The Parable of the Good Syrian

On one occasion, a well-respected evangelical minister and lawyer stood up to question Jesús. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

The minister answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

“You have answered correctly,” Jesús replied. “Do this and you will live.”

But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesús, “And who is my neighbor?”

In reply Jesús told this story:

“A homosexual was getting off a bus, when he was attacked by unidentified domestic terrorists. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead and homeless on the streets.

A Republican, conservative pastor happened to pass by, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side.

So too, the deacon of a large church, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.

But a Syrian refugee, as she traveled, came where the man was; and when she saw him, she took pity on him. She went to him and bandaged his wounds, sharing her own water and food. Then she gave the man her own bike, brought him to a shelter, and stayed with him and took care of him.

The next day she took out all the money she’d made working as a waitress over the weekend and gave them to the shelter’s supervisor. ‘Look after him,’ she said, ‘and when I come back next week, I will reimburse you for any extra expenses you may have.’

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the terrorists?”

The minister replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesús told him, “Go and do likewise.”

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Stop Trying to “Make America Great Again”

I don’t want to tell you who to vote for, mostly because I know I’m tired of being told how to vote.

Not voting for Trump is not a vote for Clinton. Not voting for Clinton is not a vote for Trump. You know what’s really a vote for a candidate? When you actually take your pen and fill in the dot that says you have chosen this specific person to represent you as your President of the United States. We need to stop pressuring people into choke-swallowing this “lesser of two evils” notion. Saying this only makes your average citizen either more likely to accept a worse candidate the next election, or to lose all hope and not vote at all. Besides, we have created enough division and made too many decisions out of being scared or angry. We don’t need another reason to dull our personal consciences.

If you do decide to vote for one of them, be my guest. I might not agree, but I completely understand why. Depending on what is most important to you, either one of these candidates could be a colossal disaster compared to the other. But please don’t follow the examples of our good talking heads on the pseudo-news media outlets and excuse, validate, or normalize these people’s actions, words, and choices. This epidemic apathy is what led us to having these kinds of choices as our nominated candidates in the first place.

This election is the result not just of two corrupt individuals, but of the radical, polarizing created by desperate parties; the complacency of a nation and its acceptance of degenerating standards; both the intentional and unintentional refusal of the church to be a refuge of both love and reason; and the innate nature of sin in each of our lives.

So does that mean we shouldn’t vote?

I don’t personally agree with abstaining (and if more than the average 40%-ish of America had voted, we’d probably not be in this situation), but I can’t honestly blame you if you decide to opt out of this election. I really can’t. I also don’t usually agree with third party votes, but an adherence to conscience can be a more meaningful act than a compromise of morals. Besides, if the two parties are really this corrupt and obviously broken, then it seems like a good time for a new (hopefully less extremist or sold-out) party to take the mantle sometime in the next few decades. But that can only happen when it pulls enough of the vote from the two primary parties.
Personally, I am voting third party and, while I won’t say who, I will tell you why. It’s because I’m not voting for myself. I’m voting for that confused set of wide eyes watching their very first presidential debate, being introduced into a nation where implicit racism, widespread corruption, power-creeping, rape culture, and powerful people being given that power because of fear and hate are not only validated–but normal.
I cannot stomach the idea of looking a child in the eye and telling them I voted for either someone who represents everything I hate about the corrupt system and its deep-rooted establishment, or someone who represents everything I hate about the implicit racism, sexism, and class-ism of this nation.

I do not have children, but…

How could I possibly look my daughter in the eye and tell her I voted for a person who at 59 years old boasted about violating women and throughout his life treated them as objects rather than people (or call myself a man in front of my son when clearly this is not what I had raised him to be)? How could I tell my kids that our first woman President was someone who’d exploited and manipulated her way to the office, rather than someone who earned that seat based on character?
How could I look them in the eye and tell them I voted for someone who was for all intents and purposes found guilty by the FBI, an agency which claimed that had she been someone else, she’d have been arrested? How could I tell them I voted for someone who was accused of sexually assaulting numerous women, including a 13-year old girl?

