Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Chinese Characters

(sorry this took so long. I could not find the post button in the Chinese Characters on the page...so here it is, long overdue) Hello everyone. I'm writing this blog on a page that is in Chinese, so it may all be gibberish by the time you see it. I also have written this post once before, but could not figure out which was the publish button, so deleted it.

Life here is good. Our Cambodian contingent arrived Sunday evening. Now Khmai is spoken and sung most of the time -- good for us trying to learn the language. We have lots of exposure and lots of people willing to teach. Difficult to carry on conversations because both their English and our Khmai is somewhat limited, so we end up shrugging and laughing a lot.

The food situation has been mostly good. This weekend, however, the wind changed and the food is closer to Vietnamese food than Thai. I'm loving the Thai. The vietnamese food meant that yesterday we had a delicacy for breakfast of rice noodles and ground fish power, lunch of whole fried fish and mystery meat soup (oily, not brothy like Thai soups), and something for dinner that I picked around, but could not eat. Today was fish again for lunch - and they don't debone, so the fish is intact and staring. By lunch I'd learned from the day before, so I brought a knife to the table, but once the fish was opened it resembled too closely a formaldehyde soaked dissection, and I gave up the effort, covering the whole mess with a napkin (the Cambodian guy across the table asked if I was saving it. Nope. Burying it is closer to the mark). In the spirit of my theme of "commit yourself wholly to everything so that all may see your progress" I am trying to limit my extra foods to bread and fruit. (Both a supplementary food, and in emergencies like this weekend). On Saturday the cook has her day off, so I get to go to the american caffe and get a caffe latte and bagel, for lunch a burger, for dinner, I have not dicovered where to eat yet. The rest of the time I'm trying to at least try the food. Most of it is excellent. And the parts I don't like, I remind myself that we'll likely have less variety on outreach.

Today we've spent hours and hours going over the handbook. All that is finally over, though, and tonight Darlene Cunningham gives the first of four talks. We are told this is a great privilege. She rarely has time to go out to bases and speak, and not for a whole week at that. She and her husband founded Youth With A Mission in the 1960's

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Adventures in the Marketplace

Adventures in the Marketplace

I'm running out of things to write. Not because nothing's happening, but because there's SO MUCH going on. Our typical daily schedule is very packed with activity as we try and cram as much culture, language, knowledge of the area, and acquaintance with the programs on base. Normally our day looks something like this:

6:30 - Wake up/Shower/Khmai Review
7:00 - Breakfast
8:00 - Worship and Prayer
9:00 - Culture Orientation
11:00 - Khmai Language Class
12:00 - Lunch/Khmai Practice/Shower #2/Nap
12:45 - Frantic Khmai practice in dorm room
2:00 - Program Orientation/City Tour/Local Visit
4:00 - Youth Center English Classes/Khmai Practice
6:30 - Dinner
7:30 - Free Time/Informational Video on Cambodia
8:30 - More Frantic Khmai Practice
9:00 - Shower #3
9:30 - All collapse exhausted and sleep a dreamless sleep

Today we had a little more free time than usual, so we went to the market at 4 to try our hand at bartering. The market is basically open air, but it's under a tented metal frame. Little stalls are packed high with things, and they all specialize. You'll have a row of toiletries and soaps, a row of sarong sellers, vendors selling just shoes, or pots, or jewelry, or fruit. We've not perfected bartering. As westerners they double or triple the price when we ask. We've managed to get a few thousand riel off, but not every time. We brought one lady down in price for detergent, but I couldn't get any off for my shoulder bag I bought at a shop on the street. In the far side of the market vendors sell slabs of meat, all on display, flies everywhere. On the opposite end of the market is a "Western" restaurant that sells pop and hamburgers. Down street #2 is the White Rose, which sells both asian and western snacks (If you're desperate, you can buy bread with peanut butter for 1500 riel). We stop there almost daily to buy a mango or papaya shake with vanilla ice cream added (3000 riel - about $.75).

Streets here are dusty, trash in the gutters, motos and bikes are prevalent with very few cars. In order to get into town we walk outside our front gate and hold up one finger. After bartering with the moto driver for fare, two people climb on back and hold on as he weaves his way through traffic into town. It's quite a trip to get used to. They drive very fast, and if there are traffic laws, no one pays attention.

Our time isn't all adventure. A few days ago we visited the government orphanage. Not all the children there have lost parents. Often a poor family will leave a child at the orphanage because they can't afford to care for them. Today we went to a goverment military hospital. Most of the people there are dying of aids. There were no doctors in sight. No medicine. Just beds full of people, slowly dying. Their families live with them in the hospital. Those that can't walk across the property for food cook in wooden buckets in the yard, using unclean water from the pond nearby. Only a few know to boil the water. Many children there also have aids. Most of the military men there contracted aids through prostitution. They then gave aids to their wives, and the wives give birth to aids infected babies. Those children lucky enough to be born aids free (though sometimes the virus doesn't show up in tests until the children are oldre) contract it soon enough through nursing - formula here is too expensive for most people to use.

