so isolated from.

I was hoping someone would bring up the vocational aspect of this chapter because I wrestle with your very reflections and wondered if others do too. I sometimes find it's hard to distinguish between how my heart REALLY feels towards the Lord and how much is just the expected response, much like the role filled in other vocations. I'm glad you brought that up.

Becky, I feel similarly to you about the "throwing the baby out with the bathwater" treatment of Mary in many evangelical circles. I thought his poem captured this well. I have come to love the verses of the Magnificat in recent years and have really been impacted by her expressions of faith and confidence in her God during a difficult time. Much to be learned there.

Amy - so glad to see you brought up the point of taking in and pouring out. I have found that simply by reflecting on those times of taking in that we had in years past brings a lot of renewal for me in this season of pouring out. I've never heard of the Frederick the mouse story but am going to try and get a copy. I love the way children's books can speak so powerfully on topics like that. And as for your point #2 - Amen!! I have been so encouraged to hear your experience because I sometimes lose hope for interactions like that among people in ministry. I love your words, "They aren't a focus of the work we do...Jesus is." That's exactly how it should be, and I am always amazed at how easy it is to lose sight of that.

Ellie - sounds like your recent experience is reflective of losing sight of that central focus. It struck me that you said they are so "united, so closed minded." My first thought of being united in church is positive, but obviously here they are united on the wrong elements and losing sight of the real uniting factor: Jesus. How difficult to feel you can't be honest in your place of worship.

Shilo - thanks for letting us know about the transitions you're in. You are remembered and prayed for from afar, by all these ladies here who know the difficulty of those goodbyes. I'm impressed you're getting any reading in - well done!
I'm with you on enjoying the insights into Van's relationship with C.S. Lewis. It's the most "real" account of Lewis' personality I've ever read and I love that too.

Many of your thoughts on being poised between two worlds were helpful to me, considering the pressure of how you can be who you are in a place that you weren't that way before, etc. I think the beauty of that concept is that we are also poised between two worlds now - our earthly reality and future heavenly world where all of those considerations will be removed and we'll be living as we are truly meant to be. That's what made me cry about the "Christians NEVER say goodbye!" passage. (Libby, I'm glad I wasn't the only one that cried upon reading that! It gave me chills because you could so clearly read Lewis' true belief in that statement, being shouted across the traffic.)

So many good things, ladies. Thank you for again sharing your thoughts with us all. I enjoy this so much, and only wish for more time to reflect with you. Actually, a face to face meeting with bowls of our favorite candies from week 1 would be quite nice! Peanut butter cup, anyone?!

Shan in Japan said...

Yes, I'll take a peanut butter cup!

I got behind so read two chapters this week thinking I was caught up. Then I logged on and found out I am still a chapter behind. So, I will post a comment here and get to reading on The Barrier Breached!

I, too, feel poised between two worlds in airports. Like the movie "Terminal" with Tom Hanks. That movie made me cry just thinking about being in that situation. My first home assignment was like that. I was changing ministry locations when I came back so all of my belongings were packed up in storage and I didn't have an address here in Japan. Then I spent a year traveling around the US and Canada and lived with my parents when I wasn't traveling. Ugh, I felt homeless for that year even though I returned to my childhood home often and had my mom take care of me!

And, #2. Even though I work for a denominational mission, when I am on the field I do not feel the denominational lines like in North America. The missionaries here all seem to be able to put differences aside and work together. I remember feeling frustrated like Ellie when I was living in the States before coming to Japan. I kind of forget about the lines until I go back and get smacked in the face with them.

I really like Van's poetry. I am not a poet and often don't understand poetry, however, I really liked the Advent sonnet. I can't imagine being brave enough to send sonnets to C.S.Lewis even if I could write poetry!

Like everyone else, I loved the "It probably was Jesus" line and have stood still hoping the person will go away before, too!


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