How could I tell them I voted for the person who helped bail out the people who ruined their financial future? How could I tell them I voted for the person who was giddy as future was destroyed just because he could turn a profit?

How could I tell them I voted for a person who marginalized entire groups of people and capitalized on the misguided fears of people at the expense of other children from broken families? That I voted for a person who caused so much division and hate and fear in the country, at a time when what we needed most was unity, forgiveness, compassion? When we needed to love all neighbors as ourselves (whether they were the large percentage of Muslims who are victims, not terrorists; or the Black Lives Matter protesters crying out over dead love ones; or the refugees escaping the fracturing of a country which we helped destroy).

Some of you may believe this vote comes down to policy, or the Supreme Court, or that one is slightly less evil than the other. I’ve thought a very long time about this and, now more than ever,

I’m not convinced.

The fact is, the country isn’t going to be broken. It already is. We know America isn’t “Great” and our goal never should’ve been to make it great. Being strong doesn’t make a nation great. Being richer than the rest of the world doesn’t make it great. Being safe sure as hell doesn’t make it great either.

wallcoverThere are bigger, better things to strive for. Before we can fix America, we have to stop pretending the problems don’t exist. God knows we have to stop pretending the Church is clear of any wrongdoing. Before we consider making America great, we should strive to first make America Good, Kind, Compassionate, Generous, Loving, and, above all things, Humble.

Because I don’t want to raise my kids in a nation that rewards the bullies and neglects the needy. America isn’t a country owned by a select few greedy CEOs and it’s not a country that was meant to be man-handled by a select few extremist bigots. America began as a nation built in a very faint, naive hope. And through the years, the times it shined brightest were when it recognized its mistakes, when it tackled them head-on instead of running from them, when it fought to better rather than make excuses for its blemishes.

We might not get to choose whether the great, old system gets broken or not; we might not even get to choose who really does the breaking. But we do get to choose, as a people, not to be broken.

Regardless of who you vote for, what you vote for, in both the presidential and all your local elections, remember that the person in the booth next to you isn’t your enemy. Chances are, your acquaintance down the street isn’t part of the grand conspiracy trying to destroy your way of living. That person is your neighbor, for better and for worse. So treat them kindly, even if they don’t treat you the same. Share a smile. Bake cookies. Pray.

Because at the end of the day, we don’t put our hope in government; in some idyllic notion of a nation that doesn’t really exist; in people who represent our “interests.” America isn’t God.

And if it is your god, well, let’s be honest. We really should’ve seen this coming.

22 Years: A Collection of Hamstrung Decisions and Consequences

On one particular blustery, summer morning, I raised a tiny fist and knocked against my mother’s bloated stomach. “Hey, Mom,” is what I’d have said if I could speak, “You’ve had me holed up in here 9 months now. You can let me out now.” Unfortunately, parents don’t understand non-speak, so I knocked harder. When that didn’t work, I kicked. That’d get her moving.

To my disappointment, they responded with loud shouting and some strange high-pitched howling noise. Downright terrifying. Somehow through the noise and the buzz and the very dangerous driving, I’d been brought to a birth center.

“What kind of injustice is this? From one prison to the next. I’m not a convict, Mom, I’m your son!”

In indignation, I refused to come out. If I had to come out, they’d have to yank me out with Dad’s crowbar or something. I’d show them. Dad was no handyman. Maybe he helped me enter this womb, but he sure wasn’t gonna get me out.

So it was, that I was born just before midnight, kicking at a midwife’s face with a permanent frown etched onto my face. From the day I was born, I displayed my disapproval with this thing they called Life.

“Can’t have that,” my old man said, and he took his finger and pushed my bottom lip right back into my mouth. Soon as his finger was gone, I pouted at him again. “Miguel, you look like an old man.” (Wouldn’t be the last time he said that.)

Naming me before we meet. Very bold of you, mon Parents.

Later I learned how to lisp out my full name, Miguel Santiago Flores. They named me for two things that  would define the rest of my life: Miguel was Spanish for Michael, which is really more of a question than a proper name. The question, “who is like God?” The easy answer, “no one.” But I don’t do easy.