We're learning more and more Khmai every day. Khmai is an easy language because there are NO VERB CONJUGATIONS!!!!! And except for a few high class people, everyone speaks in the present tense, so there are no past and future verbs to be learned. Our vocabulary is small, but today we got the linking words 'with'and 'and'so we can start taking things we've learned already and inventing new sentences. VERY exciting.

More later. We have to figure out how to get two people and a box of detergent on the back of a motodope.

Monday, January 22, 2007

More Impressions

More Impressions

I've been here for almost 48 hours in Battambang. I did find my ride after all. She was the blonde girl talking to a stranger about not knowing what the girl she was picking up looked like. There was also a backwards RA I could read through her sign from where I was standing. We went back to Bangkok to the YWAM base there, and walked around the market all evening in an attempt by me to stay awake until bedtime. I found lots of pepsi for very cheap, and bought a hat and a pair of flip flops. Within an hour of landing I was sideways on the back of a hired moto in an attempt to locate some Yellow Curry (the only success we had was at a street vendor, and I didn't want to spend a 6 hour bus plus 2 hour taxi ride sick). We also ate pizza for Mollie, since she doesn't get western food very often. We had bread for breakfast, too, with jam. I like Bangkok. It's odd though -- very dirty, trash in the streets, dogs laying around everywhere, but everyone has a cell phone. The next day we spent running back and forth in the back of an open truck to the airport. We couldn't find Suzy and the desk said she wasn't on the flight. Back to Bangkok to sort things out by email with the Battambang base. Suzy was there after all. Then into the back of the rig for a 45 minute trip to the bus station. An interminable bus trip and then a border crossing in the dark. The bus station in a 6km drive by moto-taxi to the border. Our moto driver told us that the border was closed and we would have to stay at his friend's (it's always convenient here who has a friend or a brother who has just what you need) guest house. We yelled at him to go to the border anyway -- and after the slowest moto ride in history (normally they go like bats out of hell) including him making circles in the parking lot to stall for time, we arrived at the border with more than an hour to spare to get visas. One Thai man took charge of our suitcases (his friend has a taxi to Battambang) and we went through the border in very short time. Then a two hour taxi ride to the base. In the dark. Over rutted roads. Swerving into oncoming traffic to pass trucks filled to the bursting point with people. This is not phasing me anymore, but I only didn't get sick on that ride by the grace of God. Garth called Mollie to see if we wanted dinner when we got in -- I said I wouldn't know until I got there...and it would depend on if I could keep myself well for the rest of the drive.

Our days have been packed full. Yesterday we weren't required to go to any base activities if we didn't want to - a chance for us to get over jetlag. But since jetlag makes us wake early, we all went to church anyway since we had been up for hours. At about 3:30 am a Khmai funeral began, with chanting and music very loud over a speaker. Half an hour after that a wedding (which lasts for a day and a half) kicked things up a notch. Combine that with heat, roosters, something that sounds a bit like a cicada, we weren't sleeping much that morning. Church was very interesting. A short term missions team from Australia was at the foursquare church I attended with the other DTSers, so some of the service was in English. Some of the songs were originally in English, so we sang along, and songs with hand motions are universal. Then lunch. Ahhh. Cambodian food IS very similar to Thai - but they have things at different times in the day. For breakfast on sunday we had Ramen Noodles with chili sauce. For lunch we had fried eggs over rice. Dinner was meat and vegetables in sauce over rice. And with every meal there's the fruit. I've never liked tropical fruits -- but having them fresh and local makes all the difference. Today we had papaya. Who know I'd like papaya? I ate my own portion, and several other people's when the plates were being taken away. Last night was the youth center house party, so about 200 kids and lots of adults came on property for games, songs and treats. I met a young Khmai woman who teaches english and sunday school in the neighboring villages. She wants to attent a DTS someday, but it is very expensive, and her family can't lose her income for six months.

Today we began training in full. This morning for breakfast we had fried rice with sausage (SO good, even the resident former vegetarian loved the sausage). After breakfast we went to see the government orphanage and got peed on. We were in the infant room, and infants there don't wear diapers. When they pee you just wash them off and wrap more cloth around them. It was difficult for we westerners (I personally think God intended babies to be securely swathed in rubberwear) since they made puddles on the floor which were wiped up, and since we don't wear shoes indoors, we had no choice but to walk through it. I stayed clean, but about half of the people there that morning (from DTS and the new Outreach team from Kona) left with clothes needing a wash. I left halfway through to go watch the English classes being taught to the older kids. Mollie taught colors today. I talked to a Cambodian man who does a lot of translating for the kid functions. One kid shocked me. Running around with all the Khmai kids was a child with red hair, freckles and skin my color, but his features were Cambodia. It turns out he's an albino. Funny, in places with less foreigners, that's how I'll look to them. We went back to the base for an hour of Khmai lessions. I can now say hello, how are you, ask what is your name, and tell people where I'm from. My opera language training is coming in VERY handy. Lunch was excellent, too. Thin brothy soup with cabbage and onions. And PAPAYA! After lunch we had free time, which we mostly spent practicing our Khmai. Then some history and politics lessions. Now we have free time until dinner. Once I get done typing I've got to go to the street and hire a moto. I can only say one thing to get home -- "straight straight!" and I can say "slowly!!!"

