On men hugging and kissing men!

Describing his fear of meeting his new teacher, whom he heard was particularly sentimental, Lewis writes:

It is one of my lifelong weaknesses that I never could endure the embrace or kiss of my own sex. (An unmanly weaknes, by the way; Aeneas, Beowulf, Roland, Lancelot, Johnson, and Nelson knew nothing of it.)

-C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy, p.134

I’m with him on this one. For a while in college I went to a man-hugging church and well, never got into it. If Beowulf could do it though, perhaps I should toughen up. Though it might make it easier if I was in armour and had the heads of my enemies hanging from my belt. Yeah that would definitely make it easier.

Teach fewer subjects for cryin’ out loud

Those quote by Lewis captures a major reason why my wife and I will likely homeschool our children.

In those days a boy on the classical side officially did almost nothing but classics. I think this was wise; the greatest service we can do to education today is to teach fewer subjects. No one has time to do more than a very few things well before he is twenty, and when we force a boy to be a mediocrity in a dozen subjects we destroy his standards, perhaps for life.

-C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy, p.113

What happens at school (stays in school?)

Retelling the hell that was English boarding schools, C.S. Lewis writes:

If the parents in each generation always or often knew what really goes on at their sons’ schools, the history of education would be very different.

-C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy, p.30

Brutality, hours of forced servitude by upperclassmen, almost compulsory sodomy, piles of institutionally created mandatory distractions (sports, absurd chores, etc.) let do an environment where very little was actually LEARNED except cruel habits of relating to others and lording it over them when you could.

And amongst all of this, many parents would never believe ANY of these things were going on. Lewis gave up trying to convince his father that school was horrible. He wouldn’t listen to a word he said.

On the flip side, today parents often believe their (very potentially) deceptive and rebellious children when they tell stories about what goes on away from home. Ask any contemporary school teacher (I know many and went to university with many) and they will frequently tell you that the PARENTS are more trouble than the children. Always calling and wanting things customized or changed or this bully reigned in and that person given special exceptions or attention.

Which is worse? I’m not sure. People that say public schools have been going to pot the past 50 years need to change that number to 100 or possibly even a much larger value though.

About it’s results, Lewis writes (in 1955):

For the last thirty years or so England has been filled with a bitter, truculent, skeptical debunking, and cynical intelligentsia. A great many of them were in pubic schools, and I believe very few of them liked it.

Those who defend the schools will, of course, say that these Prigs are the cases which the system failed to cure; they were not kicked, mocked, fagged, flogged, and humiliated enough. But surely it is equally possible that they are the products of the system? that they were not Prigs at all when they came to their schools but were made Prigs by their first year, as I was? For, really, that would be a very natural result.

Were oppression does not completely and permanently break the spirit, has it not a natural tendency to produce retaliatory pride and contempt? We reimburse ourselves for cuffs and toil by a double dose of self-esteem. No one is more likely to be arrogant than a lately freed slave.


May I take a stab at imitating the statement above?

For the past 20 years America has been filled with an angst-ridden intelligentsia with a profound sense of entitlement. Many of them went to public schools and had a lot of fun their senior year.

Those who defend the schools will of course say that they were not given enough specialized attention to their inherent learning styles. That if only there had been more money in the budget and lower teacher-to-student ratios they would not have turned out so bitter. But surely it is equally probably that they are the products of the system? Never punished, not even by a literal slap on the wrist by their teachers or parents, for when they committed rebellion or failure, that they imagine the world outside the academy’s walls to be as much a fantasy land as their self-esteem steeped education?

Quick to impose their wills against perceived social injustice (and personal liberties) are those freshly released from a spoiled middle-class biosphere into an unfair world.

The pieces of this I know the most about are the ones I took part in myself. Sometimes, my own tendancy to be a whiney-pants is disconcerting.

Encouragement for those without a classic background

I have never read Virgil. Or Plato. Or Aristotle. Barely any Shakespeare or Chaucer. It tad bit of Dante.

Partly, none of these were ever emphasized in the school I attended. For this I feel robbed.

Partly, when they were taught (such as when reading Homer), the teacher made no effort to make them interesting and stress how many thousands of things branched forth from them. The descendants of the Oddessy are everywhere when you look around. For this I feel gipped. Not exactly robbed. Maybe like someone had a juice filet mignon but then served it up to me well-done and smothered in A1 sauce. I didn’t know until way later how wonderful of food I could have been, in some sense, WAS, eating.