Santiago was also Spanish, stood for “Saint” James. It was the only inheritance I took from my Filipino great-grandfather, but I like to think it’s because I had something in common with one of the Bible’s first amateur wrestlers. My middle name would be the first of many dislocated shoulders.

Flores was another for “flowers,” but I was determined to be the cannibalistic sort with the teeth that bit at any fingers daring enough to poke me (Sorry, Dad).

Essentially, I was born stubborn. Today I’m not much different.

This morning (meaning 2AM when I should have been sleeping), I did a fair bit of looking back at my Life. As is the general compulsion of your average human mess-up, my first instinct was to notice all the mistakes I’ve made in my life. If I’m honest about it, it’s a long trail that covers the entirety of my 22 years walking it. From this blog alone, I can count 48 drafts of blog posts I never shared–some because they were unfinished, some because I wanted more citations but never worked hard enough to get any, most because I never wrote them to begin with. I’m good at that: coming up with titles minus any working substance. And that’s not exclusive to my writing.

At 7 years old, I thought I’d become the first professional NBA Filipino basketball player. Actually, I thought my cousin would be the first, but I was still convinced I could get taller than him. Little did I know that a gallon of milk a week cannot beat out the monster they call Genetics. Filipinos are not designed to dunk 10ft baskets. Well that was fine. I’d become the short coach who bossed all the tall guys around.

Genetics was a jerk though. He liked to crawl out from under my bed and remind me of all the other minor things: being deaf to specific decibels of sound, having an extra bit of tongue which made it hard for me to say words right, and having almond eyes that couldn’t really see things well if they were near or far.

At 9 and 1/2, I’d been uprooted and moved to this weird swampland called Florida. Knew no one and didn’t want to know anyone. I packed my belongings into a red backpack; grabbed all my entire $50 in raw, hard cash; and studied an old map of the bus routes in Orange county. This was my moment.

I stayed up till the early morning hours, snuck out of my room, and stared at that formidable bronze lock of our town house. It laughed at me. The very sudden realization of what I was doing hit me in the face. I walked back into my room, stuffed my bag underneath my bed, and went back to sleep. “I can always run away next week.” It was a comforting lie I told myself for many years.

At 15, I temporarily moved back to Maryland. Dado (grandpa) was dying, the one guy I pointedly Didn’t Get Along With more than anyone else in my family. But he was dying, and my mom needed to be there, and my mom and sister needed me to be there. “You should spend time with him while you still have the chance.” Okay, I rescinded, but I won’t like it.

I was right. I didn’t like it. I loved him, Death was an asshole, and now I was an addict of writing angry poetry to a loveless god.

At 18, I graduated high school. At that point, it was the best day of my life. I didn’t know what it was I wanted to do next, but that was okay because I had the ability to do anything. Besides, after 6+ years of being deeply involved in local and state politics, I at least knew what I definitively didn’t want to do. Up until that point, the various occupations that had run in and out of my mind included: Basketball Coach, Missionary, Marine Chaplain, Pirate (very, very briefly), Firefighter, Crab Fisherman, Travel Journalist, Gastronomic Chef, Dietitian and Nutritionist.

I decided I’d become a Nutritionist after I finished my A.A. The crude irony of it so happened that I became very sick the same semester I took my first class, “Principles of Nutrition.” How sick? Four months sick. Goodbye, Normality.

At 22, I’m not sure what to do next.

It’s generally not a good day to hold off making plans until you get to “that age” because, when you do get to “that age,” you find that “that age” is too late for any plans to have any momentum.

There are lots of relationships I’ve been broken over, lots of decisions with disastrous (often deserved) consequences, lots of obstacles and challenges I’ve had to climb over or out of. Mostly, I see hanging in this room of my mind, all the apologies I’ve had to make and some I still have collecting dust, sitting on a wooden tongue. Maybe if I get agitated enough, I’ll finally manage to cough them out.

When you do this sort of thing enough times, it gets easier to not notice the same places over and over again. Even when they become increasingly obvious, you get good at ignoring things. But I decided not to this time. I picked up a couple memories, blew the dust off, and tried to figure out where in my life they happened.