This is an exprience. Our days are very full, but we have free time as well. This week is a wonderful chance to get to know the staff and our fellow DTSers before the Cambodians show up -- since we'll be the ones working very hard to learn the language and culture before the outreach phase starts. It's interesting at the dinner table to listen to conversations I've no way to understand, and know that in a few months, I'll be taking part in them.

Pray for me as I try to learn Khmai!

Friday, January 19, 2007

My first days abroad

My first days abroad

January 17, 11:44pm - Seatac Airport
It's so surreal. I had a glass of champagne at dinner, which only added to the effect. Now I'm so tired, while waiting to board the plane, that nothing seems real. I couldn't believe how many boxes of stuff (gifts) people were carting into the check-in line. Several suitcases and a few large moving boxes on each cart pp all labelled with Asian addresses. The family ahead of me through security had several children, all in denim jumpers, mom with outdated hairdo. My first thought was homeschool or missionary family - but one girl has a Samantha doll in her backpack.

The crew is boarding. Not much longer now. I'm so cold. I'm dressed for Asia, but Seattle is well below freezing. The flight attendants all wear purle and have short black hair. The announcements over the loudspeaker are first in Chinese. What an odd-sounding language - so obviously tonal. I can't wait to get on this plane, put on my sleep mask, wrap up in my blanket and sleep.

January 19th? - Somewhere over the Pacific

Oh gosh! What an uncomfortable flight. Both arms hurt which make finding a way to curl up and sleep very hard. Back home it's a little after 1pm on the 18th - the screen above our seats says its something like 5am in Taipei - which, by the way, is in Taiwan, not China. Shows you just how much research I've done for this trip.

As promised, I pulled out my blanket and pillow immediately upon embarking - and discovered that, actually, the under seat storage on this flight is much smaller than on a domestic flight - my backpack doesn't fit. Since there's no way I'm going to be left with nothing to do for 13 hours, I transfered everything out of the side pouches and forced it under with both feet.

I had just drifted off to the random shuffle of the ipod my sister lent me, when I awoke to my seatmate tapping my arm (Owwww!). 2:15am and they want to serve us breakfast. Unable to find my glasses I ordered blind, sleep mask shoved up my forehead. I ate my sausage, juice, and yogurt, then pulled my mask back down, covered myself head to toe in my blanket and the airline one, and curled up against the window. I slept for 8 hours I think. I'm now sure when we took off - be boarded the plane right at our departure time. We seem to be arriving only half an hour late. I know we didn't board that quickly. Sometime in this perpetual night (It's been dark the entire flight. 12 hours in I can just see the edge of dawn behind us), I looked out the window to see a small smattering of lights. An island? Maybe Hawaii, but it doesn't look like our flight plan went that far south.

They gave us hot wipes to wash our faces and hands before we went to sleep (right after breakfast, remember), then dimmed the lights. We were awoken around 9amPST to more hot wipes and chicken, rice, and hard liquor service. I can't figure out whose time this plane is operating under. Not Pacific coast, but not Taipei either.

I washed my face, put in contact and makeup, and amused myself with the contents of my backpack. I can't get to CS Lewis, who is lodged at the bottom. I played a bit of Sudoku and read the in-flight magazine. This one's funny: From my (forgive me) travel horoscope (only taken as seriously as a fortune cookie)...
"Travel plans have a tendency to arise rather suddenly at this time. You will get most pleasure from spontaneous excursions. Personal money matters and anything that my have an effect on your treasured possessions comes up for discussion."
Huh. No kidding.

1 hour to go. One. they all the joys of negotiating my way around a really international airport. Lord protect me -this is so odd. My mind is only working as far ahead as the next step. Endure the flight. Find the connecting gate. Pee. Board next flight. Get off in Bangkok. Then....!

Dawn is certainly growing behind us - the sun has finally caught up with us. the horizon is completely flat and circular around us. (Perhaps from the opposite side of the plane I could see land - or maybe an island) The magazines are all in Chinese, then Japanese, then English in very small print and poor grammar. Best movie review for "Following the sun under a Tuscan sky." Alright, I'm going to put everything away. the flight attendants are walking around handing out more free stuff. Even the wine and liquor and headphones are free.