Here though, Lewis, probably one of the most well-read men of the century, describes part of his own weak education:

Parrot critics say that [Matthew Arnold’s Sohrab and Rustrum] is a poem for classicists, to be enjoyed only by those who recognize the Homeric echoes. But I…knew nothing of Homer. For me the relation between Arnold and Homer worked the other way; when I came, years later, to read the Iliad I liked it partly because it was for me reminiscent of Sohrab. Plainly, it does not matter at what point you first break into the system of European poetry. Only keep your ears open and your mouth shut and everything will lead you to everything else in the end.

-C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy, p.53

On dragging your kids to adult events (church?)

Lewis, recalling being dragged to grown-up dances at about the age of eight:

It was the false position (which I was well able to realize) that tormented me; to know that one was regarded as a child and yet be forced to take part in an essentially grown-up function, to feel that all the adults present were being half-mockingly kind and pretending to treat you as what you were not. Add to this the discomfort of one’s Eton suit and stiff shirt, the aching feed and burning head, and the mere weariness of being kept up so many hours after one’s usual bedtime.

Even adults, I fancy, would not find an evening part very endurable without the attraction of sex and the attraction of alcohol; and how a small boy who can neither flirt nor drink should be expected to enjoy prancing about on a polished floor till the small hours of the morning, is beyond my conception.

-C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy, p.47

Of course, I can’t let this go by without comparing it to something else that is often on my mind: making your 3-year old sit silent and still through a 120 minute church service.

Church is NOT just for grown-ups. Excluding the children from the community (sending them off to youth group) is fundamentally unhealthy. That’s not saying there isn’t a good way to run Sunday School or Youth group. But drawing a think line of detachment, with seemingly no way to cross it until they suddenly find themeselves sitting upstairs with their new spouse has all kinds of fallout.

That’s why I’m actually all for paedocommunion. I have mixed feelings on paedobaptism, but I’m all for including the children in the community as much as possible (‘as much as possible’ that’s a key phrase). We just let our four-year-old daughter take communion last month. She has made a confession of faith in Jesus. I think she ‘understands’ what she’s doing about as well as a four-year-old could. Why deny her taking part in the most important sacrament commanded by Jesus and celebrated in every church community since Acts to today? Why wait till she is 10 or some arbitrary age? It excludes from the community for, I believe, no good reason.

Next, is other parts of worship. Like singing songs. Kids can do totally do this. My two-year-old sings along with all sorts of music. Singing songs together builds community too. It’s explicitly mentioned a lot in the Bible too, so it’s a no-brainer. Keep the kids for sure.

Now comes the turn though. The sermon. 20-90 minute monologue, often with. Now don’t get me wrong. I really enjoy good preaching and bible teaching. I dig good long sermons. However, the arguments for keeping your toddlers glued to their seats and gagged through this… well I’m not going into them here, but lets say I’ve yet to ever hear a truly convincing argument for it. You have to turn a blind eye to all sorts of common sense to ride that horse. Seriously. The fact that the canon includes an account of someone falling out of a window and DYING during the Apostle Paul’s boring preaching… There’s some application lurking in there folks, I just know it!

That discussion is for another day though. It still needs time to brew.

I desire too much

C.S. Lewis’s autobiography Surprised By Joy is easy to read. Nonetheless, he still makes quite a few references and quotes scraps of poetry without any explanation. An annotated edition would be welcome at times.

At one point he mentions a phrase in greek (non-phonetic, in greek typeset):


(I desire too much) says the footnote

So if you were properly education (unlike myself) you would know this came from right? It appears that Google does not know the origin. I was expecting logs of references to Aristotle or someone like that to show up. Zip.

The inscription appears on the hat of a painting from 1540 by Moretto da Brescia titled ‘Portrait of a Young Man ‘Portrait of Count Fortunato Martinengo Cesaresco’. I’m assuming the phrase was around long before then, but maybe not. Anybody know this?

Faith like a child not always so great

As a young child, Lewis’s mother got cancer and died a slow painful death. He prayed to God (with a rather simple faith) to heal her. Even after she died he prayed for a miracle. None came.

Looking back, he observed:

The interesting thing is that my disappointment produced no results beyond itself. The thing hadn’t worked, but I was used to things not working, and I thought no more about it. I think the truth is that the belief into which I had hypnotized myself was itself too irrelgious for its failure to caue any religious revolution. I had approached God, or my idea of God, without love, without awe, even without fear. He was, in my mental picture of this miracle, to appear neither as Savior or as Judge, but merely as a magician; and when He had done what was required of Him I supposed He would simply – well, go away. It never crossed my mind that the tremendous contact which I solicited should have any consequences beyond restoring the status quo. I imagine that a “faith” of this kind is often generated in children and that its disappointment is of no religious importance; just as the things believed in, if they could happen and be only as the child pictures them, would be of no religious importance either.