I’m nowhere near where I thought I’d be in life. I doubt very few people are and, if they are, I suspect them of either stubborn delusion or compulsive lying.

Here are some of the newly dusted memories, a mess of unhewn stones lying scattered in heaps waiting to be built up into altars:

  • I fell in love. I fell out of love.
  • I overcame the monster of my high school years. I called this parasite Depression.
  • I took a break from school and got a new job. I quit my job and went back to school. I kept my promise to actually finish school and will graduate in four months.
  • I was forced to stop writing. I participated in life more than I wrote about it.
  • I learned how to write again.
  • I made amazing new friends. I had adventures with the old ones.
  • I traveled, by both plane and by story. I met people, I saw their hurt, and I cried with them.
  • I gained compassion for those I don’t know and was given grace for those I do.
  • I learned more about Jesus than I’ve ever known, and realized I know less about him than I ever thought.

Most of all, I took risks and a very small handful of them paid off. And it’s the ones that didn’t that I’m proud of.

That’s not to say Life isn’t still hard and confusing, and I still think baby me was an idiot for not fighting harder and longer before being extradited. I was not prepared for having to deal with taxes, for instance. I didn’t know getting your heart broken could break the rest of you. No one told me that once the parasite of depression was gone, you’d have to spend so many long years figuring out who you were without it.

There are so many others things I want to finish, but haven’t even started yet. So many other things people have told me I can’t do, whether because of my situation, or my background, or even my ethnicity, that I am looking forward to proving wrong. The old man face is no longer a permanent fixture. I’ve found things to enjoy now; I’ve found people who aren’t such terrible people; I’ve found that not all monsters are ones I have to be scared of.

And, on no longer rare occasions, I even smile.

The Parable of the Madman and God’s Not Dead: The Burdens and Responsibilities of God-Slayers

Nietzsche1882 In his book, The Gay Science, Nietzsche attempted to prove that mankind has slain God in a narrative called The Parable of the Madman. I posted it below for those of you who aren’t familiar with the piece.

Have you not heard of that madman who lit a lantern in the bright morning hours, ran to the market place, and cried incessantly: “I seek God! I seek God!”–As many of those who did not believe in God were standing around just then, he provoked much laughter. Has he got lost? asked one. Did he lose his way like a child? asked another. Or is he hiding? Is he afraid of us? Has he gone on a voyage? emigrated?–Thus they yelled and laughed.

The madman jumped into their midst and pierced them with his eyes. “Whither is God?” he cried; “I will tell you. We have killed him–you and I. All of us are his murderers. But how did we do this? How could we drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What were we doing when we unchained this earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving? Away from all suns? Are we not plunging continually? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there still any up or down? Are we not straying, as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is not night continually closing in on us? Do we not need to light lanterns in the morning? Do we hear nothing as yet of the noise of the gravediggers who are burying God? Do we smell nothing as yet of the divine decomposition? Gods, too, decompose. God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.

“How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it? There has never been a greater deed; and whoever is born after us–for the sake of this deed he will belong to a higher history than all history hitherto.”

Here the madman fell silent and looked again at his listeners; and they, too, were silent and stared at him in astonishment. At last he threw his lantern on the ground, and it broke into pieces and went out. “I have come too early,” he said then; “my time is not yet. This tremendous event is still on its way, still wandering; it has not yet reached the ears of men. Lightning and thunder require time; the light of the stars requires time; deeds, though done, still require time to be seen and heard. This deed is still more distant from them than most distant stars–and yet they have done it themselves.

It has been related further that on the same day the madman forced his way into several churches and there struck up his requiem aeternam deo. Led out and called to account, he is said always to have replied nothing but: “What after all are these churches now if they are not the tombs and sepulchers of God?”

“God is dead. God remains dead. And We Have Killed Him.”