January 19th - 9:35am/4:35pm January 18th. Taoyuan (Taiwan)

Ok. One international airport looks pretty much like another. Duty free. Seems rather more expensive than just buying the stuff outright, but maybe I'm not doing the conversions correctly. I went into a bookstore to see what they had - all Chinese (I'm guess ting) except for a few sci/fi books, and ironically enough - the complete set of the Chronicles of Narnia. it's cold int he airport. I took off my long underwear I've had under my skirt. I don't want to be confused with a Mormon missionary -- though reality isn't far from that. One more flight. the landing was bumpy, and only the man next to me talking helped me not be sick. He thought the deep yoga-learned breathing was fear. Nope, just battling nausea. When I told him where I was going he tried to talk me out of it. 'All people without contracts leave in one week.' If I got in trouble, he said, 'get a Chinese friend. Chinese government more powerful than U.S. Embassy.' Nice man - other than waking me up for the world's earliest breakfast.

that man from the last plane is waiting for this one, too. He's wearing a fuchsia long sleeved shirt and purple hat, and carrying a little mini-accordion strapped to his chest. 'Do you remember me?' he asks. Hard to forget. Gesture to his shirt and accordion. He wants to borrow some scissors from me (he saw me sewing on the last flight) but I put them in my suitcase. He played his accordion on the last flight. Trapped in a small space with someone playing accordion sounds like the Far Side version of hell. In my increasingly jet lagged state it made the whole thing feel like a French art film. Where is La Vie en Rose?

This is an international airport. There are a majority of Asian people, but lots of Westerners too. Our percentage is decreasing rapidly as the locals join us in the plane queue.

1:30 - Bangkok (actual time)

I'm in a foreign country. I can't find my ride. And I've lost my pen. I don't know why the pen and the ride are weighing in equally in my head. there are lots of people holding signs, none of them the illusive Molly. Taxi drivers galore would like to take me somewhere, but I wouldn't know where. For now I'll sit dutifully outside my disembarkation gate and hope she arrives soon. My numbness might wear off. And then I'll have to realize that I am lost. Alone. Halfway around the world...

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Shopping for Maternity Clothes and other adventures

Yesterday and today I did my trip shopping. My mission -- to find cute clothing that is easily washable, able to get dirty, but still "nice" - because Cambodian people dress as nicely as they can, so unless we're scrubbing something down, we're to look well. With today's trend for tiny tees, I had difficulty finding anything that didn't fall under the "not too short, too tight, and sleeveless" restriction. The brainwave came in the maternity department -- here were an assortment of shirts that were cute but loose. I found several knit shirts there. Today at Tar-jey my mother supplied a zip up hooded sweatshirt and several plain, round necked, short sleeved t-shirts for work days, two sizes larger than I normally wear. This trip I'm going for plain colors. On tour I got very tired of my logos, slogans, cute pictures and PURPLE (my wear-with-everything sweatshirt was of Husky origen)every day of the week.

Today I went to all three services to present my mission trip to the general congregation. I don't know how it went, monetarily -- the church will let me know soon. I do have several people who agreed to be on my prayer team mailing list, and several who said they'd pray even without the emails. Tuesday is the Mission Board Meeting.

Now I'm prancing around making sure every item in my suitcase can be worn with several other items, and nothing is too tight, low, short sleeved, shows too much leg, etc. So far so good. Only three shirts didn't pass muster.

Other major discovery: my hair can be pulled into pigtails.

That's all the news for today. Tonight is Flogamockers for the last time before I leave.

Thanks to all who have offered your support. I couldn't do it without you...

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Getting ready to go

I'm half-packed. The minor to do list is mounting, but the major to-dos are all accomplished. Yesterday I spent all day running around. Mom took me shopping for a few things at the thrift stores and the all-important Costco for those items I cannot restock in Cambodia.

Today I had a small group meeting from 11-3, then an appointment for a family to come look at Chloe. Just when I was about to cry again that I'm going to find her a stationary home (because she doesn't like being left alone, and is terrible with change, dogs, children, and moving), Kathy remembered her Mom's friend whose cat died and she really wants an affectionate cat for company. Perfect. Better at least than the couple with two little kids, and the animal rescue person who both answered my ad. And, if/when something happens to this lady, she wanted to know if I would like to take her back. That makes me feel better -- knowing that while my life is still completely up in the air she'll have a good home, but maybe someday I can have her back...

I've called my insurance company to cancel/lessen my auto coverage. I received two checks in the mail along with a letter from my sponsor child and a few bills. I have a birthday party in an hour, Flogamockers tonight, and then it's tomorrow already.

So, I'm off to eat (it might be for the first time today -- can't remember) something. Then wrap a present and head to Cowichee.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

A low key day

After several days of running errands, making phone calls, checking info online, doing research, cleaning, packing, and doing laundry, today is very low key. I've showered, put together a little scrapbook to take with me, and pasted some photos into my Bible. Tonight I have my last praise and worship band rehearsal for Sunday. Tomorrow I have to get my taxes done, go to my consignment store to get the clothes I need, then go shopping for a few things with Mom.

Thank God for one calm day.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Wow. Only 48 hours. I'm in shock, the to do list is mounting, but the big stuff is all covered. At least as far as appointments go. My suitcase is partially packed on my living room floor. After several go arounds with a plastic trash bag, a shop vac, and my sleeping bag, I finally figured out how to suck all the air out of it and keep it that way. My sleeping bag and pillow are little flattened wrinkly rectangles at the bottom of my suitcase.

