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Death, Desire, and the Sacramental Function of Humor in C S Lewis and His Medieval Sources – or, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Self-Denial – part I

Each May since 2012, I’ve been presenting at the largest annual academic conference on medieval studies: the International Congress on Medieval Studies in Kalamazoo, Michigan. My papers have always explored some aspect of the medievalism (a term meaning “modern interpretation and use of medieval ideas or practices”) of C S Lewis – and the richness of medieval Christian traditions from which Lewis drew in his own theological and spiritual thinking, doing, and teaching.

This year’s paper was a shorter than usual offering – really more of a suggestive sketch of a research question. It was given as part of a five-person panel on “Lewis and Death”:

Death, Desire, and the Sacramental Function of Humor in C S Lewis and His Medieval Sources – or, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Self-Denial – part I

Why look at Death and Desire together, in Lewis or any other Christian source?

Simple: Biblical language of crucifying our disordered desires as a means to cultivate the new life in Christ—or on the contrary, of gaining the world (fulfilling our earthly desires) but losing our soul (fulfilling our heavenly desires)—brings desire and death together in a theological concept of a salutary sort of “death” that helps us realize our (properly ordered) spiritual desires for God.

That is, as Calvin wrote in the third book of his Christian Institutes: We must mortify the sinful self to vivify the spiritual self.

Or, to anchor this more firmly in Lewis’s medieval sources, as that 5th/6th-c. taproot of medieval spiritual practice, Pseudo-Dionysius, taught: the soul ascends to God through a movement of mortification->illumination->union. Lewis found this common medieval formulation of the spiritual life in many medieval places, including the anonymous Cloud of Unknowing and Theologia Germanica, and Walter Hilton’s Scale of Perfection.

So that’s “Why.” Now, “How”?

Continue reading

Two Modern Mistakes About the Material World – and the Medieval Truth that can Save us from Them

I still think this is true.


A last-minute Christmas gift suggestion :)

medieval wisdom cover

Introducing Medieval Wisdom: An Exploration with C S Lewis – part 6: Immediatism, the “Bebbington quadrilateral,” and the hole in the evangelical donut

Donut_2Reversing the historical flow – not an easy task

What we are doing in stepping back into the Middle Ages with Lewis’s guidance is attempting to challenge that “line of immediatism” in two ways:

First, from the 17th c. to today, the primary religious authority of scripture/tradition has increasingly given way to that of reason/experience. To desire to learn from the cloud of witnesses or “church triumphant” – those one whose shoulders we stand – is to shift authority back to the older style, weighting Scripture-read-through-tradition more heavily than the dictates of individual reason and experience.

Second, from the 17th c to today, the primary way individuals have met God has shifted from a church-mediated to an individual, unmediated mode. Any full and useful appropriation of the pastthat is, one not content just to offer doctrinal direction—will likely seek to return to some form of churchly mediation, whether of liturgical forms, priestly role, or both, attempting to reverse this post-Enlightenment trajectory.

Look, feel, and results of immediatism

What, then, does immediatism look like in evangelical churches today, and how does that degrade our ability to gain benefit from the church of the past? Continue reading

The first celebration of July 4th was by some pietist, pacifist Moravians in North Carolina

Civil War era Moravian band

Civil War era Moravian band – this pietist group has always been known for its music

Great piece today over at the Daily Beast on the very first July 4th celebration. A sample:

They also had a strong pacifist tradition, dating to their founding amid the religious struggles of the 15th century as a “peace church.” Members were forbidden to serve in the military. They lived by the teachings in Christ’s Sermon on the Mount.

It’s little wonder that by 1783, the Moravians in Salem were thrilled that the battles were over. During the Revolution, both British and rebels harassed them, collected fines, and even attacked them physically. Some young men hid in the forest to escape being pressed into service. A few did join with the rebels; the church forgave them later.

Too, the Moravians, despite their reluctance to bear arms, were pleased to be part of the new country, now that it was at peace. They heeded the governor’s proclamation. And eight years later, in 1791, they welcomed President George Washington for a two-day stay and tour of the settlement.

The whole article can be found here.

Sunday, 11-3-13: Computer broken – posting again tomorrow


Not this broken, but non-functional nonetheless.



Back from the “dead” – and shifting theology of work stuff to a new blog

Where the medievalist C S Lewis and friends (many of them also medievalists) often hung out

Where the medievalist C S Lewis and friends (many of them also medievalists) often hung out

Hi all! Apologies for the looooong stretch of relative silence and inactivity. Life has been more than ordinarily full, especially as I have taken on directorial duties with a major grant initiative at my seminary (the “Work with Purpose” initiative – website soon to be up and running, and I’ll post the link here when it is).

The other thing keeping me busy these days is writing my forthcoming book Getting Medieval with C. S. Lewis. I recently traveled to UNC-Chapel Hill to work in their rare book room on a number of medieval books (modern editions of) that were owned and heavily annotated by Lewis. And I am currently (stuck) drafting the chapter on the medieval passion for theology.

What I intend to do during the coming month, as I race toward the Sept. 1 deadline, is reactivate this blog by sharing snippets of the book as they take shape.

In other news, I will soon be heading up a team launching a brand spanking new online faith-and-work channel over at The funding is in place, the organizing meeting is in a few weeks in Boston, we start work in earnest on Oct 1, and “God willin’ an’ the creek don’t rise,” the channel will launch on Dec 1. At that point the reflections on the theology of work, vocation, and economics that have dotted the pages of this blog during the past year will disappear (or compact into brief one- or two-sentence links pointing to that blog).

Ahhhh. It’s good to be back.

Watch this space.

Peace, joy, and the stimulating exercise of our God-given minds together,