Is_God_Dead

Time issue, 1966

It’s fascinating how often we hear, or use, those first three words nowadays. But, it’s not very shocking. Our culture has been shaped by increasingly dismal ideologies, especially over the most recent two centuries. We are marked by the scars of two world wars, many other wars since, the collapses of entire societies, an increased awareness due to globalization, and the rise and fall of both modernism and postmodernism. The culmination of these changes has arguably not just resulted in the “death of God” but also turned us into a post-Christian western civilization. Not all of the researchers in the world share the same percentages or statistics, but there is agreement on one thing: the prominence of Christianity in America and Europe is falling.

Ripped out of its parable, the three words “God is dead” are used as some sort of chant against the Judeo-Christian God. But it is strange how, in a post-Christian society, they are said not with passive acceptance, but almost as an angry outburst to the universe. They are like the cry of a defiant child to its nonexistent father.

What is this burning hatred to a God that doesn’t exist? Why do we seem to rage at a God we claim to have killed and not to the men who admitted the atrocities in his name–regardless of who his character is? If God is dead, and we have killed him, it is indeed (as Nietzsche said) a large shadow that the fallen God has cast upon us. However, though Nietzsche longed to see nihilism (some say so that he could see it pass away as quickly as possible) and welcomed its seemingly inevitable arrival, he also knew its dangers.

I praise, I do not reproach, [nihilism’s] arrival. I believe it is one of the greatest crises, a moment of the deepest self-reflection of humanity. Whether man recovers from it, whether he becomes master of this crisis, is a question of his strength. It is possible. . .

Consider in his parable how he not only acknowledges the death of God, but addresses the consequences. In the parable, the madman came to a realization. He found that he’d come too early. He knew that the society could not yet understand what they had done–that they had purged God, and morality, from their lives. He recognized the weight of the deed: the scary reality that without God or morality in their lives, man would be faced with the choice to embrace that decision or else succumb to it. I think Nietzsche had the small hope that humanity would find in themselves the will to power that would allow them to pass on a better future to the next generation; but I also think Nietzsche knew deep down that this was an impossibility. 

Maybe the reason for his beliefs was more than just inevitable acceptance of what he knew the future would be, but also an angry denial of where he knew amorality would take us. After all, this sort of optimism without God, this existential “will to nothingness,” can only lead to its inevitable nothingness. 

“God’s Not Dead!”

profileOf course, Christians have designed their own clever retort. It has recently been revitalized as a household slogan by a movie that was released in 2014, a movie so financially successful that its creators have been given the green-light for an upcoming sequel. But I can’t help think that Christians, even more so than the “God is dead” proclaimers, have misunderstood or even purposely ignored the full point of the quote as well. 

Often, when American Christians proclaim the phrase “God’s not dead,” what results is not so much a valiant rallying to God but rather a confused contending for a romanticized, one-sided vision of our culture. We reject the reality of an already changed society and fall into the same trap of thinking that those who shout loudest get to define the country’s ideals and morality.

But neither side can talk about what the world should be if we are also ignoring what the world already is. 

The world becomes compartmentalized and only one side or the other is shown. One side of the argument sees only the worst of humanity without any of the moments of unexpected grace; they see only nothingness. But the other side is just as much at fault for failing to represent realistic pictures of where the world currently is. Instead of engaging the world, we engage ourselves with Christianese movies, Christianese music, Christians memes, and Christianese messages. Far from opening the doorway to honest conversation, movies like God’s Not Dead simply propagate so many of the stereotypes that the world already has of Christians.

Before we continue, here’s a list of storytelling mistakes and mishaps we have a tendency to make represented by the movie God’s Not Dead (consider this my unofficial review). I know that list was long  and I do realize I may be overly harsh of what is arguably one of the “most successful Christian movies of our time.” However, I feel strongly obligated to critique the movie because of the following reasons:

  • Its main message rips Nietzsche’s words out of context yet we complain so often about people taking scripture out of context.
  • Its arguments are inherently flawed and detrimental to anyone who wants to seriously consider apologetics, theology, or philosophy.
  • Its worth is judged successful solely by its heavy-handed message, not its essence (its quality and honesty) as a story. 
  • Its theme (let’s defend God with non-rebutted logic) takes away from the power of the gospel.

