Where To Find Joy

Douglas Wilson, expounding the amazing Psalm 97 in his new book, Basic Christian Living: A Survey Course on Practical Christianity (Canon Press), pages 10–11:

Holiness is wild. Holiness is three tornadoes in a row. Holiness is a series of black thunderheads coming in off the bay. Holiness is impolite. Holiness is darkness to make a sinful man tremble. Holiness beckons us to that darkness, where we do not meet ghouls and ghosts, but rather the righteousness of God. Holiness is a consuming fire. Holiness melts the world. And when we fear and worship a God like this, what is the result? Gladness of heart.

Worship a god who does nothing but kittens and pussy willows and you will end in despair. Worship the God of the jagged edge, the God whose holiness cannot be made palatable for the middle-class American consumer, and the result is deep gladness.

Do you hear that? Gladness, not pomposity. And, thank God, such gladness does not make us parade about with cheeks puffed slighted out, or speak with lots of rotund vowels, or strut with a sanctimonious air. Gladness, laughter, joy — set these before you. This is deep Christian faith, and not what so many are marketing today in the name of Jesus. The tragedy is that in the name of relevance the current expression of the faith today is superficial all the way down.

Those who love and worship the Lord are called to hate evil. So this is why an ethical application of the vision of the holy is most necessary. If we bypass this vision of who God actually is, the necessary result will be a prissy moralism, and not the robust morality of the Christian faith. The distance between moralism and true morality is vast, and the thing that creates this distance is knowledge of the holy.

Now go re-read Psalm 97.

Jovial Calvinism

cslYesterday’s post (Sammy Rhodes on Twitter humor and resurrection hope) reminds me of an exchange at the 2013 DG National Conference on C.S. Lewis. During the speaker panel the topic of “jovial Calvinism” arose, and the discussion was later published in The Romantic Rationalist: God, Life, and Imagination in the Work of C. S. Lewis (Crossway, 2014), pages 166–69:

Douglas Wilson: I guess the first thing I would say is that you have to be careful that the joviality is not sort of a Dr. Pangloss, like out of Candide, where someone who’s going through a terrible world of suffering is not clued in to what’s happening. That’s not joviality. That’s not someone who is responding appropriately. He needs to be dialed in. True joviality, I think, has to be understood as an act of defiance. The world is a mess. It is fallen. It’s filled with wickedness.

In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe the White Witch comes across the feast in the woods and asks, “Why all this gluttony? Why all this self-indulgence?” Lewis captures that wonderfully. Judas is the one who wants to know why the ointment was not sold and given to the poor. Judas is the one who is being the skinflint. Judas was the one pinching the pennies — and there was a reason for that, as John tells us. The White Witch captures that wonderfully. If you’re celebrating at some Sabbath dinner, or you’re celebrating because you’ve never heard of any of the conflict, then you just are not clued in. But if you are at Rivendell, The Last Homely House — if you’re feasting — then it’s an act of defiance. It’s a declaration of war. It’s the recognition that this is how we fight. We are the cheerful warriors, the happy warriors, the cavalier. We should fight like a cavalier. We should fight like Dartanian and not like a thug. Right? We need to fight. We must fight, but the person who fights like a cavalier is an attractive leader. He’s going to attract more people to his side. He’s going to be more effective.

Think about a pro-life activist who says, “But they’re killing babies, and it’s terrible. And the whole world’s falling apart. The whole world’s going to hell.” So they write their letter to the editor with a fisted crayon — what I like to call the spittle-flecked letter. That is, they can’t say, “But abortion’s so important, I’ve got to do it this way.” I would say no. Abortion is so important that you must not do it that way. You’re not venting; you’re fighting. And if you fight, you want to fight effectively. You want to use your head. You want to keep your cool. And part of this is, I think, essentially joviality.

Joe Rigney’s talk yesterday was wonderful, and he pinpointed King Lune as the quintessential jolly man. He’s king of Archenland. But he’s the quintessential jovial character. He’s not a pacifist. He’s first in and last out. He is the fighting king, but he’s the kind of fighting king that I would want to follow. There are people who are so hard-bitten — they’re so disillusioned — that they’re not going to motivate anybody to do anything. So that’s in a nutshell what I would say.

Philip Ryken: Joviality is not the only mood of the Christian life, but somebody that does not have a godly, sanctified joviality perhaps has a one-dimensional or not as fully human expression of the Christian life. The New Testament seems to present both fasting and feasting as normative for the Christian experience — both lamentation and celebration. Most of us find it hard to get the balance or proportion right, but those are both strongly held values in the Gospels. And C. S. Lewis is one of the best exemplars we can think of as the jovial Christian.

