The new issue of Horizons, subtitled “Recreation and Re-creation,” sent my thoughts to a favorite book by C.S. Lewis. The Screwtape Letters tells the fanciful story of a young demon, Wormwood, and his uncle Screwtape -His Abysmal Sublimity Under-Secretary to our Father below (the Devil.) The gist of the story is that the young demon is attempting to turn a new convert away from Christ, and the demon’s uncle is advising him in letters. My thoughts are on the letter that speaks to the pleasures (recreation) that not only belong to a Christian but to all of humanity.
The young Christian has lately been tempted by friends who are very worldly and care nothing for God. Wormwood has failed to understand what it is that can turn the Christian back from his unhealthy meandering direction. The demon fails to stop him from returning to some pleasures which have nothing to do with worldly friends.
Screwtape (via Lewis) writes:
On your own showing you first of all allowed the patient to read a book he really enjoyed, because he enjoyed it and not in order to make clever remarks about it to his new friends. In the second place you allowed him to walk down to the old mill and have tea there—a walk through country he really likes, and taken alone. In other words you allowed him two real positive Pleasures.
Screwtape goes on to explain that Wormwood had allowed the Christian to touch helpful reality. He writes:
But you were trying to damn your patient by the World, that is by palming off vanity, bustle, irony, and expensive tedium as pleasures. How can you have failed to see that a real pleasure was the last thing you ought to have let him meet? Didn’t you foresee that it would just kill by contrast all the trumpery which you have been so laboriously teaching him to value? And that the sort of pleasure which the book and the walk gave him was the most dangerous of all? That it would peel off from his sensibility the kind of crust you have been forming on it, and made him feel that he was coming home, recovering himself?
C.S. Lewis has the older demon explain that in detaching the man from himself he could more easily be detached from God. The man would be so lost in worldly busyness that he would lose his relationship with Christ. This is what this May/June issue of Horizons is really about, taking the time to find reality by returning to the gifts of life that God gives as we turn our whole life over to Jesus Christ. And on the whole I believe it succeeds.
Play, discernment, life changes and ministry
There are ideas about rest and recreation, for example, “From the Beginning: Re-Creation,” by Nancy Copeland-Payton. There is a discernment article for those considering volunteer work, “Discerning Your Volunteer Path,” by SarahLee Morris. Mary Elva Smith writes of the grief, communal encouragement and transitions she experienced when her husband Reg was killed in a bicycle accident. In the article, “Transitions: Reflections on Healthy Choices When Your Life Changes Unexpectedly,” her experiences and advise are invaluable.
Several travel articles are interesting. “Transformative Travel” by Ellen Birkett Morris highlights two women who went on mission trips to two different needy areas of the world. One person, Carol Hylkema, who has spent many years doing volunteer work, traveled to the Gulf Coast. Hylkema, who in 2008 worked transporting Amish and Mennonites to their places of work, shared her new cultural insight. She states, “I ran errands for them and sometimes worked with them. This was an incredible week of learning to dispel many stereotypes I had about the Amish and Mennonites and to observe their incredible building skills and enthusiasm for helping.”
The other person, Judy Martin of Cupertino California traveled twice to an orphanage in Salvador Bahia, Brazil. The orphanage is tended by Mother Teresa’s order, Missionaries of Charity. The article quotes Martin, “I had always been the kind of traveler who had no desire to really mix with the local culture.” Martin was to learn that she loved mixing with the people and helping. She also grew in her understanding of another culture including their needs. I do see one problem with her story but it goes beyond her story. That is her explanation of another religion in the area, Candomble.
Martin explains that it is a combination of Catholicism and “an ancient African religion.” She states, “Even in poverty, their lives are filled with song and dance and celebration of their faith. My faith is practiced quite differently, but learning about and being exposed to this different religion and its value system added yet another dimension to what I know about faith.” Martin is respectful in her words and that is good. Yet, for a Christian there must be more.
There must be that yearning for the other to know Jesus Christ in a real way. That is the most important part of mission for a Christian. Candomble has been mentioned before in Horizons  . But it has never been explained in a complete way.1 Although Candomble draws on some aspects of Catholicism it is not Christianity at all. It is a religion of spirit possession and the Jesus its adherents believe in is not the biblical Jesus.
On the other hand the article “Free to Be the Church: Russian Christians Doing the Church’s Work” by Zhenya Pustoshkina, not only tells of the way the Church in Russia is learning to do the social work once left to the Communist government, the author also lifts up the work of telling the good news of Jesus Christ. The article is written by a Russian who is involved in Young Life and the work they are doing in Russia.