That said, there were a few moments in the movie that I thought were done well: The professor had an okay character arc and his last scene was actually moving, even if it felt heavily contrived. Why? Because he sacrifices something and his relationship with God is personal. His initial anger is surprisingly understandable and relatable, even when his academic decisions are not. The Muslim girl also had a decent story (I would have preferred a movie based on her life than Josh “I defend God” Wheaton) regardless of the borderline racist connotations that the filmmakers didn’t quite seem to get.

“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

Most importantly, there was this gem of a quote:

“Don’t try to be clever; be content to tell the truth.”

All Christians should hear that, even if Josh Wheaton inevitably ignored it completely by the end of the movie. The entire movie would have benefited from speaking truth, instead of getting wrapped in its own cleverness.

Post-Christian America doesn’t want our Hollywood brand of Christianity. The vast majority of the Christianity we’ve seen on the screen so far doesn’t feel authentic. We see such little struggle, such little love, and such little faith. We see what could be beautiful stories get drowned out by the noise of misdirected passion and mediocre production. This isn’t art. It’s propaganda.

But Christians need to engage the culture. Not from a higher-than-thou platform, but from a level playing field. We can learn from our mistakes. We must stop expecting an argument every time we hear “God is dead.” Better yet, let us stop inviting an argument every time we utter its counterpart. We need to realize that Post-Christian America deserves the apocalyptic nihilism of Nietzsche. In fact, we welcome it. (I won’t talk about the movie here, but if you’ve seen it there’s a monologue from Tomorrowland that addresses this unhealthy obsession with the inevitable nothingness of tomorrow.)

“Nixilism”

What is needed is not a change in our foundation; perhaps what we need is a dramatic change in perspective. We need to stop intentionally blinding ourselves to counterarguments, to stop demonizing those who disagree with us, to stop seeing sincerely curious people as anything other than people. We all have questions, and we all want answers. Christians need to use art as a medium for opening doors and revealings truths. We should be using The Parable of the Madman to open up conversations, not shut them down. 

God is dead. That is to say, the god whom we nominally clung onto in the past, the morals and traditions and pseudo-religions, is dead. The god-imagery, the idol, the idea of god made from our own constructs is very much dead and his large shadow is fading. But maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe that god is dead because he should never been allowed to live in the first place. The weight of being a god-slayer is great, but instead of becoming gods ourselves to be worthy of it, we now have an obligation to seek out the Truth and bare our faces before the true God.

And if we’re wrong, well, at least we have nihilism.

Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.

1 Corinthians 15:12-19

Till We Have Faces: the Greeks, the Barbarians, and Us

51s+tqDETlL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_I recently finished reading Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis, the retelling of a classic Greek myth taken from the Metamorphoses or “The Golden Ass.” If you are unfamiliar with the story of Psyche and Cupid, here is a nice walk-through. In this narrative, we watch as Psyche’s beauty stirs up the jealousy of the goddess, Venus; Cupid saves Psyche out of love; the lovers are torn from each other by the jealousy-hate of Psyche’s sisters; the trials Psyche overcomes at the hand of the gods; and the eventual reunion of Psyche and Cupid. The allegorical fairy tale-myth is a fascinating and well-known example of the marriage between mortal flesh and the divine.

In TWHF, however, this popular story is told not from the perspective of Psyche, but predominantly from the perspective of her older sister, Orual. Lewis’s reasons for doing so can be understood at the very end of the book:

The central alteration in my own version consists in making Psyche’s palace invisible to normal, mortal eyes. . .This change of course brings with it a more ambivalent motive and a different character for my heroine and finally modifies the whole quality of the tale. I felt quite free to go behind Apuleius, whom I suppose to have been its transmitter, not its inventor. . .[In] relation to my work, he is a “source,” not an “influence” nor a “model.”

Till We Have Faces (p. 313)

The story of Psyche and Cupid was a story that haunted Lewis for decades; he questioned the rationale behind the characters’ decisions and believed that the obvious answer lay within the visibility (or invisibility) of the house of Psyche’s hidden love. Thus, with this central change in the story, Lewis explored the character of Orual and the relationship between the mortals and the gods.