Mom and I went shopping today for a few things ... mending kit, pajama bottoms, sleep mask, and sudoko puzzles and a few books for the flight. Since Wycliffe, I have most of what I need already. A few toiletries I'm out of anyway, enough personal products for six months (the only things difficult to find there), and some warm weather clothes, that I'm trading some of my wardrobe for at my favorite thrift/consignment store on friday. All's just about ready. Some taxes, a few arrangements.

What I'm waiting for is Sunday, when my mission trip is presented to the congregation. Most of my 'extra' funding needs to come in that day. I'm nervous. It's a generous church, but I'm depending on them for almost everything. And it's so hard to ask. Then a few more days at home, missions meeting Tuesday morning, vaccinations Wednesday, Dad's birthday dinner in Seattle, and then everyone drops me off at the airport.

So that's the update. My main way of communicating once I'm there will be this blog. There's an internet cafe not far from base, so I'll (hopefully) have plenty of chances to stay in touch, at least for the first three months. Mail will be an option as well, for those that want to send me letters, I'll have an address available once I'm there.

And I'm off to "do stuff." Ciao.

Saturday, January 06, 2007


Well, everybody, as I said yesterday I was accepted to the Youth With a Mission - Battambang, Cambodia program. My flight leaves on the 20th of January, and I'll return the 29th of July.

The program begins with three months of classes and training in discipleship, learning to listen for God's voice, learning your strengths and weaknesses, what He wants you to do with your talents, and of course, how to share him in an exciting way with others. During the training we'll be doing volunteer work at the community center - where they offer classes in English, Guitar, Sewing, Bible, and also at a hospital and an orphanage. Then we'll spend 8 weeks going out into Cambodia to do work and outreach.

I've somewhere between excitement and blind panic. I literally found out that I'm going as of yesterday. This is going to be a very changing experience, and I'm afraid/excited that I'm going to come back very different, and with many priorities changed. Hopefully, I'll also know God better at the end of the six months.

This is very last minute, and I'm struggling to raise the money I need. My church mission team has generously offered to cover my school costs, and several family members and friends have also contributed. The church may also take a special offering for my plane fare, but the pastor recommended that I show that I've asked literally everyone I know for help. So here's another attempt. If any of my friends out there want to sponsor a short term missions trip, please comment or email me and I'll send you my information.


Friday, January 05, 2007

The Screwtape Letters

The Screwtape Letters

“You sharpen the human appetite to the point where it can split atoms with its desire; you build egos the size of cathedrals; fiber-optically connect the world to every eager impulse; grease even the dullest dreams with these dollar-green, gold-plated fantasies until every human being becomes an aspiring emperor, becomes his own God.”
John Milton: The Devil’s Advocate

Free will: the gift and curse of humanity. Through free will we can fully experience God because we are given the option not to. Likewise, through free will we are allowed to craft our lives in any manner of our choosing, even if the end result resembles Hell. “The possibility of this wrong preference is inherent in the very fact of having a being, a self at all…Every conscious agent in finally committed in the long run; i.e. it rises above freedom into willed, but henceforth unalterable, union with God, or else sinks below freedom into the black fire of self-imprisonment.”1 The Great Divorce shows us the aftereffect of this choosing – stripping away the outward trappings and revealing the soul as it really is. In The Screwtape Letters we witness the process. Our choices are not simply dependent on ourselves. Powers and principalities exist that aim to help and hinder. Because of free will a person cannot be forced to act, but their own desires and inclinations can be magnified to influence a person’s decisions. Both sides have the same goal in mind – to encourage a person to “be themselves.” To the ‘angels, archangels, and the blessed company of all faithful people’ this means the relinquishing of the lesser self to regain self redeemed. To spirits ‘masquerading as angels of light’ this means the twisting of the fallen self into an unrecognizable and unredeemable horror.

Before examining Screwtape and Wormwood’s method of using free will to their advantage, let’s first look at another great fictional temptation; The Devil’s Advocate. Lewis says that “every choice reduces a little one’s freed to choose the next time.”2 Enter Kevin Lomax, a criminal defense lawyer. The Devil (under the alias John Milton) tells us the key to temptation; “If at all possible, mask it as something else…they never see me coming.”3 Milton begins by using the simple comments of others to enflame Kevin’s ego. In the guise of a local reporter, Milton encourages Kevin to choose his flawless record over the truth. He is approached by Milton’s firm and slowly flattered into slightly more ambiguous and finally evil clientel. His integrity slides further with each subsequent case. Kevin is “just doing his job.” His wife begs for some of his time, but Kevin is“doing this for her. When his wife is admitted to the hospital, he tells Milton that if he chooses her over the “case of a lifetime” he will resent her for it. Each choice seems small in itself - a little selfishness, some justification, some buried evidence and a convenient blind eye. Finally Kevin discovers that he’s cast his lot with the Devil and can’t recall how he got there. He tells Milton that he was tricked, exploited, and nothing is his fault. Milton retorts, “I’m no puppeteer, Kevin. I don’t make things happen. Doesn’t work like that…I only set the stage. You pull the strings.” Milton reveals hell’s battle strategy: sharpen human appetites, build egos, increase technology so every whim can be instantly satisfied, build up dreams and fantasies until each person becomes his own God. Milton doesn’t need to go to great lengths to tempt people, he needs only to encourage them to pursue their own self-interest. “What do I want?” he asks Kevin, “I want you to be yourself!”