As an explanation Pustoshkina writes, “For the past 15 years, I have been privileged to work with Young Life, a nondenominational Christian organization that works with volunteers in many countries around the world including Russia and the former Soviet republics. Young life engages in international Christian outreach to teenagers, creating safe places where even the most disinterested teens can have an opportunity to hear about Jesus, in their own ‘language,’ from a friend.” The joy of this article is seeing both the social work as well as the proclamation of the Gospel go hand in hand in the Russian churches.
Another great article is, “Young Adult Volunteers: Transformation—One Life, One year at a Time,” by Essie Buxton. This is an article about the Presbyterian (U.S.A.)’s Young Adult Volunteer Program, (YAV). As the author puts it, “The YAV program is a year-long service program in which young persons, ages 19 to 30, are placed in a community of need that differs from the one where they currently are involved.”
The article looks at the life changes of four young people as they participate in the program. For most of them, Jeff Moles who worked among the homeless in Nashville Tennessee, Sandra Moon who worked in troubled communities in Ireland, Risa Musto, whose ministry was to the poor in a mostly Hispanic community in Hollywood and Rob Fohr who taught young people in Buenos Aires, their experiences resulted in a desire to do advocacy work. Their focus is toward those who are poor, marginalized and oppressed.
One particularly interesting article is about a group of women who over the years have been returning to Ghost Ranch to do the work of a paleontologist. The article, “Digging the Bones: Recreation and Education at Ghost Ranch,” by Laura Lee, is mostly about the paleontologist program at Ghost Ranch, but it also covers some of the other activities and classes provided there.
I chose to highlight this article because it fits so well within both Horizons theme and my own thoughts about recreation, rest and our connection as Christians to Jesus Christ. Ghost Ranch is a Presbyterian conference ground with retreats, museums and absolutely beautiful scenery. Classes and retreats are highlights for many at Ghost Ranch. But there is a problem; most of this activity is only focused toward those in the Church who consider themselves progressive.
I look at pictures of the beautiful scenery and think what would it be like for a Church group, orthodox in their beliefs, Christians totally committed to biblical teaching and the Confessions, to meet in that place singing both ancient, Reformation and new biblical praise songs with such scenery surrounding them. What would it mean to have classes that are faithful to the Bible taught in such an inspiring place?
It is a question that connects to the reality of our lives as we both play and serve Jesus Christ. Without recreation we lose our sense of self, without Jesus Christ we lose all. Jesus is the Lord of creation, he is the beauty maker, and in fact Colossians tells us that all was made through him and for him. As I read this article I think of that relationship between the Creator and created and pray that his word will be lifted up in that place.
Missing the Word in a devotional
And this leads to a final problem. As I began reading this issue I at first was totally put off by the opening devotion. Because of it I expected to find all kinds of poor theological views within this particular edition. Thankfully I did not. I found instead some excellent articles, but why such a devotion in a Christian magazine?
Cheryl Hilderbrand begins her article, “Faith, Health and growth,” with this statement, “If we read the Gospels with a focus on Jesus’ lifestyle, his actions rather than his words, we see a healthy man.” She attempts to soften this by her statement, “I don’t suggest that we should reduce Jesus to a lifestyle guru..,” and then explains how his activities helped him to be strong, healthy and emotionally whole. The rest of the small devotion is about Hilderbrand and her physical exercise as well as her awareness of herself and surroundings.
In Hilderbrand’s imagery Jesus is reduced to an example of our American obsession with vanity and health. She sees him as the complete and healthy man who fits into society’s preconceived ideas about what is good. One must be careful about such pictures and ideas. They tend to leave out the poor, the disabled and the immigrant whose culture does not hold such a high view of our American bent toward “lifestyle.” Jesus Christ is instead the Creator, the redeemer, the one who forgives and gives eternal, abundant life.
He is the Word, how could we put aside his words for any reason? Even Peter confessed to Jesus, “Lord, to whom shall we go you have the words of eternal life.” (John 6:68) God does ask for the Christian’s surrender, the giving of self. Yet he gives back a fuller richer life. In The Screwtape Letters, Screwtape, the Demon, puts it this way:
Of course I know that the Enemy (God) also wants to detach men from themselves, but in a different way. Remember always, that He really likes the little vermin, and sets an absurd value on the distinctness of every one of them. When He talks of their losing their selves, He only means abandoning the clamour of self-will; once they have done that, He really gives them back all their personality, and boasts (I am afraid, sincerely) that when they are wholly His they will be more themselves than ever.
We are recreated, made new, as we encounter the transforming work of Jesus Christ which includes his life, his death on the cross, and resurrection. There is within his mercy a place for work and a place for play. There is a time for recreation, for re-creation, for enjoying the Father’s creation, for resting in the Son, for listening for the Holy Spirit’s voice as we rest in prayer.
1 Go here for my explanation of Candomble. Scroll down the page to my review of June Ramage Roger’s article, “A call to a new Ecumenism.” From the March/April 2006 Horizons’ review