Because of this change, we see Orual act not purely out of jealousy but out of a jealous love and a hateful ignorance. We see ourselves in her, and in her counselors, for our very mortal lack of understanding in Divine Nature. I have a sneaking suspicion that Lewis drew heavily from his own reasoning and life experiences as he transitioned away from pre-Christian, “Greek-like” thinking; contemplated the half-truths of the pagan; and, eventually, came to a place of standing in court with his accusations in hand–answered by the mere presence, and nearness, of the gods.

Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss, Antonio Canova (1757 – 1822)

The Fox’s Wisdom: Greek Knowledge

For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom. . .

1 Corinthians 1:22

Early on in TWHF, we are introduced to the “Fox,” a Greek-freeman made Glome-slave tasked with teaching the king’s daughters. Despite the King’s temperamental treatment of the Greek, the Fox shows constant affection for the eldest and youngest daughters–Orual and Psyche. (The middle sister, Redival, shows little care for the studies and more care for material or vulgar matters.) With careful and loving guidance, the Fox teaches the daughters how to write, sing, talk, and even think like the Greek. He eats up the stories of Glome, and shares some from his country’s, noting the similarities between the two.

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He, however, does not believe in the gods. He refers to these stories as the “lies of poets.” When confronted by Orual’s story of Psyche’s invisible palace, he is quick to dismiss it as a trick of the mind; when he learns of Psyche’s lover, he is quick to call the god some sort of mountain thief or savage. In other words, when he is faced by even the distant thought of the Divine, he is quick to dismiss it in favor of his own Greek logic and rationale. He only believes in things he can see with his natural eyes and, like the great outgrowth of Western Civilization, refuses to accept what he cannot understand. Thought and reason to him must be linear and concrete. What is easily explained away is easily ignored and forgotten and best left to the lies of poets.

This is a fundamental shift in thought which has permeated Western history and our contemporary society on many different levels. From the endless debates of the Greek philosophers; to the revival of reason during the Age of Enlightenment; to the recent systematic destruction of fairies and the unseen today, we have seen the effects of our finite “wisdom” take its hold on childlike stories and turn them into childish fancies. To the Fox, the Divine Nature, if it does exist, is an impersonal force independent of the lives and choices of humanity.

But such a thirst for knowledge can have devastating effects. Perhaps, we will realize this quicker than the Fox, who didn’t see the limitations of his foresight until after he had died and heard the voices of the gods. In some tragic irony, it’s as if his very words had turned into nothing but the “lies of poets.”

The poet only asks to get his head into the heavens. It is the logician who seeks to get the heavens into his head. And it is his head that splits.

Orthodoxy, G.K. Chesterton

The Priest’s Sacrifice: Barbaric Vulgarity

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Although much of Orual’s beliefs about the gods are molded by the way the Greeks think (and we can see evidence of the Greek in how she rules her kingdom as a queen; in her libraries, social structures, and manner of judgments), we also know that Orual has seen and cannot deny the existence of the gods. When Orual convinces her dear sister, Psyche, to break the one promise she has made to her lover, we see the immediate consequences. The once beautiful valley, and its house of Divine Nature, are destroyed; Psyche is swept away; and at that time, the terrible voice of the God is heard rolling from the heavens when he proclaims: “You are also Psyche.”

It may well be that by trickery of priests men have sometimes taken a mortal’s voice for a god’s. But it will not work the other way. No one who hears a god’s voice takes it for a man’s.

Yet before this ever happens, we also find Orual exposed to the customs and traditions of her people. The Metamorphoses‘s Venus in this story is Ungit, a vengeful god, a jealous deity, a faceless stone splattered with the blood of sacrifices and reeking with the horrid scent of “holiness.” Holiness, to Orual, is a cruel word–accompanied by violent practices and ugly smells. Afraid of Ungit’s anger, it is the people of Glome who initially sacrifice Psyche to the god of the mountain in the first place. They do it not expecting her to find marriage in life, but marriage in death. She is to be consumed by that jealous rage.