Screwtape and Wormwood use similar tactics to Milton, but more subtly. They take advantage of the fact the God holds himself back from any revealing of Himself which would negate free will; “He is prepared to do a little overriding at the beginning… But he never allows this state of affairs to last long.”4 In a letter to Authur Greeves, Lewis supported his view that God chose to give us freedom even knowing that it could lead to sin:5 “he thought Freedom worth creating even at that price. It is like when mother allows a small child to walk on its own instead of holding it by her hand. She knows it may fall but learning to walk on one’s own is worth a few falls.”6 It also allows Screwtape and Wormwood to work at the patient almost without interruption, and they have developed many techniques to ensure their success. They mask the patient’s ability to see his self as he truly is and build up a false image in its place. Instead of self-reflection the patient is watching a drama. They cannot keep him from thinking lofty thoughts, but they may be able to distract him with lunch. They encourage the patient to excuse bad behavior by extenuating circumstances. He is not to afford the same excuses for others. If they cannot keep him from the church, they will bring forward all of his golden pictures of martyrs, togas and lions, in sharp contrast to the people actually sitting around him. They can stroke his vanity and at the same time surround him with superficial and worldly friends by letting him imagine that he is “doing these people ‘good’ by the mere fact of drinking their cocktails and laughing at their jokes.”7 Since all pure enjoyment (even non-religious) can lead to an experience of the Numinous, Screwtape advises Wormwood to try to encourage the patient to activities that he will not enjoy, but will gain him general admiration. They draw attention to virtues and encourage pride. They take the secondary benefits of Christianity, such as charity or political consciousness and make it the “most important part” of the religion. Then they go a step farther and make Christianity important only insofar as it supports their political agenda. In the end Milton, Screwtape and Wormwood work use the same primary sin to their advantage. As Milton says, “Vanity. My favorite sin.” Every temptation is based on our own vanity, or pride. All our basest desires: everything we do to ‘fit in,’ false humilty, exaggerated religiosity, refraining from truth out of fear, and the desire to impress; are based in vanity. As fallen creatures even our higher emotions are tainted and open to exploitation. We give charity from a desire to be thought well of (thus Christ’s admonition to give in secret). Even love may be exploited. As the Lady says in The Great Divorce, “What we called love down there was mostly the craving to be loved.”8 And even when we are not strictly sinning, we run the risk of echoing the original sin, “not of choosing some evil thing, but in preferring a lesser good …before a greater.”9

The key to modern temptation is to make us unaware that it is occurring. That is what Lewis calls catering to the Spirit of the Age. In our age it is easy for temptation to pass unnoticed in all of the noise, chaos, and complication. We are surrounded by information, and accustomed to have new studies, surveys and opinions presented which are disproved almost daily. We don’t search for truth, but ideas, all of which may be thrown aside at the next bit of research. We are constantly bombarded by television, radio, traffic noise, and music. We spend our time dulled by a commute, work a mind numbing day in front of a computer screen, and then while away our free hours in front of the television or on the internet. In the midst of the flashy and ever-changing, we aren’t to notice that we are being asked to make choices, letting them be made for us by ‘public opinion.’

It is easy to see why Lewis was hesitant to revisit Screwtape Letters after writing it. While Screwtape offers an insightful glimpse into the myriad ways Christians can be tripped up, if read outside the context of Lewis’ other writings it presents a pretty bleak picture. No matter how hard the patient tries to improve his-self, and how many ways he grows, he is constantly tested. Until he is freed by a falling bomb, in nearly every temptation he comes out badly. A new test is at hand if he even feels proud about passing the last one. The missing piece that makes triumph out of our failure is, of course, Grace (Which from Screwtape’s perspective, is only mentioned in the patient’s conversion and untimely death). By the Grace of God we are free from all of these failings and temptations, not because we will not have to undergo them, but because ultimately it doesn’t matter. We cannot possibly be aware of every one of the thousands of ways we may have fallen short in the space of a day. We will never be as charitable as we ought, or patient, or kind, longsuffering, and all the rest. This doesn’t mean that these things aren’t important. We aren’t to “sin…so that grace abound[s] all the more”10 but we can be happy in the knowledge that the debt has already been paid for all of these sins. Though we are to become more like God with every choice we make, we can rest easy because a misstep does not negate our salvation. We will never be perfect, but we can strive for perfection. We may never be what we might have been had the fall not occurred (sheer speculation in what the Green Lady would call an “alongside world”), but by Grace we will “throw off everything that hinders, and the sin that so easily entangles us”11 and finally, in the end, become our true selves.