Douglas Wilson: Yeah. The apostle Paul says in Corinthians, “We are sorrowful yet always rejoicing.” So you can go through afflictions. There’s tears and bruises and hard times, and that’s what I think a biblical joviality means. Death is swallowed up by victory at the end, and we must never forget that. . . . If you have a true community of believers, if you are plugged into a church and are a vibrant member of that church and you take the words of the Scripture seriously, “Weep with those who weep; rejoice with those who rejoice,” then you find yourself having to do a lot of those things in quick succession. You’ve got the funeral on Wednesday and the wedding on Friday or the funeral on Wednesday and the wedding rehearsal Thursday evening and then the wedding on Friday. And you’ve got to go from one to the other.

We’re not called to schizophrenic scatteredness. We are called to weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice. The thing I must have to orient me in all of this is the recognition at all times that this is a comedy, not a tragedy. This ends well. It is comedy not in the sense of a sitcom, but comedy in the sense of The Divine Comedy, where it ends well. So it begins with a garden. The Bible begins with a garden and ends with a garden city. It ends with the bride coming down the aisle. That’s how it ends. That’s the story I’m in. So if I’m preaching the funeral of someone whose death just shocked the whole congregation, do I know where I am? Do I know what kind of book I’m in? This goes back to your point of knowing the genre. Do I know the genre of the history of the world? It’s a comedy.

Randy Alcorn: Many of you have had this experience. Certainly when I’ve been doing memorial services, the therapy of laughter occurs as certain stories are told about the loved one who’s departed and is now with the Lord, and you’ll have tears just streaming down your face and then laughter — and it’s not a superficial laughter. It’s a laughter that is an overcoming laughter. It’s a laughter that says we know a God of joy, a God who is eternally happy, and we’ll be happy for all eternity, and we’ll be with him and enjoying that happiness, and our loved one has gone on to be with him. That doesn’t minimize our tears, but it does give a tone to the memorial service that’s remarkable. There are times when laughter is louder at memorial services than in a normal context, and when it’s done for those reasons it’s Christ-centered laughter. I think it’s very healthy.

Writer . . . with Children

Wise words from Douglas Wilson for writers who have a family to care for, taken from his new book Wordsmithy: Hot Tips for the Writing Life (Canon Press, 2011), page 40:

I have read enough books to know that the “Acknowledgements” section frequently includes a tribute to the wife and kids, who always let Dad go off to the study for the interminable time it took to produce the book. This is a reasonable thing to acknowledge, of course, but I would encourage writers not to overdo it — the disappearing that is, not the acknowledging. When an extra load develops, try to have it land on you and not on the family. If it has to get done now, then get up at five, and nobody else pays. So if you need to, get up at five, but always try to go home at five.

Think of it this way. A 60-hour work week is an honest job and a significant load, but a lot of the problems that come to people who work this much happen because of where those 60 hours are placed. Apportion 40 hours to your regular job, the calling which pays the bills, and then 20 hours for your half-time job of getting a writing career started. It is possible to work those 60 hours and still have lots of time left over for family. A week has a total of 168 hours in it. Sixty hours of work leaves 108, and 8 hours of sleep a night take away another 56 hours, leaving you with 52 hours a week to play tag in the backyard with the kids.

Read like someone who can afford to forget most of what you read

A tip for writers from Douglas Wilson, Wordsmithy: Hot Tips for the Writing Life (Canon Press, 2011), pages 36–37:

We test students right after they read something mostly to ensure that they have in fact read it. From this, many have drawn the erroneous conclusion that the only good that can be extracted from the reading is that which can be displayed on or measured by such a test.

This is wildly inaccurate. Most of the good your reading and education has done for you is not something you can recall at all. . . .

Mark every striking thing that you read. You won’t remember everything you read, and you won’t even remember everything you mark. Nevertheless, it is not a sin to remember some things or to mark them in such a way as to be able to find them again. I use blue highlighters on everything, to such an extent that one of my granddaughters assumed, reasonably enough, that this is what I use whenever I am “coloring.”

But you are not cramming for a test. You are simply marking things because this is a good way to read with your eyes open. You read widely to be shaped, not so that you might be prepared to regurgitate. Read like someone who can afford to forget most of what you read. It does not matter because you are still going to be shaped by it.

Top 10 P.G. Wodehouse Titles

British humorist P.G. Wodehouse penned close to 100 books in his prolific career. That’s great for him, but it also means I find myself up against the dashed difficult problem of determining where to begin. So to help me navigate the options I contacted the man who introduced me to Wodehouse a number of years back, Douglas Wilson. “As a general rule, the Blandings Castle books and the Jeeves books are the best,” he told me. And then followed that summary with “a rough and ready list” of 10 titles that take the biscuit:

  1. Joy in the Morning
  2. Leave it to Psmith
  3. Galahad at Blandings
  4. Uncle Dynamite
  5. Uncle Fred in the Springtime
  6. The Code of the Woosters
  7. Meet Mr. Mulliner
  8. Right Ho, Jeeves
  9. Lord Emsworth and Others
  10. Heavy Weather

Now that’s a bit more manageable.

Any other Wodehouse fans out there? What are your favorites?

[Note: the character sketches were pinched from this blog.]