When Orual meets Psyche in the valley, we see that she is alive and taken care of. Psyche says that she had known that the curse on the land had been lifted, when the winds and the rain came. In an act of mercy, she was taken by the west wind to live in the house of her new love. But Orual is blind: to the house, to the wine, and to the cup. Orual and Psyche may be reunited, but they are separated by the unseen.

Orual takes this news back with her and, while the Fox is quick to dismiss it as a mere mortal, faithful Bardia suggests it might in fact be that great Shadowbrute–son and husband of Ungit; a god, but one too hideous to show its face, one too beastly to reveal its true nature. Here we see the pagan understanding, yet mistranslated, pronunciation of Truth. While the Greek mind is quick to understand, the pagan eye is quick to see. But each only has one piece of the puzzle.

J. R. R. Tolkien, like most Catholics, saw pagan myths not as wholly mistaken (as most Protestants do), but as confused precursors of Christianity. Man’s soul has three powers, and God left him prophets for all three: Jewish moralists for his will, Greek philosophers for his mind, and pagan mythmakers for his heart and imagination and feelings. . .C. S. Lewis calls pagan myths “gleams of celestial strength and beauty falling on a jungle of filth and imbecility” (Perelandra, p. 201). . .Christianity was “myth become fact”.

The Philosophy of Tolkien, Peter Kreeft

Interestingly in pagan traditions, where beauty is found, there Truth is often found also. However, where there is ugliness; what often results is not the product of Truth, but of a very corrupted perversion of the soul. Ungit and the Shadowbrute did exist, but not within the nature that the people of Glome had constructed and not in the form that the priests of Glome worshiped. They are right to be scared, for “. . .the Divine Nature wounds and perhaps destroys us merely by being what it is” but they are afraid for all the wrong reasons (Till We Have Faces, p. 284).

The Modern Man: Barefaced Voices

And so we, we manicured products of Greek thinking and contemporary folk tales, must come to accept that we are Orual. We are Orual in every such way that she is Psyche and Ungit. We find ourselves on a precarious ledge, one which overlooks a sea of thoughts crying for us to fall in. We have traded our Greek thoughts and Pagan sacrifices for American ideals and compromises. Much like Orual hid the ugliness of her face behind a veil, we have hidden the ugliness of ourselves behind veiled words–politics, religion, distractions, and routine. We reason away Divine Grace with science, and sacrifice our Mores for entertainment. Little do we ever stop to consider that the Divine might work within and through the natural, not against us; little do we stop to consider that we might find lasting joy in Truth, not only fleeting pleasure in half-baked lies.

In TWHF, Orual states profoundly that she is Ungit. She then goes through a period of striving to better herself, to make her ugliness beautiful. Needless to say, she fails. How can she be beautiful unless she removes her veil–until she allows herself to be stripped of everything and be remade worthy of beauty? This realization causes her to think back on her accusation of the gods and write the second book–the last four chapters of TWHF.

It isn’t until she lives through the trials of Psyche that she understands that while the tasks had been Psyche’s, the suffering was hers. It isn’t until she stands before the gods with her accusation that she finds herself babbling and sees the same shame Psyche had felt; it is the shame of being mortal before gods, of being naked and ugly before the beautiful.

When the time comes to you at which you will be forced at last to utter the speech which has lain at the center of your soul for years, which you have, all that time, idiot-like, been saying over and over, you’ll not talk about the joy of words. I saw well why the gods do not speak to us openly, nor let us answer. Till that word can be dug out of us, why should they hear the babble that we think we mean? How can they meet us face to face till we have faces?

Till We Have Faces (p. 294)

We see that we are Ungit: hideous and hiding our true self, faceless like that temple stone, masquerading like that carved statue, veiled like that queen of Glome, suffering in Psyche’s place.

But so it is, in a bea11898679_864776503635706_7484068754009274956_nutiful revelation of Divine Grace, we again enter into Orual’s place. Our wisdom fails us, and the half-truths of our barbarian nature are made clear before us. With Orual, we look into the reflection at the end of our life, and see two Psyches side by side. The terrible, but beautiful voice comes upon us again and we hear the words echo on our ears:

“You are also Psyche.”