1. The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Volume II: Books, Broadcasts, and the War 1931-1949. Edited by Walter Hooper. (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2004), 585
2. Ibid., 585.
3. The Devil’s Advocate.
4. C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1942), 40.
5. It is worth noting that Lewis contradicts his own theology in this letter. In many works and letters it is quite clear that Lewis believes that God exists out of time, and thus sees all things happening at once in a constant “present.” To say that He grants freedom though it “could lead …to sin” is a notion he flatly denies in both The Problem of Pain and The Screwtape Letters. In The Problem With Pain, Lewis asserts that God did not choose free will as the best of available options, but as the only possibility. Screwtape assures Wormwood that God created the world clearly seeing an incident involving a cross. It is an interesting choice of words by Lewis, given how late in his writing career that letter was sent.
6. The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Volume II: Books, Broadcasts, and the War, 1931-1949. Edited by Walter Hooper. (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2004), 956.
7. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, 52.
8. C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1946), 125.
9. The Collected Letters, 585
10. Romans 5:20, NIV (New International Version)
11. Hebrews 12:1, NIV (New International Version)
Well it's official. I've been accepted by YWAM to go to Cambodia for five months. Lots of things to do now to get ready...

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Waiting, still waiting to find out what I'll be doing this month. One application for a job in the United Kingdom was rejected -they don't accept applications unless one already has a work permit. The second job is waiting for a response. The third option I'm waiting on - hoping the "option" will become a reality.

I want option number 3 so badly, but it's going to be very difficult to pull it together in only a few weeks. And I'm still halfway through a class. Going well. Good grades on my first two papers. Stalled badly on my Screwtape Letters paper.

I'll let you know everything as soon as I know!

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

I can breathe!!! Through both nostrils! For the first time in 20 days...

Which is good, because I just ran out of kleenex!

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

The Great Divorce

The Great Divorce

And of that second kingdom will I sing
Wherein the human spirit doth purge itself
And to ascend to heaven becometh worthy
Dante, The Divine Comedy

The Great Divorce, by C. S. Lewis is a fictionalized journey to heaven “in the similitude of a dream.” 1 The author’s journey begins in the grey town; a city perpetually in twilight, where the populace is spread over millions of miles and getting further apart every minute. The author joins a group of people on a holiday excursion of the damned. 2 They ride a bus to heaven where each ghost is met by a Saint who has been sent back on their journey to bliss to give one last chance to the ghost in their charge to relinquish whatever keeps them in the grey city. This book raises question about Lewis’ theology of heaven, hell, and purgatory. 3 The subjects to be addressed are: does Lewis believe in unforgivable sin; does the doctrine of purgatory make an appearance; and does Lewis appear to believe in universal salvation.

Does Lewis believe in unforgivable sin? The Great Divorce shows a variety of types of sins. Some of the ghosts were guilty of “minor” sins; a propensity to complain, the desire to be attractive, or of putting too much stock into another human. Some clung to “moderate” sins; self pity, cruelty, and seeking intelligence instead of Truth. There are the Catholic “deadly” sins; pride, lust and greed. Damnation is not based on the severity of the sin: one of the saints had been a murderer. Redemption depends on what the ghost does when given a chance to relinquish its hold on whatever caused its banishment to the grey town. All sins are forgivable. Small sins are just as damning as great ones. The murderer was a Saint because he had thrown himself on the “Bleeding Charity” and was shown mercy. The man he was sent to save was a ghost on holiday, determined to only have his rights. He though himself a decent man, and only wanted his just deserts. God wanted to give him better than that, but the ghost wouldn’t accept anything not based on his own merits.

The ghost with the lizard on his shoulder presents the opposite circumstance. He had a certain level of self-awareness the first ghost had not; he recognized his sin and felt shame. He had tried, with all of his feeble power, to subdue the sin he couldn’t relinquish. It was still beyond his power to fully conquer that sin, and he knew that it could not accompany him to heaven. On the point of turning back to the grey country, where he and his lizard would both belong, he finally gave the lizard over to someone more powerful than himself. He gave permission for the lizard to be killed, and in turn he was transformed into a Saint. His sin also became its true self, not a hindrance, but a helpmate that sped his journey to the mountains. All sins can be redeemed only if they are given over to God to do what he wills with them.

Is Lewis’ view of Heaven in The Great Divorce similar to purgatory? Purgatory, according to Catholic Doctrine, is an in-between world for those that die in a state of grace to undergo purification in order to achieve the holiness necessary to enter heaven.” There is no true purgatory in The Great Divorce, only heaven and the grey town. The grey town is not purgatory because the people there are trapped outside of the state of grace: they cling to something other than God. It is not limbo – an unofficial doctrine of a place where the unredeemed good go to wait for Christ to redeem them. It is perhaps closest to what the Greek myths called Hades, and the Hebrews, Sheol. Hades is the gloomy abode of the dead, where almost all mortals go. When the belief of judgment after death became part of Greek thought, Hades became the destination of those who were not particularly good or bad. The grey city cannot be purgatory because the inhabitants of there are not redeemed. The suffering they undergo is of their own making and not intended for purification, which is the sole purpose of purgatory. George MacDonald tells Lewis of the grey town, “If they leave that… behind it will not have been Hell…it is Purgatory.” 4 So the grey area is not purgatory, it is hell. It may only be called purgatory in the past tense, by those that managed to escape. 5