-C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy, p.21

This is curious. Our simple faith as children is often spoken of as far superior to our mixed and complicated faith as adults. Even Jesus told us we must become as little children. I wonder though, if the faith children have is often (no always of course) similar to what Lewis is describing here: remarkably shallow. So much so that when it is dashed against the rocks, it means little.

Transition from childhood drawing to writing?

Our earliest pictures (and I can remember no time when we were not incessantly drawing) reveal it. His were of ships and trains and battles; mine, when not imitated from his, were of what we both called “dressed animals” – the anthropomorphized beasts of nursery literature. His earliest story – as my elder he preceded me with the transition from drawing to writing – was called The Young Rajah.

-C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy, p.6

It’s not surprising to find our man of letters coming to the craft at a young age. How come I didn’t make this transition? I remember drawing a lot at the age of six and seven. I drew things from nature, forests, whatever. Populated by robots. But I never wrote stories or even considered writing anything down about them. Up until recent blogging, I have only ever written for schoolwork.

There are several reasons here. One is that I didn’t learn to read at a very young age. My wife did. Some of my siblings did, but I came to it a bit slowly. Another was that my parents never wrote, or indeed, had ever written anything. Nobody ever impressed upon me it might be a worthwhile activity.


The number one thing though was that I transitioned from drawing to computers. At age 8 I acquired a VIC-20 and shortly after a Commodore 64. I had only had them a few weeks before I longed to write my own programs to run on them. My friend Patrick and I wrote an early video game in BASIC titled, wait for it… Mutated Samurai Slugs. Pat even composed a cool theme song on his keyboard for it. We owed much to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (which I was banned from watching oddly enough), though we had certainly made the myth of the fighting slugs our own. The boss for the first level (a block of several bracket characters, all the graphics were ASCII text) would try to attack our slug heroes by dropping salt (period characters) on them. This was when we were eight years old. Development broke down while we were trying to port the code to Apple IIe. I’m not making this up.

Just yesterday I recieved in the mail an invitation to Pat’s wedding. I haven’t seen him in years. I wonder if he remembers any of this.

Photo credit

Twisted material scarier than immaterial

To this general happiness there was one exception. I remember nothing earlier than the terror of certain dreams… My bad drams were of two kinds, those about specters and those about insects. The second were, beyond comparison, the worse; to this day I would rather meet a ghost than a tarantula.

-C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy, p.8

This is precisely why Stephen King is scarier than H.P. Lovecraft. Lovecraft’s nightmares are typically nameless fears: The Hunter in the Dark, the dream of Cthulu. They are still creepy, but only second-hand, by their effect on people’s behavior.

Stephen King on the other hand, in describing is writing, has always said the key to horror was to take something completely normal from everyday life and tweak it just it bit. So with him we get killer cars and evil domesticated pets. A demonic dog chained up your neighbor’s back yard (Cujo) is a lot scarier than a ghostly wraith that hangs out in the swamp on the edge of town (The Moon Bog).

For the record, I am no fan of horror in either form, though I have somewhat of a soft spot of vampires. And killer robots. They don’t count.

N.T. Wright cheats at Scrabble

Well, I’ve really been enjoying N.T. Wright lately, but I just discovered one of the new books Micahel Spencer has been contracted to write is described as such:

N.T. Wright Is A Cross-Dressing Communist Sissy Who Cheats At Scrabble And Really Worships The Devil: I’d serve as editor for this serious and dispassionate examination of N.T. Wright by various well-known reformed bloggers.

Oh my gosh! I never knew. And I just played Scrabble last night with my wife. And I was tempted to cheat! Especially after she whipped my tail by dumping her board to spell “Unicorn” on a triple-word-score and rake in 80 points. Now that I’ve identified the source of corruption, I can stick it to the Devil. I dropped my copy of The New Testament and the People of God like third period French.

All that church history wasn’t a ton of help anyway. I think I could get more use out of one of Michael’s previous works:

This Is Your Best Wife? Wow: This book helps husbands do all the little things that will change their wives from dowdy church matrons to hot pastorettes. Special section on how to behave on an airplane.

While I wait for Amazon to hook me up, I’ll stick to some approved C.S. Lewis stuff (with all the parts of purgatory crossed out with a sharpie of course).