Lewis does not appear to believe in Universal salvation; that all people will eventually find salvation and reconciliation with God. Lewis clearly expresses the opposite. The majority of those in the grey town never seek to leave it. Most of those who take the bus to heaven go back again because they cannot meet the demands placed on them; Some get back on the bus because Heaven is too foreign or not what they expected; Some are sent back to the grey town when, after being given their last chance for redemption, they refuse it, and disappear forever. In The Great Divorce, there is only limited neutrality. Once the sun rises, the boundary between Heaven and Hell will solidify. There will be no more transit from the grey town. “Any man may choose eternal death. Those who choose it will have it.”6 When the morning comes, time will end. Though every soul has been and will be given a chance to accept God or deny him – Christ descended into hell for that very reason – the gift of free will means that each person will have their own way in the end. If a person hasn’t prayed “thy will be done” and meant it, they will not be reconciled.

The Great Divorce is one of my favorite Lewis books because it presents him at his best: able to bring difficult doctrine down to a layperson’s level. It is not an easy book, but the theme that runs through it reminds me of how I fall short. It is easy to substitute religion for a relationship with God and presume that I am doing alright. I can faithfully go through the motions my whole life, but in the end that won’t matter because nothing I do will earn my way into heaven. My first full sentence as a child was, “I can do it myself,” and as far as I am able I still depend on myself more than others. But reading The Great Divorce reminds me that relying on my-self is the thing that gets in the way of my relationship with God. I go to him only as a last resort, preferring to handle things as long as I am able. But this book holds up the mirror mentioned in James and reminds me for a while that I must want God more than my own dependability. I have to be willing to seek help instead of relying on my own strength. I am similar in character to the ghost that wanted only those rewards he’d earned. By trying to win my way to heaven, I am essentially saying that I want the rewards of the afterlife without actually having to go through God to get them. Lewis reminds me that “…[God] will not be used as a convenience.”7 I often shy away from God, preferring to substitute charity and religion, theology and service; it’s easier to commit to tasks than a relationship. I want to get into God’s kingdom, but I want to have as little to do with him as possible. The Great Divorce reminds me again to “ask for the Bleeding Charity. Everything is here for the asking and nothing can be bought.” 8

1 John Bunyan, The Pilgrim’s Progress (London: Penguin Books Ltd., 1987), 2.
2 C. S. Lewis, The Great Divorce (New York: Harper Collins, 1973), 67.
3 It would be useful to differentiate between Lewis’ personal theology and the fictional afterlife presented in The Great Divorce. First, in The Great Divorce there are no sins which are not capable of being forgiven. Lewis, in his other writings, discussed the one “unforgivable sin” – blaspheming the Holy Spirit (Mark 3:29, New International Version). Secondly, though what exactly is supposed to represent purgatory is not clearly defined, Lewis himself strongly believed in purgatory. In Letters to Malcolm he says, “the saved soul, at the very foot of the throne, begs to be taken away and cleansed…the process of purification will normally involve suffering.” (pp. 109) Last, even though George MacDonald – one of the most renowned advocates of universal salvation - is Lewis’ spiritual mentor, both in life and in The Great Divorce, Lewis did not share that belief. He does, however, extend the possibility that those outside the faith may still be saved. In Romans, the apostle Paul states that those outside the law who still live according to it are an exception. (Romans 2:24-16, New International Version) Lewis’ fictionalization of this passage is in The Last Battle In the chapter ‘Further Up and Further In’ of The Last Battle, p.165; A young Calormene officer is admitted into the new Narnia, though he’d been a servant of Tash all his life. Aslan tells him, “all the service [you have] done to Tash, I account as service done to me…unless [your] desire had been for me, you [would not] have sought so long and so truly. For all find what they truly seek.”) Though it is clear what Lewis himself believes, The Great Divorce is not strictly his particular view of the afterlife. He allows multiple doctrines, both Catholic and Protestant, and does not limit this writing strictly to his own beliefs.
4 Lewis, The Great Divorce, 68.
5 An alternative to the grey city for purgatory would be the difficult journey through the mountains to “Deep Heaven.” I would argue that Lewis meant this journey in a different capacity. In his Letters to Malcolm, Chapter XX, p.108-9, Lewis speaks of purgatory as a process of purification that “will normally involve suffering.” This process is done at the instigation of the saved soul that “at the very foot of the throne, begs to be taken away and cleansed.” He clearly contrasts this with process once in heaven of the “perpetual increase of beatitude, reached by a continually more ecstatic self-surrender, without the possibility of failure, but not perhaps without its own ardors and exertions.” In The Great Divorce the Saints promise, “It will be joy going to the mountains, but there will be plenty of work.” This is not a suffering, but the becoming of their true self. Both processes involve toil, but the first is made of suffering, and the second of joy.
6 Lewis, The Great Divorce,140.
7 C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1942), 127.
8 Lewis, The Great Divorce, 28.